Four a.m. April first. Rain is forecast for most of the Northeast, but this morning the clear stars and full moon light the sky.

I drive from the Northeast, where I abandon an unfaithful wife and 700 books, and say goodbye to friends and family. The orange Corolla is packed with clothes and cards, a box of books, a kerosene lamp, and a goosedown sleeping bag. It’s a ten-hour drive from Uniontown, Pennsylvania, through wild West Virginia to the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

I arrive in sunny Knoxville, Tennessee in mid-afternoon, and check into the Sheraton with my wife’s American Express card. I call my wife; she’s appalled that I used her credit card. Then she delivers an ultimatum concerning the divorce: I drop the adultery charge or she lists the orange car as stolen. It’s a stalemate — I have the car, she has the title of ownership.

The next day I burn the credit card and check into the rambling Fifth Avenue Motel. Room 237. It smells of smoke and fried fish, but the room has a refrigerator, stove, table, and bed. At night I walk the wet streets and look into the nameless faces, but never stop to talk.

Daytime. I dress in a three-piece suit, sweat in the swelter of Gay Street exhaust, and swim in the perfume of Southern receptionists. I register with several employment services but none seem interested in a solar energy enthusiast. It’s been ten months since steady work; I’m told I lack experience.

Outside the suite of offices, I read a bumper sticker on a pickup truck: WELCOME TO BIG ORANGE COUNTRY, HOME OF THE VOLUNTEERS. Maybe it’s just dumb luck, but I must be in the right place. My car is orange, the application forms are tinted orange, even the room key to my Fifth Avenue ghetto is orange. And I volunteered to move South, away from my wife and her boyfriend.

April fourth. I’m heading downtown for an important interview, when I’m stopped by a young black evangelist in search of the Trailways bus station. He wears a white shirt buttoned to the collar, and looks about my age, twenty-five. His name is Leon and he says he walks by the Spirit, or at least he’s willing to learn. I like his straightforwardness. He carries a small, black Bible and a suitcase with a broken latch. A belt substitutes for a fastener. The travel bag bulges full and I notice the tip of a blue tie slipping out of a crack. Leon begins a street sermon but I plead a pressing appointment. I give him directions to the bus terminal; it’s one of the few buildings I know in town. I say goodbye, cross the street, and forget about this clean-cut volunteer with Jesus in his hip pocket.

Ten minutes later, at the twin towers of Tennessee Valley Power (T.V.P.), I straighten my tie and comb my hair in the glazed reflection of their windows. Two weeks ago, I came across a magazine ad with a photograph of a Smoky Mountain waterfall, inviting and lush. The headline read: “We at T.V.P. Help Nature Take Its Course.” It sounded like a compatible relationship. I called for an appointment and looked forward to a real job prospect.

With confidence, I enter the air-conditioned luxury of T.V.P. headquarters. An officer at the personnel desk asks the purpose of my visit. I explain, “I’m here to meet with someone in your solar program.” The officer seems annoyed as he shuffles file folders and turns a few pages in an appointment book. He says, “I’m sorry, but all solar-related jobs are handled out of our Chattanooga office.” His voice is far from sympathetic. As an afterthought, he asks if I’d be interested in a public relations position. I say, “Sure.”

I fill out an application and have an interview with Captain Warden, an ex-Marine from Pennsylvania. The Captain’s office decor is post-war gothic. Crossed sabers adorn one wall; black-and-white photographs of wartime Europe hang on another. One picture catches my eye. Two young soldiers — one black, one white — stand on a pile of stone and twisted wood. A burnt-out church spire hangs in the background. The men — God, they look like boys — smile at the camera as they reach to shake hands over a broken road sign. A moment of triumph, kings of the hill.

Captain Warden appears bored as he outlines the job. If hired, I’d be a traveling P.R. man for the Nuclear Power Outreach Workshop. I would talk to students about careers in nuclear energy.

Captain Warden’s first question is, “What brings you to Tennessee?” I give an honest though vague account of the separation from my wife. He listens with interest. Then he begins a series of rapid-fire inquiries that take me by surprise. “Do you drink bourbon or beer?” “Do you prefer team sports or solitaire?” Then the bombshell drops: “If your wife desired reconciliation, would you run back North?”

Pain radiates from my heart and my gut tightens. I shoot back in anger, “My ex-wife has no influence over me.”

“Then I assume you’re already divorced,” the Captain says.

Embarrassed, I explain that the divorce is not yet final. The fact that proceedings have yet to begin seems a minor detail; I’ve lost enough to call it quits.

The war hero takes a neutral position and responds, “Just thought I’d ask.” The end of the interview is a smile, a handshake, and the standard, “We’ll contact you if anything comes up.”

I leave T.V.P. headquarters feeling like a fool. He had no right to ask me those questions! I want to kick the fire hydrant and piss on the reflective glass. Instead, I treat myself to lunch.

I sit in a window booth at the Torch Restaurant and order the special: pasta with meatballs. I watch the flow of people and cars. The rhythm of pedestrians and the slow acceleration of truck calm my nerves.

The waitress brings a plate of garlic bread. I didn’t order it, but the scent of hot, buttered bread reaches me, and I accept it as an unexpected treat. My gaze returns to the outside where I notice two women waiting on the corner for a light to change. The sun shines off their bare shoulders and I watch as they cross. On the far side a tall black man stops them with an outstretched hand and a smile as white as his shirt. I notice the blue tie he’s wearing and I’m smacked with sweet surprise. Hey, I know this guy! It takes me a second to recall the name — Allen? Larry? Leon? Yes, Leon, the evangelist. I’m certain it’s Leon.

The waitress serves the special as I take in the characters in this street scene. The women giggle at something Leon says, then they walk on. I think to myself, this Mr. Leon is quite a card. The evangelist turns to an attractive lady in a sleeveless dress. Leon deals her a line and she laughs. They engage in conversation and the light changes. The woman shrugs her shoulders and begins to cross; the preacher man follows stride for stride. They reach my side and walk right in front of the window. Leon has the Bible in one hand as he gesticulates with the other. The woman appears disinterested. She’s heard the rap before and wants none of that ol’ time street religion. For a second they’re close enough for me to reach; I’m within two feet of their lives. Should I rap on the glass? Call out to them, “Hey, wait for me!” But could I handle their combined, “Who the hell is that?” I hesitate and they’re gone.

I feel a link, however weak, with this town and its people. It’s as if I just saw a friend and his companion. I replay the scene a few times and speculate on the significance of the encounter. Who was the attractive woman Leon tried to impress? What subtle theological persuasion did Leon slide her way? Does she drink bourbon or beer? Was she converted? And what has Leon done with his beat-up travel bag?

Early evening. The last of the sun’s light cascades in orange and pink down the upper windows of a Gay Street bank tower. I’m in a phone booth on Cumberland Avenue. One final call and I fail to connect with a solar contractor in Sevier County. I hang up the receiver and watch four young men in the crosswalk. The camaraderie of the group and the magic of twilight awakens my sense of the familiar. I fantasize a tale of four friends out on the town. One is the know-it-all. He’s teaching the others the right moves on the right ladies at the right time. Same as it ever was. Then it hits me like a waterfall. Mr. Leon is one of the four. His three pupils duck into a bar as if to avoid the lesson. Leon, unconcerned, pauses for a moment, then continues in my direction.

I leave the booth and we exchange greetings. I’m certain Leon doesn’t recognize me from this morning. He begins to preach and I listen out of politeness. I hear half of the sermon and wonder where he learned such parables. Something about angels as messengers from the spirit world. I’m skeptical. A Catholic upbringing grounds me in practical theology. I was taught to believe the storybook pictures of guardian angels perched over little shoulders.

I sense that my preacher friend isn’t playing with a full deck. I suspect he views certain people as angels and remembers them as colors. I believe Leon is either in a mystic state of mind without precedent or, as he refers to himself, just a “crazy fool.”

I remind Leon of our morning meeting. He remembers and is excited that our paths have “once again converged on schedule.” He expresses this with a bit of theatrics. I question him about his meeting with the woman on the corner of Seventeenth and Cumberland. The talkative preacher is at a loss for words. He lifts an eyebrow and asks how I happened there. I explain about my interview and my lunch at the Torch. Leon smiles and says, “The young lady is a sister on a different mission. She’s an angel of another sort. She drinks neither bourbon nor beer. She’s a strict Southern Baptist.”

We stand on the pavement and talk for thirty, maybe forty minutes. Leon is intelligent, yet down to earth and likeable. He challenges the borders of my beliefs by crossing fundamental Christianity with Buddhism, Egyptian astrology, and existentialism. I’m amused by his optimism and excitement, and I share in his wonder.

Leon breaks off, “Hey, have you eaten yet? I was wondering if you might buy me a sandwich, and we can talk more.”

We walk to a nearby Krystal’s, where Leon orders a fish sandwich and we split an order of fries. I buy a Dr. Pepper. We talk about religion and the beginning, politics and the end. I complain about the battle over my car: “Leon, the situation is crazy. My wife has the title of ownership. It’s her trump card. She’s mad because I’m filing for divorce on grounds of adultery. And she’s desperate to force a change of suit: something less medieval, like irreoncilable differences.”

I feel my blood percolate and my blood pressure rise. I reach for the last of the Dr. Pepper to wash down the vindictiveness.

The young preacher finishes the fries. “In India there is a saying,” he begins, as he pushes away the empty plate. “Wherever there’s attachment, association with it brings endless grief.”

I sigh in disappointment. I look for sympathy and instead I get the Ram Dass of Knoxville.

Leon must realize his pretension. He changes his approach and says, “Your wife can’t take the car. She has no moral right. Her strategy is just an excuse to shuffle the truth. Let go and let God. Quit worrying about the paper chase. Let’s think of something more immediate, like where’s the nearest Hop-In so we can buy a couple of moon pies.”

I laugh and lighten my burden. I like Leon. Earlier he said, “I’m an apprentice to Biblecraft.” Then he misquoted one passage and couldn’t find another. He admitted to his limitations: “Of course I’ve still got some learning to do.” His playful and light-hearted energy is sparked by the enthusiasm of a beginner.

Leon asks for a place to stay the night. I consider the choice between taking a chance or denying the request. A month ago, I wouldn’t have given a street preacher the time of day, but times change. Leon has awakened my confidence in possibilities. I accept him in the spirit and discipline of happenstance.

We return to my Fifth Avenue haven where I light the kerosene lamp and celebrate a new friendship. Leon calls it a reunion of souls. He believes that in a past life we served together as high priests in the temple of Osiris. We smoke a bowl in ritual observance of the “new Egypt” in America, then feast on moon pies and Dr. Pepper.

I ask Leon about his family. His dad is a librarian at a small Christian college in Ohio, and his grandpa was a sharecropper in west Tennessee. Leon asks the nationality of my name.

“Sicilian. My grandpa was born in a village near Palermo. My Great-grandpa immigrated to Columbus, Ohio. He figured Columbus was an honorable place for Italian immigrants to settle.” I pause, then change the subject. “Leon, what brings you to Knoxville?”

“The Spirit leads the way, I just follow.” Leon proceeds to relate a wild though believable story of his vision quest from Ohio to Los Angeles to Tennessee. He testifies that in L.A., at the Union Mission, he experienced a transformation: “I was singing and dancing in one of the late night services when the change happened. I was filled with Spirit and direction and clear vision. I spoke in tongues and cried, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord, for showing me a piece of paradise!” Leon pauses, then continues excitedly, “That night a spirit called Sister Grace told me of a place where ‘angels walk the street and entertain strangers unaware.’ The next day I bought a ticket to Knoxville. I spent nearly all my money, but it’s been worth it. After all, I got to meet you.”

I ignore the flattery and ask, “And how long have you been here?”

Leon thinks for a moment, then says, “Three days by the lakeshore and three days watching angels.”

“And how do you watch for angels?” I’m curious as to Leon’s view from the street.

The preacher looks at me for a long time. “I see angels everywhere,” he says in a quiet voice. “Today I saw two playing cards at the Trailways station and later in the day I saw one asleep in a doorway on Gay Street. I witness them above the bank towers and furniture stores. I see them here in your room. And they leave messages in their wake.”

Leon then enters into an explanation of how these seraphs leave cosmic clues. At one point I’m uncertain as to who is being led where. Leon states that an angel in a three-piece suit directed him to a sign reading “Save Today for Tomorrow.” I saw the same slogan in the newspaper. It’s an ad for a bank. The angel asleep in the doorway snoozed under a handwritten placard taped to a store window: “Closed due to a death in the Family. Return Tomorrow.”

I miss the connection between these messages. It’s news to me that angels sleep or travel by bus or work as bank executives. Leon is sincere, though. I receive him and his visions without judgement, but I see no angels.

Leon wants to show me his journal, which he’s kept since the beginning of the “quest.” He pulls an orange wire-bound memo pad from his back pocket. Leon says he records the shape and color and message of each angelic encounter. He opens the journal and hands it to me. The words are written in tiny letters, too small to read in the lamplight. They could be hieroglyphics as far as I can see. The notations are arranged in interlocking phrases that form crosses. Leon calls them “crosswords.” I should have guessed. Next to each cross are diagrams of ghosts, in red and yellow and blue. These are the spirits. Leon points to one rainbow-colored angel and says, “This is Sister Grace.”

I sense that my preacher friend isn’t playing with a full deck. I suspect he views certain people as angels and remembers them as colors. I believe Leon is either in a mystic state of mind without precedent or, as he refers to himself, just a “crazy fool.”

I look with care at the note pad in my hand. Also I keep an eye on Leon, half expecting a giveaway smile that might tell me it’s all an elaborate joke. But Leon is true. He believes this stuff, and who am I to doubt what he sees?

I’m uncertain about what to say. All I think of is, “The colors are nice.” I turn the page, hoping to discover something reasonable. In the margin of yet another page of rainbow ghosts and miniature hieroglyphics, I recognize a “TO DO” list: write home, do laundry, read Revelations, get disposable razors. Somehow, the list gives me comfort. In all the weirdness it’s an oasis of sanity. Leon looks embarrassed and takes back the memo pad. “The source of all movement is the Spirit,” he says.

I have no idea what he’s talking about. It’s as if he’s made an announcement.

Leon gazes upward to the ceiling or heaven or the sky, as if watching the road maps in the fluid of his eyes. Twice before in the evening I noticed my preacher friend staring into an empty corner or following an apparent shadow across the back wall. It concerned me a little at the time, but I sensed a performance in the air and said nothing.

Leon returns his attention to our circle of lamplight and says with a disarming grin, “There’s lots of angels in your room tonight. This one has a message for you.”

“Does he bring good new or bad news?” I ask in a whimsical tone.

Leon scratches his head and answers, “She says that your heart will heal with the light of the sun and the cool water that good friends bring. She says to nurture forgiveness and refill your cup with enthusiasm.”

I think about the communication for a minute. I’m impressed and touched by its truthfulness. “Is that all?” I ask.

“No. There’s one more thing,” Leon widens his smile. His teeth glow in the lamplight. “She warns you to go easy on the moon pies.”

I laugh, believing every word. I needed a friend and from somewhere one was sent.

We talk until the soft, blue light of morning creeps into the room. I feel tired all at once and decide to sleep. I separate the mattress from the box spring as Leon pulls the shades. I have no apprehensions about sharing this space with a friend. Leon asks if he can take a shower as I crawl into my sleeping bag on the box spring. Sleep overtakes me to the sound of falling water.