Things are really bad in the TV fundamentalist business. I didn't know how bad until the Rev. Juniper Tube, the "King of Video Prayers," knocked at my front door and asked for a donation.

"Reverend, I didn't expect to see you working door to door for contributions."

"I'm in Chapter 11 and I need $4 million by Friday or they are going to take my chapel with the Rolls-Royce on top away from me. If you donate $50 a month for life I'll give you this picture post card of the Holy Mercy Mud Baths in Palm Springs."

"I don't believe I want a post card of mud baths. Why are you in such dire financial straits?"

"It all started when the Rev. Jimmy Bakker committed adultery and got kicked out of his PTL empire. Jerry Falwell took charge from Jimmy and Tammy to prevent Jimmy Swaggart from making a hostile takeover. Then everyone without sin started throwing stones and all our donations dried up."

"But Reverend, you did nothing to have your viewers turn against you."

"It doesn't matter. One fundamentalist preacher looks like another on TV. We got tarred with the same expense account. In the old days all I had to do was promise parishioners that if they sent in $10 I would wipe out the killer bees in their gardens and the checks rolled in. I once offered a key chain of our dog Babel riding the merry-go-round in the Noah's Ark amusement park and I raised $5 million in an hour. But you don't see money like that anymore. I would love to get Tammy and Jimmy by their throats and smite them with a sword."

"That's no way for a TV man of the cloth to talk," I said. "Remember, when television donations fall off, a man of God must turn the other cheek."

"Where did you hear that?"

"It was either on Channel 4, 5, 7, 9 or Johnny Carson. I remember it because I was so impressed I sent in $100."

"How about giving me $100?" the reverend said.

"I can't believe you have stooped to asking for a paltry $100 when you are known as the Good Shepherd of Visa cards."

"Tammy didn't do me any good either," the Rev. Juniper moaned. "Once they showed the price of her clothes and the size of her closets, people started calling her a greedy Imelda Marcos. I'm desperate. If you don't give me a large contribution right now God is going to call me home."

"That's an old Oral Roberts trick," I told him. "If you want to play with the big boys in the evangelical game you have to come up with something more original."

"What if I said I need cash so I can run for president of the United States?"

"Pat Robertson beat you to that one. He's got the hell and damnation electorate all tied up."

"Suppose I told you I need the money because Jimmy Swaggart is putting out stories about my one-night stand in Patachello?"

"You didn't have a one-night stand in Patachello, did you?"

"Of course I didn't. But after all the stuff that's been in the papers people believe every TV minister had a one-night stand in Patachello."

"Good point," I said. "Well, I guess there is nothing wrong with giving you a few bucks since you can't get it from TV. What do you intend to do with it?"

"I'm going to give it to God as hush money."