If you ventured out to Seventh and Market back then, in the heart of vampire territory known as the Tenderloin, you'd find yourself at a Carl's Jr. You may know it as Hardee's. This place was distinct for being open twenty four hours a day, having security, and actually needing security.
|Twenty years ago, this was Carl's Jr. I'm not sure what it is now, but I know it's not open all night anymore.|
Back then I was known as Kermit. I was this nineteen year old kid who knew karate, dammit, and therefore felt invincible.
I had no idea.
I had been taken in by this ragtag group that hung out in Carl's Jr. every night. There was Chad; ex Air Force, mellow, I most likened him to Guile from Street Fighter. That guy never raised his voice, could take a shot from Tyson and had the fastest spinning backhand I've ever seen.
Christian was a tall, lanky goth who was always smiling and to the uninitiated, had death in his eyes. Bonafide, proud atheist. He fought to end the fight, not to enjoy it. Once he was committed, he was putting you down. And he would indeed put you on your back.
Terry had been bit by a bus years ago, and half of him didn't work. You'd think that would've hindered him. It didn't.
Dude threw his left hand like it didn't matter. He would knock people out cold with it.
I...may or may not have been one of those people. But this isn't about me.
There were others; a child sex abuse victim, a prostitute trying to turn it around, a woman who was quite proud of her HIV-negative status, a Tae Kwon Do black belt white tried his damndest to keep his bisexuality in the closet. We were quite the group, interchangeable but loyal.
Then there was Dee.
He was the only one of us who actually worked there. He had the calmest demeanor I've ever seen in someone. He was huge, built like a sumo, but the exact opposite of slow. Aikido expert.
I made the mistake of challenging him one too many times. I have fond memories of that flight.
Dee was also devoutly Muslim in the time before 9/11.
One year, just before the holidays, Dee got us together in the restaurant and proposed the idea of Christmas dinner. Strange, I thought, knowing nothing of Muslims at the time, I didn't think his people celebrated Christmas. Anyway, he told us that anyone tho put in gets to eat.
He then pointed at me and said, "I don't care if you're homeless and you ain't got no job. You don't put in, you don't eat."
Talk about motivation. I hustled my ass off that day. I banged on all the change machines and pulled that old 'I lost my dollar' scam, did whatever little odd jobs I could find, you name it. By the end of the day I had seven bucks to show for it. Just to make me sweat, Dee didn't take it right away.
When Christmas rolled around, we had the most wonderfully ghetto dinner you could imagine. McDonald's, KFC, the questionable Chinese food place across the street, whatever Carl's Jr had kicked in... We'd brought together three tables to fit all the food.
Then Dee demanded that we all rise, join hands, bow our heads, and pray.
Everyone complied except green, confused me. "With all respect," I said, "I don't believe in the God you do."
He looked at me like I was stupid.
"I don't care. Pray to who believe in."
And so we did. We each of us held hands and gave thanks.
There you had it. A Muslim, an Agnostic, a Christian, an Atheist, and people who didn't typically give a damn about such things held hands, bowed heads, and said thanks in our own way.
And then we smashed the food.
There are far more things that unite us, than what divides us. It's important, in these most turbulent times, to remember that, and seek it out.
Thanks for reading.