The Angelology of Bobby Vaughn
I might have been drinking a little too much, so I’m not exactly sure that this is how it all happened. But I am pretty sure that either my car got towed or I just couldn’t remember where I’d parked it. Anyway, it was while I was kind of stumbling around downtown on State Street that I bumped into Bobby Vaughn. I’d known Bobby since High School; we hung around together some the first couple years of college. But then he just disappeared. Some of us figured he’d been arrested, probably because he always was the guy who sold us our little baggies. But we really didn’t know what had happened to him, and that night on State Street it was clear that he had been doing pretty well for himself. I had stumbled out of the X-O Club and wandered some blocks north. And there was Bobby standing outside of one of those swankier clubs, waiting for the valet to bring his car. I literally bumped into him, and it seemed good luck at first, because he recognized me and, in the course of trying to chat for the minute or so we waited, he asked me if I needed a ride home. I did, and it turned out he still lived out in the suburbs, though no longer in our old neighborhood. So when the kid rolled up in Bobby’s black Mercedes, Bobby tipped the valet and beeped my door open, and I got in. “How’d you do all this?” I asked Bobby pretty directly, after we made the turn around the block and began to head down to Congress. “What kind of job you got, man? You a fuckin’ company president, or what?” Bobby laughed. “Nah,” he said. “I don’t really have a job. But I do OK.” “OK?” I coughed. “This is a hell of a lot better than OK. Your Dad die and leave you a fortune or something?” I knew it was a safe question; Bobby never had a Dad, as far as I could remember. “Nah,” Bobby laughed again. “No Dad, no job. I’m just lucky.” “Oh, the lottery, eh?” “Nope,” he replied, “it’s actually better than that.” He looked over and winked at me. “I got angels on my side.” He smiled. “You got religion?” I asked. Boy, was I mistaken! “Nah,” he said once again with another laugh. Then for a few seconds he went kind of silent, kind of looking over at me. There was a pause as Bobby manipulated the lane changes necessary to get onto the freeway. Then he said, “You really want to know?” “Fuck, yeah,” I said. “Hell, I could use God or some angels on my side.” “God’s got nothing to do with it,” Bobby said, switching lanes to go around some guy doing a mere 65. Bobby was doing at least 75. “So what’s the secret?” I asked, pretty naively. “Angelology,” Bobby said matter-of-factly. “And what’s that.” “Duh!” he mocked. “The study of angels, obviously. Angel-ology. Get it?” “Sure. Angel-ology.” I split the word up like he did. “So what is it? I mean, what do you do with angel-ology?” “You study angels, you dumb…” He stopped; didn’t call me anything impolite. “You just study angels,” he said easily. I tried to mock him back. “So you study how they fly and play harps and shit? How they bring little blessings to Catholic kids and watch over babies?” Bobby looked over at me, but he didn’t smile. “Be careful talking about things you don’t understand,” he said. “Angels are as real as you and me. Maybe realer.” “OK, fine,” I said. I turned the little vent from the air conditioning onto my face, felt like I was a little soberer. “So what is there to understand about angels?” He looked at me again, then back to the road. We were already out at Harlem and were passing cars in the right lanes like they were standing still. “Angels are creatures like you and me,” he said with a kind of confidence that made it seem true. “They think and act, though they have no bodies. They’re intelligent and powerful, and they can help you out, if you know how to ask.” “So you did get religion,” I asserted. “You pray to the angels and they answer your prayers.” He let me talk nonsense. “All you gotta do is ask?” “Ask in the right way,” he reasserted. “And what’s the right way?” “Depends on what they want.” “What they want? What they hell does that mean?” “Listen,” he said, taking his right hand off the wheel and waving it at me. “I told you that angels are like you and me. They get hungry. And if you feed them what they want, they pay you back.” “That’s bullshit,” I laughed out loud, seeing the obvious error in his ideas. “You just said angels got no bodies. How can they be hungry.” Bobby kind of shook his head, and I felt kind of smug, like I’d got him. But he went on explaining. “I didn’t say they were hungry for food. They’re like us, hungry like us for different kinds of things. Think about it. Sure we get hungry for food, but that’s just our bodies. People – even people with all the food they want – are also hungry for other things, like love, power, importance, pleasure, control. You know. Like why does some millionaire or great politician keep on making millions and ordering people around? Why does some guy with a beautiful wife get a mistress? Why do people manipulate each other and put each other down. It ain’t for food, that’s for sure.” I stopped and thought, maybe for the first time on the trip home. We were passing 9th Street. “So you got this fuckin’ Mercedes and shit because you feed angels and they give you what you want?” I was trying to recap. “And somehow you know what they want?” “That’s angelology,” he said, turning to me with a friendly smile. “Works for me.” I couldn’t argue with the Mercedes. “I thought angles was always, like, hanging around heaven and praising God and shit, and doing his bidding.” I was trying to remember the stories. “Well, some do.” He said. “But some don’t. They’re all hungry, as I said, and praising God, et cetera, is what some of them are hungry for. They eat, if you will, the presence of God. And that’s fine for them. But other angels want something else.” He paused, waited, as if he had something to say that was dangerous. “Some angels,” he said, “don’t like the taste of God.” Somehow that idea struck a chord in me. “You mean like devils and demons and them?” “See,” he said, responding quickly. “That’s the trouble with trying to talk to people about angelology. They’ve already got their heads full of religious doctrines and can’t just think reasonably. It isn’t about angels and demons,” he made his voice tremble, like mocking a spooky story. “They’re all angels. And they’re all hungry, like I said. It’s just that some are hungry for God and some for, well, other things. Get off here?” “Yeah,” I responded, looking up at the exit sign. “You remember my folks’ house?” “Sure,” he said, and there was a strange quiet while he slowed for the turn at the top of the ramp. We headed north, and I felt a little weird, curious like, but, well, a little afraid, though I didn’t know of what. “So what kind of things do you give the angels?” I asked. I regret asking now. “I told you,” he said. “I give them what they want, what they’re hungry for.” “Yeah, you said that. And what’s that?” “Different angels like different things,” he said. Then he paused, again as if considering how much to say. Finally he just said it: “Some want despair. Some hatred. Some want lust or envy. Some want destruction or simple pain. Some want death; some want souls.” “Shit,” I said, maybe almost laughing, since it sounded so ridiculous. “Sounds like demons to me.” “Well, there you go,” Bobby said. “I can’t explain it to you if you have to be stuck on some moral judgments from Sunday School. Right and wrong, good and bad, angels and demons, heaven and hell. All that bull…” Bobby stopped and then went on, as if correcting himself. “All that is just human judgment. Angels are beyond all that. Shoot! We’re beyond all that. I mean, what’s good to you is bad to me; what’s great for penguins is freezing for flamingos. Feeding on God is great for some angels; feeding on lust is great for others. I told you: different angels like different things. Why make judgments? It’s all so absurdly parochial.” Traffic was slowing us down at this point. Even at one in the morning on a Friday night, there’s always cars moving. So there was some stop and go. And meanwhile, I couldn’t disagree with Bobby. I mean, it’s pretty obvious. We’re all different. What’s good for you is bad for me, and all that shit, like he said. So some angels eat souls… “And so,” I foolishly started again, “so you feed angels souls.” “Listen,” Bobby said, like he was going to explain more angelology. Then he stopped, suddenly yanked the wheel over, and turned down a dark side street. I don’t know what street it was. “Listen,” he started over, “let me show you what I mean.” At that, Bobby clammed up and drove. Maybe for just a couple minutes he drove back and forth on the side streets, careful of the deep gutters that crossed his path, but utterly inconsiderate of the stop signs. Right then left; two blocks then three, then another turn. I had no idea where we were going or where home was from here. But finally Bobby saw what he wanted. There on the sidewalk, this late at night, in the dark, were two kids walking. I guessed they were teenagers. Of course I don’t know for sure. But Bobby drove past them and pulled over. “Quick, give me your left shoe,” he commanded. I protested, but he just kind of yelled at me. “Quick,” he said, “the shoe.” I didn’t even untie it. Bobby began to mutter something I couldn’t understand. Muttering and muttering, he stared toward the two kids as they walked up and then, nearly up beside us, they stopped. Bobby, still muttering, reached under his seat. He opened his door and the flash of the dome light reflected on a blade in his hand, along with my shoe. For reasons I still cannot imagine, the two kids just stood there and watched Bobby approach. In a kind of stunned silence – certainly sober by now – I watched as Bobby came up to the first kid, easily leaned forward and whispered something in his ear. Without a word, the kid’s eyes went wild, he turned and ran away. The second was not so lucky. If I saw it right, there was no scuffle or fight, just a quiet forward movement of Bobby’s hand, and the kid fell in his own tracks. Easily, Bobby bent over him, paused for what seemed a full minute, leaning over the kid, doing something I couldn’t see. There seemed to be at most a kind of low moan, a weak cry, and then Bobby was back at the car, carrying only my shoe. “There,” he said, as he placed the shoe on the floor by my feet, put the car back in gear and eased up the street. “That’s done.” “What’s done?” I almost yelled. “Fuck, Bobby! What the hell did you do?” “I fed an angel,” Bobby replied. “Fuck, Bobby! Shit!” I must have said that six or seven times, having really nothing else to say, but suddenly scared as hell. “What the hell did you feed to an angel?” “At least a life,” Bobby said easily. “And I let him wake up before he died and I told him he was dying for nothing, so I might have gotten some despair, probably some fear. At least I got some pain.” He paused, nodded down toward my feet. “And I got the hand. Think of it as a little souvenir.” I looked with horror into the darkness by me feet, barely seeing the outline of my own shoe. “In my shoe?” I asked slowly. “Sure,” he said, smiling at me. “Here’s your house.” While I was freaking out, Bobby had driven me home. And here I was. Of course I couldn’t take the shoe, and I couldn’t stop shaking. I got out. “You’re fucked up, Bobby,” I said. “You know that? You’re fucked up, man. They’re gonna come get you and fry your ass. They’re gonna…” Bobby laughed and waved me away as I stood by the car door. “Nah,” he said. “I told you. I help the angels and the angels help me. One way or another, I figure they’ll pin it on the other kid. Heck, I bet by now the other kid thinks he did it. He’ll probably confess.” Bobby laughed again. “Shee-it!” I said. I slammed the door and froze there on the curb. The side window slowly went down. “Want your shoe?” Bobby called across the passenger seat, maybe with a little laugh in his voice. “Fuck you,” I said to Bobby. “Well,” he replied, “it’s like I said. Different people like different things.” “Fuck you,” I repeated. “See you around,” Bobby called as he drove away with my shoe. I was scared shitless for a month, wondering if my shoe would reappear. By now, two months later, I’ve calmed down a little, and, well, I’ve been thinking. “Different angels like different things.” Hmm. You can’t argue with a Mercedes.