Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Bible Man, John Jeneroux

Willie sat down heavily on the park bench. He had it all to himself because the blistering sun had disappeared into an angry mass of dark clouds and it looked more like rain by the minute. Just right for the way he felt – hungry, hung-over and perishing for a drink.

He sighed and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands. He reached into his pocket and jingled the few coins he had remaining. How was he going to stretch $2.53 to the end of the week? It wasn’t even enough for a beer, let alone a bite to eat.

Willie looked up at the scurrying sound of a black squirrel scampering across the leaf-covered sidewalk. “Fine for you, you little rascal. The park’s full of acorns you can eat. But that don’t do me any good.”

Then Willie’s attention was drawn to the rapid footsteps of a man approaching along the sidewalk. Left, right, left, right – heels clicking on the pavement. The man was about as wide as he was tall and he was decked out in a brown checkered suit and a natty yellow bow-tie. He stopped in front of Willie and blew his breath out with an exaggerated “Whew.”

“Man, it’s hot for this time of year,” he said, his round face glistening with sweat. “What d’ya think, is it hot or is it hot?”

Willie looked up. “I guess so – haven’t been payin’ much attention. I’m just –”

“Well, I’m tellin' you, for September…. By the way, the name’s Jamieson, Waldo P. Jamieson. And you’re…?”

It was only polite to respond. “I’m Willie –”

But the man cut him off before he could finish, thrusting his hand out like a steam piston. “Say, I’d like to shake your hand, friend. Ha, ha…Jamieson’s the name, and Bibles are the game. Ha, that gets ‘em every time. Cute, huh?”

“Look, if you don’t mind, I’d just as soon sit here by myself. I’m not really in much of a mood today.”

“Course you’re not, friend. But say, can you look me in the eye and say, ‘Waldo, I’m proud to tell ya I’m saved...saved like a dollar in the First National Bank, and all my troubles are behind me?’ Can ya, friend? Can ya?”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a huge red bandana handkerchief and mopped his perspiring face with it. “Oh, that’s lots better. Hot as a fryin’ pan, ain’t it?”

“Saved? Saved from what?” Willie said. “I don’t put much stock in that kinda thing, uh…Waldo. I’m –”

“Why then, you don’t have no idea how lucky you are I come along just now. For the ridiculous low price of only four dollars I can put you right in the driver’s seat of that bus to Heaven. I can –”

Willie looked the man up and down – decent suit, shiny shoes. Sure hadn’t missed too many meals lately. Hmm…?

“Waldo, I hate to bother you about this, but I wonder if you could see your way clear to maybe lending’ me a couple of bucks until Saturday…?”

“Well, I don’t know about that, friend. But let me tell you I got something here’s worth more’n all the money you’re ever gonna see. Right here in my case.”

He opened his black imitation leather satchel and pulled out a paperbound New Testament. “Last one I got until my new shipment comes in. They’re goin’ like hotcakes.”

“Just till Saturday. That’s all it’d be. I got a buddy that’s gonna lend me fifty then and I can pay you back.”

“Yes sir, they’re sellin’ like hot butter at a popcorn sale. And they’re up to the minute too. Modern as can be.” Waldo held the book in front of him and pointed with his stubby finger at the cover. “See, says right here…New Testament. It’s not cluttered up with a bunch of old things that don’t matter no more – just the up-to-date stuff. The New Testament. Why, with this little beauty in your pocket you can write your own ticket to Heaven.”

“Maybe five bucks? That’s all it’d take…or ten?”

“Only four dollars! Now ain’t that an amazing price for a giant step on the road to those Pearly Gates?” Waldo riffled through the pages. “ More good readin’ in here than a whole monthful of Sunday funnies.”

Willie persisted. “Even a couple bucks would help. I gotta see the doctor, and you know there’s gonna be a prescription to pay for. And then –”

“And then, when you get done readin’ your way through this, and blessin’ the lucky day you met yours truly right here in this park, why you call me back. Here’s my card…Waldo P. Jamieson – Bibles for All Occasion. And my phone number. You call me, brother, and for just another four dollars I can get you a matchin’ copy of the Old Testament to go with it.”

“But what I really need –”

“Is that a deal, friend, or is that a deal?”

Willie shrugged, his stomach grumbled, and he went back to watching the squirrels.

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