In celebration of the 7th anniversary of the Bearded Odyssey, I am re-running the series throughout the summer. This chapter was originally published in The Daily Nebraskan on June 22, 2003.
I’d been walking along the coast of Pacific Beach in San Diego when it was time to go meet my friends at The Tavern. I started up the hill to head down Garnet Avenue when a fluffy-bearded man in a leather jacket muttered something to me from the shadows.
He started on an intimidating combination of scripture and marijuana-induced rambling, burning his fingers trying to light his quarter-inch joint, before formally introducing himself: “Behold, the hand of God! I am Gonzo Yhvh, ben Olam Haba Ebets Yhvh, the archangel of God.”
This was Gonzo — a balding, red-bearded man of probably about 50, although the elements undoubtedly added a few unfair lines to his face. He gave me a brief history of his previous lives on Earth, and how he was reborn into this life in Phoenix, Ariz., (“Get it?” he asked. “I was reborn in Phoenix!” He told me God has a sense of humor that way.) and had just moved to San Diego.
I politely listened to what he had to say, but I explained people were waiting for me at the bar, so I needed to get going. I told him that I’d come find him later.
Now, when I said later, I meant when I someday returned to San Diego, but he called out that when I saw him later, he would come sliding across the floor. “I have my own special door in the back — you’ll see it,” he said. At this point, I figured he was just speaking nonsense about having some door at the bar. But he continued:
“At the bottom of the door is a self-illuminated crystal. Above that is dark red garnet. You walk in the door and everything lights up. You’ll know it’s my door because there’s an eight-sided fountain outside with nothing in it. I asked God if I could put a statue of me in it. You know what he said to me?”
I didn’t, so Gonzo got right in my face for his God impersonation: “Don’t even think about it!” He laughed and took a seat back on the bench.
“Maybe I could put some fish in it. You know…I don’t know if we even have fish in Heaven.” Then he remembered he was talking to me. “So yeah, when you get to Heaven, look me up.”
This was a little too cool to walk away from, so I asked him if he’s always been called Gonzo. My guess was that he had a “normal” name, like Brian or Tom or Chester. Sure enough, he used to have a different name: Onzo.
After explaining the alphanumeric significance of the name Onzo and its relation to Jesus, he told me that the change to Gonzo had less to do with the numerology than it did with his new arch-angelic role: “I was just Onzo,” he said, “but then everything changed. They changed the job description on me.”
He pulled up his sleeve to show me his tattoos: a compass above a stylized rendition of “Gonzo.” He pointed to the G, which had been visibly added to the previously-existing “Onzo,” and explained its shape as a staff and a trumpet. Now that he was back on Earth, he had the extra tasks of walking the land (the staff) and telling people about the coming apocalypse (the trumpet).
So I asked, “The end is near?” He laughed his maniacal laugh and turned the question to me: “Why do you think I’m here?! Ooohh, it’s getting late!”
Then Gonzo asked if I wanted to know more about the coming end. Sure I did. Didn’t know that’d mean we’d have to go to his truck. With the sounds of a Friday night bar scene to the left and the loop of the rising tide to the right, we headed down the coast to the dark alley where his truck was.
This is where I die, I thought.
Sure enough, almost as if on cue, in one fluid motion Gonzo reached in his pocket, whipped out a switchblade, and flipped it open about four inches in front of my face.
“See, it says Gonzo,” he said.
Sure enough, engraved on the blade were the letters G-O-N-Z-O. He put it away and continued on his weaving walk to the truck. We arrived to find that getting to the contents of the back would be difficult, as the person who parked behind Gonzo was right on his bumper.
“Inconsiderate parkers around here,” I said, awkwardly trying to break the silence.
“Very considerate, considering our plates are expired,” he giggled.
He was having trouble opening the lid to the camper shell, favoring his right hand. He said he had some trouble “in a sandbox with four Mexicans. They weren’t playing nice, so I had to stab them. Now they’ll fear the Lord,” he added, again with a giggle.
Now this must be the part where I die, I figured, as he lunged into the camper. I heard some clanging metal as he sprung out of the shadows with something in his hand. He spun toward me and used the wrench he just found to clamp the lid open. He dove back in as he asked, “Why are you so jumpy?”
Popping out of the shadows of his camper shell once more, he handed me a briefcase. “Never knew an uzi could be so light, huh?” he laughed. “Never knew so much anthrax could fit in one briefcase, huh?”
I haven’t figured out how yet, I thought, but I gotta die here pretty soon.
Of course, Gonzo never did kill me; I figured out his weakness before he could. If you could get him talking, it was hard for him to stop himself.
“Make the gems — I will do the setting,” he said. “The Lord tells me to find the people, and here you are.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. I was afraid I might have accidentally enlisted in his army.
“It’s getting late,” he repeated. “Soon, people are going to be on fire, running 300 miles an hour toward this ocean, trying to put themselves out. But this water’s going to be full of sharks just ready to eat their charcoal asses! That’s when we fight.”
“A man can be an angel,” he said. “You want to draw your sword? Ask him — he will give you your wings.”
“I have to go,” I told him.
“Tell people about me,” he commanded. “Tell your friends what happened tonight.”
“Before I go,” I said, “give me one last message to take with me. I want something to think about that won’t let me sleep until I’ve figured it out.”
This stopped him cold. I could tell he really wanted to think of something good, and I wanted him to. He turned back to me.
“I am an archangel of the Lord.” It was his moment of reckoning, and that’s all he had.
Meanwhile, here I am, doubting him, but doing exactly what he commanded.
The beard is getting thicker, but the bare spots beside my mouth are looking to keep it from ever being respectable. Although I’m only a few weeks into growth, I detect no hair sprouts there. I have found that if I wear my Mexican wrestling mask, it covers the barren lands and exposes only the haired areas. I call this the “Implied Beard” effect.
After having to rely so much on memory from the Chester incident a few days before, I made a point to take good notes while talking to Gonzo. Below are scans of my original notes that I was frantically taking while he jabbered.
You’ll notice some details that ended up being cut from the story — how he had moved from Los Angeles, the 7th largest city on Earth, to San Diego, the 7th largest city in the U.S. These rankings are according to him — I never did fact check — but I think the actual facts in this case are irrelevant. What mattered is that Gonzo believed (or at least wanted me to believe) that there was always numerical significance to his path.
On the third page, you can see two banners. He showed them to me when we were at the back of his truck, but by that point I was getting freaked out enough that I wasn’t taking very good notes, and since that part of the conversation didn’t make it into the column at the time, I’ve forgotten most of what those were about.
I’ve been back probably a dozen times since then, always paying attention to the homeless crowd, but I’ve never seen Gonzo again.