The words "Street Ministry--Robus, Myra and son Chris" are carefully lettered on the truck's door. Bootsy and I stand gaping at this manifestation of chaos in an urban landscape that seems increasingly sanitized. Honestly, do you think you could step into the Old Navy downtown and buy a T-shirt with "The American Way Is a Devil Way" printed on it? Not likely.
My bleached hair and exposed cleavage mark me as satanic issue as clearly as if I had 666 carved in my forehead, but I need to make contact with the creators of this fantastic vehicle. I take a deep breath and step toward the wide-open door. The ferocious barking of two small dogs that suddenly stick their furry heads out of the trailer halts me in my tracks.
"Don't worry, they won't hurt you." The middle-aged woman bends down and scoops up the smaller dog. She is wearing layers of loose, nondescript clothing, the sort left behind in laundromats. Her soft, brown face looks like a melted candle, but she fixes me with a gaze as clear and blank as a pane of glass.
"What do you want?" I whirl around. The gruff voice belongs to a man wearing a straw fedora, aviator sunglasses, and ragged cut-offs. His enormous naked belly and a fishing pole slung over his shoulder completes the startling illusion of Santa Claus just back from the Keys, where he'd been catching marlin with Ernest Hemingway. If he'd been wearing a hubcap halo and a cape of parakeet feathers I couldn't have been more surprised.
"My name is Pastor Robus. I've never had a drink in my life, but I took my name from a cheap bottle of wine. You were talking to my wife, Myra. This is my son, Chris." This handsome boy just out of his teens is even more of a shock: chiseled cheekbones, cropped blond hair, a black T-shirt that reads "Famous Guitars." He's a babe, in a Top Gun kind of way. Only his laser-like gaze belies his connection to this strange ministry.
"Do you have sexual molestation in your past, darling? Did anyone ever use you in satanic rituals? Crystal methamphetamine use? Do you see ghosts?" Robus asks me suddenly. Disoriented by the random quality of his inquiries, I feel like I just woke up behind the wheel of a moving car and things are rushing past too fast for me to follow.
"Come in. We'll leave the door open so you feel safe. We have nothing to hide here." Bootsy and I step through the bright yellow door emblazoned with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, taking a seat on a couch covered with a worn Mexican blanket as Robus hauls himself up the steps, followed by his wife and son.
The room feels like a diorama of a lost time. A pot-bellied stove and a box of wood. Two crossed eagle feathers. A gun rack stacked with fishing poles. A fly swatter hanging from a thumbtack. The sun through the sheer curtains bathes us in soft light. "Pretty nice, huh? Nothing to be scared of in here," Robus says. "This here's my favorite thing," he gestures above our heads to a faded, wood-framed print from the '40s. Hedy Lamarr and Charlton Heston crouch in a manger holding a blond infant glowing like radioactive plutonium. "It's lovely," I say with absolute sincerity.
Robus lowers himself into an easy chair and smiles widely. "I was a Hells Angel and I got put away for my crimes. When I was raped in prison, my whole world stopped. Then, in the nuthouse, I was scared of the demons all around me, and I said, 'You either let me out of here or I jump the fence.'" Suddenly I remember reading that Charles Manson crossed the country in a school bus painted with his teachings. "I was married to a prostitute--do you know what a prostitute is? She's a woman who hasn't been helped. She killed our little baby after 30 days, and I buried him on Christmas day. What do you think of all this?" I gulp for air and nod.
"Good, you've got no shame, praise God. I asked the creator to make me a wife. A Mexican Indian woman with black hair on her elbows that I could love with all my mind. And we've been married 17 years this August." Myra smiles and strokes the small dog on her lap. "Chris, tell them what happened to you."
With his hands folded quietly in his lap, the handsome boy intones emotionlessly, "I come from an alcoholic family and I was molested by both my grandparents and parents." I've heard people read aloud from the back of a box of Fruit Loops with more animation. "I always felt this, like a cancer inside me. I was forced to perform oral sex when I was in diapers. I joined the Marines because I wanted to kill and get back at the world. Then I met these people in Oceanside, California, and they blew my mind with their message. Now we're a family. For the first time in my life I feel clean." Oh, my god--he's not their son. He's AWOL from the Marines! How many times has he been made to tell this terrible, unbelievable story? How many people have walked up to the trailer and sat down for the show?
Robus speaks again. "We live in an $800 truck and a $400 home and we're the richest people in the world. We travel all over with our septic-tank ministry cleaning out the sexual filth that everyone carries inside themselves. Excuse me, darlin', but you have amazing eyes. Doesn't she?" Myra and Chris murmur in agreement. "I can see that you're ready to make the change, Peaches. Could you just tell me if you can see yourself opening up to the truth sometime soon?"
What's happening to me? Deep inside my head I hear a roar like the engine of a 1963 Ford pickup truck, and I feel my body turning to a clear light, as blue as Pastor Robus' eyes. From far away, Bootsy watches me with curiosity. Suddenly, I am filled with enormous affection for her, but also pity for the life of fornication and filth that she lives. I wish with all my heart that she could come with me where I am going as I open up my mouth and make a sound.