The Shroud of Ernie
[Author's note: I wrote this satire in 1990 to amuse my co-workers at Indiana Oxide Corporation in Brazil, Indiana. I slightly pilfered the idea from Berke Breathed's legendary 1980s comic strip, Bloom County. However, the point here was not to plagiarize Mr. Breathed's comic strip, it was to amuse my co-workers, as I used all their first names in this satire. After I wrote it it hung in our break room for quite a while.]
The Miracle of The Shroud of Ernie began, as all miracles do, with all the participants unaware of the divine destiny they were about to fulfill. As everyone sat around the Dover Coal Mine break room, they discussed with this reporter the magical day when they discovered the Shroud of Ernie, the divine sign from heaven that has made this small company in Indiana a worldwide shrine for religious pilgrims.
Ralphie Mustang swore, upon retrospect, that the signs were there for something big to happen. “Well, my sciatica was acting up, and I swear I seen one of them there apparitions that morning as I was driving to work,” he testified.
“What the fuck is an ‘apparition?’” asked Big George Buggywhip.
“Goddamn, Georgie, you fat fuck, you ain’t never seen one of them things? It’s like a ray of light coming down from the sky.”
“Jesus, Ralphie, I think we call that a break in the clouds with the sun shining through,” sneered Terry Swinedoggie, the resident skeptic and philosopher.
“Yyyyyup,” seconded Bill Jockpuddle.
“Aww, fuck you both, it was a sign from above that a something was gonna happen. I seen it that morning, and now it makes sense.”
The discussion about signs and apparitions grew heated until the donuts ran out, the horn blew denoting the end of break time, and Ralphie kicked off his work boots and propped them on the table. “Them stinky-ass feet is a sign—from hell!” Chuck Puddingpop could be heard snorting as he made a quick getaway with everyone else. Work was better than smelling Ralphie’s feet or talking about the Shroud of Ernie with a nosy reporter.
The day of discovery was like every day at the mine, where the work is hard and the camaraderie between workers is of a high magnitude. Mining is not for the weak or simple, and these were hard, tough men who had great respect for each other. Their shift in the mine had just finished, so they were in the locker room, undressing before they showered.
Gib Hasselfuss was just about to enter the shower when he noticed that he’d forgotten his dandruff shampoo, so he quickly dashed back to his locker to retrieve it. Gib didn’t have much hair, but he did have a ton of dandruff on his scalp, so his wife was always forcing him to use some stupid concoction or other to cure the malady. Nothing worked, and it always looked like it was snowing in Gib’s world, with white flakes everywhere: on his shoulders, on his back, all over his lunch, in his truck, on all the furniture in his double-wide trailer home, and mostly all over his poor wife when she got up in the morning.
Ralphie Mustang was constantly riding Gib about his dandruff. “Goddamn, Gibber, we should slap some skis on a couple of rats and have us one of them World Cup races down your fucking back!” Since rats were in great abundance around the mine, some of the guys thought that was a pretty good idea. Chuck Puddingpop, the mine’s sports bookie, was actually thinking of taking bets on the race.
Between his wife’s bitching and Ralphie’s insults, Gib figured he had to at least try the crap or they’d ride his ass endlessly. Plus, his old lady was so crazy she’d sniff his hair when he got home to make sure he used it. Therefore, he had a sense of urgency as he sprinted to his locker.
Just before he got to his locker he tripped on a pair of underwear that someone had carelessly tossed on the floor. Like a banana peel scene in an old comedy film, he flew up in the air and landed supine on his ass, howling and shrieking the whole time. He immediately grabbed the undies and was about to unload a massive tirade of obscenities at the owner of the underwear, Ernie Dingle—whose name was written on the elastic band of the undies—when he noticed a rather large skid mark on the undies. Except it was larger and wider than a skid mark. It was…weird…curious…creepy. Gib stared at it. His anger subsided quickly as he became puzzled and amazed by this odd discovery.
Just then Ernie came out of a crapper and saw Gib holding up his poop-stained skivvies. “Gibber, what in the high holy hell are you doin’ with my drawers?” he screamed.
“Look at this shit stain, Ern,” he replied, “there’s somethin’ creepy about it, but I ain’t just sure what.”
Ernie blushed. “That ain’t no poop stain…I, uh, sat on a candy bar…yeah, a candy bar.”
As Ernie said this, Ralphie Mustang came out of the shower. Ralphie, among other things, was known as the “Bard of Dover” because of his mastery of ribald and vulgar limericks, such as:
There once was a man named Dave
Who kept a dead whore in a cave
One had to admit
She smelled like shit
But look at the money he saved.
A former Army drill sergeant, Ralphie had also honed his rapid-fire putdown skills to an art form. Everyone feared being the target of a Ralphie putdown tirade.
“Candybar my ugly old ass!” he shouted at Ernie. “You shit yer damn drawers, Dingle.” He yanked the undies from Gib and held them up, preparing to unload a barrage of insults at Ernie. But he didn’t. Instead, he got quiet as he examined the stain. Everyone took notice of this; Ralphie never passed up the opportunity to rag a guy for crapping his pants—after all, the jokes practically wrote themselves. Of the top five locker room sources of humor, a shit stain rated third behind a good, loud, smelly fart and someone throwing a bucket of cold water on some doofus in the shower without his knowledge.
“What’s wrong, Ralphie?” inquired his sidekick, Bill “Jesus” Jockpuddle. Ralphie called Bill “Jesus” because of his long hair. While Ralphie loathed most hippies (as most retired Army sergeants would), he and Jesus went way back and were as close as brothers. Jesus really wasn’t a hippie—he had long hair because his old lady dug it—and he hardly ever spoke, but when he did it was usually an affirmative “yyyyyup” to whatever had just been declared.
“Damn, Jesus, it’s colder than my ex-wife’s titties out today.”
“Jesus, this fuggin’ coffee tastes like my sweaty nuts.”
Without really noticing it, everyone usually begins a declarative statement with “Jesus.” Say, for instance, someone hits his hand with a hammer: “Jesus, that fucking hurts!”
Jesus Jockpuddle always thought people were telling him these things because they called out his name, so he always had a ready answer: “Yyyyyup.”
Ralphie held the underwear up for everyone to see. “Look at this shit stain. It looks like one of them—say, what do you call it when you shine a light on someone and trace their shadow on a piece of paper?”
“A silhouette?” replied Chuck Puddingpop. Aside from being an ace bookie, Chuck was also the considered the best scholar at the mine. Chuck just knew things.
“Yeah, a silhouette. Look at this fucker. It looks like a silhouette of someone.”
Everyone gathered around Ralphie and examined the shit stain except Ernie, who sulked by his locker and mumbled that it wasn’t a shit stain—he swore he sat on a candy bar.
“Jesus, it sure does look like someone,” said Gib.
A light bulb lit over Ralphie’s head. “Damn…you know who it is? It’s…it’s…”
“It’s the King!” shouted Hoot Hockenlouie.
Everyone froze when he said this. Hoot was the Elvis freak to end all Elvis freaks. He named his son Elvis, his cat Elvis, his dog Elvis, and named his daughter Lisa-Marie; he called his cock “lil’ Elvis”; his farm was called Graceland; he refused to call his wife, who was named Elfie, anything but Priscilla or “Cilla”; he had every Elvis record and Elvis movie; every Friday he put on his “Vegas Elvis” white satin, rhinestone-laden kung-fu outfit and sang Elvis tunes at the VFW. The man lived and breathed Elvis. So if he said the shit stain looked like a silhouette of Elvis, it must be so.
Everyone knelt as if praying. “Jesus, it’s a miracle!” shouted Chuck.
“I’m…I’m…guys, I am fucking lost for words,” said Ralphie.
“Jesus, that’s a miracle unto itself,” replied Terry Swinedoggie.
Hoot grabbed the undies and held them up gingerly. “This here’s a holy relic, boys. We are witnessing God’s divine work.”
“Them’s my goddamn lucky undies, they ain’t no holy relic!” shouted Ernie.
“Your lucky undies?” asked Chuck, who seemed startled by this news. “How are they lucky?”
“Well, when I wear them to go fishing I always seem to catch more. And remember when I won two grand in the lottery? I was wearing them when I bought my ticket.”
“You know, since I touched them undies, I noticed my sciatica pain is all gone,” added Ralphie.
“It is a miracle!” howled Swinedoggie.
“Hallelujah!!!” everyone shouted.
They say God works in mysterious ways; sometimes he also works in rather humorous ones. However one looks at the Shroud of Ernie, there is no doubt—whether it is divinely inspired or not—that it is something to behold.
So now the Shroud of Ernie sits in a glass enclosure at the mine, and pilgrims from all over have come to experience its healing powers. While some skeptics have debunked its healing powers as purely in the minds of the believers, those who have experienced its powers swear by it. Kenny Burgermeister, the mine manager, claims the company has made a fortune from the shrine, selling entrance tickets and souvenirs.
Ernie Dingle has mixed emotions about the whole affair. “Well, it ain’t really no shroud, of course—it’s just my lucky pair of undies. And it was a candy bar stain, a candy bar stain!”