It started with a perfect confluence of events.
I’m purchasing a case of Two Buck Chuck (I still call it that despite last year’s shocking price increase to $2.49/bottle) at my Trader Joe’s in Riviera Village, and the bagger asks if I need help out to the car.
“Um, yes. Oh! No, never mind… My car’s just outside the door, the first spot, I can carry it.”
“Hey, no,” says the gallant bagger, a young spry guy with a five o’clock shadow and a big smile. “I’ll take it for you.”
So I follow him, happily empty-handed, and I step through the doorway to the outside, mercifully free of the weight of the unwieldy box, and at that very moment the underground lights in the center of the little parking lot click on and flood the prehistoric trunks of the swaying palm trees with a soft glow. The fronds rustle. The sky is a dark slate blue with high, high clouds. Every vertical west-facing surface of the low-profile shops of my beach-village community is imbued with a peachy golden sheen cast upon it by the late evening sun setting over the ocean behind us.
And Jesus drives by.
Jesus is a fixture in Riviera Village, a pale, slight, clean-shaven man of indeterminate age who lives in a van. This van is decorated stem to stern, top to bottom with words in various sizes cut from fluorescent poster board (“Jesus.” “Holy. Holy.” “Savior.” “Jesus.”) And lots of crosses. And lengths of fluttering gold tassel. And giant bows.
Jesus frequently parks his van in the big communal lot across the street and stands on one of the abbreviated curb lawns under a tree, holding his bible. He wears long tan pants, clean, although they are torn at the bottom, not hemmed, which you notice only if you walk close by. He always wears a jacket and a Civil War-era forage cap with a flat top and a front bill. Usually a “Jesus” sign also is mounted on the front of this cap. He has fashioned epaulets on the shoulders of his jacket out of the same gold tinsely tassel as on his van.
So Jesus in his fluttering van drives by, the HOLY’s and crosses and tassels and tinsel briefly lighted with a peach-pink glow as if from within. I stop to gape at the entire mysterious scene. I’m stricken, suddenly emotionally afloat, thinking of the word “gloaming.”
The improbable yet ever so familiar van, the even more improbable hundred-feet-tall stems of the palm trees holding their little tufted tops up to the sky, the intensity and brightness of the pink and peach clouds; everything is surreal, and I’m gazing upward with a half-smile on my partially opened mouth as I absently press the button to pop open the trunk.
Mr. Young Gallant slides the box of wine bottles in, straightens, and sweeps his eyes over the sky, the trees, the people, Jesus, the light. He turns all the way around in a full circle. When he comes back to face me, he says, “Wanna come back at 11 and dance?”
I am not making this up.
“Sure!” I say. “But don’t you close at 8?”
“No, nine!” he says.
“Nine o’clock,” I say ruefully. “Aw, thanks a lot!” Jeez, the young man starts a game and then won’t play. He disappoints me.
“Yeah but we’re stocking and cleaning till 11.”
Ah! The game! We are still playing!
“Well then I’ll be here!”
I get in my car smiling, not thinking a bit about how I just turned 60 or how many extra pounds I’m carrying around. The surreal is complete and lovely. Maybe they pump super oxygenated air into Trader Joe’s – maybe with an undercurrent of cannabis sativa. I applaud it, whatever it is. And thank you, Mr. Spry, for not only asking me to dance, but for not calling me Ma’am.