Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Seventh Day – Ezra Ezra-Nehemiah 1.1

So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. ~ Genesis 3:24

Something strange was in the air. You would think it’s easy for me to say that now as I look back, but even on that day I knew something strange was happening and that is odd. It wasn't just because it was unusually cold for being August in New York, but the air wasn't coming in from the great lakes like one would expect when it was just too cold to explain. No the unusual, it just happened and there wasn't a bit of wind or even a cloud in the sky. The weatherman couldn’t explain it. The college students that were returning couldn’t explain it. Come to think of it my eighty two years of weather experience couldn’t explain it. It was just plain cold.

The air did smell fresh though, and I like that. From my vantage point out front of my coffee shop, it looked just like August; it just didn’t feel like it. Now here is where I wandered off on you though, because I have now spent more time talking about that cold August day than I really did think about it at the time. I will get back to talking about the newspaper in my hands that I was really paying attention to because that is probably more interesting. I personally like to start every day with my newspaper and my coffee. Despite the cold I was doing this day just like every other one leading up to it. I wish I could say that I spent the next several days doing it, but lets not get too far ahead of ourselves. Nope, I can’t do that and this is why I have chosen to sit down and write this story. It might change you the way it has me.

You see my newspaper that morning was talking about election coverage. All the people who want to be president were gearing up to take on Iowa and New Hampshire, those that survived that would be on to South Carolina. Here, in New York, our primaries haven’t been all that eventful, but the last few were still dogfights when our primary rolled around. I decided I was going to pay attention to this one a little more than I had the ones in the past. At least that way when I was complaining about who won, I could at least say I participated and all. I breezed past the weather forecast, hazy hot and humid, but I already explained how useful that was. I’ll work on the crossword puzzle when I am finished reading. I have finished every crossword puzzle without help for over twenty years, and I have never met anyone that could say that.

I may as well dwell on that for a moment. I finished every crossword puzzle for the twenty years before that too. Those I didn't do all by myself because I had my favorite girl interjecting an answer here and there over my shoulder then. Unfortunately for me, God needed her upstairs a bit ahead of myself, and who can blame him? She to this day is still my favorite girl, and that will never change. Now I can see where many would think twenty years isn't a bit at all but a bit it is when you have lived eighty two years. As a matter of record, I have outlived all my siblings and all my beautiful Eleanor’s siblings, but am happy to report that so far I have not outlived any of my children. No, they are all doing well, and have gone on to have spouses of their own and I am happy to say that Eleanor and I set a wonderful example. I have six children, who have had six marriages, and no divorces.

My youngest brother died just last year and it was pretty sad on me. He battled the big C for a few years and then gave up. I actually mean, gave up, because I was with him the night before and he looked me dead in the eyes and said, "You know God is punishing you with a long life don't you?" and I was a bit aghast at that. In my upbringing God just doesn't have the time necessary to punish anyone, much less me. I've had some hard times just like every other person who has ever walked this earth, and I am happy to report that I have had a lot more share of good times than most. I didn't feel it was necessary to argue that fact with a dying man, and he did just that before I could come back and see him the next day.

I don't even know where I am going with this, so let me start over and tell you all that when I wrote “my coffee shop” earlier, I meant, I actually own it. I realize that everyone personalizes everything that they do so just in case you thought because I sit out front of the place, I call it mine; I am saying that it is mine so I sit out front of it. People expect that out of me, and they have for the last fourteen years since I opened the shop in an old sandwich shop. I really just wanted a place to sit and drink coffee that wasn't Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, and I needed something to do because sitting around wishing I would pass away was an insult to the people who loved me, and with a few of my siblings and my mother left at the time, it was a wise idea. By the amount of business that goes through here, and the fact that the Starbucks went under because of it too, I wasn't the only one who wanted my coffee.

Oh there goes my manners, considering I’ve read so many book at this point in my life, I haven’t even learned to paint the picture correctly. I start this off acting like you are looking at me, and know that I happen to be black. Yes, I am a black man, and that should also tell you why I expected you to be amazed that I have lived this long. Black men unfortunately have lost the genetic lottery when it comes to longevity, but I am doing well, and I accredit this to clean living. I decided after my wife died and I finally stopped wanting to just head off after her that I would get in better shape. I switched to light beer and light cigarettes and I am in better shape than a lot of professional athletes. Well the professional athletes I watched as a kid anyway that stuck to bourbon and cigars.

I probably could have kept the whole cigarettes thing from you, but it plays a part in this story too. I don’t like to lie about who I am, but sometimes you have to keep parts of a story out so that you aren't influencing the younger generations. After thirty years of being a well respected college professor, I shouldn't assume that my smoking influenced anyone anyway. The entire time I was teaching economics, the younger folks would remind me that I shouldn't smoke. Now that my coffee shop is the "in place" just off campus of the college I used to teach at, I have the younger generation walking by me day in day out telling me I shouldn't smoke. I used to like to remind people how old I am and that I should be allowed to smoke a cigarette now and then. One of my own employees pointed out that I could be this old and not wheezing like an old fool when I went up and down the stairs to carry a roast down. Touché, but I still smoke.

It’s probably the professor in me that goes on and on about things that aren’t all that important but who am I to decide what is and is not important? Until that day I was sitting out front of my coffee shop as I started explaining, I thought I wasn’t all that important. I was comfortable, yes and I had done a lot of good things in my life, but I didn’t solve any medical problems. I didn't invent anything, unless you include the sticky buns that we go through pretty quickly every day, but I stole that recipe from Eleanor's mother. Come to think of it, people have told me that that is a very important part of their day, so I've played a minor part in lives outside of teaching them economics. Boy was I in for a shock.

Now I am six foot six inches tall, and I weigh in at a really healthy two hundred and thirty five pounds. In my day I was a good football player. This was back when you could pay your way through a good Ivy League school with that, and the color of my skin didn't preclude me from that, because the Ivy league schools were starting to integrate and were actually desperate for a smarty farty like me. Sorry that's what the girl at the supermarket calls me. Cigarette and beer jokes aside, when I leave here most mornings I head over to the gym at my old College and I can still throw the weight around. It’s a good excuse to stay around the young minds that used to keep me young, without having to keep renewing my tenure credits. That didn’t make me feel very young, trust me. Mind you, this background does become important in a moment.

It was at this time that the man that stood over me, and asked me if I had a cigarette made me feel very small. Not just because he had a few inches on me, and his arms were roughly the same size around as the crown of my head, but he just made me feel small. You ever meet a person that has a stature? You can’t explain the stature, but it is there and it projects from them. His hair was very long, and in a single ponytail in the back, but managed to fall down to a length where I am sure he would sit on it. His face was darkened as if he had a really good tan, but I was thinking almost instantly that he must have been a little Middle Eastern. His voice was like a whisper that carried, and you knew the minute that you heard it, that should he use it in anger, it would make a lion’s roar seem trivial. I handed him my pack with the match book inside the plastic that wrapped the pack.

He took a cigarette from the package and placed it to his lips, the matches were unnecessary as he flipped open an old scrimshaw Zippo that he had produced from his jacket to light it. He then took a long drag from it as if he was breathing in life itself. Reminds me of what I look like when I get out of the gym. Proper upbringing required that I offer him the seat next to me at the table, and I offered to buy him a coffee. He smiled and said “I’d love one thank you,” which had me leaning back to look in the front door and waving at Ruby as she was cleaning a table.

“Ruby can you get my friend …” I trailed off as I hadn’t gotten his name.

“Mike,” he said instinctively knowing what I was delaying for.

“My friend, Mike a coffee please,” which had Ruby nodding and heading over to the coffee counter. I realized the next thing to do would be to offer my name back, “My name is Morris Edwards, but everyone calls me Ed,” and I offered him my hand. He took it and almost like he was making sure he didn’t break it, shook it cordially.

Ruby came out with a cup of hot coffee and placed it in front of the stranger, who smiled at her and then took a rather large gulp of it without putting any cream or sugar in it. Now I like my coffee strong and black, and have on occasion joked that I am what I drink, but the lack of screaming that should have accompanied nearly two hundred degrees of coffee, being swallowed so quickly, didn't happen. This is another hindsight moment because it didn't faze me at the time, because I was still impressed by his imposing stature. I spoke up again, “Well I know everyone who lives in Keuka, and I haven’t seen you before. What brings you around?”

He looked at me like he didn’t actually know the answer to that. Maybe he didn’t know how to respond. He smiled, and I realized that it takes a little effort for this man to smile. It’s not that it is an unattractive smile, it just appeared to be a bit robotic in nature. You know there is a story behind that, but it was time for a different story as he replied, “I have business at the College,” and then he left it there, as he had another drink of the coffee, that was still steaming as if it was still in the upper ranges of heat. I was still too intrigued with the man to wonder where the screaming was.

Of course he said the magic word with me, "college" and I inquired if he needed any help getting around my old school. He pondered that for a bit and then asked, “Do you know Professor Lacey?” and I nodded.

“Professor Lacey is the head of Theology,” and without saying anymore he was shaking his head back and forth as if he heard a good joke. I wish he had let me in on it, but instead I continued to speak, “I never really got along with him all that well, but I can surely show you how to get to his office if you would like?”

Again that smile, “I know exactly how to find him, but if you never got along with him, it must be because you are a good judge of character,” and he pat me on the back. Heavens I was right about him not wanting to crush my hand, because he almost knocked the teeth out of my mouth. I wish I could say that my teeth are as old as I am, but they are about seventy six years younger. “The last time we were in the same location we had to be separated,” and while he was saying that he pulled a book out of the inside of his coat that was quite familiar to me. He opened it up and I could see the chapter that he flipped into the book of Genesis.

In my utter nosiness I started looking at the words in the book. They were a bit fancy in nature, but once my eyes focused in on them I could see the words. They were a bit different in their arrangement so I figured to myself that it was one of those newer bibles. Of course the worn leather cover that surrounded it would have told me differently had I focused more on it, and less on the words. Oh Lord it is rude to read over other people's shoulders I know, but I can't help myself I am so typical in my need to read things, and worse than that I always had the tendency to read everything out loud. This time was no different and I did do it softly but out loud all the same, "yea, he casteth out the man, and causeth to dwell at the east of the garden of Eden the cherubs and the flame of the sword which is turning itself round to guard the way of the tree of life …”

Now I received the full strength of this ox of a man, and my wrist felt like it was about to break as he launched his hand out and grabbed me as if it were instinct, “You can read that?!” he blurted out, with a look of confusion all over him. .. To Be Continued