the cleaners

Here is another Dear Dave letter.  The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

July 27, 2004

Dear Dave,

Hope this note finds you very well.  I know I just talked to you on the phone yesterday, but I couldn’t resist popping off a short note to tell you what happened this evening.   I have to confess, I have already called two female friends in the excitement of the moment, but now I’m ready to jot the experience down and process the whole thing by sharing it with you.

OK…. the truth is, I couldn’t resist writing because I’m ready to savor the moment and gloat.   I’m smiling while I write this—I just can’t help myself!

Picture this:  I am standing in front of the church admiring the marquee in the late afternoon on a lovely summer’s day.  The letters on the marquee were faded and falling down, so this afternoon I bought a small can of white paint—the one recommended for the job by the nice hardware man—and a fine tipped paintbrush; and I mended and painted and polished and shined up that old, faded marquee and made it grand again—or at least a bit better.  The folks at the church added my name to the bottom—right there on the pastor’s line—and I got a bit misty-eyed from the joy of seeing “Pastor Darlene Kelley” behind the plexi-glass, spelled out in those fine, plastic-push-in letters.  A moment or so later I realized the marquee looked like it’d been clinging to that wall since the Reformation, and I thought, “Well, it’s got my name on it now, I’d better take some responsibility for how it looks.”

So, there I was admiring the mended marquee when a big utility van pulled up to the curb.   “Quality Cleaning Services” graced the side of the van in yellow lettering with a local phone number underneath.  Two middle-aged men wearing uniforms were in the van, and they were laughing.  They seemed very relaxed and casual, and at first I thought, “Well, isn’t that great…two guys who must love working together, even if they do have to clean for a living.”

Then, to my complete horror, I realized that they were concentrating on a girl across the street.  She was walking her dog, and she couldn’t have been any more than twelve or thirteen years of age; yet the men were leering and calling out to her with lewd invitations.  “Hey, baby!  Bring some of that sweet ass over here!”   I guess between the dusting and the mopping, they’d scheduled time for sexual harassment.  The fact that they were targeting a minor, a teenager at most, made my blood boil—seriously, for a second there, I was so outraged that I thought my hair might burst into flame!  They kept taunting her, and the filth coming out of their mouths could make the proverbial sailor blush.  I was outraged.  I was standing a few yards away, but they only had eyes for the poor adolescent; they didn’t notice me, but it didn’t take long before they heard me!

I screamed, “Excuse me, gentlemen!  She’s just a child!  You’re behavior is outrageous!  Stop it at once!”  Really.  That’s exactly what I said.  I felt like Mother Superior and Mary Poppins on steroids, rolled into one.  I marched toward that van, pointing my finger and scolding and scorning and pitching a fit!

And the two characters in the van looked quite surprised at first, but they regained their footing quickly and turned their attention on me.

It was during their third variation of “mind your own business, bitch” that I noticed the one driving had a set of keys in his hand, a rather large set of keys; and that while he cussed at me, part of his brain searched for the right key on the ring.  I knew instantly that he was looking for the key to the church door and that Mo & Curly here were the cleaners hired by the church to tidy up.

God has been very good to me over the years, but what a nice moment when I stopped Mo & Curley at the door, looked them in the eyes and said, “Oh, I’m not just any old bitch.  I’m the new Bitch Pastor, and I’ll be taking those keys now.  You’re fired!”.   When they looked in my eyes and knew that I was for real—oh, my!  How delicious.  I felt like I’d struck a blow for girls and women throughout the land.  Finally, they were speechless.   The driver handed me the door key, and they both climbed back in their big van and drove off without another word.  It was something to behold.  I just stood there for a minute watching them drive away.  I looked down the street for the girl too.  I was hoping that she’d been watching the scene, but she was gone.

Of course, I realize that I will now have to tell the trustees I fired their cleaning company, but when they hear the story I’m sure they’ll be glad.  And I think we should hire locally and see if one of the people eating at the soup kitchen wants to clean the church.  That’s a better idea anyway.

As the dust settles and darkness creeps across the parsonage lawn, I realize too that much of my anger was fueled by those painful memories, deep in my wounded spirit—memories of being that young girl on the sidewalk, trying to pretend that the awful man in the car isn’t talking to me, feeling afraid and ashamed and degraded all at the same time just for walking down the street in female form, no longer fully human–just a pretty face with a rear end and a developing bust line.  That’s why the girl didn’t hang around to watch the finale.  She responded the way most of us do; she put her head down and kept walking, trying to ignore the verbal assault that objectified your being and reduced you to prey in the jungle.  It happens time and time again to females all over the world.  It’s happening somewhere, everywhere, while I’m writing this, and it carries varying degrees of humiliation, danger and violence.  It gives me the chills.  Alas!  My gloating has turned bittersweet, and I am no longer smiling.  I think it’s time to go sit quietly on the deck with my dog and pray.  Meanwhile, know that you’re in my thoughts and prayers and that I’m glad you’re there—even if you are a man.  I am thankful for the good ones!

Much love,


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