Reverend Nick and The Roadside Church of the 123 By-Pass

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Now I’m of a mind that it isn’t a sign of weakness to not know where you’re going, to think you’re going somewhere and not get there, to be lost. Not a like a wandering lamb or anything. Somedays it’s like your compass is jittery. Like you’re a drunk gyroscope with the bed spins. But just the same that doesn’t mean you won’t get somewhere. Even a jittery compass points to a true direction even if only for a few nervous split-seconds. And where I wound up afterwards was right enough. And there’s no way I would have traded it for anything.

Sonofabitch though if I almost didn’t get my soul saved by Reverend Nick right out there on 123 this past Sunday. Going to a birthday party on one of them hot humid upstate days when the sun hides roiling behind the anonymous, amorphous clouds like it’s too lazy to shine but throws down all its heat nonetheless. We’d had pulled into a strip mall that hung real close to the road and had one of those signs out front. You know the ones. This one said “Jesus’s Grace Is Not A License To Sin, But A Liberty To Live A Holy Life” so my girl decides to hop out and start taking pictures. Because she’s like that.

And I talked to him and I don’t know why. Not out of bullshit but out of talk. And it felt good for a little bit. I mean the conversation wasn’t all that long. That kind of a little bit.

He looked like a character actor in a movie by John Cassavetes. His hair was like a monk’s tonsure gone a little too full of the Holy Spirit. His tie was a loose, heavy triangle the color of artificially flavored red raspberry. His smile, well he didn’t really have one but his lips were turned up as if to emphasize his enthusiasm for meeting and greeting us. His fingers were pudgy and distended, the nails cracked and yellowed from too much tobacco or work that wasn’t right for them from an early age. His car-lot tan. Enough said.

He was from Boston, went to Florida, and ended up here. Everyone started out somewhere else ended up here, he said. Except his wife who was from here, a little town just west of a small southern city. Pointing to that sign and asked me if I agree. The he put the touch on me. I was thankful and would have been disappointed if he hadn’t. It showed me at least someone thought my soul worth saving. There might be something worthwhile in everyone and everything. Now maybe that’s not where Reverend Nick was going with it but I’ve never claimed to be able to look inside a man’s mind or motivations.

The Right Reverend Nick of The Roadside Church of the 123 By-Pass sandwiched his pudgy digits in prayer as if with divine inspiration. We’re all going down the road to grab lunch and we’d love for you and your wife to join us. We can talk about Jesus if you’d like or need to. I’ll pay.

We appreciate that sir, reverend, we do. But me and the missus are on the way to a party. A birthday party.  We’re bringing the ice I said We don’t swing by here much but you never know…you never know.

Undaunted like any good salesman he just shook my hand and finally smiled and said like he was giving me his business card, Well, I’ll remember you both whenever you stop by again. God bless you.

Then, feeling full of myself as I was it suddenly  went out of me like that time long ago when my 5th grade teacher stepped out of the room and I started acting the fool healing my classmates’ illnesses and infirmities like some 10-year-old Ernest Angley until Miss McCutcheon came back into the classroom dragging her bad leg and thought I was making fun of her which I wasn’t. Just trying to get the kids to laugh. Swear.

I saw her a few years after that down at the Electric City mall but couldn’t even talk to her. She had a twin sister and I thought maybe it was her twin, was hoping it was but then I saw the limp down the Adult Contemporary aisle and had to get out of there fast. Cost me my job at the Record Rack but I was always coming in last at the upsell of blank cassettes at check out so it was just a matter of time anyway.

Then a fat girl in a clingy print dress, who had been biding her time all this while kind of off to the side walking in lazy circles and flapping her arms every now and again like she was trying to either calm her nerves or take flight or both, came up to him. The two had a brief conversation the only clearly audible parts of which were Reverend Nick saying It’s Ok and Lord willing and her sobbing. Then she led him over to her car where a baby was wailing in the front passenger seat of a brown late-model Corolla. She had locked the keys in the car. That’s why I hadn’t heard the baby until then.

Fellowship and lunch. I rarely refuse a free meal especially down the road towards town at 3 Little Pigs whose pork platter is passing but hush puppies keep me coming back. They’re real good. Little round ones. Not perfect shapes like rings or oval ones look like mozzarella sticks. Cooked just right. And they give you this honey butter to dip them in. Honey butter. But my soul, or should I say Soul, wasn’t hungry. Least not today. With all due respect to Reverend Nick guess I’m not ready to give up this world just yet. I got in the car and turned to my girl, who was already sitting there in the full blast of A/C because she’s like that, her arms out in front of her palms up and shaking her hands a little, her arms sheened in sweat and kind of sexy and said Sorry, babe, I know, I know, we’re gonna be late.

That’s ok, she said then picking up two plastic bags of water like she had been conned at a carnival game, but now we need more ice.

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