Thursday, June 12, 2008

Every Day Problems

Stupid people.
Yellow curb. Means park somewhere else.
Looking for a free lunch, perfect pitch, the holy grail, or a parking spot in front of the courthouse, which for this truck means a 35 foot slot in the lineup.
Not only are they parked on yellow, aCROSS from the sheriff's office, they hadn't the decency to close up the gaps. Between every bumper and fender ekes a tantalizing 30 feet, as if they only had so many cars to lock up all the parallel spots so they had to space em out.
Ever since the arraignment for one Charles Haught, middle-aged life drop-out, rapist and murderer of one Wesley Campbridge, seven year-old, ever since every mobile news unit from three surrounding counties had converged and taken up residence in front of Bourbon County Circuit Courthouse, people had ceased fudging the customary ten to fifteen feet of yellow, and now strung all the way across it in the spirit of the old adage about forgiveness and permission.
If Action News 36 can do it, well by George. . .
In my mind I know it's 9:43 and in my DIAD are 8 uncompleted 10:30 commit stops, two of them bulk, and one of them across town.
Without looking, I sense a looming diesel presence in the fold-out sideview mirror, the same white Ford dualy that's been dogging me from 10th Street, edging out from behind just enough to make sure I know he wants around.
Knock yourself out, sweetheart. F'you can fit that monster in between my mirror and the half-lane that's left, you're more driver than I am. No doubt he thinks he is. More to the point, no doubt he's been cussin me all the way down Main since I pulled in front of him.
Had to cut somebody off.
Watched twenty cars amble by with that same maddening gap precision.
Twenty cars, a minute-and-a-half I ain't got.
The second I nosed out into traffic, he ghosted up to my bumper so close I could see the Ford oval on his grill in my rear camera monitor.
Yeah, now you're in a hurry.
I can see his mouth moving, so I put words in it.
Fool kid, pull out in front of me, and some other words that normally I would never think, were I not forced into providing captions for his thought balloons.
It wouldn't bother me so much if I didn't feel just a little bit guilty. Guilt pressed in between time and stress oozes out looking like road rage.
A blue Caravan with a bandaged rear window and a bumper just hanging on for dear life pulls away from the curb in front of me, at about the same time the Ford gets the four inches he's been wanting for ten blocks, and here he comes, loosening the reins of all 350 horses, and billowing acrimony from both 5 inch chrome horns.
The hapless grocery-getter dawdles on out in his lane.
He hauls up on the reins, the whistling downshift an automotive curse.
If I had time, I'd be laughing. Good thing I don't.
He's up even with me now, looking right at me, distilling all his frustration with the Caravan and the world in general into the last minute spent staring at the back of a delivery truck.
I can see his silent swearing indignance.
He's a mouth breather. Unfortunate orifice, that. The gaps in between the parked cars should be so wide.
Still, he manages to impart more scorn through his NASCAR shades and the bubbled tint than Estella ever cast down on Pip, Chillingworth on Rev. Dimmesdale, or the parabled Pharisee upon the publican.
Turning my attention to the vast expanse of gleaming yellow curb vacated by the departing Caravan, I cut as close as I can and then back, dimming the luminous paint with my rubbing tires.
The stop I need is half a block back.
Shoving the truck into park, I fall into a habitual series of movements, park, brake, key out, seatbelt off, mirror in, bulkhead door; a succession so varied but seamless, a truly Faulkneresque regimen.
Dodging strategically positioned and scarcely mobile redneck sidewalk ornaments, I finally make it to the intended destination, a lawyer's office, and pull hard on the door.
It's locked, and the jolt shakes the glassed-in front wall.
The over-cooked, under-worked (minesweeper?) secretary jerks around so suddenly that her desk chair becomes a tilt-a-whirl, and she steadies herself with a what on earth expression. (oh help, another mouth breather)
Sizing up the situation, she then laughs, slaps the desk so hard I can hear it out here, and puts her forehead down on her hand, big shoulders shaking.
9:46. Odd seconds rush out into eternity while she has a good winding down laugh about how startled she was and how she forgot to unlock that front door again!
She gets up from the chair in hitches and explains the noise over her shoulder to someone in the back room, actually stopping mid-way and, what, turning to raise her voice because they can't hear her.
When she opens the door, "Oh my land's sakes, you scared me to death-" throwing her head down and slapping a meaty thigh, and sucking in the next phrase through a hearty laugh "I-I-I thought somebody ran into the building-ing-ing, and and Haley hollered up here and said, 'What in tarnation is that, did some kid run his bicycle into the front door?' Ooohhhh, I forgot to unlock it!"
I, am speechless.
Come in.
I would, of course, decline, but it appears she isn't going to physically accept the package, possible germophobe, but no, she just stuck a pen in her mouth.
The packages, including this 2 oz. next-day-air envelope, go on a table in that back room.
The one on the left?
No, down the stairs, to the right, through the gray door.
Returning from the dungeon, I offer her the DIAD to sign.
Oh no, Betty signs for everything.
Downstairs, you didn't see her?
Poor Betty's been having indigestion all morning, she explains when she emerges from the rest room at 9:52.
How fast can you empathize?
My foot is one inch from the bottom step of the truck when a voice falls across my tense shoulders like a war club.
Hey, buddy.
Contemplation of feigned deafness tempts me for a second.
Yeah? Turning, sounding relaxed, helpful.
Oh no, it's Jethro Bodine gone to neglected seed, Santa Clause's Appalachian counterpart, except I don't think he's going to give me anything.
The v-necked t-shirt stopped being white shortly after it stopped trying to reach down to the sweat pants. Chest hair, copious and curly, nestles in the plunging neckline.
The grace of a beard has been weeded out to a mockery of sweat, oil and tangles.
Sixty degrees and sweat beads his forehead and speckles his shirt.
He hooks a thumb to the courthouse.
Can you tell me what that says?
Over his shoulder my eyes focus on a computer-printed sign taped to the door of the courthouse.
Forgot his glasses, I guess.
Hurrying around him, I'm almost there before I realize the print is three inches tall.
Behind me, I hear "I just. . . can't read."
Something jams into my spokes, locking up the wheels of time and task and what I call trouble.
Uh, it says the courthouse is closed-ummm, scanning the two lines as if it were fine print
-uh, open. . . tomorrow.
Turning to face him, Well that's odd, babbling, wonder why they're closed, no holiday.
That's okay, he says.
All right, well have a good one, man.
Sorry-he looks me in the eye-just, can't read.
Hey, no problem, no problem at all, have a good one, have a good day.
I thank ye'.
You t-no problem, have- we'll see you.
Delivering next day air, I don't have time to think about the flush that stains my cheeks, or the lump clogging my throat.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


I've had a few brushes with childhood memories recently.

The precipitous weather change from crisp spring to what romantic Southern writers call "sultry" inexplicably throws me back to a wooden pew built with one-by-fours and tiger-striped with peeling egg-shell paint.

Halos of moths and june bugs encircle the fluorescent lights strung among metal pole rafters and high ceiling joists of an open tabernacle.

Camp meeting was always in June.

The other finger pointing to the past comes not from the current season, but current events.

Politics brings it to my attention, but it is not politics that I am reminded of.

The former pastor of former parishioner, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Barack Obama, and now, Father Michael Pfleger, have a familiar look, a reminiscent tone.

Both men have superb oratorical skills. They have mastered the art of crowd connection.

I know this because I have observed many crowd connectors, some of the best; sermons where every sentence is measured, if not outright alliterated. Every inflection is the work of hours of practice, every shift of the eye is deliberate, every physical gesture is nuanced and calculating.

I watch Rev. Wright preach to the choir. He loves it and they love it. He sings their song. He provokes strong emotion. Coy, innocently sarcastic slides lead into thunderous blasts of conviction, taking the crowd where they want to go.

Father Pfleger comes to the pulpit hailed as a great friend of the church, and works that comission like a master. He turns his ire and the ire of the mob outward, excoriating the injustice of the world, condemning it in the harshest of terms. Hyperbole is inspiration, mockery is passion. He parlays the role of the voice crying in the wilderness into a pied piper's battle anthem. Such conviction must not go unheeded, such authority must not be ignored.

I believe I know the feeling in that sanctuary. It bleeds through the YouTube feed.

I sat once in the back of that open tabernacle, watching with dumbfounded amazement being overcome by uneasiness marching down my spine and lifiting hair on my arms.

I had just heard Pac-Man inserted into a litany of other dubious sins with a conviction that did not lend itself to unbelief. Indeed, the congregation took it, believed it, swallowed it, raised their arms to it, and ran with it, through the aisles and down to the altar. It was music to their world weary ears. The problem was out there. Here was heaven, with like-minded people who eschewed the Internet, Pac-Man and hair-bows. More sick of the world than sin, they found emotional relief in the rash, brash, corporate denunciation of everything secular.

The atmosphere was charged and electric. I felt the waves of something potent, tangible by virtue of the spell it cast as it rippled from the platform out over the congregation, scattering the faithful in every direction, down to the bench to be exorcised of the demon Pac-Man, through the aisles, overcome with team spirit, and possibly roaming the room in search of the skulking prodigal in the back.

I was unsettled, feeling a magnetic implosion, conscious of the power of an emotional gravitational pull, sucking people into a maelstrom of convoluted, whim-driven legalism. I watched with the fascination of horror, mesmerized and repulsed by the exploitation of feeling.

These people were not broken, they were not humbled, they were pumped!

As were the parishioners of Rev. Wright and Father Pfleger. They appeal to the basest of human emotion. A carnal vindication flows from the soul in chorus with the recitation of the creed. Pride fuses with emotion, hardening into a patriotic defiance, deflecting all attention from contrition and humility. And they are ready now to take on the world.

I am so thankful for my own pastor, who tells me repeatedly to juxtapose his words with Scripture, who digs deep into the loam of the Bible, and never ventures outside its boundaries.