To The Boiling Point...

In 1984, my family experienced something I will never forget. I was just ten years old at the time. It was somewhere around eight o’ clock on a Monday morning. Brother and I were getting ready for school. He was at the kitchen table munching on a bowl of Captain Crunch, and having just finished scarfing down mine, I sat on the couch, watching cartoons.

We were running late that morning, and since we had already missed the bus, mom was preparing to drive us to school. It was only a matter of putting her shoes on, grabbing her keys, and getting in the car. Just then, there was a knock at the door. I was going to answer it, but mom ran over and answered it first.

The door swung open to reveal a thin, black-haired man with a small, muscular build and several indistinct tattoos running up his forearms and biceps. He was wearing a midnight blue t-shirt with what looked like some kind of nightclub logo on it and tight-fitting blue jeans. It was like I could smell the thinning, oily hair on that almost peanut-shaped head of his from the couch—that and the overpowering whiff of cologne and cigarettes. He had a bottle of spray cleaner in his right hand. He said to my mother in a very high-pitch, scraggly voice (I don’t remember exactly, so I’m paraphrasing here): “Hi, I’m selling these bottles of spray cleaner. It’s a good cleaner. If I can come in and demonstrate on a piece of laundry or dirty surface in your house…”

Something just felt wrong about the guy, even before he said a word. The way he wasn’t holding up the cleaning bottle so that it could be examined was odd. He was a terrible speaker who obviously hadn’t put much work into his sales pitch, and just like that, he seemed so interested in coming inside! This guy didn’t come off like a salesman. He wasn’t charismatic or persuasive like a salesman, and he sure wasn’t dressed like one. Even my mother, being the nice and entreating person she sometimes can be, looked a little puzzled and interrupted him in mid-sentence: “Well, thanks, but not right now. I’m just walking out to take my kids to school.” The man said – this time with more creepy energy in that scratchy voice of his – “It’ll only take a minute.” Mom replied, “Well, I gotta say no. We’re already late as it is. But thanks. Maybe another time.” The man seemed to look down for a second before leaving our porch as though fighting himself on what to do next. He then unenthusiastically left, stiffly walking away like he really didn’t want to go. He left, and that was that.

The pungent scent of cheap cologne and menthol smokes still lingering, mom looked at us, then rolled her eyes, making a comment or two on how weird that fellow was, but being that we were in a hurry, we forgot about it. In less than five minutes, we were in the family’s 1981 Ford Escort and on our way to school. We didn’t even make it down the street before seeing two police cars parked against the curb out in front of a neighbor’s house and several police officers forcing the man against the trunk of a squad car. One officer searched his pockets and another put cuffs on him. As much as mom could without getting too much attention, she slowed down to get a better view of what was transpiring. When we saw the man, all mom could say was, “Oh…my…God! I almost let that man in!” Brother and I pivoted on our knees in the rear-most bench seat to watch as the man was lowered into the patrol car. It was chilling to see the spooky man meet our gaze just before we drove out of view!

Watching the 6 o’ clock news that evening, with curiosity and a still present disconcertedness in the air, we discovered just how lucky we were. The man that was arrested was a serial rapist, who sometimes pretended to sell door-to-door products. He would introduce the product and then ask his female victims for the opportunity to demonstrate their effectiveness indoors. Once he was let in (or if he could force his way in without being seen), he began beating his victims with his fists. When the unfortunate traumatized were sufficiently bloodied, he tied them facedown to their beds or couches and raped them in that position. Then he fled the scene of the crime, leaving the victim bound. We learned that on at least one of the six rapes mentioned in his confession, he gave a boy my age two black eyes and some broken ribs and then bound him to watch his obese mother be viciously sodomized.

We narrowly missed having our worlds turned upside-down that fateful day. Had mom not been so diligent as to keep him outside, things would have been much, much different! In a flash, all those McGruff “take a bite out of crime” films we saw at school made a whole lot of sense!

Accompanying the shock and lively conversation this generated among the family were the customary platitudes of divine thanksgiving, ”The angels were looking out for you,” “God moved your mom’s heart not to let that man in,” “Jesus was watching over you,” “God must really love this family!”, and on and on it went. I can remember this being repeated when I became a minister. God just had to make sure I wasn’t hurt so that things would fall into place later in life, allowing me to become a preacher. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but today I definitely think about it and am beside myself at the arrogance of such self-serving sentiments.

With only a slight inclination towards rationality one is compelled to answer the question of what happened with the previous six victims of this brutalizing maniac, this sick, twisted beast of a man, unworthy even of a Chinese zoo. Did God not like them? Why would he not send his angels to protect them, or if no one else, just that eleven-year-old boy who had to be hospitalized for his beatings? We can scrape the bottom of the barrel asking what “plan” a divine being could possibly have had for allowing some lying pervert – fit to be put into a wood chipper – to violate these families, but no answer will surface. Those poor women, that unfortunate child; the nightmares they must have had, the horrible flashbacks brought on by this short-circuited toaster of a man; the mental agony, the engrained trauma, the irreparable damage done must have been unbearable.

One can be forgiven for letting the imagination run wild, seeing in the theatre of the mind this loathsome individual restrained, with honey on his genitals, and thrown facedown on an anthill. But there is something else that’s loathsome here; it is the believer’s conceited conviction that he is somehow indispensable to the universe. There is nothing more selfish than to assume that those who narrowly miss tragedy are spared from it by a watchful deity. These prized souls must have a special destiny, whereas the rest of us are getting the “sloppy seconds” of God’s providential care. I am ashamed to say that I used to think like this, but I have thankfully come to my senses, and I can think of nothing more haughty, more gloatingly advantageous than to think that because tragedy hasn’t stricken me that it couldn’t have because of preferential heavenly factors. Just because I wasn’t bum-rushed on a subway train and robbed doesn’t mean I was saved from that fate by a god, and yet this big-headed belief on the part of those who feel too cosmically important to face the music of life’s mayhem are yapping on like schnauzers of stupidity about their blessings all the time. Just watch the news as some bible-thumping buffoon walks away from a car accident and gets on TV and thanks God for it.

A believer thanking God for his deliverance from catastrophe is like one of two siblings thanking his abusive stepfather because the retrograde scoundrel chose to beat his brother with the steel pipe, and not him. When one thanks God for his deliverance, the person is in effect saying, ”Jesus, as a person who hates violence, I don’t understand why you allow it, but if you, God, in your infinite wisdom, must allow someone to die or suffer, I’m glad it wasn’t me.” This unstated line of bloated, self-preserving thinking I renounce as among the worst of mental convictions brought on by a gangrenous spirituality.

How dare you, believer, rejoice because you think your life was spared by a deity when no one had to die to begin with, when loss of life or injury was as needless as an air conditioner in Barrow, Alaska.

How dare you, believer, give thanks to a being who saves a few and slaughters many, many of the slaughtered being god’s own faithful.

How dare you, believer, thank a god who orchestrates his sovereign will so unpredictably that a sane, non-religious mind can only view it as the work of blind chance.

When God blesses some, he curses others by leaving them to endure their calamities, and it makes sense; if god is to be glorified by puny patrons, he must save only a few, and naturally, leave the rest to rot. My family was not “blessed” by God to be delivered from this sicko-path anymore than the others were “cursed” who were subjected to him. Like many other chance-favored, would-be victims, we were fortunate. Our location, the order and times in which the human-meat-monger picked his prey, and our very admissible porch were the factors that put us out of harm’s way. It brings me to the boiling point to think of those who consider themselves bodyguarded by the Big Man Upstairs, while the rest of us get to know life’s tales of terror firsthand—God’s arms crossed and folded nicely all the while.