Scotland: The Hat Exchange
Ward Road, between the hours of midnight and 4 o’clock, is a thoroughfare of debauchery. Modesty whispers unnoticed from every young lady’s closet, and what little clothing makes it onto the street is outmatched by bare skin in sheer volume. London, a smaller club which is infamous for its admission of minors, spills out into the road to the immediate northeast of Central Baptist Church, its crowds barking at the edge of riot. To the east is a short walk to Fat Sam’s, Social, Liquid, Déjà vu, and a host of other establishments.
Our group, of which I was the youngest by far, walked back onto the street at about 2:30 a.m., gathering around the hatchback of Andy’s car, where we set up shop giving out free tea, coffee, and hot chocolate to anyone who would accept it. We also gave out flip-flops to any girls who had tired of navigating the broken sidewalks in torturous three-inch heels. It truly is an amazing feeling to give things away to people who don’t deserve it. This is harsh to modern ears, but to approach the truth, we must understand that none of us deserve anything good. Certainly, when we are drunkenly staggering about the street and vomiting the curses of repressed disappointment onto any and all bystanders, we do not deserve a free hot drink, free shoes, and a patient and open ear. Gary, Andy, and I walked up and down in the throng, attempting, with perhaps a surprising degree of success, to convey that there was something helpful to be had at no cost. I walked on toward the blue neon lights of London and asked around.
“Do you guys want a free coffee or cup of tea?”
“Coffee,” I persisted. “We’ve got free coffee and tea just down at that silver car.”
This exchange sometimes ended in the dulcet tones that nothing is free and that we must be peddling something, though, looking back, I hope it was never us doing the peddling. A young fellow ran by and snatched my hat off my head as I was talking to some people. He never turned, but placed it on his own head, ran down the street a bit, mooned me, and continued on toward parts unknown. The two girls I was talking to, presumably out with the young opportunist, apologized profusely. I thought of Jesus saying, “If someone takes what is yours, do not demand it back.” In my head, I heard it voiced by Gerald Lay, who played Jesus in a passion play at my parents’ church years ago. I wandered toward the car, hoping that the guy would decide that the joke was over and bring it back. After a while, he and his friends did come back in our direction.
“Is that your hat?” said Andy, seeing him.
"Yep,” I said, feeling that old pride creep up that I had not said anything to that point. It was all a bit funny.
“Did you give it to him?” Andy asked, wide-eyed.
Then the Irishman in Andy took over, and he strode mission-mindedly after the drunken young man, returning a few minutes later with a somewhat crumpled version of my wide-brim hat. I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall for their brief conversation.
The sky began to suggest dawn as 3:45 rolled past, and the crowds began to dissipate. There had been no riots between the marines and the police, and we thanked God that the night had been rather peaceful, considering. The ladies with us, a quiet, cheerful, and diligent bunch, began to pack up the milk and sugar and cups with an industry that flew in the face of the late hour. We carried everything back across the street and into the office to do the washing up and to pray. The streets, as we left the office, were astonishingly, quiet. A few rogue seagulls tossed on the early morning wind above countless bits of paper and old fish and chip boxes that littered the pavement. Not a soul moved in the street beyond ourselves as we bid each other goodbye and I got into Andy’s car.
“You know people who talk about second-mile Christians,” he quipped as we drove to Paton’s Lane, “I think you’re maybe a third or fourth-mile Christian.” This was in reference to my doggedness in staying up late and getting up early – though “early” is debatable – in the past week. Though my tirelessness was more akin to stupidity and stubbornness than to any sort of righteous industry, I mentally added our small conversation to a short list of comments that I won’t soon forget.