Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Catholics Never Let Me Try the Port

Once upon a time I was a mystery worshiper. 

Did you ever run across one of those?  I auditioned and got approved for the gig through the Ship of Fools website.  It was a lot of fun, but I quit because I was just using it as an excuse for snarking.  I'm not saying snarking is bad.  After all, sarcasm is my spiritual gift.  But when that's all you're doing, you're not really being fair.

God knows I don't need that kind of karma.  So, I quit.

Today I was sort of back at it again, just for grins.  There was no mystery to it this time, but I attended another church in another town and it made a great excuse to have lunch with the kid. 

For those of you keeping score at home, the kid is doing well in nursing school, working at a hospital part-time and making a mint teaching pitching lessons and clinics on the side.  She is so busy, just listening to her makes me tired.  Things are not perfect, but she's tapped into an extraordinary level of self-sufficiency which leaves me a bit breathless.  And proud.  Mostly proud.

Before all that though, there was church.  It was enjoyable to see a different group doing the same things differently.  This was only the forth Episcopal church I've ever visited.  (When I was Mystery Worshiping, I confined my choices to places I knew I'd hate.  Didn't ever go to an Episcopal service.)

Y'all know about my addiction to Gothic arches and such.  Unfortunately, this building was more New Mexico than New England, but it had it's charms.  The audio speakers attached to the ceiling reminded me of every West Texas Baptist church I've ever been in.  There readings were faintly dramatic and there was that one completely unexpected soprano in the choir. 

Lord, they had a lot of people in white robes.  Wonder if they get a discount for buying in bulk?

There were lots of robe-wearers to help serve communion.  One of my oddly favorite things about the Episcopal Eucharist has been the communion wafer.  It's weird, I know, but I find them cool. This church used bread instead of wafers. 

Damn, it was good bread.  Brown and sweet and super moist.

The progressive Baptist churches I've attended in the past have used similar bread, probably as a reaction to the Jeezus Chiclets we grew up on.  You know what I mean - those tiny, half-inch squares of crunchy dough that you get along with the thimble of Welch's Grape Juice.  It was like we believed that there was only so much Jesus to go around, and you only got a tiny piece of him so we wouldn't run out.  Because we knew that story about the loaves and the fishes and the five thousand but none of us really believed it.  We believed the basic story, but not that part about how no one went away hungry.  Everyone got a little bit, sure, but a little bit would do ya.  Right?

Anyway, the bread was good, but I like the wafers best.  Besides, we've already discussed (Haven't we?  Maybe we haven't.) that I am a huge fan of port and I'd really like to be last in line to finish that stuff off, or at least go back around and go through the line a second time.  With bread that good, it would be that much more of a temptation.

Gimme wafers. 

And of course, you can't get through a service without Passing the Peace. 

Earlier in the week, Lois posted a link to an article about this and asked my opinion, as someone who has long lamented the practice.

My opinion?  I still don't like it.  I'm an introvert and anything touchy-feely makes me itch.  I'd just as soon not do it, thankyouverymuch.  However, I do admit that I like official peace-passing much better than the less structured meet-n-greet.  In the Episcopal church I only have to touch your hand and say one word.  I can do that.  I don't love it, but I can do it.

This church is larger than the tiny one I attend.  All that peace passing takes a while, even when everyone is only saying one word, three at most.  I did my bit with the folks around me then just sort of stood back and watched the people travel back and forth through the aisle, greeting their fellows.

The priest made her way through the crowd pretty quickly, offering peace to each person in turn.  I'd said my one word to all but the nice woman sitting next to me.  She'd introduced herself and asked what I did for a living. 

I told her I was an adult probation officer, forgetting my pact with Mindy that this question is always best answered with "I'm a florist."  The woman seemed surprised and interested and was questioning me further about law enforcement when the priest reached her side.  The priest offered her one word of peace, then stepped towards me, grasping my hand warmly.  She leaned in just a bit and said,

"You left your pot in my car."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

So What Do I Want to Do With the Rest of My Life?

Recently I have been thinking about the future, which is a depressingly conventional response to my slightly unconventional circumstances.  I'm eligible for retirement in three years.  There is a run-off election being held next month that will have a lot to do with whether or not I retire at my first eligibility.

If I did quit, what would I want to do?  Hell, I'll only be 48.  I could start a whole new career.  But honestly, I have no idea what I want to do.  And days like today make the decision even harder.  Because I have the best damn job.

I met with Jose this afternoon.  Jose is chronically depressed but not chronically sober.  For the moment he's stable.  He works graveyard shift at a convenience store and is attending Junior College.  He wanted to go into nursing, but his felony conviction makes that pretty much impossible, so he's decided to study psychology.

Jose is fairly typical of my caseload.  He's a young(ish), poor, Hispanic male who lives with his long-term girlfriend.  He became a father at a young age.  He's under-employed and works for minimum wage.  And he's in trouble for drinking.  I'd drink if I was him.

Jose's drinking led to someone losing their life.  Now he doesn't drink.  (Crossing my fingers that this holds true.)

Unlike most of the people I deal with, Jose has a high school diploma and has decided he needs to further his education.  For the last year he's been taking classes and we've talked about the benefits of this choice as well as how this may effect his already tenuous family relationships.  It's tough to keep a marriage together when one of you arbitrarily adds full-time student status to an already stressful situation. That's certainly proving true in Jose's case.  In the midst of all this tension, they had another baby.

[Condoms, people!  C'mon, it is not that hard!  (heh.)  Condoms, every stinkin' time, dammit.  Why, why, why must you procreate?!  Never, never, never fail to use birth control!]

All of which brings me to Winston Churchill.

Jose is reading a book on the British Prime Minister for a history class.  He's actually reading it - the whole thing.  And liking it. It's taken him two months to get it done, but he has become a fan of Churchill and seems to be thrilled with his ability to read, comprehend and enjoy an actual book.

Although I've not read the book, I at least know enough minutia about the man to carry on a decent conversation.  It did occur to me that perhaps the hard drinking Churchill was not the best role model for Jose, but he beats the shit out of Hulk Hogan or Donald Trump.  We spent most of our meeting discussing the book and what Jose has learned from it.  Jose agreed with me that Churchill must have been an absolute bear to live with.  His drinking habits and irascibility would have been a potent combination.

As our discussion wound down and Jose started to leave, I mentioned the famous Churchill anecdote about the stuffy society maven who berated Churchill for being drunk at her dinner party.  Jose had read the story and knew what I was referencing.  (Churchill told her he might indeed be drunk, but he'd be sober by morning and she'd still be ugly.)  We shared a polite laugh and Jose seemed to realize that he was engaging in actual college-student-type conversation. 

Admittedly I was somewhat dismayed over the fact that I'd remembered the drunk story rather than the "never give up" bit or something else which would have been much more appropriate for our situation.  Oh, well.

Jose left considerably less morose than he'd arrived and even appeared to be proud of himself.  And rightfully so.  I was proud of him, too.

After Jose, I had an appointment with Isabella.  She came rushing in, apologizing in her two-pack-a-day-phone-sex-voice for wearing shorts, but she'd been busy unloading a trailer full of bulls and she'd barely been able to make it to the appointment on time.

Isabella is a new case and so we started in on the state's newest prescribed bit of paperwork, a somewhat over-valued interview questionnaire.  We didn't even get through the first page.  The conversation took an unexpected turn when we discussed the motivation behind her methamphetamine use.

She's an introvert.

Isabella had never heard that term before.  All she knew was that her five seriously extroverted sisters and parents have always told her there was something really wrong with her.  One way she tried to fix herself was getting amped up on meth.

I explained the terms - the difference between extroverts and introverts.  We discussed how the extrovert draws energy from those around them, and the introvert replenishes energy by spending time alone.

She likes to read.  Check.
She likes living in the country all by herself.  Check.
She talks to the bulls when she needs to talk to someone.  Check.
She doesn't like having kids around.  Check.
She'd rather do the work herself, rather than having to supervise someone else.  Check.
She enjoys her family, but dreads the thought of all of them being in her house at once.  Check.
She's recently divorced.  Her husband left unexpectedly, when she didn't even realize there was anything wrong with the marriage.  Check.

Do you ever just sit in amazement contemplating how the universe throws the exact right person at you, who, at the exact right time, would benefit from your own exact experience?

I don't normally talk about myself with my people.  Not about my personal life or living arrangements.  It's not that it's a secret, it's just a professional choice.  We all live in the same small town.  They all know where I live, what I drive and what I like on my breakfast burritos.  They see me at ball games and in the convenience store.  But I try not to give them information about myself during our conversations.

Today was a little different.  I had the best time extolling the virtues of introversion for Isabella  Using my own experiences, I went through a laundry list of things she probably likes and dislikes, guessing correctly most of the time.  I told her how to enjoy dining out alone.  I talked about my awareness that as much as I love being alone, I need to make an effort at more human interaction and ways I am working on that.  Most of all, I told her she's not broken.  She's just different.

She ate it up.  And then volunteered to come to the drug/alcohol group therapy meeting.  That's like volunteering for foreign missions at the end of the revival service.  Which makes me the traveling evangelist.  Only without the traveling.  Or evangelicalism.  (Or the friggin' love offering!)

It made for a great afternoon and I'm really glad I've got at least three years before I have to decide what I should do with the rest of my life.  I want to leave while I still love this work.  I want to go somewhere else and be something else before I burn out, or age out, or get too complacent.  But this is the best damn job and I can't imagine what else could even come close.  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Network Path Invalid

I hate and despise the fact that I hate and despise the new copy machine.  I never wanted to become THAT person who can't embrace the new technology for love of the old.  But, damn.  I miss that old machine and its limited capacity for both performance and screw up. 

Just now I tried to scan a document.  I have to scan to a flash drive because the almost brand new copier doesn't 'network' with Windows 10 and has decided my computer doesn't actually exist. 

No matter what I did, it would not scan.  It just sat there, all smug and shit.  I ranted.  I raved.  There might have even been a trash can that got kicked. 

Words were said, many of them comprised of four letters.  Some were longer and more descriptive of both the machine and its dubious parentage. 

Finally, before reaching the Thing Throwing Stage, I gripped the edges of the adjustable touch screen display and tilted it so that the overhead light wasn't glaring on it.  My eyes are evidently aging and I need a little extra help to see stuff sometimes.  I flipped through the various menus looking for something - anything - that might explain why the scanner simply would. not. scan. 

I set and reset the settings.  I jammed and unjamed the pages into the document feeder.  Buttons were punched with grim determination and perhaps slightly more than the necessary force. 

And then I saw the small print.  At the very, very bottom of the display screen.

"Please insert USB device."

And I looked down at my clenched fist. 

And registered the small red flash drive that I still held in my hand. 

And sighed.

I hate that smart-ass machine.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

100 Things Divorce Taught Me: Part The Third

21.  I didn't necessarily learn this from divorce, it's just a recent epiphany that was probably hugely obvious to everyone but me.  Turns out, I really like damaged people - damaged people whose circumstances, combined with their inner strength, have shaped them into something amazing.
22.  We're all damaged.
23.  Damaged or not, I'm pretty sure me on my own is a better person than me attached to someone else.  At least for this point in my life, that's proving to be true in lots of ways, big and small.
24.  Adaptability is one of my strengths.  But maybe, juuuuust maybe, I adapt a little too easily.  Maybe not.  Jury's still out on that one.
25.  One thing I've not adapted to is hugging.  Still don't like it.  I'm still only a social hugger.  But the other day someone grabbed me in an unexpected bear hug and said "I'm so glad you're here and that you're weird!  I've been waiting for someone weird for a long time!"  That was not a bad hug.
26. A few days ago, for no real reason, I looked around and thought 'Hey!  I'm really pretty damn happy!'  Just that simple realization increased my contentment level exponentially. 
27.  Evidently divorced me is more attractive than single me.  Unfortunately I would never actually date any of these people who seem to have noticed. The idea of dating anyone is an anathema at this  point.  Maybe that will change.  Maybe it won't. If  you wish to introduce me to some highly intelligent, hugely wealthy, incredibly gorgeous man who feels the need to throw himself at my feet, feel free.  Just don't expect me to answer his phone calls.
28.  I am losing weight and I'm a little pissed off about it.  Pissed off because several well-meaning individuals have assumed it's because I'm looking for a man.  Or maybe a woman.  Or that I'm depressed.  They're wrong.  I'm just bored.  A friend invited me to a work out group and I liked how strong it made me feel (once I overcame the soul-crippling agony of the initial experience).  So I keep going back.  Plus, I don't like my own cooking.  
29.  I eat a lot of Grapenuts.
30.  I just told someone "my time is my own".  And it's true.  Life isn't perfect, but I have the personal and professional freedom to pretty much come and go as I please.  That's awesome. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Probably Should've Googled That Name at the Library

It was all Violet's fault.

Violet Bradshaw was the postmaster in Podunk, the little Texas town where I spent a big chunk of my teenage years.  Big, blonde, and brassy; Violet was a formidable personality.  She knew everyone and everything in that tiny town.  There was no secret-keeping around her when she wanted to know something.

Knowledge can be a powerful weapon.  Violet was a warrior with hers.  She liked me well enough, but she still scared me.  Violet liked to find your weakness and exploit it just enough to make you squirm.

The weakness Kincaid and I had was weirdness.  It was only a weakness because we hadn't fully come into our own and recognized it for the fabulous super-power that it is.

I was a year or so older than Kincaid, so I left for college first.  This was before email and snap chat, so we kept up a vigorous exchange of correspondence.  I miss that tremendously.  To this day there remain few pleasures in life more exquisite than a letter - a real letter - from a friend.

The two of us, convinced of our own hilarity, assumed that the rest of the world was as interested in the minutia of our daily life as we were.  And of course we suspected Violet Bradshaw of perusing our post for delectable tidbits of information.

Neither of us was up to anything particularly delectable nor tidbit worthy, but still...

We started writing on the outside of the envelopes.  Or sending post-cards.  Anything to put the story out there for Violet to see.  It became a habit.

And, as is my habit, my messages evolved into the occasional cartoon.

After a year or so of this, Christmas card season rolled around.  Sending cards - finding the perfect statement for a person or situation - is one of my favorite things.  (I'm still mourning the closure of my all-time favorite card shop.  Haven't found a replacement yet.)  This was a few years before I started the Gravestone Christmas Card tradition.  I'd been to the stationery store and carefully chosen individual bits of holiday hilarity for several friends.

Kincaid's card, of course, had room enough for my chatty scribbles, as well as the requisite Xmas greeting for Violet.  Xmas because Violet did not like things that smacked of ungodliness; important things such as persecution by a holiday abbreviation and the like.

I sent other cards at that same time.  Cards that would be routed through Dallas on their way to their final destination.

My timing was spectacularly bad. As was that one cartoon...


If you are a regular reader, you know that I've used a pen name for many years now.  It's a practice that started years and years ago, before junior high.  I don't really remember why I started but now I use the name to help preserve a thin layer of anonymity between my creative work and my professional "acquaintances".

More than once I have developed long-term, deeply personal relationships with people who have never known my last name.  It's not a secret, it just never comes up in conversation.

The pseudonym wasn't always spookyrach.  The original one was somewhat less original, but no less long-lived. I used it for all sorts of things, things such as the return address on cards and letters.

Those cards I sent, including the ones going through Dallas?  They were all from The Lone Avenger.

You think this is going to end badly, don't you?

It did.

Trench-coated characters in fedoras were one of my favorite cartoon subjects.  I'm still drawing those same spies and private eyes today.  (And occasionally a similarly garbed bishop.  Here's looking at you, Amy H.)  So it was only natural that I would choose to decorate one of those cards with a spiffy little spy dressed like Humphrey Bogart.

It should've been okay.  It would've been okay.  Except for one small addition.

On one of those cards bound for the big city, below the Lone Avenger's return address and next to the comically sinister spy, I wrote:


I said please 'cause my momma raised me to be all polite and stuff.

It still would've been okay, except for the really bad timing thing.


One sunny December afternoon, sometime before the Xmas break, I'd been out running an errand for my employer.  I was a student worker in the Dean of Students' office.  The disciplinary office, among other things.

Oh, the irony.

When I returned to work, my boss, the Dean's secretary, met me with wide-eyed worry and said I was supposed to call someone at the postal inspector's office.  In Dallas.

As if!  You can't kid a kidder.  She owed me payback for some prank or other I had pulled recently and I knew this was just a set-up to get me back. She couldn't fool me!

But she was insistent, so eventually I dialed the number, ready for whatever silliness was on the other end of the line.

Only it wasn't silly.  Not much at all.

Perhaps you remember Ted Kaczynski?  The Unabomber?  (I feel a little disconcerted after having googled how to spell his name.)  Mr. Kaczynski had recently murdered a federal judge, among others.  That letter bomb had gone through the Dallas post office.

Which is why I can't really blame the postal workers who freaked right the hell out about my ridiculous little envelope.

They immediately put the Christmas card in an isolation room and contacted the authorities.  Authorities with a  capital A. 

Said same Authorities tracked The Lone Avenger back to her villianly lair.  Not difficult since I'd used my correct address on the envelope.

By the time the postal inspectors were finished with me, large chunks were missing from my posterior.  And back then I didn't have a lot to spare.

The recipient of the card never did receive it, although they did finally agree to release it to her if she came down to their facility in person to pick it up.

She declined.

I leaned my lesson.  I quit sending postal products as The Lone Avenger.  If I send you a letter nowadays it is for sure going to say



Wednesday, February 24, 2016

100 Things Divorce Taught Me: Part The Second

12.  I haven't taken a decent picture since the split.  Not one.  I've barely even had my camera in my hand.  I guess that's one of those bits of creativity I'm going to have to practice.  And practice I will because I absolutely, completely and adamantly refuse to give that up. Not for anyone.
13.  I am appalled by how happy I am about going back to church, which sort of pisses me off.  I have a bit of a fear that I'm merely returning to my roots - that this is how I was raised and so I've reverted to what is comfortable for me.  I do not want it to be about that.  Not by a long shot.
14,  I've been vaguely thinking about retirement for the past several years.  No real plans, because I am not a planner.  Now my thinking has shifted from 'where will we live' to 'what will I do'?  I still hope to move somewhere else, somewhere more urban probably, but what do I want to do?  Before I was going to get some sort of fluff job and let Mr. PhD support me.  Now, not s'much.
15. There is an empty pizza box in my refrigerator.  It's been there for two weeks.  Partly because it helps the fridge look less empty and mostly because if I throw it away, I'm going to have to take out the trash.  I have learned I hate taking out the trash.
16.  I'm thankful for guy friends and for women who don't mind their husbands being my buddies. So far, I've only had one couple mark me as 'unclean' and remove me from contact with the male half of the double. If you asked he would tell you it's not me, it's him.  He would tell you he was removing himself from the appearance of evil.  He would tell you he's turning away from temptation.  He would tell you that as a 'man of the cloth' he can't take chances with his reputation.  He would be lying.  Don't be that guy.   
17.  That being said, I'm not so thankful that it's evidently ok to be more touchy-feely with me now that I'm not wearing a wedding ring.  It's very subtle.  And I'm not even sure that it's a conscious thing.  But I get patted on the shoulder more.  Or elbowed in the ribs after the really stupid joke.  Or just leaned on.  Stop that.  Don't be that guy.  
18.  This one is just free advice.  I've always thought it was the height of insecurity to do things like having a joint Facebook account.  I still think that.  Don't be those people.  Trust each other.  If you can't trust, then get some help.  You need it. (And yes, this is relationship advice from a divorced person.  That doesn't make me any less right.)  ((See #20.))
19. That time I said I was working to sublimate my natural hermit tendencies and how it hadn't killed me?  I think I might have been premature with the not being killed part.
20.  Being divorced means I am always right.  I was always right before, but now I don't have to prove it to anyone.  It's my way or the doggy door these days.  So far, so good.