Sorry for the delay. I'm on vacation in GA right now so I got kind of a late start this morning. Part 2 of last week's story is below. Here's a link in case you haven't read it yet.
Let me know what you think in the comments section.
* * * * * * * * * *
When I met Mark his homeless ministry was in full-gear and growing everyday. Mark married a younger, comparatively beautiful, woman named Elena who had found God at one of his Tuesday night homeless services. He held these in one of the public buildings next door to the evangelical inner city black church that he attended on Sundays. Elena wasn’t homeless; she was there in some sort of journalistic capacity photographing the service and was so moved by the message and by Mark that she decided to abandon her secular ways and give her life over to Jesus right there on the spot. Her maiden name was Estrada and she, on more than one occasion, bemoaned the loss of her last name, which she had been quite fond of. But, such is the burden of a woman of God. A price that she paid gladly.
Mark saw in me the demon of lust and took me on as a special project. I would come down to Wilmington a couple of nights a week and we, along with a couple of not-homeless members of his ministry would hit the streets in his black Chevy Suburban with the back filled up with trays of steaming soup and stew and bread. We would stop if we saw a congregation of people in need, but we generally stayed on a regular route of derelict hangouts. Some of the places were dangerous and Mark would get out alone and go check it out while we stayed in the car. One such place was a rundown house on the corner of one of the seedier neighborhoods in town. The house was perched up on a hill and seemed to always be in the shadows and was a whorehouse ran by one of the local pimps. I never actually saw anyone go into or come out of the house, but Mark would walk up there and tap on the broken screen door and sometimes he’d come down and say ‘nothing tonight’ or sometimes he’d come back and knock on the window and say ‘let me get two plates.’ Mark told me once about the pimp that ran this place and about his methods for acquiring new talent. This pimp would come across some girl who had run away or was abandoned or in a tough spot or whatever and he would give her this whole spiel about how he had done wrong his whole life and how he wanted to start making things right and how he wanted, for once, to do the right thing and to help her get back on her feet and take care of her. He would invite her to come stay at his place and he would fix her up with her own room and take care of her and feed her and make sure that she knew that he wanted nothing in return for his hospitality except for the warmness that he felt inside from helping out someone in need. He wouldn’t even try to fuck her. The girl would be all like, ‘wow, this guy really is trying to turn over a new leaf. Sure he’s made some mistakes, but, deep down, he really is a good person.’
This charade would go on for a few weeks and the pimp would be the sweetest guy in the world and make sure her every need was met and that she always felt safe. Then one day he’d knock on her door.
‘Hey, so, uh. I was wonderin’,’ and he’d pause with his upper body leaning halfway in through the door opening, ‘do you think you could help me out with something?’
‘Sure, what is it? Wha’d’ya need?’
‘Come’ere,’ and he’d jerk is head back behind him. She’d follow him out to the kitchen where he’d stop in front of a gas stove with four cafeteria-sized pots of a white, pasty material that sat on each of the burners.
‘Look,’ he’d say, ‘I can’t get a hold of my guy. I don’t know where he is. But look,’ he’d say as he looked down at the pots on the stove that were just starting to bubble up with his arms out in a I don’t know what else to do here kind of expression, ‘I got niggas expectin’ this shit, and I gotta run out. Take care of some shit just came up.’
‘All I need is someone, someone I can trust, to stay here and watch this shit, and keep it stirrin’, until it’s ready, and then filter that shit out.’
‘So you just need me to stir this…’
‘Yep, just keep stirrin’ this till this shit’s like milk. Then turn these shit’s off,’ he panamimed a counter-clockwise motion on one of the stove knobs, ‘and let that shit sit for like…’ he looked up at an angle and shook his head, ‘twenty minutes.’ He grabbed a mesh strainer off of the kitchen island, ‘then filter that shit out. You can just pour the liquid down the sink. Okay?’
‘Okay,’ she takes a breath and nods her head and scans the room from the kitchen to the sink, ‘okay. That sounds easy enough.’
‘Okay, you good?’
‘Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.’
‘You okay on what to do?’
‘Yeah, I think so. Oh, uh, where do I put it when I’m done?
‘Yeah, uh, you can just put some paper towels out next to the sink and leave it out there till it dries.’
‘Thanks,’ he says, and he hands her a wooden spoon. ‘I gotta run out and handle some b’ness real quick and I’ll be right back.’
‘Alright, good,’ he says, and touches her gently on the right arm and kisses her forehead. ‘I’ll be right back.’
He turns around just as he’s walking out the front door and sees her curiously stirring at one of the pots on the stove. He steps out onto the front porch and lights a cigarette and looks at his watch. He spends the next hour walking around the neighborhood, always staying on the lookout for new talent, doing business with a couple of folks that he happens across on his route. He returns to the house.
‘Hey,’ he says as he enters in and closes the front door behind him.
‘Hey,’ she calls out from the kitchen. There is a small pile of, what looks like, broken-up pieces of a giant white rice-cake lying next to the sink on a paper towel. She is busy pouring the contents of the second industrial-sized pot into the sink, through the strainer when he walks into the kitchen.
‘How’s it going?’
‘I think it’s going well,’ she says, and motions towards the pile next to the sink, ‘just finished the first one. Draining out the second one right now.’
‘Excellent,’ he says. ‘Thanks again.’ He walks over and looks at the empty pot on the kitchen island. ‘Whoa. Whoa, okay. Here,’ he says, as he picks up the pot and brings it over to her.
‘What. What’s wrong?’ she says as she finishes carefully draining out the contents of the second pot and stands there at the sink holding the strainer and propping up the pot against the counter on its side.
‘See that,’ he says, and holds out the empty pot to where she can see down into it. ‘That’s about two hundred dollars right there,’ and he points down to the white crust that had dried up and formed a ring around the bottom of the pot and midway up where the liquid line was.
‘Yeah, we can’t lose that shit. Gotta make money.’
‘Oh. Okay, sorry ‘bout that.’
‘See, this is too crusted up now. You’re gonna have a lot of trouble getting this shit out.’ He looks down into the pot and shakes his head. ‘You gotta get that shit when it’s still hot. Right after you drain out the liquid.’
‘Gotta get in there with your hands too, and just scrape that shit out.’
‘See,’ and he juts his chin up toward the pot that she’s holding, ‘like, you wanna get that shit right now.’
‘Oh,’ and she looks down at the pot that she has propped up against the counter. ‘Sorry about that.’ She reaches her arm in and starts clawing out warm mounds of white crust.
‘Yeah, like that, see?’ He smiles and points at the first mound that she dumps out on the paper towel. ‘Okay,’ he says, and points to the pot in his hand, ‘we’ll take care of this one later. Just, you know what to do for the next two?’
‘Yeah, got it.’
‘A’ight, cool, cool. I gotta run out again real quick. Just wanted to check on you. Make sure you’re alright.’
‘Yeah, I’m good. I don’t think I have much longer here,’ she says as she scoops another handful of white crust out onto the paper towels and nods back towards the two pots left on the stove.
‘Cool. Thanks again,’ he says, as he rubs her shoulder and stares at her perhaps a little bit longer normal. ‘I got in touch with my guy. He’ll be back Thursday, so you won’t have to worry about doing this again.’
‘It’s no problem,’ she says. ‘It’s the least I can do.’
Then the pimp would leave and go out on another walk and smoke another cigarette and, by the time he came back, the pots would all be drained and the girl would have absorbed enough of the warm white substance through the skin of her fingertips to be in the middle of an intense, jittery crack-cocaine high. The pimp would try to time it to where he got back just after she finished scraping out the last pot. The effects of an involuntary, first time crack-high were unpredictable. Usually he’d find them sitting on the kitchen floor either giggling or staring blankly into space or talking to themselves. Most of them would start to piece together what had happened and would start hitting and yelling at the pimp in indiscernible proclamations. Sometimes, if he was gone too long, they would run away. This had happened twice, but they both came back eventually. They always came back. Once they got a taste of it, they couldn’t stay away. They would come to him for another fix and they wouldn’t have any money and he would gladly inform them of the other forms of payment that he accepted.
So I would go on these routes with Mark and feed the homeless and the downtrodden a couple of nights a week and I would attend his Tuesday night services. I spent most weekends with him, riding around and preaching to people and picking up donated goods and getting supplies for the homeless church and women’s shelter that he was building. He would tell me all these stories about having prophetic visions and about seeing the hand of God work in his life and he would introduce me to all sorts of men and women of God and we would pray together and speak in tongues and I believed in all of it. That’s the hardest part for me to admit; that I believed. But I did believe and I believed that there was something wrong with me and that I needed help because I liked to fuck girls. A lot.
I kept going down to Wilmington a couple of nights a week and spending time with Mark and trying to live a Godly life until I deployed to Iraq again in January of 2005. This time I was gone for 14 months and I worked in logistics so I stayed on base the whole time. I spent most of my free time reading. I read anything I could get my hands on: The Brothers Karamazov, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse Five, 1984. I also read the Bible cover-to-cover for the first time. In hindsight, that was the beginning of the end of my life as a man of God. There were too many discrepancies. Too many contradictions for me to ignore. After reading the Bible in its entirety, I was convinced that anyone who claimed to be a more-than-nominally practicing Christian either A) had never actually read the Bible, B) had read the Bible but were existing under a mental vice-grip of stubborn denial, or C) regardless of what they did or did not believe, had ulterior motives for proclaiming themselves to the world as good, upstanding men and women of God.
So my faith become more and more watered down. By the end of my deployment, if you would have asked me what my religious views were, I probably would have spouted off some vague drivel about a belief in a higher power and left it at that. About a week after I got back, I drove down to Wilmington by myself. It was nighttime and I pulled up to Mark’s house and parked on the street out front. The lights were on and his truck was in the driveway but I didn’t go up to the door. I got out of the car and opened his mailbox and deposited a cashier’s check made out to First Harvest Ministries for $3,500; 10% of what I’d earned while I was in Iraq. I never spoke to Mark again.