St. Augustine, Fla. – Roger Ebert is dead. I suppose you know this.
We’re sitting in yet another McDonald’s in St. Augustine. We’ve been in America’s oldest town since Monday night. What have we gained? We’ve learned nothing about St. Augustine history, but we have learned this: God has no special skills in the realm of automotive repair. This, however, does not rank as a revelation.
Tony Eugene Reid just stopped by our booth. He needs money. He offered to sell us socks. We gave him $3. He gave us three pairs of white socks. I trust he doesn’t need them.
Tony also gave us a bit of his story. He’s 54. He’s a homeless tattoo artist from Charlotte, N.C. His sister’s name is Wanda. His dad was a mechanic. His dad might’ve solved our engine troubles. Tony says his mom was a good woman. She drank a bit. Had a bad tick-tock. That’s what Tony said.
I took some video of Tony. First video of this leg of the journey. Youtube is uploading it now. Been uploading for five minutes. Youtube estimates it’ll take another 924 minutes to upload the first of three short videos of Tony Eugene Reid. This is why I don’t take many videos.
But, back to Roger Ebert. Usually I don’t blink an eye when a famous person shuffles off this polluted coil. I can be incredibly callous in such situations.
Nonetheless, Becky has been filling my head with the wonder of Roger Ebert for longer than I can remember. Even that wouldn’t have been enough to move me from my pedestal of indolence. In fact, when she informed me of Ebert’s passing, I grunted indifferently.
It just so happens I recently expanded Max Wallingford’s circle of Facebook friends. One of Max’s new friends, Julie McCormick, shared an essay Ebert wrote in 2011. The subject is death.
Ebert’s meditation on the end of our mortality includes a wonderful passage from the late Irish poet Brendan Behan. I confess I’d never heard of Behan. I confess I am an ignoramus.
What Behan wrote:
I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.
Safer roads, stronger ale and happier old people. Are you listening, Mr. Obama?
Ebert also references Vincent van Gogh’s whimsical thoughts on death as interplanetary locomotive force. It is worth considering:
Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map.
Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France?
Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means.
To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.
That’s all. Sometimes when you’re in a rut and can’t think of anything worth saying, the thoughts of others offer balm for the troubled soul.
On the subject of troubled souls, I hope things improve for Tony. I hope he gets out of the St. Francis shelter and finds a place of his own. Tony says being at St. Francis is like being in jail. Tony knows about being in jail. He showed me his work card from a prison in Jacksonville.
I hope he gets that mix-up with his Social Security check straightened out before the president reaches across the aisle to the granny-eaters in the House of Representin’ and succeeds in passing a truly misanthropic budget.
And I hope it all happens by the time I upload those videos, the first of which still has 446 minutes to go.
RIP, Roger Ebert. May you enjoy your celestial journey.