Church of the Baggy Pants

They told me back in junior college it was churches made this part of the country strong. Other parts of the country have their strengths. But I’m not really interested in what they got going on back East. And I’m not interested in California. That’s just a freeway that already has a lot of traffic on it.

I believe in the churches.

Back in junior college they also said if I wanted to start a flourishing business I had to reach out to professional organizations and community groups. One effective way to do this was fraternal organizations. I’m talking Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. They’re a very good fraternal organization. Rumor has it they were originally going to be called the Buffaloes. But that’s too many syllables.

I go around the state cementing deals. I see myself as a facilitator, putting people in touch with other people. I go into a community, I get an introduction to the guys down at the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. I make myself known to these gentlemen.

This is pretty much what happened in Cincinnati.

Some men in the business community drink too much. You get to meet them, you go for a nightcap after the Elks have all gone home, and these men are talking about what’s going on in sports. Soon they’re telling you about how their kid got arrested for selling some pot or something. I don’t know what that’s all about. I don’t have any kids.

One time I was in a church when they were swearing in new choristers. There were girls in black robes and blond pigtails, missing teeth, and they were standing up there in the front of the church, being sworn in as new choristers. Cutest kids I’d ever seen, and they were raising their voices up. Some other kids were getting white robes to put on over the preliminary black robe, like in karate. This additional white robe indicated they’d been kicked upstairs, promoted to the next rung of choristers. I don’t care if these kids sing the right notes or not, I don’t care if they don’t even know where the entrances and exits are in the hymns they’re singing. The worse it is, the better I like it.

Cincinnati is a town you can get behind. First, they got rid of that federally funded art exhibition with the dirty pictures. Federal funding, don’t even get me started. Then you got an American stands up for what she believes in, Marge Schott. A local celebrity. Not afraid to speak her mind. Maybe Marge became part of one of the fraternal organizations after they started admitting the ladies.

Riots, too. Right here in this town. Members of the fraternal organization, the ones I met, they are strongly in favor of veterans, patriotism, law enforcement. I was down at the Benevolent and Protective Order not too long ago. I remember hearing a fine upstanding citizen of Cincinnati give a talk on this very subject.

I have my moods like any other person. Sometimes I’m not in the same town for longer than a couple of weeks, then I move on. That’s part of business. I like televised golf. I look in the mirror, I don’t know what I’m going to see. Maybe something that breaks my heart, maybe not.

The church down the block from the lodge, you know, Roman Catholic church, had been having a lot of problems. Sometimes I can see the loneliness of the guys of the cloth stretching out in front of them, I can visualize it, looks like a prison sentence. Congregations dwindling, disenchantment in the ranks. Once, this part of town had a lot of men from Eastern Europe. They were the workers at the factories, but they all moved up and out. Now it’s a neighborhood with a different flavor, and that different flavor doesn’t go to the Catholic Church.

I keep my eye on things. I try to look up, even though mostly what I do is trudge along. I try to see the spires, because at one time these churches were all the tallest buildings, right? In all the towns of America.

I knew the priest at the church. He was about to be reassigned to Pittsburgh. Pays to know people through the offices of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, like I was saying. Men of the cloth belong to fraternal organizations too. Many of them served in the war. You can tell even when they aren’t talking about it.

One night bowling, I had this bad split. Never could get the knack of getting that one pin to cross-check the other one down. That takes talent. I was never good at very much. The choristers raising up their voices, I could never do that, I was never any kind of singer. Or a piano player. Never could I paint a picture, or write a masterpiece. Anyway, to the man of the cloth, who was bowling with us, I said, “Give me time to find someone who can do you proud with your address, who can make a go of your address, and you’ll be the landlord, that way, when the tides turn, because the tides are always turning, you put this property to good use again, build a new congregation. Let’s make this profit be part of your institutional future.” Meaning: find a tenant for his particular church.

I’d heavily rehearsed the speech, I don’t mind telling you.

All kinds of businesses are wanting to move into the Cincinnati area, because of the disposable income you got here. Good solid community. I could put some charts in this report. Things are on the upswing, never mind about the riots. That’s police just doing their job. There are large retailers willing to move franchises in on a speculative basis. They’re hankering to drive out the competitors.

I gave my mother some money. I sent it back to Omaha. She didn’t have much of her own. Everything is always turning into something else, notice that? Ponds are turning into meadows, marshes into harbors, ghettos into suburbs. The deserts are farmlands, the forests are tumbling down into deserts. The flowers are drying up, sloughing off their petals. The bulbs are stretching out their roots under the cover of the soil. Next year there will be flowers all over again.

My mother was getting more and more wrinkly. Sometimes the loneliness of older people makes me want to lie down right on the sidewalk and cover my head. My mother is getting ready to pass away, I guess, and then I’m going down the chute into that same slaughterhouse.

So the story is that I beat the real estate guys at their own game, and it was a great feeling. I made the deal they couldn’t make. I read in the paper where this chain that markets to urban consumers was wanting to move into the middle of the nation. They were doing pretty good on the coasts. They didn’t give a rat’s ass about art exhibitions or the riots. I bet those retailers don’t even listen to the news, they were too busy. I just called and called and called. I made sure I was the first one dialing that number in the morning, the last one at the end of the day. I told everyone I talked to that I was a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

The night the commitment letter was signed, we all went out for a celebration on the town. The principals. I bought a chipping wedge for the priest from this church, because there are some good courses in Pittsburgh. I bought a driver for the guy from the retailer. Don’t even know if he played golf.

My take was in percentage points. As soon as a thing was done, I was erased from it. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Now we have churches that are stores marketing baggy pants to an urban type of consumer. Everything changing into something else. Once there was a church there, and then it became a department store. Wind causes the wind chimes to tinkle, waves make the buoy dance, fertilizer raises up the crops. Everything looks like its opposite. An orchard gets razed for a shopping center.

I walk up that block, knowing people used to pray there. I’m not in Cincinnati too often, because right now I’m doing a deal where a ballpark gets turned into a track for stock-car racing. But I walk up the block now and then. I listen for birds. The blue jay stops at nothing to get a good meal to bring back to its mate. Drives off the smaller birds. Why do I have mixed feelings about the church of the baggy pants?

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