He sat there holding an old cardboard box and a sign, his face weather-worn, tanned and splotched with fresh sunburn, his eyes vacant, staring off into the distance somewhere, and his clothes matched his assumed occupation: lazy, hopeless, shameless bum, homeless or otherwise, and con artist. His assumed occupation also matched several other assumptions. He was an alky or drug addict or both, possibly schizophrenic, and maybe even dangerous. Any money collected, or earned as I would say, went to support his habit.
He did not pay rent on this small but valuable square foot of real estate, and he made no attempt to make eye contact with drivers coming up to the end of the off ramp as it intersected with Fortieth Street near Telegraph. He had camped out here almost daily for about six months. On a good day, his take-home pay was about a hundred dollars. On a slow day, he managed a measly five dollars. It was hard work and tricky business especially avoiding Solomon, who had crowned himself King of the territory. Anyone panhandling in Temescal was required to give Solomon fifty percent of the take or face the consequences. That could mean a good beating, but it could also mean death.
He was really no match for Solomon who towered to six feet, eight, with a beard that the birds and the rats could nest in comfortably. But Solomon decided to leave him alone after their first encounter. No one would tell me what had happened, just that Solomon had spread the word. “He’s hands off. Leave him alone if you know what’s good for you.”
I first learned about him while putting together my series on the homeless, and one day, just out of curiosity, I followed him at the end of his “shift.” He walked quickly down Fortieth street with a kind of rhythmic gimp, and took a right onto Ruby Street where he disappeared, like a ghost, into the space between an apartment complex at 3901 and an adjacent house. Of course, I thought it was strange, but I wasn’t about to venture into that dark space, and I had little desire to wait till morning to see if he might emerge from the same spot.
But that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about him just disappearing into the darkness like that. So yes, I got up before the sun. The moon was still hanging out, and I parked my car directly across the street from 3901 Ruby street. But my sleepless night got the better of me and I dozed off. When I opened my eyes, there he was already walking up Ruby Street to Fortieth. I missed it! But seeing him walk up the street carrying his sign and box was going to be proof enough for me that he lived somewhere in that space between those two buildings. That’s all I needed to know or wanted to know really.
Yes, I am a reporter and cover a variety of beats, some dangerous, but my wife’s voice lingers in my ear. “A Pulitzer prize would be nice, honey, but having you alive is even better.” Of course, there is a story there. I’ll give you a hint. It involves a local Mafia figure who purportedly has Jimmy Hoffa’s head in his freezer. Does that get your curiosity itching? It certainly tugged at mine for awhile, and the more I chipped away at the story, excuse the pun, I began to see my head in the freezer as well. Yes, that’s all I am going to say. Sorry!
So, my series on the homeless caused quite the stir when I told my television audience that panhandling was work, perhaps legitimate work, and hard work, and they should give it a try some time just to see for themselves. I specifically got a call from a Reverend Archer Stone, the pastor of a very popular conservative congregation in the City. For some reason, he wanted me to know that he was related to the great nineteenth century American preacher, Barton Warren Stone.
“Why would you legitimize something so abhorrent, Scott? It is not honest work, not honest work at all, and you know it. My church here in Frisco provides legitimate job training and jobs for these folks, but they have to be willing to give up the sauce, the drugs, and they have to be willing to work, for God's sake."
When I asked him if he had heard about Joe White, he came unglued. “Listen, Scott, I know all about Joe White. I am very involved in this community, and if Mr Joe White had gotten his lazy ass over to my center, he’d be alive today, that’s what I have to say about Joe White. If he was such a good person, why didn’t his own mother take him in?”
When I asked him if he had heard about Joe White, he came unglued. “Listen, Scott, I know all about Joe White. I am very involved in this community, and if Mr Joe White had gotten his lazy ass over to my center, he’d be alive today, that’s what I have to say about Joe White. If he was such a good person, why didn’t his own mother take him in?”
“So how many homeless folks does your center help each month?” I soon realized the Reverend Archer had hung up on me. So that brings us to Sunday, December fifteenth.
“Blind, blind, she’s blind.” Then he touched his eyes. “Jesus says, touch her eyes, touch her eyes. She will see.”
The light turned green and the woman pushed hard on the accelerator, made a screeching left, and headed up Fortieth for the ten o’clock mass at Sacred Heart Church.
“Mom, he's just a deranged homeless man that sits there every day trying to make us feel guilty so we will give him money for his fix. I hate to admit it, but I fell for it myself the other day, and gave him my leftover change from the toll.”
“Margie, what are you talking about? That was Jesus.”
“Mom, get a grip. I know how much you want to see again, but you know what the doctor told you. It’s over. Be glad they haven’t had to remove your eyeballs.”
“Margie, that was Jesus, and what’s it to you to touch my eyes and maybe heal me?”
“Mom, please don’t get psycho on me. It’s hard enough dealing with Dad’s dementia.”
The old woman sat there, silent and sad, and said no more.
Margie and her Mom, Peg, sat in the middle of their familiar pew, three rows up from the front. The liturgy was like any other Sunday until Father Karl read the Gospel.
“....When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.’”
Margie told me that shivers ran up and down her spine. She turned and looked at her mother who met her eyes with her own blind eyes. “I told you, Margie, he’s Jesus.”
When they got back into the car, Margie looked at her mother.
“I guess it can’t hurt. Okay, Mom, look at me and I will touch your eyes.” And she did. Her mother smiled and then laughed.
“I guess it can’t hurt. Okay, Mom, look at me and I will touch your eyes.” And she did. Her mother smiled and then laughed.
“This isn’t funny, Mom. Can you see or not?”
She screamed, “I can!”
Although Margie and her Mom agreed to talk to me, they really didn’t have to breathe a word to anyone. It was happening to other people as well.
On Monday, December sixteenth, a man, let’s call him Frank, scheduled to have valve replacement surgery, waiting for the light to change on the same Fortieth Street off ramp, simply nodded his head to acknowledge the homeless man’s presence. The homeless man, with his little jig of a walk, danced up to his half-open window, said nothing, but reached in, and touched his heart. Frank told me it all happened so fast that he didn’t have time to be afraid, but he knew instantly that something had happened, and an echo cardiogram confirmed that his aortic valve was back to normal.
Frank told me his cardiologist was not happy. “That’s impossible, Frank. Aortic valves do not repair themselves, and no homeless guy, Jesus or not, is going to replace the likes of top-notch surgeons like myself. There’s something going on here, Frank, and we’ll be able to explain it without any help or interference from your homeless friend there.”
“Doc, chill out. He’s not my friend, but maybe he should be and maybe yours too. Everyone else in this office calls it a miracle. What’s your problem, Doc?”
“Miracles. Frank. That’s my problem. Miracles don’t happen. Medicine, Frank, modern medicine, this is the twenty-first century. We practice the best medicine since Hippocrates. Medicine, Frank, science, that’s what cures. Look, I go to church too, Frank. Church and prayer have their place. But this, this, this has a simple scientific explanation, and we will find it. Maybe there was nothing wrong with your aortic valve in the first place. Maybe we just made a mistake.”
“Or maybe you’re making a mistake now, Doc.”
“Frank, I’m your doctor, for crying out loud. I can’t afford to make mistakes. You know that as well as I do. Look, Frank, you talk to your priest or minister. He will tell you that the miracles in the Bible are just stories. Stories. Good stories, but stories. Jesus never performed miracles. People thought he did, and so Jesus just went with it. I mean I would to if people started saying I was performing miracles. And in a way I do, but they’re not really miracles. I’m just good at what I do. Miracles don’t happen, Frank, neither two thousand years ago nor today.”
Another intriguing story belongs to, well I promised I wouldn’t use his real name, so let’s just call him Mr Silicone Valley. Now, he’s a guy in his mid-fifties. He runs a 10K every morning through the hills overlooking, well, let’s just say in the Bay area. He is in perfect health. On Wednesday morning, the eighteenth, he comes zipping off the freeway at Fortieth and stops for the red light, and without warning, goes into full-blown cardiac arrest. Our homeless man, bouncing as always, from one foot to the other, like he’s dancing in place, walks up to the car.
“Not your time,” he says. “Not your time. You’re here. Yes, you’re here. Jesus says heal people. Look, there’s Jesus. Heal people Jesus says.”
The light turns green, and Mr. Silicone Valley doesn’t even hesitate. He just drives off, and about a mile down the road has to pull over to digest what just happened. When he drives back to the off ramp, the guy is gone. So he goes to the emergency room, and it shows he had some kind of heart attack, but now, he’s perfectly okay. So he decides to drive across the Bay and talk to one of his best friends who happens to be our Reverend Archer Stone.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard about the guy on television. You know I have half a notion to call the Chief of Police and see what we can do about having that guy taken off the streets. A few days in jail or something, at least until Christmas is over.”
“What are you talking about, Archie?”
“You don’t really believe you had a heart attack and this guy stopped it, do you?”
“You bet I do. Maybe you need to go see him for yourself. You know I told you last week, you could be healed or cured or whatever the word is, and you know exactly what I’m talking about. Go see him. Just get on the freeway and take the Fortieth Street off ramp. He’s right there.”
“So what am I supposed to do, block traffic for fifteen or twenty minutes while we carry on a theological conversation, or I try my hand at schizophrenia and try to convince him to cease with the miracle whip?”
“You don’t want to be using that term, Archie. I don’t think you know what it means.”
“Why does everything have to have double meanings these days?”
“So what if this guy is for reals? What’s that passage when Jesus says something like when I was a stranger and you didn’t invite me into your home?”.
“You’re talking about Matthew twenty five and the so-called corporal works of mercy. You won’t hear me preaching about the corporal works of mercy. You got to be an idiot to invite a stranger into your home in this day and age, and all the folks out there that need to be fed and clothed, they just need to get real and find a job. Feeding and clothing folks will not gain you salvation. Why? Simple, because there’s nothing to be delivered from or for. Salvation is a big myth.”
Our Mister Silicone Valley told me he just sat there in that jaw-dropping silence and stared at his life-long friend.
“O, come on, don’t be looking at me like that. Jesus, I hate to break it to you, but there’s no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, no tooth fairy, and No God. I thought you knew that. I mean come on, when that schizo told you Jesus was there, did you see Jesus? Don’t even bother answering the question because I already know the answer. It’s a big NO.”
“So what are you doing being a minister?”
“I wanted to be a minister as far back as I can remember. I think it was my Mom’s dream. I think she took me to church before she took me to see Santa Claus.” And he laughed. “Hell, I don’t know, there’s always been some kind of an attraction there. Some folks call it a vocation or a calling. I started preaching in the back yard to the neighbor kids when I was four years old. Can you believe that? Didn’t know what the hell I was saying, just mimicked the minister’s sermon. I think the attraction grew stronger when my Mom told me that my great great great, however many greats it is, grandfather was Barton Warren Stone.
“And today, as I look back on it all, I can say I have fulfilled my life’s dream. I became a great preacher like my great grandfather, and I have lived a good life. That is enough for me. There doesn’t have to be a God or heaven or seventy virgins, for crying out loud.”
“Are you kidding me? You mean this is all a sham?”
“It’s not a sham. What we preach and purport to believe in is good for people. How else would we keep folks from descending into depravity? We're animals at heart! What I do for a living is just as valid as what you do. It contributes to society in many, many ways, and it keeps us from outright killing each other. So there.”
“It finally makes sense to me.”
“Well, I never really thought this about you, Archie, but I often attend services with my wife who is Catholic, and I just figured if any of those pompous folks in that church’s hierarchy really believed in Jesus or the Gospel, they’d stop wearing all that regalia in a heart beat. What you’re telling me is none of you guys believe.”
“You know, I like all that regalia. Told Sal I wanted to borrow those gold vestments and that miter sometime. That regalia is right up my alley. I thought about converting once, but I knew it would kill my Mom, and make my great great grandfather roll over in his grave as they say, so I stayed here. But you’re right my friend, If we lived according to the Gospels, Jesus, none of us church leaders would have a job. We’d be out begging for a living. God is business, my friend, and I think down deep in your own heart, you know that. Yep, big business, it has nothing to do with being saved or miracles. Not even sure it has anything to do with morality. It’s all business. In a sense we get paid to keep all the common folks under raps so we don’t have chaos. And don’t go there. Of course, I don’t follow all those rules, myself. I was going to say I hate to say it, but I don’t. I see myself as a little more intelligent than the hoi polloi, and I can make my own decisions about things. And on my death bed, I just want to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I lived a good life. Didn’t hurt anyone or take advantage of people, well, not too many people.”
Mr. Silicone Valley told me that the Reverend Archer suddenly became very silent, almost as if he were surprised himself at all that he let out of the bag. Mr Silicone Valley turned and headed for the door. Then he stopped and looked back at his life-long friend. By now, tears were running over his eyelids. There was a long long silence.
The Reverend Archer sort of half smiled and said, “What’s with the tears? So does this mean you’re going to withdraw your contribution to our new interfaith community center?”
When Mr Silicone Valley reached his car in the underground parking, he stopped fighting the tears and sobbed. He told me he didn’t understand the tears, but perhaps it was like a little kid facing the reality that there is no Santa Claus, and now, no Jesus, not even a God. He told me he always knew that the Reverend Archer was an arrogant, self serving ass, but that didn’t make the conversation any less troublesome.
“It did make me aware of one thing,” he said. “I depend way too heavily on people like him for my own beliefs. I can believe in whatever and whoever I want, right?” And he looked at me hoping I would validate him. But he didn’t give me a chance to respond, but went right on. “When I think about that homeless guy telling me to heal people, the first person I thought of was Archie, but right now, I am so angry with him, that even if I did have healing powers, he’s the last person I’d want to heal.”
When I asked him why the Reverend Archer needed healing, he just looked at me. It was obvious there was a pact. “He just does.”
Then he told me that the whole healing thing is driving him crazy. "I know plenty of people who really deserve healing, but I’m afraid to try it. Wouldn’t you? I mean what if it doesn’t work? I mean, I’ll feel really stupid, worse, look really stupid. I can see the headlines now. The tabloids would have a heyday.”
Like any good news story, it only gets better. A group of men ranging in ages sixty to seventy-five had all signed on for an experimental treatment to slow down the progression of prostate cancer. Part of the requirement was that they attend a support group meeting once a week. Now the researchers knew they were playing with fire with that variable, but they did it anyway.
So on the afternoon of the twentieth, the support group decided to pay the so-called miracle man a visit. To increase their good luck, they came up with a hundred dollars among them to put in his box. So they all crowded into a van and headed down the freeway to the Fortieth Street off ramp. When they stopped at the end of the off ramp for the red light, our homeless man jogged toward the van in his characteristic two step, almost like he knew they were coming and what they wanted. He grasped the driver’s arm with both of his hands.
“You, you, Jesus says, you, you touch them.”
Everyone in the van started yelling, “Not him....he’s an asshole....we’re as good as dead now....”
The horns from the cars behind them began blowing. The light had changed, and the driver hit the accelerator. “Hey, hey,” he shouted. “We’re all as good as dead. What the hell ya talking about? Look, I’m going to drive over to Mosswood Park, two minutes from here, and we can chill out there and figure this out. If I’m supposed to heal each of you, then I will. I know I’m an asshole, but hey, I’m not that big of one.”
One of the guys in the back of van shouted. “You didn’t give him the hundred bucks.”
They sat around a couple of picnic tables at Mosswood Park, and the driver went to each man, one by one, touching his left arm with both hands in the identical way the homeless man had. Then he said, “Hey, just for good measure, why don’t we all do this to each other. Maybe that’s part of the deal. It’s just not me healing you, but us healing each other.”
“I didn’t hear him say anything like that,” one man shouted angrily. “I’m not going to do that. I’m not sure I believe any of this in the first place.”
Another man in the group spoke up. “Hey, who’s the asshole now? Who cares what you believe in? This isn’t about your beliefs, Dude, it’s about doing something for someone else. You at least believe in that don’t you?”
“Alright, alright, I’ll touch each of you.”
“And you’ll let each of us touch you?”
“Yeah, yeah, just get off my case. You’re all beginning to sound like my old lady.”
Afterwards, they drove to Eli’s Mile High club. After the first round, they all looked at each other. “Should we be getting drunk?” one of them asked. “I don’t think so,” another chimed in. “Maybe, we need to go heal some folks tonight,” one of them suggested.
So they decided to check out a few urgent care centers, and they caused quite the ruckus. They were about to be arrested when one of them touched a man with a broken leg and the man screamed “What the hell did you just do to my leg? A second ago, the bone was protruding.”
Everyone just stepped back, including the police, and the men smiled and said good night to everyone and walked out. They decided that maybe a round of lattes at Peet's on Telegraph might be a good way to call it a night.
Well, the research director was fit to be tied the following day. He heard about his prized group on the morning news, and when he saw the group later that day, he saw something in the skin color of each man’s face that told him the cancer was gone. But he was angrier than hell and pounded the desk in the group room. He told them they all had to pay back the money they were given to participate.
“Who said we weren’t participating?”
“Who said we weren’t participating?”
“Well, obviously, you’re cured, so how can you participate?”
“Are you saying we’re cured?”
“No, erase that, I didn’t say that. Obviously you’re in some kind of remission.”
“So maybe it was your treatment,” one man said.
“I don’t think so.”
“And why don’t you think so? Is there something you haven’t been telling us?”
“That’s enough. Just get the hell out of here, and I’ll start fresh with a new group. Keep the goddamned money. Just get out of here.”
One of the men walked toward him and started to place his hands on his left arm.
“What in the hell are you doing? I do not need healing,” he shouted. “Look at me,” he continued shouting. “It’s obvious, I am a well man. If you insist upon touching me, I swear to God, I will call security.”
THE WEEK IN REVIEW
During that week, from December sixteenth to December twentieth first, I thought it might be interesting to randomly interview folks on the street, and when I did, many of them knew of the so-called miracle man, and some said that they planned to check him out after the holidays when they had more time.
One woman, who described herself as a born again Christian, looked at me and asked if I thought the man was Jesus? Before I could answer, she asked if Jesus was my personal lord and savior. Before I could answer that question, she informed me that it was quite obvious that I knew nothing about being a Christian and further, it was obvious I knew nothing about scripture.
“This man,” she said, “is not Jesus nor in any way a part of Jesus. He’s Satan disguised as the Angel of Light. He’s part of Lucifer’s band.”
When I reminded her that that is pretty much what they said about Jesus some two thousand years ago and then had him crucified, she just looked at me, kind of stunned and didn’t know what to say at first, but then added. “You must be of the devil yourself.”
When I tried to interview folks on the Fortieth Street off ramp, I was was quickly interrupted by Officer Angelica Mendoza. I mention her name only because I was impressed with her professionalism. I found out later that she had received the Chief’s leadership award this year.
She told me she knew who I was and what I was up to, but could not allow me to continue because I was creating a traffic hazard. She also said that one of the people I interviewed called nine, one, one, and complained. I practically begged her to let me at least interview the man himself, and so she gave me five minutes, but stood watch near by in her cruiser.
When I went to sit down next to him, he became quite agitated and stood up and began that little dance that he does, bouncing back and forth in place. He wouldn’t look at me, but said very forcefully, “My spot. Not yours. My spot. Find your own.”
I was a little surprised. For some naive reason, I thought it might be more like interviewing Jesus. His agitation seemed to be increasing and that made me nervous. But I continued.
“So tell me about your healing powers?”
At first, he didn’t respond, but then he scared the crap out of me with what he said next.
“Bottom of the inning, bottom of the inning. Bases loaded. All up to you, yep, all up to you. You struck out. Struck out.”
Whoa, how did he know that? I was in little league, bottom of the last inning, bases loaded, and my Dad, who was the coach, pulled the next guy in the lineup, who happened to be my best friend, David, and put me in as a pinch hitter because I’m the go to guy, the best hitter on the team, and yep, I strike out. I stood there at home plate, crying. My Dad came up to me, grabbed my shoulders, and screamed in my face, “Don’t be a pussy, Scottie. Suck it up.”
I was trying my best not to cry and waved to my cameramen to cut. The homeless guy continued to look away as I said, “Well, you gotta be someone different to know that story.” And don’t ask me why I said what I said next. “You know I followed you home one night.”
He turned and looked at me straight in the eye. It was very unsettling. He said, “No, didn’t follow. Afraid. Yep, afraid. Stopped short, dincha? Yep, stopped short. Too chicken.”
As I said earlier, I’ve covered a lot of stories, but I have never been so unnerved, my brain swirling to make sense out of this man’s ability to know the otherwise unknowable.
I also tried to contact every major Church leader in the Bay area that week. But no one would return my calls let alone consent to an interview. That sort of surprised me. I thought someone would have something to say.
I finally managed to slip into the chancery office while caterers were bringing food in for some kind of Christmas celebration, and was able to pull a few words from the Archbishop.
“Scott, I have nothing against anyone who can heal people." He knew me from a few months back when I gave him some good press for his efforts to connect with the Castro community.
“Do I think he’s Jesus? No. Do I think he’s schizophrenic? Does it matter? As you so well know, over the past months, I have been humbled more than once. I’ve decided to be the last person on earth to attack another fellow human being for doing anything, especially something as wonderful as healing people.”
When I asked him if he was implying that the healings were genuine and real miracles, he gave the perfect answer.
“Hey, a woman who was truly blind can see now. A man with an aortic valve that needed to be replaced has a healthy aortic valve. I know there are others, but those are the two I have read about. Why would I question any of that? You tell me. Why?”
“You’re excellency, you’re a wise Sicilian, aren’t you?”
“I am definitely Sicilian, couldn’t be more Sicilian, but not sure if I am wise. But I’ll take it if you’re offering it, Scott,” and he laughed and excused himself.
I got wind of a meeting of several churches on Saturday night, December twenty first. Seemed like a bad time for a meeting given the demands of Sunday morning. The meeting was being hosted by no other than the Reverend Archer.
He was not prepared for the lack of interest in the so-called miracle man. In fact, one very eloquent Black pastor got right in the Reverend Archer’s face and said, “So Archie, tell me this. What would Jesus be saying to us about now? What would he tell us to do with the miracle man? Come on, Archie, tell us, what would Jesus say?”
“E. K., get out of my face. Who cares what Jesus would say? Jesus is not here to speak.”
“And that’s precisely the problem, Archie. Jesus is not here, and with that, I’m going home.”
And within moments, others followed, and the Reverend Archer was standing there alone, angry, very angry, vein-bursting angry.
He hopped in his car and headed up the freeway to the Fortieth Street off ramp. As he approached the end of the off ramp, the light was green, but he slammed on his breaks and stopped and caused a chain reaction accident.
He jumped from his car and started screaming and pointing. “It’s all his fault, this Jesus nut, this schizophrenic, it’s ALL his fault.”
When he turned to where he was pointing, there was no one there. Panhandlers, as everyone knows, except for the Reverend Archer, go “home” at sundown each day.
DECEMBER TWENTY THIRD
Yes, the day before Christmas Eve. I don’t have to tell you how close to insanity people get two days before Christmas. But actually it was a fairly quiet Monday morning in the Bay area. I think quite a few people were taking Monday and Tuesday off, and not much was happening on the freeways till Reverend Archer raced across the Bay Bridge to the Fortieth Street off ramp once again, but now driving a rental car, and his forehead bandaged from Saturday night. He pulled over on to the left shoulder almost running over the so-called miracle man who never budged. The Reverend jumped out of his car, furious.
“Who in the fuck do you think you are? So you think you’re Jesus? Okay, so you’re Jesus.”
The homeless man looked into Reverend Archer’s eyes and asked, “Jesus? I’m Jesus?”
“Good God almighty, you’re nuts!”
“I’m Jesus? Who’s Jesus?”
“You sick pathetic son of a bitch! No, you’re not Jesus. You’re the devil!”
“O God, help me.”
Reverend Archer leaned down and picked up the cardboard box filled with a few dollars and some change and tossed it high into the air.
“Oh no, Oh No, ” the homeless man shouted. “O Jesus, Jesus, O God.”
By now, drivers were dialing nine, one, one, and jumping out of their cars to subdue the Reverend. The Reverend Archer suddenly pulled a revolver from his belt which made every one move back. He fired off three rounds. The man winced, but did not seem effected. The witnesses then wrestled the Reverend to the ground and held him there till the police arrived.
“Am I dead?” the homeless man asked. “Bang, bang, bang. Three shots.”
When the police officer was putting the cuffs on him, Reverend Archer began protesting, “They were just blanks, for God’s sake. I just wanted to scare him. Some one has to do your police work.”
“Sorry, I’m not doing my job, Reverend Archer,” and the officer gave a few more clicks to the cuffs. “You’re damned lucky they were blanks, but you’re still going to jail.”
“Jesus, good God almighty, I’m not a criminal. Loosen those cuffs before I report you to the Chief. I’m good friends with him, you know.”
“I’m taking you to jail, Reverend Archer. You get one phone call, so call the Chief. I should’ve taken you to the psych ward Saturday night when I had the chance.”
“I’m not crazy,” Reverend Archer insisted.
“Really?” the policeman responded, as he pushed him into the back of his patrol car.
One of the drivers who had stopped to help, rounded up what money he could from the ground and then added a twenty dollar bill to the cardboard box. The homeless man started muttering. “Good man, Thank you, thank you,” and then reached out to touch him.
The driver jumped back. “That’s okay, pal. You stay right where you are. I don’t need anything from you.”
“Good man, thank you, thank you. You’ll see. Good man.”
“Okay, pal, you’re welcome. You’re not threatening me are you?”“Good man, thank you. You’ll see.”
“I’ll see what?” he asked him angrily.
“Stop drinking. Yeah, stop drinking. She’ll come home.”
“How in the fuck do you know anything about that, Pal? Has that bitch been out here talking to you?”
“You’ll see. Good man. Stop drinking.”
The man finally just got in his car and screeched off.
So this is all third hand from the tow truck driver who also tossed a five into the cardboard box and told the homeless man, “I don’t have any problems, Buddy. You don’t need to do anything for me either. Have a merry Christmas.”
The homeless man made eye contact with the tow truck driver and shook his head slowly up and down. The tow truck driver looked at me and said, “I’m getting out of here, Scott. He’s all yours.”
I slowly walked over to him. He was still quite distressed. I reached out to shake his hand, but he would not reciprocate. He simply said, “You again. Bye bye.”
My original series on the homeless was aired about four months ago. I was relieved when that assignment was over, never dreaming I’d be pulled back into the controversy a week before Christmas. It was difficult, to say the least, to keep up with the on-going events involving the so-called miracle man, and my daily assignments at the station as a newscaster for the evening news. I finally just forgot about any last minute Christmas shopping. Fortunately, I was scheduled to have both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, and so I decided to put the homeless man on a shelf for a couple of days.
I was beginning to feel normal again as I got involved with Tee on Christmas Eve preparing our Christmas day meal, and we decided to top off December twenty fourth by attending the Christmas Eve service at our church.
The service at St. John’s Episcopal was somewhat uneventful, and I have to admit I had a hard time staying awake. Tee must have jabbed me a hundred times.
I remember only bits and pieces of Father Denman’s sermon. I remember him talking about driving his visiting relatives through Lafayette Square the other evening and being struck by the tents of the homeless.”
And I remember this part. “You are probably familiar,” he said in his eloquent style, “with the phrase, ‘the word was made flesh.’ This phrase is from St. John’s Gospel whose first chapter seems like theological quantum physics describing the incarnation.” I remember him pausing at this point, and it seemed like he was looking directly at me. I remember sitting up straight like, oh yeah, I am wide awake.
He continued. “However, when we go back to the original Greek in which the Gospel was written, we see something quite different from ‘the word was made flesh.’ It actually says, ‘God pitched his tent among us.’
He went on to say that back in Jesus’ time, you didn’t just pitch your tent wherever you wanted. You had to be welcomed or invited or in some cases, if someone very important wanted to pitch their tent with you, it was quite the honor, and you didn’t even think of refusing.
“So let’s ask ourselves tonight, where do we pitch our tent? And whom do we keep from pitching their tent with us? And how well do we acknowledge all the faces of Christmas, or do we pick and choose where we want to see Jesus?”
That’s about all I remember, but it made me begin thinking again about the homeless man. And as we sat around with family the following day, I asked Tee if she had ever heard that translation before. She looked at me and smiled. “Yes, many a times. In fact, Father has given that same homily for the last five years. So what’s bothering you, Mr Reporter?”
“You’re not serious, are you?”
“I am,” and she laughed. “I imagine I’m the only person in the entire congregation who knows he has given the same sermon five years in a row. Everyone else is either too exhausted or drunk.”
“Tee, as always, you are just too funny. You know, as hard as I try to forget him, I just can’t get that homeless man out of my mind. You know, he told me the other day that he knew I followed him home. He basically told me I was a chicken, afraid to follow him all the way into the place where he lives. Damned, it’s like a black hole and he’s right. I wasn’t about to venture into that space. But it was unnerving to hear him tell me and left me feeling very small and cowardly.
“You know what else? He told me something from a long time ago, a very long time ago. I was about twelve years old and up at bat. I was always a good hitter. We had the bases loaded. It was the bottom of the final inning. It was all in my hands or in my bat. But I struck out. I felt awful, and I just stood there and could not stop myself from crying. I mean crying. My Dad, who was our coach, walked over to me, grabbed my shoulders and hollered. ‘Don’t be a pussy, Scottie. Suck it up.’ Then he just walked away and left me standing their at home plate with the bat in my hand. It was a long time before I allowed myself to get close to him again.”
“How did the homeless guy know that?”
“You tell me, Tee.”
She reached over like only she can do and looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Hey, it’s Christmas night. The perfect time. Let’s go. I’ll go with you and we can both venture into the black hole.”
“O come on, you’re not serious.”
“Yes, I am.”
“I don’t know. I just have a feeling about it.”
So now you get to know Tee a little bit. Fearless at four foot, ten, and once she gets an idea in her head, there’s no arguing, so off we went.
But before I tell you about our adventure, I have to go back and tell you about Peg.
PEG AND CHRISTMAS DAY
Margie dropped her Mom off at the Piedmont Gardens. Peg told me when she walked into his room, he was sitting on the couch asleep with the television blaring. Vince opened his eyes but as usual did not recognize her.
“Hi, Honey, how are you?”
“I’m fine and who in the hell are you?”
She sat next to him silently for awhile, but finally spoke. “Honey, I’m going to touch your eyes.”
She said he got very upset. “What for, Goddammit?”
She just ignored his irritability, and as she gently closed his eyelids, he surprisingly calmed down. She held her hands over his eyes for about ten seconds. She then stepped back. He opened his eyes and said, “Peg? Where have you been, Peg?”
“As you can imagine, I started crying,” she told me. “I tried to reassure him that I had been there every day.” She then snuggled up to him on the couch, and he put his arm around her and patted her.
“Oh Gosh, Peg, it is so good to see you. Where have you been?” He kept saying that over and over.
They sat there long enough for both of them to just doze off like old times. Finally he nudged her.
“Peg, I got something to tell you. My Mom and Dad were here earlier, and they said we’re going on a trip soon, but, well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but you can’t come. Is that alright, honey?”
Peg told me she knew exactly what he was saying and simply reassured him that it was okay with her. She then asked him if he wanted to come with her right now for Christmas dinner at Margie’s.
Peg called Margie and asked her to come get the two of them. Of course, Margie was quite reluctant until Dad asked to talk to her on the phone, and Margie just stood there dazed and then screamed to the rest of the family. “Grandpa’s back. He’s coming for Christmas dinner.”
Peg told me that later that evening, she and Margie sat and looked at each other’s hands.
“Mom, are we supposed to be doing something other than just sitting here?”
“I don’t think so, Margie. If someone else needs our healing, God will let us know.”
The day after Christmas, Peg and Margie decided to bring Vince home for good. The doctors were stunned and reluctant, but assured Peg that Vince could return to the Gardens if necessary. The last I spoke to Peg, Vince was still alive.
THE BLACK HOLE
So you want to know the rest of the story with Tee and I? Well, Tee insisted that we head over to the spot, 3901 Ruby Street. It was around seven o’clock Christmas night. It was quite cold. An arctic blast was bringing subnormal temperatures to the Bay area, and the clouds were starting to let go of small drops of rain.
I had a flash light and gingerly walked through the dark space between the apartment complex and the house next door.
“Why are you stooping over, Scott?” Tee asked. “Stand up straight.”
I had to laugh. I had no idea I was stooping over as if I were making my way through a cave. Suddenly, there was a balcony light from one of the apartments and a voice.
“Can I help you?”
“Oh, a, well, a, we were just looking for...”
“Are you looking for him? Are you the police? You don’t look like police? Are you his parents? I’m Mary Zerrell, by the way. My husband Herman and I manage this apartment complex.”
“Nice to meet you Mary, and Merry Christmas. I’m Scott Roseman and this is my wife, Tee.”
“Hi,” Tee waved kind of hesitantly.
“You’re the news guy on KNTV?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“And what are you doing out here on Christmas Night?”
“I don’t know how to explain myself. I just can’t stop thinking about him.” And I pointed into the dark space. “I know he lives back there somewhere.”
“He’s there alright. I let him put up a tent back there. In exchange for the space, he actually does some cleanup around here. I don’t know what to make of him, really, but I know this much. He’s a good human being. I’ve heard people say he has some kind of healing power. I don’t know about that. He doesn’t bother anyone here, and everyone sort of keeps an eye on him. You can go on back there and see for yourself. Nothing back there’s going to get you. Go on!”
It was like she wasn’t going to let us out of this. Tee reached over and took my arm and we slowly ventured into the absolute pitch darkness with our flash light.
“Do you think she’s for real, Tee?”
“What do you mean for reals?”
“She seemed like a ghost to me. I mean she came out of nowhere. I have half a notion to come back tomorrow and see if she and her husband really are the managers.”
“Just stop, Hon, now you’re starting to creep me out.”
We continued to slowly move through what seemed like infinite darkness, and finally, sure enough, there was his tent. There was a light on the inside, and there he was standing next to the tent, moving from one foot to the other, looking at us.
“Police? Solomon’s people? My tent, my tent.”
“No, we’re not the police.”
“Yes, TV man.”
“Yes, I’m the TV man, and this is my wife, Tee. I don’t know your name.”
“Is it Jesus?”
Hell, I didn’t know what to say.
“My name, Jesus?”
Tee squeezed my arm. So I just said, “Yes, that’s your name. Merry Christmas, Jesus.”
“My tent. Pitch my tent here. No place else.”
Tee and I just stood there dumbfounded. He continued his little dance. “You’re here. You followed me. Not a chicken."
Then he looked right at Tee. “Your Daddy died. Too much booze. Not your fault.”
“Oh my God,” Tee gasped. How’d you know that?”
Tee began to weep, and I pulled her in close to me.
He bounced toward us with that funny little walk. We both froze. He put his hands out. I have to say I was really hesitant. I had seen those hands when he was sitting at the off ramp. But what do you do? Refuse to take Jesus’ hands?
So Tee and I both reached back. His hands were not only warm but actually vibrating.
We continued to just stand there, silent. We both said simultaneously, "Merry Christmas." And then like an after thought, we added, "Jesus." We turned to each other with that surprise when you both say the exact same thing at the exact same time.
He disappeared into his tent and we were like two people stuck in mud until we became aware of snowflakes falling.
“Go home, now,” he shouted from inside the tent. “Go home.”
As we headed for the street, Mary's voice made us jump. “Did you see him back there?” She had turned her porch light off so we couldn't really see her.
“Yes, we did, Mary. Thanks and Merry Christmas to you and Herman.”
She did not respond. I wanted so much to say, “Tell me you’re real, Mary,” but I kept it to myself.
“What’s with the snow, Tee? Are we in a movie?”
“Don’t you follow the news, Mr News? They said a chance of snow in the Bay area. It happens about once every thirty years. Freaky and unusual.”
“Like everything else this past week. Merry Christmas, Tee,” and I leaned down to kiss her.”
“Merry Christmas, Honey.”
“You never told me the story about your Dad. You just said he died when you were fourteen.”
“We had a big fight that night. He was drunk as usual. I finally just told him I hated him. He tried to slap me, and I ran and locked myself in my room and screamed at him, 'I hope you die.' He came storming down the hall but tripped and fell and hit his head, and the blow killed him instantly.”
“Tee, why haven’t you ever told me?”
“And why haven’t you ever told me your story?”
“So are we even?”
“No, it’s never even. You know that!” and she laughed.
DESSERTWe didn’t say much on the drive home. We just tried to digest what had happened back there on Ruby Street while enjoying the snowflakes dancing like popcorn in the headlight beams. Tee suggested we get a fire going and sip some hot egg nog when we got home. So we did. We sat back to back in front of the fireplace watching the flames gradually dwindle from their initial roar to a gentle wind with those intermittent crackles. Then Tee asked a question, and I could never have imagined the conversation that followed.
“So do you think he’s Jesus?” Tee asked. “Or an angel, or perhaps the devil? What do you think, Honey?”
“I don’t know, Tee. I sure felt something different when he took our hands, well," and I started laughing, "when we finally accepted his hands. I don't know about you, but I was terrified to take his hands."
“Ah yes, Mister Germaphobe. I saw you wash your hands as soon as we got home." And she laughed. Then she became serious again. "Maybe it’s simple, Scott. Maybe we just need to notice every person who crosses our paths. Treat them as if they are God wanting to pitch a tent in our backyard. Maybe it’s just that simple.”
“That’s good, Tee. I like that. I’m going to tell Father Denman that you should give the homily next Christmas.”
“I could do that, Scott.”
“I know you could.” And we both laughed. “So what about the healings, Tee?”
“Well, I think we can all be healers if we want to.”
“If we want to? Like how do you mean?”
“You remember in the old days when you’d walk in front of the rabbit ears, and the TV would fuzz? Or you hold your car remote up to your chin and you increase the distance from which you can unlock the car? So we know there is some kind of field energy connected to us, right? I mean all those tests and scans are based upon the electromagnetic waves that emit from our body and various organs. And just maybe besides the electromagnetic energy buzzing about us, there is also healing energy, you know, like whatever that was coming out of his hands. Or maybe it’s all one and the same. And maybe we just let too many things get in the way of our innate ability to heal."
I stoked the fire, as I thought about what she said. It’s very magical how first there are just sparks swirling around when you tap on the dying embers, and then poof, the flames appear again seemingly out of nowhere. I picked up the conversation again. “So like what gets in the way, Tee?”
"The big thing is our disbelief, our lack of faith, and our total dependence upon medicine. Unfortunately, modern medicine is at its best when it signs off the cause of death on our ‘that’s all, folks’ certificate.”
“Tee, when are you going to do a stand up routine?”
“Oh, there’s more. I’m not finished. You want to hear the rest or are you bored with my lecture?”
“Are you kidding me? I love listening to you, Tee.”
“Okay, so here’s my conclusion. Modern medicine only addresses our physical body and leaves our soul totally out of the equation. They call the power or magic, if you will, of our soul ‘just’ the placebo effect. Pretty powerful to be so dismissed. And you know, whatever you believe about Jesus, who he was or wasn’t, it’s interesting to me that the Gospel stories about miracles, show Jesus, as a human being, healing, and at one point, he sent out the seventy two to do likewise, and they did! Okay, I’m done.” She laughed and then leaned into my back.
“Ah, that feels good, Tee. I really enjoy sitting back to back like this. I think the first time we did this was on that camping trip, remember?”
“How could I forget?”
“That was a pretty special night, wasn’t it? So, Tee, speaking of the past, how did he know our stories? How’s that work? And you notice I’m giving you the podium again.”
“Well, thank you, Mr. News, and I love it. So here’s what I think about him knowing our past. First of all, we actually lived those stories. They’re real. They’re not fantasies. They’re real and they’re out there. We may think they’re secrets, but they’re out there in time and history, and maybe in that sense, they are fair game to whomever has the eyes to read them. And maybe, they’re not really out there, but written all over the lines in our faces and in our aches and pains and in the many ways our aches and pains misshape our bodies. Maybe everyone’s story is an open book waiting for someone to come along and read. And when someone does come along and read our story, that's a gift to us and an opportunity for us to transform."
“Transform? Like how?”
“Well, we each have stories, you and I know that well, painful stories that we tend to desperately hold onto for dear life. God forbid I let go of my story, right? Those stories drive us into all kinds of insanity. We get to the point of doing whatever it takes to bury those stories, like they never happened, but when we do that, ironically we actually get stuck in them. We get stuck being a victim, or a bully or a rescuer.”
“Whoa, hold on. We get stuck being a victim, a bully or a rescuer. Did you just make that up?”
“No, I read it some place recently. But here’s the deal. Once someone reads our story and acknowledges it, like our homeless friend did for us tonight, then we can let the story go, if we want to. Unfortunately, some folks want to hang on. But when we let go of our stories, they can then become woven into the fabric of who we are. And then, just like the transformers in the movies and the comics, we can transform into a hero. I think that’s who we are all intended to be, heroes.
“Whoa! Hold on again! We went from victims, bullies and rescuers to heroes.”
“It goes like this, Scott. When you're being the victim or you're bullying everyone to get your way, or you're taking care of all the crazy people in your life, then the best you can do is survive. You’re not really living. But when you finally have the courage to live your own life instead of everyone else's, and live that life, that God gave you, to the fullest, then you become a hero.”
“Okay, I’m with you, but say a little more, Tee.”
She nudged me to turn around and face her. “God gave each of us a life to live, Scott. And whether you believe in God or not, everyone seems to know the difference between the so-called life they say they’ve been dealt, and the life they dream about. Yes? Well, being a hero is giving up the so-called hand you’ve been dealt, literally leaving that game and deciding to live the life you dream about. Your life. No excuses, and begin recognizing that that life, your dream life, is the one God gave you to live. And you go for it with all the same energy you use to bemoan and stay stuck in your bad hand. I think in literature, they call it the hero’s journey.”
“So we were heros tonight?”
“I think so, Scott.”
“Can I quote you?”
“Yes, you can. And tell everyone who I am.” And she poked me in the ribs and laughed. “You get it?”
“I poked you in the ribs, you know, Adam and Eve.”
“Okay, so you're the brains in the relationship?”
“No, I wasn't going there, but I'll settle for being the soul."
“Tee, where do you come up with this stuff?"
“I watch this guy on the evening news every night!"
I laughed, “What guy? What channel?" And she poked me in the ribs again. "Seriously, Tee, I am a lucky man. And as hokey as this sounds, you’re my hero or is it heroine?”
“It’s heroine with an e.” She laughed. “And you’re my hero, Scott. But don't forget, you have to be your own hero before you can be someone else's hero.”
We sat there quietly for awhile, sipping our egg nogs, watching the magic of the fire, and simply indulging in each other’s healing presence. When we finally climbed into bed, we held each other very tightly and drifted off to sleep and to dream.
And the homeless man? He’s still out there. You can see him for yourself. In fact, he’s all over the place. Look for him, and look at him differently from now on. You can make him out to be a hero, if you like. After all, it’s just yourself you’re looking at, you know.