This piece was written for a Story Slam I’ll be participating in this evening. If you can join us at Create-a-Palooza on High St. in Carlisle at 7 PM, you’ll get to see me perform this live, along with other people sharing their stories about “bosses”.
I was 20 years old the first time I became “the boss.” And not “almost 21” 20 years old –– I-just-turned-twenty-five-days-ago-holy-shit-i-was-a-teenager-last-week 20 years old.
And I wasn’t managing a fast food place or a convenience store. No No. No, 6 days after I turned 20 years old, I found myself driving a mostly empty u-haul, with an anti-social beta fish in an old gallon milk jug on the floorboards, and my very large, very furry 12 year old, 115 pound dog riding shotgun, on a one way rental to a little town called Waterville, Maine.
I had no idea what to expect, but what I got…was…..*ahem* unique.
You see, I was driving that mostly empty u-haul from New York City to Maine, with my giant,furry, ancient dog, and the fish in the milk jug, to take up a position as assistant executive director of the Waterville chapter of a major, international Christian non-profit and church, that shall remain nameless.
Oh, and I was going to be their pastor on top of running the social services stuff too.
Now, this is was before the days of GPS, so I had my AAA Trip-Tic at the ready….until I accidentally kicked over the fish jug. The map was soaking wet, covered in apparently-delicious smelling fish water….so dog did the only logical thing, an… ate it. So there I was, on the side of the road, somewhere in Mass, with the dog, the fish, the soggy, mostly eaten map, and the almost empty u-haul, in tears.
A Mass. State trooper saw me standing, pathetically, on the side of the highway, crying my eyes out, took mercy on me, and pulled over to help.
In that moment, I think I must have truly lost my mind, because when he asked me what was wrong, I blurted out….
“I KNOCKED OVER MY FISH, AND MY DOG ATE MY MAP, AND I CAN’T FIND MAINE, AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING, AND I’M SUPPOSED TO BE THE BOSS, AND I CAN’T EVEN GET TO MAINE IN ONE PIECE! I’M NOT READY FOR THIS! I’VE ONLY BEEN 20 FOR SIX DAYS!!!!!”
That poor cop.
He looked at me, the fish, the dog, the u-haul, shook his head, belly laughed, and told me that it was going to be okay. He fished around in his car and found me a new map, highlighted the route to Waterville, duct taped the fish jug closed, and sent me on my way with a hug and a bottle of water.
Later that day, I pulled up in front of what would be my new office and church.
It was an old funeral home.
I stood there in front of the u-haul, holding the fish jug in one hand, the dog leash in the other, staring at it…..when a woman who I swear could have been alive for the Lincoln administration flung open the door and yelled, “HellllloOOOOOOOOOOOh CAPPY!”
The dog threw up on my foot.
Okay…I thought to myself….it can only go up from here.
In the next 24 hours, I managed to move my few belongings into my new home, where I learned that my new roommate happened to have 5 kitties [a fact she had conveniently left out in all of our phone conversations], and I found out that my giant dog…was terrified of cats.
The fish died.
I got the dog barf out of my shoes.
I met my staff – Myrtle, the ancient, one woman welcoming committee, was the head of the social services department, and had been for the last 63 years. My ‘assistant’ was a 15 year old kid, and the couple who ran the thrift store…I’m pretty sure their names were Fred and Ethel…came in looking like they hadn’t changed their clothes since Woodstock.
On my first Sunday as the pastor, there were exactly 14 people in church, along with three scraggly old dogs, a cat, and a squirrel who wandered in the open door.
Six portly old church ladies were crammed into a single pew right in the front row, where I suppose they thought they could keep an eye on the new pastor. The poor pew heaved and bowed as they all sat down, and somehow, I wasn’t surprised, when, in the middle of my very first sermon, it gave way with a mighty CRASH and sent all 6 portly old church ladies sprawling onto the floor.
I couldn’t help it.
Then I snorted.
Then I couldn’t stop the laughter. And the tears.
The total ABSURDITY of it all was just too much.
I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. But neither did they.
I stood there, laughing and crying at the same time, as the dogs barked, and the men of the congregation scraped 6 sputtering, angry old ladies off the floor.
So we figured it out together. Me, the 15 year old, the ancient social worker, the hippy store managers, the portly church ladies… and their dogs.
The next Sunday, I stood in the pulpit, looked out at my raggedy little flock, and told them that I might only be 20, and I might not *exactly* know what I was doing, but that together, we could make a difference to the people of Waterville, and for two years, that is exactly what we did.
My poor dog never did get used to the cats, though.