Brian remember that time when we were riding on the subway in Brooklyn and that Orthodox Jew I think he might have been a rabbi was watching me he kept giving me side-long glances full beard to the middle of his chest sideburn curls at least a foot long horn-rim spectacles black hat? He kept gazing over at me and when I would look back at him he would turn his head away but keep me in view out of the corner of his eye he was half-way across the train-car I was just standing there holding onto the pole. Could he see the glow coming off of me, I was burning hot Brian remember, I could feel the heat coming off of me my metabolic rate was way up could he see that I was “on fire” could he tell that I was deeply connected to God right at that moment? I had just driven in from Philly and had been saved on the New Jersey turn-pike about half-way through while listening to the Al Green song “Jesus is Waiting” but I almost didn’t buy that CD because I had wanted a “greatest hits” compilation instead I bought two CDs at the clerk’s suggestion but later couldn’t find the clerk when I went to thank him even though I searched the entire store. Later on I thought that maybe it wasn’t a clerk but an angel instead when I looked back on it crying in my car on the New Jersey turnpike, Brian did you think that the bearded rabbi could see all of that? Oh that’s right Brian that wasn’t you you weren’t there that was just me.
And then there was the time when you and I were in jail in the drunk tank and that old dude with the beard was going on and on about Jesus and hell-fire and wouldn’t shut up and let us sleep and kept preaching to us and singing gospel songs to us all night long and Brian you said the whole situation reminded you of Paul and Silas and that maybe the cell doors would miraculously open up and we could just go back to the hotel, and then I said to the old dude with the salt-and-pepper gray beard that him telling us that he had learned all his licks back in sixty-six on the night-time radio and that he was a famous country Jesus hillbilly blues singer and guitar player and going on and on about how he “Heard It On the X” – that he was ripping off ZZ Top. I said for sure that was the best two minute song ever made and that if it would get him to shut up that Brian and I would get down on our knees with him and pray and so we did and then he shut up. Only that wasn’t me or you but the old dude thinks that it was us and besides if we ever did get that drunk together somebody would pay for a cab; so it couldn’t really have happened that way so that wasn’t you or me I’m pretty sure.
And then there was the time that the over-weight guy with the red fuzzy beard was pouring the beers and going on and on bloviating about the Holy Trinity in that bar in Seattle that called itself the second oldest or the third oldest pub “west of the Mississippi” like anyone would care but he wouldn’t stop mangling quotations from the catechism and you kept catching him in his mistakes and I just sat there all wide-eyed and tipsy and kept trying to get in factoids about the Holy Spirit but couldn’t get in a word edge-wise. Was I there Brian? No I don’t think so I think that was you not me just you, I think you were there.
And then there was that other time in the inn in Geneva when those two guys with goatees kept talking and talking about scripture and the meaning of grace and wouldn’t let the other guy get any sleep so just at dawn he broke down and converted and that helped touch off several major wars in Europe all because they wouldn’t let the guy get any sleep because he was on the ropes and when someone is on the ropes you don’t let him get away unless he is Muhammad Ali doin’ the rope-a-dope … only he wasn’t Muhammad Ali. And so several Protestant denominations were born. I’m pretty sure that neither one of us were there but if I’m wrong and we were both there then you or your “Sears-sucker guru” will tell me in the next life-time no thanks to Frank Zappa but I don’t believe in reincarnation anyway do you? So neither one of us was there (I’m pretty sure.).
And then there was that time when I was pulling an all-nighter for a Latin final and this guy comes into the Denny’s and makes eye contact with the waitress but he thought I didn’t see their prearranged signal but I saw. And he asks if he can join me in the booth and I say yes because I was wondering what he was up to. Well that guy did not have a beard and it is a good thing that he is not a member of the bearded Hirsute Brotherhood and here’s why. He started talking about Jesus and I pretended to be noncommittal; then he asked me if something was troubling me thinking that my all-nighter face was a sign of being depressed but I was just really, really tired … and then I knew what his game was, so I played along. I told him that I was lonely and he asked what I was studying and I pointed at my book-bag and said “Latin” and so he started talking about his church which met in the hotel near the Denny’s and offered to pick up my check for the breakfast and so I knew that that was what the “look” between him and the waitress was all about and that this whole scene was part of his routine of “outreach” to try to build up his church. So when he pressed me again about being lonely and troubled (he added the troubled part, trying to put that into my head but I never had said that I was troubled) I mentioned that I was single and hadn’t dated anybody in a long while … and then do you know what this guy did? He told me that in his little church, in the denomination he was starting that he called the “xxxxx xxxxx Church – Restoration” (he emphasized the “Restoration” bit.) … he told me that in his congregation the members were encouraged to “date within the flock.” And then he went on and began ranting and raving about Catholicism … so I knew that I had him and would have to say something to rattle his cage. His presumptive audacity really pissed me (and by the implication the Holy Spirit) … his audacity pissed us off. So I said I was not interested in visiting his little church and had a few things to point out to him about his “proselytization efforts” and made sure he knew that they would be criticisms and that I had his permission to point these things out before I went on (You know, getting his permission to criticize him … the “Christian thing to do”. Evangelists, please take note!). So I pointed out that I had been having the sort of problems that mean that his offering to suggest that church members were encouraged to date within the flock could easily be taken the wrong way and even if he really meant it that way it would actually be very devastating for me if he really really meant what some people would read into that statement about being encouraged to “date within the flock”. And to myself (but I didn’t say it out loud) I imagined that his little group worshipping in a meeting-room inside the hotel would make it very convenient if he really did mean it “that way” – you know, some kind of free love Christian cult (“Restoration” – as if.). Then I pointed out that his shtick with the waitress was actually pretty obvious and he hadn’t even asked me if I was a Christian or had a regular church home he just started putting out his bait. Finally I really let him have it for assuming that I was Catholic and throwing in some anti-Catholic polemics simply because I told him I was pulling an all-nighter for a Latin final, I said all of his assumptions were wrong and that he should think long and hard before trying his silly little game again. He thanked me as I left and yes I did let him pay for my breakfast at 4 a.m. No Brian I was there and you weren’t but I’m really glad you weren’t there because when he went into his anti-Catholic routine I’m not sure what you would have done but it doesn’t count because this clown definitely Did Not Have a Beard and was uncool in every way.
[Thanks for the conversation, Brian … based on a brief interlude with Brian Doyle at a writer’s conference in 2012.]