The marine layer gave way to the morning sun, now cascading down the alleyway with the city's petulance awakening the previous night's occupants. He pulled the dew soaked refrigerator carton over his head to shield his eyes as the shifting morning light rudely brought him to an awakened state. The stench of the alley dumpsters holding the previous day's restaurant fare was now being replaced by the smell of brewing coffee and freshly baked pastries. He pushed the cardboard shelter away from him and supported his aching back by grabbing the handle of his grocery cart that served as a walker for his bent and aging frame, symbolizing the psychological crutch he needed to move on with his life. Most days he felt like he was on a long and tiring shopping excursion, looking for the next moment that would motivate him to continue for a while longer. It might be a collection of discarded cans or bottles he could convert to a few dollars, or a pity taking passerby that flipped him a quarter and flashed a genuinely kind smile, or the meal he found in the gourmet food being tossed out by the local restaurant workers. All in all, he was surprised at how well he had adapted to what he once thought would be a shameful existence – now one that made him contemplate the meaning of compassion through suffering.
His once close fitting Levis were now baggy and lived-in with the dirt and stains of life on the streets of San Francisco. Street friends called him, "Frisco", after the ever-present faded orange and grease-stained "SF" baseball cap that covered his shoulder length graying dark mane. He had a name once, but at some point he knew that he wasn't going back to that person, so he purposely forgot it so he could survive. He liked Frisco because, as a purveyor of the gifts handed down from Saint Francis of Assisi, he was devoted to his poverty. He frequented the various church missions and shelters, always staying mindful of his message from the "Divine Order" and those that inspired his purpose. "I'm a lover of San Fran," he would always say, "and a man who's livin' for the enlightenment of all."
For recreation, he shopped through the lens of his racing mind, finding unusual tee shirts as he pushed his chariot through the street vendors of truth. His current front side tee-moniker said "Monty Python hated Snakes" which he thought was comical because of the reaction of the snake-eyed business people who, at the end of the evening, stumbled out of the highbrow saloons and noticed his meander. His opening joke was always, "How do you know if a snake has had too much to drink? He slithers his words…and did you hear about the snake that liked sex? It made him curl up and relax. He would go on and on from there, annoying and cajoling them until he extracted the dollars. Maybe it was his false Shakespearean brogue, but as he got more attention, he noticed more cash placed directly into his hand. It was so easy for him. Once he realized he was in show business, he found rubber snakes to hang from the sides of his cart. On many nights he had numerous dangling vipers crowded around him, waiting for a few more laughs. If the tips were generous enough, he would donate a snake to the audience. The snake man shtick always worked well for the periods of drought in the spiritual harvest.
His most prized possessions were his copies of the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita. Seeking inspiration from them daily, and believing in a God without a name, he trusted in the greater good of Divine Order. It was a philosophy he had created for himself. At the core of it was living completely on the faith that everything happens for a reason – "no such thing as accidents" he would say to his fellow drifters. "The only reality is now…yesterday is a dream and tomorrow is only a possibility." So he wandered and stopped to read from one of his precious books when he felt like it. He napped when he was tired, ate when he was hungry, and helped those who were in need when he could. Sometimes he walked slow and sometimes fast, always following the path of least resistance, believing in the perfection around him. Some days he would talk to people and tell them that they shouldn't worry, and on other days he spoke to none. He didn't wear a watch or worry about the time. And when he was anxious or scared, he would go to the water and watch the symphony of waves crash onto the shore, inspiring him to read from one of his tomes of ancient wisdom. But everyday he helped somebody in need. That was how he practiced his religion.
"Frisco!" screamed the cart vendor. "Hey Frisco!"
Frisco turned slowly and waved to him. "Vinnie!"
"Come 'ere!" yelled Vinnie gesturing him over. "Ya owe me two dollars."
"Can't hear ya for that hippity hop coming from your music box," he blathered, crossing in the middle of the block, causing the street traffic to stop. "For what?" asked Frisco, now in front of Vinnie's tee shirt cart.
"That tee shirt I sold you. You gave me ten singles…need two more buddy." Vinnie was heavyset and fidgety. He wasn't looking at Frisco through his cheap sunglasses.
"Well, I don't have it – I gave you all I got," he said pushing back. "I'll owe ya for it."
"Come on Frisc – these is tough times buddy. Can't make it if I don't collect from everybody." Vinnie paused, looking down the street. "Hold on for a sec Frisc," he said, turning his attention to the young woman pushing a baby carriage, stopping next to him. "Hey Mary," he said with a one sided smile. He stepped around the cart and kissed her on the lips.
Her happy yellow sundress did not match her mood. "Vinnie, I thought we were going to spend some family time today," she said in a whiney tone, her hand poised on her hip.
Vinnie leaned over and kissed the baby in the stroller and then he looked at her. He shrugged his shoulders and sighed. "You know…Mar…I got a business here. Don't have anyone to cover today 'til later."
"Yea, I guess – nice planning Vin." Mary turned and began pushing the carriage away, clearly troubled that their plans had been ruined. "Okay, call me on my cell when you get a break," she said, straining her neck to look back at him.
He stepped back over to Frisco who had changed the radio station on Vinnie's boom box. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were now singing about Mrs. Robinson. "Business is bad Frisc. I can't afford to pay anyone else." He dropped his chin and Frisco noticed that his pasted on smile had slipped a bit.
"Ya want me to cover for ya, Vin?" Frisco grinned through the black streaks on his face, showing his darkly stained teeth.
Vinnie's expression didn't change much. "Sorry, Frisc, don't think you'd fit in on this gig. No offense, but I think you might scare some people away."
He laughed and coughed, sounding wheezy. His raspy voice continued. "Well I still owe ya two bucks. I cin work it off."
"Forget it Frisco. It's just that I don't know how I'm going to put it together this month. Got the carry on my inventory, rent, daycare…you know."
"Okay," he said. "I'll bring you the two bucks tomorrow."
"Yeah!…okay!…you freak!" yelled Vinnie in a sudden burst of anger. "Now get the hell outa here before you scare off more customers. Don't make me call you a worthless jerk."
Anxious and disappointed, Frisco pushed his cart away and headed toward his home: the panhandle section of Golden Gate Park. He had a sanctuary there – one where he saw the future, where he could get a solution to any problem. He was thinking about Mary and Vinnie. He wanted to save them. As he pushed onward, his small voice within was calling him to appear before nightfall. But it was ominously dark when he arrived, and his thoughts began to race. He reached into his basket for his flashlight, pointing it ahead of him as he navigated from the smooth pavement onto the narrow dirt path. "All is in perfect order," he repeated to himself. Then he spotted it – the mystical opening in the bushes that were juxtaposed to a bizarrely engulfing hidden rock formation, encasing the sacred altar stone blessed by a famous guru in the 1960s. Eventually he was kneeling before the colorful candle waxed altar stone.
He lit the black, the purple, and the white candles, and whispered to himself, "I call upon the wisdom of the multi-verse – that which transcends all and brings Divine Order. Grant me the wisdom of the past, clarity in the present, and a vision for the future. I ask this in the name of the Divine Order." As he had done many times before, he sat with his eyes closed, upper body erect, legs crossed, while the candlelight lifted him into a familiar trance. Time stood still as he began to see what he came for.
Overwhelmed by excitement, his years of study and dedication to Divine Order were coming into full focus. As the vision began to fade, he extinguished the trinity and then looked up to the full-mooned sky. With the lunar light shining intensely, he lay down and drifted into peaceful sleep, anticipating a new day for Vinnie and Mary and their beautiful baby.
"Get up Frisco! Move on!" said the park ranger firmly, his head shadow displacing the sunshine in Frisco's face. "I've warned you before. You can't sleep here."
"I know," said Frisco. "Love lies in your heart officer…I know that. I just needed a place for the night. Won't happen again. I've got alot to do today."
"Okay, get to it then," the ranger said as he walked away.
Leaving the Lindley Meadows, Frisco pushed his cart back toward the pavement, looking for the route back to Vinnie's tee shirt stand on the corner of Ashbury and Fell. His mind still burning with the vision, he was still feeling a sense of urgency; one that he hadn't felt since his discovery of the Divine Order. His wobbly wheel was now squeaking again as he pushed back to the Haight.
"Where's Vinnie?" he kept saying to the street patrons. He shoved his cart up and down the block, desperately straining to see any sign of him. "He was here yesterday. He needed my help. I have what he needs. I need to find him," he called out, wondering from one pedestrian to another. He went from store to store, cart-to-cart, but no word about Vinnie – he had vanished.
He rolled to a stop, sitting on the edge of a sidewalk bench. He put his head in his hands and prayed to the Divine Order for relief. There were racing thoughts again. "Where's Vinnie? My headaches are back…need a doc…need to find Vinnie…can't hear you…I'm trying to find him." He stood and continued to shuffle on, pushing until he found the clinic, the one that he knew could save him. "Haight Clinic" the sign said. As he approached the reception desk, he heard his name called, "Frisco!" The room began to spin as he turned to see who was calling. Frisco held the money out to him. "I have two bucks for…" he droned as he collapsed onto the floor.
"He's severely dehydrated," said Doctor Sylvie, an attractive Indian doctor with a heavy accent. "Doesn't look like he gets much to eat. Do you know him?"
Frisco was on a gurney in the air-conditioned urgent care exam room. Next to him stood Vinnie and Mary who was clutching the baby.
"All I know about him is that people call him Frisco," said Vinnie. "Came by to get a tee shirt from me now and then. Seems like a good guy…never seen him drunk…he just talked about the Divine Order all the time. Very weird but I like 'im."
"He stinks," said Mary. She moved toward the door. "I think they're going to call us for the baby's check-up soon. I better get back to the waiting area."
"Okay hon," said Vinnie.
"So Vinnie, we're going to transfer him to the county hospital," said Dr. Sylvie, putting down Frisco's chart, "but you can stay with him until the ambulance gets here. I have some other patients to see." The doctor followed Mary out the door and closed it.
Vinnie sat down in the chair next to the gurney. He watched Frisco's labored breathing and the slow drip of the IV from the hanging bag. It was the first time he had seen him without his hat. Frisco was almost motionless, and Vinnie couldn't help but imagine him dead as he watched his shallow breathing. "All of this for two bucks?" he thought to himself. Elbows on his knees, he held his shaking head in his hands.
"Umph," moaned Frisco. His head began to rock back and forth. His words were soft but clear. "Vinnie," he said in a muffled tone. "Vinnie…where's Vinnie…Vinnie."
Vinnie stood and touched his shoulder. "I'm here Frisc…I'm here."
Frisco's eyes opened. "Vinnie? Oh Vinnie," he said. A smile formed across his disheveled face. "I have what you need for your business. You'll like it. All Divine Order."
"Oh, its okay now Frisc. We're done with the tee shirt business. We're moving back to New York…Greenwich Village. Gotta buddy that's gonna help me get into building websites. That's where its at."
Frisco shook his head. "Not your thing Vinnie," his voice fading. "I know what you are called to do. Can you get me some water?"
Vinnie put the cup and straw near his mouth so he could drink.
Frisco gulped and continued to perk up. "Trust me Vinnie," he said wheezing, "its Divine Order." He put his hand into the back pocket of his dungarees and removed a folded piece of paper. His quivering hand held it out to Vinnie. "You must do this."
His breathing slowed and Vinnie watched his eyes close again. "Frisco! Wake up… Frisco!" He put his hand on his chest. He felt no heartbeat. He screamed, "Dr. Sylvie! Help! Help! He's dead!
"His name's Francis Litgard. He worked here once. Years ago. His family and colleagues called him Frank," said Dr. Sylvie reading from his file. "Last time he was in we checked and found his old clinic employment records, but we had no idea what happened to him after he left us. Apparently he was a brilliant cardiologist. His county records show that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in San Francisco ten years ago. There are a couple of people in the clinic that remember him."
"Oh my," said Mary, looking at Vinnie's distressed face.
Vinnie reached into his tee shirt pocket and again unfolded the crumpled document. He began to read Frisco's note aloud:
"SEVEN TEE SHIRTS for VINNIE -
DIVINE ORDER: What is real cannot be destroyed
DIVINE ORDER: As you believe, so you are
DIVINE ORDER: Give and it shall be given to you
DIVINE ORDER: There are no accidents
DIVINE ORDER: Live in your Heart – the Divine will direct your mind
DIVINE ORDER: No work stains a man who is pure at heart
DIVINE ORDER: Your friends are your riches"
"Frisco told me that the world will follow these words," said Vinnie, still staring at the paper. "That they will understand Divine Order and that we already knew these truths. We're only remembering from millions of years of life in our multi-verse. And then he stopped breathing."
Dr. Sylvie smiled. "It was sudden cardiac arrest. But this kind of death happens – even to those with a good heart."
"We now welcome whom many consider to be the most innovative member of the dot COM community in the world," barked Larry King on CNN. "Vinnie Van Gogh is considered the first and foremost creator of internet solutions for bringing peace to the diverse religious and cultural communities around the world. Now considered to be the Bill Gates of the twenty-first century, his story has been told many times in the last ten years and we're glad to have him back again." Larry pushed his heavy dark rims up his nose and smiled. Then he posed the question: "It seemed hopeless at times, but now we are clearly entering another new period of peace and prosperity in the world, Vinnie. How did you come up with WorldFriends.com?"
"Yes in 2014, we are in a new era of peace, but it won't last unless we love each other," said Vinnie. "I know this sounds crazy, but my friend Frisco taught us all we need to know. His picture hangs in our offices and he's a part of the culture at our company. I didn't know him well, but somehow he knew me. From the time I met him, my life has been a series of improbable events leading to now. When he died he was wearing a tee shirt that said, "GO FRANCIS – REPAIR MY RUINED HOUSE". He claimed he got the shirt from me and that he owed me two dollars for it. I could find no record of the tee shirt purchase. But I looked up the quote and we think it came from St. Francis of Asissi who said that he had a vision from God to fix what is broken. So tonight, I am announcing the 'Two Bucks for Frisco Foundation' to help those with mental illness. Some say we're broke in this country, but our hearts are not. God bless you Frisco."