11:32 P.M.—he walked a crowded Palafox Street with a friend. I saw him a mile away. They were nineteen, maybe twenty.
They carried Bibles, they wore neckties. They passed flyers to innocent bystanders who lingered outside dim-lit establishments.
They zeroed in on me.
“Howdy, Tex,” said I.
This two-word salutation was my daddy’s greeting of choice. When I say it, it sounds like he’s inside my throat.
The kid asked if I were going to heaven when I died.
Instead of waiting for my answer, he spoke in a loud voice. It took ten seconds for him to explain that I was riding the southbound train to Fire-and-Brimstone City.
While he spoke, I noticed his hands trembled.
So, I let him talk. He handed me a flyer and recited a frightening speech about my eternal soul. He told me exactly where I was going, and how long I’d be there without cable television.
I asked the kid if he would pray for me—right then.
“You mean you wanna get SAVED?” the kid asked.
“How about we just stick with a short prayer for now, Tex?”
His prayer was something to the melody of:
“God, help this sinner repent before he lands in Eternal Hellfire, where flames are hot enough to melt U.S. manufactured steel, where there are no vending machines, and the possum dieth not…”
When he finished, I thanked him. Then, I asked if I could pray for him in return.
He exchanged a look with his partner. I swore on Daddy’s grave that I’d be respectful. They agreed. We bowed heads.
The kid closed one eye.
“Dear Lord,” said I. “Thank you for these nice-looking, kind hearted young men. And let me say: I’m grateful to be alive and healthy tonight.
“And even though I don’t agree with what these fellas are saying, what do I know? I don’t know half as much as I think I do. Neither does anyone else.
“In fact, just when I think I know things, something always proves me wrong. Then, I remember that I don’t know my ass from page eight in the Birmingham phonebook.
“Anyway Lord, I know you’re busy, but thanks for introducing me to these young fellas. It’s funny, in many ways, we aren’t very different.
“Old Tex here has a pulsing heart, big dreams, he loves his mama, and he probably has no self-control around chips and salsa in Mexican restaurants. That makes us brothers. Humans.
“And sometimes we humans get lost in our own ten-cent opinions. And they make us unkind, and proud. Dadgum.
“Make me nice, God. Nice to my fellow humans who don’t believe like I do. Who’ve done me wrong. People I can’t stand.
“All the children of the world. Good. Bad. Red and yellow, black and white. And even those wearing neckties, thumping Bibles.
“Help every child with cancer. Help those thinking of suicide to reconsider. Help the hungry find food. Help that man I saw holding a cardboard sign.
“Send my best to Daddy. Amen.”
I appreciate the flyer, Tex.