Philosophy, Time Tunnel, and Motorcycle Riding: Heidegger

In the late 1960’s there was a TV show called The Time Tunnel about two scientists, Doug and Tony, who got caught up in a time machine. While their scientific compatriots were trying to bring them home Doug and Tony bounced around from one historic time period to another. This week they might show up on the Titanic; next week in the Badlands of South Dakota on the day when Custer made his last stand.  Their appearance in another time zone was inevitably accompanied by them being thrown, tumbling out of the swirling black and white striped cave and onto the ground in their new temporary home.

The philosopher Heidegger coined a term “Geworfen” which essentially translates to “being thrown”. He suggests that individuals are essential “thrown” into the world. We’re thrown into this world with an attendant list of people, circumstances, sufferings, and conditions that we had no control over but must make the best of.

This is how I felt when I returned to the USA after having lived in Ireland for 17 years – as if someone had thrown me out of the time tunnel and I had landed here. I still feel it now and again when I’ve entered into some new situation, something unknown. As the poet Rilke put it:  when “Our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity”. These feelings are accentuated when I travel long distance, especially on the Harley. I end up being thrown into towns where I don’t know anyone, and folks are eyeing me suspiciously. (People eye me suspiciously even in the town I live in!) The choice is to accept the way others see us, to live up to their expectations – to avoid the anxiety inherent in the possibility of freedom – or to embrace it. In addition to being thrown into our existence, Heidegger also says that humans are Sein-zum-Tode – “Beings toward Death”. (Those Germans have a word for everything! Mark Twain once exclaimed that eternity was invented by God so that people would have a long enough time to learn German!) Living with this truth, that we are all on the road to death, is not meant to be depressing, instead, it allows us to step out of our “Everydayness” (“Alltäglichkeit” in German), and to become more passionately aware of our freedom and choices. It reminds us to be aware that our time is limited, that we need to dare to be ourselves despite external pressures, so that we can move from an inauthentic way of living to a more authentic one.

Along with Doug and Tony, we’re constantly being thrown out of the time tunnel. It’s up to us to decide and act upon, who we’re going to be.

Philosophy, Time Tunnel, and Motorcycle Riding: Heidegger

In the late 1960’s there was a TV show called The Time Tunnel about two scientists, Doug and Tony, who got caught up in a time machine. While their scientific compatriots were trying to bring them home Doug and Tony bounced around from one historic time period to another. This week they might show up on the Titanic; next week in the Badlands of South Dakota on the day when Custer made his last stand.  Their appearance in another time zone was inevitably accompanied by them being thrown, tumbling out of the swirling black and white striped cave and onto the ground in their new temporary home.

The philosopher Heidegger coined a term “Geworfen” which essentially translates to “being thrown”. He suggests that individuals are essential “thrown” into the world. We’re thrown into this world with an attendant list of people, circumstances, sufferings, and conditions that we had no control over but must make the best of.

This is how I felt when I returned to the USA after having lived in Ireland for 17 years – as if someone had thrown me out of the time tunnel and I had landed here. I still feel it now and again when I’ve entered into some new situation, something unknown. As the poet Rilke put it:  when “Our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity”. These feelings are accentuated when I travel long distance, especially on the Harley. I end up being thrown into towns where I don’t know anyone, and folks are eyeing me suspiciously. (People eye me suspiciously even in the town I live in!) The choice is to accept the way others see us, to live up to their expectations – to avoid the anxiety inherent in the possibility of freedom – or to embrace it. In addition to being thrown into our existence, Heidegger also says that humans are Sein-zum-Tode – “Beings toward Death”. (Those Germans have a word for everything! Mark Twain once exclaimed that eternity was invented by God so that people would have a long enough time to learn German!) Living with this truth, that we are all on the road to death, is not meant to be depressing, instead, it allows us to step out of our “Everydayness” (“Alltäglichkeit” in German), and to become more passionately aware of our freedom and choices. It reminds us to be aware that our time is limited, that we need to dare to be ourselves despite external pressures, so that we can move from an inauthentic way of living to a more authentic one.

Along with Doug and Tony, we’re constantly being thrown out of the time tunnel. It’s up to us to decide and act upon, who we’re going to be.

The Patron Saint of Motorcyclists Feast Day, November 23rd.

Just reminding everyone that today is that special day where motorcyclists everywhere wander out to their garage to stare at the bike they wish they could ride today if it wasn’t so dang cold.  St Columbanus Feast Day!

Here’s a link to a page I wrote a while back to explain as to why Columbanus is our patron saint.

https://2cyclepaths.com/2013/06/14/the-patron-saint-of-motorcycle-riders/

Motorcyclists that do venture out today will most certainly be wishing each other: Sona (happy in Irish) Columbanus Day! We are far more literary and learned than we look!

Sona Columanus Day!

 

 

 

Savannah, Georgia, 1790 Inn, Ghosts, Sauntering through History, Craic, and Mindfulness on a Motorcycle Sojourn, Pascal.

I had a couple of days off for Fall break and so I decided to head to Savannah. Savannah is featured in my last two and latest book – The Adventures of Sid- novels and I wanted to make the scene locations as accurate and vivid as possible. You can check out all of my novels here: https://www.genepowers.org/ . The biggest anticipatory problem with driving to Savannah from Rome, Georgia is that it’s pretty much 330 miles and you have to go through downtown Atlanta. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King cruised along beautifully, except for the red warning light about my battery that appeared and disappeared at random. I figured it was the regulator. I also figured that on a Sunday morning there wasn’t much I could do about it other than keep riding. After meeting with my buddy Joe and his family at Starbucks in Macon the battery light went to sleep for the rest of the trip.

I decided to stay at the 1790 Inn again because it’s in the center of town, where I can walk everywhere and because part of it was built by my great grandfather who lived there with his family for years. Supposedly there are ghosts there, but there’s no extra charge for that. The hospitality is always wonderful at the Inn which is probably why the ghosts like to hang around.

Not much I can say about Savannah that hasn’t been said before. My favorite bar is Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub and I have been visiting there for over thirty years. Irish beer on tap, Irish music seven night a week and no televisions or gaming machines. In 2016 it was voted the Most Authentic Irish Pub in the World, even beating out entries from Ireland, which is bizarre when you think about it. Some of my favorite places to eat are the Crystal Beer Parlor, Hilliards, the Pink House, and the Pirate’s House, which even gets a mention in the book Treasure Island!

But what I love most is simply walking around the historic district, through the squares filled with majestic live oak trees and swaying Spanish moss. And traipsing down the cobblestone ramps to River Street.

The historic area is not a great place to ride a motorcycle in, because of all of the stop and go traffic, the blind spots, pedestrian walkways, and the cobblestone roads down to River Street. Better to park the bike and walk. Save your riding for the beautiful trip along the marsh, palm trees and oleanders down to Tybee Island.

Before I headed home I spent a couple of hours in the Inn’s bar. Nice comfy place with a lot of folks I could tell were regulars. However, every 15 minutes or so a wave of people flooded the place, having been dropped off for a drink by one of the Ghost Tour Operators. It was fun talking with some of them and hearing their thoughts on Savannah and on whether they’d seen any ghosts. None had so far and they didn’t seem to care. They were just enjoying the craic, as they would say in Ireland, the fun of it all.

I spent about six hours each way on the bike and although it was all interstate I enjoyed it. Personally, I don’t listen to music. One of my favorite philosophers, Pascal, once said: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” I just enjoy thinking and meditating, riding with awareness, mindfulness and gratitude, especially gratitude. Pascal also said: “In difficult carry something beautiful in your heart.”

The Road Home; The Majestic Diner on Ponce de Leon in Atlanta; 40 Year Reunion; Existentialism, Eggs and Grits.

On my way back to Rome, Georgia Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King and I decided to stop at Griffin. I had earned enough frequent visitor points from a hotel chain that I got a free room at the motel. Then I had a Mexican takeaway and watched TV for a change. The Dirty Harry movies were on.

Next morning I headed to Atlanta to meet my two old buddies Jeff and Kevin for breakfast at a place we used to haunt years ago: the Majestic Diner. This was when all three of us worked at Peachtree Psychiatric Hospital. Sometimes we worked a 3-11pm shift and it was the only restaurant open. I figured that it had been forty years since the three of us had sat together in one of the booths. Back then we had talked about women (problems with or lack of) and what we wanted to do with our lives. Now, forty years later we were talking about women (problems with or lack of) and what we wanted to do with our lives. The difference was that we had forty years of existence since we had first discussed philosophy over eggs and grits. I’m not sure that any of us felt like we had learned very much. We got to talking about existentialist philosophy, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre and Marcel. Our memories were rusty, which was okay because existentialism had grown pretty rusty too. Regardless of the roads we had ridden on over the years the young, naive, arrogance and hubris of our twenties had been battered, scarred and smelted into a more pure vulnerability and humility, which was a good, albeit painful, thing.

After two hours it was time to hit our different roads and talk about when we might get together again. Maybe at Huck’s Cove right on the bayou in Gautier, Mississippi where we had ridden to once before?  Who knows? We’re more patient now. And more trusting.

Paving Over Memory Lane; Chico’s Monkey Farm; Nowhere to Go and No Hurry to get There; More Motorcycle Adventures on Back Roads Georgia Highways 17 and 341; Wooden Nickels.

I’ve never had a great memory. That’s why I write things down. Old photos of family and friends, and places I’ve been help me somewhat, but actually seeing the old things helps me the most. Highway 17 used to be the main conduit between Florida and Maine and was filled with fascinating, and sometimes troubling, roadside entertainment. When I-95 was completed, the roadside services, motor lodges and entertainments began to dry up. Highway 17 is still an important road linking communities but it’s become a four lane. That came at a further expense as when they widened the road they knocked down many of the old facilities. The rest were left derelict.

So here I am driving down the highway and trying to remember where things were. Where was  Chico’s Monkey Farm and the Dixie Jungle. Once you could see their bright pink advertising signs with garish colors and wacky designs every half mile down the road: “See the Monkeys!”, “Pet the Alligators”, “Pecan Logs” and “Souvenirs”. Men were boiling peanuts by the side of the road and there was scent of barbecue from Mammy’ Kitchen and Howdy’s Restaurant where they had the wild pink flamingos. And there was Archie’s Seafood Restaurant in Darien.

Leaving Darien this morning I decided to head north and took Highway 341, which I took all the way up to Griffin, Georgia from where I’m now writing. Got in moments before a thunderstorm hit.

Here’s just a list of observations for my memory lane:

Homes: Shotgun cottages, clapboard houses; small brick homes, some fancy, single and double wide trailers.

Trees: Pine, willow, maple, magnolias, mimosas, cypress trees in blackwater swamps.

Farms, pecan trees, peanut farms, peach groves, the scent of newly cut pine trees on a logging truck.

Peach ice cream at Dicky’s Peach Farm.

I just enjoyed the ride. I had nowhere to go and there was no hurry to get there. I daydreamed, meditated, prayed and gave thanks. Aren’t all our journeys, whether down memory lane or the four lanes of new adventures, ultimately about love? Remembering it, discovering it, preaching it?

Oh, and I passed lots of signs for Vacation Bible Schools. If they don’t teach those kids to love everyone, regardless of what roads they’ve taken to get here, then those classes aren’t worth a wooden nickel.

I remember wooden nickels.

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Long Roads-Long Memories; 1790 Inn; Reunions

What can one say about Savannah That hasn’t already been said? Probably nothing. Maybe one thing: If you go in the summer you had better be prepared. One day it was 95 degrees (35 Celsius). Today, with the humidity added in, it’s supposed to be 104 (40 Celsius). Fortunately, I was staying downtown at the beautiful 1790 Inn (which was partially built by my great grandfather). It allowed me to park the Harley and walk everywhere. Scouting out locations for scenes for my next novel. For example, if I want the character to die here, then where would the shot come from? Any trees blocking the view? How would the shooter have escaped? Not that way, it’s a one way road. Not that way, too many cameras. You get the idea. I’m looking at trees and bushes, what’s on the ground, tree roots forcing up the brick sidewalk. It’s actually fun. I also figured out where the closing scene will take place (Factor’s Walk), snapped plenty of photos and took loads of notes.

I also visited old haunts, walked through the amazing squires with the live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and memories. There’s always a melancholy beauty about Savannah.

The highlight of my trip was a impromptu reunion with many of my cousins who knew about or could make it. We ate in the room where my great uncle Harry used to live. (Photo below)

Today, I’m heading another backroads direction, Highway 341 heading north. We’ll see what we encounter as we ride. Safe travels.

 

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Back in the Saddle Again; Summer of my 64th year.

It’s been a while since I’ve written in this blog. After my college teaching finished this May, I spent a few weeks in London visiting with my boys, who are absolutely the most wonderful young men in the world (and it makes me cry to think of them so far away!).  I also made the obligatory stop at the London Harley Dealer, the oldest in Europe, to buy a few tee shirts.

Now, I’m researching my latest novel by spending two nights down in Savannah where the novel is set. Here’s a link to my novels: https://www.genepowers.org/

I’m staying at the 1790 Inn, which is an amazing place!  And more so because my great-grandfather built part of the building in the 1800’s and my relatives lived here into the 1950’s. I highly recommend the place. Also, the place is supposed to be haunted.

It was interesting digging out my old travel bag for this trip. I hadn’t used it since last summer. I rummaged through the pockets and found a few receipts: A night at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico; an oil change at the Harley dealer in Elk, Nevada and a receipt for the Mountain Pine Motel in East Glacier Park, Montana. That was a wild trip to California and up to Montana. I turned the direction of my travels over to God and Fate. When you do that you’re always looking for signs and portents. And you never know where you’ll end up. But when you get there you don’t always get smacked in the face with a mackerel. Sometimes messages from Divine Providence are nonexistent or unclear. Regretfully, on last year’s trip there were no major epiphanies. Bummer.

I’m 64 and ½ years old now and feeling it. Sometimes I forget to put the kickstand up when I ride off. Sometimes I struggle with balancing this 800 pound (362kg; 57 stone.) behemoth and somehow during the year, when I wasn’t looking, someone raised my seat level (because I know I haven’t grown shorter! Grown shorter?). Anyway, it’s getting harder to swing my leg over the seat. But I managed today’s trip of over 300 miles safely.

So tomorrow I’ll be out taking photos and visiting potential sites for the novel. Tonight I was poignantly overwhelmed with the beauty of Savannah, and my memories of the years I spent here (23) with my family. I hope to also run into cousins I hadn’t seen in a while. One thing I have discovered though is that the perfect beer to pair with hot, humid southern  poignancy is a cold draft of Harp lager.

Cross Country Motorcycle Novel Continues: Chapters 13 and 14. Monk’s working and maybe romance is building.

Chapter Thirteen

Sometimes I wondered if it even mattered whether our communion cups were filled with consecrated wine or draft beer, as long as we bent over them long enough to recognize each other as kin.

Taylor, Barbara Brown

When I came outside of the bar it felt like leaving a movie theatre in the afternoon. I was disoriented. I looked around and saw fast food places and three motels. I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I was staying. I saw a Super 8 motel and started walking toward it.

“Hey, Monk!” I heard a voice yell from a car that had Lancelot Diner written on the side of it. I stopped while the person rolled the window down further.

It was a woman I recognized from somewhere. She shielded her eyes from the sun and said: “I’m heading over to Larry’s to deliver some food. Want a ride?”

That was it. Larry’s. I looked around and spotted it behind me.

“That’s okay. Thanks. I need a bit of a walk.”

“Okay, see you soon!”

I went back to the motel, found my room and collapsed on the bed. About an hour later I heard a knock.

“Ready to go Monk?” A voice shouted through the door. It was Catherine.

“Hold on a minute?” I walked to the bathroom and splashed water on my face but most of it dripped down onto my trousers. I rubbed them with a towel but that didn’t help. I pulled my shirt tail out to try and cover the spots.

I opened the door. Catherine sized me up. “A little accident?”

“Yep, I spilled water all over myself.”

“It’ll dry. Look, I’ve got the address of the babysitter and she’s agreed to talk with us. Ready?”

I nodded.

The babysitter wasn’t much help, or maybe she was. It was clear that she was too distracted by the allures of high school and boyfriends to have done the injuries. Allures like these tend if at all, to result in neglect, not abuse. Also, the picture she painted of the family was of two parents who absolutely loved their child.

“So what do you think?” Catherine asked as we were sitting in her car afterwards.

“I think you have to keep the doctors running tests. There are conditions other than brittle bone disease that can cause these injuries.”

“Like what?”

“Like I forget! Give me some time and it’ll come to me. It’s been a while. The doctor should be ruling out all possibilities. They should know this stuff. They don’t need me. Anyway, there’s no great hurry. The infant will be in the hospital for a while.”

She looked away. “I know but I’m worried. My director has been putting pressure on me to file an ex parte petition and get the child into state custody.”

“Why? She’s not going anywhere. You said the family agreed to not take her out of the hospital. What’s the rush?”

“It’s political. He doesn’t want it to look bad, like we’re not doing our job.”

“Idiot.” Then I thought about that. “Sorry, that wasn’t very compassionate of me. Idiotic. That’s better.”

“You are a strange monk!” She laughed and shook her head. Then she turned toward me and put her hand on my shoulder. “But hey, thanks. I really appreciate all your help today.” She pushed her hair off her forehead.

Was that another preening gesture? I thought I’d seen her make one before. Naw, sure it was just the dreams of an old man. Regardless, I still felt the tug of the old machinery cranking inside, those magical, wonderful, torque full urges that God gave us. She looked at me with a smile that was tired but full of warmth. I let out a sigh as long as Africa.

She dropped me off back at Larry’s Hide a While and after we made plans to meet the next morning I walked down to the 7-11 shop and bought a bottle of Corona and went next door for a Chinese takeout. I went back to the room and tuned into a baseball game, the Braves were playing against the Phillies. I ate the chicken and cashew nuts, sipped the cerveza, watched the Braves and fell asleep, dreaming of late-inning rallies.

 

Chapter Fourteen

Day 7 – Osceola, Iowa

Life is a series of
natural and spontaneous changes.
Don’t resist them –
that only creates sorrow.
Let reality be reality.
Let things flow naturally forward
in whatever way they like.

Lao-tzu

Next morning, after a few text messages to arrange it, Catherine picked me up and we headed for that restaurant named after the knight, Sir Lancelot. Polly was there all smiling and welcoming and I could see Shorty in the kitchen slinging hash. I heard him shout at a waitress: “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean”, followed by “order up”.

Polly had her back to Catherine and said to me: “How are you doing this fine morning Monk?”

Catherine cleared her throat loudly and Polly turned slightly in her direction. “We’re just fine dear. Thank you so much for asking.”

She put two menus down on the table. “What would you like to drink?”

“Coffee.”

“Coffee.”

“Okay, I’ll be right back with them.”

After she left I looked at Catherine. “So are you originally from around here?’

She smiled. “No, I’m originally from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.”

“Really? You have a bit of an accent.”

“My parents were from Hong Kong. They mainly spoke Mandarin while I was growing up.”

“How’d you get here, Osceola?”

“Met a guy from here in college in Fond du Lac, fell in love and well…”

“Bob’s your uncle.”

“What? Bob? I don’t have an uncle…”

“Sorry,” I laughed, “It’s an Irish expression. It means sort of …one thing led to another and now I’m here.”

“Ireland again? You’ll have to tell me more about that.”

“Not much to tell.”

“Did you live there long?”

“For a few years.”

Polly suddenly appeared with Victor mugs and a carafe. “Here you go.” She said as she poured the coffee into the mugs.

I smelt the aroma and watched the steam rise from the cups. The beauty and holiness of the smallest acts which we so take for granted.

“You guys ready to order?”

We ordered up a mess of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and buttermilk biscuits.

I stared at Catherine who was busy glancing around the place. “So what happened to this boy you fell in love with?”

“Oh!” She folded her hands in front of her on the table. “We were married for about ten years. The first few were happy and then he lost his job, started drinking too much, became abusive and then, well,” she searched for the right words, “Bob’s your uncle.”

I laughed.

“Handy expression for when you don’t want to say anymore, isn’t it?”

“I reckon.”

“Better than ‘yada, yada, yada’.”

“I reckon.”

“Have you ever been married?”

How to answer that without complicating things any more than I have to, or want to?

“I was married twice. My first wife, I met in Ireland. I met my second wife there too.”

“Divorced?”

I took a deep sigh and prayed my tears would stay on some island far off tonight’s coast.

“Actually, they’ve both passed.”

She folded her lips inward. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too.” I managed a smile that reneged as soon as it flashed.

“How long has it been since the last wife passed?”

“About three years now. She had cancer.”

“Any kids?”

“Two, Colin in Savannah and Hannah in LA. I’m on my way to see her.”

She looked away and tilted her head at an angle. “By way of Iowa?”

“Seems so. I’m letting the road tell me which way to go.”

“Hate to break it to you Monk,” she replied and then whispered, “but I think the road’s been lying to you.”

I laughed.

“That’s good. When you laugh I can see your dimples.”

I was starting to like this woman. “What about you? Any kids?”

“Hundreds of them. But they’re either in foster care or been adopted.”

I smiled. “Hard not to love these kids, what with all they’ve been through.”

“Do you mind if I ask a personal question?”

I stared at her. “No, as long as I get to ask one back.”

“How old are you?”

“Whew, I thought it was going to be more personal than that! I’m 65. How about you?”

“48, and go ahead and tell me I don’t look it.” She twirled a lock of her shiny black hair.

I leaned back and studied her from different angles. “Nah, you look it, actually maybe 49.”

She slapped my arm. “Smart ass.”

“I get that a lot.”

“I bet you do.”

“Seriously though, you’re in great shape for being 48.”

“Thanks, and you’re in great shape for, what was it? 70?”

“That’s right.”

She put her arms on the table but kept them close to herself. She opened her hands, flipping her palms up. “So Monk, why are you on this motorcycle trip?”

I shook my head. “I’m not sure. It’s just something I have to do one last time.”

“Why one last time? You’re not dying are you?”

“No.” I smiled. “Not yet.”

“So why the trip?”

“There’s something about being on the road. You get to leave your past behind you. Don’t need to remember things anymore. Show up anywhere, anytime. You have no history with anyone you meet. No expectations. No attachments. You can be anyone you want to be.”

“But you can do this in a car too.”

“Yeah, but it’s harder. You’ve got too many distractions: radio, music, phone calls, drinks, snacks. You can go through a drive-through. You don’t have to put your foot down at a traffic light, balance the bike as you do. Instead, you’re in a nice temperature controlled cage that you can hide in. Sealed up, moving through places, protected from them, from chance encounters with people.  On a motorcycle you’re in those places, can’t escape from them, and somehow those places are in you. Moment by moment. Everywhere you go, there you are. You’re protected from nothing. It’s easier for God or the Universe to reach you when you’re protected by nothing.”

She shook her head. “Are you trying to escape the past? Some bad memories?”

My head sort of wobbled. “Not really. You can’t outrun or outride bad memories. They’ll go with you anywhere. The only solution is to find a way to make peace with them. Own them. I figure that if I hadn’t had those bad experiences I wouldn’t be here, now, this moment in time and place.”

She reached over and put her hand on mine. “I’m glad you’re in this moment in time and place.”

“Me too. Thanks.” I smiled at her and I swear I didn’t know my wink was coming.

“Monk! Are you flirting with me? Oops, now you’re going all red.”

I cranked up a smile on the left side of my face. “So what if I am? Sorry, I’m just an old man having breakfast with a beautiful woman.”

She pushed some hair off her forehead and looked around. “Thanks. It’s okay. I like it. I like you.”

I shuddered a little and deep inside felt the stirring of the old hydraulics again. Maybe Elvis hadn’t left the building after all.

Chapters 11 and 12 of my motorcycle novel: Achilles Soul: Monk Chuck gets in over his head.

Chapter Eleven

Day 6

Our whole business then, Brethren, in this life is to heal this eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.

St. Augustine

 

I woke up the next morning when I heard my phone ringing. I checked the area code and it was a local call.

“Yep.”

“Is this Monk?”

“Sure is.”

“This is Bernard from the Harley shop.”

“Yes sir, how are you?”

“I’m good but your bike’s not too healthy.”

“Probably a couple of aspirin will fix it.”

“’Fraid it’s gonna be more than that.”

“So what did you find?”

“I think I told you yesterday that you need a new front engine mount.”

“You did. Anything else?”

“You have a primary leak. Did you know that?”

“Yeah, I’ve been keeping my eye on it.”

“How’s that working for you?”

I laughed. “I’m here aren’t I?”

“Just barely.”

“Is that it?”

“No, I’m just getting started.” I heard him laugh. “When did you last have a full service on this baby?”

I let out a sigh. “I’d say about 40 thousand miles ago.”

“That figures.”

“What else you got?

“You’ve got a base O ring leak, an intake leak and a leak from your shift shaft seal.”

“What was that last one?”

“Your shift shaft seal?”

I imagined trying to say that fast five times. “Yep. What’s the shift shaft seal leak about?”

“Well, it leaks oil which can get on your chain or your tire and cause you to have a bad accident. It’s not safe.”

“What else you got?”

“You have a stripped shifter shaft lever and stripped shifter shaft.”

“Of course I do!” I laughed. “Let me get this straight: I have a problem with the shifter shaft seal, a stripped shifter shaft lever, and a stripped shifter shaft.”

“You got it.”

“I don’t even know what in the hell I’m saying!” I laughed.

“What?”

“So can you fix all of this?”

“Sure, but it’s going to take some time and some money.”

“The money I can handle but how much time are we talking about?”

“If I order all the parts tomorrow I’d say I could have it finished in about a week, maybe sooner. That’s if I don’t run into any other problems.”

“Damn.”

“You in a hurry to get somewhere?”

“Not really.”

“Your call.”

“That’s fine. Thanks. Go ahead and get started.”

 

I got dressed and walked back down to the Lancelot Diner.  Breakfast was still being served and I took a seat in a red vinyl booth this time. The table had a mini jukebox on it and a fake flower in a vase. I scanned the place but didn’t recognize anyone from the night before. A young waitress brought me some water, silverware and a menu. Unfortunately, grits weren’t on the menu. I settled for scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuit, and coffee. I took out my journal and wrote down some notes and a few of the events from the last few days. The waitress came and filled my coffee cup and set down a silver carafe on the table.

I heard a bell tingle as the door opened and I spotted Betty, the waitress from the night before, coming in. She walked around behind the counter and was talking to the cook. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but he was talking loudly and gesticulating wildly with his hands. I saw her raise just one hand toward him and flap it like she was saying: go away. She walked over to the cash register, opened it, took out an envelope, squinted at it and put it in her purse. She looked up and glanced in my direction, spotted me, paused and waved excitedly. Then I saw her grab the arm of another waitress passing by. She stopped her, whispered something in her ear and the other woman grinned, took a look in my direction and smiled, whispered something back and they both giggled. The other waitress had mahogany red hair and was wearing a black baseball cap that said: “Lancelot”. And for some reason, I was sure her eyes were green.

Betty came over to me: “Monk Chuck. Good to see you again!” She flashed a big grin while  chewing blue gum.

“Nice to see you again too,” I said. If I’m trying to lay low and not use my real name I might as well go with Monk Chuck. I’ll only be here a week. What harm could it do?

She crossed her arms. “You must be staying near here being back for breakfast and all. Unless you got a girlfriend!” She winked at me and then her face took on a serious expression.

“Oh, I’m sorry honey. You’re not one of those priests that can’t have sex are you?”

“No, I’m not. I can have all the sex I want.”

Her face turned red and she shied back a step.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean I can have all the sex, what I meant was that I’m not celibate.”

“Well, that’s good to hear. So you’re staying around here?”

“Yep, over at Larry’s Layawhile.”

“Those are good people over there. They’re Jains, but American just like you or me.”

“Jains? You mean they practice Jainism? Never met any Jains before.”

“Funny people, but nice. You know that expression: ‘Wouldn’t harm a flea?’”

I nodded.

“That’s them. Completely nonviolent. Even try not to step on insects.”

“Huh,” I replied. “By the way, are you okay? The cook seemed to be yelling at you.”

“Pshaw.” She flapped her hand at me. “Shorty. He owns the place. He blows up all the time. It don’t make no nevermind. I just ignore him. He’s angry because Arnie walked off the job and he just hired a new cook who’s taking a while to get the hang of things. Do you need a job? Can you cook?”

“A little.”

“Want me to say something to Shorty?”

“Nah, that’s all right. Thanks.”

“What about being a pearl diver?”

“A what?”

She laughed. “A pearl diver. That’s what we call a dishwasher.”

I laughed.

“Oh, I need to put a bug in your ear about something.”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know if you done anything wrong or not but those two policemen you were talking with came back in later last night and they were asking questions about you. I hope you’re not in any trouble.”

“None that I know of.” I lied. Had the South Carolina folks already tracked me up to Iowa? How could they have?

“Well, they’re looking for you. I got to go hon. Picking up the grandchildren and taking them to the park.”

“Bye Betty. Thanks.”

She smiled, moved her shoulders in a perky way and left. The bell rang when she walked out.

“Here’s your food Reverend Chuck.” The waitress Betty had been speaking to said as she put my plate on the table.

“It’s Monk. Thanks.”

“All right Monk Chuck.  My name’s Polly.” She said with a cute puckered smile. “Can I get you anything else? Ketchup, jam?”

“No, I’m fine. Thanks. What were y’all giggling about over by the cash register?”

She flashed a broad, crunched smile. “Nothing.”

Damn, she was pretty, and her eyes were green like Maeve’s were. The shade of peridot.  I felt the wheels of the old dormant hydraulics shifting again in me. The tug of belts, pulleys and the coiling of springs. The feeling of wonder at the site of a beautiful woman in a baseball cap.

“Polly!” I heard someone yell. It was Shorty. “Go unthaw that hamburger meat.”

“You got it boss,” She replied. Then she turned and winked at me saying; “If you need anything, let me know.”

I nodded and thought about river birch trees in snow, the bark unpeeling and my own heart unthawing.

 

I was halfway through my breakfast and a forkful of sausage was heading toward my mouth when the bell rang and one of the cops from last night came into the place. I dropped my head but he spotted me and made a beeline for my table.

“There you are, padre. We’ve been looking for you.”

“What for?”

“You were right about that child Mary Ellen. She had been abused. When we confronted the foster mother about the pattern of burns she confessed. Said she was punishing the child for spilling stuff on her white carpet. How’d you know all that?”

“I used to be a social worker. Child protection.”

“Well, I’ll be damned. See neither me nor Stokes has had any training in that yet. We’re both just a year into the job and they figured we didn’t need it because the social workers knew it all. But then the supervisor Jane Rellic left and Miss Sims had to take over. She used to work in Adoption and doesn’t have any experience in Child Protection. All the other staff are brand spanking new.”

“Always a lot of turnover in child protection. Their salaries should be doubled and the number of cases they have limited. Any politician who tells you they support children and families but won’t support that are liars.”

“Pretty strong words there padre.”

“That’s why I ain’t a social worker anymore. I said those same words at a luncheon of state government officials. Told them to spell out whether they supported these two things or to shut up about strengthening families.”

“What kind of reception did you get in Des Moines when you said that?”

“It wasn’t Des Moines. I was, uh, working in another state at the time.”

“Where was that?”

“Well look, let me ask you this first. What happened to Mary Ellen?” I needed to change the subject.

“Miss Sims put her into foster care. Into an emergency shelter that we have. But the child’s not speaking.”

“Make sure she gets some trauma counseling as soon as you can. She’s gonna need it.”

“Well, that’s another problem we have. Our trauma counselor is on vacation. Won’t be back for a week and a half.”

“Come on. Surely you have someone.”

“Nope. Nobody trained and certified. She’ll just have to wait.”

“Bless her heart.”

“Hey,  padre. You could talk with her. Just give her some religious support. I don’t think she’s got any. Probably could use some.”

“Well, uh, I don’t think I would be of much help to her.”

“Are you kidding? The girl needs help and you’re a preacher and a social worker. That’s probably exactly what she needs. Look, I’ll make the arrangements, okay?”

This was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I’ll probably take one look at her and burst into tears. I let out a deep sigh. But I am supposed to be trusting my journey. You can’t pick and choose what God/Universe throws at you. “Sure. Yep. Glad to help. But run it by that Miss Sims before you arrange it. I don’t want to step on her toes.”

“Good idea.” He patted me on the shoulder and headed toward the door. He stopped before going out and turned back. “I forgot to ask where you’re staying?”

“Larry’s Layaround.”

He smiled, gave me a thumbs up, and went through the door.

What in the hell have I gotten myself into now?

 

After Miss Sims approved of it Stokes picked me up at the motel and we went to the mental health center where I met Mary Ellen. He introduced me in the hallway and took us to a room with a window in the door and where there were toys and play activities. The room had a two-way mirror. As he was leaving I said to Stokes to make sure that someone was watching in the other room. He assured me he would be there.

She sat in a little chair by a little desk and wouldn’t look at me. Sadness hung in the air like old chalk dust. From what I could see of her tiny face she wore a blank expression. Poor girl has probably been interviewed by so many people already that surely I’m the last thing that she needs now. And the worst thing would be to try and get her to open up to another person who then disappears from her life. She needed someone, something, that she could keep, hold on to. I walked around the room and looked at the toys, games, crayons, and markers, the Victorian style dollhouse and the hand puppets. “Wow! These look like so much fun!” I said picking up one of the puppets. I glanced back and caught her eyes following me. She quickly looked away. The puppet was purple and fluffy; its eyes were opened wide in either wonder or vigilance.  Maybe both. I put it on my right hand.

“Who are you?” I said to the puppet.

“I’m Merlin.” I made the puppet say. “Who are you?”

“My name is Monk.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Nothing. I just want to tell you something.”

“What is that?”

“That you are loved.”

“I’m not loved. I hate me.”

“Do you really? Or do you hate the people that hurt you?”

“I don’t want to talk.”

“Me neither. Let’s just sit down and relax.” I carried the puppet over to the table, making sure I was giving Mary Ellen plenty of space, and I sat in one of the tiny chairs. I looked at the puppet. “Do you want a hug?” I asked.

“No.”

“Me neither.” I let out a sigh. “I just want to sit somewhere and feel safe.”

“I don’t feel safe either.” The puppet continued.

“I heard that. I’m so sorry. I know how that feels.”

“You do?”

“Yep, I’ve been hurt before. I felt scared.”

“What did you do?”

“I cried.” And as I spoke I felt the tears building inside but I wasn’t going to let them out. Not here. Not now. “People who love us shouldn’t hurt us.”

“I know. I don’t know who to trust.” The puppet replied.

“Well, you just be that way. Make people prove to you that you can trust them. You just take your sweet time.”

“Thanks. But I need someone I can trust now.”

“Do you want to try and trust me?”

“No thanks. I don’t want to talk.”

“Good. Don’t talk until you’re ready.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Really.”

“Can I hug you?” The puppet asked.

“Okay.”

The puppet hugged my head.

“You are loved,” I said. “Remember that no matter what, you are loved.”

The puppet nodded. I nodded.

I put the puppet down on the table between us. Moments later out of the corner of my eye I noticed Mary Ellen picking up the puppet and mouthing words to it. As she was talking I went to the door and as I opened it I was met by Stokes.

“Wow. That was pretty powerful. You looked so emotional in there I almost thought it was real.”

“Yeah, how ‘bout that. Do me a favor.”

“Sure.”

“Go check with someone and make sure that she can take that puppet home with her. I don’t want to have to tell her ‘no’ if she asks.”

“Sure thing.”

I walked back over to the little desk, Mary Ellen was still mouthing words to the puppet and every once in a while she hugged it, or it hugged her. Stokes stuck his head into the doorway and gave me a thumbs up. I sat down in a little chair at the little table, closed my eyes and just listened and prayed.

“Can I keep him?” I heard a high pitched broken voice utter.

“Yes. He’s yours. He can stay with you.”

She stood up, sensing our meeting was over and walked over to me. “I’m sorry that you hurt too.”

“Thank you,” I said and I watched as she walked over to the door. When she reached it Stokes appeared, waved solemnly to me and escorted her out. I just sat there, smelling the sadness of the chalkdust.

 

Chapter Twelve

The Ride is the metaphor I use…for how we move through our life…For me, the Ride is best played out on a motorcycle. It speaks to every aspect of how I see life in that poetic way – the need for balance, confronting your mortality, accelerating, breaking, refueling, tune-ups, repairs, accidents, accepting passengers and so forth. The bike becomes a mirror that reflects the whole of my life.

Garri Garripoli

 

A few moments later the door opened again and a woman entered. She appeared to be Chinese, about 45-50 years old, five foot nothing, long black hair, riddled with grey. She looked harried, suspicious, worried, yet confident. She had to be a social worker.  She walked over and stood in front of me.

“Where the hell did you come from?”

I stood up, catching myself in the tiny chair as I did, which made me bend at a funny, almost 90-degree angle. “Officer Stokes brought me here.” I tried but failed to get the dang chair off me. I offered her my hand. “I’m Monk.”

“Catherine Sims.” We shook on the deal of who we would be.

“Here’s my card.” She handed me a card with her name and number on it. “And I didn’t mean how’d you get here, I meant where did somebody that had those skills come from? You’re definitely not from around here.”

“I used to be a social worker,” I said, finally getting the chair off me and putting it down.

“Buddy, you still are.”

“I’m retired.”

“You look too young to be retired.”

“You look too young to have vision that bad.”

She flashed a beautiful warm smile. “Seriously, I was trying to figure out who I was going to get to talk with her. Our therapist is on vacation. Stokes asked me if you could. He said you were some kind of a preacher. I stopped by the room to see how it was going.”

“I hope I did all right.”

“You did just great. She was anxious, fearful and not talking to anyone. By using the puppet you were able to create a symbolic client, which removed the focus from her and gave her the safe emotional distance she needed. You responded with empathy to the puppet’s feelings in a non-threatening way, and Mary Ellen felt that. You didn’t promise her safety – thank God – who can guarantee that anymore? But the puppet that you gave her is now a safety object for her. And you told her she was loved.”

“She is.”

“I wasn’t sure about the part where you shed a few tears though.”

“I’m afraid it’s part of the package you get with me these days.”

She stared at me and nodded. “You don’t want a job do you?”

“No ma’am, I’m retired.”

The corners of her mouth turned up and she smiled. “Well, we’ll see about that.”

“Suit yourself.” I watched her play with her hair. Was that a preening gesture? No way. Just an old man’s hope-driven imagination.

“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” She asked.

“Sure, can’t go anywhere anyway. My motorcycle’s in the shop and Stokes took off.”

“You one of those biker preachers? Who did they say you were?” She fished a slip of paper from her purse and squinted at it. “Reverend Chuck?”

I laughed and shook my head. “Just call me Monk”

 

She had a grey Toyota that looked about eight years old. It was poorly parked, head first into a space; the driver’s side rear tire hung over the white line. The car should have been parked in the getaway position, facing out. In case a meeting with some clients suddenly turns dangerous you don’t want to have to take the time to back your car up. Just jump in and high tail it out of there. The backseat of her car was filled with different sized child seats and the floor was littered with trash from fast food places. I stood by the passenger door. The seat was covered with papers, a laptop, a clipboard, breath mints, a half-drunk plastic bottle of Diet Coke, a crumpled pack of potato chips, pens, a bottle of perfume, disinfectant, hand lotion,  a black cardigan and a hairbrush. Might as well just have a sign saying: a social worker lives here.

“Help me with these.” She said as she loaded the stuff from the passenger seat onto my outstretched arms. I followed her around to the trunk and waited while she opened it. Inside were two small empty suitcases. She signaled me to put the papers into one of the suitcases.

“You know what the suitcases are for, don’t you?”

“Yep, I had bags in my trunk too. Worst thing you can do during an emergency removal of children is to throw the child’s stuff into a black garbage bag.”

She nodded grimly.

“And the car seats?”

“I had to transport three kids for a supervised meeting with their parents today. Where are you staying?”

“Larry’s Layover.”

“Great!” She said flashing a pretty smile, “I know a nice retro diner near there. Sir Lancelot’s.

Have you heard of it?”

“Yeah, I have.” I climbed into the car. I watched as she flipped the overhead visor over and pulled out a folded sheet that had been rubber banded to it.

“I need to write my mileage down.”

Moments later she cranked the car up and it lurched backward suddenly. I grabbed the hand holder above the door. With her head swishing left and right she pulled out onto the road. Her phone rang and she answered it.

“This is Catherine. Yes, Maggie. Yes. Well Maggie how do you think the family’s going to get to court if you don’t take them? Yes, I know you were the one who removed the children.”

She leaned sideways, put her hand vertically to the side of her mouth and whispered to me: “New worker.”

I nodded.

“Yes, I know you have to stand up and testify against them. And guess what? You get to drive them home.”

She whispered to me again: “Love to hear that conversation.”

“No, you can’t transfer the case. You have to work with the family to get the child back home. Yes, I know they hate you. I’m not fond of you either. What? No, that was just a joke.” She shook her head at me and mouthed: No it’s not!

The car swerved and I grabbed the handle with both hands. She turned into the parking lot and pulled into a space.

We walked inside and were met by a familiar face, Betty, the waitress from last night. “Welcome back Monk! You can sit anywhere you like.”

That earned me an endearingly suspicious smile from Catherine. I hunched up my shoulders.

Almost as soon as we sat down the waitress from this morning Polly came by the table carrying rolled up silverware, two glasses of water and some menus.

“Reverend Chuck, good to have you back again!” She had her back turned to Catherine and flashed me a grin. “What can I get you?”

“Coffee, for now, thanks, Polly.”

“Uh, I’ll have coffee too.” A voice from behind Polly’s back uttered.

“I’ll get them.”

“How long have you been in town?” Catherine asked.

“About 24 hours.”

“Wow, and people already know you. That one was even flirting with you.”

“Nah, she wasn’t”.

“Yeah, whatever.” She said and turned the menu over to look at the other side.

So it wasn’t imagining it. I’ll be damned.

Polly brought us our coffee and stood in a neutral position at the table. “Anything else you two want?”

“No thanks,” Catherine replied.

Then I noticed Polly turning towards me. “The apple pie is to die for.” She said excitedly, as she bounced up and down on her toes.

“Maybe later.” I smiled at her.

Polly stepped back and Catherine caught me still smiling.

“A minister’s not supposed to act that way. Hey, what kind of minister are you anyway?’

“A Taoist-Buddhist-Christian.”

“That figures.” She rolled her eyes.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Hey, I’ve got another case I’d like some help with.”

“I’m retired. I told you that.”

“You’re also waiting for your motorcycle to be fixed so you have some free time. I promise it won’t cut much into your proselytizing, or your apple pie.” She added with a smirk and then looked at Polly. “Though I think you could do better.”

“What about respecting the dignity and worth of all individuals?”

“I’m sure she has her dignity but I’m not sure how much she’s worth. You’ll have to negotiate that between the two of you!” She laughed.

“That’s cold!”

“I know. I’m feeling ashamed of myself.”

“Are you really?”

“No, not really. Okay, maybe a little.”

“That’s better.”

“Confession is good for the soul, huh father?”

“I’m not one of those kind of ministers.”

“I’m starting to see that. What kind are you?”

I leaned back. “The kind that likes to ride a motorcycle, who enjoys a good beer and a cigar.

And the company of women.”

“Are you celibate?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me that?”

“Everyone keeps asking you that? You’ve only been in town for 24 hours.”

“Okay, one person has asked me that.”

“I bet it was that waitress Polly.”

“Actually, it was a different waitress. Weird huh?”

“I’ve got to ask you – does this happen often to you?”

“Would you believe me if I said it never has?”

She leaned back. “Nah. I don’t believe much that comes out of people’s mouths.”

“I remember being that way.”

“Occupational hazard.”

“Reckon so.”

“So, I forgot where you said you’re from?”

“That’s because I didn’t.”

“Can’t trick you on that one. But how am I supposed to employ you if I can’t verify your identity.”

“You can’t.”

“Oh, we’ll figure something out.”

“Look, Catherine. I’m flattered with the offer but I really am retired.”

“Can’t I appeal to your sense of duty, your code of ethics, whatever religion that was that you mentioned?”

“You can but it won’t work.”

“You don’t believe in helping others?

Okay, that did it. My Achilles soul. That was one of my rules for the trip. Help people until they don’t need you anymore. Ironically, also the job of a social worker – to get fired by the client- that you did such a good job they don’t need you anymore.

I took a deep breath. “Okay.”

“You’ll do it?”

“Yeah, I will, but just until my bike is fixed.”

“Wow, that’s great. Let me tell you about this family I’ve got.” She paused while Polly filled our coffee cups back up.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Anytime.” She said with a wink.

“Unbelievable.” Catherine opined as she shook her head. “Anyway, it’s all confidential until I hire you.” She reached into her handbag and foraged around. She pulled out a dollar and put it on the table. “Here’s an advance.”

“A dollar. That’s the best you can do.”

“You know the government only says it cares about kids. They don’t put any money where their mouth is.” She pointed at the dollar bill.  “Don’t spend it all in one place.”

I picked it up and folded it and stuck it in my pocket. “I’ll try not to.”

“Okay. Here’s the situation.  Mom checks on the baby in the morning and notices that one of her legs is swollen. Babies don’t usually have swollen legs. She takes the child to the hospital and the doctor does an x-ray which reveals multiple fractures in various stages of healing throughout the child’s body. We’re called and go to speak with the parents.”

“How did they act?”

“Double – shock. Shocked about the child’s injuries and shocked that we were called and asking them questions about their daughter.”

“I bet.”

“Yeah, they weren’t hostile or anything, in fact, surprisingly, they showed an understanding of why we had to be there.”

“I imagine that didn’t last long.”

She nodded. “Especially when the doctor came out with his diagnosis that the injuries were non-accidental. He’s ready to swear it was abuse. The new caseworker wants to file a petition to get custody. I met with the parents and, well, I’ve got a gut feeling that they’re telling the truth. I got them to agree that they wouldn’t try to remove the child from the hospital so that gives us more time.”

“What’s this gut feeling about?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were they concerned?”

“Absolutely. And they sought help immediately.”

“Was the child in good shape otherwise?”

“You mean other than the history of multiple fractures?”

“I know.”

“It’s hard to tell.”

“How did they describe the child?”

“In positive ways. They did say that she cried a good deal.”

“Now we know why.”

“But that they loved her. They were able to tell me in detail how they tried to soothe her when she cried. The dad said that she liked gentle rocking and that sometimes he’d put her in her car seat and sit her on the top of the clothes dryer and turn it on. Sometimes the motion would put her back to sleep.”

“Parents remind you of anyone?

“No, why?”

“You might have some positive feelings about someone like them and be projecting them onto them. Countertransference.”

“I know what countertransference is, and no I’m not.”

“Middle or upper class?”

“Nope, poor as Job’s turkey.”

I smiled. “Haven’t heard that in a while. We’re other medical causes ruled out?”

“The doctor checked for osteogenesis imperfecta by running a collagen analysis and it was negative.”

“So no brittle bone.”

“That’s right. They also did a skin fibroblast study on the parents and it didn’t show any collagen abnormalities.”

I felt a sense of dread deep in my body. Here we go again. “Okay, I’ll go with you to see them.”

“Do you need anything from your motel?”

“What?”

“Your motel. Do you need to go back there for anything?”

“It’s Larry’s Layaway.”

“Larry’s Layawhile.” She corrected me. “You already told me, remember?”

“Oh yeah. I forget things easily. A little short-term memory loss.”

“That’s not such a bad thing.”

“Combine it with having low expectations and I’m one happy biker.”

She laughed. “And Monk.”

“Yes?”

“What’s your last name anyway?”

“Chuck.”

“I thought that was your first name.”

“You thought wrong.”

“So what’s your first name?”

“Monk.”

She eyed me suspiciously. “So your parents named you Monk?”

“What can I say? They were very devout.”

“Sure. Whatever. Finish your coffee and let’s go.”

 

On the way to the hospital she again took some calls. I held on tight to the handle.

“Yes, Mrs. Johnson. You’ve got a child at school with bruises. Does he say how he got the bruises? He won’t huh? How old is he? 15. What kind of bruises are they? Right. Where are they located? Okay, so nothing on the face or head. What size bruises are we talking about? That’s pretty large. How many are there? What color are they? Okay, I know they’re bruise-colored but what I mean is are they purple, brown, yellow? Okay. Is he afraid to go home? No, well let him go home then. Tell him that if he’s afraid he’s going to get hurt to go to a friend’s house. Give him my number. I’ll send someone as soon as I can. Thanks for calling me.”

She looked at me and shook her head. “I’m going to have to relieve that worker at the hospital and send them out on this.”

He phone rang again. “Yeah, Joanie what do you need? The car seats are in my car. If you meet me at the hospital we can swap them over. We’re all out of diapers and formula? Pick some up at Walgreens and get a receipt and we’ll pay you back. No, really we will. I know you haven’t been paid for the last one yet but it’s on the way.”

She leaned toward me and whispered: “It’s not really.”

“Okay, I’ll meet you there.”

I shook my head. It all sounded familiar. Let’s see one of those high paid bankers deal with issues like these. They wouldn’t last a day.

“You know in Ireland it’s against the law to talk on the phone while you drive.”

She stared at me. “What a random thing to say. Where’d that come from?”

“I used to live in Ireland.”

“In the monastery, Monk?” She laughed.

“No, just lived there.”

Ten minutes later we were at the hospital parking lot and a woman was waving us down.

“Hey, Joanie!” Catherine shouted. She parked the car, introduced me and we began swapping the car seats into Joanie’s car.

“Catherine, I don’t have any money to buy baby things.”

“Here’s a twenty. I want a receipt and change.” She yelled as Joanie drove away.

I saw her switch gears, from harried to helpful, as we entered the room where the parents were sitting. “Mr. and Mrs. Faulkner, I want to introduce you to Reverend Chuck. He has a background in social work and wants to help but I need your informed consent.”

“For what?”

“For me to share your personal information with him.”

“How can he help?” Mr. Faulkner said glaring at me. Maybe I should have taken my Harley vest off.

“Well if it’s accidental he might be able to support that.”

“And if he thinks we did it like the doctor does?”

“He could testify against you.”

They looked at each other, earnestly searching each other’s face and both nodded. He grabbed his wife’s hand. “We don’t have anything to hide.”

“Well, I have to get you to sign this release. She balanced her briefcase on her knee, took out a pen and stuck it in her mouth and grabbed a piece of paper from inside. She closed her briefcase, walked around to the side of them and pointed at the paper. “Let me write his name in here.” She scribbled something. “This says you agree that I can share information with him. And he too is bound by the rules of confidentiality I discussed with you earlier. Is that okay?”

They glanced at each other again, nodded in unison and signed.

I went through the usual questions with them about their background, their views of the child, worries, and fears.  They lived in a double-wide trailer in a decent area of town. Mom and dad both worked full time but different shifts so they could take care of the infant; good childcare plan until you need a witness for the times you’re alone with the child. What parent could ever provide that? I couldn’t find anything implausible or suspicious about their story, and believe me, I tried.

“They seem like pretty good parents to me,” I said to Catherine when we met outside the hospital room.

“That’s what I thought.” She said earnestly. “They’re cooperative and concerned and understand why we need to do what we do. They seem to want to find out what’s causing the child’s injuries as much as we do.”

“Yep, they’re not getting their knickers in a twist, which is a good sign. It’s the parents that get indignant and protest the most that usually did it.”

“Knickers in a twist?”

“Irish saying.”

She smiled.

“Still, this is going to be challenging.”

She nodded.

“Well in most legal cases somebody’s got to prove we did something to injure someone else. In the case of child abuse, the parents have to prove that they didn’t. Hard to prove a negative.”

“They’re guilty unless we can prove them innocent.”

I nodded. “Last time I checked there were over 50 medical conditions that could mimic child abuse. It’s not easy or cheap to check for all of them either. And it can take time. What does the child do during this time? They either stay in the hospital or go into foster care, neither of which is good for them or the family.  They’re not going to stay in the hospital for long without a good medical reason and because it costs too much. So they’ll end up in foster care which if the parents are innocent is horrible for them and for the child.”

“You’re preaching to the converted Monk.” Then she smiled. “Hey, get it?”

“What?”

“You’re a monk preaching! Ha ha!”

 

We were nearing my motel when we passed a bar called Dan’s Roadside Inn. “Can we stop there? I need a drink.”

She eyed me suspiciously. “Do you usually have a drink before 5 pm?”

“Nope can’t remember the last time I did but it’s been a while since I’ve had a day like this.”

We sat at the bar. Next to me was a thin, grizzled man wearing a Harley shirt. It said: I Tamed the Dragon, referring to an especially curvy road up in North Carolina. I smiled and nodded at the man and he nodded back. I ordered a Yuengling and the bartender brought it.

“So what do you think?” Catherine asked.

“I agree with your gut feeling. I don’t think they did it. But we do have bruises that are unaccounted for. They do have a young, occasional babysitter that watches the child for them sometimes. We need to rule her out.” I took a sip of the beer. It was ice cold and beautiful.

Catherine put her elbows on the table, rested her head in her palms and stared sideways at me. “I’m going to head there later after I run over to the school to check on this boy they called me about. James was going to do it but just got an emergency referral on a sexual abuse case. So it’s just me.”

“Muggins.”

“What?”

“Nevermind. An Irish saying.”

She smiled and shook her head. “You keep surprising me, Monk Chuck! Anyway, I’ll pick you up back at the motel around 2:30. Okay?”

“I’ll be there.” I watched as she walked out of the place. She looked cute.

“Hey, Monk?” The man next to me said.

I took a deep breath and turned toward him. “Yep.”

I watched as he looked around to see if anyone was listening. I looked around too. Besides the bartender, we were the only two in the place. He leaned in closer to me.

“I’m having a problem with the Mrs. and I need some advice.”

“I’m not very good with advice. Hate giving it and hate taking it.”

“Are you married, father?”

“Was. Twice.”

He stared, taking the full measure of me. I’m not sure he liked what he saw but that didn’t stop him.

“What happened?”

“Both died.”

“Man, I’m, sorry.”

“I’m not. Best years of my life. You’ve got to appreciate what you had, not dwell on what you’ve lost.”

“I’m not sure I agree with that father.” He pointed a finger at me. “No disrespect meant.”

“None taken.”

“Sorry, but it’s different for me, father. My wife and I have been married for 23 years and she just started acting strange.”

“Just now, after 23 years? Consider yourself lucky.”

“What?”

“Sorry, go on.”

“She started going through the menopause and got real cold toward me. Wouldn’t let me touch her. They should call it the men o stop, if you get my meaning. It’s hard to sleep with someone that you can’t touch after 23 years of touching them. It’s like sleeping and waking up next to a dead sea otter.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Sorry.”

“Then she started imagining all these things about me, like, like, well I can’t say it. It would be disrespectful.”  He looked down and shook his head.

“It’s okay man.” I put my hand on his shoulder.

“Honestly reverend I have never done the things she accused me of in all the 23 years we were married and I never would.” He started to weep and I pulled him closer to me and his shoulder touched mine. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Sounds like she has a delusional disorder of some kind. Will she go see a psychiatrist?”

He shook his head. “I tried to get her to go. The kids did too. She won’t. I just love her but she treats me like a stranger.” He really started crying now. Old tears, from that reservoir of sadness that lies on the hill above hope. It would have to be emptied before he could hope again. But memories of their former love were flooding the reservoir so that the tears almost seemed endless.

“I’m so sorry man. So sorry.”  I put my arm around him and he leaned into me again. I wasn’t going to tell him it would be all right because without her getting treatment it probably wouldn’t be. “You know there’s this thing called, anosognosia. It’s not denial, it’s more that, mentally, the person is unable to recognize that there’s anything wrong with them.”

He leaned up and gently slapped my chest with his hand. “That’s it! It’s not really her fault, but it is.” He went sullen and looked around him like he had misplaced something. “But still she’s the only one who can do anything about it.” He looked away and mouthed a few words silently, then spoke. “I still love her.”

I nodded and felt some tears welling up in me. “You always will. Bless you, man. Bless you. I’ll pray for you.” I believe in the priesthood of all believers and the raw sanctity of any and all of the blessings we give and receive from others.

“Thanks, father.” His eyes were wet and his nose snotty. I grabbed a couple of drink napkins and gave them to him.

We spent the next hour talking. I had one more beer. I couldn’t do much more for him other than say how sorry I was, that I knew he hurt and to keep blessing him, over and over again, hoping the prayers would help build for him some kind of rickety bridge to a safe haven.