The Servants of Pilate
The story of what happens when you say no
Chapter I of 19
Dear God, I look down over this bridge measuring my connection to life and the water below. I spit over the rail but lose sight of it before it reaches the rocks. In my mind I can hear the sound of my body striking the water with a fearsome flop, an exclamation point on a failure. Why is that God? Why do you allow us to see so clearly our own end, to imagine the feel of ten thousand knives stabbing at us and yet leave us in total blindness towards our future? To know the pain of the flower in the wind, just one more into the breach. Melting our bells and plate to fight your battles lord, free will? Bullshit!
If I jump then you and I are through, the connection is severed between us, a cold watery eternity for me and you’ll just find someone else. All right then, it’s on me damn it! I’ll drink from the cup, thy will be done but free will? Bullshit!
The shift had been uneventful, Bill Henderson thought to himself as he sat with the other Secret Service agents in the White House security office until he noticed a man standing quietly outside the fence near the front gates around nine AM. Bill was going to send one of the other agents out to speak with the man, but then decided since he was the senior man he would do it himself . The stranger, a middle aged white man was clean-shaven, average looking and soft-spoken. Bill approached and said, "Good morning," the gentleman returned the greeting.
Bill then asked, "What is your business here today?"
"I’m here to see the President." The gentleman answered, Henderson smiled with that oh boy here we go again smile.
"As you can imagine sir," Bill explained, "The President is very busy today, do you have an appointment?"
"No," he replied.
"Then what makes you think the President will see you?"
"He works for me," the gentleman answered calmly. Bill’s patience was quickly wearing thin as he explained to him,
"Sir, you need to make an appointment with the President’s staff to see the President."
"I’ve tried that and they’ve told me no, so I’ll wait here until the President changes his mind."
Bill explained, "Provided you don’t block the entrance or impair traffic you can stand here until kingdom come."
"If necessary I will," the gentleman answered. As the shifts changed in the security office the story passed from shift to shift. Class one, harmless low-level nut. The gentleman would disappear from time to time but always returned within a few minutes.
After twenty-four hours another agent was sent out to speak with the gentleman. "Sir, your presence here for more than twenty four hours has changed your status from pedestrian to protestor and you are required to obtain a permit to protest at this site."
"Do you understand? Sir?"
"No, I don’t," He quietly responded.
"You don’t understand," the agent asked?
"I don’t need a permit to stand here." The gentleman responded.
"Sir, if you do not move along immediately I will have you removed by the police."
"Do what ever you think will solve your problem," he answered.
Several minutes later a D.C. police cruiser pulled up and two policemen went inside the security office. After several minutes the policemen came back out and approached the gentleman.
"Ok pal, if you don’t move along were going to have to arrest you, is that what you want?"
"I want to see the President," he quietly responded.
"What you are going to see is a sergeant and then a judge, now what’s it going to be!" The gentleman placed his hands behind his back; as the cop huffed and rolled his eyes, they patted him down and got out their handcuffs. They placed him in the back of the squad car and left for the station. The cop driving asked, "I don’t know what your trying to prove but you sure as hell ain’t gonna prove it in jail." As the gentleman was booked they emptied his pockets. He had nothing but a single one hundred dollar bill. They asked his name, and after a pause the gentleman exhaled and responded,
"John, John Smith."
The cop booking him looked up and muttered "cute" in a low tone. "You realize your fingerprints will tell us who you are don’t you. Where are you from Mr. Smith?" asking with a note of sarcasm.
"America," he said.
"Ok, fine" the cop answered and placed him in a holding cell.
Several hours later, he was pointed out to another cop and a bailiff, the cop approached the cell and yelled "Smith!" As if he wasn’t right there or just pointed out. He was handcuffed again and taken in an elevator to a room adjacent to a courtroom and told to sit on the bench. After a few minutes, the bailiff returned and lifting him by the elbow saying, "Come on." Still in handcuffs he was marched before a Judge. The judge, an older black man with a no nonsense look about him, a man with too much work to do, not enough to be haggard, just busy.
His nameplate read Honorable Julian Gallant. The judge asked without looking up, "John Smith?"
"Where are you from Mr. Smith?" The judge asked, still not looking up as John starring straight ahead responded,
The judge’s hand stopped writing and he looking up over his glasses and asked, "Are you trying to be smart with me? I’m not playing with you, do you have a street address or not?" He demanded.
Smith, without moving his head answered, "I do not have a street address sir, " The judge then asked him,
"Then what state are you from?"
John without pause answered, "Sir, no offence sir, but if I don’t have a street address my state address would be what ever state I’m in and like wise my zip code and area code sir." The area code crack put him over the line, the judge now visibly irritated asked,
"What’s your social security number then?"
"I don’t remember," John answered adding, "Even if I did I’ve always been told not to give that number out except to an employer." Judge Gallant cut him off,
"I don’t have time for this foolishness!" "Do you know why you’re here?"
"No sir, your honor I don’t, do any of us really know why were here?"
"All right Smith!" The judge thundered, "One more word, just one more word from you will buy you thirty days Smith! What do you say to that? Do you still feel the need to be colorful? You’re here to be arraigned on the following charges: Protesting without a permit, interfering with a policeman, blocking the entrance to a federal facility to which I’m going to add a charge of vagrancy. Do you remember if you have legal counsel Smith, or do I need to appoint one for you?"
"No sir, I don’t need an attorney, I’m not guilty."
"Smith this is an arraignment, we are here to decide whether there are grounds to prosecute you on the charges I’ve just named. This isn’t a trial, if I feel the charges are justified, I will bind you over for trial in approximately thirty days. Do you understand that Mr. Smith?"
John looked up at the Judge, "Your honor," he said in a low firm voice "I would just assume we have the trial today, for thirty days will make no difference, I will be no more or less guilty in thirty days."
"Smith, the time is to allow you to prepare a defense." Judge Gallant explained.
"How might I prepare?" John implored, "What could I prepare to defend myself from the charge of standing on the sidewalk?"
Judge Gallant retorted, "You are being charged with protesting without a permit, interfering with a policeman and blocking the entrance to a federal facility."
"I wasn’t protesting sir, I was waiting, I wasn’t interfering with a policeman, a policeman was interfering with me, and I wasn’t blocking a federal facility anymore than anyone else on that sidewalk, so if I’m guilty of that charge everyone on the sidewalk including the policeman are guilty as well."
Judge Gallant looked down at him, "Smith" he said, "and I’m starting to believe that either your incompetent or you have a bet with the bailiffs over there to see if you can make me blow my top. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and hold you for a seventy two hour psychological evaluation."
As he was led away John remarked, "Have a nice day your honor." He was returned to the bench, then to the holding cell, and then downstairs. By the time he had been returned to the holding cell lunch was over and supper wouldn’t be served until around six o’clock, a small cup of stew a smaller cup of cole slaw with a pickle slice. He made small talk with several of the other men in the cell drifting off to sleep, awaking occasionally as they would add a new prisoner.
Waking in the early morning he was surprised to see a dozen or more men in the twelve by twelve cell. Although there was no window, it felt like early morning so he closed his eyes and tried to go back to sleep.
The next sound he heard was the jailer staring straight-ahead calling his name. He was handcuffed and taken to a sally port, and from there to a waiting ambulance with two attendants. They instructed him to lie down on the stretcher and as he complied he was strapped down and taken away for evaluation. The attendants trying to make small talk with him as they looked at his chart he asked, "Where you from John?"
He smiled and answered, "America,"
" No, what part?"
"All of me," He answered.
"You know what I mean north, south, east, west? Where?"
John looked up, "Where I’m from is not where I am. Where I am has no relationship to where I’m going, so where I’m from has no relationship to anything."
"Hey John, I’m not wearing a gun, just making small talk buddy. I don’t mean to offend you."
John smiled saying, "No offence, I’ve just been asked that a lot lately and it has no more meaning to me than my shoe size, to just say America should be enough."
"It’s enough for me John," the attendant answered.
He was admitted to the hospital, his paperwork processed as he was placed in a bed with restraints on his wrists. A nurse came in and took his vital signs without saying a word to him. Later an older gentleman with a lab coat entered, "John Smith" he inquired?
"John, I’m Doctor Nuesbaum," he announced, "I’m here to evaluate you, what seems to be the problem? Why are you here with us today?"
John heaved a sigh saying, "I wanted to see the President, that’s all."
"What did you want to see him about?" Doctor Nuesbaum Inquired.
"I wanted to speak to him about the state of our nation."
"What would you have told him if you been able to see him John?"
"To leave," he answered, "And the Vice President too."
"Is that a reasonable expectation John? Do you think that if you could have gotten in to see the President he would have listened to you?"
"Then what would be the point? Why should the President listen to you?"
"Because he works for me," John replied.
"Well he works for me as well, and I would like for him to stay" the Doctor explained.
"Doctor," John asked almost bemused, "I’m in your hospital because I was arrested. When a Secret Service agent told a city policeman to take me away to a city jail so that a city judge could send me to this state hospital, so you could come in here and tell me the President works for you as well. Your paycheck, the judge’s paycheck, the cop’s paycheck, the jailer’s paycheck, and Secret Service agent’s paycheck’s all comes from the same government coffers. Yet you are trying to convince me that you and I are on the same team. Isn’t that kind of like the center of a football team trying to convince the lineman on the other team that they should let the running back through because they are on the same team as well? Here you’re trying to evaluate my sanity, and now I’m questioning yours! My chances for a sane verdict appears slim, for it appears one of us is truly crazy, but you doctor are holding the pen."
Dr. Nuesbuam asked, "Do you feel like the government is out to get you?"
"No" he replied.
"Do you feel that anyone is out to get you?"
" No sir," he replied.
"Then why should the President and Vice President step down?"
John looked up toward the ceiling and asked, "Doctor have you ever driven a bus?"
"No, I haven’t John."
"But you’ve ridden on busses, right?
"Sure," he answered.
"So if you were on a bus, and it started to swerve into oncoming traffic, you’d have two choices, to get off or to stop the driver. Would the explanation that you had never driven a bus disqualify you from judging his driving?"
"No it wouldn’t John."
"So if you stopped that bus, could you just get off and let the bus go on its way?"
The Doctor interrupted, "I understand John, that you don’t like the President’s performance but why should he step down on your say so?"
"Because" John sighed, "I can’t just get off, and I can’t just let it go on this way with out yelling stop!"
"But John, don’t you see your not changing anything your just creating a disturbance?"
"So you think that’s the answer Doctor, is to just be quiet and go away?" he asked adding, "That would be the sane response?"
"Tell me again how we are on the same side Doc."
" John," Doctor Nuesbaum said, "We will speak again later," but they never did. As the doctor opened the door to leave an orderly brought in a tray with John’s lunch and left it at the foot of the bed. The doctor said,
"Enjoy your lunch," as he and the orderly left, not noticing John was still in wrist restraints. Several hours later a nurse came in to check on him,
"Are you not hungry?" she asked.
John tried to raise his hands showing the restraints on his wrists. As she untied them she asked, "Why didn’t you just pull the cord over your bed?" John smiled,
"I guess I didn’t think of that."
After another forty-eight hours passed he was returned from the hospital to the jail, from the stretcher, to the ambulance, to the sally port, then to the back to jail cell. First thing the next morning he was taken from the cell directly back into Judge Gallant’s courtroom. Looking down from the bench the judge looked at John and asked,
"Are you feeing any better today Mr. Smith?"
"I feel fine sir," he answered.
"Mr. Smith, the hospital advises me that you’re not crazy, but you’re not right either. They think you have delusions of grandeur, probably brought on by a posttraumatic stress disorder of some sort. They think you are some sort of Don Quixote tilting at windmills."
"What do you think Mr. Smith? Is it windmills your after?" John remained silent. "Smith, here’s what I know; your fingerprints came back with nothing so you’ve never been arrested before now. The doctor’s report says they think you’re sincere in your desire to want to make the world a better place, that you’re not violent, just confused as to how to go about doing that. Are you confused Mr. Smith?"
John stared directly back in Judge Gallant’s eyes saying, "No, sir not a bit confused."
"Ok Smith, here’s the deal, I’ll let you saddle up for your quest and I’ll drop all the charges, if you agree to stay away from the White House and not bother them again, or at least seek a parade permit before doing so. Have we got a deal Smith?"
"No sir, no deal!" he replied without hesitation.
"In that case Mr. Smith, I find you guilty of disturbing the peace and vagrancy, you will pay a five hundred dollar fine or spend the next thirty days tilting at windmills in the district jail. Which will it be Mr. Smith?"
He pondered for a minute and then looked back at the Judge, "I’ve got the time, and I don’t have the five hundred dollars."
"All right then Smith, it’s your decision," Gallant answered.
"Yeah sure," John answered, "My decision."
The bailiff took him back to the lock up, this time to a regular lock up cell. Much smaller and dirtier, it was dark and he was alone. He lay on the bunk contemplating his situation for about thirty minutes when the jailer returned, again looking straight ahead called out
John smiled and looked around as if there was some one else in the cell with him. "Well," he said, "Since I’m the only one here, you must mean me." He wondered what was up but didn’t think that asking the automaton would do much good. The jailer handcuffed him and marched him back through the cellblock, past the heavy iron door that lead into the offices. The bright fluorescent light hurt his eyes for a moment as they walked him to the end of the room. He noticed windows with a view of the outside world. They stopped at a desk, and the jailer removed his handcuffs.
An overweight, balding officer asked, "You John Smith?"
"Yes sir," he answered as his hopes rose.
"Sign here," he ordered pushing a clipboard towards him. As he signed, the cop placed a manila folder on the desk and holding it by it’s end dumped it out.
"One hundred dollars U.S. currency," he read aloud off the folder as the crumpled bill fell on the desk. Whistling the cop asked mocking him, "What you gonna do with all that money?"
John didn’t respond only asked, "What about the fine?"
"It’s paid," the desk cop answered.
"Who paid it?" He asked.
"I don’t know," the cop explained as he leaned back in his chair,
"Maybe you ought to head for the high country before they figure out they paid the fine for the wrong Smith," he smirked while laughing. "One more thing Smith, I was told to give you this card."
John turned and headed towards the door as the overcast sky started to drizzle. John read the card, Our Lady Queen of Mercy Homeless Shelter, Father David McGrath Pastor. As he put the card in his pocket a cop passed him on the sidewalk and John asked "Which way to the White House?" The cop saying nothing, pointed in the general direction, as John walked off through the rain.
Once again, they had taken him to court so he had missed lunch and was released before supper. The five o’clock exodus of fleeing government workers had begun in the city leaving him alone on the sidewalk, with only his hunger and the rain to accompany him. He walking for several miles through the maze of tenements and boarded up shops he saw some men milling about a storefront, as the shadows began to touch the other side of the streets. The sign in the window read Our Lady Queen of Mercy Homeless Shelter. Underneath the title was a graphic image of the Virgin Mary holding a human heart.
He shuddered as he remembered how images such as those had frightened him as a child, and then smiled at himself for being such a pussy. He stepped in the door as he shook off the rain, as a fresh faced young black man greeted him.
"Hi, how are you?"
"Wet," he replied,
"Come on in and dry off, were glad you’re here." The young man offered.
"I kind of found you by accident," he explained.
"I’m Michael," the young man said, "Maybe it was an accident and maybe God sent you here to us."
"Well, someone sent me here," John answered.
"I was given this card."
Michael looked at the card somewhat puzzled by it and said, "Let me get Father Dave, I’m sorry, he asked, what was your name?"
"John, John Smith."
Father McGrath was a small framed thin man in his late thirties with straight black hair and a receding hairline, but his haircut made him look more like a yuppie than a priest in his open collared shirt. As he approached he stuck out his hand and saying, "Welcome John, come on in let’s talk."
John, somewhat puzzled asked, "How do you know me father?"
"Well I don’t, John but a mutual friend of ours told me you needed some help. They told me you had some trouble with the law, but that you were a good sort who needed a job and maybe some help getting back on your feet."
"What mutual friend is that?"
"John I was told you were a private man and that I would do well to respect your privacy and I’m going to have to ask the same from you."
"I’m not off my feet father, and I have a job, an important job, but it doesn’t pay anything, in money that is."
"I understand that, we have many here John that are underemployed but please you must excuse me now, we can talk some more later. I must prepare for mass, after that we eat." You are always welcome to attend," the priest explained. "I will ask Michael to help you to get settled in."
As the Priest held mass, John sat silently in the back of the room. Listening but not participating in the ritual, like the other half dozen or so men in the room. As soon as the Priest had finished the mass, almost on que the crowd of the hungry swelled. John was surprised the food was quite good! Of course, he reasoned, after a week of jail and hospital food he shouldn’t be at all surprised. As he was finishing Michael sat down across from him, and still smiling asked,
"What do you think of the food?"
John returned his smile, "It’s good, all food is good, the less you’ve had the better it is."
"You know John, the Lord calls on us to feed his sheep."
John nodded in agreement, "That’s what we all should try and do." He then asked, "I’m sure you’ll need help in the kitchen? I’m sure the Lord calls on us to clean up after his sheep as well.
" As they washed dishes Michael explained, "John you can stay here up to thirty days without being in any of the shelters programs such as job training. If you are working," Michael asked, "Please consider a donation," but adding, "don’t short yourself, just what you can afford." After finishing the dishes Michael showed John a bed in the dormitory upstairs.
He lay in bed and tried to relax, it had been five days since he had slept on a real bed that didn’t have bars in front of it or restraints on the sides of it. He tossed and turned, fluffed and refluffed the pillow finally lying on his side with his eyes wide open he found himself starring at a poorly stenciled sign on the door that read "No Exit" in running red paint. He tossed and turned as he wondered about what he felt he must do, not about what he thought would happen to himself, for he had already steeled himself for those prospects, but for those around him for those he hadn’t even met yet. The battle raged between his conscious and unconscious his fearlessness verses his fear for innocents. The battle ended with a thunderous crash of a dumpster in the alley below as he woke with a start.
The purple hues of dawn had already started giving birth to new shadows crawling across the floor of the room. As he got up to watch the dawn, he paused starring out the window for in his mind the night was over and the new day already begun. He watched out the window towards the expectant sky as the dark purple started paling into blue and the streetlights winked out one by one. He savored the quiet of dawn as a place of rest and refuge and perhaps his last solitude.
"John?" A voice whispered, as he slowly turned and saw Father McGrath motion him to the landing. Lightly stepping over to McGrath "Good Morning John, How are you, did you sleep well?"
"Yes, Thank you Father," he replied, "John, maybe now is a good time for us to continue our talk, shall we?"
As they walked down the stairs the priest spoke, "As you can imagine John, I meet all kinds of people and I try to help them if I can. Some I can, some I can’t, but I must try to help everyone. But in order for me to do that I have to know why they are here and what their problems are. Now if you’re a Catholic John we can hold the sacrament of reconciliation, or if your not Catholic but still a Christian I can advise you as a minister of God. If your not a Christian I can still listen to you just man to man."
They retired in to the Priest’s tiny office in the storefront, a room originally designed for counting money, which required little space, but for unburdening a soul was far to cramped. Being seated Father McGrath began again, " Would you like me to hear your confession John?"
"Yes Father, but not today."
"We’ll then John tell me, why are you here?"
He pondered the question unsure of where to start, "Father McGrath" he began but the priest interrupted, "Please Father Dave or just Dave."
He began again, "Father Dave, were you called to the priesthood or did you just join hoping a calling would find you?"
"I was called John,"
"Did you feel that you had been asleep your whole life and then suddenly you were startled awake?"
"Yes, John to some degree"
"But you were certain from that moment on you were doing the right thing and that all fear of failure was gone. That your path was laid out before you that your goal was clear and your path certain, the only mystery was to be in the number of steps."
"Steps? John," Father Dave inquired, "Do you feel called to do something?"
"Yes, Father I do," he answered.
"May I ask what it is?"
"To over throw the government father."
Father Dave McGrath had been doing this work in the shelter for over six years, but it was all he could do not to lose his composure. He had heard the confessions of murderers and rapists confessing to the most heinous of crimes but this was something new to him. Shifting in his chair to belie his discomfort,
"John," he asked, "Don’t you think that’s some what of an unreasonable goal? To think you can bring down the government? By yourself?"
"No more than you and this shelter," John answered, "Father can you feed all the hungry? Can you save all the poor?"
"But were not alone here John, there are other churches and other groups, hundreds of volunteers and thousands who donate money all to fill a basic human need."
"Then Father," he responded, "We are in the same business."
"You see I seek to fulfill a basic need as well. To return this nation back to freedom back to the people as it was promised to them, so we may go were we wish, and read what we wish and say what we wish, and live how we wish and the government may tax and we will pay. The government may say that you must serve and we will serve."
"But when that government uses that tax money to spy on us, or torture us, or uses policeman as soldiers, or soldiers as policeman, or uses our children as tools of aggrandizement. That then when those children have given their all, to the last measure, to ship them home in a cardboard boxes like so many pieces of damaged freight with only the dark of night as their honor guard."
"Abandoned by the country they once claimed honored to serve so that their parents must pickup their dearest personal tragedy at the airport like a secondhand suitcase lost. Or return them wounded, with shattered lives and limbs with an invoice tucked under their arm, or what’s left of their arm, for what they owe! They owe, Father to the government for their service!"
"John, I can see how passionate this is for you, have you lost someone in this war?"
"Yes Father, I’ve lost every last one of them, today it’s my son, tomorrow it’s someone else’s and it doesn’t make any damn difference whose because it galls me, they serve because they love their country. You love your country, I love my country, but to those that send them they think they’re chumps, they’re suckers for loving their country. They ply on their patriotism like a con man relies on greed. They want to send them on the cheap, there’s no corner we can’t cut when it comes to our boys!"
"And finally, Father it came to me, there was only one word left in my mind, enough, enough already! I asked myself why in God’s name doesn’t somebody stop this? Why doesn’t someone do something? How many calamities, disasters, and lies will it take? How big must the pile grow? How many dead are enough? How much blood is enough!" As John looked up from the floor with tears welling in his eyes, he looked at the priest and calmly said, then it came to me Father, it’s on me, I have to do it."
Father Dave leaned back in his chair and asked, "John, you don’t intend on using violence do you?"
"No Father, I don’t intend on violence, but I will stop this, so as is the will of heaven so be it."
"John," the priest asked, more to inquire about tactics than mission, "What are your plans?"
"My plan is to stand at the front gate of the White House until they let me see the President, and then when I do I will demand that this administration resign."
"But John, that’s nonsense, that’s been tried. I’m sure you heard of Cindy Sheehan didn’t you, they just ignored her."
"But she quit Father, she quit her post. She tried to use her fame and the media to do the job for her. Her cause was just, she had the attention and sympathies of the people, but for some reason she thought it could be done from a distance. I intend on closing with them eye to eye."
"John," father Dave explained, showing the signs of weariness that shouldn’t appear at such an early hour, "I admire your passion but I fear for your future. I pray that you will remain peaceful in a world that is not. But, I think that at the very best you will be a petty annoyance to them and they will make you disappear by either jail or by death."
"If my choices are death or jail cell, or to do nothing father, then what value does my life have? If not to serve God and man? We will all die, and it won’t be remembered if we won or lost the fight, only that we were willing to be in the fight and die trying. Father, what value does old age hold if I must crawl to it?"
As he stood to leave the father Dave advised him, "Keep the peace of Christ in your heart and take care that those around you, don’t get hurt."
As John left the shelter he thought about how the priest last comments mirrored his own thoughts. As he approached the exit he saw a barrel that was marked donations please, dropping in the hundred-dollar bill he walked out into the clear morning air. Walking again the blocks to The White House he felt a nervous excitement of returning to the spot of his earlier arrest. He stood tall and erect and awaited his fate. He went unnoticed for less than a minute, when one of the guards noticed and then nudged Bill Henderson next to him saying, "Your buddies back!"
As the agent bolted from the security office, he called out to John, before the door had fully closed. "Mr. Smith, what makes you think coming back here is going to be any different this time then last time?"
"That would depend on you sir," John replied, "You can arrest me this time, and next time, and the time after that, but it will only delay the issue of dealing with me, because I will just keep coming back again and again."
"All right Smith, how about you just wait across the street in the park?" Henderson asked.
"No Sir, I’m waiting for the President at the White House. If I move across the street, I’m waiting across the street. I’m not trying to be difficult with you sir, but if I’m going to wait across the street, I might as well wait in Omaha or Malibu."
"Smith," the agent asked, "Work with me here, its not a problem to have you removed you know, just a phone call."
"If that’s all," he answered, "Make the call, you know I’ll just be back tomorrow, or next week, or next month. How about this? John asked, "You pick a spot on this sidewalk, out of your way and that’s where I’ll stay. I’ll make myself known when I arrive, and you put me on the list of those wishing to see the President."
The agent huffed, "I think you’re a used car salesman, you promise no signs, no shouting or waving just stand there silently?"
"Yes sir, scouts honor," he answered.
The agent looked at his watch and said, "Let’s see how it goes, no promises, will see."
John snapped, "Don’t call me a wussie "
"What!" The agent spun back around, "What did you say?"
"Nothing," John grinned, "I just couldn’t resist." The agent turned back again and marched toward the security building.
So began the pattern, he would arrive as the sun rose over the buildings in the early morning, and stay until the security shift change at five forty five. As he stood his post an older woman in her fifties noticed him.
"Pardon me," she asked, "Weren’t you here the other day?"
Without hesitation he answered, "Yes I was."
"Do you work here or something?"
"No," he answered, "I’m here to see the President."
"Oh, you’re kidding right?"
"No," he explained, "I’m here to see the President."
"What do you want to see the President for?"
"I’m going to ask him to resign," he responded.
"What good is that going to do," she asked?
"What good does doing nothing do?"
"But you’re just one man?"
"That’s correct, and that’s all I can be," he explained, "But if everyone who felt like I do got in line how long would that line be?"
"I’m sorry," John asked, "What’s your name?"
"I’m Susan Harris," she nodded as she said, "I see your point ah," as she hunted for his name.
"John Smith," he answered.
She smiled and answered pointing to her graying hair, "I didn’t get this gray hair by believing John Smith’s, is that really your name?"
"That’s my real name," he answered, "For now anyway."
"Why are you here?" he asked. She paused, "Sometimes I’m not sure myself. I lost my first husband in Vietnam and now my son is in the Navy. So I’m wise to the ways of military and well I don’t know, I know it doesn’t do any good but, sometimes when I come here and look at the White House, it’s like I know they can feel my rage."
He shook his head nodding in agreement understanding her every word saying, "You know, I’ll only be a few minutes with the President, if you would like to get in line you can see him after me."
She smiled and explained, "I only work a couple of blocks from here so my days are filled, and my husband fills my nights, so I don’t have the time or the patience to stand in line. But I’m in a group of military mothers that meet twice a month, I’ll tell them about you and maybe one of them would like to meet with the President as well. We supported Cindy Sheehan, but that didn’t seem to do any good. How are you any different?"
"Cindy was seduced by the media," he explained, "She thought the lights and cameras were on her side, and that the story was all about her. I’m here to see the President, I’m not leaving until I see him, the story is about the President, not about me, and if I had a million people behind me, all wanting the same things, the story is still about the President, and not about me."
"The media have ceased to be truth tellers, they are story tellers, not reporters, truth presenters, they present ugly truths in pretty little frames and then tell you the story all about the pretty frame. The media took Cindy and made the story about her instead of her dead son or the bogus war. The left made it about poor Cindy, her loss as a grieving mother and the injustice of it all. The right made it about Cindy the radical, a tool of the left and of Michael Moore. The attention made her a celebrity, and her celebrity put her in demand, so then they wanted her to march and make speeches, to appear at fundraisers here and there so she left her post. Once she left that roadside in Texas the story was over, I will not leave my post."
Susan nodded, "I think your right about the media, but what can you do about it?" "Without the media you’ll still be standing here when the next President is sworn in."
"What can I do?" He asked, "I won’t let them frame me, I’m as unimportant to this story as this sidewalk I stand on. Every time they try and put a frame on me I’ll…. well," John thought, "Well the most powerful laser can be defeated by a simple mirror."
"John Smith, you’re the sanest crazy man I’ve ever met! But you are still crazy, and they will mow you down like the grass on this lawn!" She told him pointing to the other side of the fence.
"But I do appreciate your effort, is there anything I can do to help?"
"Well, if you happen to come this way maybe some water?" He answered.
"I’ve got to get going now, I’ll try to remember the water."
Several days later Susan reappeared with water bottle in hand. John was still on his assigned spot. She had brought someone with her, another woman, younger but who looked much smaller against Susan’s large frame.
"Hello, I’m Margaret Farmer" she said, "Susan has told me all about you, I think what your doing here is wonderful and I would like to help you."
John smiled answering, "Thank you, the line starts here."
"Well John, I can’t do that but would you like to come talk to our group?"
John, somewhat vexed, looked at Susan and asked, "Should I bring the sidewalk with me?"
Margaret was confused by the remark but as Susan explained, "Margaret, John feels that he is personally unimportant and that any attention on him detracts from the issue at hand." Margaret then asked,
"Can I at least interview you for our web site?"
"Sure," he answered, as she got out a small tape recorder. John gulped two thirds of the bottled water and then poured the remaining third over his head. Susan asked,
"Are you hot?"
" No," he explained, "Sometimes water can do as much good for the body on the outside as it can on the inside."
Margaret was now ready to start her interview. She asked, "Where are you from John?"
"America," he answered without pause so she then asked,
"All of me," he answered smiling then adding, "It doesn’t matter where I’m from, if I say I’m from Boston then they’ll say I’m a New England liberal. If I say I’m from California, then I’m a left coast nut. If I say Montana, then I’m a probably a white supremacist. If I say Alabama, then I’m a Klansmen. It’s all about putting meaningless labels on people."
"Ok then, do you have any family?"
"Look Margaret, I am John Smith, I am an American and I am damn sick of the way this country is going so I ‘m not going to let it go on like this anymore. If they want to spy on me they can look out their window, I’m right here! If they want to put me in jail they know where to find me, I’m right here! I’m right, they’re wrong, Republicans Democrats, Communists, Libertarians and librarians all know that what’s going on here is insanity! Here I stand and here I stay!"
"If you love your country stand up, if you love your children stand up. They have an army, a navy, an air force, spy satellites, even nuclear weapons, yet they are afraid of us. As well they should be, why? Because they are con men who have conned their way into a job they aren’t qualified for. They cower in fear that they will be discovered, that’s why they watch one man on the sidewalk and will spend thousands of dollars to find out what your reading in the library. Because it’s not enough for them to just control what you’re reading, because they would prefer you to not read at all. Unless it’s the newspapers that they publish, they would prefer you listen to the radio or watch the TV stations they own."
"They want you to watch American Idol and never ask any uncomfortable questions. To sing only happy songs and have only happy thoughts while they profit by exporting your jobs and writing laws to exempt themselves. To create the knowledge class and the peon class of those that have and those that never will, to poison the water and the air while they proclaim a culture of life to use the military as an arm of Jesus Christ and to use your children like bait on a hook. Even Satan himself would admire such evil."
Margaret’s recorder shut off with a click and she looked down at it saying, "Well I think I’ve got it, I think I understand, Thank you John, it’s been a pleasure meeting you is there a number I can reach you at?"
"No," he answered, "I’ll be right here,"
Susan explained, "I have to get back to work." As the women walked off they discussed the personage of John Smith,
Margaret remarked, "Your right he plenty intense enough, but is he nuts or what?"
"He’s serious and he’s right about Cindy Sheehan," Susan answered,
"He’s right about a lot of things but just being right doesn’t mean you’re not crazy or that you’ll get anywhere." So, Margaret said, "I’ll write the article tonight and post it on some different sites but it is going to be about what he’s doing not about him."
Susan approved, "I think that’s what he wants,"
"And what I want too," Margaret added.
The two women hugged and parted, and later that evening Margaret sat down with a glass of red wine at her computer screen. She pulled out the recorder from her purse she rewound the tape and just sat back listening. She reflected on the apparent pain in his voice and then as the tape continued his rising anger. How odd it was she thought how unhinged he could become and still have such a lucid understanding of the issues. She had thought to herself I’ll just introduce him and copy his speech, but she found him difficult to characterize John in type, part Gandhi part John Brown part intellectual part street performer. Well, she thought at least the title will be easy, Here I Stand Here I Stay around eleven o’clock she finished it and posted it on their own web site and several other anti war sites.
She awoke in the morning, she made her coffee and bran muffin and went to her computer to check the response and to see if she had any Email. Her personal account had about ten mostly junk and spam but there was one from the founder of Women for Peace, Elaine Keever whom she had spoken with once on the telephone but she had never received and E-mail from before, it began. Dear Margaret, Thank you for your article, is John a real person? He sounds wonderful, I believe he is someone that can help us advance our movement. His passion and fire are just what is needed, would he be willing to make public speeches? I think he could help us tremendously in our fund raising efforts as well, he could really be an asset to our cause. She drank deep from her coffee and thought to herself, what have I done? Did I make him sound too good?
What will happen when they meet him? What will they think of me after meeting this average looking homeless guy in shabby clothes? An ant fighting a bowling ball, and she wants to use him to advance our cause? Geez, she thought, I must be a pretty good at this, so what do I do now? She went to their web site to see the reaction to her post, there were five posts all positive no surprise, she was preaching to the choir.
She thought at lunch she would take John a bottle of water and ask him about making speeches. She went to the fridge and grabbed a bottle and put it in her purse and then thought about how to ask him. The problem she thought as she smiled was, with John you’ll get a speech all right just maybe not on what you want or when you want it. She continued to get ready for work and pondered her dilemma. The quandary stayed with her most of the morning as she deliberated on how to ask John to speak.
When she got to the White House at lunch time John was already talking to two men in suits, her first thought was cops, but then she saw the camera and guessed reporters. She stood off trying to hear the conversation; the first man asked,
"Do you think the war was a mistake?"
"Yes, of course it was," he answered without hesitation, then the cameraman asked,
"So you think we should just cut and run?"
"Yes, of course we should," he again answered, the cameraman was becoming riled by his answers asked,
"Just pull out and run?"
"Yes!" he answered, "Three boys were in the woods one boy dared the other two to throw rocks at a hornets nest. When the boy hit the hornet’s nest a hundred hornets poured out, two of the boys ran immediately but the third boy stood his ground. Run! they yelled. I won’t do it, I won’t let the hornets know I’m afraid of them.
The cameraman said, "That’s not a fair comparison! What about the Iraqi’s won’t they be worse off!"
John explained, "The question isn’t about will the Iraqi’s be worse off its will the Americans be better off, right now we are part of the problem if we leave the problem will become clearer for the Iraqis to solve. And in the end they are the one’s who will have to solve it. It’s like jumping out of an airplane saying if I open my parachute I’ll never know for sure what would have happened."
The cameraman was becoming red faced and snapped, "Mr. Smith I don’t think your argument is cogent."
John responded, "I don’t think your argument is cogent either, but the difference is you’re playing poker with someone else’s money. How suddenly overwhelmed with concern for the poor Iraqi’s we become when we think that it’s our goals that won’t be achieved."
"Well. Mr. Smith I guess we will just have to agree to disagree" the reporter remarked as he was trying to calm the situation "But we do thank you for your time." The men shook hands with John and left, as they walked away John called out to Margaret "Hello,"
"Who’s your friends," she asked?
"The Washington Times," he answered with a smile. "They came to ask me questions so they could write their own answers later."
"What did you tell them?"
"The same thing I would tell you or anyone else, the truth, and that’s what upset them so."
"Aren’t you afraid they will hurt your cause John?"
"They’ll try, they’ll will report the smoke and ignore the fire but at this point any attention is positive."
"But John," she interjected, "What if they make you look like a nut,"
"Oh they will, that’s exactly what they will try to do, but it is the truth of the message, not the quality of the messenger, whether I’m a nut or the messiah the story will be in the paper and will generate curiosity," he replied. She thought this might be the perfect opening
"John," she asked nonchalantly, "Would you be willing to talk to some people sympathetic to your cause?"
"Sure, bring them around"
"Well," she hesitated, "Its not that simple you would have to go to them"
"No problem," he explained, "As long as it won’t effect my hours here."
"Great, I’ll get you with the details oh, I almost forgot I brought you some water."
"Thanks," he told her as he opened the bottle and downed two thirds of it and poured the other third over his head again."
"John why do you do that?" she asked,
"Pouring the water on your head," she inquired.
"Well" he explained, "It reminds me why I’m here, how simple and basic life is, pain and pleasure it’s not complicated it’s simple and well after talking to those reporters made me feel kind of dirty."
"Thank you, John," she said.
"Huh for what?" he asked,
"Well John for agreeing to make a speech."
"Not a problem thank you for the water."
As she returned to work she called Susan to keep her up to speed. "I got an Email from Elaine Keever the leader of Women for Peace" she explained.
"You sure it wasn’t one of those blanket Emails Margaret? You know the ones they send out to every one?"
No it was directly from her to me I couldn’t believe it myself. She wanted me to ask John to speak to them. I was so nervous Susan, I didn’t know what he would do for sure but he was really very sweet about it. I was so surprised that he agreed so readily."
"You didn’t tell him it was a fundraiser did you?"
"No I didn’t," she said, "I only climb one mountain at a time."
"I’m just afraid for you Margaret, I know he’s charming but what do you know about him really? You had better keep it straight with him from the start" She warned and don’t get yourself into a situation you can’t handle. "My experience is most men are linear thinkers they think from A to B and if you try and bend that line on him your liable to have trouble with him."
"I wasn’t trying to trick him" she explained defensively, "He didn’t ask and after all he is a big boy." Susan’s seeds of doubt sprouted in her mind after all she didn’t know John that well and yet she was surprised at how she had taken to him despite his eccentricities. She thought he was one of those people that you meet and think they are too good to be true, but then the more genuine you discover they are, it causes you to become intimidated by them out of a fear that, you will fall short of qualities in their eyes. But with John, he had that hard-bitten edge, he was like a dog that never growls and always wagged his tail and then when you reach out to pet him you're never sure if he will bite you or not.
As soon as she got home, she answered Elaine’s Email. It made her feel important to be dealing with the founder and President directly even though she was only a foot soldier. She felt passionately about the cause, she had seen what a war could do to a family her uncle had been killed during the Tet offensive protecting the embassy in Saigon. She knew how the pain never really left the family but remained like the paint on the wall fading ever so slightly from year to year and becoming noticeable only when you moved a picture. It was always there even if unnoticed until change made it hurt all over again.
Was it wrong to try and advance in an organization? Her pride made her questions her own motivations, now she was feeling bad about feeling good. How her ex-husband would have had a field day with that, in her head she could hear him saying, "The bad news is there’s no bad news! But the good news is that’s bad news!" She reminded herself, just because he was right didn’t mean he wasn’t an asshole. She sent Elaine a short and to the point reply and hit send. She then moved on to the more pressing issues, of what frozen delicacy to microwave.