Slavery to Sin
A homeless man can afford a radical view of freedom
Casey, the homeless offspring of Gen. Robert E. Lee whom I wrote about last October, sat at a concrete picnic table in our small neighborhood park. The purple Jacarandas were in full bloom everywhere. As I approached during my daily walk, he closed the book Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, typical of his taste for historical literature.
This husky handsome fellow has alert blue eyes, a trim beard, and a full head of gray hair. Whenever we meet, however brief or seldom, if he’s sober, we enjoy a lively conversation about a topical news issue he’s been following on his free cell phone. He’d not gone to college but has an inquisitive mind and seems to have a high IQ. I found myself eager for his company during our self-isolation pandemic these past three months.
“This book is fabulous. Ever read it?” he asked, holding up its cover for me.
“Yes, and I enjoyed it.” I continued to stand at a safe social distance from him.
“It’s got subtle layers of meaning. Reread it. You’re sure to get more out of it.”
“Maybe I will. Say, where’ve you been lately?” I asked, leaning against a stanchion.
“I took a vacation up at Laguna Beach. Slept in the warm sand.”
“A vacation?” I smiled at the idea of a homeless man without a regular job doing so.
“Yeah, my mom got a laugh over that, too. I needed a break from the routine here.”
“What did you do up there?”
“Oh, nothing much. Went on a bender for two weeks. Got vitals from a food bank.”
“Any rioting or looting going on?”
“Nah, quiet as a church cemetery. Lots of shops opening after this phony pandemic.”
“I hear the mobsters removed your ancestor’s statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.”
“Foolish bastards,” he said, “trying to rewrite history so they don’t have to learn from it. He wasn’t the only one who owned slaves. What about all the Founding Fathers like George Washington? He owned 317 slaves and worked 40 more, rented from neighbors.”
“Blacks argue that Lee represents racial prejudice, kept going by statues,” I said. “And now they’re seeking cash reparations for being shipped to America as slaves.”
He scowled and said, “Their offspring want compensation for being born and raised in paradise? They really don’t appreciate how f***in’ good they’ve got it here!” Interrupted by his vicious cigarette cough, he brought up phlegm and spat it.
“I’ll bet that’s true of our spoiled offspring, too…taking things for granted,” I said.
“So what’s with this “Juneteenth” I never heard of before?” he asked, limping into shade. The afternoon sun shone with a fierce intensity after our June-gloom fog lifted.
“A Union general declared Blacks free on June 19, 1865. I’ve read they want it celebrated yearly so everyone will remember that they’re freedmen, not slaves anymore.”
“Freedmen? What a joke! After the Civil War they wandered, and things slid into hell during the Reconstruction era when carpetbaggers hired them as chain-gang labor,” he said, lighting another cigarette.
“Freedom comes at a high price. They’ve suffered for generations,” I replied. “We can’t expect Blacks to be happy about all the lynchings, scams, and back-of-the-bus prejudice.”
“Suppose not. First the Irish, then the Italians, and now the Hispanics are having a hard time climbing the social ladder.” He blew three smoke rings into the still air.
“Sure, but they didn’t have the black skin stigma to deal with. That’s the crux of it.”
“There’s plenty of Black folks who rose above, like Magic Johnson, Whitney Houston, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, and Barack Obama. Got to be more than meets the eye to explain why most Blacks are still scrounging, after 155 years, for low wage jobs, food stamps, and decent housing. They’re looting for all the freebies they falsely claim Uncle Sam owes ‘em,” he said.
“Shhh, Casey. You can’t be saying stuff like that aloud. It’s not politically correct.”
“You kidding me? I speak my mind. The White-Guilt media can’t censor me out here. Being a writer, they could gag you, though. Anyway, whatever happened to our freedom of speech? Besides, I can defend myself. That’s how I got put in jail for two years.”
“Look, Blacks still feel enslaved by the system and they’re sick and tired of it.”
“So? None of us are truly free. I still have to bum money for beer, food, and clothes.”
I pondered what he said. “You make a good point, I have to admit. I submitted to a boring chain-gang career for 38 years, just to feed my belly and keep a roof over my head.”
“We’re all of us no better than slaves, bootlicking the system to feed and clothe ourselves,” he said. “I try to avoid chaining myself to a regular job so I don’t become your working stiff. But I do enjoy my booze and crave my cigarettes,” he chuckled, taking another drag. He paused to look at his backpack, then searched its pockets.
“We’re all of us slaves to the flesh, addicted in one way or another,” he added. He pulled from his backpack a miniature bible with flimsy, worn pages, found a passage and read, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave” (Romans 6:20). See? This is true slavery!”
I glanced at my watch and stood up, noticing he didn’t wear one.
He said, “Alright. I know, you’ve got to go. You’re a groveling slave to time.”
“Yes, I guess I am. Got another essay to write. Hope to see you tomorrow. Stay safe.”
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