MY CHURCH FORCED ME INTO SIN
Elvira: Char? Do you think I'd have a chance at the secretary’s job?
Char: I'd say you have just as good a chance as anybody, Elvira. You have experience.
Elvira: Tell me again about the meeting.
Char: Well, YOU remember how Pastor Bill kinda sprung it on us. He said there would be a brief meeting up by the altar right after church. Up to that point I hadn't heard a word about Tricia resigning.
Elvira: I guess she's too busy to be church secretary. With her other work at the law office and all.
Char: I did wonder why she had already handpicked Meg as her successor. I thought the job should have been posted or announced.
Elvira: I could do the work. Typing, filling out forms, answering letters. I do all that at Faith Community Fellowship.
Char: That’s what I thought”. Meg is reluctant. She said right out, 'I'm not married to the idea of this position'. At that point I mentioned your name as a possibility, Elvira.
Elvira: And what happened then?
Char: Let me think. Meg said, 'Oh, maybe Elvira wants this job'. That's the funny part. The rest of them went silent.
Elvira: You mean......stone cold silent?
Char: Yeah. Pretty much.
Elvira: Hmm. Do you think there's a problem?
Char: Nah. I just took them by surprise. You see, meetings are formalities. People network. They decide what they want over the phone beforehand. And I guess somebody really wants Meg as secretary.
Elvira: Or they definitely DO NOT want me.
Char: Oh, Elvira. Look on the bright side. Think positive. Tricia feels guilty about quitting in the middle of the year so she finds a replacement that she thinks can fill her shoes. She doesn't know you and your capabilities. This will go through the proper channels next month at a regular meeting. Chin up, Elvira. If it's God's will you will have this job.
Elvira (interior monologue): I hoped Char was right.
My part time job meant the difference between paying bills or not, buying myself the occasional ice cream cone or cappuccino, or keeping a dog, which I needed for protection since I lived in a rough neighborhood.
Sure, I made more money at my mail order cosmetics and jewelry. But that income was sporadic, and when things weren’t going well in the business world, it felt good to have a steady paycheck, even a small one.
It also got me out of the house.
I was a person of few words and I kept my struggles to myself. Only a handful of people knew about my agoraphobia. Yes, it was in remission but I never knew when the ugly beast would return. Debilitating panic attacks followed me into the “marketplace” and drove me back to my surroundings: my home, office, and the spacious yard where I loved to garden.
It was my size that caused my problems. As an adolescent I was teased mercilessly. The other kids made mooing sounds at me in the hallways, and when I got off the school bus in the winter time, the boys would yell out, “We’re losing our traction!”
Church jobs were ideal. The people were charitable, less inclined to criticize. I was no fashion plate, but in a church office, it didn’t seem to matter. The work required a certain amount of skill and dedication. The folks at Faith Community Fellowship respected and appreciated me.
Saint Matthew's was a different story......
Char: Thanks for the lemonade, Elvira. I'll have to hurry if I'm going to make the bank before it closes. What kind of a dog did you say Raggy is?
Elvira: She's a Swedish vallhund. Practically the only expensive purchase I've ever made but I don't regret it one bit. She's getting old, though. I don't know what I'll do without her.
Char: That pooch looks to be in pretty good health
Elvira: I'll be taking her to vet next week if I can afford it. Almost have to afford it. She's due for her shots.
Char: That time of year again. Well, Elvira, I do have to run. Don't you worry a bit about the secretary's job.
Elvira (interior monolog): I watched as my friend made her way across my lawn, her flaming hair a contrast to her hunter green blazer. I sat down at the computer and checked my e-mail. For the second week in a row, I had gotten no orders from my website. I wondered what was wrong. Products not up to date? Dead links? Search engines indexing my site differently? I wondered if I should have Char take a look.
I could always count on Char to back me up, prop me up, cheer me up, lend me a hand, and let me know what was going down. The only point of contention I had with her, which was not serious, was her interest in astrology. She would say to me, “You’re a Scorpio, Elvira. You know what they say. Beware the Scorpio’s sting”.
I laughed at that one.
Voice: Afternoon, ma'am. This is the Moonlight repair shop. You had a refrigerator brought in here. With labor and parts it would cost you three hundred dollars to fix it up right.
Voice: I don’t think it’s worth it.
Elvira: Me neither.
Voice: Will you be picking up your old appliance, ma’am?
Elvira: Oh, I don’t think so. You can keep it for parts or whatever.
Voice: Okay, ma’am, we’ll be billing you fifty dollars, then. Landfill fee.
Elvira (interior monolog): I wondered if Tricia Emory ever had days like mine. She was fairly new to the church. New compared to the forty plus years I had been hanging around if my Sunday School days were counted. With Tricia's arrival came the idea that the century old church needed a secretary. She was a primped up go-getter, from her crisp hairdo to her clip board, to her fashionable flats. Her work was exemplary, carried out with the utmost in conscientiousness, and she was much admired. When I observed how greatly Tricia was admired, I remarked, half jokingly, to a friend, “If Saint Matthew's ever hires another secretary, I would be the last person they would ever consider”.
But my experience at Faith Community Fellowship had given me confidence in my own unique set of skills. I knew that one day I would get a chance to prove myself to the people at Saint Matthew's. It looked like that day might be sooner rather than later.
Meg was tall and elegant, and very nice. And like Tricia, looked up to by the rural congregation for her obscure and mysterious work at the university astronomy lab. I had once overheard her described as "very intelligent and very important". I knew Meg didn’t have time for this little job, and she certainly didn’t need the money.
Although I was optimistic about my chances I realized it might be prudent to gently nudge the odds in my favor. I thought about my strategy. I decided i would first call or e-mail Tricia Emory and determine that she really didn’t want the job. No point in trusting second hand information and it might open the door to conversation. I figured that if she wanted out sooner rather than later, she might lend her recommendation to some who stood ready to take over. Next, I would contact Meg. If she really was too busy to take over as church secretary, I could use her support as well. Lastly, I would e-mail Phyllis, the pastor’s wife. I had fairly good rapport with her and it never hurts to have the big guns on your side. For good measure I sent two or three more mop-up emails, just to have all bases covered.
I sent off my e-mails and with a spring in my step, I went outside to work in my garden. As I wielded the rake and hoe, I began to daydream about the changes I would make when, not if, I took over the secretary’s position.
When I went in for a cup of hot spearmint tea, I decided to log on and check my hit counter and at the same time, see if Tricia, Meg or Phyllis had emailed me yet. But all I found in my mailbox was spam. What a letdown.
I didn't hear from anyone until Thursday. There was nothing from the remarkably conscientious Tricia. Nothing from Meg. But.....finally! The pastor’s wife Phyllis had sent me a message. I clicked it open.
“Hi Elvira”, she wrote. “I have had the most glorious day. We ate at a quaint little supper club and went for a long walk through the state forest. I think spring has arrived. Have you decided what to plant in your garden this year? I think I will stick with marigolds, petunias and pansies. I do not have the patience for more exotic varieties. Except perhaps nasturtiums or delphiniums. Well, I had better get busy. Take care. See you Sunday. Phyllis”.
Not a word in response to the main subject of my e-mail, which I had titled Church Secretary!
I wrote a formal letter of interest to the council. I listed my qualifications. I was already a church secretary with duties similar to those listed for Saint Matthew's. I was a desktop publisher. I was a published writer. Stories meant little more to me than four cents a word and paying bills. But in the event the church needed press releases, publicity, or formal correspondence, the ability to compose letters might be valuable. I proofed my resume, printed two copies, and stuck them in envelopes addressed to the council secretary and to the president.
The next day, my article on mountain climbing came back to me with a rejection slip. I had written it from library and internet research. I was an overweight woman who couldn't walk up a steep flight of stairs without losing my breath. Sometimes a person just can't fake it.
I needed money more than I needed my pride. This time I would have to go begging. I decided to let Char know what I had done regarding the emails and the letter of interest in the job.
Char: Elvira, we've got to talk.
Elvira: What did we need to talk about?
Char: Some people at church are acting like jerks.
Elvira: Oh, really?
Char: Yes. I have been trying to run down information for over a week and I get stonewalled at every turn.
Elvira: Somebody is really against me, and I don't know what I did wrong.
(Interior monolog). Deep down inside, I did know. I hadn't done anything except that with my inquiries I exposed the dark side that lurks in every human heart.
Saint Matthew's had recently upgraded its image. The addition of offices, a nursery and a new fellowship hall had turned it from a stodgy old country church to a vibrant ecclesiastical community that was attracting young families and new growth. Having Tricia, or someone like her, as secretary contributed to the image. She was slim and smart and she knew it.
Sometimes we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the glass door of a public building. The image is never clear, and often distorted. And yet for a moment, we see what the world sees. I had had such an experience in the recent past....my slow moving, hulking self as I approached the mall entrance, wearing wide legged jeans and a man's chambray shirt, my favorite costume.
Char: Their attitude is unchristian. And very rude. There is no place for a pecking order in a church.
Elvira: It was naive of me to inquire. But I conducted myself in a proper manner.
Char: Of course you did. And you had every right to inquire.I'm going to get to the bottom of this. But I will need your help.
Elvira: How so?
Char: You will see. But you will have to attend that council meeting with me.
Elvira (interior monolog): On Thursday night we Char and I met at the church. My fellow church members said "hello" to me. I thought some of them had a problem looking me in the eye. Nobody asked me why I was there. We all sat around a table drinking coffee until the meeting was called to order. Reports were read and approved. Then the chair announced Old Business.
Joanne: We have to vote on accepting Meg as church secretary.
Char: Wait. I am sure Meg would make a fine secretary. But not all options were explored.
Earl: It's a done deal. Meg has agreed. Let's make this discussion a short one. I'd like to get home before midnight.
Char: Elvira, would you like to tell the council how Faith Community Fellowship went about hiring a secretary?
Elvira: They posted it in the weekly bulletin and announced it from the pulpit. They said they were looking for a secretary and was anybody interested.
Earl: One way of doing it.
Char: So how did WE come up with a candidate?
Gloria: It was discussed here last Sunday. Fair and square.
Char: Most of you know that Elvira holds one church secretary position. Isn't it odd that her name didn't come up in the discussion?
Earl: We had no idea she would be interested. She has her hands full with that other church, doesn't she?
Elvira: I did send a letter.
Gloria: Oh yes, that letter. Elvira, let's lay all our cards on the table. You would be the best person by far for this job.
Joanne: But Saint Matthew's can't afford a secretary. Tricia has been getting paid now and then but she hasn't turned in her hours for three months. The council will take over a number of the tasks. And Meg will hold the title of secretary but in reality she will be a volunteer co-ordinator.
Elvira (interior monolog): So there I sat. Egg on my face. I had scrambled after a nonexistent job. A church secretary is a powerful person. She runs the office, she has the pastor’s ear, she hears all the gossip. If she types out a liturgy, even if it’s wrong, the congregation will sit, stand, kneel and sing according to her whim. Tricia was Saint Matthew's first secretary ever. She defined the job and likely she was not about to hand over her legacy to a fat old cow like me.
I went home and counted my pennies. A month’s salary at the rate they were accustomed to paying at Saint Matthew's would have taken care of that landfill fee along with accrued interest, and bought me another mini refrigerator or two. I had given up on a full sized model.
That night I was awakened by a pitiful moan. Raggy attempted to jump upon my bed but her hind legs were too weak. She lay on the floor all night as I reached down and stroked her little wolf head.
The next day, the veterinarian explained to me that her hip was giving her problems and he could try various therapies including surgery, but he had to know how I felt about spending hundreds of dollars on a thirteen year old dog.
I did have money put aside for a rainy day, but every month bills stared me in the face.....taxes, electricity, repairs. A refrigerator.
Raggy looked up at me with big brown eyes. Through my tears, I gave permission for the injection that would put my pal to sleep forever.
That evening, my melancholy thoughts were interrupted by a very strange phone call.
Voice: Hello, Elvira.
Elvira: Who is calling?
Voice: That's not important. I do think you deserve an explanation about what happened at the council meeting.
Elvira: And what might that explanation be?
Voice: Elvira, some folks think you're weird. A loose cannon. A flake they say. Mind you it's not everybody. Only one or two people but they influence the others. They'll never forget that essay you wrote about big knockers, the one you posted on the church doors. They say, 'What kind of newsletter will we have with her in charge?'. The fear is that you would use the secretary's position as a....this is how they put it...."a venue for her philosophies" which nobody wants to hear. Anyway, you're not going to do anything like that on the church's money. You know, Elvira, you haven't made enough of a success of yourself to be able to contribute to the church like some of the rest of us. And that fact has been noticed, in particular the way you fill envelopes with loose change, nickels and pennies, for the collection.......".
Elvira (interior monolog): I laid the receiver back quietly as she raved. So that was that.
The next day after I had done my typing and filing at Faith Community Fellowship, I waddled my way to the public library and checked out the Writers Market. I needed to make some money fast.
Among the listings, one word jumped out at me: Erotica.
Char had said that job would be mine if it was God's will. Well, apparently it was not God's will. More importantly, it was not the will of the people at St. Matthew's, some of whom would say if they knew the path I planned to embark upon, that I was entering into an arrangement with the Devil.
Elvira: The blank sheet of paper beckoned, white as wool, unmarked as sleep without dreams. Guilt produces writer's block sometimes and my conscience was quartz crystal clear. The words flowed from the tip of my pen onto the tablet, and later, my fingers clicked over the computer keyboard as fast as a daredevil biker traveling on the open road. I had a lot to say.
The faces of my fellow church members flickered before my eyes, like images projected onto a bed sheet in the days before Power Point. I had no idea which were my detractors.
I took a wild guess.
Tricia Emory. She was new. What could she possibly have against me? The origins of her antipathy were mysterious. I hesitated. Should I give her the benefit of the doubt? Tricia didn't know me. Certainly there was some misunderstanding, some reasonable explanation.... But....she had called that impromptu meeting, hadn't she? And ignored my email? She had been livid and fairly frothing at the mouth, Char said, when her plans to quietly install Meg were derailed.
Hells bells, I was writing FICTION, wasn't I? My mind raced, my fingers kept up the pace.
Within a week, my story "Orgy in the Sacristy", featuring a primped-up go-getter was ready to submit. I found an online e-zine that paid rates comparable to the confession market and attached it as an rtf file as per instructions.
Honestly, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I got an email two weeks later with the heading, "We're buying your story". The guidelines said the waiting period might be six months or more. The editor had nice things to say. He (or she) called my writing "evocative" and asked to see more. And they wanted to know where to send the check.
And so I discontinued submitting to the more "respectable" publications .
Naughty story ideas abounded. There was this fathead woman named Mabel at church who got me reprimanded publicly for serving communion in a tee shirt that read "I'm Too Sexy For My Shirt". I guess she couldn't see the bitter irony in somebody like me wearing that garment. Mabel gave herself tons of credit for having finesse and knowing what was proper. But I had observed her looking hormonal in dark red lipstick, shining around the clergy. It didn't take me long to come up with a fathead story. I called it "Hot For The Preacher". This time I sent it to a print media anthology and it was well received. Seven cents a word, and with the proceeds I bought a membership at a fitness center.
Titles are the hard part and I started running out of good ones. When I was a kid, I had fundamentalist friends who showed me a cool trick. Sitting through their interminable services, they entertained themselves by leafing through the hymnal and adding "between the sheets" to the entries under the First Line index. It doesn't work so good in a more liturgical, "high church", but I found myself an old Pentecostal hymnbook. "I Am His And He Is Mine'. "Take Me As I Am'. "Satisfied'.
That council meeting I attended served me well, more than once. When the ideas started running dry, I thought of those folks and I had plenty of material. It was hard to visualize someone built like, say, Ichabod Crane, or Santa Claus. without his clothes. Without laughing, Believe me, my stories did not lack humor.
I grew smarter. You see, erotica is, when all is said and done, literature. It has plot, character, emotion, sometimes sensitivity. The editors are nice, polite people but they work with small budgets and the readership is limited. There is a far more lucrative market for wall-to-wall smut. Pornographic writing. No point, no plot, just letting your wildest basest imagination run away with you.
In no time I had turned that second corner. And I was good. Damn good. In the hands of a skillful and determined writer, even the most unpromising of genres takes on new life. I called my first foray into this new field, "Elvira Lands A Sucker Punch".
There came a day when people wanted to know, "Who is the anonymous author of these amazing vignettes?" For I didn't get a byline in that market either. They started calling me the Queen of Porn, though of course no one knew my identity.
A determined journalist tracked me down. By that time my hours at the fitness center had paid off so I didn't really mind when National Inquirer caught me sunbathing in the privacy of my backyard on a telephoto lens. They wrote the story of my life. I had gone from a pathetic blimp to a hot little number in a string bikini.
I had resigned my job at Faith Community Fellowship, so as not to embarrass them. I had nothing against those folks. But I was pleased to inform the paparazzi that I was a member in good standing at St. Matthew's.
The council had a meeting to see what they could do about me. But they decided due to issues of free speech and freedom of expression and so on, their hands were tied.
There is a scene that will remain forever in my mind's eye. It was the day the council was having one of their meetings at a local cafe. They all stood on the street corner and gawked as I climbed into that long black limousine with the skinny good looking uniformed chauffeur named Omar, wearing my designer jeans, accompanied by my thousand dollar borzoi hound. I was on my way to the airport, and another TV interview. I waved goodbye to them sweetly as I left them behind in a cloud of dust.