John didn’t believe in God.  Anyone he met who still believed he thought was afraid.  Their guilt, their troubles, their insecurities all were eating them alive, he said.  No one would pretend their thoughts were someone else’s if they didn’t feel deeply, overwhelmingly, alone.

Coming from St. Louis, Los Angles was very new, and very unusual. Old apartments were still very expensive.  And then a few streets over people warned him not to walk there.

He wanted California life.  Here, people seemed strikingly godless.  They did in the City of Angels, anyway.

Walking through downtown Hollywood one night with its neon orgies and cars steadily crowding Sunset, he watched people from all countries pay only partial attention to each other, everyone’s eyes busy as though searching for whomever it was they actually wanted to meet. Though one man’s eyes sat still, and pierced John’s.

“He knew that I knew,” he recalled.

The man had been sitting with his head tucked between his knees, his back against a bar with low lights barely illuminating its name in silver letters.  He looked up the same time John looked over.  His eyes were yellow, like they belonged to a small animal.

John said the man was possessed.  Not everyone can tell these things, he explained, but it was clear to him.

Asked about God then, and what that meant, he still said he didn’t believe.

“So what do you believe?  In demons?” I asked him.


“What’s the other part?”


He finished packing his suitcase, and got ready to say goodbye to California.

“You really think it’s so bad out here?” I asked one last time.

“It is so bad out here.”


“Because I believe it is,” he smiled. 

Maybe not everyone could tell, but it was an angel’s smile.