Volume 34, Number 2

Dumpster Diving for Jesus

Peter Halpin

Dumpster diving is an art form; things are fetched out without the searcher falling in. John Woo is an expert; he could write a book on it, that and the time he saw Jesus’ face on the back of a box–the Holy Pizza Pie Box, as it became known.

Like most street people John Woo was not overly generous, it’s hard to give when you have nothing, although on occasions he did share his daily takings and booze with a few street buddies further down on their luck than him, and every Thursday he worked at the Sally Ann food bank—mainly because they paid him in food.

On the day he saw Jesus’ face on the pizza box he was dumpster diving around the back of restaurants on Center Street, everyone knows this was John’s patch and respects his territorial rights. At first, he discarded the box thinking he was just mistaken but try as he would, he could not get the image out of his mind so back he went to fetch it out again, and there was smiling Jesus complete with a crown of thorns. John took the box to Major Grady at the Sally Ann.

“Well John, it certainly does look like our saviour’s image,” said the Major.

“Do you think it’s a message of some kind?” John asked.

“I can’t say for sure, but maybe it’s a reminder that God is everywhere, even here among the poor and destitute.”

* * *

John was content with that and went out about his daily business of surviving, he told a few people about the pizza box, and they told a few others, and pretty soon everybody on the streets are talking about it, many considered John blessed, others thought it was a load of crap. Some would approach John and ask him to pray for them; still, others wanted him to touch a body part which was hurting or injured. John, who is not prone to prayer, would laugh or tell them to pray for themselves, “It comes better if it’s from the person who is in need,” he would say to them, and as for the touching, he always just plain refused, but they would rub objects against him when he was distracted or they would grab at him as he walked by. John became noticeably different the days after his discovery; he gave his restaurant route away to a fellow street bum and worked every day at the food bank. He cut the image out of the pizza box, found an old wooden frame to place it in and hung it in his makeshift camp under Reilly’s bridge.

On his way to work at the food bank on Saturday morning, John is confronted by a coyote; they were rampant in the city now and often prowl the same dumpsters as the street bums, sometimes they get into skirmishes with each other over ownership of discarded food. On this occasion, the coyote just stood and looked at him. John said,

“What do you want dog? I am in no mind to fight with you, so go, get out of here.”

The coyote snarls a little, turns in a circle a few times as they do and then snarls again. John is about to lift a broken branch to chase it off when the dog slinks down the river embankment. John watches it go thinking it is strange behaviour for a coyote, they usually mind their business, unless they are hungry and there is food available—discarded or not. It was then that he sees a head bobbing in the water. Oh, my God! Thought John, someone has fallen in the river; he immediately runs down to the edge and despite the fact he cannot swim, wades in. He struggles desperately to get out to the bobbing head which is now becoming caught up in the current; he stretched out to grab it but loses his footing and is swept away by the strong spring current. No one is around to hear his desperate pleas for help as, now out of control, he trashes about in the water until he is pulled under. John’s body is found two days later by a couple of kids out skimming stones across the shallows at Pikes Bend, the body is caught up in river edge brambles, they also find an old headless manikin washed up on a sandbank. John's body is taken to the city morgue, but no one claims it, so he is buried in the potter’s field one rainy morning in April. A coyote is seen skulking around and can be heard howling well into the night.

John Woo is thirty-seven when he drowns, like so many of the invisible he dies unnoticed; even God is surprised when he shows up at his gate claiming sanctuary.

“You need three miracles in your name to get into the VIP section,” St. Peter pontificates in a rather gruff and disapproving voice.

* * *

Gary, the Gimp, is near death in the rain and cold, running a fever and has gangrene on his right foot. He is found by the street outreach team and they call an ambulance.

Arthur, King of 12th and Center, is picked up by police for vagrancy and for being drunk and disorderly, even though when they find him, he is sleeping quietly as a mouse!

Derek, the rat-catcher and squirrel chef, is in the City General Hospital diagnosed with liver cancer.

John Woo didn’t know any of them, but they all knew him and had heard of the Holy Pizza Pie Box, so each prayed to Blessed John Woo for help.

Gary, the Gimp, is taken to the hospital, and given first-class treatment by a competent surgeon who treats him with respect and dignity. Gary is grateful for a warm clean bed and good food, but despite their best efforts, he does not survive.

Arthur, King of 12th and Center, amassed a multitude of unpaid fines for minor offences such as riding the subway without a ticket, vagrancy and public urination. He is indigent, cannot pay his fines and is sentenced to seven weeks of jail time. He gains thirteen pounds, can shower daily and when released is given clean clothing and a room in a halfway house. Social workers get him signed up for welfare; now he gets his rent paid and two hundred dollars a month. He says he is as happy as Larry.

Derek, the rat-catcher and squirrel chef, is too far gone to save, so they place him in a hospice and contact his estranged children who all come to see him and they all cuddle and cry a bit, he tells them he loves them and dies happily.

“Get the hell out of here,” snarls an acerbic St. Peter. “Those are not miracles!”

“They are in today’s America,” states an intervening Jesus.