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Near-Death Experience

A leader who refused to lead gets religion

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First, if it were my last night to live, I wouldn't spend it behind the bar at the Local. But that's me, and I was not the one preordained by the mystic Mexican website to drop dead on Feb. 7. That would have been Grant who was preordained by the mystic Mexican website to drop dead on Feb. 7, and he chose to spend his last night on Earth behind the bar at the Local.

"Come see me on my last night on Earth," he blared to anyone who would listen, because Grant is nothing if not above whoring his impending preordained death for a few extra nickels in the tip jar. I, for one, would have spent that time curled up under my sink, because I am terrified of superstition. In fact, I recently saw a black cat cross my path and three days later my own cat, Jethro, died.

Not that I blame the black cat. I blame myself for being afraid of the black cat, because the second I saw the black cat I started to fear what the hell was gonna happen, and while I was busy being afraid, I didn't notice my own cat missing until it was too late. So not only did I fear the black cat, I feared the fear, and a mind-set like that stirs up its own shit.

Anyway, Grant didn't die like he said he would. We were all waiting patiently, but he didn't clutch his throat or get shot along with five others by an idiot in a black trench coat, or even trip and fall and impale his big head on a beer spigot. No. He just lived on like nothing important had happened at all, like there was no Mexican mystic that had ordained his death. The damn nerve of Grant, to live on without fear. Who spends his last night on Earth working like that?

"Today I have been reborn," he said when he didn't die. "Today I start my new life."

So now he's going to teach inner-truth courses at Sister Louisa's Art Gallery in the Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium ... Come on in, Precious, which is the name of the business fashioned from the massive loft he rents at the Telephone Factory. It's a cavernous event space, and in the center sits his "last-supper" table complete with Jesus throne surrounded by 12 disciple chairs. I should have known Grant would migrate back to his preacher leanings the second I walked in and saw that he'd festooned the ceiling with revival lights.

"You're a preacher!" I shrieked at him when the light hit me. "Jesus God! You're a preacher, you always have been!"

It's true. When I met Grant 10 years ago, he'd recently dropped out of Columbia Theological Seminary because they'd asked him to swear Christianity was the only way to salvation, and Grant has always maintained that he couldn't do it. But I say he could have done it as easily as he could look you in the eye and laugh about how he'll be dead in February. He certainly could have sworn Christianity was the only path, but I think somehow he knew not doing it would serve him better in the long run, because now he is not the fallen seminary scholar come full circle, he is the rebel seminary scholar come full circle. Plus, you know, he doesn't believe in God -- I guess that would be a biggie if you were about to graduate seminary school.

"Unless he thinks he is God," said Lary.

"Of course, you're right!" I slapped my forehead. Grant is God, that's it. Years ago, I swear to God, "God" used to be our nickname for Grant. Back then, all of us were floundering, Grant constantly sailed by us grinning like he was in on something. "I know there's a balance," he'd laugh. "I see it when I swing past." We would stand there watching, rooted to the ground and clustered with stuff, as all the things that never stuck to him clamored around us.

And now Grant didn't die like he said he would, but he doesn't want to see it that way. "I am reborn," he insists. "I am risen."

"Jesus fucking Christ, shut the hell up. People will believe you," I caution him, because people have been dying to follow Grant ever since I've known him, but traditionally he refused to lead. At most, he'd just point them toward the light but he refused to go toward it his own damn self. "It's that way," he'd yawn, but they wouldn't go because they were waiting for him to go, and when they realized he was staying put so did they.

But now, evidently, he's ready to lead. I guess that's what they say about near-death experiences; they change you, don't they? Grant says I've got nothing to fear, but he always says that. "Don't fear the truth," he says, but it's not as easy as that, is it? Not only do people fear the truth, they fear the fear, and a mind-set like that stirs up its own shit.

Hollis Gillespie is an award-winning humor columnist, NPR commentator, "Tonight Show" guest and author of two acclaimed memoirs, Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood and Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories. To register for her writing workshops, The Shocking Real-Life Writing Seminar, visit www.hollisgillespie.com.

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