12-25-2011, 04:13 PM
"Well, there they are," Criss said as he guided Pastor Bob to the warehouse where his cars and motorcycles were stored. "Now, what were you saying?"
Pastor Bob stared incredulously at the rows and rows of cars lined up neatly in the cavernous warehouse. "How many cars you got, anyway?" he asked.
"Here?" Criss shrugged. "About fifty. I also got my bikes. Wanna see?"
He led Pastor Bob to his collection of Harley Davidsons, choppers and other customized motorcycles. Their chrome handlbars and wheel spokes gleamed in the flourescent light as they passed each one. "Just how much did these things cost?" the pastor not so much asked as demanded.
Criss flushed with embarrassment, knowing the pastor would upbraid him for spending six figures for custom bikes. "A lot," he replied, trying to evade the issue.
Pastor Bob refused to be put off. "How much, Criss?" he pressed.
"A few hundred..." Criss began.
The pastor eyed him suspiciously. "...thousand." he added with a gulp.
"Mm-hmm," the pastor grunted. "I thought so."
Criss sensed another sermon coming, and he moved in to dodge it. "Hey, I said I was gonna sell some of them, okay?" he said. "I gave you my word, remember?"
"You did," the pastor concurred, "and I'm holding you to it. But since you can't decide which ones to sell, then we should let the Lord decide Himself."
"And how's He gonna do that?" Criss wanted to know.
"You gotta deck of cards on you?" the pastor asked.
Criss produced a brand-new deck of his trademark MindFreak playing cards, a bit puzzled as to why a man of the cloth would want them. "Fan them out like you were doing a card trick," Pastor Bob ordered him.
The cards were unboxed, unwrapped and fanned out before the pastor, who took one from the deck, looked at it, and smiled. "King of Hearts," he said with satisfaction.
"Okay," said Criss, still not comprehending the pastor's plan, "now what?"
"You can put the rest of those cards away for the moment," the pastor told him. "Now, this is what I want you to do: you take this card, see, and you toss it at your cars. The one where it lands on is the one you gonna sell. Get the picture?"
"That's letting God choose?" Criss said, perplexed. "Seems more like leaving it up to chance to me."
"That's what you think," Pastor Bob retorted. He held up the card above his head. "Heavenly Father," he prayed, "we ask You to bless this humble playing card, the King of Hearts, in the Name of Jesus, the King of Heaven. Let this card fall on these vehicles that You have chosen to be sold to aid those in need. Amen."
He handed the card to a bemused Criss. "Okay," he said, "start tossing."
Criss flicked the card down the row. It fluttered and landed on a blood-red Lamborghini Diablo. Criss' heart sank; he loved that Diablo, but, forcing himself to recall his promise, agreed to let it go. Pastor Bob pulled out a bar of soap and made a cross on the windshield. "That's one," he said. "Go ahead, Criss, give it another shot."
The card flew and landed on a classic Mustang convertable, then an imported Bugatti, then a huge Ford F-150 pickup. "Any more?" Criss asked, dreading the answer.
Pastor Bob thought about it. "These will do for now," he said. "Now let's see about them bikes you got."
With the toss of the card Criss lost four of his favorite choppers, including the one with the chrome skull on the handlebars and the scrollwork on the wheelframe. "Pastor," he moaned, "you're killin' me!"
"I'm not 'killing' you, Criss," the pastor said. "I'm helping you keep your promise. God has decreed these things to be sold for the poor. I'm also doing it for your sake."
"That's right. You're letting your materialism get in the way of your salvation. Remember what Jesus said to the rich man: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And you know what they say: you can't take it with you, you know."
Criss crossed his arms. "Well, if I can't take it with me, then I ain't going!" he retorted facetiously.
Pastor Bob glared at him severely. "Okay, okay, just kidding, just kidding!" Criss placated him.
"I wonder about you, Criss," the pastor said, shaking his head. "I wonder if you really learned anything from your experience last time. From what I see, I think you're having a relapse."
"Pastor, I made a promise," Criss insisted, "and I'm gonna carry it out, just like I said. I've already made all the arrangements: the auction's all set for next weekend, right here at the Luxor. It's gonna be a huge success, just you wait and see."
Criss proved to be as good as his word. The charity auction, a huge gala affair attended by the biggest names in Las Vegas (and a few lesser known ones as well), was the talk of the city. The media were all over it like ants at a picnic, taking pictures of the vehicles up for sale and the potential buyers placing bids upon them. The event headlined every entertainment periodical from People to the National Enquirer:
CRISS ANGEL SELLS CARS, GIVES MONEY TO HOMELESS.
Even the Las Vegas Sun put in their two cents' worth with an editorial cartoon in the Saturday paper, showing a caracature of Criss leaning against a fence post of a used car lot, bearing a huge banner reading:
CRISS ANGEL CHARITY MOTORS: GOOD USED CARS FOR A GOOD CAUSE!
Behind him were a row of sports coups and racing cars. It became a favorite screensaver and avatar for Loyals once it hit the fanboards.
Still, none of this mattered to Criss. What mattered was the fact that he had succeeded in raising close to a million dollars for homeless relief, thanks to the sale of his rides. He had played the celebrity to the hilt during the auction, posing for pictures with Nomi Porter, his date for the evening and hostess for the event, and granting interviews to the press. He spoke of his ordeal of being homeless for a day, of the upcoming television movie (as much as the producers would allow, that is), and how he was glad to be able to offer relief to those who had no place to call their own. "I didn't do this for myself," he stated. "I did it for the homeless, especially the kids. Yeah, there are kids out there, living on the street with their families, in cars and in shelters like Sanctuary. That's the worst thing of all, because kids deserve a better life than that."
The public response to the auction was mixed, swinging from wholehearted approval to skeptical criticism. The former were lavish in their praise, calling him "a breath of fresh air in an era of overindulged celebrities", who "truly lived up to his last name." He was "an example worthy to be followed," said others. "If all these rich celebrities would give up some of their millions to people in need, we'd end poverty forever!" one writer opined.
However, there were a disdainful few who scoffed at him, accusing him of creating a publicity stunt "just to make himself look good," as one writer put it, or that he was selling his cars just for the tax write-off; or the auction was really a scam, with very little of the money going to charity but most of it going into Criss' own pocket. Others decried giving "handouts" to the poor, claiming it "created weakness of character and a state of dependency within the lower classes.". "Stop sheltering the poor and let them pick themselves up by their own bootstraps!" one irate citizen wrote to the papers. "Soaking the rich to support the poor is communism!"
Criss tossed down the newspaper in disgust. "Communism, my ass!" he growled. "I try to help people in need and all I get is grief!"
"A lot of people think you're a hero, Criss," Dave Baram pointed out. "Lotta people wouldn't even drop a nickel in the Salvation Army bucket. You raised a million dollars--that's a helluva lot more than most people. Don't pay any attention to those Scrooges--you got more Christmas spirit in your little pinky than all of 'em put together!"
Baram held up a red Santa Claus coat. "Now get dressed," he said. "You gotta whole shelter's worth of kids to play Santa for."
Criss donned the red coat with the white faux fur trim, pulled on the Santa hat, and went out to greet the children of Sanctuary Shelter. He disdained the white cotton beard, claiming it made his face itch; besides, he knew the kids would know it was him, so why bother? He entered the church auditorium where a large group of children had gathered to wait for him. "Ho! Ho! Ho!" he called out! "Merry Criss-mas!"
The children cheered and applauded wildly. Criss passed out the presents stacked under the bottle-brush-and-broomstick contraption decorated with cheap styrofoam ornaments and tiny blinking lights that passed as a Christmas tree, wishing each and every child a merry Christmas. The presents were his own contribution, straight from FAO Schwarz (the million dollars raised from the auction was earmarked for creating a larger facility, better training programs and improved living conditions), as well as from friends and other people who read or heard about the shelter and wanted to do their part.
Baram and Pastor Bob watched as Criss interacted with the children in the auditorium. "Has he always been this good with kids?" Pastor Bob asked.
"Oh, yeah, he's always been good with kids," Baram replied. "He's been to see sick kids with terminal illnesses, entertained families of servicemen overseas. This ain't the first time he's bought toys for underprivileged children. He once bought a whole truckload of toys for this whole mob of kids at some church a few years ago. He's really a good guy, salt of the earth."
"Maybe I've misjudged him," Pastor Bob mused as he watched Criss hold a three-year-old girl on his lap. "Maybe he's not as selfish and materialistic as I thought."
"Hey, nobody's perfect," Baram said, shrugging. "He's got his flaws, just like everybody else. He drinks, he swears like a sailor, he's an adrenalin junkie, he has temper tantrums when things don't go his way--sometimes. I've worked with the guy--he's nobody's angel, I can tell you that."
Pastor Bob smiled. "That's what you think," he said.
(finis. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. V.)