By Richard Packham
[A group of young people from a Baptist church in a small Texas town wrote to me at the invitation of their youth leader, to tell me why they believe in God. In their individual letters, most of them urged me to give up my atheism and to believe in Jesus. Their leader invited me to respond to these young people, who are about twelve or thirteen years old. I wrote the following skit as part of my response.]
Mr. Arnold has spent his entire life in his little store on a street corner in a busy neighborhood in our city. He is there from early morning until he closes at night, selling pints of milk, bars of soap, candy bars, bags of chips, magazines, and many other different things to the many people from the neighborhood who find it convenient to get what they need at a moment's notice in his store. It is a "convenience" store, and Mr. Arnold likes to think of it that way. He has not become wealthy from his store, but he earns a comfortable living.Mr. A: Can I help you with something?
Today, two men come into the store. Mr. Arnold has never seen them before. But they are dressed in suits, and look serious.
Pete: I'm Pete, and this is my partner Jim. Gus asked us to drop in and talk to you and see how things stand with you.
Mr. A: What do you mean? And who is 'Gus'?
Jim: Do you mean to say you've never heard of Gus? Why, Gus is just about the most important and most influential person around. In fact, he pretty much runs this town!
Mr. A: Well, I'm sorry, but I've never heard of him.
Pete: That may be a very big problem for you, because it is very important to be a friend of Gus! You ARE his friend, aren't you?
Mr. A: How could I possibly be his friend if I have never heard of him, have never met him, and know nothing about him?
Jim: Look, it isn't that hard. All you have to do is say that you think Gus is just the greatest and nicest person you have ever heard of, and everything will be just fine. That's all you have to do.
Mr. A: But I can't do that. I don't know anything about him!
Pete: (irritated) What's the matter? Do you have some kind of a problem, buddy? We just TOLD you that Gus runs everything, that he's the boss, and that he wants everybody to be his friend! What's your problem with that? Are you calling us liars?
Jim: Calm down, Pete. (to Mr. Arnold:) You are maybe not aware of how much Gus has done for you, is that it? I mean, in helping you with your store.
Mr. A: (starting to get angry) Look, I started this store with my own savings, years ago, and I have worked hard, and saved, and built up my business with my own hard work, and nobody helped me! Especially somebody named Gus that I never even heard of!
Jim: (trying to be very, very patient) Mr. Arnold, you may think you did that all by yourself, but you're mistaken. All the time, Gus knew what you were doing, and he was getting the message out to all the people in your neighborhood that they should buy things in your store. He put the word out (and, believe me, when Gus puts the word out, people listen!) that you were not to be robbed very often, or get your windows broken, or get beat up. When you had to borrow money at the bank, Gus put in a good word for you behind the scenes. Don't you think you should be grateful to Gus for all his help?
Mr. A: But why would somebody I don't even know do things like that for me, and without telling me?
Pete: Don't you get it, Arnold? Because Gus LIKES you! And he wants you to be his friend!
Mr. A: Well, I just can't believe it! I've worked hard, and I've built up my store by myself, and I don't see why I should give anybody else any of the credit for it!
Pete: (straightening himself up and taking a deep breath) Well, if that's the way you feel, then I feel very sorry for you! Because I would not want to be in your shoes when Gus hears about this! Let me tell you, mister, you are in BIG trouble now!
Jim: (leaning over the counter to get closer to Mr. Arnold) Please, it would be so easy for you to be Gus's friend! Just say, 'I am a friend of Gus, and I am grateful for everything he has done for me, and I'll gladly do whatever he wants me to do!' That's all.
Pete: (enthusiastically) You know, if you're a friend of Gus, when you get old and retire, then you get to go live with Gus at his place. He's got a huge house outside of town, and he wants all his friends to come and live there when they retire. Wouldn't you like that? You could just sit around and enjoy Gus's company every day for the rest of your life!
Mr. A: I don't know. It sounds kind of boring...
Pete: Yeah, but do you know what will happen to you if you're NOT a friend of Gus? Have you any idea?
Jim: I guess you'd better tell him.
Pete: Yeah, I'm going to tell him. If you are not a friend of Gus, one of these days Gus will send some guys over to your store, and they will beat the hell out of you, break your arms and legs, smash your face in, and then pour gasoline all over you and your store, and then light it! And you will burn to a crisp!
Mr. A: That's terrible! Why would Gus do something like that?
Pete: Because he is such a nice person, and he wants everybody to be his friend, don't you see?
Mr. A: He doesn't sound like a very nice person at all! He sounds more like a mobster!
Pete: Ooh, you'd better watch it! You are going to end up in your own private bonfire if you're not careful! Look, mobsters are gangsters, they're criminals! But Gus is just the nicest person you could imagine! He's NOT a mobster! How could you even think that!? Please, please, just say that you're a friend of Gus!
Mr. A: (thinking a moment) Maybe I can talk to Gus myself and straighten this out.
Pete: Oh, no! Nobody talks to Gus! He's too important! He's got so many friends that he doesn't have time to grant individual interviews!
Mr. A: Well, don't you talk to him?
Jim: Are you kidding? We're pretty far down in the organization. We're not important enough to have actually talked to Gus in person. In fact, we've never even seen him. And our supervisor hasn't, either. But his supervisor's supervisor knows somebody pretty high up who says that he actually did see Gus once. That was a long time ago, though.
Mr. A: (hesitantly) I suppose I have nothing to lose by being a friend of Gus...
Jim: Now you're talking! That's the spirit! Gus is going to be real pleased!
Mr. A: I mean, if that's all I have to do, just say I'm his friend.
Pete: Well, you have to do a little more than that. There's this little handbook for friends of Gus, with rules and nice thoughts about Gus that you need to learn and think about. (gives him a copy)
Jim: And true friends of Gus get together once a week to talk about Gus and what a great guy he is. And to get instructions about what Gus wants us to do. And pitch in with a little money now and then to help to pay the bills.
Pete: And now that you're a friend of Gus, we're sure that you're going to want to get everybody you know to sign up as a Gus friend, too!
Mr. A: Wait a minute... You didn't say that I had to DO anything.
Jim: You don't HAVE to do anything. But all true friends of Gus WANT to do those things. It's just a way of showing how sincere you are. After all, if you're not sincere, it doesn't count. You wouldn't want Gus to think that you're just PRETENDING to be a friend of his, would you? He wouldn't like that! Oh, and be sure to learn the rules in the rule book - there are a lot of things that Gus doesn't like his friends doing. You don't want to piss him off, right?
Pete: And just to show your appreciation, it's a good idea to phone Gus every once in a while, and just say "thank you, Gus!" and let him know that you're thinking of him.
Mr. A: You mean I can actually talk to him?
Jim: Sure! Any time you like. Most of his friends call him up at least twice a day.
Mr. A: Well, that might be nice, having a chat with Gus.
Pete: Oh, Gus doesn't do any talking! He just listens. Maybe it's just his answering machine - I don't know. But he does get all the messages. And when you're talking to him, you can ask him for anything you need, and he'll see to it that you get it! That's how great it is to be his friend!
Mr. A: Really? Anything at all?
Jim: Well, it has to be something that Gus approves of. If you're really his friend, you would probably ask for something he was going to give you anyway. But he likes you to ask.
Pete: And one more thing. You may get some guys coming around telling you bad things about Gus, spreading lies about him, even saying that there's no such person. Watch out for them! They're people that Stan has sent around, and Stan is bound and determined to get Gus's friends away from Gus. Don't believe anything they tell you!
Jim: Yeah, if you listen to Stan's friends, you're no friend of Gus! Just ignore them!
Pete: Actually, Gus could send out his personal bodyguard at any time, and wipe out Stan and every single dummy that listened to him. And one of these days he's going to do it, too! Boy, will that be a slaughter! That will teach Stan a lesson! I can hardly wait!
Mr. A: If Gus controls this town, why does he let Stan tell lies about him? If Stan says there's no such person, why doesn't Gus just hold a parade downtown, or make a TV appearance?
Jim: Then EVERYBODY would HAVE to realize that Gus is really who he says he is. Gus doesn't want friends like that. He wants people who trust him, who will take him at his word. Why should he have to prove anything to people who should realize already how wonderful and kind and good he is?
Pete: OK, Jim, it's time for us to go. Glad to have you aboard, Arnold! You seem like a really nice person - it would have been too bad if Gus had had to torch you and your store. But now, when everybody else is getting roasted, you'll be with us, and we can just sit and watch 'em burn!
Jim: Isn't it great! Can you think of anything better than being a friend of Gus? What a great guy!
For a similar piece in a similar vein, see "Kissing Hank's Ass", by Jim Huger (a movie version is here). Also, see my parody "My Lucky Rabbit's Foot"
[The unbelievers] shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night - Rev 14:10-11