Oh, the humanity 

Fighting the odd faith

Jesus God, I have to stop watching television -- or at least those reality shows about actual forensic scientists solving actual murder cases. I used to be able to kid myself that I had some faith in humanity. But then I'll see some case re-enacted, like the one in which a college kid kills his whole family -- beats them to death with a damn bat, for chrissakes -- and I just have to lay there, drained. I can't even get up off the couch and fix myself a big bowl of cake batter, so sapped of hope I am.

"Seriously, I'm just lying here," I tell Lary, who called to ask if I knew what happened to the vodka missing from his freezer, "wondering why people suck so much."

"You just now figured that out?" he says. Lary hates people. He won't leave his house if it's nearing 5 p.m., which, according to him, is the hour all the human lab rats are released from their cages to clog up the city. "Where've you been?"

I've been watching a forensic re-enactment of the murder of an Ohio mother and her two teenage daughters, that's where. They'd been vacationing in Florida, and some immense prick had lured them onto his boat under the guise of giving them a tour, took them to the middle of the ocean, raped them, then tied cinder blocks around their necks and tossed them overboard. A mother and her kids.

They caught the guy, and he's on death row -- the odious pig. But it's the mom I can't figure. "What the hell were you thinking?" I say to her over and over in my head. How could she just hop on a stranger's boat and lead her own kids into danger like that? How could she not throw herself on his gun or lunge at him so they both toppled overboard, thereby giving her kids a chance? How could she not kick and bite and fight, fight, fight?

Then I realize it was her faith in humanity. She was too good a person to fathom the evil ahead of her. If she'd possessed a modicum of cynicism like any normal person, the second she noticed the three cinder blocks and the plastic rope cut into three equal lengths with the edges carefully seared to allay fraying sitting right there all prepared and stuff, she could have put it all together, and she would have died riddled with bullets with that man's dick bit off in her mouth before she'd let him take another step closer to her kids, I'm sure. But her odd faith in humanity kept her from putting it all together. Yes, her faith in humanity did her in.

So fuck faith, I swear. I had a guy the other day ask me for a ride while I was filling up at a gas station, just walked right up to me while I had the pump in my hand and my toddler in the back seat. I didn't even answer him, I just dialed my cell phone. "Hello, police?" I said, and that's all I needed to say, because that guy was gone. See? Don't have faith. It will kill you.

There, I almost feel better, like I can get off the couch, because lying at this angle I can see the framed photographs on my shelves need cleaning. There's one of my mother, smoking. I remember I used to have to ask her not to steal ashtrays when we went to restaurants, because it's embarrassing when your mother gets busted for lifting ashtrays and other things, water vases, even, from restaurant table tops and she has to hand it back, reaching into her purse to produce the item in front of everyone.

Once she stole a pair of coffee mugs -- and they weren't even that nice. But the young waiter confronted us anyway. "Did you take two coffee mugs?" he asked, and not even in an accusatory manner. It was more like he was curious as to why anyone would do that.

"Of course not," my mother replied, but the mugs were clinking together right there in her purse. We were at a coffee shop called Sambo's, a student hang out down the street from my high school. I was so embarrassed my face was a raging inferno, then my eyes filled with tears as if to put it out. The waiter studied me for a moment. His name tag read "Fred." He turned to my mother.

"Sorry to bother you," Fred said, and let us go.

Of course, I could never, ever go there again. I could never face the kind-hearted coffee-shop waiter who had enough faith in humanity to allow my mother to steal from him rather than shame me in front of my friends. My mother, though, went back. I saw her there myself, often, through the big front window.

"Why do you go there?" I'd ask, frantic. "He knows you steal."

My mother always remained silent. Maybe she was thinking about her own faith in humanity, long corroded after an upbringing fraught with such poverty that she still felt the need to surround herself with stolen trifles; how she fought to escape that past and was still fighting the odd faith she might end up back there. She never answered me -- she didn't have to. Fred and my mother remained friends until the day she died.


Hollis Gillespie's commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered." To hear the latest, go to Moodswing at atlanta.creativeloafing.com.


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