The "it" he's usually referring to is one of a handful of things. First, he likes to be teased about the devil. Joe is obsessed with death and likes to think he's going to live with the angels someday. "They got TV and radio up there?" he asks me. Joe cannot, however, resist a good chiding about his being sent down to hell with "the debil," as he calls him.
"Joe," I say, "where you are going, there ain't no TV or radio." At this he starts to get his eyes focused with the cautious smile of a child who is about to get on a roller coaster. "You're going to the debil," I continue, "and he will keep you occupied by throwing you into a fiery furnace over and over again for eternity." At this, Joe doubles over, rubbing his hands together.
"Do it again, my friend. Do it again."
So last weekend we decided to take the ferry to the city for the afternoon. Joe was wearing a Gilligan hat, painter pants, and a light parka, the pockets stuffed with three pairs of sunglasses, a radio, and some maps.
I was taking Joe to the Hyatt Regency in Embarcadero Center. There's a bar there called the 13 Views, which is in the center of everything. We could watch people walk by and watch TV at the same time. Heaven.
The Hyatt is trying its damnedest to look high-class, with a gigantic atrium and glass elevators and a colossal metal sculpture as big as a house. It's in this area that the bar sits, and though it is cozy enough, one still can't help thinking she's in an airport lobby.
"Can I get a soda, my friend?" Joe asked. Other than death, Joe is obsessed with soda. It comes from growing up in an institution where stuff like that was liquid gold.
Joe was abandoned as a baby and was raised in Sonoma State Hospital. I can joke with him about just about anything, but not that. As an infant and toddler, he lived in a giant room with rows and rows of cribs. He had no tenderness, no hugs. The only time he got any attention was when he went to the nurse's office. (To this day, he loves nurses.) It's hard to tell what exactly went on there from Joe's fractured communication, but I do know that the place got busted for doing Mengele-like experiments on the children who had cerebral palsy. I suppose this is why Joe isn't afraid of hell. He has been there.
"What my mother say I went down to the debil?" he asks excitedly, putting down his root beer. "What my mother say?"
Since Joe had no mother or family and has desperately wanted one, I always make a big to-do about this question. I pretend to be his mother finding out that her beloved son is dead and with the debil. At first I stand there, speechless, unable to form words, as my grief is so intense. Joe starts to rub his hands together happily. Then I begin to stutter: "You-you are ssssaying, my boy? MY BOY?! MY BABY BOY IS DEAD?" then I toss myself about in agony and scream up to the heavens, "NOOOOOooooo!"
The bartender, a well-scrubbed redhead named Joel, took an immediate liking to Joe. "Here you go, Joe," he said, delivering another soda as if it were a Christmas present. Joe rubbed his hands together. "Anything you want to watch on the TV, Joe?" he asked kindly. Oh boy. That was the right question. Aside from heaven, death, and soda, Joe is obsessed with KRON 4.
"Comin' right up!" said Joel. When other people arrived and wanted to watch a game, Joel said, "Sorry, Joe is watching KRON 4," which made Joe light up like a starry night.
By this time, Joe had figured out that he was having one hell of a great day. The cherry on top was the fact that the bathrooms were only a few yards away, so he could go every 20 minutes, as is his way.
When our meals came out about 10 minutes late, the chef came with them to apologize. Then the manager came over to apologize. Then Joel apologized again and gave Joe all his soda and pizza for free. I tell ya, Joe's hands were rubbed raw with mirth by the end of the day.
The Hyatt surely prides itself on treating each customer as royalty, and for those who expect such things, this hospitality is probably overlooked. But for Joe, being treated this well was something he would take away with him, feeling very good indeed.
"Thank you for taking me there, my friend," he said to me, adding with a sly grin, "What'd the debil say, he saw me drink so much soda? What'd the debil say?"
"He'd say, 'Hahahahaa ... if Joe keeps drinking all that soda, he gonna come down to hell and stay with me. I will put a pitchfork through his tummy and toss him into the fiery abyss. Oh yeah, and no TV or radio.'"
Joe laughed heartily. "Do it again, my friend," he said. "Do it again."