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The urinal in the locker room toilet flushed repeatedly

Ancillary Talents

    The urinal in the locker room toilet flushed repeatedly. I took off a shoe, found the errant Flushometer, and pounded the top of it with the rubber heel.  The flushing stopped.  A fellow exerciser wanted to know how I knew what to do.  I explained that as the pastor of a church with seventeen different restrooms I had to learn quick fixes or the repair bills would wipe out the widow's mite and a whole lot more.

    Congregants will tell you I never had much patience with those who scolded me when I went at household maintenance chores with the same passion I put into my preaching.  They insisted: "Pastor, you shouldn't have to do that."  To which I replied, "I don't have to, I want to." An episode clearing a storm drain in the Brooklyn church (go figure: that's fifty years ago) led me to musing in a newsletter whether or not Norman Vincent Peale ever stuck his arm up to its elbow in a clogged drain.  Or consider my purchase of a blue rain suit from L.L. Bean, the better to keep dry when thawing frozen drains in winter with hot water carried to the gutter opening by way of a one hundred fifty foot garden hose: hey, you do what you have to do.

    Or have you tasted my Manhattan clam chowder, ten gallons of which I brewed and then froze every November to feed the Men's Club at our annual Coney Island Night?  I opened most of the bushel of large quahogs with a knife, not a hammer or by steaming.  Joe of Fish Market fame joked he would hire me to shuck clams.      

    It's probably the same for a small business owner, but in the church, where the repairs always exceed the money to fix them, someone has to learn all of the tricks of the construction trade. I've enlisted my share of laypersons, and then studied their moves, the better to employ them, the moves, during the weekdays when volunteer help was not available.  So I learned to replace electrical switches and light bulbs in chandeliers eighteen feet off the floor. Once I wrote a newsletter article about changing floodlights in the ceiling high above the chancel, on the reverse side of the ceiling, crawling over the wire mesh holding the plaster, wondering if I should fall through that ceiling to the altar below whether or not I would be found impaled on the cross. 

    Oh, pastor, you shouldn't have to do that.  Okay, I won't: you can do it. 

    Necessity is also the mother of instruction in all of the arcane arts seminary never provided.  In fact, one professor advised us in a course in practical theology to stay away from the mimeograph machine, because once we learned how to use it, we would be expected to take charge of it.  I didn't heed the professor's advice and consequently have spent a lifetime in the parish as the expert in the use and repair of mimeos, addressing machines, scanners, copiers, computers, and any other device created for the propagation of The Word.  Five years into retirement I found myself preparing an eight page directory of neighborhood addresses... probably because I couldn't resist showing off my long-earned expertise in creating church bulletins of whatever length was needed.

    The pastorate also provided me with plenty of medical diagnostic experience.  Caring for a constituency of more than a thousand people equips a careful observer with knowledge about symptoms of which a medical student would be envious. I correctly identified our nine year old daughter's stomach pain as appendicitis, before the blood test proved me right.  A score of congregants suffering from an insatiable thirst for soda heard me advise them to be sure to ask the doctor about diabetes.  My own family routinely asks my opinion about wounds suffered, whether or not they should be immediately attended to by a professional or treated with home remedies.  And knees, wow, knees, I couldn't begin to count the inquiries sent to me about knee replacement surgery. 

    Call me Jack of all trades and Galen for a few. 

    Like our bichon frese: today, in anticipation of next week's visit to the vet, I removed tartar from Tappy's canines, with a scraper given me by our dentist.  The dog squirms a little, but putting up with that is better than spending $600 for a doggy dental cleaning.  Yeh, I'm cheap and, thankfully, our dog is docile. Parsimoniousness (i.e., being cheap) in this instance is the mother of medication.

    Yes, yes, it's important to know the limits of the smarts one picks up along the way.  Wisdom also consists in knowing when to call for help.  The older I get, the more often I do.

    I could go on and on... but you probably won't.  Just consider these gentle boasts an old man's reassessment of his life and times and how he got through them and what he learned along the way, many of which (things learned) have very little to do with religion.


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