I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the homeless man I thought may have been Jesus. He would move, hunched forward, heavy with the weight of a hundred coats, slouching toward some unknown destination as if he had walked from an Inuit Eskimo Igloo except that it was Los Angeles in the summer and 100 degrees. I worried that he was hungry or might need something, or was lost and maybe lonely and I was feeling slippery guilt about so many things.
In my twenties, I was eager to exact my hungry influence on every boy I’d meet. The one I happened to be with at this time happened to become my first husband. My “Practice Marriage” I like to call it now but when I thought the homeless man was Jesus, I didn’really know anything about husbands or marriage or what would come later. I just knew that I believed in signs and the man who I saw walking along Glendale Blvd. had called to me as if signaling and, therefore, I needed to connect in some way if I were to consider myself a decent person or a person who could read the signs and was right about them. I wanted to be that person and so became determined to meet and connect with the homeless man/Jesus.
Once I made this decision, I didn’t see him for many weeks and yet I was driven by curiousity and looked for his bulky form on many late-night drives. It wasn’t until deep summer that he finally appeared again. We were rolling along towards home in our lime-green Volkswagen Beetle after rehearsal or something and, there he was, aglow in the moonlight walking along the boulevard.
I shrieked to my practice-husband to stop the car and, lucky for us, traffic was light so we did. We made our way to the 7–11 across the street from where the man was seated on a curb and discussed strategy. “Are you out of your mind?” he asked me. His blue eyes blazed reason through the rhetorical question. “I just want to see if he needs anything? Maybe water? Maybe a snack or something? I mean, what if he IS Jesus and it’s some sort of a test?” He sat there and stared at me. “You don’t even believe in Jesus.”
It was true. I didn’t. I had a long time ago but, after falling out with religion following a brief stint as a “Born Again,” I was a devout non-believer. I did believe in Art, Theater, the power of words and signs. So the tug was real that maybe this WAS one and I wanted to feel that if there were a sign, I would answer it. Practice-husband heard me and we got out of the car together to begin our weird, urban, spiritual quest to feed the Lord.
We decided on Twinkies at the 7–11 because that was all they had in the bakery section. We bought four of them and two extra large Big Gulps and headed out the door. The sky was dark but the lights from the cars shone brightly on us as if we were being interrogated in a noir film. We froze, not knowing which way we should go to reach him. Confused and a bit disoriented, we just stood there, arms laden with Twinkies and drinks. It was like a strange kind of stand off between the cars and the two awkward, gift- bearers standing on the curb and everyone wondered who would flinch first. After a while, the cars ceded the victory and we let moonlight be our guide to where the ancient man had been.
He was gone by the time we arrived but where he had lain there was a smooth, round, circle of dirt shining and warm from the man’s heavy body and a ragged coat which he had left behind. An artifact remained to mark that homeless man-Jesus had, indeed, been there. Our hands were wet from the sweaty, Big Gulps and from the anticipation and disappointment, but we reached for each other anyway and I remember a closeness that felt extraordinary within the bounds of our garden variety love.
Signs in dirt are sometimes all we have.