I just met C. J., the Silver Fox. He "flies a sign" under the Burnet/183 bridge.
I was waiting for an inspection sticker at Sticker Stop, sitting outside because it was too nice to be confined in a gray box with other sullen mammals. He walked up, and my otherness detector pinged. Well, for one thing, he was at the Sticker Stop without a car.
I blew a bug off the page of my book. He mimicked the gesture. "There was a bug," I shrugged. "At least you didn't kill the damn bug," he replied, and I had to agree. He set an unlit cigarette and a large beverage can on the picnic table and went inside. I considered my options: Go inside for the safety of crowds, or sit pat.
When he returned, he sat on the table and asked if he could tell me a joke. I could use a little mirth these days, so I said yes. It was a good joke, and he told it well. I laughed. "It was a pretty good joke, right?" he asked. "No swear words or nothing." I told him it was, and then we were talking.
He holds a cardboard sign that says "Wife and dog kidnapped by ninjas. Saving up for karate lessons. I really want the dog back!" That one, he says, works better on women than on men. He told me, "If there are two girls in the front seat, they see that sign and laugh, I'm getting paid." His other sign says "You may live in a $200,000 house. I live under a $2M bridge. Need money for repairs—the roof leaks."
He asked me if I knew God, and some questions are easier to just say yes to. God looks out for him, he said. God provides. C. J. is an alcoholic (He just said it, so matter-of-factly.), yet God helps him cross that street so many times a day, and sees him safely through the night when he's too drunk to remember how he ended up there. Then he asked me if he could tell me something, and here I expected the hard sell. But no, he just told me his story.
Twelve years ago, his wife was killed by a drunk driver. "That's what landed me under that bridge." After that, he became really angry at God. Then, about five years ago, he had a transformative experience. A minister, after serving a dinner that fed 300 homeless people, brought a bag of food to C. J. and said, "This is for you. This is from God, for you." C. J. didn't want it, didn't want anything from God, he was angry with God.
Two hours elapsed before he grew hungry enough to look in the bag. It contained a fish sandwich, topped with a double serving of tartar sauce, plus an orange soda. It contained just what his childhood self would have called his favorite meal. How could that minister have known? He couldn't. This was God. C. J. told me, "This was God saying, 'I still care about you. Even though you're mad at me, I am not mad at you.'"
He said a friend chided him, "You found God in a Happy Meal?" We laughed together, me and C. J., and I thought maybe God could look out for me a little, too.
Then he stood up, picked up his can and the cigarette which he'd never lit, and shook my hand. I thanked him for talking with me, and he thanked me for being willing to listen, since most people aren't.