The first time Father Stencil ran into Jerry O'Brien he nearly ran into Jerry O'Brien - quite literally. Father Stencil ambled out of his rectory one brisk fall morning in a dirty urban landscape in Upstate (do you capitalize "Upstate," Father Stencil always wondered, when you are referring to upstate New York simply as "Upstate?" He tended to do this.), and he spotted the crumpled woolen and denim pile on the sidewalk, filthy golden tresses of unkempt hair cascading out of a sweater and onto the pavement. He walked up to the face-down body, bent over and tried to discern if there were any signs of life.
"You ain't gonna' bless me, are you?" creaked Jerry O'Brien through a pasty mouth, opening one crusty eye at the middle-aged priest.
"Only if you want me to," replied Father Stencil.
"Naah. I'm OK," said Jerry, "I'm OK." He closed his eye, exhaled a long breath and stretched a little bit.
Father Stencil walked away, amused and saddened and puzzled and cold. The months ahead brought many meetings between Jerry and Father Stencil, none more memorable, perhaps, than the afternoon when Father Stencil exited the church into the back alley, only to find Jerry O'Brien defecating in the large mulch pile the sexton had just had delivered for the church gardens.
"Jerry O'Brien, you stop crapping in my mulch pile!!" cried the priest, red in the face and shaking his fist.
"Sorry Father...when a man's gotta' go..." came the reply from Jerry O'Brien, fumbling with his trousers and trying to pick bits of mulch out of his tighty-whities. At least it appeared to be mulch he was picking out.
The wind on that spring day was not nearly as cold as the wind on the autumn day when the two had met, but prayers and a blessing were every bit as much needed on the former as on the latter. A middle-aged priest realized that when a man has got to go, he has go to go. A middle-aged vagrant realized that some mulch piles are not as well concealed as they appear. Life is like that.