17 May, 2008

Adventures with a Christian Desk Mate

Mellowness has overcome me. I'm thoroughly baked, the breeze is blowing and the frogs are singing, the fountain serenades and - well, I should clean the damned cat box, and this room needs a thorough scrub, but life is still beautiful.

The California Supremes issued a spectacular ruling that put gay marriage ahead by decades and is causing the right-wing radio hosts to blow vessels. FSM has put in an appearance in Tennessee. I've read some damned fine submissions to the Carnival of the Elitist Bastards, and, well, it's hard to work up a good head of steam in these circumstances.

So instead of bashing the stupid, I want to tell you all an amusing story from my callow youth.

I worked at one of the best call centers in the Universe. We offered one of the best paying jobs in Flagstaff, so we had a - dare I say it? - elite workforce. Many of my best friends to this day are the ones I met there: wonderful, wise, witty and wicked folks one could have wide-ranging, intelligent conversations with. The corporate office liked our numbers, so they let us have free reign to do as we willed. That meant that creativity, innovation, and near-autonomy were ours. We used and abused the privilege. Odd people like myself thrived.

One could feel free to stamp their personality upon their desk, and I had done with mine. I'd printed out nice little posters for myself. One was a quote from the Tao Te Ching:

Look, it cannot be seen - it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard - it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held - it is intangible.
From above it is not bright:
From below it is not dark:
An unbroken thread beyond description...


Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.
All can known good as good only because there is evil.
Therefore having and not having arise together.
Difficult and easy compliment each other.


I had a quote from the Qu'ran:

When the sun shall be darkened,
When the stars shall be thrown down,
When the mountains shall be set moving,
When the pregnant camels shall be neglected,
When the savage beasts shall be mustered,
When the seas shall be set alight,
When the infant girl buried alive shall be asked
for what crime she has been slain,
When the records of men's deeds shall be laid open,
When the heavens shall be stripped bare,
When Hell shall be set blazing,
When paradise shall be brought near,
Then each soul shall know what it has done.

I had a poem from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: The Kindly Ones:

All around me darkness gathers,
Fading is the sun that shone;
We must speak of other matters:
You can be me when I'm gone.

And I had this delightful ancient poem Gaiman quoted in The Sandman: The Sound of Her Wings:

Death is before me today
Like the recovery of a sick man,
Like going forth into a garden
after sickness.

Death is before me today:
Like the odor of myrrh,
Like sitting under a sail in a good wind.

Death is before me today:
Like the course of a stream,
Like the return of a man from the
war-galley to his house.

Death is before me today:
Like the home that a man longs to see,
After years spent as a captive.

I didn't yet have George the Gargoyle with his red flashing eyes. He came later, and it's probably a good thing for his sake, considering what my desk mate did to the little 8 1/2 x 11 homemade posters.

The bane of working the night shift in a crowded call center is that you get to desk share with the early morning folk. It wasn't generally a problem, unless you ended up matched with Gail "OMG You Got a Pencil Mark on the Desk!!1!111!" T. I wasn't paired with Gail, and so didn't have to worry about her ever-encroaching collection of kitschy ceramic angels and her penchant for leaving severely obsessive-compulsive notes. But I started to notice a pattern: I'd come in, and my little posters on my half of the cubicle would be crooked. Odd, that. I didn't think much of it until I noticed the growing collection of tack holes where someone hadn't been paying attention staking them back to the wall.

Well, I couldn't well have tattered corners, could I? I left a kindly little note saying to leave the posters alone. The holes continued to accumulate. Dishevelment continued. I left a rather more annoyed and sternly-worded note saying that if I found one more extraneous tack hole, we'd have to have a chat about respecting others' property.

A few days later, I get called in to an Inquisition.

My desk mate, it turns out, was a rabid Christian, and quotes from the Tao Te Ching and the Qu'ran gave her blessed little heart palpitations. And instead of simply saying so, she decided she needed to bring in the heavy artillery: two managers and the HR supervisor.

She was seriously terrified that if she confronted the evil heathen with her discomfort, I'd do something horrible. Seriously.

The supervisors let her speak. They couldn't say anything themselves. They were trying too hard not to laugh. They knew me, you see, and they thought the whole thing ridiculous beyond words.

The quivering Christian launched into a speech you could tell had taken days for her to gather the courage for, about how Christian she was, and how it disturbed her to look at my little posters, and on and on. She was pale, sweating, and shaky, with a distinct quaver in her voice, and there I was, sitting there listening to a whole lotta "I'm terrified to even glance at a world view that's different than mine" schlock with rapidly growing disbelief. I'd never thought anyone could be that fucking terrified of a few poetic words.

As I said, I was young and naive.

She finally wound down. Silence fell. And then I said, "Look, there's a simple solution here. Get a big poster and put it up over mine every day. I'll just set it aside so I can have my own stuff when I get in. And I'll be sure to put the tacks through their original holes when I replace it."

The supervisors nearly clapped. The Christian looked pole-axed. She'd never expected a heathen to come up with a reasonable compromise. I don't know exactly what her church told her about people of other faiths, but it must have been richly detailed and completely bass-ackwards.

The next day, when I come in, there's this ginormous poster up over my wall with the most insipid fucking poem in the universe on it. You know, the kind of touchy-feely plebeian poem that makes real poets want to vomit. The kind of thing that only offends people with taste, because it's meant to be as bland and ecumenical and inspirational as possible. Someday, someone needs to explain to me why it is that devout Christians have no fucking taste.

After that day, peace and goodwill descended upon all, except when I'd catch a glimpse of that crime against poetry upon taking it down for the day. Everyone in the call center agreed: my quotes kicked her poem's ass. And I'd won all the brownie points. My supervisors saw me as the mature one, the peacemaker, while my Christian desk mate had proven herself an immature little git. There's a certain contempt well-adjusted Christians have for their brethren when the brethren's acting like whiny little brats that's worse than any contempt an atheist can show.

That episode was my first introduction to the world of grown-ups who were too God-blind to grow up. It started me on the never-ending quest to answer the "What the fuck are they so afraid of if their God kicks so much ass?" question.

And I pass the story down to you, my darlings, because it's always useful to know that a good copy of the Qu'ran or the Tao Te Ching will make all but the most determined evangelicals flee upon contact.


Christopher said...

First of all, you're admirable for remaining calm and coming up with a reasonable, courteous compromise in the face of such stupidity. But, regarding your desk mate, I have to wonder about her psychology or the psychology of anyone so threatened by beliefs that don't conform to theirs. Isn't there something scary about a person who believes they can't be good unless there's an angry vengeful god watching over them? And who are apparently so insecure that they can't bear any views different from their own?

Cobalt said...

Well-played, madame. Well-played.

NP said...

I startled Jaina when I laughed in reading this post, Dana dear.

I shudder to think that I once (a long time ago, in a land very far from here) was one of those Christians who tsked at non-Christians.

And in one final thought, are you saying I have "no fucking taste"?

Anonymous said...

For many flagrant examples of bad Christian poetry, see www.angelfire.com/tx2/christianpoetry

I grew up on the stuff. Here's one particularly vomitrocious gem:

I once thought marriage took
Just two to make a go,
But now I am convinced
It takes the Lord also.

And not one marriage fails
Where Christ is asked to enter,
As lovers come together
With Jesus at the center.

But marriage seldom thrives,
And homes are incomplete,
Till He is welcomed there
To help avoid defeat.

In homes where Christ is first,
It's obvious to see,
Those unions really work,
For marriage still takes three.

Guess that's why I never got married...wasn't really turned on by a holy three way.