This morning I finally read the late Paul Crume's 1967 newspaper column about angels, reprinted in today's Dallas Morning News, according to their annual custom. When I told my wife I had never read it before, she reacted with shock, dismay, disenchantment -- the usual.
She's a Dallas native. She probably thinks reading Crume's column about angels every year is required by law. I'm not asking.
I never read it before because I have a major bias against local newspaper columnists from back in the day. I was a kid coming up when most of them were sinking into their final stages of all-too-public dotage. I think of them as a bunch of narcissistic old hacks, knowing full well that kids coming up in the business today must think the same of me. What goes around, you know.
Crume's column is beautifully written. It's superb, with just the right legacy of 1940s noire, a splash of erudition and a good touch for the '60s. It's not a mud-bath of religiosity, which is what I had feared.
His point is that angels are emanations of a sensed but unseen probability binding us together and watching over us in a lonely universe. I could explain the same thing with quantum mechanics, if I could understand quantum mechanics.
I must admit something. I have my own version of angels.
In my part of Dallas, close to downtown in a nicely renovated slum, we share the streets with people from beyond the far margins of society -- the extraordinaries.
They appear before us like moving silhouettes on a puppet stage, on bicycles and on foot, sometimes with burdens, sometimes not, but always in costume, apparitions from a brilliant Salvador Dali universe.
Some of them appear every day at a given moment, then disappear for days, weeks or forever. Do they float up into the sky? Or die in the alleys?
One of the first I saw when we moved into the neighborhood was Pocahantas -- known by that name to all of my neighbors, none of whom had ever spoken to her, because she never spoke. She was slender, early middle-aged, attractive, always clad in fringed and beaded reproduction buckskins, with a single long black braid all the way down her back.
She walked the alleys and was Pocahantas. That was it.
Another extraordinary was the white mariachi, a mature, somewhat pudgy fellow dressed in a huge bangled mariachi sombrero and way-too-tight trajes. He strode down the sidewalks with proud flair.
Mr. Debonair, sometimes known as Fake Englishman, wore a bowler hat and carried an umbrella that he flipped around like a drum major's baton.
There were several on heavily modified old bicycles often towing handmade wagons. The one I remember best was World War II Bomber Pilot, who wore a leather helmet, goggles and a sheepskin-lined leather bomber jacket even in the blazing heat of summer.
I am using the past tense. Few of them are still around. Is it our fault? As the neighborhood has become more respectable, have we have somehow pushed them back from our borders? Or is somebody medicating it all out of them now? Are they happier now, no longer being extraordinary?
All I know is that the humdrum of our own lives is interrupted less often by one of these bright shining anomalies -- apparitions to remind us that what we think of as reality is only a picture frame we hold up to the multiverse to keep from getting dizzy.
Their appearances now are all the more valuable for being rare. They are gifts from the beyond, reminders that this prison we call real life is only that, a jail from which escape is possible and judging by appearances quite colorful. But who are they really? What are they?
So several years ago -- days before Christmas -- I'm by myself at the pancake house. I look up from my booth, and there on the other side of the restaurant, too far away from me to hear words, I see Mr. Debonair and World War II Bomber Pilot sharing a booth.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
And I mean chatting up a storm. Laughing at each other's jokes, gesticulating, watching each other's eyes and interrupting as if finishing each other's sentences. Talk-talk-talk, laugh-laugh-laugh.
So they knew each other. They shared a language and a universe. They loved each other, at least long enough to eat pancakes together.
I remembered that moment today when I read Crume's column saying angels are real. The extraordinaries are my angels. Their universe is my universe, or could be. Maybe that comes after the narcissistic hack stage. I need to get work on my costume right away.
I plan to be the kind that sets fires. Sorry in advance.