No, mom… I’m fine, really. It’s just been a strange adjustment but everything is going well.
It was unnerving how his mother could take the smallest bit of trepidation in his voice and turn it into the biggest crisis of contemporary history. This time she may actually be correct, but he wasn’t sure. There is too much to absorb and too little time to digest before he gives any fluttery thoughts of “oh fuck this was a mistake” any credence, and he didn’t want his mother jumping the gun on this just yet.
He stands at the red brick with white column ‘A Building’, the oldest constructed dorm building at 900 Red Mills Road, Wallkill, New York among the desk slots of requisitions and time slips decorated in the best 1970’s ‘upscale farm cottage’ cream with splashes of barn red decor using one of the two pay phones next to the staircase looking at a row of young men waiting to call their own families about their own well being in most militaristic compound outside the military.
First month heading into the winter of 1995 it is difficult to get used to the schedule and the drones’ cadenced movements in constant force. Mondays were the private Watchtower study meeting onsite for only Bethelites that took over an hour and a half. It was kept private because application of the information found in the Watchtower sometimes have structural application to the organization that common publishers attending the Kingdom Halls across the United States should know or need to know. Tuesday was the two-hour normal congregation meetings in a town 45 minutes up the I-87 tollroad to a struggling congregation in Saugertiese, New York. It was recently formed when the original, larger church was divided into two smaller and unequipped groups without having a proper balance between local publishers, local elders, and Bethel volunteers due to the overbearing persistence of a tall, balding force of a Bethel elder and constant form of friction known as Brother Bechman. Currently the Congregation of South Saugerties, New York was taking one out of every three newly inducted volunteers meaning the congregation had no mid-week support and a large number of untrained green newbies flooding the few native families on the weekend in a disproportionate convergence.
Wednesday was relatively free (usually spend as studying time), Thursday was the hour bookstudy at the compound in the room of Brother and Sister Bechman in the ‘B Building’ on the opposite side of complex, and Friday the young brothers were encouraged to stay with a family from their local congregation for the weekend. Saturdays was spent going door to door in field service, Sunday mornings had the two hour meetings of bible discourse (called a “Talk”) and the public Watchtower study that the Bethelites had prepared for the Monday prior. Sunday evening were the hour to two hour orientation meetings for new volunteers.
It is certainly difficult for the natural night owl to get use to the morning routine: Up at 6:00 am to fight for the communal showers; Dress in button-up shirt and tie with slacks; Walk 1/2 a mile to the main complex to one’s assigned seat in the dining room for breakast and morning text; 15 minutes of discussion and assigned comments about a bible verse (known as the “daily text”); prayer; food is served; 30 minutes to eat; announcements; final prayer; be ready to work by 8:00 am.
For the first two weeks the new Bethelites are in housekeeping duty for the day until they are given their permanent assignment. This is to give them a sense of appreciation and respect to the care of their dorm rooms and the women who maintenance them daily. They are housekeepers… not maids.
For the afternoon, 12:00 pm the bell rings and at 12:15 pm prayer and food is served with announcements and pleasantries. If the volunteer is a ‘grunt worker’ they have 15 minutes to shower and change back into shirt-and-tie before walking to the dining hall. 1:00 pm is back to work until 5:00 pm with dinner prayer at 5:15 pm.
Meetings at the congregation start at 7:30 pm with the orientation meetings on Sunday starting at 6:30 pm. If Saugerties was 45 minutes away and it is encouraged for all publishers to be there at least 30 minutes before every meeting, it was necessary to leave the Farm by 6:15 pm which was difficult for those on a long day or filthy from working on a production line. Construction workers were a near impossibility.
It was also required for all new volunteers to read several manuals for which there were tests, memorize the list of rules (‘no wrestling in underwear or back massages between roommates’ was rule #5), keep up with congregation meeting preparation and participation, read the entire bible (The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures) in the first year, and maintain a publisher’s average hours in door to door field service (10 hours a month, although only maintaining the minimum was overbearingly frowned upon).
Everything was provided for onsite… so much so that the general term for anything not Witness was considered “outside” and spoken with a air of hesitation and disdain. Haircuts were on a three week schedule, laundry was once a week, the commissary provided outside luxuries like Pop Tarts or frozen foods alongside necessities like toothpaste and deodorant all at cost. If one needed clothes, there is always something available in the ‘grab bin’. Also included was basketball court, small weight room, and pay phones found at each building.
None of this was particularly overwhelming, but in a compound of 2000-or-so young men all trying to out-Disney Disney… it was difficult to wade through the “bro’s” and “chief’s”, winks and finger guns, and find any genuine emotion outside the drone worker bee with a shrink-wrap thrillness to be doing Jehovah’s work in a specialized avenue expressed with perfectly maintained glossed-over smiles and vacant expressions of sight where their biggest highlight of the week was ice cream being served at lunch. Everyone was just playing their cog and any sincerity as a human being was pushed out via overworking an under-appreciating and a redundant weary lifestyle, once again under the weight of humility in Jehovah’s service. He had already noticed immediately that having any in depth discussion of opinions was a struggle in tugboatting a ground battleship. Young men across the compound seemed almost afraid to have a personal opinion… about anything… at all.
The Farm is referred to as such because in 1963 upon its purchase, is initial responsibility of the self-reliant religion was to be an actual functioning farm for the main production work of printing Watchtowers and Awake! magazine, bibles, tracts, and various other publications found at Myrtle and Adams streets in Brooklyn, New York. The Farm raised pigs, produce, fully functional dairy, slaughterhouse, and processing facilities which then trucked the foods to Brooklyn. Beginning in 1973 the function of the farm began to change when production of the magazines for the United States outside New York City was moved to the farm while printing for the local witnesses, books, bibles, and tracts remained in Brooklyn. Shipping via United States Postal Service became more cost effective than private shipping through the New York harbor. In fact, the Watchtower Farms is located outside New Paltz, New York, but use Wallkill as their address since the towns postal station is better equipped to handle the amount of mail the Jehovah’s Witness compound than the small SUNY college town of New Paltz. Shortly afterward, there was an increased need for organized computers and databases, and the Farm seemed safer than in the big city, so the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Computer Department was formed at the Wallkill location while the administration of the Witnesses and the Governing Body who makes the decisions for the religion and it’s beliefs remained at the created complex collectively known as 124 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York (1+2+4=7, a biblical number of all things Godly).
James has worked with computers for most of his life, and this finds himself labeled as one with a “special skill” and was assigned to the computer department’s receiving desk to get to know the department through the stockroom… a first step of every computer department worker.
Mom, please don’t worry. Look… I’m just going to look at it like the challenge it is, no big deal. I’ll get over it.
From the entry he sees someone out of the corner of his eye… pale skin, sharp features, long-by-Disney-standards black hair parted in the middle, radiating with the sunlight shooting from his half smile, big chocolate eyes trying to absorb his surroundings with a childlike wonderment while still maintaining the smooth cool hippie vibe in the bounce of his black textured Doc Martins grounding his laid-back stride. They briefly lock eyes… and smile cordially.
James almost drops the phone.
Please don’t be a clone…
What? Who’s a clone?
Everyone is a clone! He seems to exhale the sentence with unusual force. Only then he realizes there is a group of men still waiting to use one of the two phones, all with wide eyes. The neighboring phone user throws an annoyed look.
…which is a good thing… it keeps us unified in this… spiritual warfare … against… the world… Look, mom, I’ve got to go.
He isn’t sure whether everyone was looking at him because of the burst out or because he just seemingly eye-banged the new Seattle-grungish newbie, but either way he felt it was time to exit.
Love you too. Tell dad I miss him. (Click.)
He hangs up the phone and dashes up to A314 on the third story while the new guy turned the corner to the right on the first floor. He sits on this bed and turns on the television to something pointless.
Baseball. Women. Grandma…
James P. Perez © 2013