[If you are just curious, or browsing WaughPaper, and don’t know me or just like a good tale regardless, then read to The End. If you do know me and/or you want to know me more, and you will accept me just as I am, without one plea, and all the rest, then read to The End. If you know me, and you want to think that I am always a “holy” man, pure in thought and deed, and am always living a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called, and you want to keep believing that and thinking that every thing is nice and tidy, then stop reading now].
Because I am not. I am like you: not always those good things. I am like you: flawed. Not fatally, but still flawed we are. It is a fact. And, like you, I am sometimes a fine human being–mostly. Maybe like you, however, I can be distinctly untidy. And God knows, I can act like a jerk. But, that is not who I am.
My comfort, however, is that since you have read this far, you will see it through to The Never-End. I know I will . . .
Those were my first words when I walked into Walmart just hours ago. And, “How in the name of heaven did I get here?”
Here’s how, in part: I don’t own a car. By considered choice, it is part principle and part practicality. Living in downtown Portland, it is not a necessity, just an extra parking fee; and I have a core belief in living sustainably. Every bus line and every streetcar and every MAX train comes within a few blocks of where I sleep at night. To own a personal vehicle to drive a few blocks for a half gallon of almond milk makes no earthly sense. What does make sense for the earth is to severely limit our use of fossil fuels, saving them for transporting goods and services. And, sure there are exceptions. You may need a personal vehicle for getting to and from somewhere that you are truly needed. You have a job (even better if it’s one that meets the needs of others and equips others to help others, and then a drop of gasoline becomes the fuel of faith) or you must get someone to the hospital or you need to see far-away family. That kind of thing I understand and can respect. And I am all for a good road trip, south to north and back again and everywhere in between. But, too often it is simply a poor choice of convenience. And that does not have my respect. Getting a rental car to go get a Christmas tree is somewhere in between. And either way, it is what I did. We did. Because I was the driver, and there was a passenger.
I am an excellent driver. I anticipate, and do not hesitate, and I am aware and responsive and quick and fearless, but careful and safe too. I have had hours, days, of instruction and training, years of experience. And I can see the idiot drivers way before they cut me off or veer into my lane. And I trust mirrors.
And I drive every working day, delivering. And for glorious fun, I have been known to hit a curb or two with irony, and then laugh about it. That is joy. But, five days a week, I pull up to mail boxes and stop on a dime within a centimeter of the edge of the little handle that sticks out, and I can open the box–and those boxes come in myriad shapes and sizes, believe me–and I deliver the mail, close the deal, and keep going. I can fly between houses on a pot-hole ridden street in a truck with mirrors that extend half an arm’s length out from the side of the truck and stop perfectly aligned with those mail boxes so I can grab the handle, put the mail in just so, and shut the lid while accelerating on to the next house, all without ever stopping completely. And I do that 800 times a day, literally a centimeter away from breaking a mirror or bashing into a mail box. Or a trash can. Or a barely visible recycling tub. Or a low-lying tree branch. Or a child’s bicycle that was left in the street. Or a cat. Or worse, a squirrel. And, I can do it at an angle, adjusting for the tipping of the truck due to one of those pot holes.
I do all of that while sitting on the right side of the vehicle because that is where the steering wheel is in a mail truck. And it is there, because that is where the mail boxes are, on the right side, in front of your house or on the right side of the street in a neighborhood with a Neighborhood Box Unit (unless your box is on your porch, and I don’t do much of that kind of delivering). Or maybe you have an indoor mailroom, and those are a welcome slice of warm postal heaven bread with real butter. But mostly I drive around the city. And those mirrors? A mail truck has seven of them. One of them is used to reflect another mirror that reflects an image of the back bumper so I can back within a centimeter of anything behind me. And another mirror shows the lateral image of the front bumper so I can pull up to within a different centimeter of almost anything, and I can sort of see around a corner with it, if I finesse the angle just right. And if you aren’t metric, well we can still be friends, but you should know that a centimeter is, in this font, almost exactly the length of the word mirror.
So, when I get in a “regular” vehicle I need a few minutes to adjust to sitting over there on the left side where the steering wheel is. And the first thing I do is check the mirrors. And then, I will say something like, “give me a few minutes to adjust”. And that makes sense, right, because that is what I need. So, give it to me. Leave me alone for a bit. I get that. It is a true and stated need: leave me alone. If it’s not a neurosis or pre-psychosis, it is temporary. So, don’t start with the non-stop comments about my driving. Because if you do, I will eventually, after far too much of it, say, “Shut up, please. Just shut up.” And, I will add another please to try being gentle, but it remains firm. Ooh, that is so bad isn’t it? No, not really. I say much worse sometimes, when I curse a mailbox from my truck when its lid won’t stay closed, or its owner just doesn’t give a crap if his trash cans are always right in front of it, or it is buried so far back into the shrubbery that I have to fold in two of my mirrors to get within reach of it. Or the owners are just parked there or even standing there in front of the boxes, and I say hey do you want your mail? And if they don’t answer me or they flip me off, I take their mail back to the post office and hold it for ten days and then send it all back whence it came. And they get nothing further until they start it up again. And any cursing is followed by a prayer, giving it to God and saying thank you for being real. Or if a customer says, oh it’s all junk mail today, huh? I always say, “Oh no, it’s all precious. I work hard for every piece. There is no such thing as junk mail to me.” But what I think is, it’s your junk not mine. Whatever I am bringing you is only what you ordered, or you are getting it because you are on a list. It’s not mine; it’s all yours. And I will deliver your junk and get paid for it. My thoughts are already known, by God. Yeah, I am “pathetic” for calling things what they are. I am “rude” for not shying away from the truth or for being a little edgy. I am “weird” for living large on the very edge of life itself. But, I am not “despicable” or a “jerk” or a “horrible person” or a “lying cheat”. Just shut up, okay? Give me ten minutes to adjust. Turn on the radio, over to 89.9, and let’s have some peace, I said.
And I was praying on the way to get that Christmas tree, itself a symbol of ever-life, always green, and an image of a season given to the Prince of Peace and the Hope of Humanity. So, peace please, a paltry portion. Peace on earth and goodwill toward all men, even me, because it wasn’t there in that rented car. No peace. Honda world had none, even as I prayed it for the rest of the world while driving very well.
And the numbers on the digital radio went this way and that, and finally settled on 89.9, and it was . . . Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor. And a healthy dose of hope came like a thing with feathers, and I shut out the noise and heard the music of another voice. Later at the tree lot in Sellwood, as I sat in the car alone–for just a minute, please–the peace came too, along with a slow smile. Like his Concerto No. 2 when the clarinet enters, but here in No. 3, it was the flute. Then the clarinet joins. And then the glorious horn. And together, the three brought a moment of peace to join that hope.
So, out the door and into the lot and a tree was chosen. I saw one and thought it was perfect and cute, adorably appropriate for an apartment. It’s not the size, it is the nobility that matters. Maybe not, but I am staring at it now, in its stand and with lights, and that fir looks noble to me.
Back in Sellwood (with Sergei)–yea, it fits across the back seat, so there is room for whatever we can find at Walmart. That is not even true. Only what we cannot find at Walmart will fit, I thought. Fine, let’s go to the one over on 82nd because I think they’ve remodeled it into a super center. And that sweet music carried me left on Bybee, left on Milwaukie, and then right, all the way up Foster. And somewhere crossing an avenue in the 70s I saw a cemetery on the right, and I thought of life and death and life again. I checked my mirrors, then looked ahead and accelerated into the left lane. And right then I knew what was about to happen. Siri said to go up to 84th and it was a left there and then an immediate right into a huge parking lot filled with vehicles of consumption, and the music of heaven ended in a victorious crescendo. It ended just as an SUV pulled out of its slot, and I pulled into it. Into the perfected parking lot of Walmart, USA.
Do you ever do something that violates some inner guiding light, but you do it anyway for what you think is a higher good? Or maybe you do it to test that guiding light? Me too, I thought, as I went through those doors into the known-but-I-don’t-want-to-know-it realm.
There was stuff everywhere, and people stuffing it. Carts wheeled about with anonymous drivers as I ambled about the aisles, bewildered. But I adjusted, and I did need wool work socks and some liners, so what the heck? “Holy Mother” this time, passing the daze and glaze of God’s children. And I joined them as I found both items at super low prices, and then ran into the thoroughfare of the main aisle. And I did need a gift for my own mother, but she is too dear for this, so I kept moving.
Two women came by, one of them half-drunk, singing, ” . . . Oh, by golly have a holly jolly Christmas . . .” By golly, I am trying, really.
I have already broached this topic, so I will go there again: I suddenly had to go and pray, so I found the restroom. Ugh, the cleaning carts and two workers were blocking the entrance, and they did not speak my native tongue (Shawnee), so I motioned with my thumb and a raised eyebrow. Maria said, “Is okay”, so I took a quick right through the open doorway. It was not too crowded, just a couple of guys, and one at the sink. I looked under one stall, and then the last one, the wheel-chair-sized one with handles. It had everything I needed: a vacancy, supplies, a door that locked, and the sounds of an entire culture being summoned with “Attention Walmart shoppers!” wafting in. Yep, I can pray here just fine, so I took off my coat and wedged it behind one of the handles attached to the wall, because there was no coat rack on the door, just three holes from the past. So with the wedging and the closing of that hole-y door the space became sacred. And I just prayed it all. I heard a flush and prayed more. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth . . . “and in our produce section where you’ll find the best of the season” as it is in heaven. “Oh my Lord,” as I stared down at the ceramic tile with scuff marks and then up at the ceiling tile with, what is that up there anyway, and then . . . Done. Unwedge coat. Unlock door with three holes, Father Son Holy Spirit, and . . . Amen.
There were two men at the two sinks now. One was relatively well-dressed, taking his time, not mine. The other guy was well-dressed not, and only partially that, and he had a wrinkled paper bag tucked under the sink and he was really working to get clean from living on the streets, off 82nd Avenue, just trying to get by. With that paper bag, he was the one I’d choose too God. They both saw that I was waiting to wash my hands, but it was the homeless guy who would look me in the eye. He nodded here you go as he stepped aside and I nodded, “Sweet Jesus, this is how you came” as I said thank you to him; I appreciate it, I said. I washed my hands in holy water, and I wept while exiting. I looked around at all of the trinkets I could buy, and I pulled some money out to give to Jesus, outside when he came out, maybe pull him aside so there was no embarrassment or whatever. But he didn’t come out, so I walked away back out into it’s still your kingdom, isn’t it Father–all of this and how could I not just love it all to death like you did?
And then it was a girl in customer service named Rio who accessed the river flow of inventory data to see if they had a certain kind of thing that a friend wanted as a gift. And it was Damion who was, I told him, a checker without peer. And he said, hey thanks, most people just think I am the guy in lane 17. And I swear that number keeps popping up in my line of sight. Then he told me all about his mom and how she changed the spelling so it wouldn’t be associated as much with the boy from The Omen and I said yeah I thought about that and wondered. And he talked about his work schedule, and I thought yeah tell me about it, but all I said was a smile. Then Damion just started talking about not letting pain get you down, especially the pain of the [ . . .], and I said what did you say, Damion, the pain of the what? And he said “flesh”, you can’t let the pain of the flesh get you down, and I just oh my God looked up at the tile ceiling again, but it was way up there this time, and I prayed again right there in front of Walmart shoppers at attention and half-drunk jollies and Rio over there and in full view of Damion who is no demon but maybe a kind of angel, and I just said thank you. Thank God for all of life and letting me be in the flow of it. And thank you for being here this far into it, dear reader, from my heart. And for being there too.
What a steal, I told Damion, as I paid all of those low, low prices, and then it was back out into the land of where-the not-in-hell-is-the-car, and oh, there it is. Doors opened, trunk loaded, and inside was the beginning of Christmas in all its glory. The tree in the back seat was a fragrant offering, overflowing with its royal scent now, and the radio came back on, back in time. It was a mostly silent night, over the river and through the . . . well, the city, not the woods, but still it was becoming a merry Christmas after all. The last of its kind, noble fir sure. And it is the last time I will ever listen to anyone except a cop or a judge talk about my driving.
Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in B minor carried the sleigh all the way west to where I sleep.
And thanks again. This is not it either; it is not The End.