Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Tenuous String to LIFE Some Hold.

What does Richard Daley have to do with it?

What did she say? I said, to the huge stern looking black man sitting across from me, as we awaited the fate of our vehicles, awaited the snake-oil salesman presumed auto repair shop manager, who one pigeon at a time produced solemn and official sounding diagnosis of wear'n'tear and tires and brakes that need replacing and truth that needed erasing. "I didn't hear it," the black man responded, looking not pleased that I had addressed him, confirming what I had perceived that he was away in a different world. I felt it more than observed it - it was somewhere intense and this wasn't a normal morning, it was grief soaked and angry.

Dear Reader, May I suggest a skill you should use some day? Use a fake name and address or the person of a friend to present the auto just six weeks ago diagnosed and restored and money paid, to the same snake-oil salesman presumed auto repair shop manager. It is sometimes an eye opener.

Please repair the slow leak in my right rear tire,” I ask and nothing more. So, with fake name and new account, and fake address, for this monumental tire repair the car is whisked into a bay, placed on the rack and hood opened; two men hover around the open hood. You see "there is that 28 point diagnosis," when all I wanted was the fastener screw remove from my right rear tire; but in a little while the sad diagnosis arrives:

"The rear brakes need adjusting, the drums removed and turned, the rear brakes are not really working" Oh how could that be? "When you mash the brake the rear wheels keep turning as if no brakes at all . . ." he pauses seeing the glint in my eye and not knowing what to make of it, decides that money is not a object. He studies faces all day long and knows I'm not the least concerned; so he pressed for more than a brake job "and there is no coolant in the system at all, it won't hold past freezing, it is just water . . .”
"Wow, just water no anti-freeze" I say, as if buying it, but my face tells another story and the snake-oil salesman is off his game.
"Almost no measurable anti-freeze . . ." Seeing my non-concern he conjures another diagnosis "which has left rusty residue and the weather is about to turn freezing; the coolant system has to be completely flushed and anti-freeze installed" and still the glint of unconcern, now I'm smiling broadly "and new tires all around and alignment a must, but thank God the real expense, the front rotors and disks are fine."

I thought, "they ought to be, they are brand new," but I said instead, "And the motor is still running, I presume" dead pan, this time with no glint in my eye.

He jerked nervously thinking he may not understand my face. "Ah, good one." He says with a nervous cough and excuses himself to use the restroom.
The huge black man says, "You ain't buy'n any of it are you?"
"Well, he forgot to mention the fastener screw in my right rear tire. That's what I came in for, to get my rear tire repaired."

When Bob the snake-oil salesman returns I say,"Boy, I wasn't expecting all that. Please write up an estimate, so I can talk it over with Lxxxx, my wife, so we can figure out what we can afford to do." Bob, the snake-oil salesman, presumed auto repair shop manager, who had a decade ago given up his clip board and carbon paper for the preset thievery programmed into the franchise software, clicks away on the keyboard; it sounded ominous and expensive. Yes, nearly a thousand dollars worth of work. And of course he backed the hearse up and let me smell the flowers, must repairs or I would be endangering the lives of my precious wife who drives this vehicle. (I say lives, cause I swear she has nine.)

The printer sputters and the sad story is told. But I say, "I swear, my wife told me that you guys put brakes on that car not six weeks ago." Panic on the oily salesman's face, then anger as he knows he has been exposed for the low life he is. He asks, "What's her name?" nervously moving his hands over the computer keyboard.

I press, "If the back brakes were not working, AT ALL, that would stand me on my head every time I touched the brakes. Would it not?"

"I suppose so . . .What's her name?"
"But, nothing of the sort has happened . . . and IF you all did the brakes in October, why here in early December are the rear drums in need of turning? and the rear brakes in need of adjusting? Aren't they self adjusting? Didn't you already turn the drums and install new shoes?"
"Well, yes. I suppose so, or maybe not . . . ah humm, what's her name?"

"And radiator and cooling system you flushed a mere six weeks ago is now devoid of anti-freeze and consists of water only? Please tell me, how did that happen?"
Oily salesman looks at me as if he does not care, and with an honest disdain and threatening look says, "I suppose I don't really know." He had to choke back the "and don't really care, you S.O.B." All the happy salesman removed from his tone, nothing left but disgust that I would be so impolite as to point to reality and expose his fraud to his face.

I say, "Of course, you understand, that now nothing you can say has any credibility and never will. BTW don't miss that that was my polite way of calling you and your establishment a con man and a clip joint, respectively. I will take your estimate and carry it immediately to someone I trust and we will examine every issue. How much do I owe you for the tire repair?"
There was silence, then keys sputtering and the official verdict, he lays the paper on the table, without a word. It read, "Tire Repair, "$0000.00".

While all this was happening, and since it bored me to tears; and my major concern was not to account the sin to this sinner, lest I would have throttled him, and boxed his ears, permanently reducing his sense of hearing. (I'm such a sinner I would have ENJOYED it and the old me would have done it. The new me would have REALLY enjoyed doing it, but chose otherwise) . . . . while this was happening I was listening to the T.V. "Good morning Chicago" and what did I hear???????

I turned to the huge black man who was now paying attention and quietly chuckling, his stomach visibly shaking, seeing that I had left the snake-oil salesman, presumed auto repair shop manager, mute, red-faced and frightened. "What did she say?"

"Mayor Daley's nephew arrested for a murder committed eight years ago and covered up? Eight years living the high-life in California while his victim lay creating a worm farm on the plains of Illinois? That's how things are."

"And what was that other story, some prank phone call and a suicide?" The black man suddenly serous said, "Some Australian radio talent pulled a hoax on a nurse in the U.K. who was caring for the Queen's granddaughter-in-law. The nurse thought the hoax was true, that she was somehow responsible for injuring or killing Kate, and in despair killed herself."

I looked the huge black man in the eye for the first time and locked his gaze. I had witnessed his anger, depression and tension since my arrival. I said, "Can you imagine someone having such a tiny and tenuous connection to life, that one phone call, JUST ONE PHONE CALL, could end it all?"

I had no idea what private hell that statement elicited in his minds eye, but tears freely flowed down his cheeks, the grief so deep he had to fight to keep from bending double. As he wept without sound, the snake-oil salesman rushed to the bathroom for the fourth time in thirty minutes; I'm sure this morning he needed yet another hit of coke. I took by huge friend by the arm and walked him outside into the freezing wind of the parking lot - U.S. Hwy 41, Indianapolis Blvd, Hammond, the traffic whizzing by; the jack hammers pounding on a Mafia Union FAKE project across the street, nine months and nothing accomplished, just milling around and occasional sound of the jack hammers . . . I didn't ask his name. But when he had calmed down, the heaves of his grief reduced, I asked, "Do you know what I live for?"

He said, "I thought I did, till a few months ago I got that call. My boy offed in Afghanistan. His mamma just looks hollow-eyed and I smile through my tears. I've thought about ending it a thousand time since, several times every hour . . . every hour, 24/7."

I quoted a poem of my childhood, by George Linnaeus Banks, without attributing, just as if the words were my own,
"I live for those who love me,
Whose hearts are kind and true;
For the Heaven that smile above me,
and awaits my spirit too;
For all human ties that bind me,
For all task by God assigned me,
for the bright hopes yet to find me
and the good that I can do.”

“I live to learn their story
Who suffered for my sake;
To emulate their glory,
And follow in their wake;
Bards, Patriots, Martyrs and Sages,
The heroic of all ages,
Whose deeds crowd History's pages,
And Time's great volume make.”
He backed up and looked at me hard in the face, as if all life depended on the next words, then said, "You are serious, aren't you?"

I said with a little edge in my voice, "Couldn't you have used the stereotypical 'ain't' to aid the story's flow?"
His eyes widened as if he could not believe his ears, "What?"
I said, "I'm going to tell this story, so couldn't you have used the stereotypical 'ain't' to aid the story's flow." And this time I said it with anger, as if he was a stupid oaf. Anger flashed and he took hold of my right arm, pressing his thumb into my flesh like a vise. It really hurt, but I dead panned him and said, "See, how the depression demeans you, because murderous intent and a death wish are synonymous. Look here is the truth, plain and simple, only the most selfish S.O.B.s on the planet kill themselves, or very small people who hold a very tenuous cord to life, like that British nurse, or the guy who can't stand losing a job. Some just kill themselves and others take out a group and then kill themselves." He released my arm. "The great writer Charles Dickens once remarked in an article to a newspaper about stupidity of the Death Penalty, how many men have said, 'There I've killed her and I'm glad to hang for it.' That is when hanging becomes a reward and YOU know what I'm talking about."

He looked stunned. I said, "Look, we are both packing. I've carried my gun for more than forty-five years. Never shot anyone, always prayed I never would need to. But you . . . Your not used to having a gun on you. You've been patting it, reassuring yourself that it is there and you have it for a purpose, some special purpose this morning, Right?"

"I was planning on killing that mutha-fucker," he says nodding at the snake-oil salesman, "He knowed my wife's grief and still ripped her off, while I was on a trip."

"Knowed my wife's grief" I said openly mocking the formerly articulate black man. He was not quite as aggressive knowing I was armed. There was a moment of silence, then I said with all the sympathy I could muster, "You weren't on a trip, you were on a binge, and YOU left her vulnerable. Why? Because you were wrapped up in your own grief, as if your grief was the only grief any human being on the planet has every experienced." He turned stony faced. “Hardest grief I faced in my life, my anchor reposed of a horrible death, it's four in the morning and I've down half a fifth of Jameson, and there before me, in the blue flicker of the T.V. - were the scenes of a devastating earth quake, where the estimates of those killed was twenty-four thousand plus. I'm sitting there with my grief, and I knew others as grief stricken by the same death; I could not fathom the pain of the hundreds of thousands affected by those twenty-four thousand deaths. It gave me a weird, painful but helpful perspective. This is life man, people die, people suffer and the only revenge is living in the face of it all.”

“I've thought that, my boy just one of more than three thousand killed in Afgan .. . the though hasn't helped.”

"Look, it is obvious that I was meant to be here to save two people; you and him. I was meant to expose and humiliate him in front of you. Nothing happens by accident to those who love the Lord and the Lord loves you, because he was waiting for you here."

"Where is he? I don't see him."

"Then you are not looking . . . hard as it might be to believe HE is here, behind these eyes, HE is standing here!" I said, pointing at my own chest, then without hesitation I launched into that poem, I had not previous recited for fifty years.
"I live to hold communion
With all that is divine,
To feel there is a union
"Twixt Nature's heart and mine;
To profit by affliction,
Reap truth from fields of fiction,
Grow wiser from conviction,
And fulfil God's grand design.

"I live to hail that season
By gifted one foretold,
When men shall live by reason,
And NOT alone by GOLD;
When man to man united,
and every wrong thing righted,
As Eden was of old.

"I live for those who love me,
For those who know me true,
For the Heaven that smiles above me,
And awaits my spirit too;
For the cause that lacks assistance,
For the wrong that needs resistance,
For the future in the distance,
And the good that I can do. (- George Linnaeus Banks.)

He said, "Do you believe that? Do you believe we can actually do good and not just pace time and scramble to survive?"

"You just described the life of a beast. I'm not a mere beast, though the beast lives close to the surface." I nodded toward Bob, presumed auto repair shop manager, who was now working his next victim, but glancing nervously toward us. He felt the violence in the air.

"Here's the deal . . . sorry, I didn't get your name . .
"Here's the deal, Jacob, my friend. We are all born with the instinct to do good. And in the course of our lives people try, but they are hampered with sin that produces pride and selfishness. Pride and selfishness are the great self-delusion, where we mask our selfishness, lusts, envies, anger, etc, as if we are acting for the good, while in fact we service the lusts of our own pride. Despite that, with a little help from the Good Lord, we can actually do good. You have to be open and willing to do good when the opportunity is presented. Here is the secret. What am I seeing when I look at you? but someone who's heart is broken, thinking about ultimate things. We cannot give what we do not ourselves possess. We cannot bear the unbearable unless our hearts are filled with grace. We cannot weep tears with the sorrowing and comfort them in their pain unless we have suffered brokenness ourselves and have turned to God in our darkness and asked Him for help like a small child full of trust. Your heart was genuinely broken with a single phone call. Now you are ready to do some good? Trust me, that is the way it works."

I believe you are telling me the truth. I will start praying. I've been so angry I couldn't pray.”

“Let's start now.” I won't share the prayer, but it was short and powerful.

Looking as if he were ten years younger he said, “Amen.” Then in a moment,
"Can I have copies of your estimate and the bill for the work they did? My wife will believe me if I show her that. She thinks this crew is honest."
"Sure, let's go to the bank down the block and use the printer." All I wanted was to get a screw removed from my right rear tire and the leak plugged. It took nearly three hours.

When we parted from the bank parking lot, Jacob said, "I want you to know that this morning was better than church."

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