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Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving – All Alone At Home

You might well ask what's so special about having a turkey sandwich on Thanksgiving, but it is who it came from and how it was made that's special. In fact it was the best turkey sandwich that I Johnny Oops the prophet, and a fictional character in a novel by the same name ever had, if you can believe that. You see I was all alone at home and feeling sad and lonely.

I was resigned to spending Thanksgiving alone in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Jody, my wife, was visiting her father, The Kabalistic Rabbi Frenbren, in France to introduce him to our twin baby prophets - Darling and Delicious. Yes we just had baby girls; did I forget to tell you? It happened so fast. Anyway I was lonely. I don't like feeling lonely on the holidays, what about you?

The truth is I felt lost shuffling around this huge house of mine all by myself. I had given the staff off for the holidays, and the silence was deafening. Then I heard the doorbell ring. I ran to the door my heart pulsing fast, hoping it was Jody back from France with my children to surprise me for the holidays, but I knew in the back of my mind that wasn't going to happen.

I opened the door and there was Jonathan my chauffer, administrative assistant and all around good guy. I asked him why he was here in the middle of his holiday celebration.

He said, "Well Sir, you know I don't live too far away, and the Misses thought since we had more turkey than we could possibly eat that you might like a turkey sandwich since you were home alone as it were."

I told Jonathan that was very thoughtful of him and his wife, and asked if he would like to come in for a drink of eggnog or something. He thanked me, but said he wanted to get back to his family. I understood and wished him well and thanked him again for the sandwich.

A few hours later I felt hungry and went down to the kitchen to open the basket with the turkey sandwich. Inside a red and white-checkered napkin that lined the basket was a note from his wife thanking me for all the kindness I had shown her husband over the past year. I really don't know what she was talking about; I just try to adhere to God's admonition to care for other people. I guess I must have done something right for a change.

Then I unwrapped what was in the basket. It contained a large sandwich made on homemade dark rye bread, cut in large diagonal slices, and stuffed with huge slabs of white meat turkey with the crispy outer skin still attached. It was slathered with the most delicious Russian dressing mixed with finely chopped sweat gherkins. It smelled great. On the side Jonathan's wife had added plastic containers of Cranberry sauce, the most delicious sausage stuffing, marshmallow topped candied sweet potatoes, and a huge slice of homemade apple pie carefully wrapped in aluminum foil. I devoured it all not bothering to heat anything up. Frankly I am not to good around the kitchen. There is no question in my mind that this was the best Thanksgiving turkey sandwich I ever had. I only wish that Jody was here to share it with me.

Just as I was finishing, Jody called from France. She was worried that I was home alone and lonely. I told her not any more because Jonathan had just brought me a special turkey sandwich with all the trimmings, and her call was the most special holiday treat of them all. I took advantage of the holiday spirit to tell her once again how much I love her and our beautiful twin girls. She told me that she felt the same way and promised never to be away from me on the holidays again.

Sometimes it's the little things that make a difference. Sometimes it is the kindness and caring of other people that really touch our hearts. Sometimes a simple gesture can reassure us on the holidays that our loved ones care for us, and we don't have to feel alone. After all, God is always with us. Isn't that the only reality that really matters?

This holiday season might be an especially good time to thank God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon us: the family and friends He surrounds us with so that we are not all alone, and the people we know who really care about us no matter how far away they are from us on the holidays.

These are the 'words' of your new friend Johnny Oops the prophet, and my message is that, "I care for you and wish you and yours well. You don't have to feel alone any more. In spite of the natural disasters and acts of terrorism that afflict us, we all have a lot to be thankful for: so many new friends and loved ones to cherish, so many we haven't even met yet, and so many acts of kindness to cherish. The best is yet to come. Isn't life wonderful? Have a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving"


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Are You Living In A Virtual Reality World?

Hi, I'm Johnny Oops and I have a problem. Sometimes I feel like I'm not real. Granted I am known as a Prophet and a Messenger or Guru, but I still question my true identity. I question my very existence. What about you, do you question your existence? Do you know if you are real, or are we living in a virtual reality world?

Sometimes I feel like we are all bit players in some virtual reality world designed by the master of all out souls. What's that they say about us all being God's creatures? What does that mean? Is it possible we are being manipulated in some giant virtual reality game for the pleasure, entertainment, or instruction of some vast intelligence whose capabilities and intentions we cannot even fathom? Is this a test?

Sometimes I feel like I am operating in a dream. Other times I feel like I've been here before and done that before. Are we virtual characters who are reliving the same program over and over again?

Doesn't it strike you as strange that so many of us look alike, think alike, and have the same passions? Has the same program made us all? Is the same software running our lives?

Let's just suppose for a moment that we are all part of some gigantic virtual reality game. Who would have made it and why? Why all the conflict in this virtual world, why all the sadness and tragedy? Do we exist to the extent we do solely for the enjoyment of a master programmer, or do we serve a higher purpose? Who could have ordained all the random acts of kindness and catastrophe, or the quirks of nature, that are built into our lives? Where do our feelings of happiness and joy come from? Is there really any meaning to our lives, or is this all preprogrammed and the outcome predetermined?

I keep thinking about this virtual reality world we may be living in and have come to the conclusion that we shouldn't worry about it too much because this world is as real as it is going to get for us. We have to learn to make the most of our circumstance. We have to learn to have faith that who we are, and what we do is real and has meaning. We have to learn to believe that we have a purpose. We have to believe that we can make a difference, and that we have been put here on this good earth of ours for a reason.

And yet in the back of my mind, I still wonder. Do you have your doubts? Are we replaying the same game of life over and over again in a virtual reality world? Do we really have any choice?

The best answer I have come up with so far is that I think, I question, I can make choices, I have feelings, and therefore I am real. What about you? Are you using all the abilities that God programmed you with assuming there is a God? Do you have deep emotional feelings? Are you asking the right questions?

Think about it. This is not a game. This is a reality check of your own choosing. The outcome is virtually assured if you have enough faith. The outcome is in God’s hands. Take pleasure in the moment my friends. The reality of life is all around you. It is in the air you breath. It is in the beauty that you see. It is in the passion that you feel. Can’t you taste how bittersweet the reality of life is?

To question yourself is as real as it gets.

Hi, I am Arthur Levine, the author of the novel Johnny Oops. To read more about the adventures of Johnny Oops go to

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

CHAPTER 11 – HARVARD - Excerpt from novel Johnny oops

I was inconsolable for weeks. I wrote to Alice constantly. We talked on the phone. She admitted she had met some football player from La Jolla High School in San Diego. I wanted to kill myself. Then Dad told me he had arranged for me to get early, early admission to Harvard. I would be one of the youngest students ever enrolled. I felt like killing myself twice. My whole world was coming apart. I felt totally insecure. I was losing my Alice and my home at the same time. Even my religion couldn’t save me now, the hell with Dialectic Spiritualism.

Slowly thoughts of Alice occupied less of my time. Eventually I thought about her only late at night when fleeting urges prompted my sleeping passions. I had too many other things on my mind.

Harvard was a whole new world. The girls were 3 inches taller and at least three years older. I’m the kind of guy that goes for older women, but this is ridiculous. The guys ignored me. To them I looked like some brainy nerd. The only v-necked sweater I owned was a tennis sweater and it was now too short for me. I didn’t fit in. I felt like a fart lost in a windstorm. I was alone and miserable.

My roommate, a six foot six inch tall football player basically ignored me. My dorm counselor acted like he had been handed some full-term project. He wasn’t about to get too involved with my problems. I was away from home, without my Alice, and totally miserable.

I ate in the school cafeteria, spent most of my time in the library, and tried to concentrate on my studies. I guess taking mercy on me, my dorm counselor suggested I try out for the debate team. I told him I wasn’t into organized activities, didn’t want to ever be vocal again, and definitely wasn’t into anything competitive and the only thing I had any interest in was religion. Frustrated and feeling out of options, he suggested I go see the Chaplain. I guess he was worried I was suicidal.

Chaplain Bill as the guys called him was a much-needed miracle. He was a tall handsome blond-haired wasp from some seminary in the Midwest. I told him I was questioning my faith, and felt totally out of place at Harvard and away from my Alice. He told me he was questioning his faith too, and felt totally out of place here also.

We got along famously. He offered me a part time job as Chaplain’s assistant I jumped at it and decided to minor in theology – might as well learn about other people’s religions and it gave me something to do and someone to talk to. I had found a friend. Chaplain Bill recognized my genius. He didn’t talk down to me. He was very kind and considerate. Of course he didn’t look anything like my Alice, but he did remind me of her. To tell the truth I think we were attracted to each other.

I found that disgusting -- anyway nothing happened. My provincial background wouldn’t allow it. My remembrances of Alice wouldn’t allow it. Besides, he was 10 years older than I was. I think Chaplain Bill was secretly relieved, but the relationship did give me someone I could reveal my innermost thoughts to.

Of even greater moment, it gave me time. Time to consider what was happening to me, and time to try and straighten my life out. It’s a shame a kid of fifteen has to resort to getting his head straight. Life plays tricks on us all. I suppose it’s a Carl Jung thing. I guess I’m a trickster at heart: sometimes shapeless, sometimes all form and image. Here now and then gone. On the top and then on the bottom of the heap -- life stinks. I’m tired of being a joke.

I’m going to have to make some major revisions in my religious beliefs. Dialectic Spiritualism seems to have its weaknesses. I can’t be expected to go around having blind faith in some religion even if I made it up. Does that make sense? That’s what I mean, nothing I do or say makes any sense to me anymore. I discussed this with Bill. He told me the nature of faith is a constantly changing thing. It’s natural to be confused at times, especially after the type of trauma I have suffered. I am very impressed with how smart the Chaplain is. I am beginning to think he is a genius like me, only older and wiser in the ways of religious beliefs.

Of course when it comes to worldly things I am miles ahead of Chaplain Bill. It must be hell never knowing the love of a woman. Wait a minute. What am I thinking? He’s not a Catholic priest. He can get married. Maybe he has even been with a girl. This is what I mean. Since I lost Alice and came to Harvard my thinking has been all messed up. It must be the trauma I have experienced. I am suffering. Will this horror never end? I think I want to be a kid again.

I couldn’t take the loneliness anymore. I summoned up what remaining courage I had and wrote to Alice begging her to come to Harvard for the Harvard/Penn football game. I promised her a great time. I enclosed a roundtrip airline ticket. It nearly busted me. I told her Chaplain Bill had given me his football tickets right on the 50-yard line. She wrote back that she was coming. My life started taking on meaning again, but not for long.

Alice arrived late Friday. I gave her a quick tour of the campus, took her to a fancy French restaurant called Biba, was refused when I tried to order champagne, and we went back to the Four Seasons Hotel where I had booked a room. We had sex. It wasn’t great and it wasn’t love. The passion was gone. I guess her football jock boyfriend from La Jolla was better than I. I guess he was more of a man. Alice didn’t complain, but I knew it was over.

We sat quietly through the football game freezing our asses off. Again Alice didn’t complain. We sort of stumbled through the rest of the weekend. We didn’t have sex again. When it was time for Alice to leave she told me I was her first love and she would always remember me. I cried. I was pathetic.

Oops, several days later I had a major category 4 nervous breakdown. They tell me I went running through the hallowed halls of my dorm in a Crimson colored jock strap, playing Requiem for a Matador on my trumpet – a throwback to my high school days in the band I suppose -- while I tried to scrape the freckles off my face with my razor. They tell me that by the time three campus security guards finally subdued me I was a bloody mess sobbing, “out damn spots, be gone.” I never could forget my Shakespeare.

My parents drove through the night from Connecticut to pick me up and place me in the Happyville Sanitarium for emotionally disturbed boy geniuses. There I stayed for almost 3 months under the tough love therapy of a Doctor O’Hara. At least he was straight.

The closest I remember him coming to showing some compassion for my plight was when the good doctor said to me, “Look on the bright side Johnny, if you really wanted to kill yourself you would never have used a safety razor. It doesn’t cut deeply enough. Remember that if you ever want to try again.”

I’m not going to bore you with all the gritty details of my three-month incarceration at Happyville or the analysis I went through. I was diagnosed as having homophobic neurotic manifestations brought on by my rejection as an inadequate lover by Alice. I can relate to that.

They also told me that my playing Requiem for a Matador on my trumpet symbolized my wish to die a hero’s death so Alice would mourn me as a martyr. O’Hara told me that my wearing the jock strap represented my desire to fuck her football player lover both figuratively and literally, and that trying to scrap off my freckles was an attempt to become more mature in the way I dealt with social relationships. Doctor O’Hara said this last part was actually a hopeful sign. There is much more, but most of it is too painful for me to discuss. When am I going to grow up?

After 3 months they released me to the care of my parents with the strong recommendation that I not to go back to Harvard until I was sixteen no matter how much of a genius my folks thought I was. That’s right, blame it on my folks, why not give them a guilt trip. That’s the way these shrinks get new customers. There never was any chance of my returning to Harvard. I didn’t want to go through the horror and the loneliness again and the University didn’t want me back.

For the next few months I moped around the house doing nothing much except growing a beard. I wanted to hide the scars on my face where I had cut myself. Physical scars you can hide, some mental ones never go away. You can only push them into the background. That’s life: A lot of crazy shit, a lot of hiding from yourself, and a little love to keep you going.

My old friend Billy came over to visit me. That was a hoot. He was fatter than ever. He was repeating seventh grade for the second time. I told him he was sicker than I was. He said I was right and he was sorry. We both had a good cry together. We are both pathetic. I never let him come over again.

Alice called and wanted to come visit me. My folks, Doctor O’Hara and I absolutely refused to even consider it. That was the end of Alice, or so I thought.

Chaplain Bill did come to visit me. He apologized to me for not feeling my pain and for not being able to give me a stronger faith in God.

I said, “That’s all right, we all have our crosses to bear. It was not your responsibility to make me a decent human being who cared enough about others not to make them feel guilty.”

Chaplain Bill thanked me for being his friend and helping him find his faith again. How come I can help other people, but I can’t help myself?

Months have gone by now since I’ve come home. My parents try and stay out of my way, especially my mother who had a long talk with Doctor O’Hara. I think she is seeing him now herself. My Dad doesn’t know what to say to me to cheer me up so he tries to tell me these stupid little jokes. I love my Dad. I feel his pain. It must be tough to have a screwed up son whom you love, and think it’s your fault that he’s messed up.

I’m starting to feel human again. I know I’m ready to do something, but I don’t know what yet. I don’t want to race headlong into another disaster. I’m glad I didn’t kill myself. I still don’t know the meaning of life. I still don’t understand the nature of my faith. I still don’t have a plan for the future.

What I do have as Doctor O’Hara has explained to me is some time to look around and see the beauty in life. He says it is all around me. All I have to do is look for it. You don’t have to be a genius to keep your eyes open. I’m starting to take a peek. I think I like what I see. I think I’ll stick around. Life still sucks, but I think I’ll hang around and see what happens to me. It’s like watching a movie only I’m in it. I’m the star in this crazy whacked out production. This is my life. It feels unreal. Who ever heard of a bearded leading man with freckles getting the girl? It’s ridiculous.

That’s me -- all image and fantasy. I’ve got to find out who I really am. I wish I hadn’t tried to do everything so fast. I wish I hadn’t tried to grow up so soon. I wish I were a kid again. This manhood thing is definitely not what it’s cracked up to be. I’m not ready yet.

What was my rush? Where am I going to go now? What am I going to do? Who will I have to keep me company and give me love? I have all these questions and no answers. I think I was smarter when I was younger. This growing older thing is hell.

It must be horrible to be old. Then you really know you have all the answers and you don’t have the time to do anything with them. It must be like looking in on your life rather than just living it. I guess that’s what Doctor O’Hara meant. I have time, precious time. That’s truly wonderful. I hope I’m smart enough to know what to do with it this time.

I don’t feel much like a genius anymore or a philosopher for that matter. I just feel like a mixed up kid, or am I a man now? What happened to my promise? I had such dreams. I was going to do great things. I guess I am going to have to get my act together first.