Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Strange Visitation At HoJos

One of the first jobs I had, when I was still a senior in high school, was as a dishwasher at the local Howard Johnson restaurant. (My dad's co-worker in the optometric office where he first worked was an older optometrist named Dr. Hawver. Every Christmas, until my dad got a separate office with two other optometrists, we would visit Dr. Hawver and his wife, and gifts would be exchanged. The Hawvers' home was always a warm and welcoming place, there in Springfield, Missouri. I recall a number of meals with the Hawvers at the local Ho Jo.)

My job as a dishwasher at Howard Johnson was procured via a work study class I took at Parkview High School during my senior year. I would take the city bus from the high school to my job there.

The job was not without its hazards. We ran a lot of glasses and plates through that dishwashing machine, and there were several times when a drinking glass would break in my hands, cutting them and forcing me to run to the management office to get Band-Aids with which to staunch the bleeding.

A young, shorter fellow dishwasher there was a big fan of country music. One day he came into the kitchen, telling me in an excited voice, "Waylon Jennings is out in the dining room". I wasn't as much of a country music fan as he, so my own excitement did not match his.

On another occasion, he came into the kitchen and told me that there were some "really strange" guys checking into the Howard Johnson motel. So after I clocked out, I went to the lobby for the motel and I checked it out for myself. Sure enough, Springfield was the site for a concert in a tour by a band called the New York Dolls. I remember that the band had an album, selling in the record store at the mall at the time. The cover of the album depicted the four guys in the band, sitting on a couch and doing their best to look like women, complete with lipstick and the tall platform shoes which were so popular in certain circles at that time.

Sure enough, the guys checking into the motel were dressed just as they were dressed on that album cover. There was David Johanssen and Johnny Thunders.

Personally, I thought the guys looked like freaks. But I strongly believed, as I still believe, that Christian believers like myself were called to show the love of God to all human beings, not just to those with whom we shared a lot in common. So I approached Johnny, and told him I would like to talk to him. "I can't talk now," he told me. "Me and the boys are going to be visiting the flea markets. Meet me here later, at the pool, around 'fiveish'." He said all of this in his gayest possible tone of voice, with the requisite whiny nasality. (Maybe a proclivity for gay sex causes some weird transmogrification of men's vocal chords, but more likely, the origin of the vocal affectation common to many gay people is repressive laws which caused them to resort to "subtle" but not-so-subtle ways of communicating with other gay people that they were ready and willing to have sex, back in the days when gay bathhouses were often the places where such encounters took place.)

I took that as an opening to go home and get one of my books, which had clearly been written in hippie vernacular, with evangelism as the obvious intent. It was basically a "hippiefied" version of the gospels. I figured it might make a nice gift for Mr. Thunders.

I went back to the motel, and I waited at the pool. Thunders never showed up.

Maybe he forgot about his conversation, or maybe it had something to do with the drugs which eventually killed him at the age of 38 (although Wikipedia states that some people speculated that he had been murdered by drug dealers, which to my way of thinking is pretty much the same thing, since a person is unlikely to be murdered by drug dealers if he or she stays away from drugs he or she should not be taking in the first place).

Anyway, I didn't want my trip back home to be wasted. As I sat at the swimming pool, I heard a rock guitar being played in one of the motel rooms. I thought it might be Johnny, or at least someone else from the band. I was right. It was the band's roadie. I knocked on his door, and he invited me in. I noticed a bottle of Jack Daniels or some other kind of strong liquor. He offered me some, but I declined, since I was an abstemious tea-totaller (a total abstainer).

The roadie and I talked for a while. He told me that the cross-dressing aspect of the band's appearance was "just an act". I didn't buy it then, and I don't buy it now. You know the old phrase, "if it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, it's probably a duck"?

When I tried to talk with the roadie about Jesus, he did his best to avoid offending me. But it was clear from his comments that he just thought of Jesus as a "nice guy", as he said, and not as the Lord of Lords. I tried to remember to pray for him later.

Maybe if I'd prayed more for him and for Johnny, Johnny would not have ended up the way he ended up. But one never knows. Some people are on a path of self-destruction, and there is really nothing you can do about it. Rock and roll is full of such stories.

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