Moses and His Friends
Across the street, in the shade of a dilapidated awning, Al Breen and his friends, Tom and Skunk, had sat Moses Rawlins against a crumbling wall, with Tom’s jacket in back of Moses’ head and Skunk’s blanket cushioning his back. The odor of Skunk’s blanket seemed strong enough to revive the preacher by itself. Al, an ex-alcoholic, waved an open container of whiskey Old Judd had provided under the preacher’s nose, as Skunk Larson, who had once been an army medic, felt his pulse.
“I think he busted his ribs,” commented Skunk, listening to Moses groan. “Charlie hit him awfully hard.”
“We can’t be sure.” Al shook his head. “He’s still unconscious, but that wound on his forehead don’t look good!”
Al looked back at the congregation across the street. He had felt sorry for the man being chased by the mob, but he seemed to be all right now. He wasn’t surprised that the police hadn’t shown up yet. They seldom took calls coming from this neck of the woods seriously. It was even quite possible that a cruiser had slipped passed them already after inspecting that bizarre scene. It was doubtful if the victim would file a report anyhow, for this was the pattern for most homeless people on the street. Nevertheless, he found it hard to accept the behavior of his friends: they had either tormented him or stood by and did nothing at all. He found it even harder to understand their attitude now. Was this the same gauntlet of hecklers the lunatic ran through this morning? What had happened to his friends? What had changed their mood? Now, as they congregated deferentially around the counterfeit Jesus, he could be sure of only one feeling: anger. Unchristian feelings against Moses attacker flashed apocalyptically in his head as he studied the scene, but also dark thoughts for his onetime friends. Where’s that bastard Charlie? He wondered as he scanned the crowd. Where’s that buck-toothed son-of-a-bitch?
Al was certain that Charlie had to be one of the demons Moses prophesized for the End times. If he knew what had happened to Charlie Blintz this hour, he might feel avenged. He and his friends would certainly be relieved. The police, he thought to himself, sure-as-hell aren’t going to help. He might, however, also be frightened by the implications of what happened this morning. He didn’t know that Moses’ arch enemy was dead after being incinerated, along with Rhonda Simms, by Satan’s, not God’s wrath.
In the weeks ahead Al, the one-time golden gloves light-heavyweight contender, along with friends Skunk, Judd, and Little Tom, would learn more and more about Moses’ revelations. In the words of Saint Paul, paraphrased by Moses, it was, for the time being, like seeing a picture “through glass darkly.” The picture, Moses explained, framed through his knowledge as an engineer, was at present a murky set of symbols and notes, but in the months, perhaps years, ahead would gradually crystallize into a blueprint for the End Times.
Using antiseptic wipes, Skunk dabbed the injury on Moses’ brow, as Little Tom doled the tissues out one-by-one. In spite of his malodorous reputation, Skunk, the one-time army medic, was always prepared. Whenever one of his friends was injured or feeling poorly, they could reach into his drawstring bag for a bandage, antiseptic wipe, or analgesic medication.
Withdrawing a band-aid from his first aid kit now, Skunk applied it expertly to the bump over Moses’ eye. Tom discovered a small scratch on Moses’ ear and dabbed an antiseptic wipe on it too. Once more, as Judd looked on longingly, Al waved the bottle under Moses nostrils, bringing it tantalizingly under his own nose before capping the lid. The preacher uttered a loud groan that moment, as he came to, startling them half out of their wits.
“Wha… happened?” Moses asked, opening his eyes.
“There-there, easy does it,” Tom reached out to calm his friend.
“He’s not lookin’ so good,” Al sighed, handing the bottle back to Judd.
Remarking “This is the best medicine in the world,” Judd took the bottle gingerly in his gnarled hands, upturning it to his bearded face for the long awaited swig.
One of the blood vessels in the white of Moses’ eyes had burst. It appeared to his friends as if he had one red eye and one gray eye in his shaggy head. To the superstitious Native American Johnny Trueblood, this would have, in fact, seemed like “bad medicine.” Though he was at least conscious, the preacher’s appearance now worried his friends. A large bump beneath the cut had risen on Moses’ forehead where he hit the sidewalk, and Moses groaned as Tom and Skunk reached down, gripped him under his arms and lifted him up onto his shaky legs.
“That settles it; I’m going for help, “ announced Al, trotting to the curb. “What we need now,” he added anxiously, “is an ambulance. Moe is hurtin’ real bad.”
“Well, my cell-phone’s dead,” grumbled Skunk. “What we need is a phone!”
Al scratched his head and sighed. “The nearest pay phone is broken. The next one in working order is a half-mile from here. Maybe we can borrow one from a motorist or ask one of them call.”
Shielding his eyes from the sun, Al looked up and down the street for a Good Samaritan.
“You’ll have as much in this neck of the woods flagging down a cop,” Tom said dryly, as he and Skunk steadied the blurry-eyed Moses on his feet.
Tom and Skunk tried unsuccessfully to talk Al out making the attempt. In what struck his friends as an exercise in futility, Al walked across the street, asking the first motorist encountered if she would make the call. The woman driver, who had, as other drivers pulled over to analyze the commotion in front of the alley, rolled her window up frantically and sped away. After drawing similar reactions from other motorists, Al stood by the road looking with disgust at the line of lookyloos pulled over to the curb. Considering what this event implied, it troubled him that these awestruck motorists would not help his friend. When he tapped on their windows, they thought he was panhandling. Some of them panicked or shouted at him to go away. Most of them simply rolled up their windows when they spotted him in their rearview mirrors. He was, Al understood their expressions, a bum and a black bum to boot. “Beat it, you creep!” A truck driver summed it up. Two motorists, an elderly man, and then a nun, even threatened to call the police.
Whatever it was that drew the crowd to the counterfeit Jesus had not changed their personalities. Their minds were dazzled by this false messiah, and yet they were the same selfish souls they had been before. The worst treatment received by Moses, however, was not from motorists on the street. It was the homeless people, many of whom Moses had once tried to help, who ignored the stricken preacher completely after he was assaulted by Charlie Blintz.
Tom and Skunk had been correct, conceded Al. Turning back dejectedly, he waved at his friends. His distrust of outsiders had been justified, and he felt overwhelming disgust for God’s children on skid row. A mob of them, many of whom Al knew personally, had tormented the counterfeit Jesus unmercifully. Moses and Al had pleaded for motorists to notify the police but were treated like lepers when they approached each car. This reaction was based upon fear more than contempt. From the mob, however, they had received apathy and even scorn as they pulled Moses from the scene—apathy and scorn from homeless folk who had been their friends!
Now, as that strange man emerged bloodied and beaten from the alley, the audience, many of whom stood among his tormentors, stared reverentially at him as he stood in their midst. Al was convinced by Moses’ prophecy that what happened today had nothing to do with God. “Gullible, stupid, misbegotten lost souls,” were the words Moses used, thought Al as he walked back to his friends. He would not have been so kind!
From a distance, as he looked over his shoulder, he recognized several men and women he had known as friends, until today. Royal Channing, Troy Holland, Alden Taylor, Ursula Painter, and Liz Moydin were among those standing around the counterfeit Christ. Conspicuously absent from the crowd was Charlie Blintz, the man who had knocked Moses to the ground. Also missing from the crowd was Rhoda Simms, the skid row witch, who had harassed Moses in the past.
“If only God would strike them dead!” Al whispered to himself.
As Al Breen approached his friends under the awning, a voice rang out from the street. Following the shout, a horn sounded from a truck pulled up to the curb. A wide grin, exposing a perfect set of white teeth, was flashed at the driver of the truck.
“Thank you lord!” Al looked up at the sky.
“Hey, man,” called the driver, “what’s wrong with Moe?”
Al and his friends recognized Ignacio’s nephew Alfredo Muņoz. After being rehabilitated at the mission, himself, Alfredo had been recruited to drive the mission’s produce truck back and forth to LA’s Produce Market.
Without being asked, the one-time alcoholic volunteered to take Moses to the hospital. All of Moses friends, including the half-inebriated Judd, gave Alfredo a rundown of Moses injuries after he exited the truck. There was no need to call 911 for an ambulance, Alfredo advised them. Ambulance attendants were in no more of a hurry than the cops to come down to skid row. Al then told him about the attitude of the motorists and apathy of the mob. The middle aged Hispanic, whose amazing recovery he credited to Moses Rawlins, reached out with great tenderness toward his mentor as they escorted Moses to the truck.
“You better get into another line of work,” he gently teased the preacher.
“I’m in another line of work,” replied Moses, his eyelids falling to half-mast.
Alfredo looked at him with concern. As Skunk and Tom managed the preacher, Al, who was worried about Moses’ slack jawed appearance, ran ahead to open the door.
“Don’t you know?” He said, puffing and panting, as they began raising Moses up to the cab. “He’s not just a preacher anymore; he’s a prophet.”
“A prophet?” Alfredo looked up in disbelief.
“A prophet,” Al stepped down gingerly from the running board.
“A prophet!” Echoed Skunk and Tom.
As Skunk and Tom lifted Moses up onto the running board and sat him gently into the cab, Al pointed to the crowd across the street and the white robed figure in their midst.
“Moses has revelations,” he tried to explain. “…. He sees things in his head.”
“He got that right!” Skunk said, out of breath.
“Revelations,” Alfredo grinned, “like John the Baptist?”
“That’d be John, the Divine,” frowned Al, as Tom and Skunk hopped down snickering amongst themselves.
Moses’ friends shared a secret the rest of the world didn’t yet know. As if the subject was too deep for him, Alfredo, always talkative, gave Moses a progress report of down-and-out folks from skid row. Ignacio, who had been in the hospital, himself, was working at the mission but as a dishwasher, he explained, as he buckled Moses into his seat. Two of the men the preacher had worked with had actually left skid row to start new lives. Jeff Patterson, a onetime drug addict, had gone back to Houston to work in construction. Tony, the Rooster, Costello, after being a chronic drunk for years, had returned home to New York. The formula was simple, recalled Moses: stop drinking, clean yourself up, and, when you’re back on your feet, get out of skid row!
There were, he was all too aware, thousands of lost souls on skid row. Those who left skid row may have done so without his help. Though he had mixed feelings about going to the hospital, his spirits were uplifted upon seeing Alfredo behind the wheel. Alfredo was one of the few, he knew for certain, that his message had touched.
Moses hardly noticed the commotion on the street as his benefactor did a u-turn and headed uptown. His friends spent a chilly, bumpy ride between vegetable crates. Moses, who suffered an uncomfortable ride, himself, in the dilapidated vehicle, managed a smile in spite of his wounds. Suddenly everything seemed crystal clear. He had suffered martyrdom for his Lord, but, more importantly, thanks to Jesus Christ, his first prophecy had come true. After reflecting upon the spectacle on the street, he understood, through an ongoing revelation, what the spectacle meant. No one, of course, would ever believe it (he scarcely did himself), but the exhibition in progress, muddled as it was, had been a parody of Christ’s agony on the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Suffering). Because he was a Roman Catholic, Moses understood this parody immediately. What convinced him of the counterfeit Jesus’ pretensions, as he tried helping him today, was the incredible similarity between the counterfeit and the Christ. His long brown hair and well-groomed beard were strikingly similar to Harry Anderson’s painting, the Prince of Peace. Moses, though he never liked this interpretation, was taken back by the man’s features and attire. From his physical appearance down to the sandals on his feet, he looked every bit the Hollywood facsimile of the Good Shepherd, whom he was undoubtedly supposed to be. To the rabble of Jerusalem, who turned on Jesus, too, a long awaited savior had come. These humble peasants on the Via Dolorosa, Moses recalled his catechism, would also be his greatest tormentors when he was nailed to the cross.
Moses could well imagine how Adam suffered in the alley. Though he had doubted the man’s authenticity last night, he was certain of it now…. That silly man going through the motions was the false prophet, the second beast, who had risen out of the sea of lost men and women on skid row.
“Stop!” He cried to Alfredo. “I’m having a revelation. You must turn around and go back!”
“No way,” Alfredo shook his head. “You got busted ribs and a concussion. You’re going straight to ER!”
“All right,” Moses tried sounding calm, “I’ll go to the hospital, but after I speak to him.” “Please, Alfredo,” he said, pressing his temples, “the Lord is speaking to me now!”
Alfredo stopped at a red light and walked to the back of the truck to explain to the others what Moses had in mind. After arguing with Al, Skunk, and Tom for several moments, Moses threatened to walk back to the scene on foot if Alfredo didn’t turn back. His friends, aware of the preacher’s stubbornness, tossed up their hands, climbed back into the truck, and prayed quietly to themselves as Alfredo did an illegal u-turn and drove back to the scene.