Beauregard Johnstone, a forth generation oil tycoon, was throwing a good old-fashioned Texas BBQ on his ranch. He raised Longhorn steer and had a fatted calf on the bar-be for a few dozen of his corporate buddies and their families. Long wooden picnic tables were dressed with the traditional red and white-checkered tablecloths. Big bowls of potato salad, slaw, baked beans, watermelon chunks and deserts covered the tables with the rich man’s bounty. The young folk were out on the parameter of the ranch enjoying horseback rides and carnival games.
The men pulled themselves into a group on the patio drinking beer and shots. Their wives were catching up on all the latest news and gossip. The fellas always knew how to make the women disappear.
“Hey, I’ve got some good Cubans here,” Beauregard announced as he began to pass out the cigars to his male guests. The ladies knew that was their cue to leave. The women decided that they would go into the house and enjoy some AC to cool off and continue their conversations. The wives did not feel any animosity toward the ritual. They just gave the boys their space.
Beauregard got down to the burning subject that was on everyone’s mind: their drastically falling profits in sales since the Green Refit Plan began. “I admit that I’ve got millions in the bank, more money than I’ll ever probably spend. But, got damn it! We’re making next to nothing now.”
“When gas went to $7.00 dollars a gallon at the pump here in the U.S. and $12.00 dollars in Europe, the line on the profit chart started heading north. Now the world wants to turn green, and we are just gonna sit back and let that happen? Shhhit, they got another thing coming,” one guest stated.
“This is communist bullshit is what it is. That’s not the American way. Our country is built on free enterprise. Now the government and world councils are going to limit our businesses because of some damn bees! Who is watching China? They have more money than the U.S.. They can quickly get on the green grid before our country and put many of our industries out of business. The courts are denying our appeals to raise our oil import levels. Now that’s not democracy! ” A colleague said.
“Such irony. We’ve been running them all these years,” Beauregard slyly commended.
“But! Can you feel it out there though? It’s been four months since the refit plan started. People are getting very, very restless. The tension is almost to the point of eruption. You see that U.N. update news conference? They tied everything up into a nice and neat little package like everything is honky dory. They didn’t play up the reports of police, state troopers and national guards ceaseless ticketing and impounding gas cars that people try to drive without a permit. The auto pounds are all full. The jails are crammed full of people losing it in the chaos out there. No one is paying the $1000 dollar tickets for driving without a permit. Law enforcement is stretched thin,” another guest added.
“And once the raging bull is out of the barn, it’s hard to get him back in. Lets face it, if the majority of the people decided they weren’t going to follow the refit plan, nothing could be done about it. I’m thinking that if enough people stopped carpooling it can get out of hand real quick,” Beauregard said.
“The flip side to this is they complained about paying $7.00 dollars a gallon before and now they have to walk, take public transportation and have been without their rides for so long now, they will be happy to pay whatever is asked at the pump.”
“One problem. How do we increase the quantity of oil tankers out of the Gulf? We are down by 60% now. We would need to go back to normal supply and capacity before this refit garbage started. We don’t have the White House in our back pocket any more with this new administration.”
“Yeah, this new administration really is for the people,” one guest joked.
“We can’t go out like this. We’re sacrificing our longstanding company’s profits for some damn bees.”
“And our children too. Don’t forget that.” Beauregard said sarcastically. He continued. “When I was a kid, I ate dirt every day. We called them mud pies. I’m still here. A little dirt in the air ain’t gonna hurt anyone. Life will go on, and we are getting back into business. It will take about twenty years for the oil to run dry. Then, they can start their refits. We have got to make a comeback, and I have just the plan.”
Lucy, Beauregard’s wife came to the patio screen door with a perturbed announcement. “Hun, the weatherman just said that we are going to be in the one-teens all next week! It may even hit 120 degrees. Only Death Valley is hot’r than that.”
He responded with a confident chuckle. “Don’t worry, honey. We’ll crank up the AC. It won’t affect you one bit.”
‘OK, I got that settled and started.’ Lily thought, referring to the Ecuadorians that she helped to transfer out of their gas-swamped homeland. Her attention took a diversion to one of her life’s goals. She was a multimillionaire now after selling the diamond, and she had the capital to fulfill her dream of building her own solar panel factory. The focus of her company up to this point had been distribution and installation of solar panel and wind turbines. Now with the demand for solar and wind energy, the time and financing put her at the juxtaposition of her aspirations.
Lily had a friend in the zoning department at Chicago city hall. She needed to get the ball rolling. She picked up the phone to call her friend Tre.
“Tre, it’s Lily. How are you doing?”
“Lily! My God, you have been all over the place, and I mean that literally. . .out of this world even.”
“I’ve been on an eco-roller coaster ride. So much to do and accomplish to get everybody on a green grid.”
“Yeah, I know. We’ve just installed solar panels and low profile wind turbines here at city hall. We're running green now too, and our reclaiming and recycling programs are really taking off.”
“Yes, the eco-revolution has rolled in fast and strong. We have to! Otherwise there won’t be any more us. And Tre, that’s part of the reason why I’m calling you. You know when I was younger that I grew up in Woodlawn.”
“Yeah, I know you’re a South Side girl.”
“A lot of the area is being built up with new housing, but there are still many vacant lots and abandoned buildings in that neighborhood. I want to bring a green industry back home to my roots. Woodlawn needs jobs and revitalization, and we all need to be a part of this green revolution. Tre, I’d like to build a solar panel factory in the community. Do you think you can help me get zoning for that?”
“Lily, I’ll be glad to help you get anything you want. Problem is, I don’t know if the area can support a heavy industry like that.”
“You know I’m not going to do anything half-baked. The factory will be a state of the art, green and clean operation, and we will responsibly manage our waste. It can provide a couple hundred jobs to the area. The 63rd Street corridor is for business anyway. We just have to kick it up a small notch to industrial. There is more than enough available land in which to build. We can have daycare on the premise, plenty of parking lots for refitted and electric cars of course and a bus stop in front. I’ve got it all planned out in my head. I want this to be a pilot facility. I intend to build more solar and wind turbine factories in other disenfranchised areas . . . Detroit, South Central L.A., in Native American communities and so on.”
“Who died and made you rich to afford all of this?” Tre joked.
“Hey, I’ve got friends in high places . . .literally. I have some starter funds, and this is the new industry for a new age. The sky is the limit for revenue. I’m not worried about that.”
“Well, Lily, we’d first have to meet with the residents in the Woodlawn area to see if this is something they want.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t want to just force my way in. But, since it won’t negatively impact the neighborhood, I think it would be a welcome opportunity that could help to transform the area,” Lily said confidently.
“I’ll set up some meetings, talk with the zoning board, encourage our city council to vote in favor and hey, you may be able to move forward with your plan.”
“Thanks, Tre, and good talking to you. Much love to you and your wife. Take care.”
“Bye, Lily. I’ll be in touch.”
Tre ran the idea of the solar panel plant to the residents of Woodlawn. The community was ecstatic to welcome the plan. Their enthusiasm was made known to their alderman. The zoning was approved by the city council for the factory.
Lily had a spot picked out for the factory. There were literally several square blocks that were barren with vacant lots and abandoned buildings. A few homes and apartment buildings were mixed in. Lily personally went to offer buyouts and relocation packages to residents still in those homes and apartments. Everyone agreed to the buyouts. Lily would have her land to build the factory.
Lily was leaving one of the homes after getting buyout papers signed by a homeowner in her solar factory’s planned area. As she walked from the home to her car, she heard a woman moaning from an abandoned building across the street. Lily had to stop and be still to make sure that she heard what she thought she had heard. Yes. She heard it again. Lily walked to the front of the derelict building. It would be one that needed to be torn down. There had been some boards that sealed off the building’s entrance, but squatters seeking shelter had pulled most of the boarding off to get inside. In the doorway, behind one of the jagged boards, Lily could see someone lying on the floor. She went in and saw a woman passed out with a needle stuck in her arm.
“Oh my God! You’ve overdosed,” Lily exclaimed.
Lily began to try to get a response from the woman, but the lady was too drugged out. Lily grabbed her cell phone and called 911. Paramedics came and took the woman to the hospital. Lily came to the ER right behind the ambulance. She asked the medical staff what was going on.
“Ma’am, if you’re not family or friend, we can’t give you any information. We have to protect the patients privacy,” the nurse explained.
"I found her in an abandoned building. I just want to know if she’s going to be OK,” Lily pressed.
“Look, Ma'am, we see this everyday, all day. People have given up on themselves, and they think that street drugs will solve their problems. We get ‘em in and get them cleaned up. They go back out and do the same thing. You try to get them a few social services before they are discharged, but it’s a vicious cycle. They are a slave to their habits. We have seen this lady before. Don’t worry. We’ll take care of her.”
“OK, I understand about the privacy issue. I’m just concerned about her.”
The nurse grabbed a list of unidentified patients. “She will be Jane Doe number four.”
“She doesn’t have a name? She’s just a Jane Doe to you?”
“Hey! It’s not our fault. The O.D’s come in, and they can’t tell you who they are, and they don’t have any ID. When they do come to, they don’t cooperate and many just leave against medical advice. So, we have to put an ID bracelet on them that says something, so that we can properly identify people for their medication. I need to get an I.V. started on her.”
The nurse walked away to attend to the woman.
Lily got a sharp reality check. She could do nothing for the overdosed woman, so she went home. At home, she tried to focus on organizing the paperwork for the buyouts, but Jane Doe haunted her mind. On top of that, Jane Doe looked familiar to her. Lily just couldn’t place where she had seen the woman before.
Two days had passed since Lily encountered Jane Doe. She wanted to go and see her. Hopefully she was out of her drug-induced stupor. Lily called the hospital to see if Jane Doe number four was still there, and she was.
Lily was a bit nervous as she walked through the hospital heading to Jane’s room. ‘What do I say?’ Lily worried. She came to the doorway of the room and saw Jane in bed hooked up to I.V.s and monitors. She entered.
“Hi. I’m Lily King. I kinda found you in the doorway of the building over near 63rd street."
“Hi Lily,” Jane said in a raspy groggy voice.
Lily didn’t know what to say next.
“Um, I was concerned about what happened to you. I hope you don’t mind my dropping by.”
Jane looked at Lily perplexed. “I’m a nobody. No body ever thinks about me. I’ve got three grown kids, and they don’t give a damn about me! Who are you?!” Jane was suspicious.
“I’m actually going to be building a solar panel factory in the area where you were. I’m concerned about a lot of things. I actually have never seen a person who was . . . um, overdosed on drugs.”
“Well la-dee-da! Never seen! So, you some kind of bleeding heart for us po’ folks huh?” Jane snapped.
“I grew up in the area, and I’m at a point in my life where I can giveback . . . you know try to do something for the neighborhood.”
“I have to say, you’re rare. Nobody gives a damn. They’d rather see us kill each other off in the hood rather than doing anything to help.”
“There are a lot of people, churches and organizations out there who are trying to make a positive difference. But, I’m not trying to get in your business. I just wanted to know how you were doing, and if there was anything I could do to help.”
Jane was confused. Lily was up to something, she thought. Maybe Lily knew who she really was and was there to expose her downfall. Nobody offers a hand at least it had not happened to her before from a stranger.
“What you want!” Jane barked.
Lily shrugged her shoulders in despair.
“I was just concerned. That’s all.”
“Do you know what my name is?” Jane asked.
“The hospital calls you Jane Doe.”
“Yeah, and you can call me Janie,” she said sarcastically.
“OK, Janie. I’d rather call you by your real name and not some generic name the hospital gave you.”
“You really don’t know who I am, do you?”
“No, am I supposed to know?”
There was a long pause in the room as Janie was mulling it over in her mind if she should trust Lily or just send her packing. The reality was that Janie had very little human contact over the past two years. Her days consisted of begging for money on the street, petty theft for food, getting her fix from drug dealers and sharing abandoned buildings with several other strangers strung out just like her. What was this Lily about? Why was she here?
Lily remained quiet as she sensed Janie needed a moment to think.
“So, you want to open a factory? I used to be CEO of my own company two years ago.”
Lily listened intently.
“You know, they call Chicago Hollywood of the east with all of the movies that come through town. Well, I had the idea to form a company where I was a liaison between L.A. and Chicago to arrange everythang that movie production companies needed in Chicago . . . from catering to limos, hotels, make up artists you name it. I got caught up in the “Hollywood” party scene. Started doing some lite drugs . . . you know, socializing. Got to have a drank in yo’ hand and a little coke up your nose, and I began sleeping around with a lot of different men. I just got caught up. I had a nice house in Lincoln Park, and I gave some fabulous parties. Everyone wanted to come to my parties. I went to all the clubs, upscale restaurants, theaters everythang. I had closets full of designer clothes, shoes, handbags, and jewelry. I traveled all around the world. I had everythang that I wanted. I had everythang that I dreamed about having. You know as a child how you say you want stuff when you get grown. Well, I did it, and normally ain’t noth’n wrong with it. But....”
Janie paused a moment and became saddened about her situation.
“I felt real empty inside. It was a hole inside of me that I just couldn’t fix. My kids warned me. They were like ‘Ma, you need to let up on the wild parties and drinking.’ I don’t know if they knew I did drugs or not. I tried to keep that from them, but they smart. I think they knew. I needed more and more booze and drugs to keep me going. I couldn’t get enough because I couldn’t fill that empty spot inside.” Janie pointed to her heart.
Lily grabbed a chair and sat down next to Janie’s bed. Janie felt a flush of shame, and she turned her face away from Lily.
In a very sympathetic manner, Lily attempted to offer encouragement.
“Hey, I’m not here to judge. We all have our crosses to bear. At some point in our lives, we all have wilderness experiences, and we all become Prodigal sons and daughters.”
“Prodigal son! I grew up in the church. My dad was a deacon, and I know the Bible inside and out. Believe me my parents made sure if that. I know about God and what I should have done and what I should not be doing now. But, I fell down and haven’t been able to get back up,” Janie commented.
Lily really wanted to inspire Janie and dug deep down inside of herself to come up with the right words. “God is a God of second chances. You know about the Prodigal son. The father welcomed his child back with open arms and laid out a satisfying life for him. I have had family members whose lives were taken over by drugs. The family rallied around them and helped them through it.”
“Huh! Family. Friends. I had an entourage of ass kissers all around me. If I said go make a drug run for me, they’d do it. No one ever helped me to put the brakes on what was going on. They wanted to meet the Hollywood stars that came into town and enjoy the parties. So, they did not ruffle my feathers. They did anything and everythang I asked of them to support my habit. Now when I look back on it, and now I have no one around to help, I see they weren’t my friends. A true friend would have held a mirror up for me to see what I was doing to myself. You know? They would have said, ‘Hey Mabel, don’t you think you’ve had enough?’”
Lily caught the name. “Mabel is your name.”
“Yeah, Mabel Jones once CEO of Hollywood in Chicago.”
The two fell silent trying to digest their conversation.
After a few moments of reflection, Mabel spoke.
“It actually feels good talking to you Lily. I’ve had a lot on my chest and no one to talk to, to get it out.”
Lily wanted to ask what happened to Mabel’s children, but knew this might be a touchy subject. She did not want to interfere and possibly open up wounds. Instead, Lily gave a head nod and became very contemplative.
“Where will you go when you leave the hospital?” Lily asked.
“They usually find a shelter for me to go to. I go for a few days, but then I got to have my fix. I can’t stay cooped up. I leave, and I’m back out on the street again sleeping under a bridge, or I’ll ride the El all night especially when it’s cold outside.”
“What do you want for your life right now, Mabel?”
Mabel took a while to respond. “I want to die! I’m tired of living like this. I’m tired of being alone in the world. I’m tired of hurt’n. I can’t be fixed. I’m too far gone.”
“Don’t ever say that it can’t change for you! Don’t let those chemicals take you out like that! It’s not that you want to die. What you want is a new life, and you don’t have to die to start your life over again.”
“I’m in a pit, a deep, deep pit. I’m as low as I can go. I can’t see any other way out.”
Lily gave Mabel a long stare and said, “When you hit rock bottom, there’s no place to go but up. You managed your company pretty well for you to develop the clientele that allowed you to have such a lavish lifestyle. What if you went to a rehab center? I’ll pay for it, and once you are clean and sober, I can give you a position at the solar plant. What do you think about that?”
“How can you pay for my rehab? You don’t know me. Besides, I’ve tried rehab and it has never worked for me. That’s why I’ve given up because I can’t be helped.”
Lily got tough and determined. “Hey Mabel, let’s go back to our church roots. Do you have at least the faith the size of a grain of mustard seed? If God wanted you to die, I’m sure you would have been dead by now. Even though we hurt and struggle, God always has a positive plan for our lives. We may not be able to see where Spirit is taking us or why on such a treacherous route. But! There is a lesson and a blessing in all the trials that we go through.”
Mabel gave Lily a head nod in agreement.
“I tell you what. We are sisters in the Spirit, and I am my sister’s keeper. I’m feeling like I was supposed to be where I was to hear your moaning in that building. I’m feeling that."
“Are you my angel?” Mabel asked very sheepishly giving a slight smile.
“I don’t know about that, but I can be a new found friend. I don’t want to see or know that you are back living in the street. I know of a very good faith based substance abuse rehab center. You can’t do it by yourself. You do have to be immersed in God’s word and presence to get your life, Spirit and energy back. I want to do that for you, Mabel."
Mabel gave Lily a look of suspicion, and didn’t respond.
“Well, our meeting has been intense. Why don’t you think about it overnight, and I’ll come back in the morning. We can then talk.”
Mabel gave a weak head nod.
Lily wrote down her cell phone number and left it on Mabel’s nightstand. “Call me please, any time you want.”
Lily turned to walk out of the room. She was almost out of the door when she heard a faint, “thank you.”