honk if you’ve been hoodwinked
Brushes with fame are usually rare, or infrequent at best. Not enough of us experience a brush with fame: those brief and fleeting moments when we're unexpectedly thrown directly into, or at least near, some sort of spotlight. I guess I've been lucky, as I've had numerous such occasions, and as a result have probably been innocently depriving others of these moments. Such is fate. Four memorable occasions come to mind immediately.
The first was doing a live, guest-in-studio, radio interview with Musa Maranov: MIR space station cosmonaut and record holder at the time for most days spent in space. I was surprised Musa was just a regular guy and that we shared some anxiety: his of being interviewed live on the radio in a non-native language, and mine being in the company of such a famous person. The interview went well, regardless.
A wedding and reception provided the backdrop for close encounter of note number two. While schmoozing and waiting for the officiate to arrive, I couldn't help but notice what appeared to be spooks of the government variety walking around and looking generally uptight. With innocent brashness I approached one of them and asked, "Are you a spook?" A terse suggestion was the response to my question, so I blended back in with the masses, only to find myself brushing elbows with none other than former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon's foreign policy crutch, em...advisor, one Dr. Henry Kissinger.
Then there was the time a drunk in a bar was absolutely certain I was Thor, the Norse mythological God of Thunder. Amused by this case of mistaken identity and an interesting coincidence, I slowly raised the sleeve of my leather motorcycle jacket to reveal a wrap around lightning bolt tattoo adorning my right wrist. This was all the confirmation he needed, if his bug eyed look of astonishment was any indicator. "You ARE Thor!" he shouted. I blushed, knowing full well that my father's name is Arthur, not Odin.
Number four of this series happened when I was asked to be a guest speaker at a rehabilitation facility. A client of the facility came up to me afterwards and called me Greg. "Greg?" I queried. "Greg Allman!" he replied. Another case of mistaken identity. "No, I'm not Greg Allman. I'm actually Jimi Hendrix" was my reply, which was answered with a befuddled look from the client. I nearly felt a little guilt for that retort, but there was an element of humor in it, even though lost in the translation.
All four were memorable moments; indeed, though they pale in comparison to the event I'm about to describe.
I remember telling my girlfriend Jane this story while driving to meet her parents for the first time. Although I felt our relationship was on solid enough ground that telling this story wouldn't upset our plans for the future, I couldn't resist asking her afterwards, "Do you still love me?" She assured me she did. Two weeks later we were married. After being married for two months and sharing countless autobiographical like-episodes with her, we're still married, though she hasn't shared this particular piece of my history with her parents. Not yet, anyway ...
As we were driving on Route 2 east through Colchester, I couldn't help but notice the mysterious disappearance of some religious person or group's effort to "spread the word." It wasn't too long ago that on the north side of the highway on the side of a sand hill were big letters spelling out "Jesus Loves You." And there was a cross on the top of the hill.
"Did I ever tell you about the time ..." was the lead in; Jane responded "No." and the story unfolded like it is about to now ...
I had always been curious about what I will refer to as, for lack of a better name, the Jesus Loves You Sand Hill. It's not something one would expect to see in rural eastern Connecticut. Cows? Yes. Barns? Certainly. Bucolic vistas? Without a doubt. But a cross atop a sand hill with Jesus Loves You on the facing incline?
Two or three years ago I had been commuting to Colchester with my brother in law Rich on a four or five day job. Seeing the Jesus Loves You Sand Hill on these rides to and from the work site tickled my curiosity no end. I wondered what else might be up there ...
On the last day of the job, we finished up early. As we headed back to the highway, Rich was becoming increasingly frustrated with the spotty-at-best cell phone coverage in the area, as he had some business to conduct and had lost several calls to that pesky "No Service" display message. Be it by coincidence or divine intervention, cell phone service returned just as we got on the highway and were approaching the base of Jesus Loves You Sand Hill. "Finally!" he exclaimed, delighted he could now make those needed calls, and added "I'm going to be a while on the phone. If you want to check out that damn hill, go for it."
It was a dream come true, this opportunity to visit a long time curiosity of mine. At last: a chance to check out this domestic Holy Land, if you will, however low rent, Spartan and potentially cheesy it may or may not be!
I suspect that Rich was even a tad curious about what was up on that hill, as I had been all cranked up about it since we had started that job several days earlier and spoke frequently about it. He also probably figured that if he stopped and let me go check it out, it would at least shut me up for a while.
So I piled out of the truck and made my way over to the hill, gazing at the cross the whole time. Climbing the incline was reminiscent of adventures as a kid, though my ascent was somewhat slower and deliberate these many years later and sand wasn't filling sneakers, as work boots now adorned my feet. As I passed the wooden letters spelling out "Jesus Loves You," a song crept into my head that I don't remember hearing in church. And I drew a peculiar image of the letters spelling out "Hollywood" out west ...
Though seemingly innocent at the time, my singing "You might not see him in person, but he'll see you just the same..." from the ZZ Top classic Jesus Just Left Chicago as I climbed up the sand hill was an audio harbinger that some mischief was about to occur.
Sitting up there was what initially appeared from the highway to be a satellite dish, which I jokingly imagined as being part of a high speed data link to Heaven or God. However, once atop the hill it was obvious this was an illusion, like so many things we think we see.
Well, no radar, communications or data dish. Just a hunk of old scrap metal, probably the torched off end of a tank of some sort. So much for my theory about there being a high speed data link from terrestrial-based mortals to Heaven and Numero Uno. Sigh. There was scrap metal, some odd pieces of wood scattered around, the cross of course, and sand. Thinking that the jaunt up Jesus Loves You Sand Hill was drawing to a close, I turned around to check out the view from this modest 40 or 50-foot prominence. Having seen the hill countless times from a moving vehicle down there on the highway, I'd now have a chance to see what the cars and trucks looked like from atop The Hill.
Gazing west and watching the passing traffic is when it happened: something snapped.
It was then that I put the shoe, work boot or sandal on the other foot, so to speak, and imagined being in one of those passing cars on Route 2 eastbound and seeing a tall, lanky, long haired man standing next to the cross on top of Jesus Loves You Sand Hill. The moment had arrived, I was there, and no clouds above threatened lightning ...
So I waved at the passing cars.
Then it happened: a miracle of sorts. People in the cars started waving back. Some even honked their horns. Others flashed their headlights. And a daring few multi-tasked all three! That was just enough audible and visual feedback I needed to realize this was some sort of significant event - a once in a lifetime opportunity that only a fool wouldn't take full advantage of.
I changed to a different style: long, wide, sweeping and exaggerated waves to the passing motorists. And I smiled and nodded my head, as if in benevolent approval of some sort. Then switching arms. Finally waving with both hands.
Swimming in the warm, mental waters of this sea of recognition, albeit mistaken recognition and being in communion with my people, thoughts drifted to an imaginary kitchen scenario - a commuter reflecting on the day's Route 2 Miracle ...
"Honey, I'm a changed man. You know that Jesus Loves You thing with the cross and everything on Route 2 and how it says in the Bible that someday Jesus will return? Well he has returned and is in Colchester! On the ride home tonight Jesus was on top of the hill and he waved at me! He wasn't in a robe or anything, he looked like, uh ... a hippie: long strawberry blonde hair, not brown; cut-off jeans, white muscle tee shirt, red bandana ... didn't have a beard like in the pictures at church. He had a goatee, though. And remember that song on our Johnny Cash album "Jesus Was A Carpenter?" Well damned if he isn't a carpenter! He even had a hammer slung in a tool holster on his tool belt. He must be self-conscious about the scars on his feet, though, 'cuz he was wearing 8-inch high leather work boots. I am a witness, and no, I haven’t been drinking.”
Incessant honking of a familiar horn tone and the roar of an engine coming to life and revving up shook be to my senses, realizing that Rich must have completed whatever phone calls he needed to make, and was ready and itching to blast off towards Hartford and beyond. After taking one final look to the west, I descended Jesus Loves You Sand Hill and got in the truck.
As the vehicle impatiently lurched forward, Rich, smirking and shaking his head from side to side remarked, "I don't believe you."
I fired back in response "I'm a little disappointed with that last remark. I thought I knew you better than that."
"What? Saying that I don't believe you?" he queried.
"Yeah. It sounds like you're telling me that you're not a believer" I retorted.
Rich's eyes shifted sideways from the road ahead, glared at me suspiciously, then returned his attention to the highway.
"You heard them honking their horns, didn't you?" I asked.
"Nobody could seriously think they saw Jesus on that hill!" was Rich's volley.
"Well convince them of that" was all I could respond with, pointing at the cars in the opposing lanes of Route 2 traffic.
We both chuckled and the ride home went smooth as silk, even though getting caught in what otherwise could have been a highly aggravating case of vehicular flow constipation in a classic Hartford rush hour traffic jam. Peace was with us ...
Though extremely disjointed from this story, yet distantly and oddly related, consider the following. Years prior to the Jesus Mountain Incident, while undergoing what I suspect some close friends, if asked, would characterize as much needed psychotherapy, the doctor du jour asked me what I thought, and continue to think of as, a peculiar question. Doctor Zap was the moniker he unwittingly had pinned on his back by a fellow client I met quite by accident some time later. This fellow client tipped me off to the good doctor's penchant for prescribing and administering electro-shock therapy, an avenue that, fortunately, neither one of us had to traverse. Anyway, Doctor Zap asked me: "Do you think of yourself as being Jesus Christ?" I thought this was an odd question, and countered, "Why do you ask?" He mumbled something about my beard, length of my hair, and clothing. Answering his question with the question "Do you think of yourself as being Sigmund Freud?" brought that therapy session to an hasty close. Though the office did not physically expand, in sessions to follow there seemed to be significantly more distance between doctor and client.
Now I didn't study very much for my confirmation, em ... review by peers and elders in the Protestant Church way back in the mid 1960s. When the minister told us to memorize all the books of both Old and New Testaments during the pre-confirmation classes we had, I realized that I was going to have to figure out some sort of scam to get around this, because sure as the Sun shines, I wasn't about to memorize all the books of the Bible. No way. No way on Earth. No way in Hell. But I do remember there being more than one reference to mountains other than the sermon on the mount. Martin Luther King even pontificated in a speech that he had "...been to the mountain..."
Well, I have been to the sand hill ...
So it seems that although soapboxes weren't yet invented in the time of Christ, there were ways for zealots of all flavors and varieties to stand above the crowd and, coincidentally, closer to their God, without the benefit of soapbox, stage, podium, megaphone, PA system or video camera. "Hmmm? I'll just climb up on that knoll so all can see and hear me better."
My motives were strictly honorable. Though there was premeditation for climbing the sand hill and checking out what was up there, I had no intention of doing what I ultimately ended up doing. It was simply curiosity (and a mischievous streak) that instigated the climb.
It was like being possessed ... it was like someone spoke to me ... as odd as that may sound, with me being what most would classify as an alternative spirituality type. It was a voice saying "check this out, dude," and not some sort of demonic force. I don't believe that curiosity is necessarily an evil force. Curiosity can transform into the realm of being perverse or evil, just as curiosity can transform into the realm of being innocent, childlike, scientific or merely recreational.
I won't get into my own personal beliefs as they relate to religion, though I do believe that Jesus, if he ever existed or exists at all, has a sense of humor. And if there is a Judgment Day, I hope my actions that day are looked upon with, and appreciated for, the comedic interest, entertainment quotient and sense of the absurd under which they were performed. There was no malicious intent. My interest was only to lighten the lives of otherwise road-weary and striped line aenesticized commuters. To that end, I believe I succeeded.
Convenience stores around these parts are pushing these quasi-religious trinkets bearing the letters WWJD, which I'm told is an acronym for "What Would Jesus Do?" As I write this essay, that very question popped into my mind. Just what would Jesus do, if for example he came back as promised, as say ... a handyman or carpenter's helper? Just what would Jesus do if he saw all manner of grandiose religious buildings and the trappings thereof? And just what would Jesus do if he saw letters spelling out "Jesus Loves You" propped up on the side of a sand hill?
The mock Jesus sighting didn't make the local paper, radio nor television media, at least to the best of my knowledge, let alone the pages of Sacrilege Monthly or the National Inquirer. Such widespread coverage seems to be monopolized by sightings of Elvis or Jim Morrison.
If any of those passing commuters, weary from a tough work week and on their way home for the weekend, actually thought they saw Jesus on the sand hill that fateful afternoon, then that's cool with me, because it means my work was done in Colchester and it was time to move on and preach to another audience. In the words of ZZ Top, "You don't have to worry, 'cause takin' care of business is his name."
So that's the true story of my most recent brush with fame. There was probably at least one commuter that afternoon grumbling "Now who's that numbskull up there playing Jesus?" To such hapless souls, I pose the following question: are you absolutely, positively certain that it wasn't Jesus that you saw waving to you from atop the sand hill? If Jesus does return as promised, I don't think he'd appreciate being referred to as a numbskull.
And to any such grumbling and hapless commuters I offer the simple three words that no longer grace the face of that sand hill in Colchester: Jesus Loves You.
Text - Copyright © 2003 Jeff Bauer
Web Layout – Copyright © 2003, 2004 Off Frequency Productions
Revised - Thursday, September 8, 2004