A Drunkard's Prayer

A mother and her adult son wade through the furniture store in Fort Lauderdale, a line of rainwater marking their path. They test every other sofa until the son settles on a mocha leather number with square arms.

It's for her son's first apartment, the mother tells the salesman.

Bobby Murphy, the salesman, is 55. He is tall and has silky white hair. He has the accent of his native Boston, but for now, he listens.

Her son is moving out of her place in Boca, she says. He's getting his own place in Plantation.

"Oh, that's a good area," Murphy says as he writes up their sale. "Taking the big step out of the nest. Sounds like he's got a great mom helping him out." He smiles.

The mother looks at the prices on a kitchen table and a chair. "So what's the deal here?" she asks Murphy. "Why is everything so cheap?"

A sign on the wall asks customers not to give cash to the salespeople.

"What is this place?" she asks.

Murphy looks up. It's not just a furniture store, he says. "This place is a blessing from God."

This place is also a furniture store in a hybrid retail/religious compound that doubles as a rehab center. Men live and work here (there are other branches for women). They are supposed to be learning how to eschew drugs and alcohol as well as how to sell a sofa or strip a sink and open their hearts to Jesus. This is Faith Farm, and today it's swamped with customers — young professionals, cohabitating couples, landlords — in search of a great deal on a love seat or dining room table. Most never realize they bought a roomful of furniture from a store full of drunks and drug addicts. Sometimes, they drop off furniture — the office couch or that chair the wife can't look at for another minute.

Most of the residents will not be here long — a few months if they're lucky — before they end up in jail again or on the street or dead of an overdose. But for the true believers, Faith Farm is also their slender chance to create a new life, with families and careers and comfort that doesn't require ritual dosing.

Murphy is a believer. He's a rehab veteran, having spent 20 years in and out of recovery programs along the East Coast. He stayed sober for five years once, he says, and for three years another time.

"I'm an abnormal drinka," he tells customers, his Boston showing.

Rehab never stuck for him. Each time he relapsed, he fell further and harder. Now it's the end of the line. Doctors have told him one more drink will kill him, he says.

He's been at Faith Farm for four months. The salesman is sold.

"If this place was giving out the cure for cancer, the line would be from here to Jamaica," he says. "Well, they've got a cure here. They've got what all the men here need. This is a place where you can start a new life, living healthy, making the right decisions. You can learn to get happy in a way that doesn't involve a can or a bottle or a needle."

This salvation transpires amid an astonishing array of bric-a-brac. Besides stacks of kitchen sets, customers on a recent day could choose from a set of china, a book by Gay Talese, scuba equipment, an old Dust Buster, a croquet set, several grandfather clocks, a pair of jeans, crutches, walkers, and a painting of a bald eagle. There are dozens of sofas, broken down, dusty, and soiled. Most of those will not make it out of here either.

You don't hear the word rehabilitation much at Faith Farm. They prefer regeneration. And the participants in the program are not called patients or clients. They're students.

When most of the students come here, they are homeless. Once admitted, they're assigned a bed, allowed to shower, and given a new (donated) set of clothes. They're assigned a job based on what they think they might be good at — moving furniture or tending the grounds or working in a kitchen that serves 600 meals a day.

Murphy is a good talker, so he became a salesman. It's in this work — the interaction with customers, the flattery, the almost mindless labor — that he says he can feel the program working. As long as he's hawking a bed or scheduling a delivery, he's not thinking about "the little red-and-white can" that almost killed him, he says, cradling an imaginary Budweiser.

Bud still calls to him, Murphy says, but time passes quickly in the furniture store, and almost before he realizes it, he's kept it at bay for another day. "It's just putting the can down," he says. "Not taking that drink."

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Michael J. Mooney