Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"I'm the branch manager, is it not my right to use this office as a church?"

My company has a few branches scattered across Sand Land. I spend most of my time at our headquarters in Sand Town but every month, I try to set aside a few days to travel to our remote locations and check up on things. To the extent possible, I try to keep both the date of my travel and the branches to be visited under wraps. Like a field anthropologist, my goal is to drop in quietly and unannounced so that I can bear witness to the real deal - not some hastily cleaned-up fallacy that the employees would treat me to if they had advance warning.

After making the rounds to our larger branches, I set out one morning to visit the remotest, most neglected of our outposts - the "Bumblefuck Branch." The Bumblefuck Branch is located in the middle of nowhere, consists of only four employees and is basically the redheaded stepchild of Fuckwittery, Inc. In fact, at the time I joined the company, no one even clued me in to the Bumblefuck gang's existence. I came to know about them after a few days on the job when some dude going by the name of "The Reverend Jedidiah" and claiming to be the Bumblefuck Branch manager emailed faxed me a handwritten annual leave request.

I asked around about the Bumblefuck Branch and none of the headquarters employees seemed to have much of a clue about what was going on out there. At the time, I had my hands full trying to get the headquarters and the main branches organized, so in lieu of traveling to Bumblefuck I invited Rev. Jedidiah to meet with me at the headquarters in Sand Town.

Rev. Jedidiah was an intense guy. I never figured out if he was a formally trained theologian or if he'd simply bestowed the title upon himself - my money's on the latter. The first time I met him, he was wearing a black blazer, a navy shirt buttoned all the way to the top and a clunky wooden crucifix in place of a tie. He strode into my office with a briefcase in one hand and a tattered Billy Graham book in another. I knew instantly I had to make time to check out the Bumblefuck Branch - fast!

So the next week, I hopped in my car and set out for the middle of nowhere. As the quaint little town consisted of a single intersection, it wasn't hard to locate the Bumblefuck Branch's sign. I got out of the car and walked to the door that was directly beneath the sign. I pushed the door open and a cloud of incense wafted into my face. Hymns blared from tinny computer speakers and clusters of religious icons and statues sat in each corner.

"Oh crap, how stupid am I?" I thought to myself. "I walked into some church instead of the Bumblefuck Branch."

I walked back outside and glanced up at the sign, trying to figure out where the entrance to my company's branch could be. "Oh come on, you moron," I thought after a couple seconds. "That was totally Rev. Jedidiah's decorating."

I walked back into the deserted office. "Hello?" I called.

A perplexed Sand Landian lady came out. I introduced myself and established that this was in fact the Bumblefuck Branch.

"Where's Jedidiah?" I asked.

"He's in a meeting," the lady said, glancing back toward his office.

"Ok, I'll wait here until he's finished," I said.

I plopped down on one of the ratty seafoam green sofas and took in my surroundings. Bible verses printed on a dot matrix printer in all caps lined the walls. Mixed in with the standard regulation "God loves you" and "Everything through Christ" quotes were alot of "Thou shalt not do this" and "Thou shalt not do that" and even the odd verse from Leviticus exhorting you not to do random, freaky stuff you never would have dreamt up unless you'd read in Leviticus that you were banned from doing it. Seriously! There was a verse instructing believers to "detest flying, four-legged insects"...WTF?? Do four-legged insects even exist? And what abomination did the Bumblefuck gang commit with these non-existent insects that compelled Jedidah to paste that verse to the wall? Ok, sorry, I'm getting way off track...moving on...

After reading all the dot matrix Bible verses and checking my email, Jedidiah's meeting still showed no signs of wrapping up.

"Who is Jedidiah meeting with?" I asked the receptionist.

She looked instantly uncomfortable. "Umm...his friends?" she speculated sheepishly.

"Friends?" I said. "This meeting's not about work?"

She bit her lower lip. "No," she whispered, shaking her head.

I jumped up and knocked on Jedidiah's door. When he opened it, I saw that there were three other men in his office. All dressed exactly like Jedidiah: black blazer, navy blue buttoned-all-the-way-up shirt and clunky wooden crucifix in place of a tie. Apparently, this was some kind of uniform.

"Hey Jedidiah, how's it going?" I asked

"Reverend, Madam. It's Reverend Jedidiah." he replied, clearly annoyed that I'd busted in on his meeting.

"Excuse me, Reverend. Are these some of our local clients?" I asked, motioning to his three clones.

"No, madam. They are not," he scoffed. "They are my deacons," he explained proudly.

"Got it," I nodded "What are your deacons doing here during working hours?"

"Planning tonight's prayer meeting, madam."


"Yes, madam," he said, sounding irritated. "You are welcome to join us if you like. It will start at 5:00."

"It's starts here? In this office?"

"Yes, madam" he said in a sing-song voice as if I'd just ask the stupidest question on earth.

"Alright, deacons: can you all clear out of here and let me speak privately with Rev. Jedidiah?" I said, motioning toward the lobby.

The deacons shuffled out one-by-one and shot me the evil eye. I closed the door and turned to Jedidah.

"Look, Rev. Jedidiah," I said. "All of this has to stop. You cannot decorate the office with religious iconography and hold religious gatherings on the premises."

Rev. Jedidiah stared at me speechless. So I just kept going.

"All of these decorations have to come down now. The hymns have to be turned off and you have to do your work."

"What do you think I'm doing here, madam?" he asked slowly, his eyes narrowing. "Are you telling me saving souls isn't work?"

"Um, it's not the work I'm paying you to do. So you'll have to confine the soul saving to your free time. I'm quite honestly shocked that you think what you're doing here is appropriate."

"Excuse me, madam. I'm sorry you're surprised. But let me ask you this: I'm the branch manager. Are you telling me it's not my right to use this office as a church? I'll have you know that at every single meeting, we pray for the prosperity of this business.We have even prayed for you," he said, pointing at me like I was a total ingrate.

"That's very kind of you, but even so, it's definitely not your right to turn the place into a church."

"Madam, at my next prayer meeting I'm going to pray very long and very hard for you. I'm going to pray for you to realize that you are being manipulated by satan. You are being used by him to stop my work."

"Ok, Rev. Jedidah. As long as that prayer meeting isn't taking place in this office, you go right ahead and do that. Now let's get to work taking down all those statues and Bible verses."

For a moment, I thought Rev. Jedidah's head would rotate 360 degrees. He looked like he was about to fly across the table and choke the devil out of me. But he collected himself and calmly tendered his resignation. At the time, I was alittle surprised at how readily he walked away from his job.

He skipped town a few days later before the end of his notice period, leaving his deacons like sheep without a shepherd. In the weeks following his departure, we were contacted by one person after another who had lent Rev. Jedidah funds for his ecclesiastical pursuits. The good Reverend had stiffed them all. On a happy note, the employees who had the misfortune of working under him are now holding down the Bumblefuck Branch rather nicely.