by Jim Newton
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It was a cold, week before Christmas, day. The wind gusted powerfully through the city’s buildings, flaying the man standing in the alcove of the skyscraper. He was making an attempt at looking nonchalant, but, instead, appeared rather sinister. He was cold, very cold. His mind was focused in on the task at hand making the cold retreat to the background of his mind. He waited patiently for he was out to prove a point. A point that, if he was correct, would shatter the foundation his mother had built him upon. Paul was a driven man in all things he pursued. He prided himself on buying properties and businesses others had let run down or deteriorate. Then he would restore them to their former luster or beyond and make huge successes of them, and a considerable amount of money in the process. He was a fixer, as he liked to refer to himself.
This story, in reality, began when he was born, as most stories of people do. His mother, a devout and faith driven person of firm Christian convictions and believing that everyone is created by God and, God, being divinely good, therefore all people are good, had named him Paul, in honor of the beloved disciple, Paul, from the bible. She raised him in the church, till his teen years and rebellion set up in his mind. Paul was very strong willed and in the here and now. What works…works. The end justified the means, and the means, as well as the end, is not always been in accord with man’s laws, much less God’s. At the time this story takes place, he was wealthy, powerful, seething with self confidence, willing to let nothing stop him in accomplishing his goals. Paul loved his mother, but, due to his nature, caused her great consternation as to his actions and goals. She prayed long and hard for the Lord to intervene and help him see his divine light. She was as strong willed as he, and, soon, would see an example of just how strong willed and powerful the Lord can be and how human power is nothing before him. Paul would charge into the battle against God with a sword, but God, never an advocate of man’s rules, fought back with love, compassion, forgiveness. Paul was ill prepared, as you shall see.
Paul thought people on the bottom stratum of life were there due to their weakness, self-destructive personalities, and bad habits. He set out to prove it. He loved his mother, who was left widowed shortly after his birth by a drunken father, but he could not make sense of her God. That brings us to his standing in the numbing wind waiting for his prey.
Paul had brought ten crisp $100 dollar bills with him to set the sting up. Originally, he had planned to place the entire roll of hundreds wrapped in a rubber band on the ground, but, being a great lover of his wealth, placed only one upon the ground near the trash receptacle. Now, he waited for his mark to take the bait. This was an area he knew to be frequented by many homeless drunks.
His wait was of a short duration. A man dressed in, what he perceived, as thrift store clothing came staggering down the sidewalk. In reality, the staggering was due to walking into a brisk and biting wind, but Paul saw what he wanted to see. The man walked past the money, but, a few feet past, turned around and walked back to the money. He reached down and slid the money from the leg of the trash receptacle where Paul had wedged it. He examined it, then put it into his coat pocket. The man reversed his previous course, and hastily retreated to a nearby bus stop. When the bus arrived, he boarded with Paul not far behind. Paul knew exactly where he was headed, the nearest liquor store. The man sat down in the front seat across from a lady with two children. Immediately, he struck up a conversation, and, shortly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a bag of candy and let the children reach in for the treat. Paul was thinking, why would you let your children take candy from a homeless drunk?
The bus plodded along raucously rocking from side to side. Up ahead, Paul spotted a liquor store. Ah, yes, this is where he gets off to purchase the booze. The bus stopped. The man stood up as if to exit, but, to Paul’s disappointment, he had risen to offer assistance to the old man with a cane boarding the bus. They passed bars and liquor stores, but the man rode on, talking with everyone around him.
After many stops, the bus came to a loud stop in front of a large grocery store. The man stood up and told the driver something inaudible to Paul, then got off. Ah, ha, Paul thought. This is it. Paul stood up and disembarked also. The man did a run-walk toward the store entrance. Paul followed at a short distance. At the entrance to the store, the man stopped, then pulled the hundred dollar bill from his coat pocket. Paul, knew he was checking to make sure he still had his windfall treasure before he went in. The next thing that happened confused Paul. The man took the hundred dollar bill and stuffed it into the salvation army bucket manned by the volunteer. Quickly, the man reversed course and proceeded back in the direction of the bus, catching Paul off guard. As Paul turned to follow, not caring that the man, most likely, now, knew he was being followed, he was taken aback to see the bus still parked in the same spot. The man reboarded the bus with Paul close behind, and sat down in the front seat behind the driver. Paul sat across from him. The man looked at him and smiled. Paul, with no smile in response, said, “the money…why did you put the hundred in the bucket?” The man, his smile widening, said, “it is Christmas time and the Salvation Army does so much for the needy during this wonderful time of year.”
Paul was suspicious, “ how come you didn’t spend it on liquor?”
The man, still smiling, replied, “oh, I don’t drink. Was that your money that I found on the ground?”
“Our Lord appreciates your contribution and you are blessed for it.”
Now, Paul said something that comes from his blunt character, “aren’t you a wino?”
“No, and by the way, my name is Marvin. What is yours?”
“Paul. What do you do that you can afford to give away hundred dollar bills?”
Marvin smiled at Paul saying, “I might ask you the same question, but that is none of my business. I am a retired cabinet maker. After my wife passed away, to fill some of the void that left, I sold our home, then moved into an apartment downtown to be near the mission that our church sponsors. I enjoy serving the Lord in that manner. What do you do, Paul?”
Paul swelled up with his pride in self and said, “I am in real estate investment and development.”
“You must be a very important person. I think it is wonderful that you took the time to donate your money to people in need. God has blessed you this ability.”
“I don’t think God had anything to do with it. I was just proving a point to my mother that bums are bums because they made that choice.”
“Your mother must be very proud of you and your success. Why don’t you come with me and allow me to introduce you to some more people that fit your idea of bums. I’m on my way to the mission to serve lunch and would love for you to come along.”
Paul stuttered, “well, I, uh, have a…meeting I have to chair. I don’t have time for that.”
“I’m sure you are a very busy man, but you need some real proof to throw at your mother about the bums. Here’s my stop. Come along. You’re the boss. You can surely do as you please. Come along, Paul.”
Before Paul could come up with another excuse, he was off the bus and on the way to the mission. As they walked along the sidewalk, Marvin and Paul talked, mostly Paul. The farther they walked, the more the conversation became friendly. Marvin, never putting Paul down for his methods or beliefs, listened and complimented Paul…and smiled.
As they arrived at the mission, they entered through the front door. The front was filled with a modest eating area. At the back of this area was the serving line where the food was dished up to any that entered. The room was empty for it was two hours before serving time, time to prepare for the onslaught of people. The room was neat and clean, but dated, definitely very dated, as were all the tables and chairs. Paul gave a sarcastic, “nice,” to Marvin when asked what he thought of the mission.
The two of them walked around the serving line into the small kitchen where there were several people busily opening cans, cooking, talking, laughing, volunteers, as Marvin informed him as he began introducing them. Paul wasn’t impressed with the people, of course, but one old lady, Ruth, looked at Paul, with the derisive look on his face, and listened to his snide comments as he was introduced with particular interest.
“Look what the cat drug in,” Ruth quipped with her own look of derision.
That put Paul on the defensive. At least, until Marvin, who had escaped momentarily, walked in with two aprons and handed one to Paul, saying, “I’ll show you the dishwashing room, and explain the process.”
“I didn’t come here to wash dishes. I…”
“Neither did I the first time, but we serve where we are needed,” and handed him the apron while pushing him into the small dishwashing room.
“This is Freddy. He’s our chief dish and bottle washer. right Freddy?
“Yes, sir, and who’s this overdressed gentleman?
Marvin introduced them with Ruth watching intently. Then chiming in, “Freddy, this man needs some of the starch taken out of his clothes and his manner. Know what I mean?”
As the day went on and the long line of people poured in to receive the meal, every now and then Marvin could hear Freddy and Paul yelling at each other, interlaced with Ruth’s, but, gradually, he heard less of the yelling. He knew Freddy and Ruth were doing their job tag teaming Paul, as they had with others over their years of volunteering.
When the last of the people had gone through the serving line and the clean up was nearing its finale, out walked Freddy and Paul from the dishwashing room. Both were soaked in sweat and their clothes with stains in areas not covered by the aprons. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared, because Paul was not wearing a t shirt like Freddy, but an expensive white shirt and silk tie…covered in stains and sweat. The next thing that attracted their attention was, they were both smiling and had their arms around each other.
Marvin took the sight in, pondering upon it.
Freddy looked at Marvin’s gaze, and said, in his loud, boisterous voice developed from years of coaching football, “if this man ever decides to quit giving orders and work, he might just make a halfway good dishwasher.”
Paul shot back, “and if this man ever decides to quit arguing with me, he might just make a good assistant.”
Freddy looked at Marvin and said, “this man tells me we ain’t organized around here, and we don’t have any idea how to run a business. So, I told him, he who complains, just volunteered for the job of solving the problem, and tell ‘em what you said next.”
Paul looked at Freddy and said, “We don’t have time to stand around and talk. Get your coat and let’s get going. You too Marvin.”
Marvin protested saying, “I have to finish cleaning up. I don’t have time at this moment to go with you, and, by the way, where are you going?”
Paul said, “No, it’s where are we going, and don’t tell me you don’t have time. If I can’t use that excuse, neither can you.”
While Marvin went to get his coat, shaking his head and smiling all the way, Paul and Freddy flew out the door. As Marvin picked up his coat, a roll of money wrapped in a rubber band fell out of his pocket. Marvin reached down and picked the money up. He slowly tilted his head upward toward the heavens and smiled, giving thanks to the Lord. He took a moment to stick his head into the kitchen. “Ruth, call Theresa, Paul’s mom, and tell her mission accomplished. Paul is fully in the service of the Lord, he laughed while adding, though I doubt he realizes it, yet.”
Ruth shook her head as she picked up her cell phone to call, adding, “why is it I get the feeling this place ain’t gonna be the same after today? It sure is exciting watching the Lord repairing someone, and they don’t even realize it.”
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