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Living Out Loud: : A Cincinnati Pentecost

What is justice, what is peace?

By Peter Deane · June 15th, 2005 · Living Out Loud
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"Ta da!" The smiling man sang out as he pulled his top hat off, separating it from a black cane held in his other hand. His wide smile highlighted a gap in the middle of his upper teeth. I couldn't help but notice he looked like a mix between David Lettermen, Kojak and Willy Wonka.

"Mr. Tar Bells my name," he exclaimed. "Welcome to Cincinnati!" The large wall clock behind him swiftly fizzed into a red blaze. The sound of a saxophone began to play as a balcony from behind the clock's center turned toward us. Playing the saxophone was a robotized wax figure of Winton Marsalis dressed as an angel, the words 'Hell in Cincinnati' flickering behind him. Winton ended his final note as robotized figures of Bill Cosby and Whoopi Goldberg dressed in 1800 German fashion rolled out from behind the clock's blue curtain. When the clock's musical notes ended and all the figures popped and rolled back from where they came from, a Smokey Robin Cuckoo Bird popped out from the clock's top window and rang out a loud "cuckoo!" "Everybody! Everybody! Everybody in Cincinnati!" Mr. Tar Bell says in a loud voice, "Step this way, over to bus 5. Let's go! Right away now." I hurried through the line, past Mr. Tar Bell's and the sliding glass door and jogged over to the bus. "Tickets! Tickets! Have your tickets out!" yelled a beautiful braided woman who began collecting tickets from the bus line. I handed her my paper ticket as the bus door folded open, exposing an old gentleman wearing a busman's hat and a bow tie that was polka dotted yellow and black. Bracing his hands on the bus doorframe, he leaned out toward us.

"OK, listen up!" he said. "Name's Willy. I used to be a disc jockey in the good ol' days -- that is, until the radio stations all went out of business because there weren't any businesses left in the city to advertise. Just want to let you know that regardless of what you all may have heard, I like everyone, really, even if you're black. Hell, some of my best friends are black. Like I said, I like everyone, Mexicans, too." I began to go over what was in my lunch bag, as Willy finished his announcement with a rule.

"When we go through Over-the-Rhine, make sure your windows are up and locked. Now let's board the bus."

I quickly boarded and hurried past Willy to an empty seat in the back, and on my seat was a tour program. I quickly glanced over the schedule of events. The bus jerked forward as Willy stepped on the accelerator, leaving Mr. Tar Bell's behind in the dust. The passengers began talking among themselves. Willy's voice quickly rumbled loudly, overpowering the bus chatter.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the most racist city in the world show. We at Cincinnati Tours hope you enjoy it and remember that everything is real and everyone hates you except me." The bus eased itself through the empty streets of Cincinnati and made its way to Fountain Square. When we arrived, we found it was decorated for Christmas, despite the fact it was July. A large figure of Santa and his bag of toys made the final backdrop for a large group of protesters who were assembled under a menorah. They held signs that said, "Down with the KKK" and "Breast-fed by dogs and moms with monkey tails." Down the street, rolling toward the fountain, was a caravan of expensive foreign vehicles. To the very rear of the caravan was a beat-up red Ford pick-up. Riding high in the back of the Ford was a large white metal cross. Welded onto its center was a large, scribbled greeting that said, "Merry Christmas Cincinnati! By the Hyde park Members of the KKK." The caravan stopped in front of the protesters, who then began a rally cry "Hey, hey, ho, ho! KKK has got to go!" The tourists quickly turned their sights on the disturbance as the Hyde Park Chapter of the KKK emerged from their vehicles wearing the finest minks, furs, dresses and suits. After donning their silky white-coned hoods, they walked over to the rear of the Ford pick-up and lowered the cross out of it. "Charge!" a KKK chapter member yelled as the sound of high heels and Armani shoes clacked across the hard pavement, ramming their cross through the crowd of protesters. A protester dressed as an army general yelled, "Protesters, throw the bottles, throw the rocks!" A hundred bottles began to fly through the air, hitting the carriers of the KKK cross.

The sound of hooves thundered against the pavement onto Fountain Square. Fifty mounted police officers in full riot gear turned the corner and charged into the protesters, knocking them back and away from the cross.

The white cross slowly arched over and up, landing squarely on its base. Two hooded men then quickly lassoed a chain to the cross and tied it around a metal barricade. "Calvary! Protect the cross! Protect the cross! Beautiful!" a Cincinnati Police captain yelled into a bullhorn. "Unholster your weapons and start shooting them in the air!"

The Cincinnati Police Calvary surrounded the cross and began shooting their guns into the open sky. The protesters quickly dropped their signs and began to run away. The Hyde Park Chapter of the KKK and tourists on the bus began to cheer. "Wasn't that exciting?" exclaimed an old lady sitting next to me. "We never see this stuff in L.A." The bus began moving again. We turned onto Vine Street and headed to Over-the-Rhine. A Cincinnati Police car quickly passed from behind the bus as another squad car screeched to a halt at the front. A tall, skinny young black man ran past us into a gangway between two brick tenement buildings.

"After him!" a cop yelled as three policemen jumped out of the squad cars and ran into the narrow gangway of the building.

The young black man turned the corner as one cop with an itchy finger drew his weapon. The revolver discharged with a loud bang as a bullet struck the young unarmed man in the chest sending him falling backwards onto the hard sidewalk. He was killed instantly.

Stunned silence filled the bus as Willy laughed.

"That's the funniest part of this whole tour. Boy, did you see that young scumbag's face?" The cop with the itchy finger stood stunned and sweating.

"It just went off, it just went off," he kept repeating. "Don't worry," one of the other cops said. "We'll just say the scumbag went to pull his pants up." "Went to pull his pants up? It just went off? My butt it just went off!" Willy said.

He opened the door of the bus, and as we drove past the cops and dead body, he exclaimed for all to hear, "For crying out loud, he deserved it!" I opened my program to see what was next. It read, 'The Hall of Silence -- Old City Hall'. At the Hall of Silence, Willy, the tourist and I ascended the stairs to the third floor. Two large brown doors opened up to the old council chambers. We walked through the center aisle and every movement echoed deep within the chamber's void. Seven concrete statues of naked men and women, hands covering their faces, stood shrouded in years of dust and alone where Cincinnati's councilmen and councilwomen once sat. A cry of protesters yelling "No Justice! No Peace!' on the outside of the hall began to weep through the walls of the building.

"What the hell is that?" Willy asked.

The chamber room soon began to shake as the protesters made their way up the stairs to where we were standing. The doors barged open and protesters marched angrily down the center aisle, looting and rampaging the chamber. The statues were quickly placed upright onto their shoulders as they also grabbed Willy and tied him up hand and foot.

"This isn't in the program!" Willy screamed in horror as they rammed a dirty pair of underwear in his mouth and wrapped it shut with duct tape. They carried the statues and Willy back down the stairs, and as they walked out of the building they tore Willy's shirt off. In front of the Hall of Silence, a blacksmith stood next to a coal-fired pit. He worked his trade in the middle of Plum Street, as he removed one of his hot branding irons. Willy's half naked body was dragged toward him. The word 'Bloody Instigator' was soon smoking, charred on Willy's chest. The protesters then handed Willy's rope to a bearded fat man. "Woe is me and I who must forever tow these enquiring ropes," he said.

They all began to walk and I followed them as the tour bus suddenly burst into flames. I followed them all as they marched up Main Street, renamed Poverty's Blanket. It was on Poverty's Blanket that the rally cry became, "Who speaks for them!" We reached a small black church on the corner of Findley and Elm streets. I entered into the doors of the church last. All the people in the world were assembled in the pews, and I do mean everyone, including you. A casket dripping with fresh blood sat in the center of the church aisle. Above the church aisle, within the sanctuary, sat two twins on two thrones facing the casket. One was named Reverend Justice and the other was named Reverend Peace. The dusty statues now stood behind them. The reverends arose from their seats, and the whole world arose with them. "Why no peace?" Reverend Justice asked. "Why no justice?" Reverend Peace asked. The people in the pews began to argue among themselves, as to what is justice and what is peace. The arguments grew intense. Finding no agreement, they turned violently on themselves, blaming each other, in a world battle that shook the foundation of every religion. The reverends watched the fighting and the inner rioting, hoping that this battle would give a desired final answer.

The concrete statues shook and smashed into rubble on the church floor. Dust then filled the church until all were choking blind with greed and lost in envy and lust.

When the dust clouds lifted, the people noticed seven children crying where the statutes once stood. The children were of every color and wore red robes. Each robe had a different religious symbol embroidered onto it. The battles ended as the people gazed upon the children. The reverends also turned toward them. "Why do you cry children? Is it because there isn't any peace?" asked Reverend Justice. "Why do you cry children? Is it because there isn't any justice?" asked Reverend Peace. The children remained sobbing, as one wiped his eyes and stood. "Yes," said the child, "and it is because we receive no loving attention, as unconditional love to the children has been forgotten." "What must we do?" asked the reverends. "Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. Though all things pass, God does not change. Patience wins all things. But he lacks nothing who possesses God, for God alone suffices as God is love and we are all God's children. For peace is not merely an absence of conflict but the presence of justice. And justice is merely being in right relationship with your neighbor, hoping for them, whoever they are." The people of the world then placed the children upon their shoulders and exited the church. All the weapons of destruction, envy, lust and hatred known to man were thrown into a great pit. I said a great prayer of thanksgiving and walked peacefully away back into the heart of Cincinnati. Upon reaching Fountain Square, the Christmas decorations and KKK cross had been removed and replaced with great poems of peace. A large banner read 'Peace to me is...' Under the fountain, a man walked alone toward me. I recognized him as the bishop of Cincinnati. "Hello, I have something for you," he said with a smile as he pulled a kite from behind his back and extended it to me. "Thank you," I said.

I took hold of the kite and unfolded it. It was a kite shaped as a dove; a string was already attached to it. A breeze from the Ohio River was flowing, and in it I set the kite to sail and it soared. "By the way," I said, while watching the kite in the air. "Why are you walking alone?" "I have been abandoned because of my sin of looking the other way. Children were being abused. It happened under my watch."

In wonder, I began to reel the kite in, and as it descended upon us, I breathed upon him saying, "Your sins are forgiven. Receive the Spirit." His face lightened, as from out of the dark alleyway of abuse children assembled on Fountain Square. I handed the kite back to him.

"What is peace to you?" the bishop then asked me as I began to walk away through the gathering of children. "Peace to me is finding the Pentecost that has always been with us, it's finding forgiveness for today's mistakes," I replied. He smiled as he began whistling a song of faith. "Do you want to know something, Bishop?" I said. "That dove, the one you're holding onto, understand and forgive, for once upon a time, it too had a broken wing. Just like me, just like you, just like everyone."

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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