Deep in the Well of Savage Salvation

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Empire Taxes

Empire Taxes
I am your Emperor and you will pay me the Taxes you owe

Empire Taxes

Empire Taxes
I am your Emperor. You must support the Realm!

"Chronicle Groupie"
Hyperion February 16, 2007
[This column is a continuation of #432, both written on one post on the home page]


Wednesday was tough; no doubt about it. I went quite a few days with little or no food in me, so that my body was weakened, my normal legendary stamina missing. (And somewhere Skippy the Wonder Lizard chuckled and said, "I got your legendary stamina right here....") My head cold and cough made it difficult to breathe well, something the cold crisp air did nothing to help. (Do you think Hyperion wore a jacket? Not hardly This becomes an issue later. Let's watch!.) Finally, both ankles were swollen, making standing and walking, even with a cane, hazardous.

But like I said, I wanted to talk to you all, so I ventured out. I went to the library, which is brand new and looks like a fancy museum or concert hall. Just beautiful. My architect friend Marcellus would spend hours just staring. When I have more time/energy I will go back and wonder. However, I was just there to try to get online, and maybe pick up a book or three. I also had to get back to the trailer by 5:45 to get my sister to work by 6:00.

So I tried to do too much. I never should have tried to look up books and find them and carry them with a cane. Stupid stupid stupid. The result was that I collapsed in the elevator, and could not for the life of me stand back up. I lay on the floor of the elevator for some ten minutes, feeling helpless, and understanding what it's like for those who are truly imobile. Several times people came to use the elevator, but upon seeing me fled, either because I scared them, or simply the prospect of helping me up seemed too daunting. This made me feel ashamed, and did nothing for the impromptu pity party that had started when the Internet went down.

I finally made it to the car, only to realize it was rush hour traffic. Getting to the trailer to pick up my sister was very difficult, and by that time my blood sugar had dropped to the point where my saliva started to get gummy. (I'm hypoglycemic.) I needed water at least, but a missing pants snafu cut the timeline to get to work razor thin, so we had to race off without any relief.

By the time I dropped said sister off I knew I was in serious trouble. Not only was I unable to create moisture in my mouth, but my eyes started to dry out as well, and fainting became a real fear. I stopped at a run down gas station to use my last dollar fifty to by a sports drink and a $0.25 Little Debby Oatmeal Creme Pie. By now I was fully feeling sorry for myself, and I decided I deserved it.

The gas station I stopped at was interesting in a sociological way. It was 200 feet from a brand new gas station, at the corner of a major intersection and across the street from the Civic Center. The new gas station had a mixed clientele, all sorts of people passing through in their cars. This older gas station was all poor black people from the neighborhood. They'd probably been going there for years, and the appearance of a newer better place right up the street didn't mean anything.

There were drug dealers out front, but they didn't bother me. I went inside and found my drink and my oatmeal cookie. I was pulling my money out (which was all in nickles, dimes and pennies), when it fell to the floor in clatter. I hate it when I drop change. I always get so embarrassed. I went through a period several years ago where if I was going to eat the food I purchased was going to come from change, and you quickly get over that shame. But I guess it comes back, because I felt all the eyes on me as I tried to pick up my money.

Unfortunately this was just one too many events in the afternoon, and I collapsed again, taking a display of Golden Flake potato chips with me. If there's one thing more embarrassing than needing to use change, and dropping said change, it's falling down while picking it up and taking out merchandise in the process. I could have wept.

It was at this point that one of the drug dealers stepped in. He and his "entourage" were in the store to buy various goods, and upon seeing me in my predicament he leaped in to to help. Well, he didn't exactly leap, but he had his people do so, telling them, "Get down there and help that man. Can't you see he's a cripple?"

That stung.

Not the word--I don't consider it negative in the slightest; merely a description--but that it should be applied so easily to me. Yet what was I right then if not crippled? The helpers aided me in retreiving my change and completing the transaction. I shuffled to the door with my cane when I heard the dealer speak again: "Shorty, give that man yo bucket of chicken. Can't you see he can't even afford a coat?"

In this weather (high twenties/low thirties Fahrenheit) it was indeed frigid to these Georgians, and anyone without a coat must be destitute. I was so weakend by this point I didn't even try to explain that I just get hot. One of the guys sullenly handed over a bucket of KFC extra-crispy. This was the greatest thing to ever happen in the history of man. Earlier that day I had told my sister I wanted some KFC, and now here it was.

With a renewed spring in my hobble I made my way to the car. I sucked down a few ounces of "purple" drink and took off.

If only the story ended there.

One block up there was the arena, and standing on the corner were three white women in their twenties, bundled up in designer coats, hats and the works: all worn to show off great figures and fabulous hair. They were holding up signs of some sort, and since it was a red light I strained to see what they were trying to communicate. The signs boiled down to something along the lines of "NO MORE ANIMAL CRULETY" and "ANIMAL RIGHTS NOW."

Putting two and two together I gathered the circus was in town, and these co-eds were braving the tough conditions to show how much they cared about giant elephants. (I'd love to tell you they wore leather boots, but I wasn't close enough to see.)

The three started to cross the street, chatting together, waving at honking cars and drinking some sort of hot beverage from Starbucks. (I'm going to guess soy-milk lattes, but that'd just be conjecture.) From the other direction came a man. He was in his sixties, nominally black, although his skin seemed almost faded. He was dressed ratty, a threadbare coat, and he had his own sign, which I couldn't see at that point because he was facing away from me. The man held out a cup or tin or something, and even from forty feet the familiar "homeless guy spare change pantomime" was obvious. The three girls recoiled as if as one, and one of them went so far as to pull out a can of what looked to be mace and wave it threateningly in the old man's direction.

This happened as the light changed, and as I crawled up to go through the intersection (there was a lot of traffic built up), I cursed them silently in my car. I was already preparing the blistering op/ed piece I'd write about how standing up for animal rights may be laudible (and I'm not even convinced of that), but if you can't treat your fellow human being with dignity and respect.....yada yad yada.

That's when I saw his sign. Unlike the young women, it wasn't cute and bubbly. It was old cardboard, wet and barely legible, but I could have read it from a thousand feet:

"I have come so far. Please help."

Those words cut into me like a blade through my soul. For reasons I can't begin to explain I immediately started crying. (Even sitting here in the hotel lobby I find myself tearing up just writing this.) Ignoring the outraged honks behind me I slammed my car into park in that intersection and got out. I made my way over to the man, and wordlessly pointed to the passenger side of my car, unable to speak.

He looked fearful and wary at first, but then nodded and got in. After we got out of the intersection I managed to compose myself enough to ask the man where he wanted to go. He mentioned a church. Normally I would have no idea where anything was (except the library and the hotel), but as luck (or something) would have it, I had just seen that very church, across the street from the gas station I'd stopped at earlier. I'd never been on that road before, but I was that day and happened to see it.

I turned around and took the man to the church parking lot. He got out with his sign and shuffled over to the steps to sit down. There were services going on inside, but he was either waiting on someone or afraid to go in. I felt like I'd done my duty and prepared to leave. As I turned my head to check my blindspot I saw the bucket of chicken on my rear seat. I sighed and shook my fist silently at God, who was obviously just toying with me at this point.

I got out of the car again and took the bucket of chicken up to the man. I didn't know if he'd accept charity so I didn't ask. I just handed it to him, turned around and got in my car to go home.

On the way I ate my oatmeal cookie.


I don't have a moral for you. A great orator could find one. Hell, I'm usually good for a "draw the lesson together for the folks" kind of thing, but not today. All I know is that I was then and I continue to be struck by the words on that man's sign: "I have come so far. Please help." I have a feeling those words will be important to you this weekend and in the coming days. Look for them and see that they don't go unheard.

February 16, 2006


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