December 24, 1991

It was December 24 1991 and I was in Perris, California standing as broad as I could with tears rolling down my face singing “Silent Night” in a small church on Christmas Eve. It was on D Street in the small desert town and roughly thirty-five to forty people shared the same tattered white washed wooden clapboard place of worship with me on that holy night. As I tilted my head to each side of me I could see that most of the people had their hands up as they sang. Most were dressed in mishmash clothing. Some even had ropes tied around their waist to hold up the obvious oversized pants they had on. I would say more than half had each shirt sleeve rolled up two or three times so that their hands wouldn’t disappear. Candle lights flickered in the dark and pitched dancing lights throughout the small chapel. It looked to me that this night’s parishioners were a Heinz 57 of forgotten souls. There they were though in church worshipping a God I really didn’t care to think about. This night was the first Christmas Eve I had ever spent away from my family. I was 29 years old and I was numb from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. As I sang in that small church that night I stared at the festive altar all decorated with a kind of half *** nativity scene thinking about the days leading up to how I had gotten to where I was at this exact moment.
“Anaheim” the train conductor roared out with a rather rude awakening tone. I looked at my watch and it read roughly six thirty am. The first thing I thought was damn doesn’t that guy have a morning voice? I got up fast as I could because it seemed by the chaotic atmosphere things moved quickly when departing a train. I grabbed my bags and headed for the front of the train car I was in. Soon as my dirty shoes hit the pavement at the Amtrak Station the train was lurching forward and was on its way again. As the train left you could see a small plume of white smoke that smelled like burning diesel. I looked around and studied the landscape. It appeared that I was in the parking lot of some kind of sports stadium. I looked around and saw the same emblem everywhere. It was the letter A with a half circle around it. Then it made sense I was in the parking lot at the Anaheim Angels baseball Stadium. I immediately took stock of my current situation. I had been wearing the same clothes for almost three days, I had two bags of my belongings with me, I had maybe twenty bucks to my name and I needed to find this place that took in strangers from all over the world. The place I was looking for was a church group my mom had seen on that religious television station. You know the one. The one with the woman that has the blue eagle’s nest size head of hair stacked to the proverbial heavens and wears more makeup than Alice Cooper. Then there is her husband that one dude that looks like a walking corpse with some serious snow white Elvis style hair. I mean it ran through my head as I stood around in the bright California sun that morning; was I really here half way across the United States because my mom had a vision watching these two clowns on T.V.? How could she have taken this all so serious? My mom was watching the ‘Holy Roller Hour’ one night after Thanksgiving and I guess that particular night’s show there was a guest pastor on talking about his worldwide ministry that was based out of Anaheim. A few days later my mom told me about the pastor and his church as she discussed with me the possibility of me going there to get help. Hell No! I am sure that was my first response. Then my mom discussed it with the rest of my brothers and sisters. Next thing you know here I was in all my semi glory. It wasn’t that California was not a cool place to be. It was that it was somewhere that I didn’t want to be! Hell, it could have been anywhere in the fifty states. All I knew is I only wanted to be home. I mean being from Port Arthur, Texas wasn’t like some big trophy you proudly displayed but at least it was my hometown. It was the only place I had really ever known.
I hollered for a taxi and about ten car doors opened at the same time. Heck, I could have whispered and still at least three car doors would have opened. There was a sea of taxi cabs in all different colors. It had been my experience that most taxi cabs were yellow. I guess not in California. You pick a color and there was a cab to match. As I jumped in the backseat of the taxi with my bags I asked the driver if he knew the address I gave him. To my surprise he quickly shot back that he knew exactly where I wanted to go and then he also told me that I wasn’t his first paying customer that he had dropped there. As we drove off to what looked like a cement jungle of twisted streets and highways we made small talk. The cab seemed to drive itself as the driver chatted from behind the wheel about crap I couldn’t understand or care less about. The church was roughly six miles away he said. As we pulled up to my destination I looked around for anything that resembled a church. Nothing. I paid the driver and with hesitation crawled out of the backseat into the middle of what looked to me like a ghetto. Damn this can’t be the right place! There was Mexican Folkloric music coming from everywhere straight into my ears. The sounds and scent were overwhelming. Off in the distance you could smell the signature aroma of carne asada grilling over an open fire and you could also see the bright pastel patent colors of any good Mexican barrio in America painted on houses as far as the eye could see. Holy crap! The taxi took me too far and dropped me straight into Los Angeles. However upon further inspection I started to look at the dark blue street signs that lined the roads. They all read their perspective street name and were then emblazoned with the noticeable Anaheim City Limits in bright white colors. I looked up and there in front of me was a huge white warehouse looking building. You know the look; all brick and very few windows. I gazed up at the big painted sign and that assured me, I was at the right place. I start thinking great; I traveled almost two thousand miles for this? Where was the big church like building that is supposed to house this worldwide ministry? Where were all the medicinal holy rolling looking employees of the church? I looked for about five minutes from the very spot where I had first got out the taxi and I saw no one. Not one single person was out and about and it was seventy-thirty or so in the morning. I thought to myself as I half heartedly smiled this is too weird. I walked around the corner of the building and noticed two huge roll up steel heavy duty garage doors about twelve feet high. They were both rolled half way down so that entry was easily possible. As I walked up to the entrance I was immediately greeted by a guy that seemed to appear out of nowhere. He had long sandy brown hair and he held a skateboard in one hand. He threw his hand out in a flash to shake my hand. I said, “Hello” and in an even tone the guy asked me if I was looking to go to the ranch. I told him a two minute version of how I got here and why I was there. He said,”Yep I understand but you will be going to the church service tonight first and then afterward you head out to the ranch.” He told me as well that church doesn’t start until six o’clock that evening. Then the guy disappeared back inside the warehouse and I was left wondering what I was going to do for next ten hours. Great! As I walked to what looked like a park in the distance I thought to myself, Ranch? What the hell is the ranch? It turned out that as I walked further that it was a park. The park was full of people. Not like you think though, they weren’t playing football or swinging on a swing set. Most of the people in the park were either sleeping in makeshift campsites or they were just getting up eating a bit of food and cleaning themselves off. It was like hobo city in the middle of Anaheim. I indulged myself and pictured in my mind a mini Woodstock festival. There were people taking street showers under three gallon jugs of water, hobos sleeping behind plastic garbage bags hung up like curtains between trees and others picking food out of the park dumpster. Breakfast time I guess. A heavy sigh shuddered through my tired body. I thought what is really going on? Again, how could this have happened to me? I was no loser. Today however it was apparent that I was the loser. The first twenty-nine years of my life had broke my spirit and had taken me to a place of homelessness to a park that could be halfway around the world as far I was concerned. I was so tired that I had to lie down and sleep. As I curled up and threw my two bags under me I thought that I wished this could be the last time I had to close my eyes. In my heart I feared opening them more than anything.
I woke and yes I opened my eyes. It was dusk and the California sky was just magnificent. It had so many colors in it my eyes were as wide as quarters trying to take it all in. I just stared off into the sky and got lost. Then I got found rather rudely by some tramp looking guy just shoving me aside as he made his way to the noise I could now hear in the background of the evening. I picked up my bags and followed what looked like the whole off the “park people” making their way to the music. As I got closer I could see the once halfway open large garage doors now raised to the ceiling. Strobe lighting and the ever increasing loud music kinda sucked the wind out of me. Was this a church or a mosh pit party? I focused on the spectacle as I walked in and it was just loud. There were roughly three thousand people inside and about five hundred or so mingling outside. I was shocked. I could see this was nothing I had ever experienced before and I was twenty-nine years old! I somehow found an inch or two of seating on the edge of some bleachers. I stared like a wide eyed dope fiend at the church service I was witnessing. I shut my eyes just waiting for the noise to stop. After what seemed like an eternity the loudness stopped. I couldn’t really see the stage but I did hear what I suppose was the pastor speaking. He was talking about a story in the bible that I remembered as a kid. I had forgotten most of it but when he said, “Meshach, Shadrach and a Big Negro were in the fire” I knew something was different besides the theatrical trappings. Heck, even the pastor was strange. Did I hear that right? Did he say,”A big Negro?” Shouldn’t that have been Abednego? I tuned out and after about two hours the warehouse church was empty except for a few stragglers. I asked someone where I needed to be and I was pointed in the direction to some people that were grouped together with baggage and backpacks. They all looked like me. Not in appearance but more sadly in countenance. Woeful and uncertain are the two best words to describe the people that now unfortunately included me as well. We all were approached by a frail looking skin and bones guy that had silver round wire rim glasses. He told us to grab our things and follow him. No one said a thing. So that means I had to say something. I asked where we were going and the only reply I got was ‘the Ranch.’ What freaking Ranch I thought. When we got to the truck it had started to rain a little. So I start thinking there are about twelve of us and we are going in a truck. It was raining and since night had fallen so had the temperature. It was cold! So everyone piled into the back of the truck and off we went. I spoke to no one and looked down for what seemed like an hour as I froze my *** off and cried like a baby inside my mind. When I did look up we had turned down an old dirt road you could miss in a second if you didn’t know it was there. We pulled into what I realized now was the ranch. It was a hardscrabble dirt two or three acre clearing in the middle of nowhere. As we bounded out of the truck we noticed an old mobile home that looked like it has seen better days and off to the right of it looked like a barn. The only trees in sight were huge tall eucalyptus trees that stretched to the heavens. The driver knocked on the mobile home door and a one legged gent with long hair and crutches answered the door. My mouth was agape at the very forces that were taking place in my life. Then another dude walks up behind him and he looked like he had just been shot of a cannon. They were the overseers of the ranch. God help me! We were ushered into the barn which was a bunkhouse really. It looked like a scene out of a German death camp. There were bunks everywhere. Wooden bunks that looked like they had been all nailed together in about three minutes. There was an open make shift stove that was burning wood and it kept the place warm. I made my way to the only open bunk I could find and climbed and got in. As I tried to settle myself I looked around at what must have been forty other guys all trying to sleep amidst the snoring and the overpowering nasty smell you could almost taste. This sucks! How the hell did this happen? I was exhausted and felt myself falling fast asleep but before I did I looked at the bunk below me. The guy in the bunk below me was completely wet with sweat. You could see his skin glistening in what little light the fire provided. He said one sentence. “Don’t mind me I am kicking heroin.” I said something stupid I am sure and quickly looked away. I awoke to the sound of a loud cow bell ringing all across the small bunk house. I looked at my watch and it read six o’clock in the morning. You didn’t have a choice to get up. You had to dress and get out to the fire pit for Morning Prayer. After prayer we ate what was to be our every morning breakfast; oatmeal and some really hard bread. Chores were then delegated. Rake the dirt, clean the fire pit, sweep the dirt floor in the bunkhouse and my personal favorite; water boiler duty so that each person could have a two bucket hot shower. Rake the dirt! I was told the good news eventually by peg leg that I could leave anytime I wanted. However, the bad news was that I was buried in the middle of the California desert town of Perris. Perris is a small city where I would later learn that meth was the leading industry in town. As the weekend approached we were told that we would attend church in town every Sunday night. So after three weeks there I was in church on Christmas Eve wondering if my life would ever include the people I loved and had hurt so much. I was stronger than everyone thought. I will not let this define me. I am Murphy damn it! As I sang Holy Night that night I resolved that this would be the last time I would be alienated from the only world I wanted. I wanted to go home. That wasn’t going to happen tonight I thought. So I cried for the loss of what I truly allowed to happen to me. Here I was wretched and in fear at a crossroads in my life that had no signs and a road ahead of me that looked as if it went on for miles.
“Silent night, holy night, all is calm....”
Longhorn1962 Longhorn1962
46-50, M
May 16, 2012