This is the tenth installment in my ongoing autobiography. If you aren't up to speed yet, please feel free to poke around
Joel was born in the garden spot of the universe, Bastrop, LA. No running water, no electricity, but a comfy log cabin house and a regenerative cherry tree in the front yard for him to chop down everyday. He had buddies, (Darren, Trey, Ellie) went to college, made more buddies (Amanda, Walker, Rick), did some theatre, made more buddies (Stewart, Richard), and met the woman of his dreams (he had plenty of buddies). He became a DJ and lived happily ever after...until the wanderin' bug bit he and his bride and sent them on a galavant to Europe. Thus we enter our next chapter...
The Baptists and the Big Easy
New Orleans has always been in my heart and imagination. It is THE city if you live in Louisiana. Even since Katrina when Baton Rouge has passed it in population, it is the cultural and spiritual heart of the Bayou State.
It makes my heart beat a little bit too.
I visited when I was a kid with my Aunt Ann and her best friend, my "Aunt" Gwen. Gwen had grown up in the city and other than a few brief stays elsewhere, had lived there her whole life. She was (and is) the best possible ambassador for the city. She sees it completely, she has no blindspots for its faults or flaws, but she still loves it unconditionally, maybe even because of its warts. That passion and respect for her city is contagious, and I caught a bad case at about 10 years old.
As my time at Tech wound down, I had decided that I was going to move to New Orleans. Gwen had a guest house behind her house, I'd rent it, work in the Quarter and wander the city a bit figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. Then I met Ella, decided that I needed to get married more than anything else, and ended up spending three more years in Ruston. A year and change after our wedding as we watched Hurrican Katrina come ashore on CNN and Fox News, I knew I'd never actually live in my dream city. It just didn't make sense. Everything had changed, the city would take years to come back and I had a wife now. That was no place to have a family!
Fast forward to Ella's graduation and we were looking for a place to move. We'd outgrown Ruston (or at least it felt that way) and we wanted a change of pace. We both wanted to stay in Louisiana, but we didn't like Monroe, Shreveport, Lafayette, Lake Charles or Alexandria. We aren't really rural people, so that pretty much left Baton Rouge and New Orleans. We gave Baton Rouge a shot, and scheduled a week to look for work in BR with a day or two in Nola as well.
We got to Baton Rouge late Sunday night and went straight to bed. As we're sitting at the breakfast table eating the next morning with Ella's granparents, her brother calls to say that we have to come to New Orleans immediately, Ella's got an interview for a position with the Seminary. That's not exactly her dream job, but it was an opportunity so we jumped on it. An hour plus later, I'm sitting in the student union, waiting on Ella to finish her interview when I get a call from Gwen, "Can Ella come in for an interview today in my office?"
Gwen worked as a salesperson and sales manager for a mortuary company. She mostly dealt with funeral planning and insurance. She's very good at her job.
"What's the position?" I asked, having no idea why Gwen thought Ella would make a good salesperson, hell, I didn't think I would make a good salesperson, and I'm way more social than she is. "We're looking for a new office manager. I think Ella would be great." "Um...okay. She's in an interview right now. I'll have her call you when she gets out."
Now, fast forward a day or two. Ella has not one but two offers on the table and I haven't even had an appointment. The first offer was from Gwen's company. They wanted her, and were pushing the bounds of what they were willing to pay for the position in order to get her. The other offer came from a lighting company in Metairie. The were looking for a retail sales associate. Both were good offers, some commission incentives, mostly a flat rate and benefits.
The Drunken Rogue had nothing, except a vague future offer from one of our friends from college. He was anticipating a promotion and would need to replace himself once that happened. He worked what was really supposed to a student job (20 hours per week) helping manage a housing location for volunteers rebuilding the city. Even at 20 hours/week, I'd be making more than I did full-time at the radio station in Ruston. This was perfect. I could work some, write in my spare time and between Ella's job and mine, we'd have more than enough money to get ahead in our new city! But again, the offer was nebulous and future-dated.
We talked it over and I felt that the quick offers for Ella were a sign that we should take the leap. Ella accepted the offer with the lighting shop (less responsibility and stress) and I accepted the fact that I was going to move to New Orleans without a job. We went on our European excursion and returned to drive our cars full of clothes and cosmetics (everything else was packed away in storage in Ruston) to fill up the extra bedroom of a buddy (the same buddy that was promising the future job). I spent a week floating, waiting for something to open up and was finally called in for an interview with his manager (who he was supposed to replace) on Friday afternoon. She and her supervisor were going to meet me and discuss my resume and the position available.
They were impressed and interested by the breathe of my experiences. That's good because there was no depth to my experiences! The Project Coordinator was particularly interested in my computer experience with the radio station. He wanted to know all about my hands on experience repairing, upgrading and working with both Macs and PCs. Then they started telling me about the job and the organization itself.
They were the Baptist. Southern Baptists to be precise. Funded by a large one time donation made by Southern Baptists worldwide for the express purpose of rebuilding the Gulf Coast and more specifically, New Orleans. Now, they wanted me to give my testimony.
Author's aside: For those not versed in the modern evangelical movement, "testimony" is the word generally used to describe the story of your conversion experience and current relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
But there I was, unfolding the tale of my Christian experience for these two strangers who had so recently praised my PC knowledge and experience managing part-time radio workers. It. Was. Weird. It was also oddly (or maybe not-so-oddly) comforting to say all these things out loud. I came to what seemed to me to be a logical conclusion and stopped. Both my perspective supervisors were quiet for a few moments and then the Coordinator said, "If you were the man for the position, how quickly could you start?" "Tonight!" I said, hoping to not seem too needy. "Well, it'll be Monday morning before we make a decision. We've got one other applicant to see, but if we go with you, Monday night would be wonderful for your first shift."
I had not been too needy. I had not been too "rogueish". I had apparently been exactly what they were looking for. The manager walked me out and told me she felt like the other interview was mostly a formality, that the other applicant was really looking for something different and full-time. I shook her hand and crossed my fingers hoping that I'd be gainfully employed Monday night.
And, as so often has happened to me, I fell backwards into something good.
Monday came and I got the call. They wanted me, and I should show up at 4:30 to begin my training. Those first few months I worked nights. My shift would start at 4 or 5 and I'd be on until about 11 at night. Occasionally later. I oriented guests, sold souvenir t-shirts, answered volunteer questions about the city and our work and enforced the house rules (no women on men's floors, vice versa, curfew, no smoking or drinking in the building etc.)
It was a great job, but quickly became a problem for my marriage. Ella and I never saw each other. She started work at 7:30am and was in bed most nights by 9pm. I didn't get up until noon most days and was gone from the house (when working) until at least midnight. We just happened to sleep beside each other. A change was obviously necessary.
Two things happened simultaneously that still surprise me when I realize that it happened to me. My supervisor announced that she was leaving the organization to help her husband in his new ministry position, and I found out I was about to be a father. Ella and I had (unknowingly) carried a third member of Team Awesome all across Europe and down into our new home on the bayou. It was time for papa to get a big-boy job. One that would have him home earlier and bring bigger paychecks.
I was working up the nerve (and the sales pitch) to broach the subject with our Project Coordinator when we were moving our offices from downtown to the New Orleans neighboring city of Chalmette. He helped me bring it up, "Joel, what do you think your future is with (our organization)?" "Well, sir, I'm glad you asked. I love my job. I love what I do, and what I'm a part of, but Ella and I just found out we're going to be parents. I need full-time work, bigger paychecks and I need to be home at night with my family, sir."
"Interesting timing, son." he replied. "We're looking to replace (the former manager) and she's recommended you for the position. You'd still have to work the occasional night shift, but mostly you could come and go on the schedule you make. You'd be a 40 hour a week worker, raise commiserate with that change, and you'd get to hire a new Assistant Manager to fill your place."
Again, with the falling backward into goodness. What can I say? I'm a lucky fella.
So, I got the promotion and Ella and I raised a baby and lived happily ever after in New Orleans. Okay, not exactly, but I did get the promotion, and we did have a baby. Two, in fact. But that is the next chapter...
Coming Soon: Life and Times of the Drunken Rogue Part 10 -- The Drunken Rogue Becomes Daddy Rogue