Deh-bee. Deh-bee. Deh-bee. I sit entranced by the rhythmic force of the cargo train rolling by. This is the third train in 25 minutes, and with each pass, the sound of the heartbeat steals my attention away from the drunken chaos around me. I glance at the north wall where a small, golden, shadow flickers with each pulsation. Deh-bee. Deh-bee. Deh-bee. The cargo train seems to disappear as unexpectedly as it arrived, and now I am pulled back into the scene around me – drunk, rowdy bar-hags and middle-aged men with bellies expanding at a rate too fast than can be restrained by their tucked-in Milwaukee Brewers t-shirts and their ******* Green Bay Packers jerseys. I re-focus my attention to the crew with whom I share this table.
The CEO’s. How is it that God blessed me with such an opportunity as to break bread with these four great, inspiring, and humble men? NO WAY IN HELL is this a coincidence - this is undoubtedly God’s work at hand. Our waitress walks quickly by, and I notice the uncomfortable glance she casts in our direction, her eyes focused on Vince’s t-shirt that reads in large, red letters, “CEO. Christians Encouraging Others.”
Vince. Boisterous and fearless, he can be relied upon to know everything about anything, and for the benefit of all within ear-shot, he never shuts-the-****-up about his faith or about those who lack it. Thank God for Vince because without his leadership during our five-hour drive here, I would know nothing about tire pressure, ideal gas mileage, ****, the meaning of great music (a.k.a. R.E.M.), or how to deal with nagging kids. He is a truly model Christian, taking every opportunity to remind us of our calling in this world, passionately ending most conversations with, “This is Satan’s domain - the end of the world as we know it.” When we were one hour away from the campgrounds, Vince disproved my previously-developed theory that he could not possibly be any more of a puke. After making sure he still had everyone’s attention, he pulled out his favorite hat and enthusiastically adjusted it on his head. Featuring another clever acronym, the oversized, navy-blue trucker mesh cap accented with gold rope trimming proudly sports, “C.I.A.” Christian in Action.
I share a cabin with Vince and these other heads of households. These fellows come here once a year “to get away from the wives.” One of the other fellows with whom I have the pleasure of sharing the cabin is Paul. Paul forewarned us that he suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, a claim substantiated by the bag of “**** powder” that he proudly held up in the air during the ride here for all to see. My brother Tom also comes along in order to partake in the outdoor activities, trip paid in full by my older brother, Richard, who has financially supported Tom for as long as Tom has been able to utter the words, “I can’t afford it.” Thanks to ****’s Christian generosity, Tom’s soul has been saved along with all of Tom’s money as his mortgage was paid off over a decade ago. Unlike Tom, **** is a tortured soul who suffers from PTSD. He is also a recovering (to be more accurate, “recovered”) addict, having been cured “just like that” (snap!) when he found Christ in the 70’s.
Deh-bee. Deh-bee. Deh-bee. Another cargo train… Why did I agree to this? The waitress comes by again, this time with our food. “Thanks, doll,” Vince says with a wink. Embarrassed for her, I look away, staring once again at the flickering light on the north wall. My gaze is suddenly disrupted by the steamy, ivory dish of food placed in front of me. French fries, bathed in a lake of runny ketchup, sit enticingly in the middle of my plate. To the left are mountains of milky-white coleslaw, and to the right sit boulders of golden-baked cod stacked one upon the other, towering high as if built to honor to the gods.
Without hesitation I grab the pale, cloth napkin and blanket my legs. I find myself clenching the sparkling fork as I drive it into the base of the cod shrine. Ketchup runs everywhere, and as I lift the bloodied mess above my plate, I become too distracted by the sound of Vince’s voice to notice that the cod never makes it to my mouth. Vince stops and stares at the blunder of food now back on my plate, laughter erupting from the bowels of his cholesterol-encased belly.
Debbie. Debbie. Debbie. No train. I look down at my plate again, the contents of my plate further bathed in ketchup. My appetite is gone. All I can think about is that frigid November night two years ago when I found her lying dead, body still warm, in our gazebo. When I saw the back of her head all over the floor, I knew it was too late. “Debbie and I were going to go out for fish that Friday, but I didn't get home early enough…” I hadn’t realized that I said anything aloud, but the sudden silence around the table quickly awakens me to reality.
With a mouth full of chewed cod, Vince looks intently at me and raises his arms. “Man, don’t let him trick you! He’s out for everyone, and he’s toying with ya. Shoo him away. Christ is in you. This is Satan’s domain, and he’s messing with your head.”
His voice trails off as my mind wanders back to that night.
“Greg, are you listening to me? Cast these thoughts away, man! The devil is trying to ensnare you. Call upon…”
“Hey, Vince.” I cut him off. “The other day I saw this sign in front of a church, and your hat just reminded me of it. The sign said, ‘It’s hard to stumble when you’re down on your knees.’ You know why your hat reminds me of that sign?
"Let me tell you, Vince. Let me tell you why your ******' hat reminds me of that ******' sign. Cause your hat says, ‘C.I.A.’”
Vince, silent for the first time since I’ve known him, responds to my comment with a blank stare.
“C.I.A. ****... In… ***… Get it? You see, you’re never going to stumble, Vince. You’re already head down, on your knees, taking it hard in the ***.”
Thank you to my wife for your patience in editing this piece for me. I love you, Hannah Klein.