Adage


Adage (ad’-age): One of several terms describing short, pithy sayings, or traditional expressions of conventional wisdom.


“The clothes make the man“ the homeless man’s sign read. He was wearing a pair of shoes that didn’t match—a brown loafer and a yellow and green running shoe, black pin-striped dress pants with a broken zipper held shut with a strip of duct tape and held up by a green and black bungee chord, and a t-shirt with a picture of two sexually engaged pigs captioned “Makin’ Bacon.” His hair was so dirty there were actually flies flying around it, and it looked like he was using vegetable oil to keep in place, hanging down to his shoulders and staining his t-shirt. He was collecting “donations” in an old Cohiba box from people walking by. I gave him a One-hundred dollar bill. He saw me and jumped up and started singing Elvis Presley’s “Surrender” in a voice killed by tobacco, alcohol, and possibly, tuberculosis.

I recognized the homeless man. He was Matthew Norder, but he did not recognize me. I was surprised, but I understood. We were childhood friends and went all the way through high school together. We went our separate ways when we graduated— I went to California, to UC Santa Barbara, and he went to a shady religious college: Slaves of Christ in Buffalo Plaid, Manitoba. His parents were very religious. I don’t know where they got it, but they had a machine that ground paper into dust. They would grind up pages from the New Testament and sprinkle the dust on their dinner every night. They believed that eating ground-up Bible pages would nourish their spirits, make them more godly, and sanctify their bowel movements as they excreted “the truth and the light.” They were not bad people, at least as far as everybody knew. They did not proselytize. They looked normal, except for the matching tattoos of bumblebees on the inside of their forearms. Matthew never said anything about his and their beliefs, and he seemed pretty much like everybody else in our small Central New Jersey town.

But that changed when he came back home after he graduated from Slaves of Christ. He told me the Dean of his school, “John Smith,” had counseled him to become a pimp for Jesus. At first, Matthew thought it was some kind of metaphor or a bad joke, but he quickly learned it wasn’t when he started taking classes: “Building a Stable,” “Disciplining your Whores,” “Guarding your Turf,” “Dressing Like a Proper Pimp.” It hit me like a lightning bolt! Matthew’s sign “The clothes make the man” was a reference to what John Smith had taught him all those years ago, and what he took up with great gusto. I remember the last time I saw him before he was arrested, tried and convicted of aiding in prostitution, he looked the part—he had a red beaver felt hat with a pheasant feather, at least five pounds of gold chains and bracelets, a purple hand-tailored suit, black suede Guccis, and a custom-made Hermes shoulder bag. He was leaning against a gold Cadillac, with a Rolls-Royce grill, and mounted behind the trunk, a spare tire with a gold cover and a huge gold cross with flashing blue lights. When I saw him, I ran.

I asked around and found out that Matthew had gotten out of jail two years ago. He couldn’t get a job and became homeless, and true to his education, he was dressing the part: Homeless Man. I still don’t understand the whole John Smith thing. It was crazy. I should have told Matthew’s parents, but I was a coward and they were staunch supporters of Slaves of Christ College. Matthew’s parents had gone to Slaves of Christ. We never talked about what they studied, but Matthew’s father had a store in the mall called “Big Steals” where he sold all kinds of things out of dented and scraped up cardboard boxes that he “recovered” once-a-week from a rest stop on the Garden State Parkway. Matthew’s mother produced “Documentary Movies” in their basement. When I was a kid, sometimes I’d go over for lunch and hear banging and moaning coming out of the basement. Matthew said it was their old washing machine making the noise.

As I put on my Burberry coat and got ready to kiss my perfect wife, and hug my beautiful children, and leave for work, I thought for a second about Matthew. His trajectory through life almost made me sick. I had checked: John Smith is still alive. How can he teach vulnerable students to be pimps for Jesus? What am I missing? Is there anything you can’t do for Jesus?


Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).

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