Chapter 20 – The Palisade

by Backseat Devil

The dynamic between the two roommates became noticeable everywhere they went.  Aaron’s musician softness is balanced by James’s sharp wit and outside-the-box thinking, while James’s categorical mind is balanced by Aaron’s appreciation of the world as a whole and in its individual elements.  There is a vibrancy in the air around them because it seems everything in the world was more vivid when looking at the spaces in between the obvious with new eyes and unique perspectives.

All the patterns and cycles that James had learned in Houston finds remarkable duplication at the Watchtower Farms.  Aaron shows the softer, gentler, more humanitarian application of James’s knowledge in ways never before understood – James could be understanding about situations, but he didn’t know how to be empathetic to the individual people in those situations, and Aaron was teaching him that.  It was almost as if patterns in human behavior worked as fractals and looked the same whether in a small individual setting or in a larger group dynamic.  James was fascinated by Aaron’s take on the world and Aaron couldn’t get enough of James’s warped perspective and skewed view of reality… and the wit between them kept them both on their toes.

Their comfort with each other extended physically as well.  On Friday nights when Jake would leave for the weekend it was finally “their” time.  All week long there was a constant pressure of being a good volunteer worker and finally, for just one evening, it could be the two of them alone, saying whatever the fuck they wanted to say without filter or judgement.  Of course the massages had become slowly more intimate, but the evenings as a whole would be ordering Chinese food, watching a movie, having a few drinks, massage, and ending with listening to something soft in the dark while laughing and analyzing, throwing about absurd ideas and honest hopes.

And it worked.  In the first few months at The Farm Aaron was talked to on several occasions on his performance, and recently he seemed like the happiest factory worker on the line.  There was a balance between what was being demanded as bethelites and what they needed as human beings and for a long time, the balanced the two roommates had found worked.

Per the nature of such organic development, the two of them became very protective of each other, almost as if each one was the only other person on the planet that they trusted.  That friendship, the bond between them had been tested several times and it did not quiver in the slightest, thus instilling a very real and dependable trust between the two.

From James’s cubicle he could see the side door entering to his section of the computer department.  On occasion, he would look up and see Aaron’s eyes and thick head of hair bouncing in over the tops of the cubicles near the door before making the corner, arriving at James’s station.  They would talk for a second, Aaron would get some air conditioning, and then he would disappear back into the factory.

Today was different, Aaron walks into the computer department.  James can see his eyes.  It’s not good.

Aaron, man, what’s up?  you look like you’re going to fall apart.

I am.  Can we talk?

Yeah, come walk with me.

James gets up and the two walk over to the next line of cubicles and stops at the desk of Oscar, James’s team leader who is squinting at the computer screen in front of him.

You should get your eyes checked, Aaron said.

Oscar puts his glasses back on and laughs.  Everyone in the computer department gets an eye exam every year.  I think you guys downstairs have to schedule them.  

Wow.  I didn’t know that.

Yeah.  They make lenses here too, and frames for next to nothing.  So what’s up?

James steps into the conversation, I was wondering if I can just walk with Aaron for a few minutes. 

Yeah, of course.  How are you coming with testing the new RMS program?

Pretty good.  The freeze up is happening in the date entry.

Let me guess.  One is two digit year and the other is four.

Yep.

Uugh.  Well, that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.  Okay.  Go walk.

Thanks.

James and Aaron go down the cubicle corridor to the opposite entrance of the computer department.

Aaron kept looking at James with a face of confusion that almost bordered on disbelief.  Is that all you have to do to take a break?

James didn’t think before he answered.  Oh this isn’t a break, I’m just away from my desk, he says with a half laugh.

The two men reach the opposite door to the computer room and exit, entering on the second floor of the factory where rumble and noise could be heard but it was still quiet enough to talk.

Well we are allowed one five minute break every hour, but if you take a break every hour, you get talked to.

Wow.  I didn’t know that.  But all the times you come up here and we talk and stuff…

I thought it was the same for all bethelites and you were taking a break at the same time as me.

Oh.  I’m sorry.  We just work differently up here.  You show up, I talk.  My work will be waiting for me when I return.

It’s like the thing with the tours…

Where you were talked to for already giving three personal tours for the year…

And you did like 20 in one month.

I did 5.  And one of them was a personal tour for my overseer so that didn’t count.

Whatever.

I made $150 on those tours, and we ate out a lot that month.  So… what did you want to talk about?

Aaron’s face froze, petrified and trying to form the words from his quivering red lips.  I think they’re kicking me out of Bethel.  

It was spoken with more than just hopelessness, the finality of it had already played out in Aaron’s head.  He was in the packing and flying back to Oregon stage when he seemed to freeze-frame long enough to talk to James.  James zeros in his eyes.  The normal chocolate spheres displaying a profound feeling of infinite depth were missing and were replaced with brick wall of fear and an overflowing moat.

What happened?

The mafia party.  I mentioned it, you know as a joke.  So someone reported me and my overseer called me in and chewed me  new one.

I think I got talked to about that today.

You think?

Ralph caught me in hall and told me to be careful of my association outside of Bethel, going to worldly parties and such.  I told him that it was funny he mentioned that because we were just at a worldly party but it was to occupy a sister’s young son.  He said it was okay, but in the future it would be better if we selected to help young ones in more appropriate settings.  That was it.

That was it?  You got talked to in passing?

In the hallway we’re walking down, in fact.  Please… what did they tell you?

James, I explained it all.  They still said that I went to a party to associate with known killers and criminals and that was not the place for a bethelite to be… no different than a strip club or a casino.

First off that’s being a little pre-judgmental of people whose profession was implied, not known for a fact.  Second, did you tell them we were there for ____ and to support him at the request of his mother?

Yes, yes… I told them all that.  I said there were two other bethelites and they told me that other brothers are the responsibility of their own overseers, but for me and my part, I fall under the factory overseer and he considers this a dismissible offense.  They are going to do a room search to see if there is anything else that I might own that promotes that kind of lifestyle.

They had reached the stairway to go downstairs to the factory.  James pauses at the door.  No.  This isn’t fair.  I’m not going to let you go home for something I get talked to in passing.

What can you do?

Something.  I don’t know.  Whatever it is, I can’t make matters any worse, right?

Don’t get yourself kicked out of here as well.

James moves in close to Aaron and grabs his shoulder.  If I do get kicked out, then at least it would be fair.  Get back to work and I’ll see you at home.

But James, the room.  We have…

I got, Aaron.  I promise.  Focus on your work.

The look on Aaron’s face was that of blank exhaustion.  Unlike James, he really wanted to be there and the fact that his overseers constantly used the possibility of going home as motivation for him to do better weighed thin after the first month.  Once they started having moments to themselves and having time to relax as human beings, Aaron finally learned how to play the game and work with the system rather than against it.

But this was different.  Because of a side joke the network of communication extended simultaneously in three directions within the day with three very different results.  Sometimes it was difficult to remember the fragility of the worker bees around them.  Aaron, James, Jake, Neil, and everyone that came in around the same time had just left the world less than a year ago.  This means that they still have knowledge of what is happening on the outside up until the current year.  The workers around them were removed from the world four, five, maybe ten years ago, and their knowledge of the outside world stopped at that very point.

The same applies to the Organization itself.  One congregation near or in a major city would have sisters wear slightly shorter skirts just above the knee and allow their publishers to use words like “crap” and “freak’n”, but another congregation in a more rural part of the country may insist the skirts on their sisters fall below the knee and “crap” was still considered a curse world while “freak’n” was considered a simulated curse word… just as bad as the word it was meant to replace.

Because the growth in sociology within Bethel did not match the growth in sociology of the general populous… or even their own organization, long-term bethelites were often shocked and appalled at the words and phrases used by the newbies.  And no where was this more prevalent than with the subject of music, and the main reason one would have a room search.

The bethel guidebook was kept up to date.  It had compiled a sheet of popular albums at the time including White Zombie’s “Astro Creep 2000” and TLC’s “CrazySexyCool”, anything by Metallica and a long list of artist and albums, most of which James and Aaron loved.  Where it got confusing was with artists like Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin that had clearly lost their shock over the years and were now considered classics.  However, because of the sexual and drug implications surrounding the artists, some would avoid these completely.  Part of the elders would consider The Doors to be vintage poetry while other part would consider it a promotion of extravagant hedonism.  It was so hit or miss and one never knew what the brothers doing a room search would consider demonic or offensive because it was purely based off their personal taste in music, what year they entered bethel service (exited the world), and whether or not they took the art as its own entity or they considered the lifestyle of the artist who created it.

And it had a lot to do with how suspicious the brothers doing the search wanted to be.  Technically speaking every CD cover and content has SOMETHING demonic about it.

Back at his desk, he went through and changed what he needed on the computer, saved it, and sent it off for review.  He had made it a habit to tell everyone he was actually further behind in his work then he actually was just in case he wanted to take an extra long break.  He and Aaron would drive to breakfast every morning to avoid the walk.  Good thing.  He hopped in his car and drove back to the dorm.

He parks off to the side where there are no windows heads through the back, pausing to wait until he heard two housekeepers pass.  There was NO WAY they could see it.  When a room search is done, it is loud and known and the housekeepers are kept nearby to report on any tendencies they noticed about the room in question, so they cannot see anything that is going on.  Once inside and up the back stairway he can hear vacuuming on the second floor.

Relief.

He dashes to the third story and enters his open room.  The CDs that were in question were kept separate than the other music that was ‘safe’ to listen to like Delirium, Jeff Buckley, Poe, etc.  In one sweep he grabbed his bookbag and placed the CDs inside.  On the opposite end of the room was the massage oil, the incense, and candles.  Done.

James goes back to the door.  Voices of laughter can be heard, then a door open and closed.  He dashes for the stairway and passes the now silent second floor, makes it out the back door and places his bookbag in the trunk next to the spare tire.  He closes everything up, drives back to the office, parks, and enters next to the lobby.  He takes the stairs, and enters computer room from the same door he and Aaron previously exited so he can pass Oscar’s cubicle.

Hey Oscar.  Did you get that email I sent you?

Yeah chief, but I haven’t had time to look at it.  You out of stuff to do?

Yeah, I could use some work.

I’m glad you work fast. Okay, hold tight.  I’ll find you something.

James sits down at his desk and with his heart suddenly pounding harder than it had in the previous 20 minutes.  He looks up Brian’s department and gives him a ring.  It takes about two minutes of the brother on the other end searching for him, but he finally get’s Brian on the phone.

Hey bro, what’s up?

Did your overseer talk to you about the party we went to?

Oh, uh no.  I mentioned it to him though.  He laughed.

He laughed?

Yeah.  He thought it was funny.  Why?

I got talked to about it briefly, but Aaron really got chewed out, they say it’s a  dismissible offense.

Woah, dude.  Sucks to be him.

James doesn’t know how to respond to this.  Construction was obviously going on in the background and there was nothing else to garner from the exchange.

Yes it does.  Thanks Brian.  Get back to work.

That was it?

Yeah.  Sorry to bother you.

No biggie.  Later.

He hung up the phone with disgust.  What a jerk.

Aaron’s overseer’s name was Brother Kelly.  He scrolls through the online directory and finds his extension.  Before he could call, Oscar showed up with a stack of papers.

Hey chief, here’s something you can do to help Leo’s team.  It’s the basic two-digit to four-digit date change over.  None of these have any bugs with this, so when you change it over, don’t create any!  (Chuckle.)

Will do, James answered with a half laugh.

There’s no rush on this, so take your time, but you’ll be doing his team a huge favor if you help out with this.

I’ll get on it.

With the tap on the top of the cubicle wall Oscar was off.

James returned to his mission by picking up the phone and dialing Brother Kelly’s office.

Hello?

Yes, Brother Kelly.  This is James Perez from Systems Integration and I was wondering if you had any free time to meet with me this afternoon.

I have some time right now.  What is this regarding?

Well, it’s about the trouble Aaron seems to be in.

You know about the event?

I was actually there.  I would like to meet with  you to discuss it.

That sounds like a good idea.  Like I said I have some times now if you’d like to drop down.

Sure thing, Brother Kelly.  And thank you. 

He arranges his desk to make it look like he was in mid-work, yet another trick he learned.  In this particular case he didn’t have to… it would be days before anyone would check on his progress, but just in case.

James is normally a bit of an uptight person anyway, but give him a moment of injustice or unfairness and his levels shoot up a thousand percent.  He knew he couldn’t make matters worse, but something had to be done.  This was completely unfair and unnecessary.  Aaron had been performing months with good reviews.

One of the things that James lacks whenever he’s angry is humility, and powering down the hallway he realized that he has to being his blood pressure down a bit.  He could not go into the meeting fuming or foaming at the mouth.  James took the stairs nearest the freight elevator, its main purpose was to take tour groups up and down on levels and make them feel like they were participating in the “industrialness” of the factory.

He turns the corner, past Aaron moving and twisting like the machine he is suppose to be, through the pallets of pre-sorted subscriptions on shrink-wrapped pallets ready for the post office, and arrives at a wall of green framed factory windows with a door directly in the middle.  To be polite, James knocks and is waved in by the tall, middle-aged black brother dressed in a shirt and tie.

Brother Perez, is it?

Yes sir.

Please have a seat.  So you were with Aaron this past weekend?

Yes.  And so was a brother from the construction department who has been here for three years.  He talked to his overseer about it and he said his overseer just laughed.

Well, the construction department is a bit more lax than the rest of us.

My overseer, Ralph, told me I should watch my association. I explained that the three of us were not there to associate with the family, but were there to occupy  a young brother at his mother’s request.

I realize that.  Unfortunately, the situation called for you to be in close association with people who are of a caliber not befitting anyone in Jehovah’s Organization, much less a bethelite.

Brother Kelly, I don’t know them.  I wasn’t there to judge them or make assumptions about them.  I certainly wasn’t there to associate with them or be their friend.  A concerned mother asked us to help her son to not be distracted by such people, whoever they are.

This party was at their home?

It was a neighboring home.  They are all close, it’s all very communal.  This sister is very sweet and her daughter is doing well in the truth.  The husband, not so much.

He is the association with such people.

Exactly.  And the mom and daughter, they are strong enough put up put up decent defenses to protect themselves in situations like this, but the son, ____, he needs a little bit of help trying to figure out whether to follow mom or follow dad.  He makes it to all the meetings and now that Brother Bechman has ever third brother coming in going to our congregation, ____ is starting to feel a little overwhelmed about the influx of young brothers he’s starting to feel…

Feeling the pressure?

I don’t know if pressure is the right word or exhausted.  His mother just felt if there were some bethelites that he could find… more relatable, then they can encourage him on his level.

And…?

And so we thought that since he had to go to this function, it’s at his house… area, he is expected to attend and he knows everyone, why not surround him with good influences he can respect to occupy him with something more encouraging then anything they had to offer.

The point here, James is that brothers in the bethel family have to watch every step they take.  Satan is there, ready to snag you and other brothers and sisters are there watching you since you are an example for everyone else.  You knowingly put yourself in spiritual and mental danger, flirting with one of Satan’s organizations.  You are a representative of the one true God, Jehovah and you appeared at a party thrown by the mafia.  Anyone seeing or hearing this will not bee getting all the facts.  Not only are you endangering yourself by possibly getting wrapped up in their ways, you are also posing a scenario that needs to be explained… why was that bethelite at that party?  What is up with that?  Well if he can go over there than I can go over here.  They are not going to get all the facts and without all the facts, this situation is simply you going to a mafia party… nothing more.  You understand where that story can lead once it gets out.

Holy fuck this guy is good, James thinks to himself.  He has spent a lifetime sitting and discussing with older men but this one came with some pretty simple and valid points.  Still, he wasn’t fighting for him, he was fighting for Aaron.

So your suggestion is, in this admittedly dangerous situation as you described it, when faced with a decision of helping a mother trying to keep her son from being distracted, we are to leave him alone to fend for himself just because someone might see us who doesn’t have all the facts?

Of course not.  But there are alternatives to the situation.

Which we discussed.  But in this situation, it would have created more problems if he didn’t go.  His mom asked for help, we didn’t want to leave him out there alone, and so we went and helped.  He’s not that far along in the truth and he’s a teenager.  We went just to be supportive.  We did not socialize with the family.  We did not eat with them.  We didn’t even introduce ourselves.  And when put into play… it worked!  After an hour or so he didn’t want to have anything to do with it and it was his decision to leave.  We went back to his house and hung out by ourselves, away from them for the rest of the afternoon.

Fine.  So it worked this time.  That is still a risky call and you are avoiding the issue which is you minimizing the dangers of the situation.

I’m sorry i it seems like I’m minimizing the dangers.  In my mind I was maximizing all possible dangers, and I felt that when a mom asked, it was at least worth a try.

I understand that, I really do.  But you are going to get a lot of requests from the local congregations to help this young on or that young one.  You cannot help them all.  Your service is to Bethel, not to a youth ministry.  And seeing and avoiding dangers or avoiding the possible rumors that look bad is one of the many many responsibilities a young bethelite has.

I know.  And I know it would be a stronger stance to stand against such activities, regardless of the reason.

Good, I’m glad to hear you say that.

We don’t get asked to help very often, though.  The congregation is so distant and half the publishers are bethelites… most of whom stay the year and go home.

You said that was Bechman’s hall?

Yes.

Oh yeah.  Man.  That split was quite a mess.  It was a big deal, even here at Bethel.  Forty-five minute drive, isn’t it?  And now two congregations, one with hardly any local brothers?  It’s difficult I know.

So if someone can weed through all those bethelites and think enough to come to us two for some help, well… it kind of felt like we were making a bit of a breakthrough.

I understand that.

But please.  We were well aware of the dangers present.  We did not go to have a good time or party it up.  We went for one reason and one reason only, and then we got out.  I understand we should have never taken such a risk, but I assure you our eyes were open the entire time.

I get that you and Aaron were well aware of the dangers and you treaded cautiously.  And this time it worked out, but it’s not always going to go so smoothly.  The world is a wicked and deceitful place.  I need to know if you two would ever do again.

I think I can say quite emphatically that we will never go near a gathering like that again.  There is a lot of the world that I’m happy not to see, and I want to keep it that way.

Good.  I want to hear that from Aaron as well.

Is this really a dismissible offense?

Most certainly.

Then if you are going to send anyone home, send me.  It was my decision to go, I was the one who justified it just like I did here.  I even drove.    

I didn’t say we were sending anyone home.

Yes, but that’s the impression you gave.  That is the impression Aaron has.

It is meant to impress the seriousness of the situation.  We don’t want to send you or Aaron home.  I understand the situation better now, thanks to you, I will take it into consideration when I talk to Aaron again after I hear back from the room search.  Unless they find a Ouija board in it or something, I think it’s going to be fine.

Good, because he really really wants to be here..  He was having the hardest time for a while but this is something he’s wants to do and he loves it here at Bethel.  This situation has brought him to tears, he doesn’t know what to do about it.  So I thank you for letting me talk to you.

No problem.  I have a few phone calls to make, and then I will call him in.  I know you need to be getting back to work as well.

James gets up and shakes the brother’s hand, I do.  And I didn’t mean to walk in and wail on you.

(Laughing.)  Don’t worry.  It wasn’t bad.

Thank you.  Have a good afternoon.  James opens the door to leave.

James.

Yes?

We aren’t trying to get rid of him, we’re trying to shape him.  We know he has a good heart.

He really does.

If you would like to walk by and calm him down, that would be okay, but make it brief.

Thank you Brother Kelly.

James closed the door and tried to maintain composure between the passing brothers and the wall of windows.  He walks towards Aaron’s station  and waves at him to come over.  Aaron walks over and takes off the earmuffs.  James leans close to his ear and gently grabs him by the waist.  Even at this close range he still almost has to yell.

When you are asked, apologize, say you have learned your lesson, and you will never do it again.

Am I staying? 

Yes, Aaron.  You’re staying.

Thank you.  Thank you so much.

Next time, keep your mouth shut.  James laughs and pats Aaron on the stomach.

You bet I will, Aaron says with relief.

See you at home.

James turns and walks past the freight elevator and takes the hall to the stairs on the far corner.  Up on the second floor he heads to his desk.  No messages.  No notes on the white board.  Good.

He sits at his desk and decides it might actually be time to do some work, especially as there are only forty-five minutes left to the work day.  It was a Thursday, a meeting night.  Somehow he just wanted to take a sleeping pill and sleep until morning breakfast.

Aaron is an extremely emotional person who doesn’t show it all the time but this particular rollercoaster must be exhausting for him.  James is still unsure of the meeting.  And there was still a question if anyone had seen him drive to the room.  I guess I will find out when I get to the room.  Knowing how hard this was on his roommate, he begins to form an idea.

The dinner bell rings and James heads home, parking in his usual spot.  There is a slight nervousness that occurs when you know your room is being searched… mainly that you are going to turn the corner and large brothers in suits are ready to cart you away.

So far nothing.  Room A314 looks pretty decent.  it was obvious someone went through the CD stack in the closet, but other than that the room didn’t look any different.  Sneaky bastards.

James looks through the mail and sits on the bed.  Aaron comes home, swings the door open, slams it behind him with a smile beaming from his white skin.  Okay.  What the hell did you do?

Why?

He came back after you left and asked if I learned my lesson, and I told him what you told me to say.  Then he started to apologize a million times.  He wanted met to know that he didn’t mean to denounce my future here at Bethel.  He was very complementary and made me feel so much better about working here.  It’s like I have a whole new overseer!

I’m glad, Aaron.

He bounces up to James and straddles him giving him a big hug, knocking them both down on the bed.  Thank you thank you thank you.

It’s not a problem, although the suffocation kind of is…

Both guys laugh and sit up, smiling.  Aaron then thought of something, Wait, what about…

I’m pretty sure they went through the room.  I took out the CDs, massage oil, incense. 

A moment of shock hit Aaron.  Oh my god, I didn’t think of the massage oil and stuff.  Thank you.  And where is it all?

In the car where it will go unacknowledged for at least a week.

But tomorrow is Friday.

Yeah, we just dodged a major bullet with all this.  It might be good if we calm things down a bit.

You’re right.

So look.  I know you had a tremendous day, and I know you need a little fresh air.  So let’s go pick up some sandwiches from the pizza shop and walk a trail and find someplace quiet to eat?

Bechman is going to start getting suspicious if we miss too many meetings together.

So what?  He’s always going to think something and he will always find something to think something about.  Right now, your brain has been through a lot and I’m going to tell you… mine has been too.  The last thing I can do right now is put on a suit and tie and smile for everyone.

It’s true.  And to be honest, I can’t really stand to see Bechman today. Sometimes he makes me want to skip meetings.

James laughs.  It was so good to see Aaron’s face relieved and relaxed, his eyes returning back to their dark brown depth, and there was music to his words.  The small trail nearby had a serene and tranquility that is exactly what the exhausted hippy needed to refuel himself, and James knew it.

James P. Perez © 2013

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