A Clean Man Zone

During Madden’s last visit, he lay down for a nap and had an accident. Our washing machine was too small to wash the soiled comforter, so I “manned” up and volunteered to take the thing to the laundry mat. This is the second time I’ve performed this chore, but it’s not something to do on a regular basis.

When I arrived, the place was empty except for the woman who worked the desk. She greeted me and asked if I needed any help. Of course I needed help. She explained to me that I should use only a quarter cap of detergent since the machine produced a lot of suds. I remembered my first trip and how I used an entire capful of the stuff. The suds began overflowing, and had it not been for the attendant that day, I’d have made a mess. She brought out her personal bottle of fabric softener (I’d not brought any) and poured it into the machine. The suds ebbed almost immediately, and the day was saved.

I crammed the comforter into the machine and fed it $4.25 in quarters. I suppose that such high prices could account these days for so many people wearing clothes soiled with stains and smelling like old bowling shoes. Next I found the most comfortable seat in the place, an end couch cushion that had a sunken spot from too many behinds and wrinkles like a wadded cotton shirt. My Kindle kept me company for the next couple of hours as the washer ran through its cycles and then the dryer, which swallowed another $2.00 in quarters, did its job.

Before long, other customers dropped in. First was an older man in a red sweat suit. His hefty paunch separated his top from the pants and looked like a gaping mouth. Another man entered quickly, set his loaded basket down and made a b-line for the restroom. He planned to be in there for a lengthy period because he had a novel in tow.

One by one, customers toting laundry baskets or stuffed bags entered the establishment. What surprised me most was the fact that everyone who walked through the door was a man. In no time, thirteen men had joined me. These guys were pros at laundry and politely declined the offers of help from the clerk. I marveled at how they separated articles into piles and dispatched them with speedy efficiency into machines. Most of them had their own stash of quarters and loaded up machines, pushed buttons, and added detergent and softener without giving the acts a second thought.

Two women entered the laundry mat, but for some reason they looked out of place. It’s a funny observation because for years the job of washing dirty clothes had been left for women to do. No commercial was ever made where a son brings home from college a load of laundry for Dad to complete.

Now, men are invading what was once sacred female territory. I don’t imagine there’s much complaining coming from women. Their jobs have changed over the years. Many of them are now the major source of income for families. Husbands are secondary earners. That might be the reason the numbers were tilted toward men during my visit.

Men are spotted more often in lots of places once thought to be habitats for women. We are pushing grocery carts, lugging clothes to the cleaners, and even chaperoning day trips at children’s schools. Some of us have been wielding a vacuum cleaner wand, mop, and dust rag for years. I wonder if our male ancestors are looking down and shaking their heads at the change. I hope not. It’s a different world, and it takes both husband and wife to complete a long list of chores. Sharing the load is fine; I just hope we men don’t permanently take over clothes washing, grocery shopping, and other tasks, not unless women are prepared to take over such jobs as mowing the lawn, washing the car, and hauling the garbage.

Guys used to meet up at the bar for a drink and the company of friends. Now they share stories and jokes while they fold drawers, towels, and t-shirts. Some changes just don’t seem right to me, but hey, I’m from a different time.

Blackberry Hell

Not long ago, I decided that a new cell phone was in order. No, nothing was wrong with the one I was carrying, but commercial campaigns had me aching for a “smartphone.” The results of that ownership have put me in Blackberry Hell.

Part of the problem is that I’m a functioning illiterate when it comes to using technology. I live on the cusp of a new world that is dominated by all sorts of gadgets—cell phones, pocket computers, GPS systems—and don’t understand even their basic functions. Some of my problem is that I fight these new “advancements” tooth and nail. For instance, my sense of direction and my ability to read are good enough to get me to places toward which I am traveling. Okay, I’ll admit that on every trip Amy and I have made that I navigate our car to the worst sections of the cities, but at least I had enough sense to get us to the location to begin with. I’ve yelled at and cursed the voice that comes over a GPS system and tells me to “turn left” when I want to go right. Then the darn thing repeats “recalculating” half a dozen times.

I’d like to torture the individual who came up with the idea of texting. In the first place, “texting” is a new word in our vocabulary. I hate making up new words that go with our inventions and actions. At any rate, I try to text on the phone. One of the selling features of the Blackberry is the QWERTY layout. That’s all well and good, but the buttons are smaller than bumps on a gnat’s ass, and I’m forever hitting the wrong key. Messages come out saying, “I widh yiou were hrer,” instead of “I wish you were here.” My children are always texting me, and I poke at keys, backspace, delete, and poke again to get out a readable line. Before I can blink, they’ve replied with paragraphs. How’s that happen? I don’t see the need to text. If I have something to say, I can just call the kids on this cell phone I have. Isn’t that why it was invented? Some people text each other across the room. Why the hell are they doing that?

On too many occasions folks have rung me up to say they were answering my call. I tell them I didn’t contact them, but they insist that I have. The answer to the mystery is pocket dialing. Carrying my phone in my pants pocket leads to that act. It also led to my accidentally locking the keyboard one Saturday. I didn’t have a clue how to unlock the thing and checked the owner’s manual and sites online. Discussions about hitting the “*A” key were written, but nothing happened. In a desperate attempt to figure out the problem, I began pushing things and discovered one on top of the phone that was the golden key.

I downloaded an “app” that helps me keep lists of things since my memory is failing. On one were no less than 25 writing topics. I plugged my phone into my computer to sync it, and when the process was finished, that list had vaporized. My searches on the phone and computer have proven fruitless, so now I’m left wondering what those items were and if they’ll ever be recovered.

The problem with all of us is that we feel the need to be connected at all times. I want to be able to have a phone in case of emergencies and it’s neat to be able to talk with friends and family on the same plan without being charged any kind of fees. I also want to check my email at any time since messages come in about new stories and changes of meeting times and places when I’m away from my computer. What this connectivity steals is peace. None of us rest any more. Kids sit down and immediately begin texting, listening to music, or watching television—all from their cell phones.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with my new phone is it is smart, smarter than I am at least. Competition against other humans is how folks have lived most of the years before. That meant individuals matching wits or physical abilities. I’m neither ready nor able to compete with a handful of chips and SIMS and megabytes and circuits that are programmed to do everything. Maybe the best move is to go back to a phone that makes calls and nothing else. Maybe I could handle that.

Ghosts at Church

We walked into the sanctuary after greetings from several members. The pews were padded, a good thing for someone with a fanny as flat as a fritter. A quick glance at the morning’s bulletin failed to reveal any hymns that I knew, but the Gloria Patri and Doxology were old friends. Little did I know this church held as many ghosts as a haunted house at Halloween.

I turned my attention to the front, and the second from the front pew drew my attention. That’s the same one where our family sat each Sunday for years. Daddy died in 1965 and never got the chance see the completion of the church’s new building. Jim, Mother, and I occupied that seat, and Dal, who was away at college, and his wife Brenda joined us on occasion. Mother ached for Daddy. Only in the last little bit have I come to understand her plight. She was only 49 when her husband died. He left her with three sons and not enough money with which to feel comfortable. She took care of him through the roughest parts lung cancer in April until August 31, the day she became a widow.

So, it was in that pew that she silently wept. I’m sure she took turns talking to God and asking for strength and talking to Daddy to chastise him for leaving too soon and to mourn his absence. That pew became Edna Rector’s personal prayer bench.

Daddy was there as well. The pianist played “Sweet Hour of Prayer” during the congregational time of prayer and reflection. The flood waters of the past swept me back to the kitchen in our home. Daddy was sitting at the table with a pack of Winston’s and a green mug filled with coffee as thick as maple syrup. As smoke wreathed his head, this man who worried about not having enough money and who was sick for many years before his cancer knocked him to his knees “figured” in a pocket spiral notebook and sang that song.”

This is the same sanctuary where both Dal and Little Brenda and Jim and Big Brenda marched down the aisle toward matrimony. The four of them were 19 when those weddings took place. Dal’s death ended his marriage, but Jim and Brenda are in their 39th year together. Mother sat in her pew and smiled and then cried as both couple exchanged vows.

A child walked to the front to light the altar candles and extinguished them at the end of the service. Katherine, the minister, began her message with “The Lord be with you,” to which the congregation responded, “And also with you.” Those things echoed parts of the services at First Christian Church, the place where we had attended and raised our children. My family and plenty of others mourn the passing of that great church.

Other spirits were present. Katherine talked about the power of God with which all people connect. Amy and I could feel that connection as we sat there. Something just seemed right. The sermon was one that touched the hearts of congregants. A mom in front of us dabbed her eyes with a Kleenex. Sniffing that accompanies leaky eyes came from other sections of the church. The minister had hit a homerun with her sermon and delivery, but they combined with something else. A strength, a joy, a peace—whatever folks might call it—a sense of God’s presence struck at the hearts of every person there.

I’ve known Beaver Ridge Methodist Church all my life. I was baptized, became a member, and shared celebrations and losses there. My mind recalls hundreds of memories at that place. Now, it appears that the spirits from individuals who have played major roles in my life sometimes dwell there. More than likely, the spirits are memories. However, any church that houses the spirit of the Lord like this one is a good place to be sitting come Sunday morning.

Not Many Needed to Have A Church

This is a short piece that becomes part 1 of a discussion about church.

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” It was his way of describing to us exactly what “church” is about. Monday night I spent church time with three friends, Ron, Scott, and Tony. For a couple of hours, we held services at Rafferty’s. We sat around the table, something important to all members of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, and there we basked in the light of friendship.

All of us are members of First Christian Church, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Gay Street. The last few months have been nothing short of agony for us as we’ve watched it slowly become emaciated and linger on the edge of death. We no longer go to the church because witnessing that slow death is too depressing to bear.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t share time with each other. Every so often, one guy or another puts out the call for a “man’s meeting,” the code words for a get together at a designated establishment. The date is decided, and we meet somewhere around 7:00 p.m. The first order of business is ordering frosty, cold mugs of our favorite beer, and then we place orders for hamburgers, wings, sandwiches, and desserts.

Over that food, we discuss all the important things in life: family, work, church and whichever sport that is in season. The four of us sometimes agree to disagree, but we always respect each other. Ron and Scott have young children, and questions come about them. The stories of their exploits entertain Tony and me, who have grown children and grandchildren who are as young as the ones about whom we are hearing.

On three separate occasions, I answered the question of how Dallas was doing. Those three men always are concerned with him and his status. I suppose it’s because they watched him grow and spent time with him in church activities and on mission trips. They always make me promise that I will tell him hello and inform him that they care about him and how he is doing.

We’re all searching for new church homes at this point. The decision to do so isn’t something that any of us wanted to do but knew was inevitable. At some point all will find a new church to call home, and we will be involved in new denominations. We’re leaving behind a church where we celebrated our own or our children’s weddings, baptisms, and memberships. We’ve also celebrated the lives of many members who have passed.

The future is uncertain as far as what churches the four of us will choose. What remains a constant is that we will remain close friends who will continue to break bread together and to join in being church several times a year. No Christian can ask more than that.