Monday, July 11, 2016

My Eighty-Year-Old Stalker

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I ended up my working career by working in a church office. Sounds simple, right? Answer the phone, type up the bulletin, a cinch. 

Unless you’ve worked in the office of a growing church (500 members when I started, 1200 when I left), let me just tell you: You have no clue what goes on there. The pastors weren’t always in the office, so as the only other full-time employee, I often handled crisis situations. I prayed with people, listened to their sad stories and tragedies, and sometimes gave them money if they didn’t smell like cigarette smoke. (Hey, if you can afford to smoke you can afford to pay your bills.)

But nothing in the job description prepared me for the eighty-year-old man who mistook my sympathy at his wife’s death for something else. I first met him in the grocery parking lot where he was looking lost. I stopped to help; turned out he was furious that someone had stolen his white truck. I hesitantly pointed out a white truck parked in the next row. He completely fell apart—his wife was on her deathbed and he just didn’t know what he was going to do without her. I listened to him talk and cry for an hour, then told him where I worked and that he should come by and talk to a pastor. Instead, he came by a couple weeks later to see me—his wife had died and he was very sad.

He lived on my route home, so twice when I saw him on the front porch I stopped and chatted with him for a few minutes. The second time as I got up to leave, he jumped to his feet and shoved his walker out of the way. He grabbed my upper arms with shockingly strong hands and kissed me on the lips. “God sent me a woman!” he shouted. 

Unfortunately, I seem to have the same self-protective reflexes as a cabbage. I just stood there with my mouth hanging wide open in shock. Which left me wide open for the second kiss. Bleah! Gross! Ick!

I ran to my car. All the way home I shuddered, let out short screams and tried to get someone—anyone—on the car’s On-Star phone. No one was available in my time of need. Not even youth minister Craig, who later laughed his behind off saying, “Oh man I wish I’d been there! Oh man I wish I’d been there!” He's probably still laughing.

The old molester could not remember which house we’d moved the office to when the church outgrew itself, and he went door-to-door knocking and yelling, “I know Valerie’s in there! You send her out!” An eighty-year-old stalker. Someone asked my husband what he was going to do about it. John said, “I’m not going to punch an eighty-year-old!”

Which begs the question, exactly how young do my molesters have to be before John will defend my honor?

The church office manager held a meeting at which we were reminded to keep boundaries when doing ministry. She said, “If he wasn’t eighty, we’d be calling the police about the situation.” Instead, we called Jim, a member of the church who knew the old guy, and asked him to go explain that I was married and not interested, and the whole thing was inappropriate. 

Since I know you're wondering, yes, when I got home from the disgusting kissing incident, I brushed my teeth, rinsed my mouth with Listerine, eyed the bleach bottle in the laundry room for a minute and then took another shot of Listerine. 

But I still shudder at the memory.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Literary Confessions

I have bookshelves in nearly every room.
Sometimes I feel the need to fill the gaps in my education by reading some of the classics of literature. In one of these self-improvement fits I bullied myself through "Pride and Prejudice," and then Dickens’ "Bleak House." I really hated "Pride and Prejudice" (stop gasping. You probably just watched the movie), but "Bleak House" was okay. The main problem I had with BH was that it was so dang long—I had other, probably far more entertaining, books waiting for my attention. Also, as I read new scenes which introduced yet more characters I wondered if I should pay close attention. Were these people important? Were we going to continue with them, or were they once-n-dones?

I’ve always heard that Dickens’ stories are more entertaining than a lot of other old literature. Apparently a
uthors were afforded much mercy at that time. In BH you have to get past the first two dreadful chapters of the book. Readers now haven’t the patience to wade through page after page of a never-ending lawsuit, so writers are expected to jump into a scene and explain—if needed—later.

At a writer’s conference a few years back, agent extraordinaire Janet Reid, a/k/a Query Shark, yanked the first five pages of my manuscript from my novel’s opening and said, “One, two, three, four, five pages about three people we really don’t much care about. Start here where the story gets interesting and we love the characters.” Too bad she wasn’t around in 1853 to tell Dickens to leave off those first boring sections and jump right in with Esther.

My classics-jones is tempered for the time being, and I’m back to new stuff. Well, newish stuff. My reading schedule is similar to my fashion schedule. I don’t reach for the buzz books anymore than I search the mall for the latest style of dress. The dresses I have in my closet are fine.

Books sort of come to me whenever, through the library, friends, gift cards for book stores, and used book sales. I read The Da Vinci Code in about 2010, although it was published in 2003. A little late to that party, eh? And to carry through with the comparison, no, not all my dresses are that old. 

Wait. What year was my nephew married?

I have a blue file folder on my desk jammed full of names of books I plan to read someday, names of authors whose work I've enjoyed. It's not an actual list; There are many lists, print-outs, scraps of notebook paper, whatever. If I read a book a day for the rest of my life I'd never get through the list. But I'm not worried. In my life, plans are very fluid. Which is one of the things that drives my always-planning husband craziest. Opposites, and all that.

How about you? Do you scout the best seller lists? Sign up on library waiting lists for just-published books? Wait for word-of-mouth reviews? 

How do you acquire the books you read? Tell me--because God forbid I should miss a book.