September 14, 2018

The Weasel, the Maiden, & the Prophet…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:36 pm


…It is not the slow, the punctual sanded drip of the unnumbered days…
the unswerving schedules of the lost life and the well-known faces, that
we remember best. It is a face seen once and lost forever in a crowd, an
eye that looked, a face that smiled and vanished on a passing train…

—Thomas Wolfe

It was the start of an ordinary day, one morning the other week. Near as I could tell, it was, anyway. I pulled out in Amish Black, heading for work. First, a quick stop at Sheetz for my morning wakeup coffee. And yeah, I know. Lots of hipster afficionados sneer at Sheetz, and those giant urns of flat, tasteless black brew they sell, claiming it’s coffee. Still. It’s force of habit. I go to Sheetz. I parked my Jeep in a usual spot. Walked in. And I saw right away, through the glass before I even reached the door. There was a long, long line waiting to pay up. And it sure looked like that line was moving mighty slow.

There was one lone clerk. One of the managers. He’s been around for years. He’s efficient, and he’s good, but there’s only so fast one guy can move when there’s a long line of glum looking customers waiting to pay up. I grabbed a Styrofoam cup, medium size. The Breakfast Blend urn looked full and fresh. That’s my usual. I filled the cup, then fitted on a lid. Dark and black. No cream. That’s the rule for my OMAD. Water and black coffee only, until my eating window opens. Then I walked halfway around to the place where all the food screens are. That’s how far the line snaked back. I took my place there at the end. Waiting to pay the buck sixty-nine that Sheetz charges for a medium cup of hot black water.

Things are usually pretty quiet, in a long line like that. You got all the construction workers, with an occasional woman mixed in. It’s right before seven in the morning. People are waking up. The world is going to work. And there is a quiet intensity in that line. Not impatience. Just, well, intensity. You know you have to get to that place, way up there in the front, to pay your money. Then you can leave. And this morning, the line stayed stuck in one spot for way too long before it inched forward, then stopped again and stayed stopped. It was going that way because there was only one clerk.

Another clerk stood there in the back room, ready to clock in. I could see him through the open door behind the counter, at the end. A teenage kid, a regular up front. He sure was taking his time, getting ready. I saw him put his things in a little locker against the wall. And I saw him poking around, moving some stuff around. He had his hat on, he was dressed and ready. And after an eternally long few minutes, he stepped out and stood behind one of the screens. Greeted the next person in the line. Could he help? Yes. Now there were two clerks, ringing up. The line moved twice as fast. And it was only a few minutes, then, and I was the next one up, waiting to pay. I had stood in line for probably five minutes. I waited for a customer to move away. And the one on the right did. Gathered his purchases slowly and turned to walk toward the door. OK. Finally. It was my turn. I started to step forward.

And it all happened so fast and so seamlessly that you figure it was plotted out to be that way. It was like whoosh. Out of nowhere from behind, a little old weasel of a man walked in from outside. Just as I was stepping forward, the weasel whipped in right ahead of me. Not so much as a by your leave, the man didn’t make. He was small, and he was old. Well, relatively speaking, old. Probably upper sixties or so. His clothes weren’t tattered or particularly raggedy, but you could tell he came from the hills. A bill cap was pulled low over his eyes, covering a shaggy head of gray hair. His beard was scruffy, his face was scuzzy with the unchecked growth one would expect to see on an unshaven lout. He walked right up to the young clerk on the right. My clerk, my spot. He was pulling out his wallet at he moved in.

I didn’t hear any protests from anyone in the long line behind me. But you can bet everyone back there was tensing up a good bit. Here they had stood in line, waiting their turn. And here, a little old weasel of a man without manners was burning up their time, time that wasn’t his to burn. I didn’t hesitate, looking back. After a brief second of shocked surprise, I mean. I never stopped to consider what was best to do, but just instantly spoke up. I walked up behind the weasel. Excuse me, I said. You just butted in line. You need to take your turn.

The weasel did not react well. I have no idea what he was expecting. I figure he pulled off this stunt regularly, and got away with it most of the time. He turned to face me. His ugly weasel face twisted into a contorted snarl. He swore. !!!&&^%$#@!! “I’m here to get gas. See? There is the sign for gas. Right there.” He pointed to the sign beside the clerk. That’s bullshit, I said. And yes, I said the word loud enough so everyone around could hear. Bullshit. Don’t make any difference what the sign says. You take your turn, just like everyone else.

The weasel swore again. He was getting way too loud and belligerent. The clerks stayed very calm. Neither made any move to interfere or insert himself. I don’t know if they get trained to deal with loud unhandy people nonconfrontationally like that, or what. The weasel turned to the head clerk, to our left. “The sign says, gas,” he said, pointing, his voice raised. Behind me, everyone in line watched, frozen, intent. The head clerk glanced over. I spoke up, then. I raised my voice, too, to match the weasel’s. He needs to take his turn, just like everyone else, I said. Doesn’t matter what the sign says. The head clerk glanced at the weasel sternly. And he backed me up as he kept right on ringing up the next person who stepped up. “The line is for all purchases. Including gas.” See? I was triumphant. You need to take your turn. You butted in front of me.

The weasel looked deflated and a little crestfallen. He stood there, silent. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of something like compassion for him. Not sure where that came from. He turned, then, to trudge all the way back to the end of the line. A vile little man. He deserved no sympathy, not after the way he acted. But then my common sense kicked in. Ah, good grief, I said. You’re here, now, anyway. Just give the man your money. He stopped and half gaped at me. I motioned. You’re wasting everyone’s time. Give him your money.

The weasel turned back to the counter. Behind me, everyone watched, silent. The weasel handed over a crumpled $20 bill for gas. He then turned back toward me to leave, looking grimly straight ahead. It was pretty clear we were both upset. But I had one more thing to say. Don’t do that again, I told him.

And looking back at it all, I wonder how often the weasel got away with those actions before he was challenged. Bad habits beget bad habits. I remember that he strode right up to the front of the line, on the side, probably like he had done dozens of times before. Without incident. This time, there was a scene. And this time, he got warned. I was upset, mostly, about one thing. Well, other than his sheer rudeness, I mean. And I wasn’t full of rage, not like I would have been back in my whiskey days. I was irritated, of course. But not enraged. And I was upset because of all the negative energy it took to confront the man. I had to dredge it up. I don’t like to go to those places, and I don’t unless something like this comes at me when I’m not looking. Then I do, because you pretty much got no choice. That’s what I figure, anyway. (I’ll gladly give up my way of thinking if someone can show me a better one, like the Amish preachers used to claim. As if anyone’s ever going to speak up. Nobody ever did, that I remember. That claim always sounded rote and hollow to me.) Still. I’m betting the weasel won’t butt in line at Sheetz in New Holland any time soon again. Just a hunch. I could be wrong.

Moving along, then. A few days after my run-in with the weasel, the same week. A Saturday morning. A laid back time, usually. I meander about, run my errands, and I always stop at Grocery Outlet to do a bit of weekly shopping. That place is pretty much across the road from Sheetz, all of it less than a mile from where I live. It’s handy, to have stores like that close. And that Saturday morning, I pulled in with Amish Black. The parking lot wasn’t as full as it often is. I zipped up and parked and walked up to the front of the store to get a cart. They have the old style grocery carts there, the big, clunky, clattery ones that often have at least one wheel that doesn’t work. I trundled along, right up to the automatic door. The door swung open as it sensed me, but just then I glanced off to the right, down the sidewalk. And she was walking toward me to enter the store as well. A young Plain Mennonite girl.

She was probably sixteen or so. She might have been from the Joe Wengers, or maybe the Thirty-Fivers. Definitely horse and buggy, I’d say. You can tell the Plain cultures apart simply from the bone structures of their faces. The Amish and the Plain Mennonites, I mean. They both have features unique to their blood. And many of the women are astonishingly beautiful in both cultures. The Plain Mennonite girls are especially distinct and striking. There’s something regal and reserved about them, and they never really lose that. It’s when they’re young, though, that they look so vibrant and alive. Before they get married, before their faces and bodies reflect the long and weary aftermath of incessant daily toil and the slicing pangs of multiple childbirths.

Such a girl was walking toward me now. Naturally blond and beautiful without a shred of makeup. She wore a medium covering with strings that flowed out back over her shoulders. From that little detail, I figured she wasn’t a Piker Mennonite. All the Piker girls I’ve seen laced their covering strings up tight. Her dress was patterned like the Plain Mennonite women wear, with a hundred red flowers spread throughout. I don’t remember if the background color was black, or what. I think so, but I can’t say for sure. I just remember the red flowers.

It was a beautiful sunny day. And the sun shone down bright when I looked and saw her coming at me. And without thinking, I held back and waited on her, so she could get through the door first. She smiled her thanks and walked past me to the entrance. And I thought to myself. What the heck? Say something. I had a split second to speak or not. So I said it. Well, I kind of stammered. I like your dress. And the red flowers. It looks like Christmas. I mean, what kind of guy says such a thing? By now she was stepping through the door. But she turned her face and flashed back a smile. No words, just a smile. And for the life of me, I didn’t know if my compliment was a proper thing to say or not. I had never done such a thing before. Never spoken out of the blue that way to a total stranger who also happened to be a Plain woman.

If I think it was a bit strange to speak up like that, the odds are pretty good that the girl thought so, too. I mean, we both come from Plain blood. I shuddered later, to imagine what she might be telling her friends. Watch out for that gray bearded old man at Grocery Outlet. He’s kind of weird. He’ll smile and say funny things. I shuddered again. Still. I had never seen this girl before, in all the years I’ve shopped at that store. And I figure there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll never see her again.

The maiden and the weasel. The beautiful and the damned. Two people with nothing in common, except they were people. They have no names, but their faces are imprinted in my memory. And it sure is strange, when you stop and think about it. Such is the ebb and flow, such are the tides of life on the long and winding journey down this broken road.

In a recent conversation, I made an offhand comment. Not sure what triggered it. I don’t trust modern day prophets. Self-proclaimed “prophets” are charlatans and frauds, pretty much across the board, in my opinion. Anyone can claim anything. I am especially contemptuous of “end time” prophets. Those guys are toxic frauds, always returning to that bottomless well, always fleecing willing sheep who desperately want to believe that Jesus is coming soon so they won’t have to die. That’s where the whole rapture heresy comes from. The roots of it. A deep and desperate desire to cheat death. It’s not gonna happen. We will all die. And when I die, that’s going to be the “end of the world” for me. Same is true for anyone else.

Still. Those “end time” preachers, you don’t forget what they said. The memory of it. Like I never forgot a little incident that happened many years ago, about the time I graduated from Bob Jones University. That place was an infested swamp of rah, rah, rapture hoopla. We’re all gonna be swept into the skies to meet Jesus. All the sinners will get left behind. Satan will take over the whole world. It’s going to happen any day, now. This was back in the early 1990s. I always thought the hyper premillennialist eschatology was self-defeating for the BJU brass. If we’re all going to get raptured out, why put out the time and expense to come to BJU to get educated? I mean, none of it will matter after time ends. I guess they figured the students wouldn’t think very far. Still, there was one detail from those days that I kept stored on a little cobwebbed shelf in the remote corners of my mind. And that detail came sneaking back into my consciousness just the other day, for the first time in a long time.

I was close friends with a fellow BJU student. A girl. I got to know her and her family quite well. And I remember something she told me many years ago, talking about “end times.” She said, “When you ever hear a perfect red heifer was born in Israel, look out. Weird stuff will happen right after that.” I never forgot her words. And I was very startled to see last weekend on The Drudge Report, of all mainstream sources. A perfect red heifer has been born in Israel, the first such heifer to come along in more than 2,000 years. Well. What does one make of that? I’m not sure. I’m keeping a sharp eye out. We’ll see, I guess, if weird things follow. At this point, not much would surprise me. Except if these days we’re in actually turned out to be the “end times.” I would be surprised at that.

Back to that random conversation where I said I don’t trust modern day “prophets.” I don’t. It’s too easy to make stuff up. I said this online. And a few days later, I got a private message from a close friend from another state. He told me of an incident where a prophet told him some very specific details of an event that happened the next day. Details that could not possibly have been manipulated. Things unfolded exactly as the prophet had predicted. Exactly.

And I told my friend. Yeah. It happens. I’ve seen it, too. A guy who didn’t even know me sent me a handwritten note last year. It was delivered by a mutual friend. I still don’t know the guy, I’ve never met him, and I don’t so much as remember his name. I took the note he sent, but I wasn’t quite sure how to take the message. This is what he wrote: “What has been locked inside for so long shall be called forth for release. The mask for the pain shall be removed.”

So what, exactly, did those words mean? Were they simply the noble vacant platitudes of a self-proclaimed seer? Or were they something more than that? I can’t say for sure. But I have a pretty good idea. I saved that handwritten note. It’s taped on a shelf above my desk at work. It’s dated August 29, 2017. That little slip of paper had nothing to do with my decision, but later that night, I didn’t have a drink for the first time in a long time. I haven’t had one since. And a month or so after that note was passed to me, I got the offer from Hachette for my second book. So, yeah. I agree with my friend. There are prophets. All kinds of prophets, so called. The real, authentic ones are few and far between.

And speaking of that evening of August 29th, last year. This year on that evening, I looked back on how it went one year ago. How I had made an almost offhand decision. Well, I had been thinking about it a lot. But thinkin’ ain’t doin’. And that night, I decided, just for anyhow. Tonight, I won’t have a drink. I can make it without one. And that’s how it’s been ever since. I can make it tonight without a drink.

For the first month or so, the raw craving for whiskey raged like a relentless wildfire in my brain. The battle was in my head, more than anywhere else. Since then, it hasn’t really been that hard. I am amazed at how fast the days and weeks and months have rolled right by. And now, it’s been a year. That’s a big deal to me. One year. I mean, who’da thunk it?

I am amazed, too, at how good it feels to be dry. Each morning is a new high, some mildly less grumpy than others. Still, I try to take nothing for granted. I’ll just get back up and get back on, if I ever fall off the wagon. That’s my game plan, and I’m stickin’ to it. So far, well, it seems to be working. At least up to this moment.

God bless every person who knows what it is to walk this broken road. Today, this moment, is all any of us have. And it’s all we’re ever gonna have on this earth.



  1. It would have been fun to watch if you had told the weasel to go ahead and then paid for his gas and then told him not to do that again, I think that would have shocked him and everybody else. People don’t get to see many Christians in action anymore.

    Comment by carol ellmore — September 14, 2018 @ 7:10 pm

  2. Ira, I believe in prophets myself. It is easier to believe in them if you have been given a special message by one. The Bible says the way that you can tell if they are a prophet, is if what they tell you comes true.
    This happened to me several years ago and it was true.

    God Bless you my brother in Christ


    Comment by Linda Morris — September 14, 2018 @ 8:42 pm

  3. Great stuff, as usual.

    Comment by Pizzalady — September 14, 2018 @ 9:34 pm

  4. Seems like I heard an American man had raised a pure red heifer and airlifted it over to the Holy Land, maybe back in the ’90’s. I thought it was awfully nice of him at the time, but I figured that final events would keep on unfolding at whatever pace God has set, never mind that heifer. There will be one, in God’s good time, but the guy couldn’t help things along by sending his. Interesting thoughts.

    Comment by Margie — September 15, 2018 @ 12:28 pm

  5. People like Mr Weasel irritate the crap outa me.Good for you for speaking up and calling him out.I have done it myself to line jumpers.I don’t care about their excuses for doing so.They aren’t special.Just selfish human beings who need to be called out for shoving to the front of the line.And if nobody speaks up,it enables the behavior.Yeah,there is a time and place to turn the other cheek and be passive.This ain’t one of them.Git back to the end of the line and wait your turn like everyone else,cowboy…..

    Comment by Lenny — September 16, 2018 @ 4:19 pm

  6. Ira, enjoy your writing; it felt good reading about how you put that rude guy in his place. Most people wouldn’t have bothered.

    I can recommend an excellent coffee machine for you that I have been using for the last two years or so if you need a recommendation. Life is too short to drink gas station coffee.

    Comment by Buddy — September 17, 2018 @ 1:08 am

  7. I loved the way you handled the weasel.

    Comment by forsythia — September 17, 2018 @ 7:26 am

  8. Thank you from the other side of the counter.

    Comment by lisa — September 17, 2018 @ 9:30 pm

  9. Let us not deceive ourselves in believing that we have not also at one time or another been rude to someone or felt privileged. However, those that jump in front of the line regularly will always do it.

    I have to take issue with your sharing of the Rapture, my Amish parents taught me that we should never believe modern day prophets but to go to scripture to test the prophet’s predictions. The word of God will not lead you astray. I have never heard anyone say that they are expecting to be raptured into heaven because they are afraid to die. Having said that, let’s go to scripture for the answer. First Thessalonians Chapter 4:15-18 we get our answer. Verse 16 and 17….For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And we will be with the Lord forever! I am so excited about that whether I’m already dead or still alive! I believe what it says but also respect other’s interpretation. All of us have been a modern day prophet at one time or another.

    Thanks for your monthly blog.

    Comment by Elsie Peachey — September 21, 2018 @ 10:33 am

  10. Congratulations to you, Ira, on your one year of sobriety! I’m very happy for you and hear a different (not angry) voice in your writings now. You should be very proud of your accomplishment.

    Comment by Erin — September 23, 2018 @ 12:04 pm

  11. RE: the young girl with the pretty dress-bet that made her day to get a compliment! Yrs ago a stranger commented on my “pretty blue eyes” – I was on cloud nine for wks! FYI – You wait FOR someone,not on (unless you’re waiting tables) Waiting For the bus,ETC(unless you’re already ON the bus and waiting!) I do enjoy your writings- some because I’m also ‘Out of Order!’

    Comment by RUTH MAXWELL — October 6, 2018 @ 12:03 pm

  12. Broken roads, broken people, devastated lives, all in need of a Redeemer.

    Many self-seeking prophets on the loose, releasing massive deception throughout.

    There is however, a still small voice that is audible only to those whose hearts are purged from unrighteous judgments….Let God’s LOVE reign supreme!

    Comment by Ben Girod — October 14, 2018 @ 2:04 pm

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