Friday, March 23, 2007

Breaking the spin cycle

My work boss likes to spin. He likes to take spinning class at the Y and after spinning class at the Y, he likes to spin right in here to work, and spin down the hall into his/out of his office, up and down the hall, up the stairs and down the stairs, and out the door to the hospital where he spins into ER or ICU or wherever it is he is called to spin.

You can hear him coming if you keep your radar up. He emits this low humm, much like an old timey fan.. Whirr is more like it. It’s best to stay out of arm’s reach when you hear that noise. If you get pulled into the spin you may come out looking something like hair with gum stuck in it, or you may find out your clothes are on backwards or your shoes are tied together. It’s dangerous. DANE- gerous I tell you.

He doesn’t always give off the humm. He doesn’t whirr every minute of every day, but when we approach critical Church events/ times/ occasions, well, the whirr is with us. Whirring is not a bad thing, mind you. Whirring is actually the sound of creativity in motion. This church is all about that. This church is full of creativity and this church is always in motion. I’m surprised the building hasn’t left the ground yet; lift off would solve many problems I’ve heard mentioned in the hallways here.

So, anyway…. I had the opp to break the cycle (if you will) of the spin. The week had been full of humming, whirring, continuous spiritual spinning. I was dizzy at the end of every day. By mid week I had taken to wearing my tennis shoes so I could get a better grip on my days. Even with the windows closed, I had to paperweight all the loose papers on my desk. Let’s just say it was a busy busy week, and much of it originated from the chief’s cave.

I came in early to try to get a handle on the day, and found an email from my boss.

I read the script and was shoved away from my desk by the all-caps message. I could tell by his thoughtful closure- (little t followed by caps on hanks) that he was spinning when he wrote. I envisioned him in his chair just rotating around and around as he batted around ideas and visions. I was certain he would never intentionally start my day with a scream. I got up and stood by his door. It was vibrating. Air was rushing out from underneath it. Yep. Clear case of Spination. So, I wrote him back.


Suddenly, the barometric pressure dropped. The building released an exhausted sigh. His door opened, and he came over with a most perplexed look on his face. “Yelling?, I wasn’t yelling. Why did you think I was yelling? Why, church chick, I wouldn't yell at you...” I explained the facts of email etiquette and he understood right away. I think it broke the immediate spin cycle, or at least it slowed it down a bit. Anyway, I am sure I saw him take at least one complete and full breath before he whirred back into his office. Ah, respite comes in short blurts at times, but it is respite all the same.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

one year old and still copying up a storm

I want to update you on our pal, Biz. I may have already done this, but since he’s been with us for nearly a year now it is clearly time to sing Happy Birthday Biz, buddy. !! This passing of time brings Pre-Biz memories back to me. I recall when his predecessor was on his /her last wheel. Toshiba and I hadbonded. Yes, we had become close. Really close. I knew just what place to tap and where to whisper sweet nothings in order to get the print jobs done. I knew somewhere inside my soul that Toshiba’s time was up, but I just couldn’t admit it to my self.
Then, an opening came up in a retirement home for wayward copy machines, and we basically made arrangements to ship Toshiba out. The thing is, though, that the new resting place for Toshiba for some reason was delayed, and so Toshiba ended up hanging out in the hall for a few weeks. It made me sad in my heart because I felt like we were sending an old friend to the glue factory. Toshiba had been very good to the church, and had helped us through many copy projects during his/her tenure. I mean, think about it. You work hard, give your best years to the workplace, and then BAP, BaAm, you are thrown out with the trash. Sad, sad in my heart I tell you.
Then to add insult to injury, here comes the new whipper snapper guy; Biz. Shiny, reeking of a strong imported plastic cologne. Fit as a fiddle, bigger, better, or seemingly so. I really empathized with Toshiba the day we moved Biz in. Here was all this attention from suited tech geeks, giving all their time and energy to the “new guy” and where is the one who had helped us through countless funerals ? and where was the one who had given the best years of his life to insure weddings were announced in clear and crisp bulletins? Newsletters, preschool color ing sheets, financial reports? Toshiba had made all that happen and now, he sits in the hallway wearing a look that says, “ Geesh, You work your toner off and look what happens, the newbie wins out. Life isn’t fair for electronics either, sometimes.”
Meanwhile, life seemed to just keep going on within the busy church as if nothing was different. The events ebbed and flowed, mostly flowed. People came and went. Other props and equipment transitioned from usefulness to retirement. Enter Christmas lights.
We used web type Christmas lights over the bushes for a particular season, and for some reason, they bonded with the bushes and were never removed and then were forgotten. Periodically at staff meeting, the issue would come up of – Are they still there? Or, When are the lights going to be taken off the bushes? Still, they stayed. Eventually, we began to notice that the bushes lining the sidewalk were looking a little scraggly. A couple of members noticed, too. My best buddy, E and I went out to take a look and immediately realized that the landscapers were not going to trim the bushes until the lights were removed, so we proceeded to pull them off and out of the jaws of the growing bushes. It was like playing tug of war. The bushes tightened their grip when we pulled against them. In the end, we managed to collect most of the lights in tact, leaving most of the bushes tired and ready for a haircut.
The next problem was what to do with them. My office is already wearing all the small white lights it can handle, and most closets are already overflowing…. Hmmm. We carried the bundles of lights inside and as we passed through the “sad zone”, where the Toshiba was waiting to be picked up and taken to the glue factory, I stopped. E and I looked at each other. And a little flicker blinked between our brains. We covered the retired machine with lights and plugged them in. Immediately the lonely and rejected machine began to stand straighter. The bypass tray fell open , reaching out to us as if to say,” here, take my handshake with love and appreciation.” We left it there for several days and I noticed that many of the members and staff that had used it all those many years, changed their perspective. Instead of completely ignoring the cast- out machine, they began reminiscing over successful printing jobs from the past. The lights seemed to shift the energy and aura of the Toshiba.
A few days before the pick up van for The Retirement Home for Useless Copiers truck was due to arrive, a hallway miracle occurred. Right there in the Methodist church, I tell you no lie.
A member traipsed into the church, and trekked down the hall. The lights caught his eyes. He stopped. He looked. He wondered, “What in the H--?” but before he could say those words, a funny thing happened. He dropped his pen. It fell in between the lights and landed somewhere under the light bush with a plunk. It wasn’t until he reached in to retrieve his favorite gel writing utensil, that he realized the lights were covering the old copy machine. “ Hey? Does this thing still work?” he asked the air around him. The Toshiba trembled at the comment. The subtle movement created a lightslide and the lights fell to the ground , landing at the base of the copy machine. I think the lights and the machine had bonded during their time together. I don’t know how else to explain it. The lights lovingly laid down their illumination for this teddybear of a Toshiba.
The man rushed to the business administrator’s office and within minutes, the Toshiba was rolling proudly down the hall to the man’s van. Several of the staff and the front desk receptionist followed the twosome and stood at the doors of the church waving to our old friend and wishing him/her well. I’ve heard of foster programs for cats and dogs, but never copy machines. On the other hand, I can’t think of a better place for our old friend.
A few months later, I heard through the grapevine that the experience of foster parenting our old copy machine had worked out so well, that the man had started a second chance adoption agency for used machines.
Oh, the miracles of church work.


I don’t know if I have written about our new copy machine, Biz. Our superman IT guy searched far and wide to find the perfect fit for our needs. The process had the feel of an overseas adoption- minus some of the paperwork, and in some ways parallels that process with one exception being he did not have to fly oversees to see the new “babe”.. When the fateful arrival day came along, and the baby blanket-like bubblewrapped new kid on the block was delivered into his new home, the copy room “nursery” I liked him immediately. He seemed a little adolescentish in his demeanor, his buttons and sound. As I’ve gotten to know him, I would say that initial observation has proven true. He can be temperamental and obstinate, and is a little complicated to manage at times, but we have bonded…. As well as you can bond with a copy machine. Being a mom of older children, I probably shouldn’t say this, but to tell you the truth, he is a little easier to understand than some (who shall remain nameless) adolescents I have known.
I put a note on him when he first came to us saying something like, “ Hi. I am Biz, the new copy machine. I am wary of strangers. If you have any questions, please ask Melanie, thank you.” Yes, I took the youngster, new and shiny as he was under my wing, loved him, nurtured him, programmed him to accept staff color copy requests.
That note has saved us many a service visit from the BizHub people, I’m sure. Over time, I put my own cheat sheet of how to work the machine up on the wall behind him, so I can go in and just read and follow. Being elderly in my ability to recall directions, the directions on the wall were a purely selfish move…I recall seeing the 5 operating direction books that came with him when he first was born into our church family, and realized pretty darn quick, that unless I was having trouble with insomnia, those books really held no real usefulness or meaning for me. The wall pictures and notes came in handy for others, too, but I discovered if you weren’t standing in just the right place, you would not notice the quick how- to directions, so I traced my feet in silver marker on the floor in front of the machine. That unfortunate visual has somehow helped the ability of others to use Biz tremendously. When you look down to see if your feet are in the right spots, you are forced to notice the keypad that holds all the buttons the directions refer to in the How To Use sheet on the wall. Sounds silly, I know. But hey, if it works, right?

radio chat

Radio chat
My favorite radio station is the Mystery Radio. I think I wrote of this, I’ll check later to see.
I have started keeping jottings of phrases that catch my attention through the day.
“You died. Stay dead”
“ You know me, we were separated by surgery”
“Don’t try to move, dear, I will have to kill you”
“Oh Chuck, I knew something was wrong here, I knew it. I knew it in my heart”
“Billy, Billy why are you laughing like that? “
“Just say to the druggist, a bottle of ironized yeast tablets, please?”

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Assistance is part of the job

Helping people or offering assistance is a big part of my job. Not that it takes up a lot of time, but it does on some days. It is an uncomfortable part of the work I do, and it is a necessary part as well. I act as more of a screen than anything. If I hear a story that is crying out for Pastoral Care, I am the first one to usher the visitor across the hall. Most of the time, however, it is not Pastoral Care that sends in visitors who ask for it. It is the need or want for other kinds of help. Help with rent or utilities or food or gas. It does not feel good for me to be playing judge and jury on other people’s needs, it is really a challenge. I think of every assistance case that walks through the door, “ That might be me tomorrow”. Ugh. I have created a system that seems to ease some of that anxiety for me- I ask questions and require lots of documentation of needs, and I listen. I listen because usually something inside me will eventually say- trust or don’t. In an effort to build community, I partner up with neighboring churches when I can so that we can be equally aware of circumstances and sometimes, we get to work together to really make a difference. We’ve helped get someone into an apartment, and we helped a family with a new baby hold on until they came and stayed at work church with WIHN. Those are happy times.
My home church offers back door snack bags and bus tickets two hours a week. I used to help with that before I came over to work church. I got to know several of the “regulars” so when those same faces began appearing at work church, well, we were both surprised. Now, that time has passed those few regulars are not so surprised. Most of them, anyway.
There is a woman who has become very confused because on occasion, I will still volunteer to help at home church and on those days, many of them, she has appeared, only to wonder for a brief second which church she is approaching because I am there when maybe I should be across the way at work church. Or maybe SHE is at work church, or maybe who’s on first…. The church secretary, (me) at work church has helped her on enough occasions that she calls me by my first name, and when I gave her the news that we could not help her anymore ( because we had offered our limit) she continued calling just to ask me if enough time had passed yet. Or yet, or yet. Finally, one day, she called and just said, “are you every going to help me again?” And I had to say, probably not. That is hard. But I find that there are times when the consideration of enabling comes to mind and I try to back away from that trap. She still waves at me when I drive by the bus stop, but she has finally stopped calling.
Another regular has taken to coming by about every 2 or 3 weeks just to tell me how things are or are not going. He doesn’t always ask for money. Sometimes he asks for marital advice, and , although I have told him countless times that I am the CHURCH SECRETARY, not the PASTOR, he still comes to talk. So, I’ve just accepted the fact that he needs a listener. The two times he actually made appointmenst with the pastor, he didn’t show. I may have written of that here. Anyway, we are, in his eyes, best buds, I guess. Yesterday, I found a note from him in my mail cubbie that said, “ Melardy, ( well, he got part of it right, the Mel) (his name) Hi. I came by to talk to you but missed you. I’ll stop by later, (his name)
Just like a note I’d leave for my office neighbor, or for the pastor, only it is from a man I don’t know at all and at the same time, I know enough.
Once, I came back from lunch to find a woman in a motorized wheel chair. She was parked right in the doorway of the Fellowship Hall where she could stay up to speed on the comings and goings of work church. I talked to her, and found that there wasn’t anything we could really do for her. She was appalled. She did not realize that helping her purchase furniture was not in the job description of assistance help from us. I apologized for the misunderstanding – to no avail- and finally gave up trying to explain the difference between the priority need of having your power cut off vs. buying a new couch. She was very angry and I returned to my office. A few minutes later, I found her still parked in the doorway of the fellowship hall. Her face held that grimace I had just walked away from moments ago. I got the courage to approach her anyway.
“ Mrs. Smith, is there something else I can do for you today? I have already explained to you about the furniture.” Right about then, a buzzer buzzed and she leaned over and pulled a plug from the wall. “ I thought the least you could do is recharge my chair. I’ll be on my way, now.”
And off she went.

The front desk receptionist volunteers, my lovely honored friends, will tell you that i handle that part of church life great greater greatest!! But the truth is they are relieved that when I'm there, they don't have to worry about it. I can't blame them for that. If I wasn't me, I'd be glad if I was there, too.

UPS and the organist

The church organist does a lot more than just play the songs that make the whole world sing. He/she reaches people in that music ministry in ways and at times the rest of us can’t.
He/she has to find odd times to practice. He/she needs a time when people will not be around or else they will be drawn into the Sanctuary, and before you know it, we’ve got another service in the making.
The UPS/Fed Ex/ other delivery people come around at unusual times, as well- often coinciding with the organist’s schedule. Sometimes, I’ve already left or I haven’t arrived yet.
The other day, one delivery guy came in and said, “I hear you’ve got a new organist at last”
“Yes, we do. How do you know this?”
“He was playing a Toccata yesterday when I delivered the new copy paper. Oh, by the way, how IS Biz liking that?”
“Biz will copy on what we have or else Biz will need to “Biz” off. “
He left.
The next afternoon, another delivery guy came in. “ So when is the organist going to practice again?”
“I don’t really know, why?”
“Well, I came in early a few days ago and he was playing my favorite French Mulet. It just brought tears to my eyes. I waited until he finished so he could sign for the package, but I’d love to hear him again. It was sight and soul moving. Here, give him my card and ask him if he’ll let me know. I’ll work my delivery schedule around it God Bless ‘im.”

Copy Machine paper play- can’t we all just get along?

We had a little trouble with Biz (our new copy machine)giving us the ‘business” and we called our handy dandy service folks. They sent us Mr. Melkin who came soon enough, and stayed and stayed and stayed. He pulled the poor machine apart, removed every cartridge and other removable part, but to no avail. As busy as he was, he seemed to be spinning his wheels. His sighs, and groans told me this. I wish training programs would teach service guys in Servicing machines 101 to just tell the truth.

It was clear to me after a few hours, that the service tech was in trouble. If it wasn’t because he couldn’t figure out the problem, it would have to be that he had no idea how to reassemble the
3,484 machine parts that had taken to the floor throughout the afternoon. I knew this. Our Superman IT guy knew this. The blind piano tuner knew this. (“Mrs. Church chick, you may want to see if you can get your hands on a mega magnet. Whoever is in the copy room is gonna need something to help him pick up all 98 screws that have dropped and rolled in there- oops, 99, no an even 100 now”) but Mr.Melkin? No, he didn’t get it. He was too busy hiding his sheer panic.

When it was all said and done, days later, the diagnosis came in.
“Ms. Church chick?”
“Yes, Mr.Melkin? Done already? Gosh, it’s only been a week, I was beginning to get used to using carbon paper again. What’s the verdict?”
“ Well, the problem seems to be that the copy machine doesn’t like the paper you are using.”
I lifted my carbon covered hands from the paper I was working on. I stood and shook my lovely blue carbon stained sleeves.
“ The copy machine does not get along with our paper?”
“ Yes, ma’am. Color in particular.”
With that, I stepped from around my desk and walked past him into the hallway. I pointed my carbonated limb towards the exit and looked him straight in the eye. “ We will not have any type of color discrimination in this place, paper or otherwise. I think it is time you left.”
Like the ghost of Christmas to come, I held my position and hung my head “ Go”
I heard the loose screws (that he undoubtably could not figure out where they needed to go during the re- assembling of Biz) jingle in his pants’ pockets all the way to the front door.

No sir, I just won’t have it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Delay- Oh, Good grief, and other sundry thoughts

One of my most favorite, if not THE most favorite reader has just given me a pretty swell compliment. I am honored to learn that my churchlady site is second only to her favorite newspaper's obits. Both are kept as shortcuts on her desktop. I'd like to see you top that honor, oh yeah. Imagine reading at the touch of a key about life here and the afterlife there. This gives me pause.

Much like the pause in my writing these days. Too much going on to stop and type. I hate that. I keep notes so as not to forget any special details that I need to share, and they are whining from their folder, so I hope I can bring them into the light this weekend.

In addition. What the heck is in the water and air around here? We've got 3 funerals this week and a wedding. We have a re-inurnment of the spouse of the member who took me to lunch that fateful day in THE black caddy. Go look it up. The spouse was resting in a local historic cemetary, and their weekly psychic discussions - the living and the resting- finally brought about a decision to bring the spouse over to church, so we'll be recelebrating the life of this member along with 2 others this week. I just hope I don't mix up the wedding party with the funeral crowd.

More to come
Thanks, Va. :-)