Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Probably Valet Parking, Too...

Gina is on probation for two counts of injury to a child.  She beat her daughter twice.  The first time it was a slap across the mouth that left a mark.  School personnel noticed and turned her in.  The second time there were no marks.  But the teenage daughter knew how to tell a good story and turned Gina in herself.

The daughter was angry at the world and lashed out at her mother because she'd been molested by two of Gina's former boyfriends.  

Gina and her daughter both went through extensive counseling.  Gina made some significant, long-term changes.  One of those was to move out of the city and to come back to her roots in a small town.  She's lived there almost two years; raising her three younger children on her own.  And doing a fabulous job of it, evidently.  

The daughter stayed in the city, choosing a precarious existence with her low-life boyfriend.  She eventually came home to her mother when the boyfriend was jailed for beating her.  Things were good between mother and daughter.

Then the cycle came full circle and she lashed out at her mother again, as an excuse to return to the boyfriend.  Gina has been a mess ever since.  She's worried and angry and fearful and angry and devastated and angry.  

In the midst of all of this Gina decided to try church.  A cousin, who'd been worried about Gina ever since things fell apart, offered to take her to church.  The cousin attends a mega church in the city.  Gina agreed to go. 

She said the sermon was all about how if you give to the church, God will give back to you - double the amount.  Gina was unimpressed.  However, at the end of the service the pastor begged and pleaded for people to come to the altar for prayer.  Gina got in line and made her way to the front.  The pastor asked her what prayers were needed.  

Gina told the pastor that her family was in turmoil.  She was worried for her daughter and scared almost out of her wits for what might happen to the girl, but was unable to do anything to help her. 

"You know what she did after I told her that?" Gina asked me.  "She prayed for my finances.  She prayed that I'd have 'financial blessings'."

"That's bullshit!" Gina and I exclaimed in unison.

"I'm never going back," Gina said.  "I'll go to the little church here in town from now on.  I guess my cousin could tell I was mad.  On the way out she asked me why I didn't like it."

"What did you say?"

"I pointed at the kid's gameroom and the Starbucks in the lobby.  I told her 'This is a million dollar church.  What the HELL do they know about Jesus here?!'"

If Gina ever becomes a preacher, I'm goin' to HER church.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Be Forewarned: This Post Is About Rape

This discernment thing is already starting to tick me off and I've barely scratched the surface.  Having to talk about my self - my real self - causes me to acknowledge emotions that I keep packed neatly away.  I hate that.  I hate it a lot. 

I'm not an emotionally unhealthy person, but I am a very emotionally controlled person.  Control is one of my favorite vices.  Having to loosen that control even a little bit makes me twitchy.  Last week the Universe seemed intent on inflicting me with flea bites of emotional demand.  It made me itch.

It started on Monday when one of my guys, also a preacher's kid, came to his appointment without any teeth.  He's in his late 30's and normally looks like a skinny, less prosperous version of a surfer boy with pocky skin.  He's got flowing blonde hair, pale blue eyes and a people-pleasing smile.

This time the smile was not much in evidence.  Meth has destroyed most of his teeth, so he wears dentures.  He had car trouble earlier in the week and, while fixing the car on the side of the road, his teeth fell out of his pocket and rolled into traffic where they were promptly shattered by a passing vehicle. 

Regardless, he was still very happy.  The Rural Legal Aid agency agreed to represent him in his custody case.  He told me that he knew 100% that God was going to give him back his children.  He's been living right for a while now and he knows God is going to do this thing for him.  

I sighed.  

And then I began my anti-prosperity gospel/anti-fairy God mother spiel.  It didn't have much effect.  Once again I'm left hoping that when he doesn't get his kids, even though he followed all the steps of the magical spell prescribed to make God do his bidding, he won't give up on living right or give up on God altogether.

This talk makes me tired.  

Right after that, I spoke at length with a man who has worked very hard to clean up his life.  Louie has also found God.    He's found God through separation from his wife and everything he valued while in jail, and prison, and the military, and long-term drug treatment/incarceration.  He's found him through volunteering at a church. He's found God through working alongside other Christian men.  They work hard during the week and worship together on the weekends.  

A few months ago Louie showed me photos of his house.  He's doing a great job of remodeling it a little at a time.  It looks like Magnolia on a budget.  Then he smiled a little shyly and asked to show me the before pictures.  I saw the trash pit it was while he was on meth.  The filth was unimaginable.

"This is the corner [of the living room] where I would take a dump and leave it," Louie said, pointing to one of the pictures.  "Because I didn't care about ANYthing."

This time we spoke at length about some emotional difficulties he's had.  I eventually told him I thought he might have PTSD.  He asked if his wife could come in and talk with us too.  She's been telling him the same thing.  The three of us had a good discussion and I referred him to some services in distant towns that might get him headed towards mental health care and treatment.  

Louie's been in and out of the criminal justice system since he was a teenager.  He's almost 50 now.  He told me "You're the first officer I've ever had who looked me in the eye."

That has stuck with me for over a week.  I cannot imagine living a life where the fact of someone looking me in the eye made a significant impact.  I think that's what I want on my tombstone: "She looked them in the eye."

The next day I had a call from the Judge, bright and early.  When the Judge is hunting you down first thing in the morning, you can be certain you're going to have to do some heavy lifting.  He'd been given a file on Shelly, one of our problem people, because the state finally had a placement for her in a long term treatment facility.  Normally that notification goes through the sheriff to me, but someone had widened the loop and dragged the Judge into it, so we all scrambled to get the woman in jail to await transport to the facility.  

The next morning, while confirming details with the jail, I discovered the state was trying to send her to prison.  Not to treatment.  She's not been sentenced to prison.  I managed to find the Judge (we were all working in different counties this week) and got him to release her from jail.  So far, so good.

Wednesday morning I had an appointment with a woman I cannot stand.  Kendra is approaching 40, personable, and educated.  She has had some good jobs in the past, and she is legendary among her former co-workers for singing praise choruses loudly and badly, all damn day.  I do not like this woman.  

She's smart.  She comes from a good home.  She's had privilege.  But she's squandered it.  

This was my first meeting with Kendra since her release from a prison-based, long-term drug treatment facility and a half-way house.  She did well in the treatment facility.  But when she got to the halfway house, everything changed.  

Kendra's attitude was phenomenally bad.  She is smart enough to know what to say to keep herself out of trouble.  That's the reason I've never liked her - she can talk herself out of the rightful consequences of her choices.  She's smarmy and manipulative.  She acts like I would if I was in her position.  

But this time she was rude and uncooperative.  She wouldn't follow the rules of the facility.  We had multiple conference calls between she, I and her counselors.  She wouldn't get a job.  She was disruptive in group meetings.  She acted out sexually with the male residents.  She was verbally aggressive with everyone she encountered.  

On the day of our final conference call, the call that normally would set her release date and plans for returning to the community, the counselors phoned me ahead of time.  They explained Kendra's behavior had deteriorated further and they were done with her.  They wanted to discharge her from the halfway house, unsuccessfully, that day.

I was in complete agreement. 

We had the conference call.  I told Kendra she'd peed her chili, basically, and we were done.  She had one hour to leave the facility.  She raged and cursed.  I cursed and snarked.  She wanted to know how the hell she was supposed to leave since she didn't have any transportation and the halfway house was in the middle of effin' no where.  I suggested she try Uber.  Maybe they've gone rural.

I was a bitch about it.

The next day I had a warrant out for her arrest.  These types of warrants do not allow a defendant to bond out of jail.  You get picked up and you sit in jail until the Judge decides to hear your case.  

Her court date rolled around a couple of months later.  Her court-appointed attorney is one of my favorite people and my least favorite opponents.  He holds my feet to the fire and makes me justify my decisions like no one else.  He's good people. I sort of hate him.  

Before the hearing, he and I met up in the DA's office to discuss the case.  The attorney asked the DA and I what we'd heard about the sexual assault.

"What sexual assault??"

It turns out Kendra did have a job for the first week or so that she'd been at the halfway house.  The boss was a bit of a pain, but she didn't think much about it.  Then one day, right after lunch, he followed her into the restroom, locked the door behind her, and tried to rape her.  She escaped only because she had  a screw-driver in her pocket.  She used it to jab him in the side and get him off of her long enough for her to get the door unlocked and break free.  

No one had ever mentioned this.  Not the defendant and certainly not the counselors at the half-way house.  Over the next few days, the counselors ditched a subpoena server and avoided calls from the my office and the DA's office.  When I finally got one of them on the phone, the only response they could muster was that this incident had happened outside their facility, so they had no responsibility to report it. 

This woman had come within inches of going to jail for seven years - at my request and recommendation - because she was sexually assaulted.  Seven damn years.

We dismissed all pending court action against Kendra and released her from jail.  This was my first meeting with her since her release. 

It was ok.

I still don't like her.  She's still going to end up in prison one of these days, most likely.  But I did get to tell her that no one deserves to be treated like she was.  No one.  I told her I understand now why she was so disruptive and uncooperative in the halfway house.  She'd been assaulted and no one had done anything about it.  We talked about speaking up, even if she thinks no one will believe her.  She has a right to her story, at the very least. 

I told her none of us wanted to put her in prison for getting sexually assaulted, and that I'm glad she told her attorney the truth.  She got lucky. The luck of the draw gave her a lawyer who believed her and who fought for her.  The system works, but it doesn't always work well.  And I'm very glad to not be responsible for putting her in prison because she was the victim of sexual assault.  I'm glad her attorney believed her.   And that he made me believe her.   

That wasn't an easy meeting.  I was a bit drained. Then I got a phone call. 

The woman who'd gone to jail on a paperwork mix-up earlier in the week called me.  Shelly was in tears.  And a little drunk.  

While in the process of getting her out of jail, I'd learned that she was living with one of my former defendants who is pretty much a complete waste of skin.  He's a white man, from a privileged local family.  The younger generations of this family have been decimated by addiction.  It's like a family plague.  An epidemic.  And this guy is loathsome even without the rampaging alcoholism.

I was surprised that Shelly was hooked up with him.  I knew it was something we'd have to address, but it could wait until after her treatment was sorted out.  And now she was on the phone, wanting to talk to me.

"I need you to know why I'm here with him," she said.  I could hear the guy, Tom, in the background.  He murmured something and she hissed at him to leave her alone for a minute.

"I don't have anywhere to go," she said.  "I need a place to sleep.  And I need food and a place to take a bath."

I asked about the home where she'd been living; why wasn't she going back there?  It had been her parents house and they left it to her when they died.  She told me it was being condemned.  There were no utilities, the roof was caving in.  It was cold and unsafe.  She couldn't stay there any longer.  Her former boyfriend had kicked her out of his house.  Now her only option was Tom.  

She talked for a long time.  I listened.  There wasn't much I could say and nothing I could do.  She talked about her children, long ago given up for adoption.  She wants the chance to see them one time before she dies.  Her liver is failing.  She almost killed herself in a drunken car wreck a couple of years ago.  Her body hurts and her heart hurts worse.  She wants relief but has no way to get it, other than in a jail cell with three meals and a cot.  

During the whole call I could hear Tom in the background, sometimes his voice was right next to the phone, sometimes it was farther away.   He picked at her the whole time.  'Get off the phone.'  'Come on, baby, let's play.' 'Let ME talk to that bitch!' 'Baby, baby, baby...' 'Come ON!' and on and on and on.

The longer she talked the more she cried.  "I just need you to know," she said.  "I just need you to hear me.  This is not who I really am."

"I know that, Shelly.  I do.  I know that's not who you are.  I hear you."

I didn't say much, just let her talk.  I let her talk and I listened to her tell me how she was going to allow herself to be raped as soon as she hung up the phone.  Because she needs a place to sleep.  And food.  And a place to have a bath.  I couldn't do anything about it, but I could listen and I could believe her.

Let me assure you that by the time that phone call ended, I was glad my secretary was not at work that day and that my office is at the end of a maze of rooms in the very back corner of the courthouse where no one bothers me.  I needed some space.  

These would have been hard conversations at any time, but all of this coming at a time when my own emotions were more accessible than normal, made for a long and difficult week.  It's still difficult a week later.

But at the end of that phone conversation, I got a message from Reverend Ref.  He was pushing some boundaries with his Christmas Eve sermon and wanted to know how it might play to a stranger off the street.  He sent me the sermon.  

I sent him back a scathing email.  That sorry Yankee bastard wrote something beautiful.  Something that resonated with what I'd heard over the last couple of days.  I was very glad there was no one around while I read it.  I pretty much hate him.  

You should read it too.

Christmas Eve 2017 - Reverend Ref

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

If I Don't Kill You, Do I Owe You Dinner?

A couple of weeks ago I almost killed a guy.

The town where I was working that day is in one of the out-lying counties.  The town boasts the courthouse, a post office, a jail, two churches and two liquor stores.  That's it.  As of last January there is not even a place to buy gas in this town.  That means I drive ten miles to the town of Boots for a burger at lunch time.

Actually, this is the only one of my four counties with it's own jail.  The other three have to pay adjacent jurisdictions to house our criminals since we can't afford to staff jails ourselves.  (This county gets around that by occasionally having the criminals staff the jail.)  I wish this story was about the jail, because that would be a damn good story.

But, it's not.

The sun kept the truck toasty warm on the drive to Boots, but didn't broil me alive like it does in the summer.  An audio book droned from the stereo speakers.  The pastures on the sides of the highway were looking good.  I was watching for wildlife and not paying the least bit of attention to the road.  It's not like there was anyone else on it but me anyway.  The cruise control carried me along at 75 mph and I sort of fell asleep with my eyes open.

Just as you hit the Boots city limits the speed limit drops from 75 to 35.  It's a speed trap, but also a sharp curve on a hill, thus somewhat defensible.

When I hit the curve, my cruise control, both mental and mechanical, did not click off.  I almost ran right up into the bed of the truck in front of me.  I came to with a jolt and slammed on the brakes, averting the crash.  But honestly, who actually follows the speed limit here?!  Especially at noon when everyone knows the cop is having a burger at the cafe and not out working traffic?

The thought of the cafe gave me pause.  I was still driving right on the other truck's bumper.  Chances were, it was also headed for a burger at the cafe.  Just like me.

Sure enough...

When I parked and got out of the truck, I had to cross the gravel parking lot to where the other driver stood by the restaurant door.

"I"m really sorry about almost hitting you!" I called out from several cars away.  "And I'm not really stalking you either, I just had to, you know, eat."

He stared at me, obviously confused.  I was a bit confused myself.

"I thought you were going to run right over me," he finally said.  We walked to the door.

"I kind of thought so too," I admitted.

The cafe was pretty full.  Since the Dairy Queen burned down a couple of years back, there are not many lunch choices in Boots, either.  It's sometimes hard to find a place to sit if you don't have a table full of acquaintances you can join.   The guy staked out a spot in the last available booth and offered me the seat on the other side.  I accepted.

He was a really nice guy.

Really nice.

The next Tuesday he was waiting on me in the parking lot.  This time I was on my motorcycle and he asked me why I had the World Wrestling Entertainment logo on my bike and my truck.  I explained that it was not the WWE logo, but the Wonder Woman symbol.  Sigh.

"Did you bring your book?" he asked.  "Or can you talk?"

I agreed to talk and we shared a booth again.

And again he was very nice.  We have several things in common, not the least of which is that he draws.  He was a draftsman before he had to quit work due to a back injury.  Now he spends a lot of time drawing and painting for fun.   He moved to Boots because it was a great little town with a very low cost of living.  He bought a house with three huge windows across the front and spends his days trying to mix paint to match the exact shade of the sky outside his windows.

Isn't that great?

It was when he asked me to go out that weekend that I discovered you  clergy types have been lying to me.  You've always talked about how a clergy job was death on dating.  No one wants to date a woman minister, you said.  You'll have to be less than forthcoming about your job if you want a guy to ask you out, you said.

You lied.

When he asked me to go to the college football game that weekend, the feeling I'd had the whole time we were together - the feeling of wanting to crack open my book instead of having to converse over lunch - reared it's ugly head.  A misguided inspiration seized me and I blurted out that I was really busy all weekend.  Extremely busy because I was working on becoming a priest.  I made it sound like the 3 years of formation and preparation involved an intensive 24 hour a day program of exhaustive study that engulfed any and all waking moments away from my day job.

I'd hoped he would try to hide his horror at this revelation as he pressed his invitation once more, just to be polite.  (It's the South y'all.  That's a thing.) The we wouldn't have to do this ever again. And I could finish my book.

Instead, he asked for my phone number.

You people are damn liars.

I gave him the number.  He was so nice I didn't have the heart to make some excuse.  Or to be honest and tell him I just wasn't interested.  I handed over the damn number.

And he has been nothing but polite and made only sparing use of it.  He will send an innocuous text message 2 or 3 times a week, asking how my day is going.  No pressure.  I respond equally politely and fairly impersonally.

The fact that I'm not interested in this person bugs me.  He could teach me a lot about art.  He likes to hike and explore.  He hangs out at art galleries and sporting events.  But I can't get past the fact that he bores the crap out of me.  While we do have a lot of similar interests, he's not someone who's conversation interests me.  At the same time that I'm feeling insufferably self-righteous about how I'm more interested in intellect than physical features or financial security, I feel oddly guilty about not wanting to date this person.  That's messed up, I'm pretty sure.

Let's face it, I am not good at dating.  For years I've joked about how the only single guys I meet are in trouble with the law.  Only I'm not joking. Opportunities for social activity, without being a third wheel, are rare, so when offered the chance you'd think I'd jump at it.

But no.

Don't get me wrong, my friends are great and they never make me feel out of place.  They don't seem to mind having me along - making activities work for three or five or however many, rather than doing things in pairs.  But it would be easier for all of us if I paired up with someone.  (That makes me think of a friend's church that called the 'young adults' group the Pairs and Spares. Crimony!)

So, dammit, why not go out with this very nice man who has been so flatteringly interested?  Because I'd rather hang out on my own than with someone nice but boring.  That's the bottom line.  And besides, as I sat down tonight to work on the the Discernment and Evaluation for Readiness for Holy Orders Studies questionnaire - no small task, as you might infer from that slightly ridiculous title - the first essay question I tackled was "How does your spouse and/or children feel about your desire to pursue ordained ministry?"

Not applicable, people, NOT applicable.  Next question!

Monday, November 06, 2017

Sunday, Sunday, That's My Fun Day

Thanks to the time change, I arrived at the church in the big city a few minutes early, rather than trying to slip in just ahead of the processional as per usual. The church property’s parking lot forms a cross with the church building at the apex.  I’ve no idea if that was intentional or not, but it's kind of cool.  Normally I park on the crossbar, but today I pulled into a spot at the bottom of the cross.

As I walked up the cross towards the heavy double doors at the entrance, a man in a white robe starting yelling at me.  He was seated, man-spread, on a bench just to the side of the  entrance.  Once he caught my attention, I could make out his words.

“I’m innocent officer!  I didn’t do it!  Don’t take me away!”

I glanced around, expecting to see a police officer in uniform or something similar behind me.  No one was near.

“Don’t arrest me, officer!  I’m innocent!  I was at Flipz!  Nowhere near the scene of the crime!”

Needless to say I was curious.  To my knowledge, I’d never seen this man who wore his glasses pushed up on his forehead and whose scraggly grey ponytail rivaled my own in it’s ineffectual attempt to hide his age.  How did he know what I do for a living?  Do I walk like a cop?  And, let’s be honest, if he does know my chosen career, he’s a bit misinformed about the nature of my job as a probation officer.

Naturally I stopped to talk to him. He stood up and held out his hand.  His left hand.

“I have to shake with my left,” he said, ginning ruefully.  “I’m smoking with my right.”  He briefly held out a hand with blackened nails and smoke emanating from between his fingers.  Evidently whatever he was smoking had burned down to almost nothing.  Or he was actually on fire.

I took the proffered hand and he said, “Do you play pinball?”

“Not since college,” I replied, slightly surprised by the segue.  “I used to love pinball.”

“Me too.  Flipz is a place here in town that is just pinball games.  Fireball is my favorite.  Have you ever played that?  What’s your favorite?”

“Whatever they had in the lobby of the movie theater,” I answered.  “Wednesday was dollar movie night, so I’d play pinball, catch the movie, and have a great time.”

“Where did you go to college?”

I named the small Baptist university located an hour north.

“Baptist?  How did you end of up at the Presbyterian Church?”

I was a bit confused by this, since this was not the Presbyterian Church, and considered that perhaps he was actually planning to attend the Unitarian church located on a corner of the parking lot, and maybe he was just borrowing a bench, unsure of the denomination of this church.  However, I’ve not normally thought of the Universalists as a high-church, robe-wearing crowd.

Before I could process this and answer his question, he spoke again.  “My name’s Randy.   What’s yours?”

“Rachel,” I replied, mentally rolling my eyes at the Universe.

“Rachel.  Huh.  And I’m Randy.  R and R.  Sometimes my friends call me R.”  He smiled.

Having been married to and divorced from a Randy, I’ve heard all the ‘R and R’ preciousness before.  I was not impressed.  But it was not this Randy’s fault.  So I smiled at him.  “Nice to meet you, Randy.”

I began to turn towards the doors and move away.

“Nice to meet you.  And thanks!”  he said.

Thanks for what, I wasn’t sure, but as I reached for the wrought iron door handles, I was pretty sure that I’d completely missed some important subtext in the whole interaction.

I stepped through the doorway and ran smack into realization.  This is what it’s like to talk to me for the first time.  I’m more than happy to let you in on my existence in the moment, weaving our interaction into my own personal, private zeitgeist.  But I tend not to ever explain my thought process or subtext. 

And now I know exactly what that feels like from the other side.  Thanks, Randy.

But that’s not the story I was going to tell you.

No doubt many of you have figured out what it is that I've decided to do with my retirement.  It's not exactly public yet, but it's not exactly private, either.  I’m entering the discernment and ministry formation process in my Episcopal diocese.  We’re going to find out if I have any business being a priest.

The vestry at my church has just voted to sponsor me.  That was great.  Then those bastards printed the news right there in the church newsletter.  That was a bit disconcerting.  And maybe just a little frightening.

My mentor warned me once that I would get very, very tired of talking about myself during this process.  As much as you might doubt it from reading this completely self-indulgent blog, I am not good at, nor do I like, talking about what I really think and feel. Making this decision public flies in the face of my naturally secretive personality.

To be honest, it’s still not actually public.  There are really very few people in my world who read this blog or the monthly newsletter at the Episcopal church.  And I haven't told many of my real-life acquaintances.


This Sunday one of my very favorite people was ushering.

I’d left Randy to finish whatever he was burning on that bench and entered the dark wooden doors.  Jack was waiting in the aisle with a stack of worship paraphernalia.

“Give me a bulletin, you jerk!” I snarled.

He grinned, making his eyes crinkle.  “Here! Take it!”  The “bitch” was implied, but unspoken.

Jack and I consider profanity to be a spiritual gift, but we do try to practice it outside of the building.  He is a master of that game and I’m no slouch at it either.

Jack is probably old enough to be my father.  He and his ethereal husband are absolutely delightful.  I first met him at Jay’s house one Friday afternoon when she wanted help hanging paintings on the walls of her new home.  I was just there for comic relief.  Jack was the expert.  He and I had an epic cuss fight once we’d discovered our mutual natural propensity for it.

Jack is also a member of the vestry.

Today, during the passing of the peace, he hugged me.  As I pulled away, he took both of my hands in his.  He’s got the most marvelously snarky, gravely voice.  He looked up at me, putting his mouth near my ear.

“I’m praying for you,” he murmured.  “I’m praying for you,” he repeated, pulling back to glare at me, “while you travel this ridiculous journey you've decided on.  Traveling in those motorcycle boots and that leather jacket!” he growled.

I laughed out loud.  He looked at me.  “Are you crazy?!”  He gripped my hands tightly.

“Well, yeah, probably,” I admitted.  “But I've got the perfect jewelry for the job!”  I raised my left wrist.  Jack burst out laughing.  Loudly.


Jack shook his head.  "Oh my lord.  This is going to be fun!"   He squeezed my hands one more time, then moved on to accost other unsuspecting worshipers.  (And later, just for the record, he did a masterful job of heckling the announcements.)

I am having so much fun with these messed up people.  It's getting to the point that I don't even mind the peace passing all that much.  And that right there, friends and neighbors, is one more proof of the existence of God.  

(When I told my home church - the congregation of seven - that I am considering ordained ministry, they told me that if I don’t get motorcycle Helmet Hawks to match the colors of the liturgical season, then I’m just not doing it right.)


When I sat down to type this story into blogger and saw the news of what happened at another Texas church this Sunday, bloody Sunday, I was both horrified and hopeful.  Hopeful that we will continue to be the quirky, imperfect people that we are.   Hopeful that we won't cower in fear.  Hopeful that we will live in the light and the laughter.

My friend Di, noting the prevalence of resignation and despair these days, posted this quote from "St. Molly of Austin", one of my personal heroes:

"The thing is this:  You got to have fun while you're fightin' for freedom, 'cause you don't always win."  -  Molly Ivins

Let's keep having fun.  It's important. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Y'all Know the NSA Must Love These Posts

Stuff is happening.  Life is busy but still feels fairly peaceful and zen-like.  The balance is cool.  I'm learning and growing and branching out.  That's cool too.  I'm trying a few new things here and there, leaps into the unknown.  One of those things is kind of a big deal.  It involves background checks and stuff.

I've had a few background checks over the years.  None of them have been particularly thorough, it seems.  This time I decided, on the spur of the moment and mostly due to my spectacularly bad judgment in the face of a potentially good story, to tell the powers that be about the time I was briefly a suspect in the Unabomber investigation.  Not, maybe, the smartest thing I could have done. 

But it was worth it.  The look on that one guy's face was so worth it.  

When considering a leap into the unknown you need a mentor - someone who has been there and leaped that.  I am often a loner, professionally speaking.   In the past five or six years, I've realized I am not good at asking questions.  I tend to watch and learn and attempt the new skill on my own.  That's not necessarily bad, but I don't ask for help.  There are a lot of times I don't even know what questions to ask.  It's something I'm working on.  One way I'm doing that is by finding a mentor and allowing them to actually mentor me, which is inexplicably difficult.

I met with my mentor a couple of days after the background check meeting and confessed my confession.  

Imagine my surprise when she said "That's almost as good as my bomb story."  

Her story involved a practical joke which resulted in the mobilization of the bomb squad from the local air force base, the police department, a paid security agency and the entire administrative team of the local hospital.  

When I finally stopped laughing, I thought "Damn, God.  You really know how to bring the right people together at the right time."  

This mentor thing is going to work but I fully expect that we will get ourselves arrested at some point in the future.  And it will be glorious.  

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hum Along If You Don't Know the Words

Today I ate lunch at a little diner in Boot, Texas.  Not it's real name, but if you check out the map for my jurisdiction, you can figure out which town I'm referring to.  This place, one of two restaurants in town, is always crowded.  They make an excellent greasy burger.

I had the Fluffy Burger today.  It's named for the big burly guy with the awesome tattoos who was a cook there for a few months.  I miss him.  And that burger?  Oh. My. Gawd.  It's a big ol' hunk of meat, with melty white cheese, grilled mushrooms, more melty white cheese, grilled onions, two or three more slabs of melty white cheese, and some sort of grease sauce.  ~slobber~

One of the ladies who works behind the counter has friended me on Facebook.  I don't know how she found me, but she did.  She was excited to learn that we both come from the same small peninsula on an island that is part of another country altogether.  How unlikely is that?!

Very unlikely, actually.  I had to explain that I wasn't from that area at all. I list it as my home town on my profile because it is also my real-life last name.  We had a laugh about it.

I don't strive to be anonymous online, just un-googleable by my real name.  My chosen career necessitates secrecy - as much as is possible - about my personal life.  I grew up in a glass house and that's where I first learned to keep secrets, for better or worse. I don't mean that bad stuff was happening at home.  Rather that privacy was always at a premium and secrecy was how you bought it.   At this point, my brother would be rolling his eyes.  He - having grown up in the same glass house - thinks I am way too revelatory online.  And I am. Within carefully controlled boundaries and under an assumed name.  It's weird inside my head, I know.

I keep secrets that don't even need to be secret.  It's become habit.  Occasionally I think it's not especially healthy.

I recently told a group of 4,000+ women that I'm a part of on Facebook what my real name is.   I've been in that group for more than 10 years.  All but me and about three others are clergy members.  There was no reason for them not to know my real name.  So, when a post asked for us to update our introductions, I put it out there.  It felt weird, but good.

About a year ago I stopped at a friend's house for a quick visit on my way through Dallas to somewhere else.  I count this woman as a good friend.  We've read each other's blogs for a decade or more.  I've spent weekends in her house.  I've been to her churches to hear her preach several times over the years.

On this particular afternoon, I sat at her fabulous kitchen table (it is a seriously cool table) having a cup of tea.  Another of her friends dropped by and she started to introduce me to the woman.  She said my first name, then a look of desperation dawned on her face.  I'd never - not to my memory -  ever told her my last name.

I introduced myself to the friend.

So, yeah.  I keep secrets. More than I need to.

Today, when I walked into the diner, the lady at the counter handed me a large, unsweet tea in a to-go cup.  She'd seen me in the parking lot and had it ready by the time I opened the door.  It's nice to be known.

I placed my order and took a seat in a rickety booth.  The cook - who I don't remember seeing before - yelled at me from behind the grill.  "What kind of bun do you want?"

"Surprise me!" I yelled back.  She grinned and slathered a jalapeno bun with an ungodly amount of butter before dropping it on to the grill.

Once I'd finished the cholesterol-fest, I got a refill and headed out the door. As I was leaving all the employees yelled "Bye, Rachel!!"

I'd not been there for at least two months.  I only recognized one of the three ladies working.  But we joked around a bit and they all called me by name and made me a hella-good lunch.  I felt like a rock star. I know this sort of thing is not exclusive to small towns, but it is a part of small town living that makes life more pleasant.

As I was driving back to the office, (in a town 10 miles away where the only lunch option is a beer store that serves BBQ) I remembered another name-related incident from this summer.  (It's really, really good BBQ, by the way.)

A couple of months ago, a Facebook friend sent me a message that he'd be in my part of the world and suggested dinner.  I'd never met him, but enjoy what he has to say online, so I readily agreed.  We arranged to meet in a neighboring town, a place with a more robust restaurant choice.  I asked what kind of food he wanted.  He told me his preference right away: Tex-Mex.  Points to him for decisiveness.  Tex-Mex is infinitely do-able in my part of the world.  There were two places that sprung to mind and I chose the one where I had an ever-so-slightly smaller chance of running into people I knew.  We agreed to meet there at 6:00 p.m.

The day of dinner, he sent me a message and said he'd gotten waylaid by the bishop and was late leaving his church.  He wouldn't be there until 7:30 p.m.  I told him that was the absolute first time I'd ever gotten that excuse, but assured him that 7:30 was fine.

Actually, I was thrilled.  Everyone in town eats dinner at about 6:00.  I don't know why I picked that ridiculous time in the first place.  For someone who tends to be secretive about their private life, it was the worst possible time to meet.  By 7:30 the restaurant would be cleared out and we'd have the place practically to ourselves.  Yay for the bishop!

I pulled into the parking lot right on time and discovered the guy had messaged me five minutes earlier that he'd arrived and was waiting at a table.  Points to him for punctuality.  I grabbed my wallet and headed inside.

As I entered the door, my eyes jumped over the three long tables pulled together, spanning the front of the dining room, to the smaller individual tables behind them.  Sure enough, there he was, looking just like his Facebook photos.  Points to him for honesty.  I smiled and waved.

All forty people seated at the long tables in the front of the room smiled, waved back and said en mass, "Hi, Rachel!"

Turns out the entire town of Key, where I live, 20 miles away, had decided to have a late dinner there that night.  Seriously.  There were, like, fifty people I knew.  Right there in front.

Well, maybe not fifty.  But, still, it was the entire young(ish) adult department of the local Methodist Church.  All of 'em.


I said hi, patted  few shoulders, and smiled at the rest as I skirted the edge of their behemoth dining table and made my way to where my dinner companion sat, bemused and somewhat curious.

His first words?  "I feel like I'm on the set of Cheers!  I forgot about small towns."


Spooky's Advice For Single People:  People are gonna know your business.  No matter how much you might try to prevent that.  Give 'em something to talk about.

And don't get the big head about being well known.  Because when you get back to your office and start seeing your afternoon appointments, you will realize that one of those women you didn't recognize at lunch knows you because she is the girlfriend of your 2:00 p.m. guy.  And she will use the tip money you gave her to help to pay off a massive debt the lazy bastard owes because he won't get a job and pay it himself.  But now he'll get off probation without going to jail.  And she will be awfully happy about that.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Did I Mention He's A Boy Scout Too?

This has been a long and interesting week.  Lots of stuff is happening, most of it good.  I've been acutely aware this week that I've got too much going on at work and I've been half-assing things as a way of coping.  This week I took a step back and concentrated on the people, not the paperwork.
That helped quiet the hamster wheel in my head a bit, allowing me to make some actual productive progress on the paperwork.

Of course, focusing on people has kept me entertained all week long.

My favorite part of the past week or so was spending a lot of time with friends.  That's never a bad thing.  All of that, plus all the people-ing I did at work, meant I spent this weekend talking to almost no one other than waitresses.  I needed to spend some time listening to myself think.

One of the things I thought about was meeting a friend's fiance for the first time.  He scared me.  Literally.

The entry way to her house is small and I was carrying something large.  I did not realize he'd opened the door and was standing behind it, flattened against the wall, giving me room to get inside.  Until he spoke.


They were having a quasi-engagement/birthday party that evening.  I was there early to - I kid you not - deliver several racks of ribs I'd smoked.  (I never cook.  But my bbq chef hit the road, so I had to learn to make ribs my own damn self.)  While my friend was getting dressed, the fiance and I sat down to get acquainted.  I asked him about the logo on his shirt and he told me his life's story.
In the short time that he talked, he told me three times, both explicitly and implicitly, how much he'd loved his first wife's mind.  Not her looks, not her job, or how she made him feel or anything else about her.  He talked about her intellect and how she thought and how skilled she was mentally.  She died a long, excruciating death from a brain tumor.  Cancer killed her mind and left her in a deteriorating shell.  He grieves the loss of her intelligence most of all.

Well, hell.

There are all sorts of good reasons that marriage could be doomed.  (Aren't there always?)  But I'd probably marry him too, if I were her.

Monday was the thirty-first, and I was hoping for a quiet day to start the week and end the month.  Mostly that's what I got.  That afternoon I had an appointment with Lucy.

Lucy waddled into my office, stomped over to the chair and dropped her body into it.  She said, "I think I need to talk to someone."

Lucy has needed to talk to someone for a very, very long time.  For an 18-year-old, she's got the body of a hard-living, long distance truck driver a few more miles from the next heart attack.  She's extremely over-weight, carrying most of it in an ever-increasing bubble around her middle.  Her blood pressure is dangerously high.  She had a sleep study a month ago and has started - and already quit - c-pap therapy.

This is not a case of just another obese American teenager.  This is different.  It's been my experience that 18-year-olds don't get to this point by accident.  They have to work at it.  My narrow experience also leads me to jump to the - possibly unwarranted - conclusion that the main reason for this is to build a wall in order to keep an abuser at bay.

This time she finally, after almost a year, started to open up a crack about her abusive homelife.  She assures me that she's safe.  Nothing physical or sexual is going on.  I don't buy that entirely, but I am respecting her boundaries for now.  The best part of our discussion was that she's finally to the point of being pissed off.  She's finally fed up and no longer willing to let the abuse continue.  She's going to get out of the house.

I loved seeing that anger animate her face.  I didn't think she had it in her, to be honest.

In May Lucy became the very first person in her family to graduate from high school.  A week later she ditched all her plans for community college and said she was going to go to work instead.
I lost it.  A bit.  I yelled about how there is exactly nothing she can do her to support herself.  Her only option, other than education, is to get pregnant and be destitute.  That's it.  That's all there is.  Regardless of the lack of employment opportunities here, I told her she would NOT sit around waiting for something to fall into her lap.  If she wasn't going to work at going to school, then she would WORK at finding a job.

I was a bit of a bitch about it.

And then I bullied her for a month; making her report every time she turned around, bringing me her job applications, pounding the pavement to apply at places that don't have openings and that would never hire her, even if they did need someone.

After about three weeks she came to my office, plopped into the chair, sighed deeply, and said she decided maybe she would go to school after all.  I was glad.  Truthfully, school may not be the best fit for her, but she will die if she doesn't do something.  Whatever is causing her emotional distress will keep her physical health in a downward spiral.

Unfortunately she's not getting far enough away from home for school.  I wish she could move to a different town and live in a dorm somewhere, but that's not going to happen.  Instead, she will take cosmetology classes at a branch campus, 30 miles away, driving back and forth from home.  On the plus side she's gong to move out; maybe stay with a friend or temporarily with her grandmother.  Her mother is going to leave the home as well.

Lucy is angry.  Wonderfully, purposefully angry.  And for the first time since I've known her, she's not eating her anger.  She's letting it motivate her to act.  I've never been happier to see someone pissed off at the world.

Later that afternoon I had a call from Lonnie.  He was in tears.

Lonnie is a Gulf War vet.  He's in his 50's, tall and lanky.  Looks a lot like Chuck Connors in The Rifleman from 1960's TV.  He also has that character's quiet, unyielding, manly-man personality.
Lonnie got into trouble - felony trouble - due to his drinking.  He's always appreciated a beer here and there, but about ten years ago things got bad when his wife and his mother died within months of each other.  He was the definition of bereft.

Instead of grieving, he drank.  The more he drank, the more he needed to grieve.  Eventually he got to the point where he was sentenced to a long term therapeutic community substance abuse program administered by your friendly neighborhood Texas prison system.

That damn well dried him out.

In order to survive a prison-based treatment program populated with a lot of young punks, he had to pretty much wall himself off.  He learned the right words to say to fill the boxes of his counselor's expectations.  He picked up some valuable skills and information along the way.  But he was still very closed off.

For a couple of months after his release he was in aftercare meetings once a week.  He would grudgingly show up, sit in the chair and listen to what the counselor or I told him.  He made very little input to the sessions.

Then one day, for no apparent reason, he opened up.  There was no dramatic scene, no gut-wrenching sobs, he just started talking.

And now he won't shut up.

It's sort of charming, really.  He has restored his relationships with his brothers and is making use of the tools he learned in treatment to recognize some of the problems and understand some of the decisions his brothers have made along the way.

He's back in the good graces of his aunts, caring for them and letting them care for him.  He's even building community in his very isolated existence outside a tiny dust-bowl town in a forgotten corner of this forgotten county.

Now he's dealing with physical pain caused by years of neglect of his body, as well as a years long dose of hard work.  The knees on his lanky, bow-legged cowboy's body are shot.  He's had one replaced at the VA a couple of years ago.

That did not go well.

He was still a drunk when he had the knee replacement surgery.  There was no one available or even aware of the situation that could help him out.  He drove himself to the hospital, over an hour and a half away, for the surgery.  Two days later, a couple of orderlies wheeled him out to the parking lot, loaded him into his truck and let him drive his drugged-up body an hour and a half back home.
He has no memory of that drive.  None.

Once he got home, he had no help, no physical therapy and survived on canned soup and bottled bourbon.  This time his aunt came seven hours from home to drive him the hour and a half to the VA hospital for the second knee replacement.  She was there when he awoke from surgery and stayed there with him every day until he was discharged.  When he left, he went to his brother's house and stayed there for a few days.

Now he's home alone again.

And the big, burly cowboy called me, crying real tears.

He has an infection which he's been on medication for.  Now he's broken out in a rash all over his body.  He needs to see the doctor.  He's got other health problems that are exacerbated by the infection.  His pain is intense and the rash has him scared.

His family would help, but the closest lives an hour away.  Besides, in an unusual late summer occurrence, we've had rain all week.

When you live on dirt roads, miles from the nearest highway, you can't get in or out when it rains.  Lonnie was frightened and lonely.  His neighbor ladies, elderly women he's been helping in the last few months, had been bringing him food while he's laid up.  It's going to be days before they can get to him.  He's running low on canned soup.  I didn't ask him whether there was a bottle of bourbon in the house.  I didn't want to know.

We talked for a bit and discussed some options.  We made a plan for him to call a neighboring farm and ask the farmer to come out with his tractor and give Lonnie a ride to the highway.  He will call his brother to meet him at the highway.  Lonnie will stay with the brother at least until the roads dry out.

When we ended the conversation, Lonnie was ok.  He had his breath back and his feet under him again, metaphorically at least.  The fact that he made the call at all says a lot for how far he's come.  He has a long ways still to go.  And chances are he won't make that entire journey sober.  But I'm hopeful he will be all right in the long run.

Humans are resilient.  And brilliant  And strong.  And righteously pissed off.  We love, we grieve, we make amends.  Y'all all amaze me.  Keep it up.