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An Angel's Rebuke

He may be a nice old grandfather, kids surrounding him on father's day, his kids, his kids' kids, with presents in their hands, pressing little kisses on him, giving him their gifts; a pipe which will never replace his old one, an "imperfect" briar which you used to be able to buy for next to nothing at a tobacconist shop and revel in the smooth sweetness which only the finest briar can give to tobacco smoke. But he'll have one smoke from the little girl's gift today to please her, and be wondering while he smokes the wretched thing what the world is coming to when a man must pay a week's wages to have what he had as a kid for an hour's wage.

I'm quite sure he could be all of those things.

He was stout, almost fat, but you wouldn't call him fat because you knew that most of his body was still muscle, still well-toned despite the work he did now, tending a register at a Valero gas station and occasionally coming out to the pumps to help a customer who was too old to know how to use her new, her first, ATM card in "one of these new fangled things! Mercy!"

And his coming out too -- very rarely fortunately -- or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint -- to deal with customers of another type, trouble makers, like me.

******************

I always record my mileage when I get gas, and the date, and how much gas the pump reads, and a code which will tell my little computer program if the session was a "filler up" or not, when it runs to analyze yet again, the years of data I've been plugging into my cell phone (PDA in the "old days" of maybe ten years ago), to tell me once more how my engine is doing, by telling me that most reliable index of its well being, it's MPG. I had just put the spigot into the mouth of the tank and hit the "87" button for the grade choice, and returned to the driver's seat to punch my data into the cellphone screen, when I heard a knocking on glass somewhere. I ignored it at first. I'm absentminded and sometimes absent entirely from my environment when I get around anything resembling a computer. Such absence was my state a few years ago when I was working at a client's site. I had been in front of a terminal for an hour or so in that state where the attention is so hot that you solve problems in minutes which in ordinary states of consciousness take hours, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. "Christ! What idiot...," I thought to myself and ignored the tap.  And then came another tap with a feeling of impatience in it. I whirled around to face my persecutor, when I saw the head of order processing, a jolly gal, an almost jolly _old_ gal it occurred to me as I looked at her, with that twinge of sadness which comes with the reminder that you too are growing old. "Sir," she broke into my flitting reverie, "the building's on fire."

I meekly followed my rescuer out of the building. It was a fire in the warehouse, a minor thing no doubt. You couldn't smell the slightest bit of smoke, or at least I couldn't, but god knows what happens to one's senses in that state of mind which come upon you as you pursue with doubled if not trebled speed the ghosts and demons and angels which inhabit the land of ones and zeros. I followed her out to the parking lot where stood the dozen or so of the company's people, all laughing at me, except the owner, an old friend, who was even now anxious for my safety.

******************

"Sir," now came almost booming at me as I bent over my little friend, a computer far more powerful than the behemoths of a fraction of its power which had ruled the world of ones and zeros in my youth at the trade of corralling them to do man's will and preventing them from causing him disaster.

"Sir," again, but this time almost blustering. I looked up. It was the grandfather, red-faced, in anger perhaps, but maybe in surprise that anyone could be so blank to everything around him.

"Sir, you're blocking my pump!"

"I'm getting gas, excuse me."

"Sir, the pump has been stopped now five minutes at least!"

"Oh dear," I thought to myself, "lost with the ones and zeros again." An apology began to form itself in my mind. As I groped for words to express it, he boomed again, "Don't you even know what day it is?"

The apology vanished like smoke from my consciousness, and in less than another half second, came a new plan.

"Gosh I'm sorry, sir," I began. "I'll be out of here in 2 minutes. I'm very sorry for having caused you trouble."

"OK, make it quick. I've got customers waiting," he growled as he stomped off.

And then as he got a few yards from me I heard from him, "Jesus, some people. The f'ing idiot!"

"You are worthy to lick my boots, my friend. Beyond that, I'm not sure," flitted through my mind.  But then came, "Dear, dear, he's just like you, a poor guy who's just trying to get over."  To which I replied, "Well, he's going to have to get over something else." I then pulled a fuse from one of the little boxes under the steering wheel. It was the fuse to the ignition.

******************

"Sir, what the hell is going on with you?"

I was glad of the contempt in the puffy face. It helped me excuse what I was doing, a doing which by now had taken on its own life, was giving me its own joys, its own satisfactions. The puffy face, the complacent smugness, which by now had become evident in the man, was now no longer irritating to me; it had become the object of an investigation, an investigation cold-blooded, without humanity, absent entirely of the compassion which usually imbues the slightest interchange with another. But this is not  always the case.

I was in the land of the not always.

Proceeding to my next move I blurted out,  "Jeez man, my engine won't start!"

"What the hell!" he boomed in answer. "What the hell!"

Now there came into his voice a new tone, mixed with that of a man in charge, that assurance of contempt which is the liability of authority given us by mere law. In that tone was now mixed the cry of a little child, confused, beginning to panic at a situation for which it had never been programmed.

And I with my spiritual microscope...

But in that moment the tone of the little child was only on the periphery of the other tones, of contempt for those whom one does not understand, the contempt of smug complacency for those it cannot understand.

And now the question came to my mind the question, "How far do I push him?"

******************

"Excuse me."

He was a little, gnomish almost, with a face wrinkled in the way faces are wrinkled from more or less constant smiling and laughing. What did he want with me?

"Yes." I answered.

"I see what you are doing?"

"Good. So why are you talking to me?"

"Because you need me to."

What the f'?

"Need you to do what?"

I was getting irritated. But also noticing something about him, but not consciously, as I would realize later when I played the thing back, and realized too why it had not been conscious in the moment.

"To be here for you."

"To be ..." I repeated to ... who was this person? "For what?"

"For your life."

Playing the thing back, I couldn't of course remember how I looked. I mean the expression on my face. But what I felt I looked like in the moment was that of a very puzzled and increasingly irritated person. I looked at him again, this time closely. I had a right to stare. He was in my space, uninvited and, it seemed to me, very clearly unwanted.

Again that something. Again a part of my awareness which was not conscious but there still the same, not conscious until I played the thing back later, in the evening, in a church.

What I was conscious of was that now he was smiling, that he was Jewish, that he reminded me of someone who had helped me several lifetimes ago, when I needed help more than I knew, needed help to begin to learn my trade managing ones and zeroes, needed to get back my self-respect, to get out of a place which had held me trapped until it had become a mortal danger. "Mike" I almost blurted. That was his name, the one from that time.

I continued to stare. But my irritation was subsiding, and I began to see one of those faces which always comfort me, calm me, a little chubby in the cheeks, with a strong and roundish jaw. And kind eyes, and always a grin lurking somewhere in the face, no matter what the situation.

But what the f' was he talking about? And what the f' did I think I was doing pretending I didn't know? But the last question was not in the moment, was instead part of the playback.

"Well, what?" I said and looked him in the eyes.

"You're in hell."

I had no answer. I turned away from him, sitting in the car seat, looking down at my lap.

"And you don't have to be there," he continued.

I looked up, but by now he was walking away from me, almost yelling, "I'm here for you, will always be."









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