Sunday, September 19, 2010

Road Rage

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Last Sunday Pastor Henry O’Donnell’s wife Jennifer was out of town on business. Which meant Henry was on his own for breakfast.

Meals were important to Henry but breakfast was perhaps the most important. If he didn’t get breakfast he became grouchy. And since Sunday mornings were the highest profile part of his workweek it was a bad idea for him to skip breakfast on those days.

Jennifer usually made him eggs or pancakes on Sunday mornings, but Henry was not a cook so he made himself a bowl of cereal. He didn’t mind – he liked cereal. However when he took his first bite this morning he immediately spit it back out. He grabbed the milk carton and found the expiration date. It was two days past.

“Who forgot to get milk?” Henry grumbled to himself. He rummaged through the cupboards. The easiest thing he could make was oatmeal but Henry didn’t particularly care for oatmeal.

He did like fast food, though. His wife discouraged drive through breakfasts, but then she wasn’t here and she hadn’t thought to buy milk before she left so really she had nobody to blame but herself. Henry set out for the nearest fast food joint.

His heart sank when he saw the long line of cars at the drive through. He looked at the clock. Normally he liked to get to the church at least half an hour early so he could gather his thoughts before he had to lead the service. Today he would probably have to make do with only twenty minutes or so.

Now Henry had preached several times on the strange way that getting behind the wheel of an automobile turned otherwise polite, tolerant people into impatient, angry jerks. But just because he preached about it didn’t mean he was immune to the phenomena. So when the guy in the car in front of him didn’t notice that the line had moved forward because he was talking on his cell phone, Henry felt his blood pressure rising.

He tapped his horn quickly a couple times. The other driver waved an apology. Henry noticed he had a tattoo on his forearm. “Punk kids,” Henry thought, then immediately felt old. At fifty-five he was very sensitive to the “old man” thoughts that seemed to cross his mind with growing frequency.

When it was finally Henry’s turn he ordered a double sausage-and-egg biscuit, hash brown bites, and orange juice. The so-called fast food was not quite as fast as usual this morning, perhaps explaining the long line. By the time Henry finally received the bag he figured he was only going to make it to the church with about fifteen minutes to spare. Fortunately he could eat while he was driving.

He pulled up at a red light and noticed with mild surprise that the car in front of him was the same one that had been in front of him at the drive through. And the yahoo at the wheel was still talking on the phone.

Henry took advantage of the stop to get his food out. He was unhappy to discover that the teenager at the drive through had forgotten his hash brown bites. Oh well, too late to go back now. He unwrapped his sandwich and took a bite.

A car behind him tapped its horn twice. Henry looked up to see that the light had changed and cell phone tattoo guy hadn’t noticed. “Yeah, pay attention,” Henry mumbled at the distracted driver through his mouthful of sandwich. People who talked on cell phones while they drove were a menace.

Henry pulled into the other lane so he wouldn’t be behind the jerk anymore. Using his left hand to hold the breakfast sandwich and steer, he retrieved his juice from the fast food bag with his right hand. The juice had a foil cover over it. While Henry was pulling the foil back with his teeth, he inadvertently started to drift across the dividing lines.

A long honk startled Henry. He veered back into his own lane, but dropped his sandwich in the process. It bounced under his seat. He looked over and saw that the horn blower was none other than cell phone tattoo guy, though he was no longer using the cell phone.

“Yeah, you’re one to talk,” Henry muttered. But he was more concerned about his lost breakfast than the rude driver. One bite of sausage-and-egg biscuit and a little juice weren’t going to get him through that morning’s service.

Henry pulled into the left turn lane when he reached Elm Street. To his amazement the same guy was in front of him again. And he was back on that cursed cell phone.

The light turned green. A handful of oncoming cars passed and then the turn was clear. Only the guy on the cell phone didn’t turn.

“Oh that’s just too much,” Henry growled. Since there was no traffic, he gunned the engine and pulled into the oncoming lanes to turn in front of the guy.

Half a block later he noticed flashing red and blue lights in his rearview mirror. His day just kept getting worse. While the cop was writing Henry a very expensive ticket for careless driving, cell phone tattoo guy passed. He caught Henry’s eye and just laughed. Henry ground his teeth. He didn’t think it was wise to swear in front of the cop.

The police stop consumed most of Henry’s remaining time cushion. He arrived at the church with barely five minutes to spare. But the growling in his belly would not be denied so he used three of those five minutes to go to the social hall, which was set up for coffee hour. Someone had brought donuts – a breakfast food Henry liked even better than double sausage-and-egg biscuits. He grabbed a powdered donut and shoved half of it into his mouth with his first bite.

As he was chewed someone came up and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to discover church secretary Tammy Billings. Standing behind her was none other than the tattooed cell phone guy.

“I’d like you to meet a new visitor to the church,” Tammy said. “This is Billy Kent.”

The two men just stared at each other for several moments. Tammy looked from one to the other in confusion.

Billy regained his composure first. “Nice to meet you,” he said in a southern drawl and extended his hand.

“Likewise,” Henry replied through his mouthful of donut. They shook hands and Henry swallowed. “Well, I better get into the service,” Henry said.

With Henry’s belly reasonably full the service went off without a hitch. Billy soon became a regular member of the church. And the two of them never spoke of their encounter on the road that morning.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Twenty-eight year-old Associate Pastor Michelle Tellum recently injured her right ankle playing on the church’s softball team. Her doctor gave her a pair of crutches and instructed her to avoid putting any weight on the ankle for two weeks.

Michelle quickly discovered that the crutches were more of an inconvenience than she at first anticipated. Previously, walking across the room had required the use of both her legs. Now it required the use of both her hands as well, which made carrying things a challenge. So on Monday morning it took Michelle about forty minutes longer than normal to get ready for work.

Another challenge was that Michelle could not drive without the use of her right foot. Fortunately she had a very considerate boyfriend named Ian who was happy to ferry her around. Well, perhaps “happy” was a bit of an exaggeration, but “willing” anyway.

Ian’s willingness began to waver as he sat on Michelle’s couch that morning watching the minutes tick by. Her occasional assurances from the bathroom that she was “almost ready” didn’t really help. Ian’s boss at the insurance office where he worked was pretty cool but that didn’t mean Ian could just stroll in whenever he wanted. However Michelle looked so pitiful struggling awkwardly around the apartment carrying things between her teeth that Ian kept his growing frustration to himself.

When they arrived at the church they encountered church secretary Tammy Billings coming out. “I’m going to pick up some office supplies,” she said. “Pastor O’Donnell is on a hospital visit. Will you be okay here alone?”

“Of course,” Michelle replied. “I’m going to finish that article I’m supposed to do for the newsletter.”

Ian escorted Michelle down to her office on the lower level. Navigating the stairs took some time. Michelle put both crutches under one arm, grabbed the hand rail and hopped down step by step. Ian offered to help but Michelle wanted to get used to doing it on her own.

Once she was safely ensconced behind her desk, Ian asked if she needed anything else. “Nope,” she said. “You’d better get to work. You’re going to be awfully late.”

Ian just smiled and kissed her on the forehead.

Three seconds after she heard his car pull out of the parking lot, Michelle realized what she should have asked him to do for her. Michelle’s brain required a certain fuel to perform its best in the morning: coffee. But the church’s coffee maker was upstairs in the main office. Michelle considered waiting until Tammy or Pastor O’Donnell returned, but she didn’t know how long that would be. And now that the thought of coffee had entered her mind she could think of nothing else.

“I can do this,” she declared. She grabbed her crutches and hopped her way up the stairs. She maneuvered across the social hall and into the main office where she poured herself a mug of steaming, delicious, energizing coffee. Then she remembered that she couldn’t carry it back to her office while using the crutches.

But Michelle was resourceful. There were dozens of folding chairs along one wall of the social hall. Michelle pushed several into a line from the office to the stairs leaving about four feet between each one. That way she could put the mug of coffee on a chair, take a step with her crutches, then move the coffee to the next chair until she reached the stairs.

It was a labor-intensive process but Michelle was pretty proud of her ingenuity. She successfully reached the stairs and sat down. She slid down one step at a time on her rear, bringing her mug along with her.

Next she had to navigate the hall from the stairs to her office. Here the most convenient chairs were in the classroom for the Guppies, the church’s pre-school Sunday school class. But as Michelle squeezed into the room between an art easel and a bin of toys, she lost her balance. Her crutches flailed wildly. One smacked into the cage of the Guppies’ classroom pet, Barry the Bunny.

Barry freaked out, hopping madly about the cage with a terrifying shriek. Meanwhile, Michelle managed to regain her balance without falling on her face.

Michelle had not known bunnies were cable of screaming. She cooed at the poor animal until it was placated. Then she gave it a rabbit treat. She hoped Barry was a forgiving bunny.

Once she’d set up a row of plastic kids’ chairs in the hall, she repeated her step-by-step process until she was back in her office with her mug. She had worked harder for that coffee than she’d ever worked for a beverage before. Which would make it all the more satisfying, she thought as she brought the mug to her lips.

The coffee was cold.

Cold coffee was not satisfying at all. Michelle sighed and headed back upstairs to refill the mug. Now that her chair chain was in place she figured this time she could get the coffee back to her office before it cooled down.

Which would most likely have been true if one of her crutches hadn’t caught the leg of a chair when she was half way across the social hall. The blow caused the mug to fall off the chair, spilling the coffee.

Michelle looked down at the puddle on the floor and took a deep, calming breath. “Tammy can clean that up when she gets back,” she mumbled petulantly. And where was Tammy anyway? How long did it take to get office supplies?

Michelle hobbled back to the main office. Just as she was about to refill her mug, she noticed a travel mug sitting on Pastor O’Donnell’s desk. A travel mug was perfect – she could carry it while using her crutches with no danger of spilling. She was certain Pastor O’Donnell wouldn’t mind her borrowing it given her condition.

It worked beautifully. However when she reached the bottom of the stairs she was startled to see Barry the Bunny looking at her from the middle of the hallway. When her crutch struck his cage it must have dislodged the latch allowing him to escape.

Michelle set the travel mug down and crouched, balancing on her good foot. “Come here, Barry,” she said in the most non-threatening voice she could. She held out her hand in a manner she hoped would suggest she had another rabbit treat.

Barry hopped cautiously toward her. Michelle remained as still and patient as possible. When Barry hopped within a couple feet, Michelle quickly reached out to grab him.

But the sudden motion threw her off balance again and she pitched forward. This time she did land on her face. Startled, Barry darted past her. She rolled over in time to see him hopping up the stairs toward the social hall.

Michelle pulled herself up and grabbed her crutches. She hopped up the stairs after Barry, though not quite as quickly as the spooked rabbit had. By the time she reached the top Barry was exploring the social hall.

Michelle swung the crutches under her arms and went after Barry. He scampered away. Michelle pursued. Barry used the chairs like a slalom course, weaving in and out. Michelle followed awkwardly, wondering if rabbits were capable of thoughts of vengeance.

She finally got the rabbit cornered, but then Barry doubled back and shot beneath her wounded foot.

Michelle spun and lunged after the fleeing beast. But she hadn’t realized how close she was to the puddle of spilled coffee. Her left crutch landed in the liquid and slid out from underneath her. Michelle flew into the air and came down flat on her back in the middle of the puddle.

Which is where Tammy found her upon returning a few minutes later, Barry the Bunny lapping at the coffee by Michelle’s ear.

“Are you okay?” Tammy asked.

“I think I sprained my wrist,” Michelle moaned.

Tammy managed to catch the now hyperactive bunny after a short but impressive chase. Then she helped Michelle back down to her office. Michelle changed into some sweats she kept in her desk while Tammy retrieved a mug of coffee for her.

As Ian drove Michelle home that night he asked, “so, did you get your article written?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Michelle said. “And can we stop at the department store? I need to get a travel mug.”