Chapter 19 – Meet the Family

He’s not a brother, you know.

What do you mean?

You called him “Brother” even though he is not yet baptized.

Brother Bechman’s eyes seemed to glimmer with the most repressed sense of enjoyment from the surprise oversight by James.  His towering presence wasn’t intimidating to the young Bethelite, but the restrained condescension from the Bethel Elder seemed to make him even more patronizing.

I wasn’t paying attention.  I know it’s just a technicality, but I hope he does eventually become baptized.  He seems to be doing well.  I don’t see the harm in extending a greeting as a form of accepting him and in having hope of his future dedication. 

That is good in intent, but it might be confusing on some of our newer publishers.

I have to remember that I’m in a different congregation than where I grew up.  If it’s preferable, I will use “brother” more towards those with such a status in the congregation.

Well, I don’t think it’s about status as it is a way of reminding them that until they make a commitment and a dedication, they are still not our brother.

And where my intent is good, inconsistency could be raking coals in the fire?

Precisely

Please be sure to remind me again if I slip up.  I come from the school of positive reinforcement, and old habits die hard, I suppose.

Well, at Bethel, we hope to create better habits than the ones you would have back home.  

As I am learning.

Good.  Now, if my sources inform me correctly, you have a vehicle checked into Bethel property for a little over a week now.

Yeah, my dad and brother drove it up from Houston.  It’s a little Ford Aspire.  Green.

Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet them. 

I am too.  It was too far of a drive to come here in the short time frame they were here.

Well, I noticed you haven’t met with us in the B building lobby to arrange rides for all the traveling Bethelites who need a ride up here.

With the new car comes some excitement.  I have Aaron, and with me that’s two.  Jake is a waiter and is always running late from the dining room to shower, change.  That’s three, and you insist no more than three per a car.  Tonight I happened to bring Kyle because he was running late from the old press that went down today.

Kyle fits in your car?

(Half laugh.) We keep him in the front.

(Laughing.)  Well okay, you have your alternative arrangements.  But  you know, if you don’t meet with us before the meeting, you are ineligible for the automotive compensation program.  I can’t sign the form if I don’t see the people you are helping out.

Even though we are all here now?

They could have gotten here through any means.  It’s just a way of keeping everyone honest.

My parents do a good job of helping out where they can…

For example, a vehicle.

Exactly.  And if it’s a matter of helping out a few brothers who are on different time frames to make the 45 minute journey up here, well, we are happy to help out. 

Okay then.  Glad I got that information.  Now I know.

James had noticed that Sister ______ was hovering close by and looking at the two brothers talking.  Unlike other most social settings, one didn’t interrupt a conversations Brother Bechman was having.  He was an important man doing important things and in order to converse with him one must first stand in the line of sight and wait to be acknowledged.  James can see the trepidation in her eyes.

After he and Brother Beckman concluded, they were both surprised that she approached him and not Brother Bechman to converse.    James is not only taken aback, but the find he couldn’t help himself in taking the opportunity and excuses himself and Sister ______ from Brother Bechman so they could talk more privately.

Sister ______ lived outside of the town with her unbaptized and disinterested in the Truth husband.  Her eldest daughter was doing well in the Truth, but her teenage son was not.

Before she begins, she waves Aaron over a well.

James.  Aaron.  I’m glad I caught you both before you left.  Well, my husband, as you may not know, works with people who have… certain… reputations.  

Oh, you mean…

Yes, yes.  We don’t have to get into specifics.  My husband grew up with them, he’s like family.  They treat him like family.

Aaron responds with a concerned head-tilt, crunched eyebrows, yet still ambiguous in interpretation look.  Okay…

So they are having a party this weekend, a bit of a spring reunion and our family will be there.  I was wondering if you could come along and keep my son, ____ company.

____?  Oh, of course.  ____ is a cool kid.

Aaron’s very adult and concerned face questions, Considering the environment, does he have to be there?  Did you want us to invite him somewhere else for the day?

No, he doesn’t have to be there, but he would still go.  He knows everyone and the entire family loves him so they would expect him to be around at least some of the time.  I was wondering if you two could come by and just keep him company… keep the conversation going in the right direction?  Keep the party in focus.

Aaron’s concern started to take shape in a direction that was impressively specific.  Does he have the potential to, perhaps… I don’t know… be involved with people like that one day?

I think… I don’t know.  Yes, I do know.  Yes.  The answer is “Yes.”  He sees all these kids that are his age and have new this and new that… and we are well off, so ____ has everything he wants, he’s very spoiled.  But still, I think he has that longing to be as wealthy and free as they are.

Aaron was still being the adult, But they’re not really free, are they?

No they are not, and I want to get that across to him, but it’s not something I can tell him.  Everything always comes out so… motherly.  Oh, and I want Brian to go too.  ____ looks up to him.

Brian is a short surfer third-year Bethelite  in his late twenties with a short thin mustache and thinning hair, and is Jame’s next-door neighbor.  He carries with him big bright eyes and has a constant facial expression of confused happiness and just happens to be walking by.

James reaches over and snags him by the arm.  Brian!

Whoa Chief.  Hey guys.  What’s up?

Sister ______ was just mentioning how much ____ looks up to you.

Oh, cool.  Where is the little bro?

The sister smiled at the three brothers and started to explain, He’s helping his father get ready for this Saturday.  You know the family we work for are having a big party and I would like to invite you to keep ____ company while so many questionable people will be around.

The family family?  Whoa.  Crazy.  In the pause Brian thought about it not really convinced.  I don’t know.

Sister ______ explained once more about the situation. Brian remained hesitant until the sister explained, and it will all be catered… for free.

Free food?  Score! That’s all you had to say!  (Laughter.) What time?

It’s going to start around 11:00 and go until 5:00 with the food being served around 12:45.

Awesome! I’ll be there at 12:45!

James and Aaron look at each other and laugh nervously, trying to digest Brian’s reaction.  There was simply no way any Bethelite would be so… obvious.

Brian kept talking, If you two wanna ride, I’m leaving at noon!

James broke the shock, We will probably leave right after Aaron’s dish duty.

That early?  Okay, bro. No biggie.

James, Kyle looks like he’s ready to go, Aaron announced.

The polite exchanges were given and Aaron and James gathered Jake and Kyle and crawled into the tiny hatchback to head back to the Farm.

On the dark quiet 1-87 tollway Kyle was the first to react, So let me get this straight… you were invited to a Mafia party?

Yes.  And Aaron, you were never attracted to the idea of being in the Mafia because… and I’m quoting… “they aren’t free”?

Big smile, Of course that’s not true!  Come one!  Everyone wants to be in the Mafia.  It’s so attractive that Mafia rejects band together and form street gangs.

(Laughter.)

James tries to anchor the situation, We weren’t invited to the party.  We were invited to keep Sister ______’s son ____ company.

Kyle made a face, ____?  That guy is a punk.  He’s so arrogant and quick to say that he’s better than everyone else.

Well, Kyle, maybe he is better than everyone else, You’re just going to have to accept that.

Shut up!

Jake had to chime in, Wait, why wasn’t I invited?  I know more about gangsters than either of you.

She only wanted people there who were excellent examples and a good influence to keep her son company while the party is going on, Aaron said, barely making it though the sentence in the laughter.

Don’t make assumptions, James broke in.

About who?

We don’t know that they are “gangsters”, okay?

Kyle was in laughter and didn’t know which direction to head to first.  Wait, just hold on.  She wanted people who would be excellent examples for her son.  Aaron I can understand… but James?  You’re insane.

I have to go with Kyle on this one, Jake jumped in.  Some of the things that come out of your mouth are shocking, even for me. 

James looks through the rear view mirror to Jake, I will bitch-slap you from here.

Aaron tuned his head to the driver, James!

James catches himself in worry.  He had been trying hard not to swear anymore, but on occasion some of the lesser swear words occasionally pop out.  I’m so sorry!  I haven’t cursed once since I got here.  I was doing to well.

Dammit James, I told you not to curse anymore!  Aaron laughed.

Kyle throws his hands up in laughter, I am surrounded by heathens.

You two are going to hell, Jake said.

Jesus!  Two heathens and an apostate.

Don’t take the lord’s name in vain, Kyle, James scolded.

Dammit.  Now look what you made me do, Kyle replied in laughter.

Aaron brought the conversation around, I can say this much, foul mouth or not, James is still a much better example then Brian.

Little Brian?

This is no joke, he continued, When Sister ______ invited him, he did not want to go.

That’s right, until…

Until she told him there was going to be free food.

(Pause.)

James lets the pause sit before picking up where Aaron left off.  It’s the truth.  And when she told him the party will start at 11:00 but the food wouldn’t be served until 12:45, he said he would be there at 12:45.

Wow.

Because her son doesn’t need any company for the hour and forty-five minutes before the food is served, Kyle said.

James thinks back of his conversation with the twins, My friends and I had a very similar conversation about how Bethelites are when it comes to food and mooching.

Kyle actually sits up in his seat, My dad came to visit and he was going to take me out to dinner after work and Sean, the guy I work with, jumped in and said, “Got room for one more?”

Oh my god.

I was so upset because we only work together, we’re not friends.  I don’t even know him that well.  I told him that if he had any money he could join, which of course opened the way for my dad who stopped me and said the typical, “Now, he’s a Bethel worker and I can contribute to the Society by helping him out with a good meal.”

You’re dad talks like that?

We have very similar voices.

Jake took offense, Great, now I’m a waiter serving crap meals that visitors feel the need to compensate for.

Oh Jake, you know it’s not like that, James tried to comfort… although it was a good point.

I hear that all the time and I don’t take offense to it, but still.  Anyway, I’m a waiter.  A waiter.  I thought we were going to come to this place, hang out with other brothers, learn some new skills and enjoy a new congregation.  Being a waiter with a congregation over 45 minutes away is getting to me.  The only time I get to hang out with anyone is with you foul-mouth heathens.

James laughs which made Jake feel better, Jake, I’m so sorry.  I didn’t realize.  Maybe put in for a closer congregation?

Still, when I leave here, I’m going to be exactly where I was when I left… Broke with no job.  Waiting tables.

Aaron added, My skill isn’t transferable to the real world either.  Mail room sorting?  I put folded magazines in a box.  That’s it.  All day every day.  It’s murder on the back.  And how in the world do I put that on a resume?

Kyle stepped in, I know I can make money on the outside, but only at one of the 15 companies in the world that still use these old style printing presses.  They need constant upkeep which is okay if you have volunteer labor, but not for a company making money.  None of us have the advantage that you have, computer boy.

James laughed, I’m learning FoxPRO… a dying computer language.  Nothing I will ever learn will be any good for anything but small little programs for keeping your laundry straight.  It’s going to be obsolete soon and I’m going to be nothing but a television repair man when no one gets their television repaired.

There was a sad realization that set in the vehicle as four different people from four different walks of life from four different parts of the country all had the same failed expectation of working at Bethel.

And yet, it wasn’t failure, per se.  It was more a continual work with no reward.  The situation is made for people who find hard work itself the reward.  It seemed that this did not include any of the four brothers driving home that evening.  And of course the comments immediately turned to how honorable the work was and how happy everyone is to be there.  This was safety mechanism that was in place as Bethelites as a whole were encouraged to report any conversations denoting discontent or dissatisfaction with the Organization.  It’s necessary to weed out the impure from Bethel early in order to keep the compound pure, and it is something that is always in the back of the mind.

Everything you say, can be reported.

The conversation took a funnier turn while everyone starts sharing their working conditions.  James stays out of the chatter for a bit except for quick, snide comments and quips.  It was important to keep the laughter going because this was indeed a hard life, but a hard life completely quarantined from all things that makes living worth it.  With Brother Bechman wanting to know how everyone spends all their time, all the time, even walks by the river after work seemed like it needed to be tallied.  To have some fun with anything exciting or different is condemned as “detracting” when the type of work demanded also requires some actual distraction.  There is no one that can be that focused constantly without some manumission to expand the soul before returning to work on whatever assembly line one was assigned.

One week later Aaron and James arrived at the party at 11:30 to hang out with ____ who had just walked over from his house.  They kept him occupied until James was asked if he could help with a computer issue one of the members of the family had, as they heard he worked in the computer department.  James was escorted to a computer. He did what he could, offered some further suggestions, and was escorted back to the party.

At 12:45 Brian showed up, ate, and left.

By 1:30 ____ was getting bored and he, James, and Aaron headed back to the house to play around with some music equipment and other toys he had in the garage.

Sister ______ was extremely grateful and said so many times.

James P. Perez © 2013