My power washer was broken this afternoon. I wasn’t sure it could be fixed but found a place nearby that repaired power washers, weed whackers, and small yardish equipment.
I made a phone call.
“He’s out there a’fixin things right now. Bring it on over.”
So I loaded up my pressure washer and set off for the repair shop.
A winding dirt road didn’t seem right to me. I was sure I had made a wrong turn, but just as I was about to head back, there it was.
The business. The house. The camper. The cat.
It wasn’t what I was expecting—nothing like the repair shop I’d imagined. It was more like the set of Deliverance.
I got out of the van to no sign of anyone. The cat had just wrapped itself around my leg when I heard a yell from inside the house. I was quiet. I wondered if the yell was for me. I listened close to see if whoever it was might yell again.
“I’m in here!” I heard come from a half open window next to the screen door. “I’m right in here!”
Someone was chained to an old radiator, I just knew it.
“Okay,” I called back, sheepishly, and headed for the door. I hoped I’d be murdered quickly. I’m not into suffering.
An old metal “oxygen in use” sign was hanging under a brass doorbell that had seen better days. I knocked on the door and a dog inside went wild.
“It’s okay. He won’t hurt you,” I heard from the other side of the door. “Just come on in here.”
Just come on in here?!?!
If this were a horror movie, this is when the forgettable first victim would be slashed to death as the cat peacefully looked on.
I grabbed the rusty knob and opened the door.
Ten feet in front of me was a faded leather recliner with a large naked man sitting in it. (I am writing this exactly two hours post nakedness.)
He smiled and waved me in. “Come on in, son,” he said. And although I didn’t take one step into his home, for some reason, I was strangely unalarmed.
“You caught me in the middle of a job,” he told me. And this is when I realized he was holding a portable urinal, or “Little John” in his hand—right between his legs. The bubbling and splashing told me that I had indeed caught him “in the middle of a job.”
“Can you fix my power washer?” I asked, as if this was an ordinary scenario for me—as if asking naked men to repair my power washer was something I had gotten used to.
“Oh sure. I just got out of the hospital, so I can’t, but Blaine should be right out there. I told him you were coming.”
“Blaine?” I asked. I imagined a college kid with a letterman sweater hanging around his shoulders. I imagined him wearing argyle socks and arriving on a golf cart.
“Yessir! He’ll fix it up good. I can’t get out of this chair for a while. It’s been hell.”
“That right?” I asked. “Sorry about that. I really do hope you get to feeling better.”
“I appreciate that, young man. Thank you.”
The bubbling and splashing had come to a stop during our conversation, but he waited until I stepped out before removing his Little John. I was grateful for this show of modesty.
I pulled the door closed behind me and took a breath. That poor man, I thought to myself. Should I have asked to dump his urine? To get him a robe?
I turned around and it was Blaine. No letterman sweater. No golf cart. No teeth.
“You Blaine? That right?” Without realizing it, I had become fluent in Duck Dynasty.
“Is there a Blaine?” I asked.
“Nope, just a Ray. That’s me,” he says, and lets out the most delightful, toothless laugh. His mouth was an open hole, and with no teeth, I could see half way down his throat.
“Great to meet ya, Ray!” I said, shaking his hand.
“Well, let me check out your power washer,” he says, and we drag it out of the van. “You ain’t never put oil in it, did ya?” He’s not accusing me, but I feel a little power-tool-shame.
“You’re engine’s locked up. It’s froze. You can’t fix it cuz it’ll cost you too much. You might as well buy a new one.”
“Seriously?” I ask.
“Yep. And one word of advice on that,” he says, and waits for me to ask. So I do.
“What’s that, Ray?”
“Put seventy-five dollars in your wallet and hide all the rest of your money in another pocket,” he says, slowly miming the entire swindle. “And then don’t let them see the money you got hid in your other pocket.”
“Let who see?” I ask. I have no idea what he’s talking about.
“HOME DEPOT!!!” he says, and shows me the back of his throat. By now, I’m laughing too, because even though I have no idea what he’s talking about, in just two throaty laughs, I’ve fallen in love with Ray.
“Here’s the thing,” he says, picking up where he’s left off, “if you just tell ‘em ‘Here’s what I got,’ and show ‘em that seventy-five dollars and then say, ‘Take it or leave it!’ you might just get yourself a deal. But make sure the rest of your money is hid in your OTHER POCKET.”
“Well, I’ll give ‘er a try,” I say, sounding a little more like Hee Haw this time.
“Ladies do it all the time,” he tells me “…only they buy a purdy dress, wear it, and then return it when they’re done.” He can barely get out these last words. He smacks his knee and shows me all the way down to his esophagus. This man—I want to stuff him and hang him from my rearview mirror.
Once we pull ourselves together, we load the power washer back into the van while Ray yammers on about growing up in this house, being sixty-one years old, and his daddy not feeling too good. After putting two and two together, I realize that the man inside is Ray’s dad. I don’t see anyone else around. I wonder if Ray is carrying this load all by himself.
I thank Ray for his help and as I’m pulling out of the driveway, he cups his hands around his mouth and yells, “Head to Home Depot!” He shoots a final toothless grin and waves like a seven year old.
Nope, just a Ray, I think to myself. Love that guy.
Two minutes down the dirt road, I’m already calling my sister because I’ve just seen a naked man, and such stories must be shared. But even as I’m conveying every last detail to her, it feels like something is missing—perhaps the most important part of the story—the part that can be so easy to overlook.
When an unexpected thing happens, sometimes it gets stuck in my head and I mull it over and over, wondering if meant more—if there was a hidden bit of faith, hope, or love in it. Because there are times when the story shifts even just a little, and we see something kind, or helpful—a reminder, or pearl of wisdom.
Ray seemed happy enough, but was he caring for his father all by himself? Was there a wife, a mom?
I found myself wondering about Ray’s life, and then about my own.
My version of happiness, peace, love, and fulfillment HAS to be different than Ray’s, right? I’m sure Ray has his issues the same as me. But why did I feel so comfortable around Ray and his naked father? Is it because I have the societal upper hand, with two cars, a house in the suburbs, and better social skills?
And then I wondered; maybe it wasn’t comfortable that I was feeling, but comforted.
Comforted, because in Ray’s company, I felt no pressure to be anything other than what I was. Comforted, because there was no pretense. No measuring. No expectations.
Ray’s dad invited me into his home, fully exposed, while filling his urinal to the halfway mark. And as crass as it may sound, there was something beautiful about this moment. He was more comfortable sitting before me, stark naked in that faded leather recliner, than the fully clothed man who introduced himself to me at Starbucks just last week.
He was naked and unashamed.
How is this possible? And why is there a part of me that longs for this kind of exposure? Bare. Literally. Nothing to hide. Not an ounce of pretending.
“If you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” -Luke 14:11, The MessageTweet This
The section of the bible where this verse is found is entitled:
Invite the Misfits.
But in THIS case, I think I’m the misfit. Not them.
Ray made no excuses for his dad. He gave no explanations and offered no apologies. If anyone had seen my dad sitting naked in a chair, filling a portable urinal, it would’ve wrecked my ego.
Without love, we are so terribly fragile—so terribly misfiting.
Tonight, after dinner, I did a personal character assessment. More than a hundred defects of character were listed on the sheet in front of me. I put a mark next to thirty-four of them. But the one that glared up at me from the page was “Self-Importance”.
Truth: I’m no better than Ray or his naked dad. I’m no better than anyone. In fact, I’m fairly certain that on this day, both of these men were better men than me. Know why?
Because they were simply themselves. And in so being, they had become…
MORE THAN themselves.