So… I’m going to be back in orange again. And this time it’s not going to be picking up trash along the freeway as penance—I just landed a job as a Home Depot cashier. There’s a tiny part of me that wonders if I shouldn’t sigh and shake my head at myself, past forty with a Master’s degree and excited about cashiering… But I’m pretty sure that’s the part of me I don’t like very much. The rest of me is tickled. I get to be part of the “culture of the Orange Apron.” I get to spend my day with people.
One thing that has been a constant across all my jobs is the fact that I get “charged” by interacting with people. It’s like the human version of putting a cell phone on a charger—I charge my batteries with friendly interactions. It’s the part I loved about the restaurant I had with my late husband—it was literally a “mom and pop” shop, with him cooking and me serving, and people streaming through and smiling with me all day long. I felt like I got a percentage of every smile that happened at my place during the day, and I could come home absolutely exhausted, but still grinning.
It’s what I like about my job at the RV park, and it’s what I’ve been missing on the other days of the week when I’ve been home alone with the laptop, working on freelance articles for a client in India. Somehow the WhatsApp conversations with India don’t have the same charge-me-up potential as in-person interactions.
When we were running the restaurant, we had a favorite joke. Whenever someone had a special request or an off-menu idea, Keoni would say, “I’ll have to check with Corporate“… and then he’d turn to me and ask, “What do you say, Babe?” That was the best thing about “being Corporate” at Kana Girl’s Hawaiian BBQ—the fact that I could always make the judgment call to please the customer. So imagine how pleased I was to find out this week that Home Depot associates are actually given a budget to use at their discretion to accommodate customers who might otherwise be having a negative experience. I certainly used that same sort of “power” to good effect in our restaurant, knowing that an occasional meal on the house (when an order took too long, say) would be more than made up for when that customer kept returning. I don’t think many big companies think that way, but at Home Depot even a cashier is empowered to make that kind of call. Continue reading “An Empowered Shade of Orange”→
Regardless of what the retail-store displays would have us believe, Easter really isn’t about chocolate, baskets, or long-eared hopping mammals. Nevertheless, our church chooses to host an “Easter Eggstravaganza” for the neighborhood, staged in the park right behind the church.
It’s part of our mission to reach out to the neighborhood, and be a presence. It’s not intended as a recruiting tool per se (although plenty of new folks also showed up for the church service beforehand)—our focus is on being a part of the neighborhood around us, doing some good where we can, and letting people experience Christianity-in-action.
It’s the same reason we partner with the grade school a couple blocks away, which has one of the highest “free-lunch” populations in the city, and a heavy demographic of refugees. We bring teams of volunteers to help at their events, provide backpacks full of school supplies at the beginning of the year, and adopt needy families with clothing and gifts at Christmas. There’s never any “propaganda” accompanying our volunteer work or giving at the school; it’s purely a program of Christian living, embracing the neighborhood where we’re planted.
Last year we “egged” several hundred nearby homes, leaving plastic Easter eggs on their doorsteps with invitations to the Easter event. The three thousand eggs we stuffed with candy for last year’s egg-hunt proved insufficient, so this year we gathered our forces to stuff candy into ten thousand eggs. We had a bounce-house and face painting and a photo booth and a raffle, and the Easter Bunny arrived on a Harley Davidson (we’re that kind of church) to meet-and-greet and take pictures with kids. Continue reading “Jesus Meets a Harley-Riding Rabbit”→
Life in Idaho… I’ve been practicing my fly-fishing cast out in the road behind our RV, aiming to land my fly on a paper plate. Jon has been out with me, working on technique–and he’ll take me to try it on water once I’m hitting that plate regularly. (We picked up our three-year hunting-and-fishing licenses on our anniversary—that’s romance in Idaho!) In the meantime, I’m just excited when I “catch” the paper-plate fish.
Yesterday we took a Sunday stroll through some parts of Boise’s new water park, scoping out the trails and potential fishing spots. The stretch of the Boise River coming through town has been transformed into Class-five rapids thanks to spring run-off, but the little lakes at the park look unbelievably serene.
I wanted to take some of that serenity home in my pocket. It’s been a rough week.
Walking along the water, we couldn’t help but be thinking of Jon’s best friend Kip… Last Sunday Kip was walking the Greenbelt path along the river with his dog Scratch when he dropped from a sudden heart attack. Kip was just past 50, the “strong-man” of the auto shop where he and Jon worked together. He had an unassuming manner overlaid with the most infectious smile, and his face lit up when he talked about his muscle cars or his Faith.
There’s a huge hole in Jon’s day now–he keeps expecting Kip (or Scratch) to come through the shop door. It felt surreal to write “Kip’s funeral” on our calendar where surely it should have said “Kip to dinner“… Continue reading “Life, and Death. And Life.”→
My husband has described his customer Vern as a guy who “can’t find anything good to say about life.” When Vern called Jon’s cell tonight (in the middle of our Date Night) pleading for help with his broken-down truck, I got to experience his outlook first-hand. Jon being Jon, we went to help—which meant giving Vern a lift home and promising to look at the truck in the morning, when it’s light and hopefully up to double-digit temperatures, and when Jon can be dressed to climb underneath.
I scooted to the middle of our truck-seat and Vern hoisted himself up into the passenger seat (the first time Jon picked me up for a date in this truck, I asked him to throw down a rope-ladder!) and we steered our way through the icy neighborhoods toward Vern’s house with his querulous running commentary.
“Lord love a duck, Jon, if it’s not one thing it’s a hundred and fifty. I don’t know what I’ll do. My property tax just went up, and with all these other bills I have… If it’s not one thing it’s a dozen. I don’t know why that truck won’t start, and you just did the new points too. But the city plowed us in with snowbanks and I can’t get my car out, so I’ve got to drive the truck. I tried to dig out the car and I just tore up my left arm. And my power bill just went up, I guess I’m just not fit to live. Lord love a duck, Jon, if it’s not one thing it’s twenty….”
Well, you get the gist. As we drove away after dropping him off, I found myself contemplating the idea that there can be a difference between a person’s circumstances and a person’s experience. And that difference might just be outlook. Which brings me to… Continue reading “Internal Geographies”→
Pat just had a massive stroke; he’s in a coma on life support and not expected to make it back to us. Knowing that he wouldn’t be talking to me (but who knows, might be able to hear me) I stopped at the hospital today to visit him.
His son, whom I’d heard about but hadn’t met, eagerly accepted my meager offering of stories-about-his dad while I held Pat’s hand and hoped maybe he was enjoying them too. My favorite story about God & Pat & me is one I shared here five years ago (and I’ll say it’s worth a read—not for the writing, but for the wow-factor of a true story).
Another favorite that I shared with Pat’s son was one he used to tell, about his days as a cop. Whenever someone came as a ride-along, the officers would put him in a hat that said “JAFO,” and explain that it meant “Justice Affiliate, Friend of Officer.” It would ensure his safety, they explained, by making sure other cops knew who he was. It actually stood for “Just Another Fucking Observer.” Pat always led to the point that each of us should engage in our own Recovery, rather than being a JAFO in our own life.
I’d say he took his own advice. He survived being shot twice, beat throat cancer, was riding his bright orange Harley Davidson last time I saw him… I’ve often sat in the back row of A.A. meetings between two men who totaled 80 years of Sobriety between them. (I always figured it’s a good seat if I’m book-ended by “old-timers.”) Pat’s daughter committed suicide just weeks after my husband Keoni did, and the two of us sat through a lot of meetings holding hands and crying together. I’ll miss my bookend. And I promise, Pat, to keep LIVING so I don’t merit a JAFO hat.
Post-Script 1/3: Pat passed away shortly after my visit. I’m so glad I went.
I dreamed last night that I was back in Safe Haven, the psych-facility where I recently spent ten days, and the dream felt comforting. The place is well named.
My cell phone was one of the things I missed most in there—not for calls, but for Google (I hadn’t realized how many things-a-day I look up!) and for the camera, and for texting. This post gets doodles instead of photos, because I didn’t have my camera!
We were allowed, between group-sessions and scheduled activities, to take turns using the phone at the nurse’s station. My first day (when I was still miserably trying to claw my way out of there) I was calling my husband nearly every other hour. That’s a lot of calling for someone as phone-phobic as I am, but I was raw and out of my comfort zone and looking for the balm of his voice.
Technically, I could have announced my intention to walk out at any time—despite the lock-down conditions, I was on a voluntary hold—but I was looking for someone to tell me it was okay to go. Let me be more honest: I was trying to manipulate the psych-doc into telling me it was okay to go. But by the fourth day, I told her I was maybe doing TOO well. She mistook my announcement for another attempt to get myself released, but I corrected her interpretation. “I’m actually afraid to go home right now. I think I’m feeling TOO good.”
Charlie keeps things simple. The rack and saddlebags on his bike can carry what he owns. So far as I can tell, that consists of: a tobacco pouch and plastic cigarette-roller, some T-shirts and socks and a second pair of jeans, a plaid flannel shirt and a camouflage coat, several hats and a mismatched pair of gloves, a pool cue that unscrews in the middle, a sleeping bag, a plastic water bottle, a pair of reading glasses, and usually a paperback novel or two. Oh, and a Magic EightBall—except he doesn’t have that any more, because he gave it to me. (I was lamenting, one slow afternoon, that I wished I had a magic crystal ball to TELL me when we wouldn’t see a customer for three hours, so I could close up and go home for a nap. Charlie held up a finger and dug in his magic saddlebag till he came up with the Magic EightBall. “There you go: you can ask IT.”)
The stuffed rabbit riding his handlebars answers to “BunnyHopper,” sneaks Charlie’s cigarettes, and tends to sass back. (No, Charlie isn’t “crazy”—he’s just brimming with humor!)
Last Thanksgiving we didn’t open the restaurant for business, but we did put the restaurant kitchen to use. My husband Keoni—with the help of our sons, Kapena & Christian—cooked dinner, while our daughter Elena Grace pushed together dining room tables and set places for guests. The previous two years, in tight financial straits, we’d gratefully accepted the generosity of other people to put Thanksgiving dinners on our table. (Many thanks to our local food bank, and to our oldest daughter Kulia’s “Operation Gobble Gobble” charity drive!) But now the (laden) tables have turned; with the new restaurant thriving, we’re blessed with food enough to share. In the week ahead of the holiday, we put out word through the neighborhood “homeless network” that anyone lacking Thanksgiving dinner would be welcome to join ours. It wasn’t fancy—paper plates and plastic forks—but everyone left with full stomachs and food in hand, and I was pleased to watch our kids unselfconsciously chatting with the grubby-but-gracious strangers seated next to them at the table… And that’s the day we met Charlie.
Charlie could usually be found at his favorite hangout—the bench in front of our local grocery store—almost always with a book in hand. (He refuses to “fly a sign,” to borrow the street parlance for roadside-begging, but picks up odd jobs that allow him to put his mechanic’s training to use, and his semi-regular employers know where they can find him.) On our way into the store to shop we’d stop for hellos (as Christian accurately observed, “Charlie gives the BEST hugs,” rib-crunching in their intensity!) and started bringing paperbacks as we finished them, swapping out for whatever he’d just finished. (It had dawned on us that he can’t qualify for a Library card without a “home address”…)
There’s an unfinished storage-space above the restaurant, which we’d originally intended to convert into a hang-out spot for the kids. When we found a rental home just up the street, though, we abandoned the playroom project, as well as the mattress we’d hauled up the stairs… until one of our kids thought of a better use. On a snowy night with temperatures in the single-digits, Kapena unlocked the upstairs door and went to find Charlie and convince him to get himself out of the weather.
Because Charlie is adamant about not taking “hand-outs,” we’ve arrived at a working arrangement that doesn’t ding his dignity. He keeps our parking lot clear of trash and weeds, takes care of our indoor plants (and potted & nursed the tomato plants a friend brought us), unloads several hundred pounds of groceries out of our car every morning, scrapes out the BBQ, and hauls our trash and recycling over to the bins. He’s done mechanical work on our minivan and our son Kawika’s brakes. On occasions when we’ve run out of something mid-day (and the restaurant is too busy for one of us to leave) Charlie is always happy to hop on his bike and do the “emergency” grocery-run. When we’ve showed up at three in the morning to start the smoker for large catering orders, Charlie pops up like a security officer to make sure it’s US and not an intruder.
We tease him about the advantages of having “our own personal Charlie” to help out with so many things, and he always responds to my thanks by saying, “Well, Ma’am, that’s what Charlies are FOR.”
When our van threw a belt this summer, Charlie took it on himself to ride his bike around town (in hundred-degree heat) to find the right belt, and came back to report where he’d found it, and for what price. We gave him the forty bucks to cover its purchase, and he pedaled right off again to bring it back, carefully handing over the receipt and counting back the change, and then spent the rest of the hot day with his head under our hood. His latest project (his idea) is working on the paint-job on my old/new Subaru. He floated the idea, with a simple list of what he’d need, and I expressed my delight. “Well. That’s what Charlies are FOR, Ma’am.”
Sometimes when he has a couple bucks he buys me flowers… And I know he has sometimes made that purchase at the expense of buying himself a beer (the other “treat” in his life–along with his books). We’ve talked a few times about our shared trait of Alcoholism, though I think it makes him uncomfortable because he starts apologizing for drinking, which was never my intent. (In fact, Keoni sometimes prevails on him to accept a couple bucks to buy a beer and drink it “vicariously” for us.) The thing is that (unlike either of us!) Charlie’s personality doesn’t change when he drinks. He may be less steady on his pins, but he’s never less Charlie.
What I love best about Charlie (in addition to his hugs) is his outlook on living. I’ve known so many people with more stuff and easier situations, who still manage to be displeased with their lot. Charlie, on the other hand… stands by our barbeque with his hands on his hips, looks up at the blue sky, and pronounces: “I love Life!”
Reminders of the joy in living, appreciation of simple things… THAT’s what Charlies are for.