Rendered Fat Content


And Another Angel Came Out of the Temple
which is in Heaven,
and He also Having a Sharp Sickle


"Travel well, ya old bastard!"

On the morning of my seventy-second birthday, I received news from an old Takoma Park neighbor that our mutual friend and former neighbor Clair had died of congestive heart failure and dementia. I had anticipated and dreaded this news since my last visit to our exile. On that visit, Clair had agreed to fetch me from some bus stop somewhere but was uncharacteristically tardy. I started walking the route I knew he'd take, and eventually, he came along in his familiar red Prius, though it seemed to have suffered extensive front-end damage. He pulled over, I clambered in, and we retired back to his familiar home next door to the site of the first rental of our exile. He explained that it was "the damnedest thing" that his car seemed to damage itself. Michele, his artist wife, was displeased that he was still driving. He slurred his story.

I'd met Clair one bright June Sunday morning.
The Muse and I were out, continuing our never-ending search for a place to live after relocating from Heaven to the metropolitan Washington DC Region. We had been duly spending every weekend driving around searching for a house to rent, increasingly aware that the three months The Muse's new employer had allocated for transition housing was wasting away with us showing little progress. We'd survived looking at a Dickensian Capitol Hill hovel built in the eighteen forties with a narrow stairway that exited into the master bedroom through an armoire and, I kid you not, a fine old Alexandria four square with water dripping out of a chandelier. We had grown equally weary and wary as we began another Sunday seeking shelter.

A notice appeared on the list The Muse was using to find leads. A place had right then opened up just around the corner. She quickly responded, literally the first to reply, and we slipped up the street that would soon become familiar. We were met there by Clair, a neighbor who had volunteered to show the place, the owners having transferred to a posting in The Hague. Clair was gracious as he showed us around. For some reason, he and I behaved like long-lost brothers. We were soon shooting shit at each other and loving it. The tour finished, Clair said he was satisfied and asked when we could move in. The owner, though, needed a credit check. This brought a sober moment to the encounter as The Muse reported what that credit check would find: a recent bankruptcy, our exile, and her less than six months in a new job. We filled out the paperwork and then slinked back to our temporary digs, almost sure we wouldn't get it.

Unbeknownst to us, Clair had gotten on the phone immediately after we'd left to plead with the owner to accept us as the perfect tenants. The owner and Clair had become brothers while next door to each other. Clair had contracted cancer and lost his hair. Our landlord had shaved his head in solidarity. They'd both organized a "Precision Grill Team" marching gas grill troop and entered it into the Fourth of July Parade. The owner listened and trusted Clair, and we were extended an offer which we quickly accepted. The following week, I was sweating in the yard there in gratitude, helping the owners clean up the landscaping before we, the new tenants, moved in. Clair was there watching.

TheAngelClair always hovered nearby as The Muse and I acclimatized to our exile. Clair came to our rescue innumerable times, fixing electrical problems and pointing us in better directions. He'd been a Navy Lt JG during the Cuban Missle Crisis and went on to teach high school mathematics and ride Harleys. He'd spent most of his life not really giving a shit one way or another, one of those stereotypical tough guys, but he'd hidden a heart of gold inside, for he was the kindest soul I've ever known. He saved our butts when we were in extremis, and we could never forget.

I call him TheAngelClair because I knew how that label would piss him off. Clair was a loud and insistent atheist and a far-left progressive. He despised religion in every size, shape, and color. He hated God. He was smarter than Hell and could hardly abide stupidity. Yet he volunteered for everything. He invited me to help him feed feral cats, an occupation I found deeply satisfying. He forever asked me to help trim shrubbery by the community creek or stop for a beer or three beneath his tall backyard trees. He and I observed a ritual. Whenever one of us would do a favor for the other—and we managed to do many—we'd leave a sixer of their favorite beer on their porch. The receiver would report the mystery, insisting that they'd been visited by The Beer Fairies again. We never identified the perpetrator nor spoke of our implications.

We spent that exile in an unexpected Heaven, which began as a sort of purgatory bordering on Hell. For those who struggle to believe that they're living in Heaven now, look back to where you lived when you were more or less satisfied with your fate but cannot, for any price, go back to now. What might have seemed unextraordinary then will very likely remember as Heaven. Our time on Sherman Street in Takoma Park, Maryland, was an extended stay in Heaven with TheAngelClair adjudicating. I suspect we've just relocated to another branch of Heaven now, even as we visit Sleazeattle, a place that should have been condemned long ago. Even here, we experience grace. We stumble into it all over the place, even knowing that TheAngelClair has left this plain. I anticipate another visit from that goddamned beer fairy any time. Travel well, ya old bastard!

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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