Barry Scott and I loved telling stories to each other about our childhoods, our families, our work, our faith. Between us we had well over one hundred years of stories. I recently walked the grounds of St. John’s AME Church where, two years before, we had done a performance of Jim Reyland’s play “Stand” and saw the ghosts rising from the concrete pad and grassy plot. It was all that was left of the church property after the tornado went through North Nashville in March of 2020. Before the show, Barry and I sat in the Sunday school turned make-shift dressing room. By then, we had performed in so many schools, theatres, and churches, and gotten into costume in so many dressing rooms from the luxurious to the storage closet. We loved performing in churches. In all the places we performed “Stand,” church was where this show was meant to be.
A large fruit basket sat on the center of the table filled to overflowing like a cornucopia basket of wonderful edibles. Barry and I ignored it. Neither of us liked to eat anything before a show. After the show, after the talk-back, after the sweet reception and the joy of fellow-shipping with the congregants, Barry and I went back to our dressing room to get out of costume. Barry asked if I wanted the fruit basket or anything in the fruit basket, and I told him no, for him to take it. He said he and Schuronda would take it, that as they drive around town they would hand out its contents along with a bottle of water and a couple of bucks to those who stood on the Nashville street corners selling The Contributor or those with cardboard signs asking for help. Inspired by his action, the next week I went to Sams, bought a case of water, a large box of granola bars, and then to the bank and got a stack of ones. Barry Scott made me a better man.
On one of our many tours of “Stand,” we were in Asheville, NC. It was our last show in our last city for that year. After several days of being on the road performing in churches at night and in schools during the day, that morning was to be the last show. A school group was coming to the church where we had performed the night before for the general public. Barry and I were in our dressing room, another make-shift Sunday school room waiting for Jim Reyland to come tell us to get into places. About ten minutes before the show, Jim told us the school had canceled at the last minute and that the handful of people in the audience were a few of the church staff and Asheville locals. The pastor of the church said that we did not have to do the show since the school was not coming, and Jim offered us the option to pack up and go.
Now I’m like a horse to the barn when I know it’s time to go home, and the thought of getting on the road two hours early appealed to me. Jim looked at me, and I said I was open to loading up right then and heading out. When Jim said he could do the same, I started smelling the hay. But since we live in a democracy everyone got a vote and we both looked at Barry. And in his beautiful, stentorian, Mustafa, Darth Vader voice said, “This is what we came here to do.” For Barry, the size of the audience did not matter, it was the commitment to the performance. Jim called “places,” and the show went on. Barry Scott made me a better man.
Last year my computer got hacked and notices went out to hundreds of folks saying I needed money. Many people reached out and asked if I was okay, and I so appreciated their concern. But Barry Scott went straight to the hackers and gave money on my behalf. And then he called me later to see if I had gotten the money he had sent. You might say Barry was duped, conned by the hackers, but I say no. Barry loved me, and believed I was in need, and he came to my rescue, he gave of himself, and he gave sacrificially. Barry Scott made me a better man.
At the end of Jim’s play “Stand,” Barry’s character dies. In his last monologue he addresses the audience from his place in heaven and in essence asks us to see other people as we would like to be seen and to forgive and love others as we would wish to be forgiven and loved. After his speech, we would walk upstage as the lights fade and a beautiful starry sky appears around us; we would turn to each other and throw our arms around one another in a big manly embrace, and Barry would whisper, “I love you Chip Arnold.” And I would respond, “I love you Barry Scott.” Barry Scott made me a better man.
In these last few years when we were together, all we talked about was our faith and what in meant to be broken men of God. How the shared stories of our lives were different but the same. How our faith informed our art. How our faith informed how we treat people. How, when we were together, just being together, just being in one another’s presence, we were better versions of ourselves. In these last weeks I would call Barry, and if he didn’t answer, I would leave him a voice mail of a prayer or read a passage from the Bible. He would call back just to say, “I love you Chip Arnold” and give me the chance to say “I love you Barry Scott.”
But the last time we spoke just days before his passing he said, “I got a story for you.” He was energized. His voice was a mere rasp of its former power, but the joy he was feeling at the moment gave him strength. “You ever heard of the Kings of Junk?” I told him no. “They came to my house today. I had a bunch of stuff in my garage and they came to clean it out. A few minutes before they were to arrive, I went out to the garage to open it up. I had to climb about three steps to get to the door to unlock it. I got to the bottom step and I couldn’t lift my leg to start to climb up. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t climb. I didn’t have the strength and my brain wasn’t communicating to my leg. So I sat down and used my arms and climbed up the steps backward on my butt. But when I got to the door, I couldn’t stand up. So I sat there and waited for the Kings of Junk to arrive. When they arrived the man in charge came around to the side entrance and I told him the situation. He asked what he could do for me. I told him I need to be carried into the house. So the King of the Kings of Junk wrapped his arms around me and lifted me up and he helped me back into my house. Once in the kitchen, the King held me against his chest. He just held me, until he gently sat me down in a chair. Then he knelt in front of me and looked into my face, really looked at me. He saw me, saw inside of me, saw the broken me, and he said, ‘Can I do anything else for you, Mr. Scott?’ I swear, Chip, it was like I looked into the face of Jesus.”
I told Barry this story would be added to his collection of great stories. He needed to tell that story. He said I needed to come to church and we would tell our stories together. I said, who would listen to two old men telling stories? He said, “Men need to hear our stories together. Men need to tell their own stories to one another. Men need to hear and know that they are loved by God and that they are loved by us. Men need to look other men in their eyes and ask is there anything else I can do for you? Men need to know that in weakness they have strength, in pain they have power, in sorrow they have joy, and in God they have love everlasting.”
Barry Scott made me a better man. Barry Scott made the world a better planet. Barry Scott has now made heaven a little brighter. Flights of angels have welcomed him home, and I can hear God saying to him, “I love you Barry Scott. Well done.”
Cover Art: Poster by Tommy Staples