Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hum Along If You Don't Know the Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I introduced myself to the friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Did I Mention He's A Boy Scout Too?

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

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

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

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

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


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

Well, hell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was a bit of a bitch about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That damn well dried him out.

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

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

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

And now he won't shut up.

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

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

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

That did not go well.

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

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

Now he's home alone again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 04, 2017

Don't Read This

This is just a big ol' test.

Blogger is screwing up my formatting and I'm trying to find out if it's my problem or theirs.  Why the hell can they not accept a simple copy and paste job?  I do NOT want to have to rewrite that whole post.

But maybe that's what I've got to do.  This is how you find out.  You blather on and on for several paragraphs so you can see if it posts correctly or if you're going to have to stab someone, namely yourself.