The Man in Black

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Originally posted at RealLivePreacher.com in October of 2007

I saw him hitchhiking on the shoulder of I-35 the other day. He was walking with his back to the traffic and with his left thumb stuck out. This was just north of San Antonio, right near the town of Selma where the old city hall is now a Hooters restaurant, and the only remaining residential street was cut in half rudely by the interstate in the late 60s, leaving a string of tattered houses on either side.

He was wearing black, of course. So melodramatic. I had to laugh.

I pulled onto the shoulder, driving slowly alongside him. He refused to acknowledge me. I stretched over as far as I could, with my left hand still on the wheel, and rolled down the passenger-side window.

“I know you see me. Why don’t you go ahead and get in. I’ll give you a ride to wherever the hell it is you think you’re going.”

He kept walking. I kept the car moving right alongside him. Finally he stopped, exhaled dramatically, and looked at me over the top of his glasses.

“You haven’t been returning my calls.”

I wasn’t much in the mood to take his shit.

“Yeah, well I’m the one who has three kids and a couple of REAL jobs. It’s not like I can just jump out of bed whenever you call and sit up all night writing everything down. I mean, we have to sleep. You people don’t seem to understand that.”

He stuck out his lower lip in an exaggerated pout and mimed playing a violin while making a whiny noise. “Mi mi mi mi mi mi mi.”

I tried not to laugh, but I couldn’t help myself.

“So are you gonna get in or what?”

He looked far up the road, as if he was weighing his options. I groaned and laid my head back on the headrest, looking up at the headliner. He has no options. He has to get in the car. I know that. He knows that. Always with the drama, this guy.

“Okay, but I want French toast.”

He climbed into the car before I could reply.

“French toast? It’s like 1:30. I just ate lunch.”

“I have two words for you. French. Toast.”

I paused for a few moments, looking at him. He looked back, very confident. He knows I’m going to take him wherever he wants to go.

“Yeah, all right.”

“Go to Jim’s,” he said. “They have the good diet cokes in those classic coke-shaped glasses. And they have limes.”

I took the next exit and made a U-turn, heading back to town. We drove in silence for a bit. I sure as hell wasn’t going to be the first to speak. That’s his job. Finally he said something.

“Do you even remember any of them?”

“Sure, of course. Listen, I totally respect your work, man. It’s just I’m so tired. Seriously, sometimes I just can’t bring myself to get out of bed and get my notebook. But lately, you’ve done some amazing stuff.”

He smiled and fiddled with the radio knobs.

“Did you like Wednesday night’s?”

“Um, was that the one with the llama from Napoleon Dynamite, and I was like a sheriff or something?”

“No, that was last week. I’ll give you a hint. Waterrrrrr….”

“Oh yeah, the island dream!”

“Bingo. What did you think?”

“Oh, I loved it. That was nice. Very cool images. The island, that was from Perelandra, right? That’s how I pictured it while I was reading.”

“Yes.”

“I knew it. And that little city with the winding, medieval streets. That was from Matt’s book, Midwinter, right? The floating city.”

He nodded.

“Okay, so who is that woman anyway?”

“You know her. She’s your muse, your other voice, your anima, your inspiration, your…”

“Yeah, fine, right. I read Jung.”

“You really should listen to her, you know.”

“Well, she’s pretty pushy and…” I paused. “Between you and me, she can be pretty racy. It’s kind of embarrassing.”

“Hey, you don’t have to tell me. I wrote, produced, and directed all of them. Listen, we’re not held back by your prudish, Judeo-Christian so-called ethics. Paganism still rules on the dark side, my friend. Old school.”

“Whatever.”

I pulled into the Jim’s parking lot and we got out. My door slammed just a second before his. I held open the door for him and we sat across from each other in a booth. He picked up a menu and didn’t look up when the waitress arrived. She looked at him, then at me.

“He’ll have an order of French toast. No powdered sugar, but bring extra syrup. Link sausages and a diet coke with a lime in it.”

The waitress scribbled on her pad. “And for you?”

“I already ate. Just give me a diet coke. Also with a lime.”

She returned with our diet cokes a minute or two later. He peeled off the end of the paper wrapper on his straw, put the open end in his mouth, and shot the wrapper at me across the table. He always does that, and I never acknowledge it. I just close my eyes when it hits me in the face, then open them and go right on with the conversation.

He took a long pull from his straw and got right to it.

“Listen, who do you think you are?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean exactly what I said. Just who do you think you are?”

“I don’t know how to answer that question.”

“Exactly! And that’s why I’m here today. Listen to me. I’m serious now. Listen.”

He leaned forward and motioned with his hand for me to lean forward as well. When he spoke, it was in a whisper.

“Your whole life has become like a house of cards. All masks. All roles, do you get me? Husband, father, preacher, pastor, writer, good Christian boy, friend to the needy, everything that everyone who meets you needs you to be. You can’t keep it up. Do you understand me? You’re going to get yourself into some serious trouble.”

“I don’t know what to do. I can’t stop being any of those things.”

“I know, that’s why I’m here. Just listen to me.”

“Okay, I’m listening.”

“Look, I’m all for your doctor and the little white pills. That’s fine, but that’s not the only thing that’s going on, okay? Don’t buy into that chemical, pharmacological, bullshit worldview. That stuff helps, but it’s not the only thing. Do you get what I’m saying?”

I nodded.

“Listen to her. Don’t disrespect her.”

“Ugh, I hate that.”

“What?”

“When people use disrespect as a verb. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.”

He sighed and looked up at the ceiling, then back at me.

“Fine, don’t be disrespectful to her. I don’t care how you want to say it, but she’s speaking to you right now like never before. Every night. When you drive around and think about all that stuff and talk to yourself, that’s her speaking. You listen. And I don’t care about your
sleep or any of that. Just listen to her.”

“Okay, but then what do I do?”

“You don’t need to know any of that. You just listen.”

The waitress returned with two fresh cokes and his French toast. She laid the plate in front of him and he dug right in. I caught her eye and said, “Thank you very much.”

He flooded his French toast with syrup. I winced. He picked up one of the link sausages with his left hand and took a bite out of it. While he chewed he swabbed a piece of toast around in the syrup with his fork, then popped it neatly into his mouth between chews. He spoke with his mouth full of food.

Zuh Thying is, Sees got you, gyot a hode of you.”

He swallowed, pointed his fork at me, and continued.

“You gotta remember that all of us down below, we never lie. We tell the truth. It’s all we know how to do. You people up here…” He waved his fork around, sending drops of syrup flying. “You people are all liars. You can’t help it, poor saps, but you lie to yourselves all the time.”

“So once again I’m to believe that you came all the way out here for my own good. Just because you care about me or love me or whatever.”

We stared at each other for a moment while he chewed and swallowed a massive bite. His head tilted a little to one side, then he reached out his hand and gently pressed his palm to my cheek.

“Of course I love you. Of all the loves you will experience in this life, mine is the most true. Because I know you inside and out, all the way to the bottom and back up. In and out, up and down, light and dark. You’re a little too preoccupied with yourself sometimes, but you’re precious. I adore you.”

I stared into the top of my diet coke, stirring the soggy lime wedge with my straw. I nodded.

“Okay, tell her I’m trying to listen. I am. I mean, I will.”

“Good!” he said, snapping his head down quickly in one sharp nod before turning his full attention back to the French toast. “That’s all we ask of you.”

rlp

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