I’ve always been fascinated with nativity scenes. Growing up as the only Jewish kid on a Catholic block, I clearly knew that we were not going to have a little manger scene with a miniature Baby Jesus in our house. The closest I got was my neighbor’s house across the street. They had cotton batting resembling snow spread out under their tree. It was tucked among the batting with a manger scene with all the characters and animals. I would get on the floor and get very close and stare at these figures. I loved dolls and miniatures and I knew nothing like this would ever make its way through my front door.
As a grown-up person, I am still intrigued by manger scenes. Sporting a new camera, I decided to devote the Christmas season, of which I am still an outsider, to taking photos of every nativity scene I could track down in my area.
I remembered in an older part of town there was Church of the Nativity. Now if they didn’t have a manger scene, no one would.
I drove by and was not disappointed. The characters were larger than life with life-sized animals as well.
I parked and approached the scene, shot close ups from all angles. Upon parking the car, I noticed a homeless guy sitting on a bench a half a block away. My first thought was, oh he looks harmless and by the time I’m done shooting, he won’t have time to get anywhere near me.
This tells you how wrong I can be. Right after taking my last shot, the homeless guy down the street is now in my face. Friendly guy I think to myself. No obvious odors and friendly.
How long have you been taking photos he asked.
Now I am usually cold and ignore homeless people. He seemed harmless and in the spirit of standing in front of a manger scene in front of a Catholic church and it being Christmas and all, I launched into a conversation with him.
Oh I've been taking photos for many years.
Isn't it beautiful? He commented in regards to the manger scene.
Oh yes I said.
It's a beautiful story too.
Yes it is I agreed.
He proceeded to tell me that he had visited a man who had been sick and was getting better, but the man was really quite discouraged with life in general.
He encouraged the man with stories about The Lord who is responsible for all things. The man asked him, you think the Lord can help me? Oh yes he told him. Who do you think is making you better?
And went on to say he cut his finger when repairing a refrigerator and who do you think healed his finger? Because The Lord is in charge of your immune system and therefore he healed his finger, at which point he showed me and I noticed his finger nails were exceptionally long, but clean. The fact that he only had three dirty teeth was a bit disconcerting though. His pony tail tied up in rope, a bit odd. The fact that I actually stood there and listened to the guy's rant, so out of character for me. It was grossing me out, but I had made the decision to have discourse with him.
It wasn't until he asked me for a hug, and I let him hug me, and that the hug lasted way too long, that I started to question my judgment. For a split second I was not sure if I was going to be able to wrangle myself out of the hug.
He told me his name was Frank.
Frank wanted to give me a CD. A Guys and Dolls CD.
Oh no I said. I already have that one, which is the truth.
I said I had to go. At which point he wanted a hug goodbye.
For unknown reasons, I let him. Again, the death grip, again I was afraid I’d never get out of the hug, but praise God I did and walked quickly to my car.
Who's your favorite photographer he called out.
Ansel Adams I called back.
Your trunk is open.
Oh thank you I said. I ran to shut it, hopped in the car, locked the door and waved goodbye.
I drove several streets over and thought okay who can I text and tell them of this macabre incident. Is there something about shooting manger scenes that attracts odd encounters I wondered? These scenes do present unexpected entertainment. Several days after my encounter with Frank, I kneeled in dog poo in front of a manger scene. I learned that carrying Wet Ones in your car is a good thing and today I learned that the Lord created my immune system.