Friday, December 09, 2005

Baptism overage

Baptism- a most special time in the life of a new babe and the family.
Baptism- a most jumbled time in the life of the church.

It used to be new babies were brought into this world with names like: John, or Nancy, or Ben or Cathy..........Simple to determine boy or girl
Now we face names like Cal, or Ligston, or Brandle. I wonder if parents finally ran through the baby name alphabet- sort of like we did with hurricanes this year and began creating their own versions of Greek/alien names.

When the exciting news is called in or relayed, often it is from the hospital room, the birthing room, the delivery room, the car, the birthing center, the side of the road, and the level of excitement overrides all specs like sex of baby. It just doesn't seem like an appropriate time to ask about the sex, even thought it is an obvious question, and to tell you the truth, even when the first words out of the caller's mouth are "It's a Boy", or "It's a girl!!!" when the name is so out of the ordinary, it sometimes just cancels out the previous information.
"It's a boy!!"
" Wow!! that's great, Bill!!" (see, Bill's mom and dad obviously pulled from the Random house book of names, or Dr. Spock's )
"Yep, and we've named our baby Reynolda"
" Wow. Like the foil?" (Did they really name their first born child after food wrap?)
" No. Rey NOLD a"
" Oh, yeah. of course. I get it now. Congrats, buddy, DAD." ( NOLD? What the heck is that?)
and then writing it on the white board at church, someone approaches.
" Oh, great. That is so exciting. Was it a girl or a boy?"
Complete blank- out. I have no clue. None. So I answer with, "Yeah, isn't that great?"

Another trap to watch out for is numbers. Sometimes, I think the congregation harbors rabbits.

When people call to schedule their child's baptism, I try to accomodate them with the date of choice, time of service preferred, blah blah blah... But there is a limit to how many babies can be sprinkled or dipped in one hour. I made the mistake of being pulled into the cyclone of dipping requests and ended up one Sunday scheduling 5.

Yes, 5. I later heard that the 11:00 service was over sometime before dusk, but that several church members had ordered pizza delivery by then. Also, so many family members attended that half the congregation had to be seated in the lobby and on the grounds. I think the water ran out too. One family left with someone else's sprinkled youngling. It was a service to remember. and a lesson for this church chick and now, for you.

After recovering from the fun and frenzied stories from that carnival day, I found myself trying to think of a way to improve the system. I mean, if you want your baby blessed on this or that Sunday, by golly why shouldn't you be able to be accomodated? So, I thought and I thought and I thought. and then it came to me. Well, I'm pretty excited about this time saving idea, I must say.

Sometime next week, a baptism Zip line will be installed in the Balcony, so we can shoot the bundles right down the center aisle. It will save the walk with the preacher, and the swooping ride should muffle some of the cries that often are voiced by babies being carted around by robed strangers. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

When your "K's" are off

It’s been a little frazzled here the last few weeks. The change in season creates a little off balance in everyone for a variety of reasons. It is a true test of team spirit when those out of sync moments hit everyone at once. I’ve been setting my heating pad that stays in my desk chair on medium instead of high lately. That’s a sure sign of trouble brewing.

This week, I overheard a panic response coming from the copy room. My immediate reaction was, “ What wild animal has been killed NOW?” I wondered if the Riso machine was up to no good, or if the paper cutter had been recently sharpened by a phantom sharpener and no one knew about it. The sound continued, and then the sound of paper flipping kicked in. flip/ plop. Flip/plop. Was someone skimming the empty reams and dropping them to the linoleum? Was there a treasure hidden in there? My curiosity finally go the best of me and I went to investigate the mystery angst coming from the copy room.

Our membership secretary, or someone who looked sort of like her stood in front of the copy machine, her hands gripped the sides of the testy Toshiba. There were piles of papers askew across the floor. More papers flooded from the copy machine at a very fast pace. As the paper catcher became overloaded, they plopped to the floor. Flip/plop. Flip/plop. Amelia began pressing the copy machine buttons, but as we already know, the copy machine is willful and loves to play mischievous games with human copy folk like us. Many times, I have copied 222 copies of something because the Toshiba is having a cranky day. This seemed the case on this particular day.

“Hey- what’s going on?” I asked my distraught friend.
“ My K’s are off.” She looked at me and repeated, “ My K’s are off”.
Now you might wonder, What does one SAY to that? I mean, it was obviously an important statement. It carried special meaning, but I had no idea what that meaning was.

“ Your K’s are off? Gosh, I’m so sorry. So sorry to hear that. Anything I can do? How are your J’s looking? Do you anticipate needing any L’s or N’s maybe?”
The glazed look cleared and she straightened and lifted a huge chunk of copied papers. “ I was copying the directory, and I had organized it so that each letter had its own start page. Isn’t that neat? You could go right to the B’s or the D’s . It took me a while to figure it out, so that the sections would come out just right. And then.. well, I just discovered that my “K’s” are off. That means the whole rest of the alphabet is off, too.

The picture came clear to me in that moment. Amelia had said so much more in that statement than she ever thought. There have been many days when my K’s have been off. I’m sure most of you can identify with that.

It sounds much more friendly to say that than to hear, “ Ye Gods what a suck day!” Or “AGGGGHHHH, or “I give up!!!”

So the next time the day offers a collection of disruptive moments, consider that statement. And if you get through the day pretty smoothly, you can say like Amelia says, “ It’s a good day when your ‘Z’s’ are off.”

Friday, November 04, 2005

Traveling casket

It's been Funeral Central this week at church. I wonder if there's some covert group who meets to decide scissors/paper/rocks over who's turn it is next. Do Funeral Homes have quotas like patrol teams?

Anyway, I find the entire Funeral business suspect. Too blue, too clean, too big, too quiet, too medicated. When I was in high school, I wrote a term paper on American Funeral Practices. I had a lovely tour of a local Funeral Home one spring afternoon. My guide loved his work. He Vincent Price-ish LOVED his work. I followed him around, taking notes, and feeling increasingly odd. Complete tour of casket showroom, including clothes specially designed to be dead-body dress friendly. They were all backless. eek. A whole line like that- who knew?

Victoria Secret Funeral Line- Angels from the other realm..... hmm. It has possibilities.

When my Peter Lorre look-alike tour guide invited me into the embalming room, I was struck by the laboratory environment. A white porcelin table, one not unlike Dr. Frankenstein's in the old castle, sat in the middle of the room. wow. He picked up a clear plastic tube and started saying something about draining and then he tilted the table , and well, the next thing I knew I was having a close and personal conversation with the tile floor. Guess that setting isn't my cup of formaldehyde. Good to know those things about oneself at an early age.

Anyway, this week when I arrived at work, I was greeted by 3 navy-suited people. They shared the same bottle of hair dye, Erebus brown by Clairol. They were loitering around a very long hearse. Another navy clad person pulled up and the back door of the hearse opened. They pulled a shiny box out and took it inside. I waited, wanting to give them time to go. away. Then I went inside. Thinking it a logical location to have a casket in a church, I peeked into the sanctuary, but the holy space stood empty. I looked in the fellowship hall across from the sanctuary, but alas, it was also empty.

Now, realistically, there are only so many places for a casket to park inside the church, so not being able to find it began to work on my nerves a little. Did we have a runaway casket in our midst? Had they taken Mr. Smith for an early morning stroll before his service? What? Where?

I went into my office and started digging into my day. Concentration wasn't working for me. A few minutes later I decided to go on a search for the missing box, and I started looking in every room and even in the stairwells. No casket. Bathroom? Not mine- and I wasn't about to check the mens room thank you. Finally I walked past the parlor. There it sat, lid open- in wait. The support team stood within reach of the shiny walnut. I waved and went back to my office relieved to have located Mr. Smith.

A little while later, I walked down the parlor hallway and realized that the Parlor was now empty. No box. No people. no nuthin. I headed back to the sanctuary, but nope. Not there.
I asked the receptionist," Have you seen the casket?"
The retired volunteer answered, " What basket?"
i said, "Mr. Smith's Casket"
" What did they put his ashes in a basket for? That'll make a fine mess."
I tried speaking louder, more slowly." No, its not ashes, its a body today."
"Not too hot, weatherman says it will cool down tonight."
I gave up.

I went into the narthex to get a hymnal and noticed the columbarium door was ajar. The casket had been stuffed into the tiny room. The navy team had to lean into the brass placks that lined the walls. It was a tight fit. Did Mr. Smith mean to be cremated? Were they humoring him? Had he been indecisive when making that decision?

I looked at the big box and thought to myself, " You can't have it both ways, buddy." Then back to my office I went.

When I came back by to return the hymnal, Mr. Smith had found his way into the sanctuary. at last.

The elusive walnut box had put me on edge. Where, I wondered would it turn up next? Would Mr. Smith want to man the front desk? Have lunch out on the terrace? I half expected to see him glide by my office door at some point during the day. AS it turns out, though, his last field trip was out to the field, where he could settle in a little deeper. Be one with the dirt of the earth.

Maybe in his breathing life, Mr. Smith wanted to travel, or maybe he always did even up to his last moments with us? No telling. or maybe his Funeral team was feeling fidgety that day.

Reunion on a budget

Feeling nostalgic? Cooler weather, earlier dark bringing out the melancholy in you? Been missing old friends?

Maybe what you need is a serendipitious get together, a time to connect with people you haven't seen in a while. Wouldn't a low-key party be fun?

Oh, but "How will I find those people from my past, those I have fond memories of, but no address for anymore?" you may say.

Obituation is the way to go. Invitations are used primarly for planned events when you want to include friends who are presently living in your same plane of existence. Obituation is a magnet for everyone else. It's cheap, and rather unpredictable, as you just never know who might show up.

Here's how it works- Call the local paper and ask to speak to the Deaths and obituary section chief. Give a short bio of whoever you want to call the "party target" and send a pic if you have one. List a conveniently located church and say "Visitation at (X) time." Then, run over to the grocery, pick up a few bags of chips and dip, high tail it over to the church parking lot and wait.

You will see people you haven't seen in years, AND their dogs, neighbors and friends. Redirect them when they pull in and the rest will happen on its own. Curiosity will bring some into the lair, unresolved issues mingle among a few attendees, and the rest tag along with a bag of mixed guilt over not saying this or that or not keeping us as they should. The turn around from sad to glad doesn't take long. and before you know it, you've got a full blown reunion!!!

We had something like this recently at church. Someone who had lived here long ago, had left the country and had not been heard from or seen for several decades. For some reason, the remaining family had decided that Mrs. Argyle should return to the states for her permanent nap. She had belonged here when the church was first built, in the late 1800's, but hadn't been seen since. On the day of the funeral , I was surprised to see the parking lot overflowing with autos.

What surprised me even more was the licence plates. Oregon, Virginia, California. Wow. I wonder how they knew? Then I wondered if maybe the out of state visitors were really party crashers, maybe they didn't know Mrs. Argyle at all, they just wanted to get in on the visitation and see what kind of fashion statement was being made. Maybe these people were like storm chasers, only they chased funeral gigs. I got so interested in wondering about this, that I forgot we were honoring a very deserving individual who had lived a long long, long long life.

I walked inside the church and stood at the door to the sanctuary and looked through the glass door. The casket was open and I saw just the tip of a nose reaching up from the satin bed. I had heard that when you got older, your nose kept growing and your ears, too, I guess it's true. AT least the nose part. It was kind of creepy having a body when today, most people go the ashes route. I felt sad for the people in ARgyle's life who lost their friend, relative, whatever. I wondered what she was like when her nose was younger. Where had she been, what had she been doing all those years away from her homeplace? Did she mind that after all that time away, she still ended up right here where she began? Some things I guess we'll never know.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


My bird feeder ministry is growing in wings and beaks these days.

Outcast and runaway fledglings who frequent my office window/ safe haven-for- aerial types have started to spread the word around town that the church lady's soup kitchen now offers daily lunch specials.

The variety of visitors has picked up. In an effort to economically accomodate the growing fly- through traffic I've added multi-grain cheerios to the feeder mix, as well as a delectable three seed combo selection for my birdfriends to snack on.

Delicate brown and tan wrens, puffy black chested birds and cardinals are the regulars. Nameless breeds of other small bodied chirpers coast through daily. There's also a wicked witch of the west Hawk who parks his talons in a nearby balcony tree. I think he's too big to land and stand on the sill. There's a frightful whisper inside me that says he prefers smaller winged creatures and four legged scampering sorts to seeds anyway.

Today, we stretched our welcoming arms to a new feathered friend. Gulliver in stature and donning flourescent neckware, our new friend is a very overpuffed pigeon. I call him Pepe. He reminds me of Pepe le Pew, a mischievious romantic rascal of a cartoon skunk from TV. The burley pigeon releases a continuing string of charismatic coos that echo off the brick walls in the alley outside my window.Pepe has a lovely array of irredescent colors mixed into his neck feathers, and his facial features are distinct as well. I would say he is NOT a candidate for a Birdland last resort makeover show.

Pepe sought me out during a recent staff meeting by sitting- one floor up from my office bird oasis -upon the windowsill beside our meeting room. He sat like a sad puppy for the longest time just looking in at the lot of us as we worked our way through the weekly chaos of staff meeting.

Patiently, he sat/ she sat in wait. When our meeting dissolved into talk of a lunch break, she flew down to the birdfeeder and parked in the flower pot-turned-secondary feeder. She was so big, that the pot was lost underneath her. She could not figure out how to stand along the side and nibble at the seeds. The pot tilted when she tried to perch and peck. I could tell she was discouraged. Such a big kid in the midst of so many lilliputian flyers has to feel awkward.

I decided it was time to expand the chow lounge. I wanted to offer our new friend a comfortable place to snack, one more fitting with her luxurious size so I sprinkled a few grains along the brick sill on either side of the feeder.

It seemed like Pepe was in need of friends, and a place to hang out. I didn't want her size to deter the smaller patrons from coming. Freeing up the feeding trough brought back the daily customers; we'll see if Pepe settles in. If and when he/she does,we'll see about what we can do to keep building a nurturing mini-community around him/her at the Church Lady Cafeteria.

Meeting Pepe reminds me that community is important for all creatures. I'm lucky to have a very safe haven at my home church and a cozy place within my work church.I'd like to see that happen all around. Consider looking for subtle signs of connection in your world the "nest" time you're out and about. Clusters of birds in the trees, conversations among interested office mates who have come to gather around the office at "feeding time", trees that sway in unison , their leaves waving at a small line of cumulus billowing by overhead, a feathered flock of mystery birds floating by in the autumn wind. It's all community in different shapes and places. and it's all important for helping us to grow together.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Concentration warning.

When focusing on difficult concepts in job performance, such as trying to appease an interested church member by printing out a summary of all zip codes that attend church regularly, please take note that when focusing so much energy on trying to understand a task that appears to hold no particular value, you may lose some other grounded thinking and you may by complete accident make sundry errors.

Say for example, you discover that as neat as it is to identify attendees via their own personal zip code, you may also notice that the software is not summary friendly, and without your knowledge has taken upon itself to print 272 pages of a full-bodied list of member zips.

If, by unfortunate chance, you are at that exact moment also answering the phone at work, and if, by another unfortunate chance, you happen to be listening to a blind voice speaking broken English, then you may make further mistakes in your multi-tasking.

If , while you are on the phone trying to decipher the question on the other end of the line, you realize that your printer is going AWOL, then, in your panic, you may mistake the printer settings option of 'cancel job' with 'delete printer'. If this happens, please fight the urge to scream, " OH MY GOD. I'VE DELETED MY FREAKING PRINTER. I'VE SENT IT INTO CYBERSPACE and OUR TECH MAGICIAN IS OUT OF THE BUILDING.

You can't be sure that the person on the other end of the phone isn't bilingual, and you really don't want to take the chance of insulting the poor soul who is simply calling to ask for some help or directions.

On the other hand, if the person calling is in reality the same person who has called you every day for the last week asking for the same "assistance" such as fuel for his heater, then the damage is minimal and the time it took you to vent may also clear your head enough to realize that it is a rare occasion for someone to use a heater when it is 102 degrees outside, and maybe the caller is not being truthful in his requests.

See? There's a happy side to this- isn't there? Maybe I should read this again and see if I can find it... wait.. oh, yeah. the happy ending is that the Tech magician Did, in fact return and rescue my precious 6L from cyberspace, and the caller did finally reveal himself as the same guy who had called me every day for the last several days. The accent was a last attempt to get some spending money for the fair. Well, he fessed up, and took the time to tell me that I really shouldn't use such flair and language on the phone and he'll just have to seek help elsewhere, like maybe the Baptist church down the street.


Halloween frights

I have learned so much lately working in these hallowed halls. Now that Halloween is around the corner, I feel the season sort of fits into some of the challenges I've faced in the last few days.

Church lingo is such a quagmire of history, politics, verbage baggage. This time of year, we in the halls of Methodism are faced with something called a "Charge conference". I recall last year, when I was but a new fuzzy church baby chick, this word gave me nightmares. I didn't know what it was, I didn't know who anybody or anything much was around me, and that darn phrase kept being thrown out into the ductwork throughout the building. ANy time it was mentioned, someone or something within the confines of the concrete and brick would shudder or moan.

It has taken me a year to get up the courage to see exactly what this blame Charge Conference is. Can you keep a secret? CC is but a bully word. Ah!! a collection of syllables designed to shake and bake the clergy and other church staff. and it works.

In the Baptist world, it is called a Congregational Meeting. I mean, it's nothing like I had pictured in my mind. What a relief. What a temporary relief. It's not a helmet-clad maniac running a muck, but at the same time, Charge Conference isn't a friendly game of Bunko, either.

It is a very paperwork and report driven gathering of people who at least once a year meet to greet new rules, review old ones, and the height of the night is the sacrificial offering of documents that verify the church being charged is in fact, intact according to the rule book that is called the Discipline. The discipline rules, man. If only I had known this when my four daughters were younger. I could have actually had the ability to hold a hard bound book before them during moments of dissention.
" You are going to bed because the "Discipline" says so right here on page 276." I quote,"In cooperation with the cabinet ( that means parental units).... may choose one or more of the following options for a program of remedial action....( If you opt to not to go to bed in a timely fashion, you may choose from the following,)." Leave of absence, voluntary or involuntary (#354- and I can say that walking on your own constitutes voluntary, while being dragged kicking and screaming equals involuntary), Surrender ministerial office( thus giving up your rights to argue), Peer support and supervision ( in the form of siblings)

When faced with these directives, I'm sure my girls would have made simplier choices. I mean you can bore them to death and they will eventually beg to be tucked in, I suppose. But, ah, I slide into the abyss. Bottom line and point here is that I am continuing to learn and this week I learned to stand up to a Charge conference and call it what it is. A lot of work.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Helpful hint from the trenches

I have discovered a way to get more of the congregation involved. This is a problem that touches many churches across the Globe. We want to empower our "lay" people but I find some challenges in that. First of all, I wonder to myself. ......."Lay person?" Do I really want to be one of those? It implies someone who doesn't stand up for their beliefs, someone who can be railroaded, a wimp, weakling, a walrus laying in a slug-yoga posezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

So that is the first problem that I see. Secondly I can say that here, at least it is often a puzzle figuring how to attract people to committee positions. I see reactions such as, "How many teeth must I pull? What do I have to do?" and "How long is my sentence? How long do I have to serve?" The church staff seeks to empower the "lay" people, we want them to see the bright side of being a working part of the big old Church machine. It's fun! or it can be,or it might be, well, maybe, you never know til you try, right? Through time, Churches have tried many methods of inviting lay people to come into the fold. Committee Titles that sound appealing and uplifting have been tried... Administrative Board ( This sounds like you, too can be in charge) and lay leadership ( lead others like yourself to lay- the low energy committee), Church and Family Life ( a picnic for sure) Trustees ( Trust me on this, okay?) and many many others. Fellowship Committee is similar to the Good ship Lollipop, perhaps. Hospitality is bound to be full of kind and hospitable folks... you get my thinking here, right?

If titles fail, sometimes food helps. "Oh, yeah, I'll sign up. That's the one that always serves brownies." or "That's the vegan task force" and " I've heard they offer comfort food and have retreats" Retreats is another story altogether for another day.....

Location location location.... " This committee meets on the first floor right next to the exit" This committee meets in the sanctuary of the Columbarium, where quiet and good ideas meet" etc..
Bottom line is that until today, there hasn't really been a successful way to get people to sign up.

Until today, I said. Until today.

This week has been incredibly popcorned with to dos. I started wearing my life jacket mid week and usually I don't have to do that til Thursday afternoons. So you can imagine how I was feeling, over done and a little swimmy. I got a call from a very chipper parishoner, Mary Lee. "Melanie! Hey! I just got my reminder card for the upcoming Worship Committee!!"
I was thrilled. This was just the news I needed. Some small indication that I had in deed been able to do my job in a timely fashion. She didn't say I got my reminder card for the meeting that happened last week, oh. no.It was a reminder in just the way a reminder should be. on time.
I replied with relieved excitement. " Yippee!! whew. I'm so glad."
Janie paused. "Um, Melanie. the thing is, that I'm on Board of Trustees."
oh. oh no. uh oh.

I sent out a new set of reminders to the right people, but later realized that this could be a good thing. I mean think about it. Trustees coming to Worship, Worship going to Staff Parish, Staff Parish attending Finance... We could all learn about each other and maybe join other people's groups. Hey. It COULD work. Well, it might. oh shut up.

You may wonder what I did about my mix up? Well, of course I did what any other self respecting Church chick would do. I UN invited Board of Trustees . Simple. You are cordially UN-invited to attend the Worship Committee meeting. What else could I do?
oh. Good grief. So much to learn. and my evaluation is coming up. oh. good grief.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Pure un obliterated decadence

I've been grounded from using the churchwide intercom-via phone. I used to use it to announce staff meetings, then to try to track the pastor, and well, if you've read the tale, you know why it was a perfectly reasonable grounding that came upon me months ago. The thing is, I can't let it go.
Try as I might. I like to think I can be connected to the whole church with the simple push of a button.
Our Associate Pastor recognizes this craving and on occasion will give me a wink of permission to call someone, to look for someone, or to announce something very very important. So important that I have to use the intercom. But those instances are far between each other.
So today, just because I could in the emptiness of the office I played Barry Manilow at full force on this Friday afternoon, copa cabana and I rang in the weekend. So there.

Overheard in the hallway

Here's how to transfer a job to someone else, while sounding like you've been working hard when maybe you haven't.... Overheard in the hallway- conversation between two of the cleaning crew.

"I'm swamped down here in ladies, are you done ?You've been up there a while, Ida."
"Yeah, I've been here since early, and I'm tarred. You can finish up, I'm going home."
"What needs doin'?"
"Lord, Eldon, I've got all these rooms up here near done except the hallway, the bathrooms, the trash and the rest of the floor."

White Board Cautionary Tales

The white board serves a very important purpose at many churches. It offers a place to write joys and concerns. Ours is on the wall of our main hallway and everyone who enters the building can’t go far without passing right by it. Our board houses the latest death and destruction cases and then the new babes. It feels like an extreme collection. Good and bad with nothing in the middle.

That’s why I decided to get my own office door “joy” board, so we could create a balance and add things like good grades, contest winning, promotions and other stuff that mortars between the birth and death biz of life.

I had a bit of a shock this morning when I came in and found my joy board had gone missing. I immediately sent out a staff wide email screaming, WHERE IS MY JOY BOARD? One answer came back from a staff member who hadn’t a clue what in the world I was whining about. His reply made me laugh out loud. Something like, “I don't know; I'm looking for mine, too. Some days they're hard to find.”

I later found it had been hiding in the staff kitchen. I figured since the white board parent had been overflowing with death and destruction, my little joy board had become overwhelmed and had gone for a joy ride, only to find himself without the means to flee the building. From the looks of it, he had managed to pull himself off of the adhesive tape pads that held him to the door, but after that. ...Well. I’m sorry he couldn’t get away from the stress, but I was glad to have him back. As soon as we got him back on the door, a fellow staffer wrote a timely joy on him and I thought he looked brighter and a bit more relaxed than before. Whew. If there’s one thing you don’t want to lose, in this crazy world, it’s any little bit of joy, whether it is on a board or in the smile of a friendly face.

Our board has been flooded with news. It is clear that vacation is over, pal.O-ver. Just when I thought we couldn’t possibly fit another announcement on the hallway white board, we got another - Rest in Peace call. I stood in the hallway, looking at the crowded board and decided to erase one listing, make it smaller and then squeeze the new one into the crunch. Knowing how likely it was for such a simple task to be anything but- I called the reliable retired receptionist volunteer to be my witness in the erasure.

Erasing can be dangerous. My experience is that the act of erasing can sometimes also erase one’s personal brain cells. Statistics show that in some cases as many as 4- 6 million cells can be wiped away in one clean board swipe. I thought I had protected myself by having a friendly witness.
“Okay, Ruby, I’m going to take out J.R. Rothenstein. Okay? Help me remember that. Rothenstein. J.R. “
“Rothenstein? Okay.”
I gripped the soft flannel block and touched the board. A cool chill ran up my arm, but I stood firm. “ J. R. Rothenstein”
Taking a deep breath, I slowly drove the bulldozing erasure over the words. “J.R. Rothenstein.”
As soon as the open space appeared, I wrote in a smaller print. “J.R. Rothenstein.”

Whew. Done. I backed away from the board and stood, arms folded across my chest, next to my friend, the receptionist.
“Well, you did it. Good work.”

Then it hit me. I looked carefully at the miniature words I had worked so hard to apply. My mind went blank. Something was missing.
I looked closer. Closed my eyes tight, trying to concentrate. “Uh, Ruby? Do you remember what was going ON with J.R. Rothenstein?” she looked blankly at me. “ Um, no, not really. I’d better get back to the phones now.”
Deserted by my own volunteer. How rude. I called after her. “ I don’t think it was a baby. Or a hospital. I think it was a death. Maybe his father.” I wrote "father died" up by his name. Then I called a staff member on speaker phone.
“Do you recall JR on the board?”
“Do you remember what happened to him?”
“ I think his mother died.”
I ran out and switched the father to mother.
A few minutes later, she emailed me the latest prayer request and there it was plain as day. J.R. father deceased.
So I changed it back.
Please, friends, heed my plea. Approach the white board in your own job site with caution.

Church Chick

Monday, September 19, 2005

The narcoleptic wren

The bird feeder that I keep suctioned onto the outside of my office window has finally made the headlines - The Critter Chatter News. I hear the birds talk about it every morning when they fly in and out on their way to work and such.

It took a good 4 or 5 months for the birds to first, notice the birdfeeder and food, and then another few weeks to realize it wasn't a mirage and to learn how not to dive bomb into the glass for a good meal.

I used to keep a flower pot underneath the bird feeder with various ever-changing plants in it, but the only thing that grew consistently and successfully were the sunflower seeds that sprouted after they had been kicked,spit or pushed out of the feeder. The pot became a catch all for seed crumbs.

Last week, my friend Amelia, who is extremely gentle natured, noticed that there was a bird laying in the feeder. She sat across from me and said, "Is he asleep?" I checked my rear-view mirror that I keep propped on top of my computer monitor so that I can see the daily activity and saw what she was talking about, but I thought the bird was not just taking a benign birdnap, I thought he had maybe had a heartattack from eating too many sunflower seeds.

I figured his cholesterol was running high and he just bit the dust. We approached gently, and then my panic made me push open the window and scoot my fingers his way. The sleeping beauty awoke, and without the kiss, remained a bird. A flustered little thing, he flew off in a panic.

Today, during staff meeting, I ventured to the hall way window one floor up from my office and I looked down to see if any little feathered friends were having brunch in the neighborhood cafe and sure enough, there was my little sleeper, napping once again. This time, he was sitting up and nodding off, as if he had been sitting in an easy chair and had fallen asleep watching the game. The only game going on right then was a few rowdy blackbirds swooping about. By the time staff meeting was over, he was off , reenergized from the rest stop I figured.

Later this afternoon, he dive bombed into the pot of overflow seeds and stayed there a good hour with his face in the seed-soil, and his tail feathers poking out and over the rim of the pot. Was it a suicide attempt? Intentional seed collision? Do birds get depressed? or were his brakes out of order, was he trying to save face by looking like he meant to hit the overflow flower pot instead of the well stocked feeder just over head? Was he drunk? Did he pass out from over drinking the polluted run off from the night's rain? Had he been sipping the organic fertilizer the landscape crew leaves in the bushes?

His breathing was regular albeit rapid, but what would you expect? He had to fly high to reach that cozy spot. Manuvering into the brick alley outside my office is no easy fly by, let me tell you. Amelia opened the window and stroked his feathers. He didn't seem to mind.

Another friend came by as well ,and was facinated by the lounging bird. He spritzed my covey of plants and considered the bird's odd positioning. "Is he praying" he asked? Being outside the office of a church secretary, I found this question completely understandable. " Is it Yoga?" We looked at him more closely. " Could be downward facing dog, I guess"
"Wait, no, his butt isn't up high enough and his hams aren't stretched" " hams? Do birds have those?" We kept postulating and presuming and guessing.

I ventured into the Pastor's office and asked him to please come to my office. He obliged me, probably thinking I was going to get on my high horse about some this or that, He came reluctantly, but he came. I like that in a Pastor. Tip toe trust. He entered the office/birdlounge and looked at our sleeping friend. Immediately, he connected with the gentleness the bird's aura presented. "He looks so comfy" He was touched, I could tell. It was a nice group-hug moment.

Things have been so hard rock 'n rolling at work that I thanked the bird for giving us that reason to pause. The Pastor quietly left and went back to his Pastoring. That's the number one job of Pastors, you know. Pastoring. It comes in lots of shapes and flavors, but I've come to recognize it just the same. Important work, performed to perfection with honest humilty and tender awareness. Qualities not many have, and qualities that so many wish they had. My boss and my home church Pastors are woven through and through with those qualities.

Later in the day, when the record was playing at 78 rpms again, I thought back to the sleeping wren.The moment made me feel pretty special.I mean, the Pastors provide an environment of love and comfort for people. All kinds of folks. and in this church, my work church, the church chick's office offers the same for other types of folk. Feathered friends, bugs, and narcoleptic birds. Well, it's a start anyway. Maybe one day, one day, my office will be a safe haven for creatures of other kinds, who knows?

Stalking first class

It was a dark and stormy night.
No. It was a muggy and fuzzy morning.
Yeah. That’s more like it…..It was a morning not unlike the weather scene in Psycho when the girl-on-the-run pulls into the motel and gazes up at the house on the hill where, unbeknownst to her a lone skeleton rocks the day away.

Even Church ladies need time to breathe and regroup from the frazzle and dazzle of Fall planning, and my time had come. The week had spun faster than a kid on chocolate, and there were stacks of plates on poles filling my office, too many to balance, so I decided to take a short escape and steal away for a couple of days. I tied up the loose ends the best I could, and called Churchlady Temps, that infamous agency that hires only the best of the best. They sent their number one chick right over, and I was off.

I met up with two other escapees, and we hit the road. About twenty minutes into the trip, I was stricken by a horrid thought. I had not cleaned out my PO box that morning. I did go the night before, but, gosh, that was nearly 12 hours ago. What would Frank say? Frank, the impatient postal person. Frank, first cousin to Jaws (the metal-mouthed angry assassin from 007 movies). Oh, good grief. Should I turn back? I was torn.

Had it not been for my two devoted friends restraining me via multi-seat belt to the seat, I would have leaped from the window and rolled my way back home to take care of that important detail. Oh. Oh, woah. I couldn’t bear to think what may be awaiting my return if I failed to clear out that box in a timely fashion. Nevertheless, the farther we went into the trip, the better I felt.

An hour and two counties later, I decided that it was certainly not wise to u-turn for the sake of a silly little post office box clean out. It could wait until my return in 72 hours. Surely, it could.

We decided to make a pit stop in a nearby McD’s for coffee. I entered the restaurant and waited for my two friends to order. Then I noticed the hairs on the back of my neck. They were standing up, and had started to vibrate. I felt my neck stiffen. My feet felt like lead. I was frozen in the early morning chaos of a highway fast food restaurant. What was THAT about?

Something drew my attention away from the cash register, and a bright blue baseball hat bill leaped into my vision. SIEZE THE DAY was written in glow- in- the- dark- lime . Gray-rimmed tri-focals peeked out from underneath the oversized hat awning. I knew those eyes. I knew them well. Those were the eyes that bore holes into the back of my head every time I visited the Post Office. Those were the eyes of Frank. “What are You doing HERE?” he fussed.

“I’m I- I- I’m going out of town” I stammered.
“What? THAT way?” He pointed toward the open road out of town. My voice trembled “Yes” while my head shook a resounding NO.

He picked up a sugar packet and popped it in his mouth. “Wow” I thought to myself. He eats it paper and all. Wow.
“Shouldn’t you be going the OTHER way?” Sugar crystals spit out across the floor when he spoke.
“ Uh, I think we’re following a map, uh, we’re going that way, I think it’s right.”

Where were my friends? Where did they disappear to?

He tipped the bill of his hat so that I could clearly see the large print. He reached up and pulled out a small wet ball of paper from his mouth. I watched in horror as he rolled it into a super spit ball and sat aghast as he threw it straight up. I was afraid to follow its path, but couldn’t resist the urge. When I looked up, I noticed that the ceiling I had thought was splattered with stucco was really covered with spit balls. I guess Frank frequented this place often-I guessed that he was a regular.

His voice pulled my attention his way. “You got that PO box cleaned out, little lady? You keepin’ it neat?” He shook his head, pulled off his hat and replaced it tenderly on his head of gray hair. “Yeah, I didn’t think so.” And then he was gone. It was then I knew.

It was then I realized that Frank would plague me as long as I worked behind the door called Church Secretary. There was clearly no escape. Miles couldn't protect me, nor county distance. That moment was a life altering spec of time. I crushed the empty paper cup I held and lifted it up to the spitball audience. “With God as my witness, I will keep my post office box from overflowing. I’ll never be trayed again.”

“So, are you ready? Or do you want to stay a little longer and maybe sing a song while you stand there?” The familiar voice of one of my traveling friends broke my concentration. “Uh, no, I’m ready. Let me just throw this cup away is all.” And we were off.

The present can exhaust us, the Future draws us ever forward, the past is powerful but I say with great intention, friend, Never underestimate the power of the Post.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Phonetic Trials never ending

It’s almost been a year now. A whole year since I’ve been playing Church Chick at the OK Corral. The instances of my true self slipping through my guise of admin asst are fewer and less often. Usually, its when I’ve had an almost full breath of confidence that something pops up, like today.

If you’ve read my chronicles from the start then you know of my dilemma and angst-ridden experiences with our phone system. Learning curve is pretty big. HUGE, larger than large.
Today I was talking to the financial secretary and we realized that tomorrow I will be here alone. I decided to call one of the other staffers to see if she was coming in and I used the intercom. I pressed her extension button on my phone and spoke. No answer.
“ Hey, I know you are up there, are you working tomorrow?”
no answer.
“ Don’t ignore me, I know you can hear me, now come on. Answer…..”
no answer but-
The Senior Pastor’s door flew open and he literally slid down the hall and caught himself on the doorframe to my office. He spoke to me.
“ I just thought you’d like to know that you aren’t talking to Annie, you are talking to me.”
He smiled and slid away, closing his door with a jingle.

Horrified, I called my oldest daughter. There’s comfort in sharing your horrification with a family member who can be horrified with you. Usually it works the other way around, daughter seeking out Mother, but since I’ve entered the grown up work world, the split is pretty evenly divided. “Mom! I can’t believe you did that! Was he mad?”
Was he mad? I thought to myself.. ruminated… considered…. Processed…pasteurized.. and then a happy thought came to my awareness. I shared it with my concerned daughter.

“Oh! You know what? He had a funny smile on his face, well, he had an unusual expression on his face when he slid over and I bet he was thinking, … "This kind of phonetic frenzy hasn’t happened in a while. Maybe that’s progress….”

My daughter sat in silence, then I heard her breathe again. “ Well, usually it works the other way around, mom. I mean like You notice things running smoothly, and comment on THAT. Instead of putting out a fire and realizing you are using fewer extinguishers than you used to. But if that works for you, I’ll be happy for you, and congratulate your improvements.” “Come to think of it, I haven’t heard you mention as many intercom-calamities of late. Gosh, I think that IS improvement.”

We hung up and I walked out into the hallway, just in time to see the Pastor’s door open. Two lovely young people came out, arm in arm. The young couple walked cautiously, their eyes shifting slightly from side to side. “Hi!” I offered as they passed by. I noticed a short pause in their stride which I took later to mean they recognized my voice as being the one who was screaming at them through the Pastor’s phone speaker just minutes earlier.

They scootched a little closer and walked in tandem out the front door of the church never looking back.
I turned to go back into my office .The kind and forgiving Pastor stood at my door holding thumbs up and smiling. He is such a supportive boss. It amazes me. After the positive reinforcement, he squeezed his eyes together in pursed lip silent prayer. He then tilted his head and said to the chilled hallway air, “ They MIGHT still join . Yeah. They might.”

Improvement takes many forms, I guess. I hope they don’t take my phone privileges away. I can do even better, I’m sure of it.

Church Chick

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Zip code Restriction Day

Oh, my Lord. I just have been having such adventures at the Post Office. Frank "trayed" me last week and when I took the slip to the counter he grimaced and said if he did a survey and surveyed me, I”d be fined $800 for having my box overstuffed so often. I backed away slowly and apologized profusely all the way to the car.

Today I dragged myself to the prisonPO, and noticed the scary cardboard cut out (Ms. Battle), has been abducted. She is nowhere to be found.
Some terrorized customer must have had her “taken out” in the dead of night,or perhaps she's been “recycled”, “reassigned”.. hmmm.
So today I had a package to go to Afganistan. Frank, my nemesis Postal desk clerk was on duty. He never looked me in the eye, but said to the computer screen, “ Are you aware of the restrictions to this zip code?” I looked at the shoebox sized package, weighing maybe half a pound and said, “uh, no.”
“ There can’t be any firearms, securities or currency or precious gems in their natural state.” I thought about the contents of the package being a deck of UNO cards and a jar of Newman's own popcorn. I wondered if the kernals might be hiding some emeralds or maybe even the Hope Diamond.
“ Like diamonds?” He shook his head but kept looking at the screen.
“ You can’t be sending diamonds or rubies, young lady. ...Unless they are in a ring. Or a necklace.” He picked up the package and put it back down. Then cleared his throat.
“ Any pork in there? You can’t send Pork to this zip code. Or any raw metals in their unmanufactured condition.”
I looked at the packing slip. “ popcorn, cards, and books. I don’t think there’s any risk of restricted item stowaways, but I'll admit that I don't know the title of the book, sir.”
Frank was absent of the humor gene, I had decided long ago. That thought rang true again at this moment. How sad for him. He took my money and I left. Then I started thinking. What if the book is diamond studded?? What if the popcorn is popped with the top off the pot? It could be considered a fire arm…or if the cards were sharp corners and not rounded. oh. Great. and what Was the book title? Charlotte's Web would never do- oh, good grief.

Church Chick

Thursday, August 18, 2005

worthy secretaries

A big corporation recently hired several cannibals. "You are all part of our team now," said the HR rep during the welcoming briefing. "You get all the usual benefits and you can go to the cafeteria for something to eat, but please don't eat any of the other employees."The cannibals promised they would not.Four weeks later their boss remarked, "You're all working very hard, and I'm satisfied with you. However, one of our secretaries has disappeared. Do any of you know what happened to her?"The cannibals all shook their heads no.After the boss had left, the leader of the cannibals said to the others, "Which one of you idiots ate the secretary?"A hand raised hesitantly, to which the leader of the cannibals continued, "You fool! For four weeks we've been eating Managers and no one noticed anything, but nooooo!, you had to go and eat someone they would really miss!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


There is lingo that accompanies every profession. I’ve been collecting words that “speak” to me since I’ve been here.
Sachristy- sounds like an insult, or a place where a murder victim would be found- nothing like a flower spot that it is.
Nave- a pirate word, I don’t see how this fits into a sanctuary without a ship to go along with it.
Narthex- a new allergy medicine to some, others find this space in the preface of the church sanctuary
Christocentric- this does NOT describe someone who is obsessive about Christ, but I’m not sure what it does say
Transcept- part of the spaceship Enterprise, this, in reality this can be found in an aerial view of the church as the main aisle and the front aisle that form a T in a cruciform church.
Cruciform church is not related to cauliflower or broccoli
Palm Frawns are not crawfish
Provinient is a word that makes me think of Pilgrims, but I am not sure what it means today
Confirmands are not irrational teenagers who are demanding. They are people who want to be confirmed
Sincture is not a description of a delicious,juicy food. It is also not a wound in need of stitches of liquid skin.
Sincture is, in fact, I don’t know.
Cya is not related to a unicorn. It is a short way of saying, cover your ass.
Paschal Calendars sound like soft renditions of the year at a glance. Soothing reminders of day to day living.
Sacramental Corporate Worship is a political tasting description of a way of worship.
Tintinabulator is not anything you would find in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. It is a row of bells that catch people’s attention when you want them to take notice.
Transboundary pollution is when you don’t stay in your own back yard.
Tryptic- three times cryptic, or when you are unable to walk down the center aisle of the church without tripping on a regular basis.
Implied pluralism- sounds sinister
Hello breaks- opportunities to get away from the topic at hand and speak to those around you or take a bathroom break.
Eschatology- go figure.
He’s looking for me syndrome- We’ve all seen that before.

church lady office hats

It’s not only the church lady job that wears many hats, friends. The church chick’s office also serves many purposes.

Sometimes, as general conversation is birthed in the hallway, more concentrated issues arise from that and in those instances, the church chick’s nest acts as a funnel for those deeper continuations of hallway discussions.

There is something about crossing the threshold into my office that effects voice volume, I’ve noticed. The walls in my office must subliminally attract lower tones. Really important chats demand whispers. Funny thing about whispers. They stick. Many times, I’ve noticed my own pastor’s voice remaining hushed throughout the day after he’s been in my office whisper/discussing some important something. It makes for quiet hallways, but still, it feels a little ghostly.

Another hat that the church office wears is that of EMS, or ER Emergency Room. I keep band aids handy, and as previously mentioned, there is a hard and fast rule regarding the use of those. No blood –no band aid rules. On the occasion that band aids are in order, it is vital for the church chick to maintain her composure, to switch into mom mode. This happened recently when a visitor mis-stepped from her car and missed the curb. The sidewalk, insulted fom going unnoticed by the human- proceeded to snack on the visitor’s elbows and face. She was rattled, scraped and scrunched. We helped her into the cozy chair in my office and sponged her off, bandaided her up. I tracked down the Pastor who was slammed that day with counseling sessions back to back. He graciously came in my office to be sure she was okay. He is just that kind of caring soul. My biggest concern was the fact that we were all wearing a little bit of her blood, and his starched white shirt looked as if it wanted to get in on that , too. Somehow , we managed to keep his shirt away from her scrapes, and after speaking a few calming words to her, I sent him back into his next session- a couple anxious to wed. I just think the sight of a crisp white Pastor is so much more comforting than a blood spattered version. There’s plenty of time to talk about crucifixion later, right?

Sometimes people come in just because they can. I like those times the best.

There are other times when the sole purpose of my space is to provide HCVs- High Caloric Value foods. That’s okay, too.

Venting works well, if you crack your window to allow said vents to exit the building without confronting any solid surfaces.

Once, even, my office doubled as a Motel 6. I’m out of that business now, though. No more sleepovers for wayward wanderers.

Of course, we’ve housed church mice, and birds- so I guess that qualifies my office as zoo potential

Visitors sit in my comfy round chair while they wait to see the Pastor. The chair has been around longer than I have, and it is deep and round and feels like a hug when you sit in it.

Lost and Found
I have a spot called Melanie’s pick up/drop off spot, and this is the central location that I put all misplaced items. One member wears a hat, he comes in with it, and invariably leaves it in random places around the church. I like to track it down and put it in my pick up drop off spot and see how long it takes him to find it. It’s become a game. Oh, the distractions we seek out in the course of a day, eh?

Thursday, June 30, 2005


The pastors I've come to know and respect are pretty incredible people. Authentic through and through, genuine to the core. Seekers of truth, the lot of them. If they can't do something, they tell you. If they can, they tell you that too. I have learned much from these people I work with and those I worship with as well. Knowing this.....

It was a dark and stormy day. The staff was inundated with tasks, challenging tasks. Mountains and mountains of sticky notes lay strewn along the main hallway. The mounds of paper pieces were connected with paths of spent staples. whew.The pressure was heavy, suffocating. Everybody had too much to do after returning from a convention the week before. Messages to return, letters to write, questions to answer....It all poured in, filled the building, and formed a stream that fed into the Pastor's office. The busy muck slid under his door, eeeeked in his windows, til there was absolutely no escape.

I went into his office to voice a cheery start to the day, and found him, frozen in front of his computer monitor, fingers experiencing major keyboard tachycardia. Random papers were possessed and floating about his head.. The Bible lay open on his desk, pages flipping faster than fast. He turned to me when I came in and I recognized the glazed look in his eyes. Call me Overwhelmed, the tearless pupils cried.
" Doing okay?"
" I'm overwhelmed. Being away is hard on the catch -up end of things.I have so many different things scheduled and now we have a big funeral I need to be working on, I need time to spend with the family,and my sermon isn't done yet..... lots of people to visit in the hospital, meetings to attend, and the painters are coming to paint my office today, too. I love my job, all of it, it is just an impossible matter of physically making it all fit together and today I am, well, you know. ....overwhelmed. Give me a few minutes to finish this and then we'll look at projects for the day, okay?" I looked over his desk and saw his To Do list. It was sweating-some of the small print was trying to bleed off the page.

"Sure, I'll give you a few." and I went into my office. I refilled the emergency stress jar of peanuts and chocolate that resides on my desk.

The phone rang, ER from a local hospital letting me know that a patient had just requested our minister be notified that she'd just been run over by a train-end of message. Did she say train?
What a quandry!! I didn't want to interrupt my boss, but even I knew this message was important.

I got up and gently knocked on his door. It trembled at my touch. I tiptoed in and stood over his desk. He was writing, frantically trying to complete something on the list. He never lost a swirl pen stroke. I waited. He wrote. I waited. He erased and wrote. Finally, I spoke.
" I wouldn't bother you, but someone just called and they've well,they've been run over by a train and wondered if you could come by......"I think that comment was what is commonly known as the "Last Straw".
Hearing my news, he stopped his scribbling. Without looking up, he held out his hand and I gently placed the message into his damp palm. he began mumbling to himself, then he looked at me with the genuine concern a parent gives a child in need.

" I don't know this member." He reviewed my ink scratchings again. "Train?"
" I don't recognize the name either, they aren't in our database, I think they have the wrong church, maybe. I've got a call into another church to see if maybe its them."

"Oh. Gosh.. even at that....they got hit by a train. Geesh, I should go see them."
I sat down and looked him in the eye. I pointed two fingers at him, then ping ponged them back and forth to my eyes then his, mine then his. Look look look. Look at me, think....What can you change to take just a little bit off of your schedule for today? Isn't there anything?"
He looked at his calendar intently.

"Well, I have a meeting with some prospective members. I will just have to cancel that"
Before I had a chance to say, 'wait a minute , give yourself a minute', he had dialed the phone and reached the voicemail of said prospects.

" I am terribly sorry to have to cancel, I want to meet with you and spend some time with you, but I've been away on business, and now that I'm back, I've got a lot of catch up going on,we've had an unexpected death in the congregation and a big funeral to plan, and i've just found out someone has been run over by a train, so if you don't mind, could you call me back with some optional times?
He hung up, slightly relieved, greatly guiltridden and when he looked to me, his personal support- admin support, all I could give him was uncontrollable laughter. I honestly thought I would need to go home and change if he did not stop delivering excuses into the phone.
"What is funny? "
I said," I was just thinking how would I feel if I got your message? Not only have you been out of town, but the funeral- BIG funeral and the icing on the cake- hit. by. a. train??? I think I might be inclined to call you back and just say, 'If you didn't want to talk to us, why not just say that?' It sounds so impossible. I just think it is comedic. "
The tension broken, we both laughed out loud. On this day, truth was so over the top - Fiction didn't have a chance.
The happy ending is that the people did reschedule and as far as I can tell, things went well. For those of you who keep a running list of excuses, take note.

minimizing tactics

The structure of each church varies, but when you step back and look at all the sugar cubes that make a church work like a well oiled machine,piled up, you've still got a pile of dissolving grainy cubes, or in this case, I am referring to the overabundance of committees.

Some would say, "But Church Chick, everyone knows that it takes a village...." So I guess it takes a village of committees to feed the congregation. Ah,yes. Let's get every member involved. Let's assign a spot for all 3,899 church members on a committee or some distant relative of one.

Figuring the ins and outs of committees can sometimes make me feel like pulling out an old blanket, throwing it over a card table and climbing inside. The committee system is its own multi-tasking monster. I mean you have to go, and sit still, act like a grown up, on a regular basis. It's tough, very very tough. But in some ways necessary. to a point. There is no question about there being an over abundance of committee reproduction in this country. You may wonder why no one is taking a strong and visible stand on this important issue? Well, in the first place, I couldn't find anyone who wasn't already over committeed to get on board, and in the second place, well there really is no second place, now is there?

I've heard there's an underground effort working towards anilating the complications of over committee-izing the church.

I'm here to tell you that you can breathe easier, as I have seen some of these tactics in action and baby, we're on our way...

Some committees collect large groups of people, then break them down into sub-committees, and then further into the flu-like ad-hoc committees. If you create enough subs, the committee itself implodes into its own core and evaporates.

Another tactic is to use Handout Strategy-create illegible handouts, perhaps in handscript, or another language. This type of offering opens the floor for broad interpretation. " I thought this said we'd be here NEXT week, not tonight, sorry I missed it.." or " I'm processing the agenda right now, can we postphone the meeting til next month?" If enough people miss enough meetings, you can eventually ask the age old question, " If no one comes will it still be a committee?"

If you can't reduce the numbers of groups to meet, then the other option is to try to cut down on the time the meeting is sucking out of the environment...

For committees such as finance or budget committees, a sure fire way to break up a meeting in a hurry is to create a microscopic spread sheet. I have a friend who has a degree in that skill. He never has trouble finding work, because with that amazing talent listed on his resume, businesses of all sort recognize the value of that ability and they often time fuss and quarrel over who shall hire him first... I mean consider this- You are accustomed to spending a good hour and a half each month going line by line through the budget. Those who haven't fallen asleep by the time you get to the end, are usually seeing double. Add the confusion such a task creates, and you've got a room full of cross-eyed, mixed up committee dis-members.

So, this guy, this amazing friend of mine, has come up with a perfect solution.

He creates little spreadsheets. little. little
He can put the entire US budget into a spreadsheet the size of a stick of gum. Oh, not impressed, yet? Well, think Trident Gum, Dentyne, or.. how about chicklets? Remember those little chews?

Yeah, picture a line item on that, buddy.

This process speeds up the budget part of any meeting considerably. If you have to meet, might as make it quick and productive, right? No one questions numbers they can't see? So the meeting breezes on.

I think this has really shortened some time, and has no doubt increased business at the local opthamology office.

"Every time a bell angel gets her wings"

... every time the phone rings and there's a fax tune on the other end, another parishoner is in need- headed for the white board

and every time the fax machine gives birth to an unwanted advertisement, somebody's hard drive loses data

and every time the obnoxious church door bell rings, 2 seconds of patience jump ship.

and every time the Pastor passes by, the wake of his/her heartfelt committment makes the world a little bit better place to be.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Religion Buffet-style

I think it is a wonder that we humans can find the ingenuity to have our needs met- when those needs are known. Say for instance, if I needed an idea for a child's sunday school lesson, the first person I'd approach would be the children's minister, who else?

Sometimes, people can really climb out of the box on having those needs met. Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Choosing a church isn't as easy as it chirps. I mean, one church may have a killer Sunday School program, but the sermons lull you to sleep. Another might offer delicious Bible Study classes, but the WEdnesday night dinners leave something to be desired. So, say someone has strong feelings in many areas, they might participate in several church families. There are many up sides to this... meeting more people, learning more comprehensively about God and Jesus, or other entity-types around the globe. The downside is the time involved. Carpool time for one thing, having to keep track of where you are at any given time. It's a bit much for me, but one really nice benefit would be when you are down and out or needing a little bit of congregational care. How must it feel to be surrounded by 4,5,or 6 representatives of Godly love in your time of need? Pretty good for the one in need, I'd think. Could be pretty surprising for the clergy. On the other hand, walking into a room with several other representatives creates a sense of worldly community. Me? personally, I'll stick with two. My families at work church and home church are tied together by a strong connection to God. For me, that's pretty darn good.

Pranks in-house

I like to find ways to invite the passers by to stop by my office. I like company, I guess. I also enjoy watching human nature in action, I like watching nature, as well. WE'll get to that later.

I keep a small white board attached to my office door and I call it the Joy board. The big parent white board is used for births,deaths,and illnesses. period. I thought it might be nice to have a board for the incidentals life brings into our path. So, we use it for things like children getting good grades, vacation celebrations, birthdays, just because stuff. The people who come by are interested in all of it.

I received a lovely photo in the mail a while ago, an ad for a photo agency. THe family photo looked like it could be you or your neighbor. Very real. I cut off the advertisment border and stuck it on my door. I hoped someone would come by and say, " Oh, there's the Jones', I haven
t seen them around church recently, wonder what they are doing..." or " Oh! I know them!! lovely family, what is their name again?" The picture brought about lots of hesitant moments. People would stop and look and think, then move on. I later found out that many of them were afraid they didn't know the family, so they just said nothing. One couple commented on the lovliness of the family pic and asked who they were. I got great joy from watching people come by and try to figure that picture out. Truth is, if I knew who they really were, I'd offer them an invitation to work church, as they seem to fit right in, anonymous or not. Oh, that's another unwritten job in our ever-growing CL job descrip. Keep the congregation on their toes whenever possible.

Stay in the moment

It is crucial for Church Ladies to remain in the moment. To be present at all times, and this task isn't always easy. I mean, there are many days when I sit down to complete a task and two digits into it the phone rings and that call takes me to another task, and then the mailman comes and the UPS guy is racing Fed Ex that day, so both boys come knocking and then the Pastor flies a paper airplane of his weekly thoughts for the newsletter across the hall to my office and the day is over and I go home and my children say, "what did you do today, you look so tired" and I can't for the life of me think of one single thing I did. That's just how it goes sometimes.

Parenting runs a very similar track. But that's another blog.

Juggling, multi-tasking, controlled chaos, call it what you will -the fact remains that someone needs to keep track of all that crud crawling around, and well, ladies, that someone is YOU.

I keep a chart on my desk where I write down everything as it happens, so I can go back and see what I missed later. It really helps, it does. It helps with most things, but the truth of the matter is that it doesn't help with blind piano tuners. Yes, you heard me.

We have 26 pianos in our building. Two years ago, there were only 14, but something happened, we don't know if it was the building renovations or if it was behaviour in the dead of night, but those pianos have now multiplied to 26 and 12 are baby grands, if you catch my drift. We have a delightful blind piano tuner who comes annually and spends a few weeks tuning those melodious wooden boxes. He likes to work alone, and he tunes in a most delightful way. He plays softly, repetitively, calmlyzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I met him a few weeks ago for the first time. I accompanied him downstairs to the dungeon where he worked for a good hour on the lone piano there. I sat in a chair and actually was lulled to sleep by his work. I like cat naps, so it was a good thing, but then something happened.

I brought him upstairs, and carefully planted him in front of another box. The chaos of my job kicked in, and before I had him firmly parked, I had accumulated 3 or 4 more tasks to be done NOW. Ichecked my watch, left him tuning, and I returned to my desk where the daily storms were in full force tossing papers and calls all over the place. Time passed, or rather time escaped me. I heard a friend call out, "Lunch?" and I dropped what I was doing, realizing I was dizzy from hunger. We ate something quick and returned so I could get back to my mountain of busi-ness. I walked into the building and was met with the lilting melody of faint piano music. I immediately remembered the piano tuner and dropped my bag, ran down the hall to where I had left him. There he stood, just as I had left him, only now, he was playing songs. He spoke before I had a chance to catch my breath. " Ready?"
" I'm so sorry, I took so long, I am so sorry."
"No problem, it happens all the time- just take me to the next piano."
I delivered him and went back to my office where the maintenance guy was waiting for me.
"You'd forgotten him, didn't you? You forget he was even here?" He shook his head right at me.
" Yes, I feel so guilty, but yes, I did."
" I'll take him around, it's getting late in the day and we don't want him stuck here all night."
I pictured the church, late at night. Dark, lonely walls. and then, breaking the silence of dark comes a small voice from afar.... " helll000000?? hell0000000??? Is anybody there?"
Well, I tell you, sister. I broke right down. "Oh, yes. take him, please take him. It's the only way to go!"

Staying in the moment isn't always easy when you are pulled in different directions,so keep your backup handy. You might need help with important tasks sometimes.

Seeing Straight

Church Chicks need to know how to do lots of things, sure fire. One important task is writing. Writing quick notes to slide under the Pastor's door when you can't tell if he's in there with someone or if he is not in there at all or if he's in there alone. Those of us who remain a little shell shocked from disturbing our boss one too many times via the phone intercom will often times resort to using the slide-under-the-door method of communication. That is only one writing task, however. Others include-quick pen phone messages, and making last minute signs to hold up to the Pastor who is still on the phone after 30 minutes. -your wife is still waiting- is an example of an important sign one might use on occasion.

We are also the ones who find ourselves writing on the white board. The hallway outside my office holds up an information board.The white board says who is sick or dying or giving birth. These bits of info need to be clear and straight. As a Church Chick who does not own such a skill as seeing straight, my messages on the white board tend to travel much as a path up and around a steep mountain looks. ... my writing trails with bumps and sudden jerks about as much as a teen driver does as she drives the family car. You can see my dilemma.

The congregation, or anyone for that matter who enters the main hallway, passes by that sign to stay in the "know" and if the message isn't clear, there can be problems.
" Shirley Gufstark is the proud parent of... ? My God, it's a miracle!! The woman is 89 years old!!"
"Richard Blane has just been moved to Rex Rehab? The child's 2 days old! what rehab could he be having?"

You can see the Inquirer News potential ... It is an ongoing struggle for me and I'm happy to report, apparently for others in this biz as well. I am here to tell you that white boards are now equipped to help the slight of sighted. I purchased a new one this week that has faint lines and dots on it. You can't see them in passing, but you can sure read the type better. Go now, Go now I tell you, and buy one for your own church white board. It's worth the cost of shipping, I kid you not. The sooner you set things straight the sooner you can make your next mistake.

No Blood No Bandaid

Multi-tasking in this job includes converting my office into Red Cross Headquarters during Vacation Bible School week. During that week, my space doubles as "Respite Care for VBS workers" and I keep a solid supply of bubblegum and mixed nuts with MnM's on the desk with the top loosened. The workers enjoy the opportunity to pop in for a handful of calories, and I enjoy the bits and pieces of insight into their day and how things are going. I love bible school. Makes me think of my old preschool days except its even better because I don't have to be the one shooting adrenelin all week. ahhh.

The Church Lady's Red Cross Headquarters has an important policy. My policy is simple. The same as I used with my children when they were growing up, No Blood, No Bandaid. It took me a while to come up with this motto, but when I did, I figure it saved me a bundle in bandaid expenses.

I came into my office upon a sweet child-friend of mine who was washing his hands in my bowl of bubblegum. It reminded me ofMadge's bowl of Palmolive soapy water from an old commercial years ago when TV was new to color.
" What's up, Ben?"
"I stubbed my toe." He winced, on cue.
" You stubbed your own toe?"
He hesitated at this comment, probably wondering if indeed he did this to himself, or if maybe, just maybe some invisible gremlin made the accident happen. "Yes, right now."
" Oh. Wow. How come you're not crying?"
" Oh, I was, but my mom said I could come up here and find something to make it feel better."
" So, does the bubblegum help? Really?"
" Yeah, it does. Two pieces are a little better than one." He began to put a second piece in his mouth, then rethought the feat. He looked down at the injured area as if it was cordoned off with yellow tape. " I want a bandaid"
" Oh, rats." I pointed to the white board that hangs on my office door, usually the joy board, this week it held more important information such as "REspite care for VBS workers this way" and the No blood phrase.
" Is there blood?"
He looked down at his sandaled feet, dripping a little sugar-gum juice onto the carpet. "No"
"Oh" I joined him in a good long look. " Are you sure? want to see if we can try to get some out of that toe?"
He bent down as if he had considered my suggestion, but realized pretty quick that touching it made it hurt more. "No, my mom gives me a bandaid at home when there's no blood."
" Yeah, but look buddy. I'm stuck. The sign says that the rule here is , well, you know. ....."
He looked a little disheartened and let down.
"Hey, How about a toe sticker? That might help."
"A toe sticker?"
"Sure. that's sure to help, let's try." I reached into the treasure box I keep in my office and pulled out a page of miniature car stickers. He picked out a convertible, of course.
" Are you sure that's the toe sticker you need?"
" Yeah."
We stuck it on his big toe and off he went.
Church Ladies need to keep their tricks of the trade handy, you never know when a Pastor may need a toe sticker to ease discomfort from pulling a stuck foot from mouth. Well, I don't know about Pastor-need, I've already gone through 3 sheets myself. ....shhh.


Monday, June 20, 2005

Copy machine crisis

Church ladies battle endless challenges with misguided office equipment.

Sure,Pastors have to work with human dilemmas, and I’m not in any way saying I don’t respect that, actually I’m quite in awe of my own Pastors who never seem to stop going to see someone, or looking out for him, calling her, checking on them. It’s an ongoing tug-0-war, balancing home with all the needs of the church members who need them. But if they weren’t so darn good at what they do, if they weren’t so confounded gifted, they wouldn’t have to worry with so much overtime.

In this day and age, I’m actually a little surprised that the concept of the cold-hearted church hasn’t cropped up. Build it, tall and big and creaky and cold, damp and aged to begin with. Fill it with a quirky staff, and that should keep the hoards away. Oh.
Actually, that sounds a lot like my church, and people bicker their way in those doors, wait in the hall to see their Pastor … oh, well. Nevermind.

Getting back to the point- people can be full of whines and irritating habits, what have you- but sometimes office machinery takes the cake.

There’s a little known organization known as the POEIA (Pesky Office- equipment Intelligence Agency)…( The acronymn has a peculiar flavor-It sounds like a big big kiss you mouth to someone at the station when their train hits the track and they are rolling out of your life) It’s a cry-kiss-and-smile word.

Anyway, for centuries the poeia members have banded together to rid offices of CL’s. Yes, I’m talking conspiracy. You get the one sided copy figured out and then you discover the two-sided troubles. You finally master the two and here comes a booklet. I’m telling you there’s no end. Just no end.

Don’t ever let your guard down. This is where the crack comes in. You let your guard down, feel a little cocky at the copier, and you can be sure that inside that machine, your papers are being rearranged, turned upside down or worse. I heard of one case where the CL took long slow breaths while putting together a 4 page booklet. She finally got the pages to come out right and let out a yap yap. She thought, thought that no one could hear her excitement.

A few minutes later, when the head Pastor was reviewing the important booklet with his Associate Pastor, he called her into his office. Actually her psychotic phone called her in. She heard the announcement and went right over. He said, “ The service is in reverse.” She looked at the booklet, and sure enough the cover had been put on the back instead of the front. Horrified, she rushed down to the copy machine to make the adjustment.
“I’m sure I checked that , I’m just sure.” She thought to herself.

She reached for another sheet of depression green and alas…. Someone had eaten the whole thing. The paper was gone, the cubby vacant.
Criminy! I only need one!

She searched through a stack of discarded ,homeless sheets and found a lone green ranger huddled and crumpled in the corner. She pulled it out, went into the Parlor where the linens were kept, got the iron out and ironed the rejected sheet, then added it to the booklet and stapled it together.

Another crisis averted.

Church Chick

Don't get too far ahead

Let’s face it, people- the staff that surround us depend on us for those million and one scrips and scraps of information. Where is this? When is that? Who do you think you are? All of it and more … Second guessing can be a handy tool at times, but be forewarned- don’t go overboard.

Being too far ahead of the game can backfire if you aren’t careful. Even the best intentions can become self-angst if misguided or driven by late afternoon panic. You never know when a class that you have copied weekly lesson handouts for for several weeks, may jump the schedule or skip around. Don’t let it go to your head if you come in early or stay late copying a semester full of weekly classroom sheets, or you may find yourself standing before the paper guillotine axing them, trimming them, or making paper doll decorations for your office with them.
On the other hand, one can never have enough note paper, now, can one?

Church Chick

Your next appointment is here

The world is a-changing. Communication has gone from yelling in the fields, “Dinner!” to text messaging,. In the professional community, office settings provide boxes that cradle receivers and speakers and lots of buttons. Usually, one can gently push a particular button in order to reach a particular person to discuss important business matters. Church Secretaries spend a lot of time each day pushing those buttons. Typically, a ringing sound will let you know you are trying to “yell in the field” to the other party. … Once you've responded to the bell, you may be asked to send the screamer to another extention-But take caution here, ladies and gents… be forewarned….. In the event you push one of those benign buttons, say, to let your new boss know his next appointment is here, if your button pushing is not met with any particular response, DO NOT , I repeat… DO NOT :
Think the machine is faulty and try it again. Do not become more intentional in your button pushing.
Do not continue to push and hang up. push and hang up. ...And then again, each time hanging up a little more firmly
Do not try manually pushing the number extension instead of the intercom button
Do not hold the receiver close enough to lick and provide commentary as you are struggling to do the best job ever by telling your new boss that his next damn appointment is now here.

If , however, you do engage in this vocal and slightly physical exertion, you may as well know that momentarily, it is entirely possible that your boss will be standing over your desk, red faced and gripping the edge of your veneered desktop. He may speak through clenched teeth, saying something like, “ I can hear you. My intercom is on”.

If this occurs, my advice is to gently push away from the desk, casually look down and around the floor until you find the two bulging eyeballs that bungy jumped to the rug. Blow away any dust bunnies or stray paperclips they might have picked up and very very slowly… hold them out to your boss as a peace offering.

Although as a general policy, Church Secretary offices carry an open door policy, in this case it is perfectly okay and strongly advised to close your door until most of the embarrassment fuchsia wanes, until your freckles can be seen through the reddened skin.


High security copy machine codes

Sometimes she felt like Anne Southerland, or the nameless stenographer on Perry Mason. How long would it be before they realized she was not a real secretary, admin assistant, copy girl. When would they figure out that she was Just. Playing. Office……

Adventure for the day- The copy machine has a security code. Why, you may wonder. Perhaps it is because without it, the possibilities of terrorists printing terrorist pages becomes more possible. Perhaps there is the threat that the secret hidden inside the machine will be exposed without the security code. Of course, I know there is a leprechaun who lives inside that thing, I learned that early on. I think he's 6th cousin twice re-glued to the shoemaker elves. I heard that modern day changes drove them out of leather and into paper,but that's just rumor. The point is that the copy machine has a very very complicated secret code that is only given out to new employees under the full moon. The number is.... 4444When you put in too many 4’s for the copy code, the machine will print out 440 of whatever you wanted to copy- even if you only wanted one. The “pause”button is useless as it ignores those who make such a frivolous error. “Stop” doesn’t work ;and you can push the reset button until the plastic cracks, but the machine, when pushed to the too many 4’s level will print /vent until all 440 virgin white 20 pound sheets are marked.

Helpful hint for the day- Sometimes, in the course of our busy office days, we come across exiled piles of mistaken paper gangs. The misfit pages suffer dreadfully from low self-esteem, having been tossed aside because of their mismarkings……Rather than discard the already insulted sheets, cut them into useable note-size paper. You’re happy to have something to write on, and the paper is glad to be reborn as useful memos.

Needless to say, I have an abundance of homemade note paper. Why, I'm sure I have at least 440 pages cut into note taking pages. At least.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Postal Part 2

Remember Harper Valley PTA? Well, THAT is the look in the eye of Doris and the eyes of Frank when I enter their turf these days.
Hey- I’m trying. Really I am. I go on my way to work, and clean it out, and I go at the end of the day sometimes, too. I’ve tried everything I know to make amends, but I’m beginning to see that the Frank and Doris duo carry a grudge with a vengeance.

I visited my minibox and heard some mystery shuffling behind the gremlin box door. When I turned the key, something turned it back. It took me a good 5 minutes to just open the darn thing. Then, when I pulled out the wad of junk mags, something pulled back. That’s when I heard the snickering. There’s nothing more insulting when you are trying to clean out your bonsai post office box, than hearing snickering in the shadows.

The next day, I didn’t have resistance to my unloading attempts, but the contents seemed endless. I no sooner had pulled out a chunk of mail and dropped it in my basket, than another one appeared. And wouldn’t you know that when I asked Frank for a bigger basket to carry it to work in, he just pouted out his bottom lip and said, “How sad for you”. I didn’t realize until I finally made my overloaded way to work, that most of the mail was not even ours. Thanks, Frank, you’re a real gem…..

Then when I went by one night, the security code had been changed on the after hours door so I couldn’t get in, but when I mentioned this to Mr. Frank N. Steiner, the next morning, he crossed his arms and said, “No spricken de dortch”. Yeah. Right.

One day, I got to the Post Office RIGHT at 4:57; I was surprised to find the the door already locked. Peering in the shaded glass window, I saw Doris climbing down a ladder that stood underneath the wall clock. Their clock said 5:01. Frank just shrugged at me. Hmph.
This morning was the worst, though. I came in early, and stopped by for my daily drudge- mail pickup attempt, and found by a serendipitous moment- my security code worked and the door opened. I cautiously walked in and tiptoed to my baby box. I bent down, opened it, and then was overcome with a wave of nervous wriggles. I had the distinct sense of being watched.

Slowly, I raised my eyes, shifted slightly left, and found myself looking straight up into the oversized pupils of a life size mail person named C. Battle. She stood over me, in a most cheerfully chilling manner. My mail flew out of my hands and I fell right down on my bottom. That’s when I saw the cardboard cut out support stand at her feet. Now who in their right mind would first, name a cheerful post person Battle? And what purpose does it serve to leave the Post Office in the overnight care of a cardboard cutout anyway? What were they thinking? Oh, woah is me. All I want to do is pick up my mail, oh woah.

Church Chick

Going Postal

Pissing off Postal.

What do you do when you piss off the postal service? Well, it’s quite simple.
After spending 6 months learning and growing into the role of a top-o-the-line Church Lady, I can say with great confidence- You DON’T.DO NOT. Danger Will Robinson Danger!! Run Forrest, Run-get the message?

I’ve written earlier about vibrant interactions with Doris, the psycho desk dame at the PO. Well, let me just reinforce the importance of keeping your postal attendants pleased.

I think the doc never got Doris’s meds quite right. She’s out a lot, and when she’s here, she’s not really here, if you know what I mean. Doris holds a very important position at our local branch, she holds the desk up with a firm double grip; and seeing as she’s only got (at last report) 21 months left to go before retirement, she’s on a track. And I’m not talking trains. She has everyone in the small 4X4 office walking on tip toes, stamping and licking their “P’s” and “Q’s” so to speak. Bottom line is NO one rocks Doris’ boat, and when her gauge begins to slide from cold to warm to hot, they pull her out and plug in Frank.

I’ve come to know Frank quite well in the last few weeks, an opportunity you really need to try to avoid if at all possible.
Frank used to be a bouncer at an all night diner/bowling alley for wayward truckers. He looks benign, but is anything but. His voice is soft, Vincent Price soft and he wears a smile that will eat you alive. Beware of Frank. Don’t know him. They only put him out front when Doris is about to blow. …..and as I said a few lines back, I’ve gotten to know Frank pretty well lately. I’d call him Frankie, ‘cept I’m afraid of what he might do if he heard me. I’m sort of scared to think it.


We have a lovely mail person who stops by every day to visit our lady’s room, and re do her hair. Sometimes she brushes her teeth, makes a few copies; on occasion she spends a little extra time trimming her cuticles. Every now and then she brings us a few parcels of mail; mostly, she uses us as a rest stop- and that’s fine. I like her. She’s pleasant, and easy. Good qualities. I’ve not ever really seen her deliver any mail, but she looks pretty spiffy driving that mail truck, I can tell you.
I stop by the post office to collect our mail from our PO box every other day. Being a large church, one would think we’d have a big box, but ah!! Not so!! We have a lovely bonsai box. It will graciously hold a few post cards and maybe half a magazine. I like visiting the box because it makes me feel like Petra Pan. I have the key. The key to the box.- The treasure box.- Well, it might be. So far, I’ve only come across the items listed above, but one day, just like the lottery, I’ll open that thing to find gold and treasures. Yes, one day, I’ll find the announcement that Doris is done. She’s on retirement row. But, ah.. I digress…

When the box gets too full, the mail crew pulls everything out, and replaces the overage with a simple slip of paper, a pink slip if you will and it has but one word on it. Tray
That means that your mail has been ripped from it’s warm and fuzzy bonsai box home, and thrown carelessly into a cold and heartless white plastic tray. Oh, the grief of it all.
The first time I unlocked our PO box door to find that slip of news, I was baffled.
“What does this mean?” I asked Doris.
She pulled the paper from my hands so fast it left me with paper cuts that ran across my fingers.
“Ouch!” into the mouth the digits flew. Paper cuts sting like the dickens. Holding my sliced fingers in my mouth, I glanced up at Doris.
She was staring at the pink sheet. She slipped into a fugue state, stood motionless. Her eyebrows were the first thing to come back to life. They started moving up towards her forehead. First one, then the other. The duo brows peaked and held. She kept staring at my slip. It began rattling in her hands, and then, without notice, one of her eyeballs plopped right out of her head!! It hit the formica desktop with a thud, then rolled around, in search of a willing edge, and plop. There it went onto the floor and into the nearest corner.
Immediately,from out of nowhere, came Frank.
“Come, Doris, it’s LUNCHTIME!!” ( Apparently Doris enjoys that part of her day)
The frozen woman stood still. Her mountain top eyebrows relaxed a little. Frank gently guided her away from the desk and led her into the back.
They paused at the curtain that separated the desk from the “back”. He tugged on the pink slip that was now sticking to her skin via her own sweat.
His voice, gentle and kind slipped out. “ Let it go, Doris, that’s a girl. Just let. It. Go.” Frank retrieved enough of the slip to realize what it said, and helped her find her way into the “back”. Then he straightened up and took her place at the desk.
“You need to clean out your box more often.”
“Doris doesn’t like overage mail.”
I recalled that Doris also didn’t like misdated mail, either, and that she had mastered the art of murdering mail that didn’t make it into the home office in a timely fashion. I was overcome with sympathetic feelings for my poor parcels, having now been slapped so viciously with an insulting label. Overage. I’d like to see someone call Doris Overage sometime. How insensitive.
“I’ll try to do better. Frank, is it?” I looked at his nametag.
“My name is Mr. Frankelcosielniasky. I’m from the old country, they just couldn’t fit it all on this prissy pat tag. And you need to clear out your box more often. Kapeesh?”
“ Yessir, Frank, uh. Mr. Frank. I kapeesh. I mean I get it. Thank you, um. Could I have the tray, now?”
“You’ll be lucky if Doris hasn’t shredded the whole lot of it, lady.” He huffed off to the “back”, the curtains opened for him and slammed shut behind him, as slammed as fabric can.
He returned, gave me my tray and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. The next day was Saturday, but I was so shell-shocked from my desk-time chat with Frank and Doris, that I went anyway, and cleaned out the box. No surprises.
Monday morning, I went by on my way to work. The week proved to be an easy one. The big bosses were gone, my regular work was caught up, and I looked forward to doing some simple Church Chick filing and copying. I opened my box, on that fateful early early Monday morning and stepped back aghast. A lone piece of pink paper caught my eye. I’d been “tray”ed again.
I gently backed out of the PO and got into my car. I hit the road running and went straight to work. I was so nervous, that even my typewriting quivered, my font fuzzed on the page. How could I get my mail and come out alive?

One of our interns came in that day, and stopped in the office to say hi. She was a cute, really rather breathtaking beauty. She helped out almost daily, and was always willing to do something new and different.
“I need your help”
“Sure, what is it? “Can you go to the PO and give the desk person this paper? Don’t speak, just flash those baby blues and smile for all you’re worth. Take your cell phone, and call me if you need to. Can you do it? You’ll be saving my life if you do.”
“Sure, I’ll be right back”
And so she was. She returned with a “tray” full of this and that mail. No prob. No complaints, no fears voiced. No threatening sense. None. Wow.
I’ve learned that the only way to make good on mistakes is to face up to them. I didn’t really feel I had made the mistake this time, but taking credit for mistakes is something I do exceptionally well, so I just jumped right in and claimed it anyway. I should have met the desk clerk face to face and taken my punishment like a man, but instead, I wimped out and relied on the beauty of another. A hard lesson learned, let me tell you.
The next day, there was a stack of postcards sitting in wait for me, with a note that said, “needs more postage”. Now, I’ve sent postcards plenty of times, with no problem, so I decided it was a subliminal message to me. A message in code. “Don’t send the messenger, wimps pay out.” I think it pissed off Frank that I sent in reinforcements. Oh, great. Just great.
Today, I went in early, and when I opened my bonsai, I heard some shuffling behind the open end of the box, saw a shuffle, a flash of blue and white. I cleaned out the box, and stood to face Frank. Gulp.
“ Good morning, Frank.Sir”
He stood like Mr. Clean. Arms crossed across his expanded chest. He just nodded.
I stood at the trash can and pulled out the junk mail, and dropped a piece of it into the trash can. “You’d better not be putting anything in that trash, as hard as it was to get it in your box. You’d better not be throwing that stuff away. You’d better not.”
He stood up straighter and looked over the desk, as if he could see inside the trash can, although it stood a good 15 feet away and behind a table.
I reached inside the trash and pulled out my junk ad. I opened my mouth to speak-
“Don’t be.” I saw Doris peeking out from behind the trembling curtains.

On the desk sat a miniature sign. It read, “Doris 300 down, and 20 months, 25 days to go.”……. Where’s the pony express when you really need it?.