“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
First I want to thank anyone who has read the previous two parts of this dialogue. It has has been a long road but we are at the end. I hope this will bring the whole thing together and it will all make a little more sense if you can force your way through this final installment of “The Neighborhood”.
What I have described thus far is a neighborhood loaded with sinful history and religious influence. Some days the streets were filled with the underbelly of society and its activities, and other days the pedestrian could witness the “Stations of the Cross” wander down the sidewalk. The dichotomy was joyful. Strange things in the neighborhood became such a common aspect of daily behavior that it was difficult to distinguish crazy from normal.
All that’s left is to give you some history about my location. The all window storefront that now exists was originally brick, with a few small windows about 6 feet high. The place was called Sultan’s Roost and was a massage parlor on the first floor, with a brothel in the basement. I knew nothing of this history when I first rented the space, but it wouldn’t have deterred me in any way. There was further evidence of this when we uncovered the remnants of a staircase heading to the basement as we broke down a wall for the expansion. Customers came in during the first few years and found great joy in filling us in on the history that the landlord left out.
One spring day a very tall and weathered looking man came walking in the store with a gate of great confidence. He was dressed like a man that had been working in the trades all his life and maybe a few others lives as well. There was no look of strain or difficulty in his walk, and he absolutely wore time as if he owned it.
He ordered and sat at a table in the window with his back to the street. I saw him looking around the place as a smile creeped into that worn face. When I brought his food, he was glancing up at the tin ceiling that covered the front half of the dining area. The back half didn’t survive the years and a typical 2x4 panel drop ceiling had been installed.
Along the windows on the tin was a row of empty sockets that once held decorative light fixtures. They were about 18 inches apart and ran the entire length of the store. The old guy starting snickering as he told me his piece to this story. “I worked on those lights for over a week, years ago, but couldn’t get ‘em to work. Some old crappy wiring i think. Didn’t hurt that the place was full of girls dressed like strippers.” A bigger grin came over his face. He went on to tell me that there was a short in the line of lights and the girls were getting electric shocks when they would press there bare breasts up against the windows to lure in customers. Something about the sweat on their body and the current going through the windows. “Never did figure it out. Had to disconnect all those lights. Took me another week.” He told me this with the look of a man who had just relived one of his life’s little joys.
So here I sit on a daily basis, in the remnants of an old brothel with nearly every other sin available in a one block radius. And within that same block were all the avenues of redemption needed when you finished. The reflection of a church cross staring at me through those windows and watching over the activities as a reminder of life’s extreme choices.
The rest of this story will be told with a bit of muddling on the specifics. This is only to protect the individuals involved. I am not interested in focusing on any one person’s moral deviations (since we all have them), but rather on the larger picture. As this is a three part story, I will condense the details to three people for some kind of literary consistency.
As I have mentioned, I would park on a mostly empty street first thing in the morning. My car would be parked right at the front door, leaving my path into the store short and quick. It was the second to last - penultimate - (So few occasions to use that word that I had to take this opportunity) parking spot. There was one spot behind, and many ahead of my usual space. Several people used that last space on a regular basis over the years; Some customers, some staff, and some that worked in the neighborhood. After many years, something of a pattern started to emerge and my mathematical brain was looking for a formulaic understanding.
What began as just another oddity on the block was gaining my curiosity. Why were so many of the people that parked in that spot regularly succumbing to a similar fate? As I ran down that famed list of seven, each one of those parkers were crossing off an entry. They were all being enveloped by one of the cardinal sins of the Christian Faith. For some reason my counter had the same impact of a local pub, with peoples troubles flowing my way just as fast as the coffee was flowing their way. The story of each of their lives had infiltrated mine, including the ongoing effects of each discretion.
This even surprised me as I had developed a pattern of only listening for the highlights of some monologues so I could ask about the situation on their next visit. Sorry to let you in on this, but it becomes a necessity for workers in this field. I even started using a similar theory at home, until it ended up in one of the biggest fights I ever had with a woman. She was telling me something about someone or some activity, and apparently I didn’t look as though I was listening. When she called me out on her suspicion, I was still in work mode and answered a little too honestly:
“Are you even listening to me?” she said.
“Of course not”, I replied.
“What! Why not?” she shouted at me.
“Because I know you are just going to repeat yourself anyway, so I’ll just catch it the next time.”
Let me tell you, that was a big mistake. The scars of that error are still noticeable.
Back to those sinful parkers.
“Person 1” used what appeared to be just a parking paradigm, many days a week, for many hours of each day. A seemingly decent person enjoying the prime of their life. Over time, the choices Person 1 made started to deteriorate and effect the lives of others. Questionable financial dealings that were in part to help cover up an adulterous relationship. Plenty of upheaval in the lives of all those involved, but honestly, rather pedestrian. I would say that most people have experienced this with a Kevin Bacon degree of closeness. When all the pieces were broken apart and things settled, Person 1 had moved away from the area and wasn’t to be seen again in the neighborhood.
Nothing at this point made me suspicious, even as “Person 2” started to park there on a regular basis (not at the same time as Person 1) for work. A few years into their parking stint they found themselves in a bind with gambling losses. By all accounts this was an intelligent and moral person, as was Person 1, who had made a few bad choices with worse outcomes. Frankly, it was something that many people could have wandered into with a few bad decisions. The difficulties this created for Person 2 caused yet another departure from the block and they too found themselves elsewhere in life.
“Person 3” had a longer stint at that unfortunate spot, and their time was interspersed over the years. It might be harder to describe the details of Person 3’s fall from grace, but I will tell you that it was a combination of envy, wrath, and pride, covering the bottom three of that list of seven mortal sins. This one reminded me of the Mayor in the movie “The Nighmare Before Christmas”. You just never knew which half of that spinning face you were working with on any given day. Kind of a crap shoot every time, except the odds of losing were about 50% with each roll of these dice.
Three different individuals parking in the same spot for long periods of time. Each succumbing to one of the cardinal sins of the Christian world. Even the store itself was once a house of sin. The reflection of that cross seemed to wait patiently as the dark side danced on our streets, taking notes and preparing to be called upon.
The totality of this came together for me one spring morning as I stood outside enjoying the weather. I glanced down to investigate a foul odor consuming the space around me and shook my head at the storm grate on street. It was not the first time I had noticed the grate but it was at that moment that things fell into place. I had a long history with that damn hole in the ground, and it was stinking up my sidewalk again.
My issues with that abyss began with the expansion and the new bathroom. Someone made a mistake over the years with the plumbing and every time we had a hard rain the water would pool up on the street and cause quite a bit of standing water. This quickly became a noticeable problem as my new bathroom would change into a bidet. Water from the toilet would start ebbing and receding with such force that it created a Geiser coming out of the commode and soak the bathroom, and anyone in it at that time. Thankfully it was a rarity to have someone seated when this happened and we quickly learned to close the room for “repairs” when a strong rain fell.
Inquiries were made to fix this anomaly but it didn’t come to any resolve. The landlord blamed the city, the city blamed the county, the county blamed my plumber, and my plumber blamed all of them. The problem got so bad that the bathrooms on the second floor had the same affliction on occasion. We all learned later that a back flow preventer might solve this issue but who would pay for this always stalled the possible solution. Why the sewage pipes and drain pipes were connected is what troubled me, but I’m no contractor.
So there I stood, over the hole in the ground that caused so many internal problems at the store. Staring at a parking meter that I was certain had caused external problems for the people that parked there too long or too often. I was certain that damn meter and that hole in the ground were related. Some connection existed right where I was standing.
A good logician would question correlation vs causation here, but we all know that logicians make good actuaries but poor story tellers. And for those of you who would say the argument I am insinuated is “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc”, I say to you (with too much latin background) that my conclusions came over a 15 year period and with a sample size that satisfies my own mathematical background. So, “Plthhtthht”. Go ahead, refute that argument.
It was at that moment that it all came together for me. My “AHA! “ moment. What we had here was a location in the world where all the evils of pandora’s box were seeping out. A place being watched over by the forces of good. And just like the anthropomorphic vampire unable to see it’s own reflection, these evils cannot see the reflections of forces of good watching over them. What we had here my friends was a “Portal of Evil”. That’s what was causing all this disruption in the neighborhood and to those peoples’ lives. The reflection of that cross only provided further proof of this hypothesis, as I want to believe that evil doesn't go unnoticed. If there is any “Portal of Evil” in this world, it isn’t without the knowledge of those opposite forces. At least not for long.
Look, let me tell you that I am not one to whole heartily believe in any one, or all, of the structures of faith in this world, but I am also not wiling to universally dismiss them either.
For me, this was it. Everything had come together. This little spot on our block was the cause of all the unexplainable issues that surrounded our neighborhood. A “Portal of Evil”. I repeat that for effect. Yup, I had my answers. Temptation was oozing out from that hole in the ground and infecting the locals. The evil below was becoming a parasite on the backs of good people. Very “Fire and Brimstone”, I know, but since brimstone in an old name for sulfur, and it was that stench that starting me thinking, I think it is all just more evidence.
Although I stood directly above this menace of the world, I was suddenly at ease. I didn’t run away but stood there pondering the power of this portal (sorry, I but I love an alliteration), and stared at the cross of the church in the windows.
I am aware of the fantastical nature of this tale and the conclusions I have drawn. I am aware that that many will doubt it’s authenticity and the causality of the events. This is your right and I may have had the same opinion if I had walked away from the spot a moment earlier. Instead I placed my hand on that meter to fully embrace the moment and see if I could sense any of the forces I was convinced were affecting my neighborhood. As I moved my hand away with no difference in energy or awareness, I looked closely at that meter for the first time in 15 years.
How had I never noticed? I had gotten tickets at this spot. It had been staring at me all these years. The meter was numbered “666”. The mark of the beast. “. . . And his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” - Revelaiton 13:18 (I secretly have always wanted to have one Bible quote in my arsenal). Hmmmm. . . causation or correlation? Post hoc, ergo propter hoc? My ass! I stand by my conclusions. Maybe not one of the mythical gateways to hell, but certainly A “Portal of Evil”, and right in front of my store.
All of what I have told you is true, and I am sorry to report that the city has removed the meters on that block in favor of the new centralized parking systems. I will look for additional proof for potential doubters,
Person 1,2 and 3 have all gone on to live peaceful lives, that, as far as I can tell do not involve and of the original deviances mentioned above. My own fall from grace could be included, but I have another tale (in another posting) to tell about the effects of that portal on my life.
Believe what you will, but I’m afraid you will not convince me of anything other than that which I have concluded here in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of the State Street historic section and the portal of evil.