The man was ordering a beer from the bartender when I noticed him staring in my direction.
“You’re that writer, ain’t you?” he said.
On whether you’re with the IRS.
“Brother, have I got an angel story for you. It’s divine providence that I’m running into you like this. I’ve been wanting to tell this story to you, but ain’t had the courage to email.”
Does that pickup line work on all the other girls?
“Tell me something, Mister Writer. When you was a little bitty kid, what was the scariest thing you could think of?”
That’s easy. My fifth-grade teacher.
“No, I mean something much, much scarier than that.”
My fifth-grade teacher holding a King James Bible.
“Losing your home, man. That’s the scariest thing that can happen to a boy. Home is everything, man. That’s where your life is. You ain’t got no home, ain’t got no life. And, well, that’s what happened to my family. I was ten years old when we were evicted.”
Wow, that must’ve been hard.
“More than hard. Was like watching life fall apart. I mean, think about it. In normal life you wake up, you eat your Cornflakes, take a shower, get dressed, right? None of these things can be done when you’re living in your car. And that’s where my family was living, in our car.”
“Wish I was. After my dad lost his job, me and my two sisters and my mom and my dad were living in our ‘77 Ford for one whole year.
“Dad drove from place to place, slept in whatever parking lots we could. My mom had leg problems from polio, and couldn’t work regular jobs, so it was up to my dad. Poor man couldn’t find a job to save his life.”
So what happened to your family?
“What happened is my dad took gigs doing crapola work for a few bucks here and there. One time he got a job moving cinderblocks. No truck, no forklift. Dad just carried blocks one at a time across a workyard. The pile was as big as a mountain. My dad only made five bucks to move them all.”
Five bucks? That’s horrible.
“Dad bought us a pizza for supper that night.”
I’ll never complain again.
“Another time, Dad got a gig picking tomatoes at big farm outside Quincy. He gave us kids tomatoes at the end of each day. That was our big treat. Sometimes those tomatoes were all we got to eat for the day.”
“You’re telling me. Eventually we started to get sick a lot, ‘cause we wasn’t eating so good. Especially Mom, she was always sick.
“The final straw came when my dad wrecked our car. All the money he’d been saving went to repairs. We were back to Square One.
“He and my mom had a big fight one night, ‘cause she was afraid social workers was gonna take her kids away. My dad cried so hard. Never seen a grown man cry like that.”
That poor guy.
“Don’t I know it. Well, one day, my dad was working with a bunch of immigrant workers. It was an empty construction site, new office buildings. And Dad said he heard someone singing upstairs.
“My dad started looking throughout the building and he finally found this young man who was hiding out. Homeless guy, big brown beard. Long hair. Like one of the apostles or something. Just a’singing.
“See, Dad knew that this homeless man had even less than we did. So he gave him, like, ten bucks or something like that. The man took the money, smiled, and put a big hand on Dad’s shoulder, and my dad felt a shock go through him.
“Said the man’s eyes were like looking into the eyes of one of those old Jesus paintings you used to see.
“The bearded guy said, ‘It’s cold tonight, Carl, take your family to a motel.’ He called him Carl. You coulda knocked my dad over with a stick. Somehow this guy knew my dad’s name.”
“What, you don’t believe me, do you?”
Well, it’s not that. It’s just—
“Listen, it’s okay if you don’t. Even my mom didn’t believe my dad’s story. But anyway, that same night, my dad took us to a motel. Soon as we got inside, the man at the front desk told us they needed a hotel maintenance man, and did my dad want the job?
“My dad said heck yes he’d do it. Next thing I know, we’re living in a motel room with a color TV and everything. We’re eating real food again, Dad was earning real money. In a few months, we had a rental house with a backyard, swing set. Pretty soon, I was back in school, and my dad was on his feet again.”
So let me get this straight, you’re telling me you really think an angel appeared to your father?
He shook his head. “I don’t think.”