The Work PLace

The Reverend and the Mulch

The Reverend peeked in my office with an unsettled look on his face like that of a child up to no good. I stopped my typing. He stretched his neck back toward the hall to make sure all was safe and then slipped into the room, closing the door behind him ever so carefully.

“I have a job of utmost importance. Very important,” the Reverend confided.

I sat waiting, hands on the keyboard.

“Boy, this is exciting,” he smiled. He trembled, unable to hold back his excitement.

I waited, wondering what the important job could be. What did the Reverend not want others to know but felt comfortable sharing with me?

“I need you to get me two tickets for the Indians home opener,” the Reverend instructed with a giddy whisper.

“Really?”

“Isn’t it great!”

He couldn’t contain himself, like a kid who won a prize to spend a night in a toy store to do whatever he wanted.

“Hold the phones, lock your office door. Whatever you need to do to get those tickets!”

The Reverend’s red nose shined stronger than ever. His jowls danced a victory dance. His rounded belly undulated with determination.

“The best ones you can get,” the Reverend said before sneaking off down the hall.

I had never purchased Indians tickets before, and I wasn’t sure what the best ones were, but I figured that by putting forth effort, a phenomena unknown to the Reverend, I could accomplish the task.  

Over and over, I refreshed the laptop screen with the hopes of landing some tickets. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. All the while, accomplishing little for the people of the congregation.

After a half hour of concentrated refreshing, the Reverend had two third base side tickets.

As I was about to continue my typing, the phone rang, a seldom occurrence.

I was never quite sure if the phone rarely rang because few people called or because the phone was just too old to ring. The phone was mostly green with random camouflage splotches of years of human grime. Across the bottom of the button pad ran light-up squares, one of which being red—more important than the other pale ones. The phone mostly sat dormant, as if in hospice care.

The tangled phone cord fought me when I pulled for the receiver, but with some struggle, I placed the grimy phone a few inches from my ear, just enough to hear, and I answered with the customary greeting, “Family and Friends of God’s House Christian Church, Jesus loves you, this is Kelly.”

“Sorry, must have the wrong number,” the man said.

“Jesus thanks you for . . .” and before I could finish the customary message, the man ended the call.

I placed the receiver back on its aging body with what sounded like a painful series of cracks, as if the phone had arthritis.

Wood panelling surrounded me. Only a framed prayer and a photograph of some woman from 1969 broke the monotony of the walls. There were no windows.

I turned back to my laptop to continue the task I had been working on before the Reverend entered about his tickets.  

The Reverend wondered why I didn’t use the clunky desktop computer in the office.

“Why bother yourself with lugging that computer around?” the Reverend would ask. He didn’t understand that it took an hour to boot up, which, looking back, waiting for the computer might have been a better use of my time.

It was my responsibility to write the weekly prayers that the Reverend would announce during Sunday service. It made for an interesting creative writing assignment.

Nobody proofread my prayers. I’m not even sure if the Reverend even understood what he was reading during the service, and I’m convinced, the congregation tuned out by that point of the ceremony.

I’m convinced, because no matter what I wrote, nobody ever questioned it.

I usually just wrote prayers based on events that would happen in my life. If Cheryl the Director of Education would scold me for for not going to church, then I’d write a prayer about not judging others and to be kind.

But sometimes I’d slip in other messages completely absent of spirituality.

I once included the words of a promotional flyer from my friend’s art exhibit. She claimed that some of the congregation attended her event.

One time I wrote about how I wanted the camera I loaned Betsy Nickels back—it had been a month. And, what do you know, it was on my desk Monday morning.

There was the time I wrote a rather lengthy rant about how the Reverend rarely shows up to work and when he does he spends most of it sleeping. Nothing really came of that prayer.

My favorite prayer was the one where I copied the ingredients of the snack foods Dorothy Donalds purchased for the Child Time After School event, and no joke, for the next event, she brought in fruits and vegetables for the kids.

Francel the custodian popped his head in my office.

“Morning, Kelly,” Francel greeted with a smile, his collection of keys jingling at his belt.

“Good morning, Francel.”

Francel was one of the bright spots. At the very least, he showed for work each day, which was much more than could be said for the Reverend. In fact, Francel kept the building running. If someone needed a door open, they’d yell for Francel. If someone needed a pile of kid barf cleaned, they’d yell for Francel. If someone needed a water fountain fixed, they’d yell for Francel. If someone needed to be dropped off at the dealership for their car, they’d yell for Francel.

And in the end, that’s all anyone would do to Francel—yell at him.

“Need anything, Kelly?” Francel asked.

“No thank you, Francel. You?”

“No, ma’am.” He smiled big and closed the door.

Before I could type the next letter, the Reverend appeared at my door, startling me.

“Well? Did you get them?” he asked like a frantic father at the hospital waiting for his son to be born.

“The tickets will be held for you at will call under your name,” I said.

The door closed and then opened again.

“See what you can do about that dead squirrel in the window well,” the Reverend directed, before closing door.

The window wells that lined the multi-purpose space dropped three feet and were covered by a grate—easy for a creature to fall in, difficult for escape.

I stood above the grate with the deceased squirrel. Flies buzzed around. The squirrel laid lifeless but looked peaceful in his death.

I unlocked the grate and lifted it open. With a snow shovel in hand I descended. I carefully scooped the poor squirrel into the shovel.

The Reverend pulled his car from the parking lot, golf clubs riding shotgun.

I lifted Mr. Squirrel and placed him into a tiny grave I had dug.

From my pocket, I pulled a prayer I had written for the Sunday celebration.

I read, while standing above my furry friend’s body, “You might not always feel appreciated by those around you. Maybe you feel people expect everything from you without ever offering a smidgen of thanks. Maybe you feel ignored or alone. But let me assure you, you are special.”

I folded the prayer and placed it back in my pocket and stood quiet for a moment of silence.

“Kelly!” a voice screeched from the church office. “Not really sure we have time for a smoking break with all we have to get done today.” It was Cheryl, the director of education.

She closed the door with a huff, and I gave Mr. Squirrel one more nod and then wondered what all Cheryl was concerned about. I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything that needed to be done.

“See these cords,” Cheryl said, pointing to a tangle of electrical cords extending from the wall. “Something needs done with them.”

“What?” I asked.

“How am I supposed to know? I’m not an electrician!” Cheryl snapped.

“I’m not an electrician either,” I added.

“Yeah, but you know all of that technology mumbo jumbo. You’re young.”

“You want me to hide the cords?” I asked with a shrug.

“Whatever you need to do. Make this room look presentable for once.”

Just then, the front doorbell rang. Cheryl let out a growl of frustration.

“Must I do everything around here!” And she stormed off to answer the front door, leaving me with an arrangement of electrical cords that looked a lot like the ever-growing hair from the Play Doh barber shop set.

I bent down to investigate the mess of cords. From a gouged opening in the wall, a series of intertwined cords swirled and looped there way into the room and connected to nothing.

I scanned the room. I shared the space with a half dozen filing cabinets, a lonely desk, and a bulletin board with yellowed newspaper articles from years ago and cutout bubble letters spelling the phrase You Are Loved, but without the VE, so instead it read You Are Lod.

I moved the desk from where it was to hide the cords spilling from the wall. There, mission accomplished.

“I forgot my nine iron!” I heard the Reverend shout from the hallway. “What are you doing?” he asked from the door.

“I fixed the electrical cords problem,” I said with wide arms.

“Looks good,” he said with hardly a glance. “Have you seen my nine iron?”

I shook my head.

“Dammit! I’m gonna be late for tee time!” His red beak glowing redder than ever.

“What’s this?” Cheryl shouted upon joining the Reverend at the door.

“No more wires,” I smiled.

“The desk can’t go there!” Cheryl shouted.

“Why not?” I frowned.

“Because it goes over there!” She pointed to where the desk had previously sat.

“Who cares about the damn desk! Where is my nine iron!” The Reverend bellowed loud enough for the Almighty to take notice. “If I ever needed you Jesus, now’s the time.”

The Reverend walked off.

“Well?” Cheryl said, staring at me.

“Yes?” I asked, quite innocent of her intention.

She stared.

“Should I go help him fine his clubs?”

“Yes! Do I have to do everything?”

I walked by Cheryl in the doorframe to help the Reverend.

“And it’s not his clubs! It’s his nine iron!”

Like the electrical cords and the Indians tickets, I had no experience with a nine iron.

“Where have you looked?” I asked the Reverend.

He didn’t respond and just slunk around his office, turning his head this way and that—the epitome of moping.

I looked under his desk and between the cushions on the couch in his office. Each time I looked somewhere, the Reverend blurted, “Not there.”

“Are you sure it’s in your office?” I asked.

“Where else would it be?” the Reverend snarked, which led me to believe the nine iron was somewhere else.

I walked into the mens restroom. The club leaned leisurely against the urinal.

“Found it,” I said.

Cheryl came running and asked, “What are you doing in the mens room? You shouldn’t be here!”

She grabbed the club and took it to the Reverend.

“Here you are, Reverend. Now you better be on your way,” Cheryl said like a mother who sent her child to the bus stop for school.

“Thank you, Cheryl!” The Reverend was out the door in a flash.

“People skills, Kelly. People skills,” Cheryl said. “Maybe you can learn some while you work here.”

“Maybe,” I responded.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go keep this church afloat.” Cheryl walked to her classroom of zero children.

And there I stood. Alone. Contemplating the wires and the desk—apparently, the most pressing need for the Lord.

And then, I was startled from my contemplation by a ringing phone.

“Two calls in one day? Someone must be pulling a prank?” I said aloud.

“Kelly! I’m working!” Cheryl screamed from her empty classroom.

“Family and Friends of God’s House Christian Church, Jesus loves you, this is Kelly.”

“Kelly!” the Reverend yelled in complete desperation.

“What?” I yelled in defense of the Reverend’s crass tone.

“Listen, you need to order mulch!”

“I need to do what?”

“We have the picnic this weekend, and you need to spruce things up a bit.”

“With mulch?”

“Just order some mulch and tell ‘em to invoice us. Thanks.”

“Wait, wait!” I shouted. “How much mulch do you need?”

“You know, enough for the church.”

“Well, how much have you ordered in the past?”

“I don’t know. Just take a step outside—your complexion could use it—look around, and that’s how much mulch we need.”

“Wait, they’re going to ask for square footage and all that.”

“Who will?”

“The mulch people.”

“Oh. Ok, I’m almost at the course. Thanks.”

“Wait!”

“What now?”

“Do you know the square footage of the areas you want to mulch?” I asked, exasperated.

“I dunno, there’s four sides of the church.”

“Huh?”

“Thanks, Kelly.”

The phone went dead.

I shook my head in disbelief. “What a disaster,” I muttered.

“Kelly! Pipe down!” Cheryl barked from her cave.

I found a mulching business online, took a second to think about what I was going to say, and I imagined a conversation that would go like this:

“Hello, I’d like to purchase mulch.”

“We can help ya with that. How much do ya need?”

“Well, our building has four sides.”

Rather than have that conversation, I walked outside, as the Reverend had suggested—for my skin—and I thought about measuring all of the various areas that would need mulch, and then I thought that that would be a big waste of time.

I walked back into the church and ordered the mulch.

The next morning, I got to the church and had one goal in mind, to quit. But quitting was going to have to wait, since the Reverend had obviously spent the evening drinking again because he didn’t arrive until noon.

I walked into the Reverend’s office, where he slouched low in his La-Z-Boy chair.

“Reverend?” I called.

He looked up with tired eyes, so tired they looked as though they might melt from his face.

“I’m not sure if this work is a good fit for me.”

He looked at me with his sinking eyes without saying anything.

“I just don’t feel my talents are being utilized here.”

Nothing from the Reverend.

“I’m quitting, but I’d be glad to help you with website stuff from home until you find someone.”

Blankness.

I waited a bit before adding, “Well, thanks for the opportunity, Reverend. I wish you all the best.” Then I walked out.

“Kelly!” the Reverend gurgled. “Don’t be a stranger.” And then he slumped even further, nearly completely behind his desk.

As I drove from the church parking lot, a battalion of trucks were dumping mulch, enough to cover the entire church yard, be it flower bed, grassy lawn, sidewalk, or parking lot.

That Sunday, the Reverend read to his congregation:

“Like the mulch that covers the weeds and beautifies a garden, so too do people in our lives cover our faults and beautify our days. Be like the mulch and spread the joy of God’s love.”