We took up with Brother Vernon Redstart's little band of pilgrims meeting in one end of the Quonset hut, out on the River Pike, where he had his auto repair and salvage business. The Glorified Temple of the Blessed Redeemer. That's where I saw Ronald Coyne, the Man With No Eye. And of all the people that ever frightened the feces out of me, he produced the greatest amount in pure poundage.
If my family's spiritual journey had been an actual trip, we'd still have been driving some beat up old heap like the Chevy. Our spiritual journey was just like that car, all crappy. And no matter how many times we had to get out and push, always in the rain or snow, my folks wouldn't quit and admit that they had no fucking idea how to get where they were going or if their destination even existed. My father would be the only one driving and he'd all the time be getting mad about something he heard or saw along the way and just take off in a different direction. The tires would be bald and the engine would be burning oil and knocking and the brakes would be bad and he'd be barreling along narrow winding roads with all of us in there with him and we weren't supposed to say anything.
Ronald Coyne, the Man with No Eye, flung himself headlong into our path and what followed would trouble my sleep for years to come.
When Ronald Coyne was a little boy in Oklahoma he lost his right eye on a barbed wire fence. But god had fixed it so that he could still see from the empty socket, or that's what he said. Now you might think that having the sight in his poked-out eye restored would be enough. But where everybody else could see only a hideous oddity, Ronald Coyne saw a killer gimmick and a god-given competitive advantage when it came to beating other crooks and charlatans out of the nickels and dimes of the trusting poor. He figured out the great truth of evangelism, which is, you can get total strangers to cover your cost of living even if they can't pay their rent or buy food for their children.
That's how Ronald Coyne wound up at the Glorified Temple of the Blessed Redeemer. It was a Sunday morning in August. Brother Redstart dispensed with the usual order of worship and turned the service right over to the evangelist.
Ronald Coyne went through his story about getting his eye poked out and how god fixed it so that he could see without it. And in case anybody had any doubts, he asked for a couple of volunteers to assist him in proving that the same god that healed the blind man at the gate could heal a little one-eyed boy in Oklahoma. My father and Brother Hobart stepped right up. He had them bind up the right side of his face with a bunch of gauze and adhesive tape. Then he popped his glass eye out and held the eyelid open so that everybody got a good look at the empty socket. There wasn't but a couple dozen people there, but he definitely had everybody's attention. Everybody else looked away when he came down the aisle, but I stared straight into that hideous hole. He got back up to the front and told Brother Hobart to give him anything at all to read. And Brother Hobart fished around in his billfold and came up with a card.
"Redstart's Auto Reclamation. Mason Star Route. Nunley, Arkansas."
Half the congregation come up short, gave a kind of a gasp, and the rest went to praising god like he'd just got back from a long trip.
Ronald Coyne said to my father, "If you would hand me the bible where you opened it there."
The Man with No Eye was not a good reader but everybody was too busy crapping themselves to notice.
"Matthew 15:14. 'Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.'"
I know for a fact that my folks put a fiver in the offering basket. Quintuple their the usual offering.
A new series premiered on the Bad Dream Network that night, featuring a one-eyed Okie monster in a Robert Hall suit.
Part of what bothered me was that god's approach to miracles was exactly as half-assed as my father's approach to working on cars. When my father lost the key to the trunk, which he always did early in his relationship with any automobile, rather than having a new key made, he would just gouge out the lock, so he could thereafter open it by poking a screwdriver into the big ugly hole. And god, rather than keeping Ronald Coyne from getting his eye poked out in the first place, or healing his original eye, or giving him a new one altogether, leaves this ugly-assed empty socket. It still works, but nobody's ever gonna compliment you on its looks.