One might ask what a Hells Angels founding-father and a 4th Century preacher have in common, but I think I’ve found some similarities worthy of sharing. About a month ago I was chatting with a regular patron who decided to reveal some of his sordid past. He’s a tall, lean man, probably in his late sixties, and respectable in an endearing redneck way.
It was evident that this patron was well-read early on, and he hinted that he was a published author himself and aware of the writing industry. I still found it mysterious that he frequented the Carnegie library, instead of Central branch with its seven floors of material to choose from.
He dropped by my office door and was quite delighted that he had found a First edition of a particular book at a Value Village and was sorting out where and to whom to sell it to. I ended up telling him about the book Gasoline Gypsy and how I coveted a First edition copy, since I ride motorcycles. He seemed to perk up when I mentioned motorbikes, and then slyly shared that there’s this Hells Angel book (a kind of compendium of their history, which all HA members were told to steal and burn, because it revealed too much information). Turns out that his name is listed on page 4.
His name is “The Bishop.” He was raised in California, and his family happens to be the original Bishops – founders of the Hells Angels. Wikipedia briefly notes that the Bishop family started the Club on March 17, 1948, as World War II veterans, and that it became an “amalgamation of former members from different motorcycle clubs.” Dang!
He’s now an old-timer, but remembered how one evening he was at a biker bar and a young buck, all beefed out on steroids was threatening him, declaring that he was a “prospect for the H.A.” My patron suggested that he give George a call… George Christie, the H.A. President from Ventura, where the young man hoped to be jumped in, and tell him that “The Bishop says to f**k off!” The prospect was a bit confused, but when he followed through, discovered who he was talking to. Suddenly the young guy was kowtowing, and would offer to buy him drinks anytime their paths crossed. My patron thought that was hilarious!
The Bishop went on to tell me a funny story from his own youth. His family had been moved to Canada by his father for whatever reason, and any reference to the Hells Angels was quickly dismissed by his dad, who seemed to want to disconnect from the family’s past. Naturally, my patron gravitated towards the scene. At one point he is renting a party house in Calgary with a crew of his buddies. In the winter they decide to build custom motorcycles in the basement out of parts bikes. The bikes are restored but it soon dawns on them that they can’t get the bikes out of the basement because of the steep staircase!
At this time they are rolling in money, so they offer to buy the house from their landlord, who initially refused. They explain that they will give him $200,000 in cash (which was a lot of money at the time) and a deal is made! They buy the house and blow out a hole in the wall just so they could get their three motorcycles out! So wild.
The Bishop seemed to have a very detached view of money. For example, one thing he likes to do is leave cash as bookmarks. It gives him great delight to imagine someone checking out a book and finding a $5, $10 or even $50 dollar bill stuck inside. He sometimes leaves a little note on the bill encouraging the reader to enjoy and “pay it forward” when they can. The Bishop also vowed that he would alert his fellow book collectors and perhaps a 1st edition copy of Gasoline Gypsy would come my way…
Obviously I’m not supposed to accept gifts from patrons (even though I often find strange things on my desk like homemade banana bread, a pineapple shaped candle, slightly rotten dragon fruit, etc.), but when the time comes I plan to make an honest deal!
This weekend I was reading an incredible collection of short proverbs called On Living Simply: the golden voice of John Chrysostom, and was reminded of the Bishop. Chrysostom writes, “If you give gladly, even if it is only a small thing, it will seem like a fortune. If you give resentfully, even if it is substantial, it will seem like a pittance” (#77). The crazy thing about these readings is that they are from the 4th Century, and they are so incredibly relevant, simple, honest and profound!
Nearing the end of the collection of writings, Chrysostom observes his city – Constantinople, the wealthy capitol of the Byzantine empire. He writes: “I look at the city in which I live, and see only turmoil. I see men cheating one another, so that those who are most devious grow rich at the expense of those who are most honest. I see men being unfaithful to their wives, consorting with prostitutes rather than sleeping in their marriage bed. I see men planning all sorts of schemes to gain power, putting down those who oppose them…” (#82).
All of this sounds very familiar, living in the city of Vancouver, living in a time of Donald Trump, living in a time when the wealthy choose to exploit the poor and exploit the earth. And yet, Chrysostom concludes this particular reflection by asking, “What hope can we find in such a black and terrifying picture? Our hope must lie in the ultimate power of good over evil – and the knowledge that the power can work in even the hardest of men. If I stare long enough into the faces of the cheats and the adulterers, the power-mongers and the wealth-mongers, I can discern the faint traces of goodness and truth; I can find softness amid this hardness. While I can still see these traces, I will not despair.”
Absolutely Awesome! I feel the same way about working in the Downtown Eastside and being part of a city where the rich are out of control. I am fully aware that some of the people I encounter on a daily basis at the library have committed crime and are not well. I’m also tempted at times to become embittered by the rich who have made it impossible for my husband and myself to ever own a house in Vancouver. And yet, there is hope. There are Hells Angels gone soft in our midst!
If you want to read something incredible, I highly recommend On Living Simply. We are all called to accountability in the teachings of John Chrysostom in a most gentle, yet thought-provoking way from an individual who lived a life of integrity and wisdom.