Open Book News

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter

"Hey John! There's a guy trying to track you down."

The blue mini-van pulled alongside me outside the small, neat village store. A cheery Peggy, the local librarian, yelled out: "He asked me if I knew you. He wanted to know if you gave talks and things like that."

"Who is he? What did you tell him?"

"I told him you do and he left me his card. Here."

The "card" was a small, laminated leaf-shaped piece of wood with the man's name and email address carved into it. Never heard of him. Peggy said he'd listened to me on CBC radio one morning and wanted to talk to someone "with a like-mind." He was "off the grid" and kept up with the world with his Blackberry. A bit strange, I thought. Across cyberspace I learned he didn't want to attend my next extraordinarily brilliant lecture nor did he want to arrange a gathering of tens of thousands of his closest friends at which the centre of attention would be me, me, me, at a cost well out beyond his apparent range.

Nope. He just wanted to chat. Rats! Didn't sound like there were many crates of chardonnay for me in this encounter. Even the "retired professionals" – them with the heavily lined pockets of the Probus or Lions Clubs – put up a massive hundred bucks for a one-hour talk if you're lucky. Oh, yeah, there's a fortune to be made on the lecture circuit. They all say that. Yeah, that's what they say. A hundred bucks or a cup of coffee is all I've been offered so far.

My laminated, leaf-shaped friend was already sipping of a bottle of water when I arrived at the coffee shop. I'd have to buy my own plastic cup of tea. Rats! Again! How did I know it was him ("he" to the pedants) even though we hadn't exchanged descriptions or agreed to carry copies of Penthouse Letters folded inward? As a journalist I have developed a razor-sharp intuition and a highly tuned antenna whose detection abilities never fail. That, combined with the fact he was the only person in the restaurant.

Curiously, for someone who wanted to get outside the mainstream media and absorb alternative points of view, the publication he was reading was not a four-year-old edition of the Christian Science Monitor or Private Eye or even The National Rifle Association's memorial, silver embossed, bullet-embedded collector's edition: 'To Chuck: Your Cold, Cold Hand Just Got A Little Colder.' No, this newfound seeker of truth and wisdom was reading a periodical that fancies breasts and babes over facts and consequences – the tabloid Toronto Sun. But I've learned many folks do precisely this to find out what the 'other side' is thinking or writing. Me, I buy it for the crossword. Uh, huh.

He was about 50, neat, and casually well-dressed. He proudly offered to bring me a photograph of the wilderness home he had built with his own, strong, strong hands. Visiting would be difficult because the thirty-nine steps leading up to it were on a one-in-twenty gradient. Huh? Or was it the thirty steps were at one-in-nine… Anyhow, he didn't want me there. Me? Well, who can blame him? He must have known that my next work of genius, "Package for Pakistan: Allah's 10- Megaton Man," is the tale of how Pakistan secretly acquired its nuclear weapons. Nahh! That couldn't be it in a million years. Could it? Nope.

The man left me with three gifts. Websites. I hit the "search" key. The first told me God was a truly great guy and Jesus was a terrific son, who didn't drink booze, didn't snort coke, or read Penthouse. No. Jesus was a good boy. The other two were interesting alternative sites offering the "real stories" behind the news.

The man and I are due rendezvous again next week when he's going to drive me in his battered truck up to his very lonely house high in the hills. With God now on my side, I think I'll give it a try. I'll keep you apprised and even appraised once I see what the experience and the house are worth.

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