I knew that if I went overseas to fight, I would die there. I knew the way that young women see visions and old men dream dreams . Every inch of my flesh ached with this knowledge that day in my Los Angeles hotel room. Guards waited for me downstairs in the lobby. I could hear the heat walking down the hall.
They were trying to kill me.
The first ever Vietnam draft lottery pulled my birthday, December 4th, 1950. They picked that date three different times over the years, and this third time I was really sweating.
A knock at the door. Oh fuck they found me.
The door was already locked, bolted, with every piece of hotel room furniture packed against it. I crawled on the floor. Desperate, I climbed out my hotel room window and down the fire escape, into the alley below. I felt a little better. The sun was still shining and there was just enough time to hitchhike to Hollywood.
On the corner of the boulevard and Las Palmas I sat to rest on a bench. I was a little weak from lack of food, but I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t have money anyway. I watched the cars and the people hustle around me, trying to guess my fate among these oblivious extras in my life.
I saw the man from a couple blocks away. I noticed him because he was big and he was bookin’. Man he was walking fast. Through the crowd, past the clubs, past the scantily clad women he came. As he drew closer I could see that he was a big sonofabitch, not fat, but tall with broad shoulders. Very scruffy, with a few days worth the stubble on his face, shoulder length dirty hair. And he seemed to be heading straight toward me. I tried to casually look away. I didn’t know this cat. I’d never seen him before in my life, but he stopped right in front of me.
“When you were six years old, He spoke to you for the first time.” said the large man. I looked up, squinting in the dying sun.
He? How did this man know-
“He used to tell you a lot of things. Now they’re trying to kill you, and if they don’t kill you, they’ll throw you in jail. “
I said nothing. Was this guy an undercover? Should I beat feet or what?
“You’ve put up with too much crap in your life to go down that easily.” Large man continued. “Your mom almost set you on fire, tried to run you over. Dad beat the shit out of you until the day he started beating the shit out of your brother, and that's when you finally knocked him down. Your own old man, and you had to knock him down because it’s one thing for him to take out his frustrations on you, but you just couldn’t stand to see a 16 year old boy cry like that. All this you survived and you’ll be damned if the government is going to kill you in some foreign land for the sake of some fucked up democracy. And now you sit here wondering ‘What could God possibly want from me now?’ “
Did I know this guy?
“Well if you want to find out,” said he, “follow me.”
With that, the man abruptly turned and walked away from me, his stride as sure and as long as it was getting to me. Everything he had said to me was the deep down truth. With no one had I ever openly discussed these facts, not even Stewart after Dad beat him up.
The man who had told me everything was walking away from me, down the sidewalk. He was not looking back to see if I was following, and if I didn’t hurry the fuck up, I was going to lose him in the crowd. I jumped to my feet and sprinted down the sidewalk, dodging the extras. By the time I reached the large man, he turned into an alley, and shortly thereafter he walked through a heavy metal door.
I found myself in a room with maybe fifteen, twenty other souls who were standing in front of their seats singing spiritual songs. I’d always shied away from the religious, but today, in this room, the pretty untrained voices of this crowd were a breath of fresh air to me.
I wanted to sit down and listen some more, but when I pulled up a chair, Large Man looked at me and shook his head. “There is none righteous, no, not one” he said before walking to the back of the room and through another door. I followed him down into the basement.
He said “By one man sin entered the world, and death by sin.” I allowed him to lay me flat on a table. It was a relief actually, for I felt quite light headed.“...the free gift is of many offenses unto justification.”
His face loomed over me. My heart pounded in the cage. This man was not screwing around. “The wages of sin is death: but the gift of God is eternal life.”
He grabbed my hand and held it up into the air. My body began to feel as if it were vibrating. The taste of batteries flooded me. “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you shall be saved.” I could barely hear the large man, as a hum had started up in the air around me.
“I confess the Lord Jesus.”
And a jolt of electricity shot through me. Once, twice, then it held, and I opened my mouth to cry out. Lord, is that you?
Yo, said he.
The electricity was intensifying. If I screamed, if I begged him, surely he would make it stop.
Later, after I walked out of that basement, out of Hollywood forever, my friends would laugh at me and say “You’ve changed, man.” A whole set of aunts, uncles and cousins would cease associating with me, without even a sarcastic goodbye. How could I tell them all, when they never even asked me, that this wasn’t something I could just end, because it had always existed, well before I found out about it? I watched important people walk away, and I didn’t beg a single one of them to come back.
I didn’t scream then, laying on the table, with a huge stranger standing by. The longer I held on, electricity cutting through my marrow, the more insane I thought I might go. But if it stopped, would I go back to being the same sad man? Back to being an acid dropping draft dodger? I was being filled now, like a cup that had been plucked up out of the dirty disgusting alley outside, dusted off, washed, and found to be a priceless heirloom. I recognized an old voice. He spoke many things to me amid the hum of electricity in my ears, and I quite forgot the large man who had brought me to the basement. He spoke of eternity, said the two of us had done some extensive work somewhere around the dawn of time. He welcomed me back.
“I could use the help.” He told me.
When I finally did scream, it came out as the most joyous laugh I had yet produced in my miserable confusing life.