On the Corner

By Robert Docter –

I drove past my corner the other day–the one at Hollywood and Vine.

It was a Saturday afternoon. Traffic was bumper to bumper and crawling. Sidewalks were jammed with interesting mixtures of hairstyles and costumes, walkers and skaters, tourists and tarts. Some stopped to stare at stars…the ones in the sidewalk…while others plodded on, oblivious to their surroundings.

The intersection itself resurrected considerable nostalgia for me. It was my hangout on Sunday evenings for a dozen or so years. One corps officer even made me “the Bishop of Hollywood and Vine.” In my mind’s eye large numbers of exciting events flashed by.

I saw the band marching down the boulevard with our helper carrying a “tail-light” on dark evenings. Then, when we get to Vine, we “pull” into the parking lane, wait for the light and file across to our “spot” in the red zone outside the drug store.

Standing there with my microphone and powerful PA system with two speakers really gave me a “bully” pulpit. I learned very quickly that there were three rules necessary to hold the passers-by…relate–Relate–RELATE. If an emergency vehicle went by with siren screaming I would stop the flow of my comments with something like: “Stop! Everybody stop a minute! Somebody’s in trouble. Somebody close needs help.”

Naturally–I’d build on this thought immediately thereafter, and if the walkers paused for a second, I had ’em.

Of course, the absolute best thing that could happen would be for somebody to dialogue with me–usually someone who wanted to argue about something. The mike had a long cord, so I would wander over to the confronter and stick it in his/her face. Soon, the other voice joined mine and could be heard for blocks in four directions. I learned very quickly one essential lesson: “Never surrender the microphone.” My grip was always two handed, and I could shut the person off immediately if necessary.

On one occasion, I was holding forth with my one sermon topic–the one about our need to love God and each other. Standing in front of me was the most unkempt street person I had ever seen. No shoes–filthy pants and shirt –food caked in his beard–long, uncut hair–mostly toothless–just downright downtrodden. Out of it and loaded.

The drum was always horizontal in front of the band, and people would throw money on it. Along came a “tiger” who yelled: “Why don’t you stop talking and do something for that man in front of you there. He doesn’t need your sermon–he needs help. Give him some of that money.”

I got him “on-mike” and said: “What makes you think that he needs money more than Christ?”

Well, we got into it for a few minutes as the crowd swelled to about 100 on-lookers. I got my point across many times that this fellow didn’t need money, he needed to want immediate help, plus food, a bath, a place to stay –and he needed Christ. I promised him all of these things if he would follow the band back to the “hall.” No soap. Literal and figurative.

The other fellow said he only needed money, and finally decided to give the guy five twenty dollar bills.

“Wait a minute,” I yelled in the mike. “We are going to have a great experiment. Let’s agree that all three of us–and all of you,” I announced to the on-lookers, “will meet back here next week–all of us. You give him the one hundred dollars, and we will see if he is changed.”

Everyone agreed as I once again made my point on what I thought the man really needed. The next week, the arguer-giver was a no show. The guy was there. Filthy, disreputable, food caked, shoeless–and beat-up. With much ado, I concluded the “experiment.”

“What happened after the man gave you the hundred dollars?” I asked. “Did the money solve your problems?”

“I got mugged,” he slurred. “Have you got anymore?”

He didn’t want what he genuinely needed, and what he still wanted actually did him harm. Isn’t that the way it goes?

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