|Graphic by Darwin Leon
THE TREE PROPHET
DAVID ARHTUR WALTERS
Helene did not know Paul’s acquaintance and consultant of sorts, a man around Lincoln Road Mall sometimes known as Richard the Tree Prophet. Nor would she have wanted too meet him, for Richard was everything in a man Helene despised, a despicability summed up by the word ““homeless.” As far as she was concerned, any man without ample money and a home to live in was worse than worthless, and this great nation of ours would be even greater if they were loaded into trucks and liquidated, for the expense of keeping them housed was not worth their insults to manhood and especially fatherhood.
Yet Helene, as director of fundraising for the Miami Association for Battered Women, expressed a quite different sentiment for the flat broke and broken women at the nine women’s shelters operated under her organization’s auspices. Her sympathy was indeed with the weaker sex. She had been battered within an inch of her life by so-called gentlemen; that is to say, rich and powerful men. She deified such “gentlemen” because they had terrorized and chastised her throughout her life. She had been a good girl for them, and in the end she herself had been left without a mansion to live in, hence she actually had to work hard for a regular paycheck – Helene was by nature a hard worker, born and groomed to serve men, but women seldom get excellent references for working their domestic tails off for their families. After her fall from the heaven of her gods, she said she lived in her $1,500 month rented condo as a matter of choice; she said she liked it very much, but in fact the smallish one-bedroom apartment was as beneath Helene’s accustomed way of living as sleeping under a bridge would be for her principal hero, George Bush, Jr.
As far as poor Richard was concerned, he was comparatively well off. He had his mental disability check every month, and his so-called life on the street was, when you got right down to it, much better than life in the shelter he had been tossed out of one day during a bout with a fifth of demon rum. He hardly considered himself homeless, thereafter, for he had nested himself and his few possessions in a big tree overhanging the canal, sleeping in a hammock by night and pulling up fish and cooking them in the mornings. He supplemented his income collecting and selling coconuts, and making little dolls out of palm fronds, a big hit with the kids – unbeknownst to Helene, Richard was the faceless, contemptible homeless man who had been stripping the young palms outside her condominium building.
Furthermore, Richard supported his love affair with booze by attending all the art openings where free drinks were served throughout the city. He glanced at the art and engaged in small talk with art patrons, but the main attraction was the open bar, where he drank prodigiously of everything from cheap table wine to designer vodka. Much to his indignation, in addition to being called Richard the Tree Prophet he was dubbed ‘The Man Who Comes To All The Art Openings’. On one occasion he passed out on his feet, keeled over backwards, was declared dead when Emergency Services arrived, but then came to with a jolt and has not missed a single art opening since.
Richard was not out of his element around art. His brilliant mind, dampened by alcohol, had not rendered him entirely incoherent, and the spirits helped inspire him to write several books of rather good Impressionistic poetry, mostly on the subject with which he was best acquainted: Love. Unfortunately, however, poetry readings did not go well for him, as he had lost his front teeth and spat out his words with ample spittle; he sounded like Bugs Bunny, which ruined his chances of striking the right public mood – alas, Governor Bush had cracked down on the false-teeth fund for impoverished people, and the private collection taken by friends had fallen way short of the exorbitant customary price for partials demanded by local dentists..
The poetry of love had brought Richard to Florida on a Greyhound bus from Tennessee. He had a good job in Nashville until his woman sent him out for a bottle of Black Label on Saturday night. They began to argue while polishing it off. She smashed the bottle over the back his head. He turned around and slapped her one. She called the police. He was arrested and charged with battery. She got a restraining order pending the court date. She called him over to get his clothes out of the house, and reported his violation of the restraining order when he showed up. He evaded the police and fled her and the state, hence wound up with the rest of the poor white trash that blows around the most civilized nation in world.
Paul had met Richard at the decrepit old ‘Potemkin Library’ in Collins Park, a virtual day care center frequented mostly by vagrants. Richard sauntered up to him while Paul was reading an entry on Occassionalism in a dictionary of philosophy.
“Hey, excuse me, sir, I’ve seen you around here a lot. I wonder if you would do me a favor. My check is coming this Friday, and….”
“Excuse me,” Paul interjected, “I’m as broke as you are, and I’ll be on the street unless I get a job right away.”
“No problem. My name’s Richard, I’m from Tennessee.”
“I’m Paul, from my mama’s womb, been traveling ever since.”
“Are you going to find a job in that book?”
“Just avoiding reality and realizing that I’m not to blame for it.”
“I hear you. Hey, if things get bad, you can get a place to stay and food real easy, some money too.”
Richard explained that all one had to do was to buy a pint of booze, swig it down in front of the CVS store on Lincoln Road, smash the bottle on the sidewalk and start yelling incoherently. “The police will come and process you. Bemoan your addiction to alcohol, plead for help, say you want to stop drinking, and you will find out how to get into rehab. If you follow the procedure and also play the mental disability game, you will wind up with shelter and food and a social worker, who can get you some money for your mental disability.”
“But I don’t drink, smoke, or use other drugs, and I’m not mentally disabled,” Paul responded.
“That’s beside the point, and you’ll be better off, showing how you quit drinking but are still incapacitated,” Richard said with a big grin.
“Oh, I get it.”
“What do you like to do?”
“Write. I’m a writer.”
“I knew it! I’m a poet. You can find a copy of my recent poetry book at Books and Books. I’m about to get a big contract with a publisher. Get yourself on the program, man, and write whatever you like.”
“I appreciate the information, Richard. I sure wish I could give you a few bucks for that info right now. I’m having a bad run of luck. I’m unlucky in money and love lately.”
“Love? That’s my favorite subject. What’s the problem?”
“Ah, well, never mind, I can’t talk about it.”
“Shush!” a library patron yelled.
“Hey, shut up over there!” shouted another.
“Come on, it’s best to consult a stranger on these things,” Richard insisted. “Let’s go outside and you tell me what’s up.”
Paul, always glad to talk to someone in hopes of getting an interesting story, followed Richard outside and sat down with him on the front steps.
“It’s a woman.”
“What is she like?
Paul described Helene briefly and in very general terms, taking care not to mention anything that would identify her, nor did he mention her feminist cabal to take over Miami politics.
“She got mad and dumped me because I did not know it was her birthday last week.”
“Never, ever, forget a woman’s birthday,” Richard sagely advised.
“I didn’t forget it. I didn’t know it was her birthday. I left my cell at home, and she left an e-text message on it that it was her birthday that day. I spoke with her on a regular phone during the day, but she didn’t say it was her birthday, having supposed that I got the earlier message. I got home and found out it was her birthday, and tried to reach her by phone several times, leaving several messages, but she had turned off her phone. I went by her place. Her lights were on – she said later that she was not at home – she never leaves her lights on when she goes out – but there is no intercom system so I could not get in to knock on her door. Two days later I got an e-text message from her. She said I was an abusive man and that I had stalked her on her cell phone.”
“Okay, so you did not forget her birthday, but you were still wrong,” observed Richard, “for not having your cell phone with you, in which case you would have known. Instead of pestering her, you should have simply apologized and gotten her a little gift. I make nice little dolls out of palm tree fronds,” he offered.
“But that’s not all. I saw her Wednesday, on the street, riding her bike towards me. She was wearing her tight exercise outfit. We stopped and chatted. She invited me up to her place. She likes to watch television a lot, so we were watching LOST, which is entirely pointless so one doesn’t have to think because trying to figure it out would drive you crazy. She was nice at first, but started drinking wine, and got belligerent on the third glass.”
“You let her get into the third glass? Sounds like you made another mistake. You should have taken advantage of the wine, had your way with her.”
“Yes, what, that’s the question. What did you really want to do with her? Visualize the scene. Was she sitting down?”
“On the couch.”
“How did she look to you?”
“Well, she looked sexy, come to think of it. Her dress was up a bit above her knees, which were slightly parted, and her face was flushed.”
“So what happened?”
“We got into an argument, or rather she attacked me.”
“What should you have done if you had followed your feelings?”
“Now that I think of it, I should have gotten down on my knees in front of hers and…. Never mind, she’s not that kind of girl.”
“How would you know if you don’t try?” Richard quizzed.
“She’s a prude. She is slighted by the slightest sexual innuendo. She is very intimidating and I can’t keep it up for long when she’s like that.”
“What is said is one thing, what is done is another. So what was the argument about?”
“She started screaming at me, said that I had abused her on her birthday, that I was no gentlemen. She yelled at me to get out and to never contact her again.”
“I said she was behaving foolishly, and I tried to explain how I felt. She said she did not care about how I felt or what I said, that she cared about what I did.”
“There you go. You should have been on top of the situation by then.”
“And she said she would never forgive me for what I did, abuse her on her birthday, the most important day of her life. Then she went on and on about how I was no gentleman, so I said the kind of gentlemen she probably loves are the ones who beat the hell out of her then rape her to make amends. And I left.”
“Yes. What do you think?”
“I think you’re on a one-way street. She’s selfish, and that’s her right, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you should forget her. There’s nothing in the relationship for you. She’s a taker, not a giver.”
“Well, when I asked what sort of a man she liked, she said she was so sick and tired of giving all her life that she wanted a giver and not a taker.”
“So you’re too late – she’s a taker now. Take my word for it if not her word. She doesn’t give a damn about you or your opinion on anything at all. When it comes to social class, she looks down on you like you were common scum. The only thing she likes about you is your creativity, and she will do her best to stifle it in the end, so you will not be able to get it up for any woman again. Don’t waste your time, because if you want anything from her, you will get hurt.”
“But I don’t need anything from her. And she’s fun to hang out with when not drinking, and she feeds me good food.”
“A sexual relationship would probably be orgasmic dynamite, probably too much for you,” proclaimed the tree prophet. “You would wind up a as limp rag, never fully satisfying her, and she would laugh and shame you, or you would die of a heart attack.”
“I love her because underneath it all I know she is like me, and I love myself a lot, so there is nothing I really want except myself, but it would be nice to have company. The differences between us are superficial, the products of our conditioning.”
“Okay, then. But expect nothing from her. If I were a writer with your feelings I would beat around my bush until I found an attractive and affectionate woman who likes to converse and does not bicker, someone who is sincerely interested in your interests, and hopefully financially independent so she doesn’t have to work and can be your companion.”
“Find? Where would I find a woman like that?”
“Your heart is in the right place. Read some of my poetry. My work is very romantic and spiritual. Thanks for telling me your story. I’m going fishing now. See you later.”