I returned to Monster Halloween and the old Hollywood Video building one last time (maybe), to hang a sign for the building's owners, and to meet with Stephan, a sixty year old black man who owns a business on the North Side. He wanted our front desk, the former Hollywood Video front desk. We weren't required to move it, but he wanted it, so I agreed to a meeting.
The desk is a colossal thing, pressed laminate, designed not to be taken apart without destroying it. Which meant a considerable amount of unnecessary strain in moving it. (What gives a man the right to design such a thing? The Market, of course.) Stephan showed up with an SUV, which meant three trips to his North Side shop. I thought to go with him the first trip, but I didn't. Instead, I stayed in the cold and empty building and thought about the move The Road, based on the Cormac McCarthy book, dancing around the open floor, working with a broomstick, thinking about Great Difficulties and how such times exaggerate the qualities of men, good and bad.
I wasn't in a very good mood by the time Stephan returned 90 minutes later. A friend had borrowed me her car, which I told her I would return at 5:00. It was almost six, and there were two more loads.
He offered to return another day, but I wasn't interested in that. I decided to help him unload, so I hopped in the SUV and we were off to the North Side.
Stephan is a good looking man, with a neatly trimmed white beard and a former body builders body. He has an equally beautiful wife, a blessed spirit who preaches the Word, and teaches leadership to prospective nursing assistants. Stephan is often heard saying, "Praise Jesus", "Praise the Lord." It is less proselytizing, more like an incantation to ward off evil spirits. His wife, being the gentle, trusting spirit she is, is often taken advantage of. Stephan is a former hustler, who knows one when he sees one. Half her congregation disappeared when he showed up.
We got to talking about the black community. He has two kids, good people with abundant talents but insatiable desires; nothing is ever enough. He sees it all the time at his wife's classes, at her church. People wanting without the capacity to give. "Never any money, always a story about this or that. Me, I'm grateful for everything I get. They ain't grateful for nothin'. Always trying to take advantage. I see it, I call it out. But I'm the bad guy. I don't mean to hurt anybody, I just call it what it is. Jesus says turn the other cheek, but he didn't mean let people do you like that. He didn't mean you just let yourself be taken advantage of." He is his wife's protector. And a good one, I think.
He counters. "I hear all this talk like the North Side's such a bad place," he says, laughing. "Let me tell you, the North Side ain't nothin' like a lot of cities I been to. All this talk too, like they know what's best, like they're gonna fix the place." He laughs again. "It's the same stuff I been hearin' since the fifties. The same stuff and not much of anything ever gets done."
"And it's not ever going to get done, either," I reply. "The only thing that can heal the black community is the black community."
"That's right, he says,"You go around with darkness in your heart, takin' advantage of people and expecting to have whatever you want whenever you want it, ain't nothin' gonna change for the better. People acting like they can do whatever they want, without any regard for their fellow man.
"The White Man," he laughs. "Everybody complainin' about the White Man. White Man, nothin'. We're all people. We're all human. White folk ain't got it any better than black. Were all servin' the Man. We're all hurtin'. White people are sufferin' too."
He robbed a bank when he was 24, spent some time in Lewiston, bounced around various hard-ass Federal facilities. "I was a stupid kid, didn't know what I was doing or what it meant. Never knew my dad and my mom died when I was 21, didn't really know her either.
"You want to keep people out of jail. Tell you what, it costs $70,000-$100,000 every year to keep a man incarcerated. Give a brother a job and $70,000 a year and I guarantee a lot of brothers are gonna think twice about gettin' into trouble."
"But that's not the point," I tell him. "Like my good friend Snake says, If you have a choice between building a hotel that's half full most of the year, or a jail that's full all year, every year, year after year, what are you going to build?" Stephan's an old hustler. He laughed long and deep about that one.
"Right, he says, thinking. "Prison guards, food vendors, clothing vendors, linens..."
"What do you think drugs are illegal for, anyway?" I say. "A very lucrative business, keepin' people in a cage. Your investors and vendors aren't going to be happy if the jail isn't full."
He asked if I was a Christian. I said no. "Well, what are you then?" I told him a story about giving my life up in service to the Goddess; that I didn't know what it would mean but my life changed irrevocably for the better after that. That every day I repeat "My Goddess, my Goddess, my Goddess, my name is William Hunter Duncan, and I am in service to you." I had been pondering what he might think. "That's a beautiful testimony," he said. "That helps me, hearing you say that. That's a blessing for me.
"Whatever you call it, it's the same thing." This is a Christian I can relate to, I thought.
At his shop after the final load he kept telling me what a blessing this was, "the opportunity of a lifetime," he called it. He wanted to give me more money than the $53 he paid for the desk, but I wouldn't take it. He sells shoes. "What size do you wear?" He dug through a box and gifted me with a glittering (literally) pair of bronze and gold Nike's. "What the hell am I going to do with these?" I said. "Wear them, of course," he replied.
It didn't occur to me until later, the significance. I've been very ugly to myself lately. I haven't felt very worthy. I'm thinking of the bronze statue of Nike in our Shrine to the Goddess, at Monster Halloween. As for the corporation, I can take it or leave it. I generally don't advertise. As for the Goddess, I am very thankful. It is an honor to serve.
I've been very dark lately. Yet somehow, I am blessed. The meeting with Stephan; a job offer the first morning I felt free of Monster Halloween; and my childhood playmate has mysteriously appeared, living not much further away than we were growing up, which is to say, within easy biking distance. She is the peace pirate Miss Chiff. She has hair like a magical woodland sprite and a big Newfoundland/Labrador/Shepherd named after a king. I'm not sure where the name Miss Chiff comes from, but I'm curious to find out.
Thank you, Stephan. Blessings. We are brothers, indeed.