This One Time, 80

This one time I was sitting in the park, minding my own business, when I had a visitation from the present.

Well, that’s how my last girlfriend would have put it. I wander off into my own head — which is something I enjoy and one of the reasons I want some time alone from time to time. In fact, I’ll do it whether I’m alone or not, but I don’t like to be rude and offend people who might be sitting there trying to talk to me, so it’s pretty important to me to get away from people an hour or two a day and try to get it out of my system. When something happens to snap me out of it, my ex would look at that moment of shock on my face, when everything goes slack while I try to see if there was anything in the last few seconds I saw or heard that would clue me in to what’s going on, and say it looked like I had just seen a ghost or had some supernatural visitation. A visitation not from ghosts of past or future, but of the present.

We never came up with anything that would help her for her spells of being an incurable Dickens scholar, and probably the less said about that, the better. When she talked it was like listening to someone who had been dead for a hundred years — someone who was used to being paid by the word, at that. My own era of study was not as intense, and covered maybe Hemingway through Kerouac — and I know that’s not an incredible range. But I never understood why anyone should ever write in a way that they wouldn’t talk out loud. My ex solved that problem by talking the way she would write. She was wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but it grated.

And somehow it was her that broke up with me. Make of that what you will.

So I’d eaten my sandwich and was watching the breeze blow the tremendous clumps of oak catkins around like urban tumbleweeds. Those were the things I could thank for keeping the park relatively empty in early spring. If people were sensitive to oak or birch pollen, this place was a deathtrap. I hadn’t quite worked up the nerve to roll around in the pollen and bring it back to work to see if I could thin down the annoying herd of constant interruptions there, but probably the only thing stopping me was the imagined torrent of mucus that would end up flowing down the hall from accounting. Torrents of mucus can take the joy out of anything.

That was probably where my head was when my visitation occurred — a homeless guy telling me that Jesus was coming back in May. There was some other stuff I didn’t catch, and then he said, “Make yourself ready.”

I don’t have a lot of patience for this kind of nonsense. It’s not that I can’t deal with religion and people waving it around in front of me, but the nutbags make it hard on everybody. They make the sane guys with a serious message hard to hear. And for some reason it’s the loons that get the broadcast studios and the 100,000-watt transmitters. I’d only had ten seconds from this guy, but I’d had enough.

“Look, man,” I said. “Jesus was here half an hour ago. He gave me a sandwich –” I waved the wrapper at him “– and told me how sad he was about some of the shit that’s been going on lately. Earthquakes and shit. Wars that won’t stop. Camps full of refugees where everyone gets raped. People who go to bed hungry. Children without a safe place to sleep at night. Sick people who can’t get medicine. Rampant ignorance. Frankly, he was a bit of a whiner.”

I think it was about then I figured this guy wasn’t actually homeless, but maybe just a bit weathered and windblown. He had good shoes and a watch — and homeless people never really need to know what time it is. Anyway, he just stood there with his jaw hanging slack, and that meant this was still my show.

“He says tragedies are a test, a whole bunch of tests in a long series to see if any of us actually got the damned message. He says when the floods come and the cities burn, the people who hit their knees and pray instead of hitting the streets with food and fresh water and blankets are selfish idiots, begging for their own deliverance when the fact that they’re still breathing and upright means that they’re the deliverance that other people need. You get what I’m saying?”

The guy just stood there. I stared at him, narrowing my eyes until he nodded.

“Awesome. What’s your name? Phil? Mike…?”

“Lamont,” he said.

“Right. Half an hour ago, Jesus told me, ‘Look, when Lamont gets here, you tell him he should hoof his ass down to the shelter, and he can spout whatever silly shit he wants as long as he’s doing something useful at the same time, like washing sheets or ladling out soup. You tell him I said that,’ he said, and since that was Jesus telling me to do that, what choice do I have. What choice do I have, Lamont? That was Jesus telling me what to do, and also he gave me a sandwich.”

Lamont just stood there, sucked dry of any initiative whatsoever.

“Go on, man. Four blocks down to the bottom of the hill, turn right, then maybe six or seven blocks downtown. It’ll be on the left.”

Exit Lamont.

Did I feel like a massive prick? I did. Have I ever set foot in a homeless shelter myself? I have not. Was I some kind of hypocrite? Quite possibly. But I’d done my good deed for the day, and maybe a second good deed by resisting the urge to stuff all of my pockets with catkins before I went back to work.

I know damn well if a bus crashed in front of me, I’d be over in a flash to haul people out of the wreckage and hold hands until the ambulances arrived, and I’m always good for five or ten bucks for the Red Cross when there’s a crisis out there, and maybe even the occasional pint of blood when I don’t have to walk too far to hand it over. Beyond that, I don’t know that I really have what it takes.

A low tolerance for bullshit is pretty much the only gift I have to work with. I just hope, when slash if Jesus actually shows up, he judges that I have put my only real talent to good use and finds me worthy of … whatever it is they’re always going on about. Milk and honey. An endless supply of perpetual virgins. Or maybe just a little peace.


March 21, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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