Friday, January 11, 2013

The Human Out of Order Sign

Desperate for a job, I ran across a listing on Craigslist for workers at the University of Texas football games. I am an Auburn fan, but whenever Texas is not playing Auburn or Alabama, I root for them. It sounded like fun, so I recruited one of my friends, applied for the job and was immediately hired.

After driving through the Austin traffic, which currently ranks the second worst traffic for a city in the United States, by some studies, my friend paid $15.00 to park about a mile from the stadium. Then we had to hike to the stadium to stand in line and be let in at the appointed time. Then, we stood in line again, signed in, and were issued the ugliest neon yellow-green shirts that have ever been designed in the history of humanity. I think the reason they were this color was two-fold: 1. we could be seen from far away; and 2. No one in their right mind would want to steal them.  The promise was made that the only way that we could get paid was to sign out and return the shirts after the game. (I thought, don’t worry. Not even my youngest son would want to wear this shirt, bless his heart.)

After standing around for another hour or two, we were sectioned off into groups and moved to our respective sections where we stood around for another hour or two. Then, our group leaders assigned us to our post. My particular job was by the elevator on the tenth or so floor. I had a chair to sit in to tell people that they could not use the elevator. There you have it: I was being paid about $7.50 per hour to be a human, breathing out of order sign.  This was definitely a new experience. I kind of thought that a paper sign could have sufficed, but I wasn’t really being paid to think. I was just being paid to tell people that the elevator did not work. So, I told them. Some wanted to know why. I couldn’t tell them that. All I could tell them is what I had been told.  I had to listen to grumbling about it; I really felt sorry for some of the disabled people who obviously needed an elevator, but I could not help them other than to point them to the direction of a working elevator.

Like the paper version of me, there were people who ignored me. One was a coke vendor who stood there pushing the button that would not work. I knew it would not work, because they had turned the elevator off. It wasn’t out of order. They apparently did not want it to work. There was a rumor that they might turn it on after the game, but it wasn’t true.

The coke vendor finally figured out that I was telling the truth and left. And then there was the female police officer who just brushed past me, not giving me a chance to tell her that it didn’t work. I just let her push that button. I guess she thought her badge would make it work, but it didn’t. Then, she acknowledged me and asked what was wrong. I explained, and she demanded an explanation immediately. I told her the best one I had: it was turned off and I didn’t know why.

Texas won the football game and I was released from my elevator duty. I received my fifty or so dollars, and well the rest is history. I can scratch being an “Out of Order” sign off of my bucket list.

copyright 2013 by Kathy Robbins

Friday, January 4, 2013

Falling From Grace

Once upon a time, in a fictional small town somewhere in the Southern portion of the United States, a woman, who we will call Jan, encountered a former old schoolmate with whom she had attended the First Baptist Church. Jan had since moved to another small town in the same portion of the country, so she was delighted to see a familiar face in her old hometown that was steadily filling up with strangers.  Jan’s friend, who we will call Betty, asked Jan if she was still singing in the Baptist Church as she had done for years; or so Betty thought.

It seems that Jan wasn’t entirely comfortable at the Baptist church in her new community, so she tried different denominations and finally found a home at the First United Methodist Church. Well, all good Southern Baptists know that to leave the Baptist church for the Methodist church is nothing short of scandalous. So, as soon as Jan explained about her new denomination, Betty immediately replied, “Oh, you fell from grace!”

Jan and Betty both immediately erupted in laughter. Jan’s ten year old  daughter Yolanda, was standing there witnessing the conversation. Yolanda didn’t understand what “falling from grace” meant, but she was smart enough to know that it meant something bad. And she loved her mama. She didn’t want anybody insulting her. So she made a mean face at Betty. She didn’t laugh or smile and she squinted up her eyes, cut her head to the side and stared hard.

Jan quickly explained to Yolanda that Betty was just teasing and they were joking around, but that did little to appease Yolanda, who squinted even harder at Betty after briefly glancing at Jan. Of course, this only made Jan and Betty laugh harder, which irritated Yolanda even more.

Jan and Betty wrapped up their brief reunion and parted ways, which relieved Yolanda. She didn’t like Betty at all, and didn’t realize it at the time, but would remember this encounter for the rest of her life. To her, it was significant because of the emotions that were stirred in her. And it was a long time before she could allow herself to trust a Baptist again.

Of course, Jan had to tell everyone in the extended family about the encounter, which made everyone laugh, except Yolanda.

The next summer, Yolanda returned to her mom’s hometown to visit her grandparents. She loved coming here, because they always made her feel special. For the week that she was there, she was able to get all of the attention, like an only child. Because there was no one else but her to create commotion, she was subject to more scrutiny that she had at her own home. But feeling special far outdid the price that she would have to pay with exemplary behavior,

She was riding through town with her grandparents in the backseat of their big burgundy Oldsmobile that seemed to never lose that “new car” smell. She loved having the whole backseat to herself. She was quietly enjoying the ride. Her grandparents were talking quietly to themselves, when they just happened to pass the liquor store. Yolanda didn't know it was a liquor store. She barely even knew what liquor was. But she did know just a little bit.

She heard her grandmother exclaim, “Well, there is Bob Johnson, the head of our deacons of the First Baptist Church in line at the liquor store!” (EVERYbody knows that Southern Baptists aren’t supposed to drink.)(Disclaimer: This is a fictional story and is not meant to represent anyone who may be named Bob Johnson, who happens to be the head deacon at a First Baptist Church in any small town in the southeastern portion of the United States. Any similarity in names to any person, living or dead who may be named Bob Johnson, who is the head deacon at a First Baptist Church in any small town in the southeastern portion of the United States, is purely coincidental; especially if the living or dead real Bob Johnson, who is the head deacon at a First Baptist Church in any small town in the southeastern portion of the United States happens to frequent the local liquor store. Thank you)

As soon as her grandmother pointed out that the head deacon at her church was in the line at the liquor store, Yolanda was gripped with a feeling that she had never had before. She didn’t know what to do. She just had to do something! So, before she could stop herself, she exclaimed,
"Oh, well he fell from grace!"

She still didn’t know what it meant, but judging from her grandparent’s laughter, she knew that maybe she had hit the nail right on that Baptist head. And then, she secretly thought, ‘now, take that you Baptists!’

From that point on, in her own little mind, she always felt that she had somehow vindicated her mother.

And they all lived happily ever after.

copyright 2013 by Kathy Robbins

Thursday, January 3, 2013

'Twas the Week After Christmas By: Rev. Tom Butts

AN ENCOURAGING WORD, written for publication in the Monroe Journal, December 27, 2012, by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, First United Methodist Church, Monroeville, Alabama.


Now that the "Big Day" is over and we are trying to get back to normal, whatever that may be, perhaps we should try to figure out how to keep some of Christmas in our lives. People tend to feel "let down" after such an intense celebration.  It takes intentional effort to keep the spirit of Christmas alive when it is over. So many things mitigate against it.  Several years ago Howard Thurman wrote a free-verse poem about taking Christmas beyond December 25th.

"When the song of the angel is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home. When the shepherds are back with their flocks;
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart..."

Most of the baubles we got or gave are soon gone, forgotten or stored out of sight in the attic. What we actually keep from the season are the intangibles. There is the spirit of excited joy we experienced/shared with the children who were too young and innocent to worry about mundane things like paying off credit cards and balancing the budget. There remains the joy of seeing the older children come home from college or distant work places, and seeing how they have grown and changed (hopefully for the better). There is the lingering memory of having extended members of our family of origin get together to swap grandiose tales of how things were when they were growing up. For many years my family of origin got together at the old home place where we grew up during the depression. We would celebrate the fact that we were all still alive and of sound mind (relatively speaking). We would recite embellished and polished gems of oral tradition about the good old days which were so hard -- and so good. But times change. Death and distance have left my family of origin, and perhaps yours, with only the memories we struggle to keep.

Christmas is not a happy time for everyone. There are people who, for unspoken reasons, are glad that Christmas is over. They are weary of pretending to be happy when deep down they are sad. They have felt trapped by the common expectations of the season and the expectations of others, and have feigned as best they could a "holiday spirit". We all know someone for whom this was the first Christmas after some significant loss such as death, divorce or one of the many other ways you can lose someone or something. There are those whose historical losses, failures and feelings of brokenness float to the surface at Christmas time, and they find themselves reliving some of the worst experiences of their past. And, then there are also some whose memories of "Christmases past" are just not happy. Be gentle and careful when you relate to people who morph into modern-day Scrooges. There are more of them than you think, and the reasons for their seasonal brittleness may be more complex than you can imagine.

This week between Christmas and the beginning of a new year is a good time to remember resolutions and promises made to ourselves, God, and other people. Did you keep the promises, or will you need to try again? Let me tell you a story of someone who kept his promise.

It was the day after Christmas at a church in San Francisco. As the pastor of the church was looking at the Nativity scene in the narthex and getting ready to store it until the next year, he noticed that the baby Jesus figure was missing from the manger. He went outside and saw a little boy pulling a red wagon down the street. The baby Jesus figure was in the red wagon. He walked up to the child and asked, "Son, where did you get that baby Jesus?” The little boy said, "I got him from the church." "Why did you take him?", the pastor asked. The little boy replied, "Well about a week before Christmas I prayed and told Jesus that if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas, I would give him a ride!”

May we all be so faithful to our promises -- each in our own way.

copyright 2012 by Kathy Robbins

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Poetry: A Change of Pace

When I was on writing scholarship in college, I was compelled to take a creative writing class on poetry. As you will soon see, poetry was not really my cup of tea. But here are two of the poems that I wrote for that class.

This first one, I wrote at the age of eighteen. Not much has changed since then….


I can not be held
By words
By chains
By boundaries
Let me free
To do as I must,
 And I will burst forth
Freedom and Happiness…

This was an assignment to write a poem with a particular rhyme scheme. The professor said that it could be a nonsense poem, but she just wanted the particular rhyme scheme. Since my best attribute is nonsense, this is what I wrote:

Piggily Wiggily 

Piggily Wiggily
Vladimir Nabokov
Characteristically selling his bod.
So continentally Mediterranean,
His creativity gets him the nod.

The Professor liked that one. Ha! (My apologies to Mr. Nabokov)

And last of all, the unfinished one:


Autumn's chilly evening,
Shrouded peacefulness,
Slow and quick painful sting,
Traitor nonetheless

I will finish this one soon. Obviously, I still have miles to go before I sleep....

copyright 2013 by Kathy Robbins