69. Uncle Sam’s choice
It was only 24 hours since Richard had dropped me at No. 10545 Magnolia Ave, Riverside, the address of the Day’s Inn. He had given me quite a sum of money to pay for it. My inquisitive mind tried to comprehend what was happening. Why did he give me, a total stranger, such a large sum of money without reason? Could it be that people as far a way as California have read my story online and were responding in a supporting, yet subdued way? I had been emailing monthly newsletters. The recipients included a handful US driving schools. In theory my message, and the incredible circumstances surrounding it, could have reached this far by word of email.
Gary arrived almost on time in a large, shabby looking early model automobile. It was very dirty and unkempt. It did not fit at all the picture I saw of the meticulous family man from the day before. We drove for a long distance through the vast network of freeways somewhere in LA. I never even looked at any maps or tourist brochures. From the signs I gathered we were heading towards San Bernardino. A long way to go to church, I thought. Entering the suburbs we proceeded through an industrial complex. The church building was one of many units in this large, deserted estate. We were one of the first parishioners to arrive.
One lady was preparing the main room, the warehouse section with a large roller door at one end. She reminded me of another member of the Liberal Party back home; another look-alike, how weird! The chairs were modern and comfortable. A handful of older folk arrived and we began with watching a video as part of pre-service classes. The subject was very interesting – Who wrote the bible? Modern computer technology had discovered a secret code, messages hidden in the original Hebrew bible. The main service started around 10 am. By now about 30 people or so had been seated. In the hymn book I saw the words “Latter day saints” and wondered what little, unusual flock I had stumbled across.
The singing, something I really enjoy in a group of believers, was rather average, partly because I did not know the songs. As communion approached I was struggling with the thought: “Should I participate?” I knew Mormon Church Buildings looked different. (Mormon is another word for Latter Day Saints). I could find no fault in the things said or done, overcame my prejudice and enjoyed communion. Two things I observed which seemed odd and later raised a big question in my brain: One, visitors were not officially welcomed. In such a small crowd a newcomer must have stood out. Secondly, the program sheet featured on the front – Create in me a clean heart – which I knew was from Psalm 51. Nowhere did they give reference to this bible verse. “If they start mentioning the book of Mormon, I’ll switch off,” I thought to myself.
The far-fetched thought raised in my mind was this: Have I stumbled across the group that thinks that the second coming had taken place? I made sure I told a few people later during a conversation what a minister had told me a few days earlier – that there was a group in LA that believed the second coming had taken place. How silly was that? Nobody seemed surprised or attempted to enter into a discussion on the subject.
The stocky, middle aged preacher had a booming voice. His message was rather simple: Change your heart from cheating, lying etc. to Joy, Hope, Love and Peace. I liked the last two Christian slogans; my website (the crashes finale) advocates turning from lies toward love and peace. The speaker later told me he was a sports coach; it was not hard to picture him on the pitch shouting instruction to his baseball team. Following the main service about one third of the congregation stayed for choir practice. This segment, as had the rest of the church so far, appeared rather artificial. The two songs practiced were rather mediocre; the third among the photo-copied song sheets was, what a surprise, “When I survey the wondrous cross”. Unfortunately we did not get around singing this one, my favourite. Had anyone read chapter 45 of my book?
The way to Gary’s house followed around a low mountain range. His wife and daughter travelled behind us in the small, late model silver car. Feeling a little like a tourist I looked out the window up into up the surrounding hills. I saw a huge letter ‘C’ possibly formed with large rocks, in the distance. Gary couldn’t explain what it was all about. Later someone said that University students had placed it there; nobody could tell me what it meant.
The house, where the four of us had lunch at, matched the car, not his personality. It simply was a mess; the floor scattered with papers and books, the kitchen had groceries stacked all over the breakfast bar, the rear garden was a jungle of weeds and dirt. It did not make sense that an established man, a Christian family would live in such squalor. The only inviting part of the lounge room/living area was the huge collection of books and vinyl records. I would have loved nothing better than browsing through the records and play the “Maranatha Singer’s favourites hymns”. If the place was tidied up, I could see myself existing at this place for a time, if this was God’s will.
For lunch Robin had pre-prepared a delicious soup. I had a second helping. We retired to the lounge after clearing away books and papers. Amongst the disarray I spotted a picture book whose title read “Baden Wurttemberg”. It was a very recent edition of a pictorial volume about my home state in South Western Germany. My place of birth Esslingen was featured prominently as a centre spread. How co-incidental! The thought of staying here, calling it home, if only for a short stay, was inviting. Gary and Robin did not hint at anything like this. I was almost certain that this place was not the regular home of this well established couple with only one child.
It occurred to me that I could landscape the rear garden for something to do, if I was allowed to stay for awhile. Was this my ‘home’ for the rest of the month of April? Was I being tested or teased? On the coffee table I read the brand name of a soft drink can: Uncle Sam’s choice. I knew clearly then that this was not God’s choice, but man’s idea. I would be moving on.
Felicity had started using the computer so I offered to show Gary my website, especially the latest creation “Hawkeye”, which would benefit his daughter who was of “learning-to-drive age”. Unless my mind was playing tricks, I remember that during the scene of the miracle escape at the railway line, the driver floating back to earth said: “Glad, I brought my umbrella”. My original version says: “Lucky, I brought my umbrella.” I never mentioned it to Gary until later in an email from Australia.
The family had to shop for a pair of shoes for their daughter. They offered me a ride back to Riverside. I asked to be dropped back at the CAL Baptist University. Gary gave the impression that he was sad to let me go. At the time of my first arrival with the baseball team the day before, I’d had the strong impression this was my destination. If I was being tested for perseverance, I was about to try once again to pass. I entered the deserted corridors of the admin block. I sat down on the only chair there was to sit on, outside the English teacher’s classroom.
I was not in any hurry, just a little weary. The mental strain showed through exhaustion. A young lady teacher and two boys, all dark skinned, entered the room. I could hear her scolding them rather loudly. They came out after ten minutes of so. I asked them to check with the teacher inside, if I could have a word with her. They went back inside and, after a minute or so, gave me the message that I could not talk to her. I just sat on the chair in the dark, empty corridor. While I waited for whatever I was waiting for, I updated my diary.
A picture opposite drew my attention. It was a drawing of a busy city, buildings, roads, signs etc. The freeway was all jammed up. Beyond the horizon were the words London and Paris. The picture also showed a huge round object, shaped like a donut and depicted as a statue; a bizarre drawing hanging in the corridor of a Christian University.
The English teacher obviously would not budge. A security guard came along; not Jason from the day before. He said clearly that there was no way of me staying there that Sunday night, something which by now I had figured out for myself. I asked if he or anyone could give me a lift down to the Motel. As the young security guard drove me down Magnolia Ave. towards the Days Inn, he gave me a glimmer of hope. He said, his boss, Sean Kennedy was from Australia. Perhaps I’d like to phone tomorrow and speak to him.
I was almost going to book into the Days Inn for the third time. But only a stone’s throw away, on the same side of Magnolia Ave., was Sands Motel. I liked that name too; the cost was a little less. The Cal Baptist security guard dropped me off at the Sands and I checked in for one night. I could not sleep, partly because of a noisy family above me, but also because my blood sugar had dropped and I felt a little anxious. I had reached the lowest point of my journey. It was now very clear that I could not expect help from any church or Christian people. I could not understand why I was repeatedly rejected without anyone knowing or asking for more details. Would not plain curiosity make people want to sit and just listen for a moment? Unless they had read my incredible story online and made up their mind that I was mad, and wanted nothing to do with me.
Yet, if I indeed was ill, did I not need care for this very fact? It’s not the healthy that need a doctor, it’s the sick. I displayed all the symptoms of being ill, I knew that. Why then did a Christian University, whose students are studying stories like the Good Samaritan, not even let me use their phone, let alone give me a bed? I would have been happy to sleep on the floor in the corner of the laundry, if necessary. Serious doubts gripped me. I dared not to think of home, it was too painful. I already felt guilty spending such a large amount of money. I felt very low. In desperation I cried out for the Lord to lift my blood sugar, without any food or my usual coffee fix.
Around 12.30 am the noise died down and my spirit lifted. I sensed that my pilgrimage was almost completed. I felt very peaceful with beautiful thoughts of God’s love, his promise to never leave me nor forsake me, filled my being.
“How precious also are your thoughts to me, oh God, how great is the sum of them? If I should count them they would be more in number than the sand.”
What a wonderful thought and how fitting, right there in the Sands Motel!
Autobiography - Dieter Fischer
1. More in number 2. A sound mind 3. Now I'm found 4. Candle and the Wind
5. Realm of Nature 6. All in his Hand 7. The Wonder of it All 8. To Think God loves