Two years ago I blogged about a fellow church congregant named "Archie," and how a significant number of other people found him extremely bothersome.
I've had two more years since then to get used to Archie, and can almost describe myself as having become fond of him.
Part of this could be the fact that, closing in on 80, he has aged rather noticeably. He has a pretty bad case of osteoporosis, and grunts even more audibly than before, anytime he has to walk anywhere, even if it's half a dozen steps across the fellowship area. In a word, he's pathetic. I can't bring myself to hate someone who's that old, whose main shortcoming is cluelessness.
Still, this past weekend gave me the opportunity to take a reading, as it were, of Archie's current "poll numbers."
They're not good.
If Archie goes to court (more about that in just a second) and needs a character witness, I fear the spectators will be treated to the sound of crickets chirping and little else.
Here's what happened (with details minutely changed to protect Archie's privacy):
Late last week, Archie, who drives the kind of car you'd expect -- a 1990s-vintage American-made land yacht -- was involved in a wreck in which he made a turn without properly looking, and struck a smaller, less sturdy vehicle. At last report, the person he struck remains in critical condition. Archie sustained minor injuries and went to the emergency room.
I first learned about the incident not long after it happened. The bus my husband rides home from work had to detour about five miles out of the way, with the road being blocked in both directions. He called me at work and warned me to go home via a different route.
As of Sunday morning, I still didn't know it had been Archie, but was somewhat surprised to see him sitting up front during the service. He had lately taken to sitting by himself in the fellowship area, listening to the service over the speakers and obsessively taping the proceedings on two or three separate pocket cassette recorders. This time a woman was helping him with the taping; I thought it might be his wife, who reportedly belongs to some other denomination and doesn't much approve of ours. She didn't look very approving.
But sometime later that weekend, I checked the local online paper and was startled to see a name I knew well, described as "driver charged."
Immediately, I knew Archie's remaining time here on earth would not be filled with joy. He'd just earned himself a super-sized helping of negative karma points.
I sent him a little card, saying I was thinking of him and hoping things would turn out as well as possible for him.
My husband observed to me that this might be an excellent time for Archie to consider a generous donation to the church, before the victim's lawyers took aim at his assets.
A couple of days later I was back at church for a small-group dinner. One person already knew about the accident. She's never been much of an Archie fan, and this opinion was unleavened by sympathy.
"He should have quit driving five years ago," she said. "People like him are a menace on the roads." When the other members of our group heard the news, the remarks had little to do with Archie being anything but rude, crude, obnoxious, tactless, unpopular and universally disliked. Everyone at the table could recall a different anecdote involving Archie blurting out some remark during service or discussion forums -- racist, sexist, irrelevant, tasteless or merely disruptive.
His idea of humor is so far off the mark, he very nearly got himself assaulted by the widow of a beloved member -- when someone fondly recalled the deceased and how devoted he'd been to promoting the religious education program, Archie decided it would be useful to compare this man to myriad other supporters of religious education who turned out to be child molesters. A few years before that, we'd had an African-American guest speaker. Archie's question was "There's a song I've heard on the radio: 'I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie' -- what do people like you think about that?" One of his oft-repeated observations to another deceased congregant, a Jewish man, was that sixty years ago, our southern city would not have allowed a Jew to remain overnight. The other man responded, "We Jews have a word for someone like you: meshuggeneh!"
I don't know if Archie has kids, siblings, in-laws, or any family other than his wife. Our minister will undoubtedly be called upon at some point, but all I've ever heard him say about Archie is "Well, I had to read Archie the riot act again after last Sunday's service..."
I hope Archie's victim -- a young person, according to the news report -- survives and manages to recover.
I can't help but have the same hope for Archie.