Rachel Gladstone – The Murdering Exterminator

Rachel Gladstone shares a story about a neighbor who asked her out…and then it got weird. Or maybe it started weird. From September 2017’s theme “Nashville”. 

The exterminator who lives down the street asked me out last spring. I’d said hello to him on occasion, the way one does with neighbors in a passing sort of way. Then, one morning, while I was walking my enormous pair of dogs, he took a left turn from the far right lane of our acquaintanceship and veered towards me. Pretending I hadn’t seen him, I crossed the street, but that did nothing to deter him. He was oblivious. He was also missing some teeth. And as he closed in, so did an aroma reminiscent of 9th grade biology class, the semester we were dissecting frogs. This is not a smell you want to encounter twice in your lifetime.

Trying to smile through my gag reflex, I corralled my dogs as he shuffled ever-closer in 49-Nashvillehis ill-fitting jeans. He drawled his opening line in an accent so thick he should have come with subtitles.

“Do you live alone?” He leaned in for punctuation. I leaned back.

Was this his idea of a logical segue from our previous conversations about the weather?  Before I could even take a breath, or turn tail and run, I answered with a resounding “NO!” Actually, I did live alone but I couldn’t be too careful. I didn’t know this guy. Maybe he just wanted to invite me over for an innocent beer, but there was always the possibility that he wanted to invite me over and make a suit out of my skin.

“Well,” he replied looking down at his bright orange trainers; a color even a dead mouse could see at forty paces. I guessed ‘surprise attack’ was not in this exterminator’s handbook.  “I just thought we might could have lunch sometime,” he drawled, spittle escaping his lips; a by-product of the missing teeth, I think.

My first reaction was to shout “NO!” again. But maybe I was being too picky, I chided myself. Who was I to say no to this guy? If I squinted, he almost looked jaunty in his stained trucker ball cap. He was a man wasn’t he? He was breathing. He was upright. And he’d approached me. What more did I want?

Luckily, this momentary brain freeze was followed by an absolute certainly that this redneck that smelled like the inside of a raid can was not the peanut butter to my Reese’s, so I swallowed hard, trying not to fidget and said, “Oh… well…I have a boyfriend,” which I absolutely did not.  But I sounded so convincing I believed it myself for a second.

“Well,” he said again.

Just then Tank, my neighbor’s chunky Chihuahua, saved the day by escaping his yard. My girls had a running feud with that dog and thinking this was just the moment to settle the score they gave chase, yanking me from the uncomfortable exchange at break neck speed. “Thanks anyway!” I yelled over my shoulder, as I sped away.

As my 200 pounds of hound continued to charge ahead, I realized that I had escaped a moment of lunacy. I’d just considered going out with some dude who possessed the breath of a moose and teeth the color of a Burnt Siena Crayola crayon. I felt like such a fool. What was wrong with me? Evidently, I had reached a new pinnacle of self-loathing. I hadn’t felt this embarrassed for myself since that time my boyfriend’s cat had left her bowl of wet food half-eaten and I, being on a starvation diet, looked at that bowl and wondered to myself, ‘Is she gonna finish that?’ But in my defense, this guy had been the first guy to ask me out in a really long time; we’re talking Game of Thrones, the winter is coming, really long time.

I didn’t think of this embarrassing encounter again until the middle of summer when I was faced with the Great Flea Invasion of 2009. Upon finding them everywhere, I immediately Googled fleas and discovered two things. First of all, when you magnify a flea to 1,000 times its size, it looks just like the creature that bursts out of that guy’s stomach in Alien. Second, those suckers can procreate faster than a couple of born-again virgins on their wedding night. I knew it was time to call in a professional. And I knew just who I was gonna call.

It wasn’t hard to track down the exterminator as his number was painted on the side of his beat-to-shit pickup in what was clearly red house paint. At least I didn’t have to Google him too.

“This is your neighbor from down the street,” I told him as he answered the phone. “I live in the light green Victorian?” He said nothing but I could hear him breathing so I plowed ahead. “You remember,” I said, praying to God that he didn’t. “You asked me out?”

“I only asked you to lunch,” his whined at last. Crap, I thought, he remembered. Still wishing for subtitles, I pressed on; explaining my plight. “Well…so, about the fleas…”

“Sure,” he said. “I can come by tomorrow. I’ll even give you the neighbor discount.” I was almost afraid to ask what that meant.

The next day, the Exterminator drove the 200 yards from his house to mine in his bondoed blue pickup, a large opaque, plastic barrel  fitted with a hose perched in the well, his liquid, lethal-tender, sloshing with abandon inside. He lumbered from the cab, pulling the hose into place and as he sprayed the perimeter of my house, with abandon and without a face mask, I wondered how many brain cells this guy could possibly have left.  As he sprayed, he regaled me with a host of fun fumigation facts, and I could tell he was really trying to impress me when he began to explain the life-cycle of the flea, like he was the Stephen Hawking of the Exterminator set. But all I could think about was that old commercial where this Raid can comes slamming down on top of a cartoon ant while the voiceover says “KILLS. BUGS. DEAD.”

The fleas met their maker and before long the exterminator was, once again, just a distant memory. I noticed he had taken up with a woman who, interestingly enough, had about as many teeth as he did and I thought how true it is that there’s a lid for every pot. And then, one cold, windy November night, I was driving home when I rounded my street corner and almost ran head-on into a slew of fire trucks, police cars and ambulances. As I pulled up to my house I could hear raised voices coming from the direction of the exterminator’s and there he was, holding a shotgun, a dead man at his feet, screaming at the police, at the top of his lungs and gesticulating wildly.

My neighbors came running towards me, frantically shouting that the exterminator had shot some guy in self-defense, a point that would later be proven in court. Everyone was freaked out and shaken to their core and we stood in the chilly evening breeze trying to make sense of it all and clinging to one another for warmth and reassurance. And in that moment, three thoughts ran abreast through my horror-stricken mind. First of all, someone had been shot to death just three doors from my own. Second, not only did I know the guy who pulled the trigger but he had asked me out! And last, but certainly not least, I thought, Damn! I miss all the good ones!



Nashville – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for our 4 year anniversary theme “Nashville”. 

Tonight, we experienced Nashville.

One day in Nashville, despite the dissected frog smell, we briefly considered going out 49-Nashvillewith the upright breathing suitor—and after the mass destruction of fleas and the death of a stranger, we lamented letting a good one get away.

On night in a Nashville park, at a candlelight vigil for peace, we broke up a fight over Jesus between two guys named moth-…well, one of them was named Tommy—and his story helped us understand.

We wanted to make it in the Big Apple, so we left Music City. But after struggling to shave, we returned to cry…and despite a new look at the old places, sometimes we miss the magic.

We began creative writing in Nashville, which took us from the “ass-end of Appalachia” to lightening haiku. But listening to a friend’s funeral story brought us from a lack of faith to an unexpected place of comfort.

At Nashville’s Tennessee Pride, we learned of sausage and sewers, and heard watermelon sounds through the flapping doors. And after a day of the tired owl’s silent signals, we succeeded—and dreamed all of night of sausage patties.

We attended a convention in Nashville where the crowd stood, and we paused—and we were grateful for a lunch in the yard.

We saw the Nashville skyline and it amazed a small-town girl. We roomed with a fellow Jack Johnson lover, and discovered new people and new ideas. And a view of the skyline through the clouds led to negotiating a separation…and staying.

We left home in Oklahoma to come to Nashville, but texts from a no-good husband sent us back home to file for divorce. But after a breakdown by a broken car, and some time with family, we came back to Nashville—and were glad to be home.

In Nashville, we found polite Publix shoppers…and body-slammed a disabled employee…and Music City alchemy eased the chain around our neck.

That was our night in Nashville.

Thanks to all the storytellers–Brittany, Elisa, Matt, Rachel, Rob, Amberly, Jeff, Sarah, and Dana! Join us October 23 for our next theme: “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.” Got a story? Pitch it here!

50-Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Jeff Shearer – Tennessee Pride

Here’s Jeff Shearer’s funny story about the day he worked in a sausage factory. He told this story for September 2017’s theme “Nashville”. 

I received a call from the temp agency the first week I arrived in Nashville. Until I found a teaching job, I told them I’d take anything they could offer me. I scribbled on a notepad:

Job category: General Labor.

Job location: Tennessee Pride.

49-NashvilleThey had actually said Odom’s Tennessee Pride, but the name Odom meant nothing to me. I was headed to Tennessee Pride. Maybe it was a Cultural Event. Tennessee Pride. Maybe it connected to football.

Instead, when I walked through the doors of Odom’s Tennessee Pride, I was met with the sounds of grinders, tumblers, stuffers, linkers, emulsifiers, and macerators. All the sounds heard in the process of making sausage.  I had never before or since heard of a macerator. It’s unique to 2 industries:   sausage making, and sewage management.

My first indication that this was not a job sweeping floors was when the supervisor handed each of us first timers a steel gauntlet and said, “Try this on for size.” I was still trying to figure out why we would need only one metal mesh glove, when he then asked: “Any of you have a problem with the sight of blood?”

We were told to count off by twos. I will forever be indebted to the number two. The number ones were sent to the delivery room. I thought he meant delivery from the plant.   He meant delivery to the plant, where the live product becomes a no longer live product.

I was spared the delivery room.  I was sent to the cutting room. There I was given a five minute lesson on how to use an electric knife that looked like an ice cream scoop. A constant line of huge femur and scapula bones rolled toward me. The meat on these bones was gone. My job was to remove anything remaining from the bone.  Anything.  When my 10 gallon tub filled up, I was to then empty my carvings onto a high speed conveyor belt that sent all the product through a set of flapping plastic doors. Whatever happened on the other side of those doors I will never know, but the sound was a cross between a bowling alley and a room full of bouncing rubber watermelons.

I lasted one hour and 5 minutes in the cutting room. After failing a remedial lesson, it was decided that I was not cut out to be a deboner. A virtuoso deboner can roll 10 pounds of fat per minute onto the conveyor belt. I was averaging — just under two.

Over the next two hours I also failed to make the cut as both a seasoning blender and a cold salvage operator. Three strikes before lunch usually means you don’t get to stay for lunch. But Tennessee Pride was determined to provide me one more opportunity to prove that I had what it took to succeed in the world of sausage. I felt like I was back in junior high on the football sideline. “We’re going to send you in, son. Now don’t blow it. We believe in you.”

And that’s how I made it to the packaging room. The final step in production. Here, I was given the task of climbing several feet above a slow moving conveyor belt with twenty pound casings of frozen sausage.  I then loaded each roll of sausage into one of 4 metal cylinders that sliced each roll.  This process produced perfectly round quarter inch thick sausage patties. I was shown how to adjust the speed. Below me, two lines of women faced the conveyor belt, 6 on each side.  And each woman had the task of shuffling 12 patties into little white boxes marked “Ready to Cook. Real Country Breakfast Sausage.” As fast as they completed a pallet, it would be whisked off to a refrigerated truck bound for distribution. The whole operation was seamless.  This was the epitome of a well-defined process.  The timing was crucial.  And I discovered I had a key role in that timing.

But I also discovered very quickly my innocence in production line protocol. Because in a job that to the uninitiated looks like it’s ruled by uniformity and monotony, once you are inserted into that process, you quickly see that there is unspoken dynamic at play.   I had always thought life on an assembly line must be mindless – that you could simply endure the 8 hours by listening to an internal playlist of your favorite oldie goldies. Oh, it’s five oclock already? I was just about to listen to Johnny B Goode.   I had always assumed a slow day was a good day.

The 12 women on my line relieved me of that notion. And they did that without ever saying a single word. They couldn’t. It was too loud. We all wore ear plugs. They could have all yelled at once and I never would have heard them.

No. It was the body language.

While I was happily peeling the plastic off the tubes of frozen sausage and guiding them into the metal slicers while mouthing the words to a favorite song,  I looked down to see 11 heads all turned toward one woman. She was small, much older than the rest, and had the face of a tired owl. There was a unanimous expression of “do something” in their eyes. The owl-faced woman then looked me straight in the eye. She tilted her head to the end of the line where the last two women only had 2 patties between them. Sure enough. One of my feeder tubes was empty. I quickly fed a new sausage roll into the slicer. When I glanced back at the line, all was fine. I tried to give the women a look that said “Small oversight. That won’t happen again.” But nobody looked my way.

Twenty minutes later, I noticed the youngest of the packers glancing up at me. Just for a second. Then it happened again. And again. Flirting, on a sausage line? I was trying to figure out a way to make a face that read, “Sorry, girl, I’m spoken for,” when she turned to Owl Woman and raised the same eyebrow she had raised at me. The Owl gave me a look with both eyebrows raised, shot a glance at the conveyor belt, and cocked her head as if to say, “Really?” I then saw that the patties were stacking up, and each woman was having to reach downstream for patties that were slipping by them. I found the speed adjuster and spun in down. But I went too far, and in no time the Owl was swooping her eyebrows up, up.   I split the difference on the regulator, and the 12 woman soon fell back into their regular rhythm.

For the next 5 hours, I was a nervous wreck.  I studied each move the women made, looking for any hint of annoyance or stress.  No more oldie goldies. It was like driving a car on a windy mountain road with cliffs on both sides. It took me forever to figure out that the gestures on the woman closest to my station.  Too fast.  No, too slow.   No, too fast.   I spent nearly an hour desperately trying to find a calibration that synchronized with her gestures, until I found out her gestures were the result of some sort of facial twitch.

Five minutes before the shift ended, a man with a clipboard and a red hardhat came by. He put the clipboard in front of the older woman. She took a quick look at the clipboard and then back down at parade of patties. The hard hat man raised a thumb in front of her as if to ask: “Is everything OK?” Oh-oh, I thought. All the women looked at me, and then watched  the older woman as they finished their remaining boxes. The older woman took her time in responding –as if her work was more important than the question in front of her. The man still had his thumb up. The older woman never lifted her head, but I believe there was an almost imperceptible glance in my direction. It might have been a blink, but my gut felt it was a glance. Then she nodded at the man, and he put a checkmark on his clipboard and left.  Our shift was over.  The next shift of workers slipped into place, and we all headed home.

That night I dreamed about sausages. I found myself with 11 other patties in a small white box. It was cold. And as the lid was being shut I was yelling “There’s been a mistake. I don’t belong here!  You don’t understand. It’s all a big mistake.   I’m an English major!” But my voice was drowned out by the noise of a hundred machines and belts and moving parts.

In the morning the phone rang. It was the temp agency. Back to Tennessee Pride, I asked?

“No. We’ve filled our quota there. Here’s your new assignment. Write this down.”

I grabbed a pen.

Job category: General Labor.

“Ok. Got it.”

Assignment: Event setup

“Event setup. Got it.”

“Yes, I know how to get to West End.  Say again.   A bar on West End?   Oh, I see.  I see.  A Bar Mitzvah. At West End Synagogue.”

In the back of my mind I could still hear yesterday’s endless noise of the sausage slicer.

“I’m on my way.”

Kristen Chapman Gibbons – In a Tiny Office

Here’s Kristen’s moving story from our August 2017 theme “Words.”

I was seventeen the last time he left a mark. It was the summer before I left for college48-Words and I’d been working at World Bazaar in Rivergate Mall for about a year and a half. I don’t remember how or why he hurt me that day. I can’t recall if it was his hands or a belt or a stick. I have no memory of my wrongdoing, although it could have been because I wore too much lipstick or missed curfew or “talked back.”

It doesn’t matter. I showed up for my shift at work badly shaken and unable to stop crying. It took me almost an hour to admit what was wrong to my boss Karen. It is her words that day that altered my course.

Karen and I weren’t particularly close. She was a stickler and I was conscientious, so we got on well enough. She was in her mid-40’s at the time, a thin, muscular woman, who always wore her hair in a ponytail and wore very little makeup.

When I arrived for work, she immediately took me into her office to try and find out what had happened. She told me I didn’t have to work that day, that I’d still be paid. She knew I was saving for college. She said that I didn’t have to go home, at least until the store closed that night. In that tiny office, I eventually divulged a long-hidden truth, that my father, a respected Southern Baptist minister, was violent and cruel at home. Saying it out loud for the first time felt like a dive into icy water.

She then told me that lots of women are hurt by men who are supposed to love and protect them. She told me that her Assistant Manager was regularly beaten by her husband. Karen said she had given up trying to convince her to leave. She said she had prepared herself for a phone call that she knew would one day come, telling her that Tammy had been murdered. Her husband was a rich and powerful car dealership owner, who was often on television. She told me if she was ever alone in a room with him, that she would hit him so hard he wouldn’t be able to go on tv for a week.

Karen sent one of my co-workers to get me something to eat. She got me a pillow from her car. She set me up in her office, turned out the lights and encouraged me to just rest. About an hour passed before I heard banging on the back door.  I heard my father’s voice saying, “Please open up. I’m here to apologize.” Karen met him at the door. She told me later he was carrying a dozen red roses.

I couldn’t hear everything that was said, but after about ten minutes of escalating voices, I heard Karen clearly say, “She is not your property. You don’t own her. And if you ever touch her again or step one more toe in this door, I’ll have you arrested and call your church.” He left soon after, throwing the roses at her.

It was the first time in seventeen years that an adult both knew what was happening to me at home and stood up for me. My mother was not in a position, financially, emotionally or spiritually to challenge him. One time, when I was 14, I asked her why she stayed. She told me that she had only considered leaving once, when I was about five. She went to another pastor for advice. He told her that God wanted her to remain in the marriage. That it was her Christian duty to make sure he kept preaching. She then told me that if people knew too much, I’d be endangering countless people’s faith. Did I really want to be responsible for leading others off the path of righteousness? People did not need to know their shepherd was a wolf.

No one in the various churches we had served had any clue, or if they did, they chose to keep their suspicions to themselves. I learned from a very young age how to hide the evidence and keep a smile plastered on my face. I believed that was what God demanded. I also believed that if I revealed my father to anyone, he very well might kill us all in a fit. But, as long as we were there to soften him, to support and cover for him, he could continue doing the Lord’s work.

I never saw the roses. Karen had thrown them out the back door. She told me what happened and asked me who I could reach out to for help. There wasn’t anyone to call. She reminded me that my time in his home was almost over, that a new life awaited me in a few months time. Karen told me to hit back if he ever attacked me again. She told me to stand up and showed me how to hold my feet and body to maximize the impact of a punch. She told me to practice on the pillow. She said, “He’s no angel, he’s a devil wearing a suit. Just imagine his face here and let him have it.” She doted on me the whole day, even after her shift ended.

I don’t know what happened to Karen. I continued to work at the store for the next four years, every time I came home from college. She was still Manager when I worked my last shift. What she did for me that day has only grown in significance in the years that have followed.

She intervened. She probed for the truth. She got in his face. She threatened his charade. But most critical, she gave me the words I would use with him the next time he raised his hand to me. I said, “I am not your property. You don’t own me. And if you ever hurt me again, I will destroy you.”

It stopped him.  And started me.


Kristen Chapman Gibbons is a survivor, who knows the power of telling the truth of one’s life. She writes, teaches, and works with organizations and communities to elevate story. She is the force behind True Stories Let Loose and Story Booth Nashville. This was her 20th story at Tenx9.

Words – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our August 2017 partnership with The Porch and Parnassus Books, “Words.” 

Tonight, Nashville, we encountered words.

We remembered breaking rules as we explored the words of Mormonism, communism, 48-Wordsand Dave Matthews, hiding banned books and forbidden CDs, and hoping that the old version of us would be as proud of the new version as we are.

We house-sat a haunted apartment with a psycho kitty, and had expensive drinks like more successful writers—and encountered a mystical moment in which our words can bring us together.

We sobbed alone in a crowd, when a red-haired stranger in 9C offered sympathetic words; and, in a conversation about family, funerals, and grief, we learned that loss is worse when it’s felt alone.

We moved from a Deliverance-like neighborhood to a Leave-It-to-Beaver household. Then one day a depression-induced death led us to a life driven by those words…and the choir on #7 confirmed that we have not lived in vain.

A prudish student reacted to “fowl” language, and then read her story about going up the Space Needle with her dying fiancé because he enjoyed it. And now we can feel something weird in our chest.

We came crying to work after the wolf in shepherd’s clothes had hurt us again. But the stickler boss with the pony-tail gave us strength and hope, and taught us the words—“I am not your property!”

Regrading silence as an invitation to blurt out hair-brained remarks, we compared a tumor-inspired necklace to shrimp cocktail, which led to an awkward volleyball game about aquariums and Blackfish and beluga whales.

We were childhood friends, and he dated the one “who used to be mine,” and we talked about kisses, and he wanted to bring mother back. And we shared many moments when we didn’t need words—because we already know.

We moved from the cuteness of “Waspberry Wipple, Pwease” to the confusion of “wunning for our wives.” But a life-changing moment on a brick patio in Spokane led us to declare that our favorite color really is blue!

Thanks to all the fantastic storytellers–River, Christy, Kristen, Michael, Jeff, Jim, Melissa, Leslie, and Elly! If you missed the event, be sure to look for the stories on our podcast (you can subscribe on iTunes).

Our 4-year anniversary theme is “Nashville” on September 25 at Douglas Corner Cafe. Got a story? Let us know here!


Heather Lawrence – Pursuit of Life

Here’s first-timer Heather Lawrence’s poignant story about how questions made her different. She told this for our July 2017 theme “Different.” 

I was 27 years old, standing with a band I’d put together in front of a crowd of 120 people, leading them in one of my lifelong favorite hymns when I realized I couldn’t pretend anymore.

These may be my people, but I was pretty sure that once they knew everything going on49-Different inside my head, I wouldn’t be theirs anymore.

This was a Sunday morning in early May, and I was just trying to last until June in this job, but that morning I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I knew I didn’t belong.

As I led the congregation in worship with the hymn I used to call my heart song, I broke it down line-by-line inside my head, thinking, “this line is still okay,” “I definitely don’t believe that anymore,” and “I’m still not sure where this idea even came from;” and I knew my faith was on the verge of a jenga-style collapse. I told my team I only had one more week in me.

Cue: total deconstruction.

I’d already resigned from my job two months ago at this point, but my co-worker/pastor/boss (professional church relationships are very confusing) had asked me to stay until June. So like a cracked and broken vase, I held the pieces in place until I got far enough away that I could be sure my deconstruction wouldn’t hurt anyone else.

See that’s the thing about being a pastor: you sort of get paid to be right—or at least to be confident in your beliefs. I’d spent the last three years leading up to this point keeping my ever-expanding cracks in my belief systems off-limits from anyone else. I mean, sure, I could talk to other leaders about it, but I had to be careful about how candid I was with anyone who had the power to remove me from my position, because job security.

I sure as hell couldn’t talk to people I was pastoring about it, because I had about 5 verses memorized that told me exactly what happens to someone who causes problems someone else’s walk with God.

I also couldn’t really talk to any peers or friends about it, because most of my peers were either uninvolved with theological dialogue or so closed-minded that my “progressive” ideas were never even entertained. So I was left to debate both sides inside my head—which, if you’ve never been in an ongoing intellectual debate with yourself, let me tell you that it will drive you crazy. My daily bible-reading (yes, there really are people who read scripture every day) turned into an academic text analysis of multiple topics at once. I honestly made myself sick getting so stuck in my head.

And the hardest part of all of this is that I was really hoping for my understanding of Scripture and my evangelical worldview to still stand after answering my questions; which meant I had to be careful not to toy around with these ideas too much because they may well lead me down that slippery slope I’d been cautioned against all throughout seminary.

No joke: day one of class at this Southern Baptist school: the president was teaching my first class, and he walked up to the podium and after his introduction, I can still picture his weird speaking mannerisms he had as he said, “you’re going to be tempted to question your views of morality because of the world around you, but I am warning you that it’s a slippery slope from asking whether the bible really prescribes gender roles, to then asking whether the bible really condemns same-sex marriage, and before you know it, you’ll be sliding all the way to being an agnostic or atheist,” (which, to the community I was a part of, really didn’t need to be distinguished because both needed to be “saved” anyway.)

I remember sitting in my seat horrified that I might lose my faith, my community, my future plans, my whole identity and everything I knew to be true…all because I started asking questions. So I didn’t. At least until I couldn’t pretend anymore.

So back to that Sunday when I was finally honest with myself. This church I was about to leave, my coworker and I had built it from the ground up. It had been kind of my last hope for the institution of the church. When we started it, I ran headfirst into this mission because I believed in it, and I just knew it was going to be the answer to all my frustrations with the megachurch I’d been working in previously.

We were going to do it differently. We were going to be about people, not about an event on Sunday. We were going to be about community, not about numbers. We were going to be about healing, not about programs.

The drift away from all of that didn’t happen overnight, but one of the biggest problems for us was that I was a woman. See, my coworker was invited into church-planting cohorts and supportive communities of other men doing the same thing—all of which I was explicitly not invited into on account of my gender. Turns out the conversations that happen in spaces like that will really shape the direction of an organization…and if one of the two leaders of the organization isn’t involved in that, she might slowly lose her opportunity to influence the direction moving forward…

It hurt. Like hell. But I’m really grateful for it, because it sped up my deconstruction. It took heartbreak and feeling that I could no longer be proud of this church we’d started for me to let myself fall apart.

So in my disappointment with this church, I let myself re-engage with the questions.

And my questions led to more questions, and more questions, and more questions…until I couldn’t even categorize all the things I wasn’t sure if I believed anymore. By the time I left this church, I hadn’t read my Bible in 2 months. For the first time since even my youth group days, I wasn’t in a position of leadership, and I finally let go.

One of the phrases I found myself repeating in countless debates during my three years of full-time ministry was that I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

It rang through my head as I found myself pushed to the edges in conversations. I had no way of predicting how subversive this idea would be to a community claiming to follow the most compassionate person who ever lived. But as my ideas got more and more challenging, as I moved more and more into gray areas, I clung to it as though it had come from the mouth of Jesus himself.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

This phrase would escape my mouth as I was walking away from yet another debate with a biblical literalist about marriage equality or baptism or who is and isn’t allowed to become a church member, or even about what is or isn’t a sin.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

Sometimes it was loaded with anger and accusation—you just want to have everything figured out, but life isn’t always so black and white, so how about you shake up your safe little boxes of morality and make room to love the people around you.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

Sometimes it was dismissive and defeated—I know we’ll never agree, and honestly, you may never hear me because I’m not convinced by your interpretation of scripture.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

I couldn’t be a rule enforcer anymore. I couldn’t continue to drive forward an institution that was more concerned with obeying a text from two millennia ago than about loving the people right in front of them. And I couldn’t worship a God that expected that of me.

I’d rather be compassionate than be right.

Different – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our July 2017 theme “Different.” 

Tonight, Nashville, we were different.49-Different

We broke free from a life-time of well-ordered good behavior, and the forced conformity of red aprons and charted gardens, and asserted our difference head to head with the district manager…and made Mary Kay cry.

We played a different instrument from a different part of the country, singing songs about the difference between Coke and Sprite…and we had a child with a different number of chromosomes. But in the end we learned to love in the present, and discovered our souls are all the same.

We discovered what it means to be a different lawyer in a man’s world, where we needed more make-up and higher expectations. But we learned that a brilliant woman in court is as intimidating as a typing monkey.

The threat of lip-reading classes lured us into a life of espionage, with blue plastic glasses and snacks under our desks, spying on opera-singing neighbors and a Cuban spy named Oscar who just thought we were weird.

Expanding cracks and internal debates led us down the slippery slope from gender isolation to loss of community to the rather different notion that we’d rather have compassion.

We had a different experience of Sadie Hawkins, and then a long-distance relationship led to dinner with our cigar-smoking friend—and to exchanging the European engagement ring for the love of our life.

We grew from being a disheveled mess with an undomesticated pin, to a “hot mess mom” who missed vaccinations and had birthday disasters and pajama day errors and burning sage…and a diagnosis that helped us accept our difference.

We learned that it is hard to be more different than an emotionally crumbled, gender fluid, Latinex, unicorn, atheist, church worker. But we helped a New Orleans conference with other whack-a-doodle liberals be a little more inclusive.

We tried to convince Dad of a different reality—that the gay hockey player from Spanish class in our basement at 2:00 a.m. was all a pain-induced hallucination. But the interrogation on the hot porch convinced us that this was all going to be a bad dream.

Thanks to all our excellent storytellers–Rebecca, Irene, Kristen, Laurie, Pam, Heather, Barbara, LynnMarie, and Kathleen! Our next Tenx9 will be at Parnassus Books on August 28. The theme? “Words.” Got a story? Let us know here!


Show & Tell – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our May 2017 night “Show & Tell”

Tonight, Class, we had “Show and Tell.”

We showed a metal lizard that almost changed our life…until an encounter at Dead Man’s Tree revealed it was not gold—and we were a doofus.

We showed little Sarah with the frayed edges, the only one we trusted when Angie left. And years later, when he also left, we curled up again by our lifelong best friend.47-Show and Tell

We showed our hands that bounced her while we walked miles and miles, and that shook her bottle and beat her back…and raged at God. But they also showed her every day that she was loved.

We showed a black flag which we discovered after beer with Hungarian metal heads and kissing border guards and a subway ride to Ost-Berlin—where we learned that lonely figures are trapped between the armies.

We showed Beulah’s aging scrapbook, and told of Mom’s scrapbook full of boy pictures, and our own scrapbook with a “love-a-lint campaign.” And we are destined by the stars to be the keeper of the memories.

We showed our Turkish “football” jersey which we purchased from peddlers like flies on a dog turd. And we found the value of Caucasian Drivers Licenses and a Tennessee Drinking Licenses.

We showed a piece of Duplo and remembered Julie, and signing number songs and the biology of flies—and fleeing the torture. We have lost her, and found ourselves…and we don’t know how it ends.

We shared her perfect horse skull—which we found in the deafening hum of a slave cemetary, having become one with the land. She was present at bonfires, and presided at ordinations, and still whispers of the seasons to come.

We showed the food bowl that once belonged to a spherical mass of angelic fur—the “rabbit of the Andes”—whose birthday had been spoiled by a dead orphan bunny and our misunderstanding of the point of our ethics exam.

That was tonight’s “Show and Tell.”

Thanks to Wendell, Christy, Jeannie, Jordan, Amber, Irene, Caren, J.W., and Evert for your stories! Our next night is June 26 in partnership with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. Got a story? Let us know here!

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Trouble – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for our April 2017 theme “Trouble.” 

Nashville, tonight we encountered trouble.

We drove all night and took a secret route into trouble at a border station, where we annoyed a guard till we led a convoy of good ol’ boys and farm workers into Mexico—but we’re not sure we learned any lessons.

We encountered passport trouble when we tried to replace a damaged passport in two 46-Troublecountries with some help from civil servants, travel agents, and a police officer with a curly mustache. But we finally got it done…one minute before we were going to die!

We ran into trouble when we took a 3-month renewal trip in an RV—which would have been more relaxing if didn’t have to worry if squatting gets an RV under a bridge, and hadn’t impaled our trailer on a bank, and had found a space at “Big Bone Lick” …but thank God for Larry!

We rode a decorated bug into trouble at a party with Brer Fox and Brer Bear, and teaspoons of a funny pink powder, and dancing around a fire. The trouble eased—but we don’t know the rest of the story.

Trouble shocked us when the phone rang in the middle of the night, and the tragic news of a truck on a dark road and a heart attack led to the slow dissolution of our once idyllic family life.

In a contest with classmates in Catholic school uniforms, 10 seconds led to 10 months of trouble. Despite laughing through group therapy, we came to the surprising revelation that all we needed was attention.

One troubling night taking care of an old rickety building, we hear a new noise. The sound of walkie-talkies led to a new friend with squinty eyes and a crew cut, a near victim who cleared us, and cops with shot guns playing ping pong!

Life became more troubled when the news we would move led to sneaking cars out in the night, pillows over alarm pads, and saying “yes” so he would remember…but no one saw us.

We drove the least crappy car into trouble when our 16-year-old brain knocked us into the horror of cherry Slurpee, and the fear of what father had planned. But we were given the keys to a monogrammed tank with a falling ceiling and an AM radio!

Those were our troubles.

Thanks to all our tellers–Donna, Gayathri, River, Taylor, Sonia, Wendell, Deborah, Jenny, and Anne! Join us on May 22 for our theme “Show and Tell.” Have a story about an object of significance in your home? Bring it and tell us the story. Pitch your idea here.

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Do No Harm – The Understory

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from “Do No Harm: Stories of Healthcare,” our April 2017 partnership with Meharry Medical College. 

Nashville, tonight we encountered episodes in health care.

We discovered a troubling cyst, but left the patient as we dashed home to find a crying daughter and a disintegrating tutu. We hitchhiked to the rehearsal, and in spite of everything, it all had a happy ending.

We encountered a blue-eyed Ryan Gosling in a psych ward and his imaginary social SPECIAL-Healthcareworker. And we learned never to assume—especially if it involves assassinating a president.

Maurine would always leave against advice—but this time the blood pressure was too high and the heartbeat was too low. And she said, “I’m gonna die.” “Not today,” we said…but we were wrong.

She had ADHD, made no eye contact, gave short answers…and slept with a knife. On-again-off-again treatment and heavy drinking led us to wonder how we can “do no harm” when the system harms.

We faced a birth defect with no benefits, but the Affordable Care Act spared us from an illness without insurance. We watched the vote with anxiety, then relief, and a conviction to help others.

We graduated from “My dad can remove your brain” to campaigning to close the coverage gap. Then we went from cocktails in Frisco to shocking results and unemployment…but with more hope than Bruce had.

We left Chicago’s winter for Lima’s beauty. But at the campsite we presented a mind-boggling health plan to a 10-year-old boy who could no longer play. And we wondered how to do no harm when we will kill him either way.

Life changed when a frustrating, troublesome young woman, whose life had led from pregnancy to addiction to rape to desperation, told us “you don’t want to know.” And she was right…but now we do.

We went to a…gynecologist with really good shoes…who…uh, opened up a sink hole…and…gave a… procedure…that I’m pretty sure men are not allowed to talk about, much less laugh at, and certainly not summarize…so let’s just leave it at that.

Special thanks to all our tellers–David, Lloyda, Kristen, Michael, Tamkeenat, Theodor, Veronica, Christy, and Stephanie. A wonderful night. Be sure to join us Monday, April 24th for “Trouble”.