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.