Things I Learned from R. B. (March 22nd, 2020)


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Episode 8

The tour ended in a rather joyous splash.

Of the ten thousand original dollars offered by the investors, we were able to complete the entire project, travel all across the country and still return five thousand dollars to them.  It wasn’t great—but considering the industry of music and theater, not too bad at all.

The cast gave hugs, promised to write, took addresses, and in a matter of two hours, what began as a dream ended—leaving me with a deep sense of loneliness.

For me, it was not just the end of a tour. It was also the demise of the music group I had been traveling with for eight years. My partner from the inception had grown weary of pulling her makeup out of a suitcase and was going back to Ohio to begin the next chapter of her life. I didn’t have the heart to go on without her. Singing voices can be replaced, but memories and passion are rare and come at a premium.

On top of that, I was reunited with my two older sons, who were rather pissed because they had spent two months with their grandma—especially since the littlest one rattled on about stories from the road.

The rent was due, and the refrigerator needed to be filled. I had no money. Worse—I had no plan.

About five days after the tour disbanded, I was sitting in my small apartment in Nashville, musing my fate, when the phone rang.

It was R. B.

I had completely forgotten that he also lived in Nashville. He was calling to ask my advice on where to find a reasonably priced place to record some of the music he had written. This was back in the time when “reasonable” and “recording” were two words that couldn’t be used in the same sentence.

I was also a little needy to be needed.

So I offered to use my gear at church nearby, where the pastor and I were friends.  When we arrived, I asked R. B. to sing me his songs. There were six in all.

The problem with sitting and listening to a singer-songwriter is that he or she often feels the need to take ten minutes to explain the origin of their three-minute song. After about an hour-and-a-half, we finished, and R. B. asked me my opinion.

“There’s only one way you can tell if a song is any good,” I said. “Without hyping it, telling its story or sharing a tearful story, just play and sing it and see if people dig it—just for its own worth.”

R. B. frowned at me. Part of the frown was due to the fact that he didn’t know exactly what I meant, but most of it was caused by R. B. being very unfamiliar with criticism.

I listened to the songs individually one more time, and told him that of the six, there were two that people would enjoy hearing and other artists might like to sing.

That afternoon we recorded those two songs. I overlaid some piano, organ and vocals and did a quick mix on it over to cassette tape, so he could take it home and listen.

He was thrilled.

I must have gotten about seven calls in the next two days—R. B. pointing out things he had just discovered and expressing how grateful he was that I took the time to help him.

Meanwhile, I made a contact with a minister in Mobile, Alabama, who was just beside himself—overjoyed to have my wife, kids and myself come down and join the staff.

I had never done anything “churchy” before, but the opportunity came with a house, free utilities and a small salary. So I looked past my apprehensions.  I buried my dreams and made plans to move my entire entourage to Mobile, Alabama.

Shortly before we left, R. B. came to dinner and told us that he had just hired on with an electronics firm in Minnesota. We shook hands. I think he even mustered a hug.

As R. B. left, I remember thinking, “I’ll probably never see him again.”

 

G-Poppers … January 12th, 2018

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As a boy, G-Pop recalls how beautiful and powerful six inches of snow was in Ohio. It usually meant that school was canceled for the day and the winter wonderland was available for walking and playing.

Yet with all the potential, it was G-Pop’s profile to go outside for a few minutes, but then to come back in, pull out the Monopoly game and play, by himself, using three different pieces, so he was only competing against himself.

It was so much fun. No yelling, no arguing, no fussing and lots of surprises.

Outside it was cold, crowded and competitive. The air was frigid and the surroundings were full of children looking for a way to create mischief with the snow–and the hillsides for sliding were soon lined up with people waiting their turn to get the best “slick trip.”

G-Pop just didn’t like to take most of his glorious day and spend it waiting, freezing and sometimes arguing

G-Pop wants his children to understand that we now have the same situation in our country. People have defined the thrills and chills of our era–so everyone bundles up and goes out into the cold, where it’s crowded and competitive. Of course, it can become so cutthroat that people start getting hurt.

G-Pop recommends to his children that they slip back into the house and play a better game. It’s named “Kindness”–and it is so unusual, so ignored and so set to the side that they will find themselves succeeding by surprising everyone with the choice.

It has three parts to it:

1. Return to “courtly.”

Reinstitute phrases like, “if you don’t mind.” Or, “if you would be so kind.” And of course, “it was so nice of you to do that.”

It doesn’t matter if other people are saying the same words. It gives a sense of well-being, purpose and gentleness.

2. Lead with a smile.

The usual grimace just doesn’t cut it anymore. If everybody’s frowning at one another, the possibility for negotiation or business is nearly eliminated.

Is there a danger in leading with a smile? G-Pop supposes so–there are always con men and women who will try to play off weakness, but if you can see them coming, you can keep a nice grin, welcoming people in.

3. Set aside a blessing.

Yes, every week, put a little extra money to the rear. A little extra time. A few things no longer used, to give to somebody who would benefit from them.

We are so interested in giving to charity, but often we don’t know where that money goes. If you set aside some of your charitable funds, and place them strategically where you desire, it is so much more fulfilling.

The world is cold, crowded and competitive.

Come inside the love of God and discover your warmth.

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Catchy (Sitting 29) Prayer Do Well … December 31st, 2017

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Matthew had finally gotten the hint.

After pursuing Michael Hinston for nearly three days, it had become completely obvious that “Mikey” was avoiding him. The latest evidence was that Matthew found Michael in the lobby of a hotel, and Michael feigned having an anxiety attack, pleading to go to the hospital and therefore refusing to speak to him. It was a scam. (Of course, it would be difficult to prove it, and certainly boorish to accuse.)

So Matthew decided to take two days off from trying to contact Hinston, and pursue a different approach. Via Michael’s Facebook page, he discovered that the Congressman was going to be meeting with some Boy Scouts from Ohio for a prayer breakfast on Saturday morning at some sort of local “Pancakes-R-US.”

Without any warning, Matthew descended upon the private affair. Upon walking through the door of the restaurant, put his arm around Michael and introduced himself to all the boys and men in uniform, as “the Congressman’s old friend from college.” As Matthew had anticipated, Michael was in no position to contradict him.

So Matthew sat through the entire breakfast, including the little speech offered by Hinston, waiting for the chance to corner him afterwards, with a series of questions which remained unanswered, festering in his soul.

As Michael stumbled through his little talk, which was half Biblical and half anecdotal, Matthew was astounded at how his dear friend had settled into a malaise of confused identity.

Matthew nearly chuckled aloud when Michael made some reference to Nehemiah. Nehemiah? How irrelevant was it to find the most irrelevant parts of an irrelevant book, to try to make an irrelevant point?

He stifled his giggle.

After an hour-and-a-half of too many carbs, too much sweet and a bounty of Bible, the meeting was over. Michael tried to excuse himself out the back door, but Matthew anticipated his selected exit and was waiting for him. As Michael exited the rear kitchen door, Matthew was standing there, waiting patiently.

“Not leaving, are you?” asked Matthew, stepping toward him and nabbing his arm. Michael lurched back in horror (the way cowards often do.)

“No,” said Michael. “I was just going to go look for you.”

Matthew smiled and decided to let the little lie wiggle away. He continued. “I just have three questions, Congressman–and knowing you’re a busy man, I will recite them to you all at once in their order of importance. First, what do you know about Jo-Jay’s condition, and why she ended up in the hospital?”

Michael attempted to reply but Matthew held up his hand to stop him. “No, no, no. I said three questions. Secondly, why are you avoiding me? And finally… Let me see. Yes. Where in the hell did you get that ugly tie?”

Michael squinted at Matthew and replied, “The tie was a gift from my children, and I would prefer you not let them know you think it’s ugly.” Michael actually smiled.

Matthew was relieved that underneath the crustiness of dried-up government red tape there might be a human being languishing in terror.

“Second answer,” Michael continued, “I wasn’t avoiding you. I was just busy. And finally, I don’t know anything about Jo-Jay. You remember, we weren’t exactly close. She was the one who came up with the awful nickname, Mikey.”

Matthew chuckled. “That’s just Jo-Jay. If she can’t get your love, she’s gonna get your goat.”

Michael bristled. “Always defending that pack of ne’er do wells, aren’t you?”

“Ne’er do wells,” Matthew repeated. “Are we going to continue the whole conversation in Olde English? Or betwixt will we return to the common man’s vernacular?”

Michael attempted to pull away from the hold Matthew had maintained on his arm. “I think I’ve answered your questions.”

Matthew laughed out loud. “To those people in there you may be Congressman Hinston, but to me, you’re the goddamn little twerp I used to send on beer runs. So don’t get uppity. I’m not in the mood for it. Jo-Jay is in a hospital, quarantined with an Amazonian virus, and all the clues point to you.”

“What clues?” demanded Michael.

“I guess I overstated my premise,” said Matthew. “Just one huge clue. She wrote your name on the mirror of the compact I found in her purse. She’s either really horny for you or she’s trying to let us know that you’re mixed up in her trouble.”

Michael frowned. “You are a foul spirit.”

“Back to the Olde English,” Matthew noted. “And thou art a fuckin’ liar.”

The moment froze in its heat. The two men might have gone to blows had it not been for a ten-year-old Boy Scout who came out asking for an autograph.

Michael stared at Matthew. “I should probably sign this young fellow’s menu, don’t you think?”

Matthew shook his head, released his hold on Michael’s arm and stood back, patiently waiting for the ceremony to finish. But instead of signing the boy’s paper, Michael put his arm around the little scout and walked back into the restaurant to join all the others who still remained.

Matthew felt angry, foiled, trapped and foolish. He walked back to his car. On the way, he noticed a black SUV, which he assumed belonged to the Congressman, since most of the cars in the parking lot had Ohio tags. Matthew leaned down to the back tire on the driver’s side, stuck a toothpick in the plug and released the air until it was flat. He rose to his feet, walked to his car, climbed in and headed off to the hospital.

It was a childish thing to do–letting the air out of the tire–but it brought him a strange sense of satisfaction.

As he drove to the hospital he received a text from Walter Reed Medical Center, pleading with him to come as quickly as possible. A chill went down his spine. Why would they send such a text? It had to be bad news.

Matthew felt one of those urges that occasionally overtake the human spirit–to just drive on, change his name and start over again. But he was needed.

So he parked at the hospital, jogged inside, went up to the quarantine level, and as he stepped out of the elevator, a doctor grabbed him by the coat sleeve, pulling him down the hallway.

“What’s going on?” asked Matthew.

“It’s too hard to explain,” replied the doctor.

They arrived outside Jo-Jay’s room, and through the door Matthew could see, much to his surprise, that standing next to her bed was Jubal Carlos. It seemed he had slipped past security, into her room, without anyone being aware. He stood there, holding her hand and talking to her.

Matthew turned to the doctor. “What’s happening?”

“Hold on,” said the doctor, pointing back into the room. “Look.”

Matthew turned, and as he did, he saw that Jo-Jay had shifted in her bed and was sitting up, talking to Jubal.

“Oh, my God.”

That’s all Matthew could say. The doctor just shook his head. “Honestly, there wasn’t anything we could do for her. This fellow came in the room, and the next thing we knew, she was sitting up, talking. Just like that.”

“Can I go in?” asked Matthew.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” replied the doctor.

Matthew didn’t wait. He opened the door, walked inside and Jo-Jay gave him a smile.

“What are you doing?” Matthew addressed his question to the entire room.

Jubal started laughing. “Well, I would like to tell you that I came in here and laid hands on her, prayed for her and she was healed. But the truth of the matter is, once I got in here I turned into an absolute chicken and stood about seven feet away, trying not to breathe the air. I was about ready to pass out from a lack of oxygen when this little princess woke up on her own, looked at me and said, “Where in the hell am I, and why in the hell are you here?”

Matthew looked back and forth between Jubal and Jo-Jay to see if they agreed on the story.

“Are you okay?” he said to the frail patient laying before him.

“No,” said Jo-Jay. “I was kidnapped, abused, and dumped in the Amazon Jungle. How have you been?”

“Better than that,” said Matthew.

Jubal interrupted. “Now, we’re not gonna do something weird and pretend that she was healed by me, right? I realize you’re promoters, and that’s the kind of thing you do.”

Matthew shook his head and Jo-Jay replied. “The last thing I remember was getting on a plane, and the next thing I knew, I was staring at you, and you looked scared.”

Jubal smiled. Matthew smiled. Jo-Jay was all business.

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Catchy (Sitting 11) Just One More Thing … August 20th, 2017

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Meanwhile, Michael Hinston was adapting to Washington like a hippopotamus training for a marathon.

He had hoped to be a duck in water, but nothing seemed to be floating. He surmised that Washington, D.C. was like a job fair, where people milled around trying to convince one another about their ingenious inventions.

Michael was either too pushy or not pushy enough. He often found himself not invited because he was a freshman congressman. It was assumed he was stupid because he was a first-timer and also because he was from the state of Ohio. It was also concluded that he was corrupt because he came from the twelfth district of Ohio.

This brought him back to the $50,000 check from Caine Industrial. He was simultaneously tantalized and horrified by possessing the piece of paper, so paranoid that he went out and bought a steel strong box with a lock and placed the check within, hiding the container up in his attic.

He had managed to lease a respectable three-bedroom condo in Alexandria for his family. (First-term congressmen never buy houses, since the job has to be reclaimed every two years.)

So feeling despondent, disrespected, immature and inadequate, he was sitting in his tiny office on Capitol Hill when there was a knock at the door. He opened it to eyeball a small man–no more than five feet, seven inches tall and weighing not an ounce over 150 pounds. The gentleman had a handlebar mustache and auburn hair streaked with gray. He introduced himself.

“My name is Milford Hayes and I am the chief attorney for the internal affairs of Denison Caine of Caine Industrial.

Michael flinched. The name “Caine Industrial” matched the logo on the forbidden check.

Awkwardly, Michael invited him in. Mr. Milford Hayes sat down in a chair, rising once or twice as he tried to find a comfortable spot.

He began to speak. A well-rehearsed sililoquoy.

“Let me not waste your time. I know you are busy acclimating to your surroundings. From this point on as I speak, do not respond. If you respond, since I am not your attorney, I could be summoned to testify against you. Now, don’t let that scare you. There’s no reason to think there would be an investigation, but it is my job to be careful.

“You know of Mr. Denison Caine, but you may not be aware that he is a great patriot, and his love for this country is beyond all bounds. As a lover of this country, he has felt the need to locate men of vision–sometimes even a little lady–who will see what needs to be done and take the authority they find themselves in, to become–how shall I phrase it?–‘doers of the Word and not hearers only.'”

Michael tried to interrupt and Milford lifted a hand to stop him, continuing. “I know, I know. You have much to say–many questions. Perhaps many thoughts. Please remain silent. Silence is your best profile for this meeting, because if I don’t hear it from your mouth it was never said. Anything coming from my mouth does not incriminate you. Perhaps I should not use the word ‘incriminate.’ I can see fear on your face. It’s just, Congressman, that these are desperate times, and it is a season in our country when industrious souls need to snatch the power from those who would use it to run us into the ground. That is Mr. Caine and we believe that to be you.

“The fifty thousand dollars you received in the mail is a gift. A housewarming, if you will–warming you to your home in Alexandria at 444 Apollo Street…”

The Congressman shifted in his chair nervously.

“…and also a warming to your House seat here in Congress. Take it. Use it. Find a better school for your children. Think about a boat. Don’t spend it too quickly, drawing attention to yourself, and don’t run it through your personal bank account. Trickle it off-shore, invest in a dummy company. Well, you can talk to your personal attorney about such matters. It is a good-faith statement from Mr. Caine, that he believes you have a heart for this nation and that you will join him in returning our Union to its proper standards.

“So in the future, little packages will arrive. Oh–may I add, in pairs. In the first package will be a letter from Mr. Caine, as from an average citizen, making a suggestion on a piece of legislation. About a week later, a second package will arrive, with cash. I know your instincts are to believe this is illegal, bribery or undue influence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Caine just has ideas that are forward thinking, which he wishes to see implemented, and he knows it is impossible in today’s society, to progress a movement from a position of poverty.

“All we ask of you is to consider the idea, and if it suddenly appears as legislation in the House, to vote for it. That’s it. Then you simply take your cash and put it in your special hideaway. Enjoy your family and help us bless this country.”

There was finally a pause, yet Michael still felt compelled to request permission to speak, intimidated by Hayes’ mannerisms. Milford was a soft-spoken man with a little Dixie in his lip-service–a gentle touch, similar to a baker carefully removing a cookie from its display, fearing it might crumble.

Congressman Hinston took a deep breath and asked, “Do I have a choice? I mean, I’ve listened to your speech and it seems extremely contradictory to my standards and to what I understand to be the moral and ethical way to handle the responsibility of a seat in Congress.”

Milford interrupted. “Interesting question. First and foremost, let us understand, we all have a choice. Why, just this morning I was down at my hotel to order breakfast and they gave me a menu. So many choices. May I say, too many choices. Since I was not familiar with the establishment and did not know what was good to eat, I pulled a ten dollar bill out of my wallet and handed it to my server. I said to him, ‘Young fellow, since I don’t have time to make a mistake, I need you to tell me what’s the best thing on this menu to order.’ Well, well, Michael Hinston, he was not only grateful for his reward, but also deeply flattered that a gentleman of my, shall we say, bearing, was seeking his counsel on culinary matters. Oh, by the way, he said the Eggs Benedict were absolutely terrific, but to make sure they gave me the Hollandaise sauce and not the cheaper cheese blend they often offer.”

Michael just shook his head. The attorney was certainly having fun. Milford continued.

“So we do have choices. But we should realize that when we make them, it always eliminates possibilities. Do you see what I mean? Opening a door discloses a room but to become part of that room, we must close the door to our previous place of occupancy. Perhaps my speech is too flowery. Let me be more concise. You get the money if you do what Mr. Caine believes to be righteous. If you don’t want the money, Mr. Caine will make sure that your stay in the capitol is brief.”

Michael wanted to object. For years and years he had been angry about being pushed around. People had always told him what to do. He often found himself intimidated into following the crowd, only to regret that the choice had not been his, and yet the failure was shared.

He wanted tobe strong. He wanted to be principled. He wanted to know that if his wife, children, Abraham Lincoln and God were standing in the room they would all nod their approval over his decision.

But Michael Hinston was not strong. He was scared. So he did what all frightened men do when confronted by evil. He remained silent.

Milford, sensing he had captured his prey, had a closing thought.

“Oh, just one more thing. Mr. Denison Caine always hated Arthur Harts. You know, billionaire fussiness and all. We noticed through our study of your history that you are friends with a gentleman named…”

Milford reached into his jacket, took out a pad and flipped pages, pointing a long, bony finger at some writing on the sheet.

“…Matthew Ransley. Old college buddy, I think.”

Michael was shocked. “Yeah, I know Matthew. What’s he got to do with any of this?”

“Well,” Milford continued, “Mr. Caine knows you are familiar with Matthew, and it seems that he’s taking on this ridiculous project Harts left in his will, about making Jesus popular. And making a long story short, Mr. Caine wants it to fail.”

Michael spoke up with uncharacteristic boldness. “Does he hate Jesus?”

Milford smiled. “No. He seems to be at peace with Jesus. He hates Arthur Harts, and he wants to make sure that Harts fails even after death. Since you know Matthew, we thought you might agree to assist while simultaneously keeping us updated on the doings, and ultimately…how do they phrase this? Ah. Throw a wrench into the gears. But more about that later. Right now, you just enjoy your family, maybe that new boat, and settle into town, realizing that this could become a wonderful, life-long work. Word has it a Senate seat might even come up for grabs in the next six to twelve years. Wouldn’t you be good at that? We’ll be in touch.”

Milford stood to his feet to leave. “Oh, by the way, do you like my new suit? I just purchased it. I’ve never been a great fan of tweed, but the combination of colors intrigued me. It has a hint of the orange-brownish of fall, but that ever-so-light green of springtime. It makes me feel like a man for all seasons.”

Milford smiled and walked to the door, speaking over his shoulder. “I can find my way out.”

He turned one final time, saying in his molasses tone, “Such a pleasure to meet you, Congressman Hinston.”

He stepped out the door, leaving Michael alone.

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Catchy (Sitting Five) Michael…Row — July 9th, 2017

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Michael Hinston was a first-term congressman from the state of Ohio, representing farmers, bankers, mothers, daughters and computer technicians.

He certainly had the background. Raised on a farm in rural Ohio, he had graduated in the upper twelve per cent of his high school class and ended up two years at Ohio University in Athens working and struggling because of a lack of scholarships and financial aid. He transferred in his junior year to Ohio State.

He always knew what he wanted to do–work in a business long enough to build up neighborhood recognition so he could enter politics. Therefore his major was business with a minor in political science. He purposely took one semester of graduate school so, in conversations, he could allude to pursuing his Master’s Degree. For a time, he worked as an investment consultant with D. R. Smithers—the one with the large moose in their ads—with the aspiration of making contacts with the more wealthy and elite, attempting to build a database of future contributors to his campaigns.

He got married at the age of twenty-five, fulfilling statistics without much of a biological urge, to a young woman named Rachel, who was the perfect political wife. She was smart, semi-attractive, well-educated, well-bred, doting, loyal, with a good business sense and willing to bear enough children to qualify as a family, which in this case, ended up being two daughters, Alisa and Bernice (A and B–easy for the electorate to remember).

It was a well-formulated plan by a well-organized man living in a time when well-meaning was … well, everything.

Michael carefully made selections for his life–the right church, the right clubs, the right car, and the right schools for his girls.

Mr. Michael Hinston worked a plan. He was a habit resembling a creature. He never went to the grocery store without a list and never started his car without knowing where he was going. Perfection was in sight.

That is, until his wife, Rachel, met Connie.

Rachel and Connie became fast friends because their husbands were men busy grinding away. They worked together, played together, laughed together and eventually made love together. Two women in their early thirties found out that they were more attracted to softer hands and softer lips and were willing to jeopardize the softer lifestyle.

When Rachel told Michael of her love affair with Connie, he just sat and stared at her. She looked for twinges of anger and signs of disappointment, but what she sensed in Michael was bewilderment.

Michael was dumbfounded. He had recently been elected to the school board—his first political venture, but this diddling by his spouse was not in the plan. He was stymied. Where does a lesbian wife fit in to the great scheme to be elected to the U.S. Congress?

“You really don’t care that I love a woman, do you?” Rachel was incensed.

“Oh, I care,” responded Michael. “I’m just trying to figure out how we could work it into the grid.”

Rachel resigned from being part of Michael’s master plan. She packed her bags and moved with Connie to California, where girl love is a thing.

Michael and Connie’s husband formulated a story. Their wives had temporarily moved to the Golden State to open up a coffee shop. They knew the tale would not hold up very long.

So Michael consulted with his campaign manager, who also happened to be the local high school football coach, Mack Johnson.

Mack offered a suggestion. “Now that your wife is with Connie, it will be no time at all before the public will know that Rach has become a titty-bobber.”

Michael nodded, not sure what a “titty-bobber” was. He was less pessimistic. Rachel was obsessive, having once eaten oysters for six days straight. Perhaps she would lose her taste for lady.

Mac continued. “I would suggest that you go ahead and run for city council before this story breaks, because people will be much more tolerant of a city councilman having a lesbo wife than a school board member.”

This made sense to Michael. He waited a couple of months and ran for city council, which he won handily against, ironically, a lesbian candidate campaigning on “equal pay for the gay” in the workplace.

 

 

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Confessing… June 20th, 2015

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VII.

I confess so I can heal.

If I deny, I remain sick.

I was eleven years old, sitting in the back seat of a car, thrilled out of my mind, leaving the state of Ohio for the first time.

I was so excited that I was jabbering like a drunken parrot–so much so that the adults in the front seat finally had to tell me to hush up and take a nap.

I was heading off for four days in the mountains of Oklahoma to enjoy a camp. When we arrived, I was surrounded by men of all ages expressing goodwill to one another, hugging and laughing with freedom and delight.

It felt like heaven–at least my eleven-year-old perception.

We gathered for meetings, discussions, speeches and songs. A theme soon creeped to the forefront:

“America is in trouble because of its sin, liberal ideas and the races beginning to mingle.”

Around the fire, the men who had been so generous in their love for one another told jokes about black people looking like monkeys and how stupid “the coloreds” were.

One word kept coming to the forefront–“nigger.”

I had heard it before in Ohio, but here it was commonspeak, and was usually accentuated with some “Amens,” giggles and grunts of approval.

I was surrounded.

I was outnumbered.

I looked to the men who had brought me on this journey for guidance. They, too, found themselves in the minority so they joined the mob.

Who was I to object?

So I laughed, I criticized, I mocked and for those four days, I became a racist. Hating black people made complete sense to me.

As we made our way home, the men who were driving the car dissipated their foul language and horrible attitudes. They were trying to go back to who they were without acknowledging who they had become.

I was troubled.

Even though I didn’t know any black people, I saw no reason to judge them from a distance.

As I aged I became more and more infuriated with the racism thrust upon me by men of seeming goodwill, surrounding me with their verbal piss and swill.

I was reminded of the Psalm that says, “Do not dwell in the council of the ungodly.”

I thought about that for a long time.

I realized that to be against racism, bigotry and alienation of my fellow-man, I would have to be willing to be outnumbered and still heard.

I would have to escape those who thought it was funny to devastate others as a joke.

I would have to be different.

When I received the news this week that nine of my brothers and sisters were slain in Charleston, I looked at the young boy who was the perpetrator.

He was me.

If I had continued to hang around the vile bigotry that was spoken to me during those four days, and persisted in coexisting with supremacists, perhaps a logical conclusion to my warped mind would be to strike my own blow.

For you see, if I had dwelt with the “council of the ungodly” I could have just as easily tried to make my point with a gun.

Charleston is not about what a confused, debilitated and ignorant boy did in a church. It’s about how each one of us is occasionally outnumbered by stupidity–and we need to learn to find it within ourselves…to speak out.

 

Confessing boy on bench

 

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Untotaled: Sitting 62 (October 19th, 1970) Abort the Mission… April 11, 2015

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(Transcript)

Ohio was just the way we left it less than a month before.

We were married. Yet folks seemed more concerned about the “whys” than the “wherefores.” They believed we were too young to be Mr. and Mrs. Some of my friends were jokingly betting on how long it would last.

One thing was for sure, we were too chicken to tell anyone about the baby. If they were upset about us being together, what would they think if they knew we had “conceived in sin?”

My wife, Dollie, was beginning to show, but some fashionable, hippie, loose-fitting hemp blouses–popular at the time–helped disguise the bump, so nobody could be sure.

But we were facing a deadline.

There was only one state in the Union that allowed for abortion. It was New York. And that was contingent on the abortion being performed before the conception had gone to six months. We were right on the cusp.

So one day–for all the day–we talked to each other privately and incessantly about how it might be better going forward if there were no baby.

In many ways we had come together because of a pregnancy which we now were trying to terminate so as to be respectable again. I don’t know who was in favor of what–I think both of us just wanted to stop being considered the weirdos, and become the favored son and daughter again.

Before we left Kentucky, a lady gave us a little bit of money, so we hopped into our beat-up Chevy and drove to Buffalo, New York, to get rid of our kid.

It was a long drive. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I’m sure it wasn’t all grim and ugly. We were convinced of the beauty and intelligence of our mission.

We got an appointment at a clinic, and in no time at all, found ourselves sitting in front of a female doctor in her early 40’s, with a heavy German accent.

She was kind. She knew we were scared.

She listened to our story, which was chock-full of some lies, and after we got done pouring out our hearts, she said, in broken English, “I will abort your baby. If that is what you want, that is what I will do. But your wife must be tired from the journey, so why don’t you take today, go off and be together, and come in tomorrow, and we will do the procedure?”

Then she said something strange. She said, “May I suggest that you go see Niagara Falls? It’s only about 25 miles away.”

We agreed. It sounded like fun. Fun was something we did well.

So we drove up to the Falls and found ourselves standing and staring at one of the most magnificent natural phenomenon on this planet.

It was so big. It was so powerful.

We both started to cry.

I don’t know why we cried, but I know that without saying a word to each other or confirming our decision, we got back into our car, and instead of driving to Buffalo, to the clinic, we drove back to Ohio.

I guess we thought that if God can take mere water and turn it into Niagara Falls, He certainly is able to take our mess and change it into a blessing.

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