A Parable


Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: “Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something… that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least.
…Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares.
Another said: I bet that is also a parable.
The first said: You have won.
The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.
The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.
–Franz Kafka, “On Parables”

I am thirty-five years old now, and I have grown weary. I have grown weary and bored with my life, old and weary as this world is. I need to change something? My bookshelves? Is it my bookshelves that I need to change? I went with white for my bookshelves. But they’re sort of an Arctic White, as it turned out when they arrived. Which is really a searing white. They looked so much softer and much more, well, muted and inviting online. Sort of like a soft buttery white in the photos online. Plus my walls are also basically a shade of Arctic White, so if I squint, it looks like my books are floating in midair; disturbing. But no, changing my bookshelves will accomplish nothing. So instead, I’m changing my name. Which only requires a trip to the courthouse and $75 to $500, depending on what state you live in. People should do it more often.

I am changing my name to O£iver, because I thought of that while driving the other day, and that seems funny. Like a joke about how stupid rappers are, but not in a racist way. Like how Ke$ha’s name is Ke$ha, or 50 Cent’s name is 50 Cent, but you can also call him “Fiddy,” which is dumb. So that’s funny. That’s a funny joke for me to be making.


So now I’m changing my name to O£iver. This is actually happening right now. And now the amazing thing is that it’s actually working; as soon as I try it, I instantly feel better. I pretend that it’s a joke for a little longer, but soon, I stop doing even that. I feel much better now. Nominal determinism. You are who you signify that you are. A rose by any other name really wouldn’t smell as sweet.

Now I’m instantly becoming cooler and more confident. Now reflexively sarcastic people are meeting me and making the same joke about my name: “O£iver? You know, that shouldn’t be pronounced ‘Oliver’ the way that you say it. It really should be Opoundsigniver… ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha.” They all always make the same joke. They remind me of fibers in an industrial carpet, these people — bland, beige; all pointing, always, in the same direction. I have always hated people like this, but now, luckily, I instantly know how to identify them all.

Once and only once, however, a guy comes up to me and says: “That really should be Opoundsterlingiver.” This only happens once, very late at night, in a bar, while I’m sitting by myself and silently nursing a beer, while I’m thinking about my new life. I instantly make this guy my new best friend, because he’s the only one to ever say that.


Now every annoying person ever is gone from my life, because I can always smoke them out within 60 seconds, thanks to my new name. Now cooler and more confident people are flocking to me, attracted by my glow. Now I’m only dressing in certain colors. I’m wearing only Turquoise Blue one week, from my shoes to my suit to the handkerchief in the jacket pocket of my suit to my hat. Then I’m wearing only Deep Scarlet Red the next week. People love this, because it’s interesting.

Now I’m starting rapping. Now I’m starting a promising rap career. Now I’m dropping my first single:

And you rap till you rap and you rappity rap

You rap till you rap and you

Blappity blap.

Rap rap rap–

Blappity blap.

Holy f-ck O£iver Miller is the best f-cking rapper who has ever existed!” everyone screams. This is so great. And money. So, so much  money. What do I do with it all? Do I give some of it to the poor? Hells naw. No, but I do; of course I do. I do give some of it to the poor. A reasonable amount, 10 percent our so, distributed through various charities that I have investigated for their trustworthiness.

People are starting to get too close to me. Fame is getting to my head. I am sick of possessions. I withdraw from the world, a little. I start meditating. I start doing yoga. I start surrounding myself with different advisers. I meet with gurus. I experience a sudden and shocking religious realization, or revelation. Suddenly it comes to me: Jesus Christ is my savior. Now I’m releasing a new album about becoming a born-again Christian, which bombs:

And you rap till you rap and you rappity rap

You rap till you rap and you

Blappity blap.

Rap rap rap–

Blappity blap.

CHRIST IS LORD!!!! [x10]

Now I’m ditching the whole Christianity angle. I still feel like doing good works, though. So I start travelling around the country on bus. Planes scare me now. Just to take off in one makes me think of Death. To be adrift like that. To be nowhere, a huddle between the earth and the upper reaches of the sky. I have long ago abjured from any plane travel. I hear the very winding noise of the engines at takeoff and I start thinking of Death, and I start having a panic attack. So instead, bus travel. I start travelling from city to city, doing minor good works in each town, getting to know the real America.

My bus goes off the road outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, flying through a metal guardrail and going off a cliff. It explodes in a fireball. There are no survivors.

Now I’m dying and going to heaven. I arrive in heaven. It looks very much like a storybook idea of heaven. Cotton-ball clouds, people with wings, pearly gates, Saint Peter, etc.

I speak to Saint Peter, who is standing by his little desky-thingy, looking like a host in a restaurant, except for the outfit part.

“Saint Peter,” I say to Saint Peter. I speak carefully. “I’m not sure that it is my time yet.”

“Hmm,” Saint Peter says. “Hold on a mo’. I’m going to call God out here. …God?!”

God saunters out. Again, he looks like a very storybook idea of God. The beard, all of it.

“Hello, God,” I say.

“Hello, Oliver,” he says.

“That’s O£iver,” I say.

“We only have our true names in heaven,” he says, very wisely.

“I see,” I say. “God, here’s the thing. I feel like I was taken before my time. I mean, Tennessee? As you know, I was accomplishing good works on earth–”

“I know everything,” he says.

“–So if you could just send me back.”

“Hmm,” God says. “Well, I can’t send you back to continue your life from the exact moment that you were living it. Too much paperwork; too complicated. But I can send you back to be born again, even though I really shouldn’t–”

“Thank y–”

“Okay, in this case I’ll allow it, even though we almost never do. Poof! You are born again.”

I travel back down from heaven. I gestate for nine months in the womb. I am born again. I reach the age of 35. I dislike my bookshelves. I decide to change my name to O£iver. It’s weird. I have been born to different parents who for some reason named me “Oliver” again. And though I have the consciousness that I am living a double life, and though I am trying to make different decisions, sort of in the spirit of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, to see how things will turn out differently — even though I try that, I end up rationalizing and making the same decisions, or somehow things just end up turning out the same. I get famous. I die in a bus crash.

I go back up to heaven.

“Hi!” I say.

“Hello,” Saint Peter says a little warily, checking his watch. (They have those here.) “Back again, I see.”

“Yes, and the thing is–”

“God?!” he yells.

God saunters out again.

“So,” he says.

“So,” I say.

“So,” says Saint Peter, just to keep his hand in the game.

“So,” I say in a rush, “I know thatthingskindofworkedoutthesame. But the thing is, I still feel like I was taken before my time…”

“Ho no,” God says. “I’m not falling for all this again. I mean, I’m God, not Santa Claus.”


“No, you look,” he says, and I grow afraid. But then he half-smiles, half-frowns. “It is time for you to enter heaven,” he says. “But–” he does a jabbing finger-point with the but “–I will give you another option.”

“I just don’t feel like I’m a heaven sort of guy,” I say. “I mean, look at this place. It looks so boring and cliché. I mean, harps and wings?”

“Ah,” he says. “But you haven’t fully entered heaven,” he says. “This might all be an illusion, since your eyes might not be able to handle the full concept of heaven yet. So it might be drawing from your own life-concept of what heaven is.”

“Sort of like in Contact, starring Jody Foster, when the alien ends up looking like her dad?”

“Sort of like that,” he agrees. “So, heaven may be nothing like this at all. It might be more like Dante describes, as though you are having the feeling that all the pages of the universe are being bound together by Love. So, an eternity, spent the contemplation of that thought, that feeling, which you would feel as you have felt nothing before. …Which would be very nice.”

“That would be very nice,” I agree.

“However, it might be exactly like what you see now. And so, if you feel that heaven is really ‘not for you,’ as you say…”

“Well,” I say.

“Then, in that case, I will offer you a special, one-time only offer, which I have never offered to anyone before. Instead of heaven, you can go to Some Other Place.”

“…Hell,” I say flatly, instantly suspicious. “You’ll send me to Hell.”

“No-oooo,” says God. “I promise you that will not be Hell. No Hell; nothing evil like that. It will also not be Earth, though. That is what you may know. …And I am not lying to you about any of this, because I never lie.”

I pause to consider this. “So, this Other Place; it could be like the Hundred-Acre Wood in Winnie the Pooh. Or it could be like living inside of Super Mario Bros. Or living on Pluto. It could literally be anything.”

“Right,” God says. “And you go and live out your multiple lives there. So, think it over. And by the way, you have five minutes to decide. I’ll be right back.”

And he turns on his heel and walks away.

I think furiously. I’m having trouble thinking straight. How can I make such a decision in under five minutes? How could anyone?

What do I do?

What do I do?

What do I do?

What would you do?

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