Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Was It A Divine Appointment...or... Did We Get Conned by Conrad?

    I think that it works this way...with grace.
    Give away.  

   Dino wheeled the little, blue Celica down Nampa-Caldwell Boulevard toward the college campus we attended. It was late Friday night, or rather early Saturday morning. We were both feeling really good about life in general. The end of the week, marked the beginning of spring break. All the finals for winter quarter were over. We had just left “Grampa and Gramma Dennises” place, which was kind of a home away from home for a handful of baseball players (and their occasional date) from our college team. 
   They had a hot-tub. 
   There was always a lot of free snack food, AND THEY HAD CABLE TV! (Remember, this was 1983, so that was a big deal).
   In addition to the freedom that we were feeling because of the end of the term at school, Spring Break also meant a trip to Portland for a week of baseball, eating out and staying in hotels. No studying, no cramming, no reading text books, just baseball. 
    When your greatest concern is whether or not your forkball is moving well, life feels pretty golden.
   The strong odor of sugar beets being processed at the factory on the edge of town, wafted into the car. We both struggled to keep our eyes open as the headlights illumined the gray-brown pavement. A hundred yards or so down the road, Dino noticed a figure cloaked in a black jacket stagger from the shoulder onto the middle of the road.
     “What is up with that guy?”
   I lifted my face, leaned toward the dashboard of the car and squinted into the darkness. Dino slowed the car and looped past the obviously drunk fellow that was wandering down the deserted stretch of roadway. I looked at my watch. It was after one a.m. I looked over to Dino. He looked over to me.
    “Do you think we should do something?” he asked
    “Yeah, I guess so. I mean there’s not much traffic, but it’s pretty cold and he’s got a long way to go before he gets to Nampa. Who knows what might happen to him between here and there.”
    Dino turned the car around and quickly we were pulling up behind the fellow in the black jacket. He just kept on walking. My friend put the car in park and we both got out. Dino reached him before I did and put his right hand on the man’s shoulder. He stopped walking and spun around to face us.
To tell the truth, I can’t remember what we said to him or who spoke first. All I can remember is the tired, care-worn face that was looking into ours, as the headlights from the Celica struck him. He blinked and looked at us, struggling to stand on the flat ground as though he were on the deck of a ship rolling on the waves. Two or three days worth of gray-white whiskers covered his cheeks and chin.
     In a few minutes the three of us were on our way to Nampa.
   His name was Conrad. He was very drunk. He told us that he was headed for Boise. There was some position at some factory there that he said he was to interview for on Monday. He had come all the way from Montana.
    Now, if you would have asked us, I’m sure Dino and I would have told you that we weren’t born yesterday, but the truth is, our experience in matters like this was very limited.
   It was decided that we would bring Conrad back to the dormitory. He could sleep in a sleeping bag on my room-mate’s bed. My room-mate had already gone home for vacation. Then, in the morning, we would run Conrad into town and send him off with a little help; food and such, and hustle back to campus to meet the rest of the baseball team as we piled into the vans that would head out for Portland.
   As I lay in bed that night, looking over at the sixty-something-year-old man five feet across from me in the other twin bed, my mind raced ahead to my future. Somehow, baseball didn’t seem so important anymore.
    In the middle of the night, Conrad got up from bed and found his way to the bathroom. He vomited several times into the toilet. There’s no mistaking that noise. He spent the rest of the night sleeping on the floor next to the commode.
    The following day, the sun rose unfettered by clouds and all things seemed possible. Conrad came joyfully down the stairs and we ate some breakfast together. He rustled through the pockets of his jacket and announced, “Here it is!”
    “What’s that?” I said.
   “The phone number for Dwayne. He’s my friend at the company I’m interviewing with. Yep, you just drop me off downtown and I’ll give him a call. Then things will be off and running. Things are gonna be O.K!”
    In view of the previous night, I marveled at his clarity and optimism.
   Dino arrived shortly and the three of us climbed once more into the Celica and headed for downtown Nampa. We pulled over across from the Hong Kong restaurant and stood on the sidewalk for a moment.
   “Well Conrad,” Dino started, “You take care of yourself! You hear?”
   “Oh, I will. I got me a job waitin’ for me in Boise you know.”
   Dino nodded.
   “I’ll just go inside here and give Dwayne a call in a minute and I’m all set.”
    Conrad smiled. 
    It was supposed to reassure us, but it didn’t.  
    I handed him a sack lunch.
   “Do you have any money?” Dino asked.
   “Oh, I’m alright, like I said, as soon as I get ahold of Dwayne…”
Dino and I both dug into our pockets and handed him some cash. It wasn’t much, maybe ten bucks or so. Then we patted him on the back and hesitantly walked back to the car as Conrad walked into the restaurant behind us.
     After going a block or two, Dino asked, “Do you think he’s gonna be okay?”
     “I don’t know.”
     “Did you buy his story about the job in Boise, or do you think he conned us?
     I shrugged.
   Dino turned the car around and we headed back to the Hong Kong. Moments later we were standing inside the restaurant. A short time after that we had learned from the hostess that Conrad had walked into the lounge immediately after entering. The bartender told us that he had informed Conrad that the bar was not open yet but pointed him across the street to a lounge that was open. We started to walk across the street then stopped. I guess neither one of us really wanted to catch him there. We returned to the car, said a short prayer and headed back to campus. Less than an hour later we were traveling down I-84 with 20 other guys headed for the Blues Pass, leaving Idaho in the rear-view mirror.
    Did we get conned by Conrad? I don’t know. Most likely there was no job in Boise. Most likely the money we gave him there on the sidewalk was gone in an hour or two. Maybe it lasted him to the next day. I don’t know.
    I guess though, I don’t really care. Dino and I did what we felt we were supposed to do as an offering of obedience that night and the next day.

    None of us likes to “get took.” 
   That goes without saying. 
   Still, I have this feeling that when the Lord fed the 5000, there were a few who were in it just for the free bread and fish. They didn’t all become disciples. Jesus knew that and he fed them anyway. I am certain that in my life, I have given food, money or both to many people who were using me. I am also certain that I will do that many more times before my turn here is done. It really doesn’t bother me that much. That doesn’t mean I like getting conned. It just means that I like the fact that God trusts me with the means and opportunity to give. As sure as I am that some of my support has been under the heading of “throwing good after bad,” I am also confident that more than occasionally, what I gave, hit the mark it was directed toward, and I have no problem resting easy in that matter where Conrad went after he left the Hong Kong.