“Brother Chris, I am so hungry I could eat the South end out of a North bound mule,” he said. I responded with a sick look on my face, “John I am going to act like you never said that to me.” My day had been going pretty good until I looked up and saw a giant coming in the door. It was John all right and of course he was hungry… when is he not? I told him that I didn’t know he was coming and I had to run an errand downtown. Predictably, he wanted to go with me and have lunch somewhere on the way. I told him he could come along and began trying to figure out where to eat. If it was just me I would drive through somewhere and eat on the run but not John. Oh no …………. His is a more refined palate and demands a higher quality junk food. It’s enough to make you lose your appetite. I finally decided to try something a little different and asked John if he had ever eaten at Casbeers. “I am sorry Brother Chris,” he said “but I don’t really drink beer.” “I don’t mean drink beer John,” I said looking sideways at him. “I mean have you eaten at a place called Casbeers?” “No,” he replied “I’m OK going just about anywhere; I just won’t have the beer.” I gave up and just drove in silence. It was better for my sanity that way. After a while he just began talking. He said, “Brother Chris, one of our Lodge members, Jerry Lee, was moaning the other day that one of our long time members and a Past Master had gone to that Celestial Lodge above and there were only five Masons at his funeral. He said that it was embarrassing because the Brother had been a member of our Lodge for almost 50 years and only five Brothers made it to his funeral and he could tell that the family was disappointed. I listened to him going on about it for a few minutes and decided I had heard enough. This had been boiling in my belly for some time and it was ready to come out. I said “Brother Jerry, what year was this Brother the Master of our Lodge?” “Well John,” he replied back to me, “You know when he was Master. It was the year before you. I guess it’s been 25 years or so.” I said, “So when was the last time the Brother was in Lodge?” “I think it was, as well as I can remember, about 20 years or so since I last saw him,” Jerry answered but quickly continued, “But he was kind of active in the Scottish Rite and the Shrine. You know that we have an obligation to him as our Brother to attend his burial.” “ So, other than you and I, who else who is active in the Lodge right now knows him,” I asked. He figured out where I was going with this and got defensive on me, “That shouldn’t matter John. We all take an obligation to take care of each other and we didn’t do our job last week.” I could tell he was sure he was right on this and he was going to fight me tooth and nail to the finish so I said to him, “Brother Jerry, you are absolutely right ……” He got a real confused look on his face as he was not expecting that response. So while I had him wondering what the heck was going on I finished my sentence ……..“ in a perfect world. But this, Jerry, is not a perfect world. This is the real world. In a perfect world our Brothers would attend the Blue Lodge at least some of the time. In a perfect world they would realize that their boring Lodge that they stopped attending because they didn’t like someone in the leadership or something that was going on, has a change every year in not only leadership but also in dynamics as new Brothers step in with new and different ideas and programs. In a perfect world they would get involved in making their Lodge better instead of running off to the Scottish Rite, or York Rite or Shrine and putting their talents to work there, never to return to their Lodge. In a perfect world, Brother Jerry, they would realize that those other organizations wouldn’t even exist without the Blue Lodges.”
Well, I could see that he was panicking because I was cutting down the appendant organizations so I said, “Now don’t go getting weird on me Brother Jerry. You know that I am a Scottish Rite Mason, and a York and a Shriner just like you. My point is that even though I attend functions of all of them when I can, I always manage to attend my Lodge. I am not able to go all the time but everyone knows me and I know all the active Brothers. Are you starting to get my point?” Jerry lowered his head and said, “I see what you are saying Brother John but it’s just not fair.” “You are right,” I said. “But the truth of the matter is that the world we live in right now pulls each and every one of us in so many different directions that time is the one thing no one has enough of. So in the real world, Brother Jerry, if the Brothers know you, they will make the time to show up to your funeral and if they don’t, they might not. I am not saying it is right and I know it’s not fair but …………. It Is What It Is. I do wish though, my Brother that I could somehow make all my Brothers understand how important their Lodge is.” “ Durn it Brother John,” Jerry whined, “I know what you mean. Sometimes I feel like we are beating our heads on the outside of the door and the door never opens.” I stood there with a surprised look on my face and I told him, “Jerry, what you just said is dripping with symbolism and deeper meanings. It is a quote that demands deeper study and reflection for sure.” Jerry got a worried look on his face and started looking around for an escape. As he eased away from me he said over his shoulder, “Sometimes you scare the heck out of me John.” Durned if he didn’t avoid me the rest of the night.
So there’s my story Brother Chris. You can agree or not but it’s the way it is. I said, “John, I can’t argue with any of what you said but I admit that the whole thing makes me sad. I wish that I had the answer. A Brother that works is always less likely to be able to go to funerals during the week. I do have to agree with what you said about knowing a Brother. If I know him, I will make whatever arrangements necessary to be there. If I don’t know him I will try to make it but I admit that it’s not as much of a priority as if I know the Brother. I am sorry to admit that. My priorities need to change.”
We had arrived at the restaurant and I got to the door and looked around for John and he was still sitting in the truck. I waived and said, “John this is the place.” He stuck his head out the window and emphatically said, “There is no way I’m going in there to eat.” I had been there plenty of times and I had forgotten what the front of the place looked like. Actually because I knew what was behind the front door I had stopped noticing the outside a long time ago. I guess it actually is a little intimidating to someone who has never eaten there. The restaurant is sandwiched between a pizza place and a bar next to a tattoo parlor in a small strip center with almost no room to park in the front. It is painted in a variety of colors with the predominate color being yellow. The neighborhood is an older one with both newly remodeled houses as well as many in various stages of disrepair. The front door to the restaurant is a combination screen and wood door and has seen better days. I guess the most intimidating feature is the original spray can artwork that adorns the front of the building in several places. I chuckled as I thought that John is probably not the only one who didn’t want to go in after seeing the outside. But I knew what was behind that door. “Hey John”, I teased. ” “I thought they called you BIG John. Quit being a sissy and get your rear out of the truck before the place gets busy.” “ You’ve got to be kidding,” he laughed. There’s no one here but us and I’d be surprised if it ever gets busy.” “ Boy are you in for a big surprise,” I said as he tentatively approached the door. I swung it open and he followed me in. Once inside I looked back at John, whose mouth was open in surprise. His first reaction was to ask, “Where the heck did all these people come from?” There must have been 25 or 30 people there eating. We found a booth in the back that was empty and settled in. While John perused the menu the menu I enjoyed the atmosphere. It is a real neat place to go. The room is in an “L” shape and its main feature is the long wooden bar that runs from the front door about half way across the dining room. Old style wood booths line the walls with about ten tables scattered across the room. There is a band stand in one corner and they have live music several nights a week. The locals make up the most of their clientele and most all the time you will find a table or two occupied with retired guys having a beer or just shootin’ the breeze. The walls are covered with pictures, most of them autographed, of all the musicians that have performed there. It just so happened that on the wall in our booth looking down on us with a big grin and a cigar in his mouth was a picture of Kinky Friedman. To top it all off was a twelve foot TV screen on one wall with a World Cup Soccer match on. I noticed John was looking around the room too and I asked him what he thought. He got a little smile on his face and said, “Brother Chris this is the kind of place that my Daddy would say has “a lot of character.” I love this place. I sure hope the food is good too.” I said, “John, you are in for a reeeeeeeeeeeal treat. Their specialty is enchiladas. These are not your regular enchiladas though. They are bigger than your normal enchilada with cheddar cheese inside. They have cheddar cheese all over the top and are smothered, and I do mean smothered with the best chili you ever tasted. …………. John, are you drooling?” I continued as he wiped his mouth. “You order them in quantities of two or three and yes, you can order as many as you want. They come with bread or crackers. I call them truck stop enchiladas and I love them.” Heck he was waving for the waitress before I finished talking!! She wandered over to our table obviously not real impressed by John’s stature nor his exuberance. Her name was Mary. John was so giddy with excitement at the opportunity of ordering multiple amounts of just enchiladas that he was almost bouncing in his seat. Mary looked at him and then at me and asked without any emotion in her voice, “What’s up with Paul Bunyan here?” I grinned and started to speak but before I could answer John said. “Are you the enchilada lady? I need some enchiladas.” Still looking at me she asked, “How many enchiladas does Paul want?” Again before I could answer he said, Young lady it’s John, not Paul and he wants twelve enchiladas, a big glass of tea, and just bring a loaf of bread.” Still looking at me (and keeping in mind that I haven’t said a word yet) with a look of total disbelief on her face she said, “Does Paul…uhhhhh … John know that no one has ever eaten twelve enchiladas here at one time before?” I honestly did try to say something but again he butted in, “Not to worry darlin’ and keep that dessert menu handy. Oh, and my friend here will have four enchiladas …. Is that OK Brother Chris…? (I just nodded… what else could I do) and a big tea for him too and he’ll share my bread.” She then arched her eyebrows still looking at me and asked, “Will that be all?” Heck I didn’t even try to answer but this time John didn’t either so I just nodded. As she walked away she winked at me and said, “Nice talking to you.” John leaned towards me, lowered his voice, and said, “Brother Chris is it just me or was she a little strange?” “John, she is probably saying the same thing in the kitchen right now about you.” (I don’t know how it is, but when I am with John it feels like I am in the middle of an old Twilight Zone episode.) I said. “I don’t think she likes being waived at the way you did.” When she brought our plates he tried to tell her that he was not a crazy man but I think he made it worse and he finally started in on his enchiladas. A couple of the patrons close by raised their eyebrows as they saw how many enchiladas that John had ordered. We ate in silence as usual and when he did talk it was more of a grunt. It was obvious that he liked them. As he was finishing Mary came by to fill our tea glasses and asked me if it all tasted good. I told her all was well and John said “you may think I am crazy but darlin I don’t think you know just how much I love enchiladas and these are some of the best I have ever had. I don’t think I could look myself in the mirror tomorrow if I didn’t have at least four more. She turned and just stood there staring at John as if she was in a trance. Then she slowly turned around and announced to the room that he wanted four more. I hadn’t realized it but everyone in the place had been watching as John ate his meal. As soon as Mary made her announcement they all let out a big cheer. Heck they were still whooping and hollering when Mary delivered the four enchiladas to John. This was apparently a major thing for all of them. (It was obvious that they don’t get out very much) As John ate they stared at him and let out another cheer every time he finished an enchilada. Of course he was loving every bit of it. He had that big goofy grin on his face and was soaking up the attention. I just shook my head. Having a nice quiet lunch with John Deacon is a virtual impossibility. By the time he finished all four there was a crowd of people around us about two feet from our table. I don’t know about you but I have a hard time eating when I’m being stared at. I don’t usually get claustrophobic but this was a little uncomfortable. I noticed that the place had pretty much filled up with people. I guess the word was out that history was being made at Casbeers. I could see that John was caught up in the moment. He had just finished the last four he ordered and to the wild cheers of the throng he ordered four more. I had stopped eating a long time ago and just for the record, no one noticed. I was watching John closely for signs of enchilada overload…………… you know what I am talking about, but he seemed to be doing ok. I heard someone yell from the back asking how he was doing. He said something like “that’s why they call me Big John.” Mary had not spoken a word to him since we got there. I am pretty sure that she thought he was nuts. Heck I could have told her that. Off towards the kitchen I saw that the cook had written the number 12 with a plus sign and a four and another plus and another four. Lord this was taking on a life of its own. As usual everyone was having fun but me. I just knew this was going to end badly. I turned back to see him down number twenty to the delight of his adoring fans. Sure they were happy; they didn’t have him riding in their truck. The crowd had moved right up to the edge of our booth and we were trapped in. Those crazy people were actually chanting his name Big John ….. Big John…. Big John and imploring him to order more. He was looking at me and I thought he was getting a little “green around the gills” and I also thought about maybe getting out of the line of fire (if you know what I mean). Just them he let out the biggest, baddest burrrrrrrrrp I think I have ever heard, took a deep breath, and promptly ordered three more enchiladas. The crowd went wild and the cook added a three to the blackboard. I had to yell over the noise to be heard, “John,” I yelled. “Are you crazy?” “Yup,” he yelled back. “I’m going for the record Brother Chris.” I yelled that he had broken the record a long time ago but he didn’t hear me. Mary had to literally climb over people to get to us. The first sign of trouble came right after he had finished the second enchilada. I was the first to see it. The goofy grin went away all of a sudden and he glanced at me. I noticed the beads of sweat that had appeared on his forehead. Then he stopped chewing completely. Immediately the place went quiet. John was still looking at me and I will be honest, I was slowly easing out of the booth just in case. There was no sound in the place. These people weren’t born yesterday. They knew what was coming. They were easing back too. I whispered, “John, are you OK? You want me to help you to the bathroom?” John nodded very slightly and whispered back, “Just point me in the right direction and give me a push. As we eased out of the booth together the crowd, sensing what was going on quickly made a lane for us to get across the room. I could see his legs trembling a little and I thought I might have to help him but he got all the way to the door of the men’s room by himself and disappeared inside. I turned around and said, “He will be OK. Y’all can all go back to what you were doing.” No one moved. “Seriously now, it’s OK.” But still…No one moved. So we waited. After it had been about five minutes I started to think that I should go in and check on him and by the looks on some of the onlooker’s faces they thought so too. I shrugged and turned to the door and as I reached for the handle it swung open and John walked out. The first thing he saw was about seventy five people staring at him as he came out of the door and it startled him for a second and he stopped still in the doorway. There we were. Everyone staring at John ……. and John staring back. Then he did something only John would do. He got the goofy grin on his face and threw his hands in the air. Holy crap, the place went crazy. Their hero was back. Some of these people needed to get a life for sure. John went straight back to the booth and took and drink of tea and announced that he was done. I looked around for Mary to pay the check while trying to calculate how much 23 enchiladas plus my four was going to be. She waded through the crowd to hand me the bill which only had my meal on it. Seeing my quizzical look she explained that John’s was on the house. Apparently he had brought in a whole days worth of business during the last hour and everyone was hungry now. Great I thought, at least something good came out of this. I turned for the door in time to see the cook taking a picture of John next to a big plate of enchiladas. Everyone was shaking his hand and clapping him on the back. I grabbed his arm and headed for the door and managed to get him out without too much trouble. People were still waving as we got into my truck and headed out. We rode along in total silence for a while until I couldn’t stand it anymore and I asked, “Hey John, did you lose all those enchiladas while you were in the restroom?” He gave me a sideways glance and said a little sheepishly, “Heck no Brother Chris. I just needed to … ahhhhh ……. relieve some air pressure … if you know what I mean. I was just trying to be polite.” “ Well that got me to smiling and the smile turned to a grin and the grin to a chuckle and by the time I was laughing out loud so was John. I told him between gasps for breath, “I have to tell you John that I love you and you are my Brother but if you attempt to ahhhhhhhhh ….. relieve some air pressure or anything else in my truck I WILL leave your hugeness on the side of the road.” “ Point received and taken my Brother,” he said curtly. “And I would extend the same courtesy to you in similar circumstances.” “I am sure you would John,” I said as I pulled up next to his truck to let him out. I had been thinking about what he had said earlier about his argument with his Brother Jerry from his Lodge.
“You know John,” I said. “ Just to be clear regarding funerals for our departed Brethren. It is pretty sad that we can get 20 Brothers to come to a Masters Degree for a Brother but we can’t get five Brothers to bid him farewell when he passes. I agree with your Brother Jerry that it isn’t fair. Heck, you and I are real active in the Lodge, but what if sickness or even age makes it so we cannot go to Lodge anymore and when we die no one shows up. I think you will agree that it is not fair at all. The answer is for we who still are active to make sure our Brethren know and understand how important it is to honor our departed Brethren. We need to understand that we are, or should be, Masons from the beginning to the end and if he is a Brother Mason then he deserves a proper ceremony with his Brothers present.”
“I agree with you, Brother Chris,” he said. “I think that Jerry and I just need to make sure the awareness is there and maybe the attendance at funerals will be better.” He slid out and closed the door and did a little jig across the parking lot.
“I have to tell you John, that life is never dull when you are around and I haven’t figured out if that’s good or bad.” He climbed in his truck and rolled down the window and looked at me with a real serious look on his face and said, “Let me know when you figure it out and just remember that I am a legend in my own mind.” I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly but before I could say anything he threw his head back and started cackling like an old lady and drove off down the road. He apparently thought it was funnier than I did. Guess I did hear him correctly after all.