Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Caution: Showerhead Replaced with Flamethrower

It is raining. It's raining at a decent clip. It's raining in a timely manner, as I was walking home mere minutes before the sky gave way. I am not going to touch work for the rest of the night; I am going to sit in my boxers, write some e-mails, scramble some eggs...maybe, and read "A Million Little Pieces," which, though it will be no fault of the author, is in all likelihood going to cause me to fall into a deep, awful sleep. And that will be just fine.

This morning I took my first hot shower in two weeks. Although it was basically my top priority to make the public aware of this, other things have been happening, too. The dominant activity, somehow, is teaching and preparing for four English classes, though perhaps I should switch the order of those two items around, as I only teach three hours and fifteen minutes each day but prep for twice that long. Or at least it seems so. In my humble opinion, these classes are going well. At some later point more details may be put forth about the finer points of these four courses, but for now I will sum them up quickly. I have homeroom with the senior class. I have an English class with them first period and an English class with the juniors the following hour. Then I oversee a study hall of sophomores who, while being a fun-filled bunch, tend to chat more than I am okay with. Which is a lot. Fourth period I have nothing, then there's lunch, and then there's fifth hour with the aforementioned tenth grade students. Following that is AP English, for which the preparation takes the most time and the roll call takes the least, because there's only four kids in there. I have nothing seventh hour. And then class are over. It is a straight 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. gig, with mandatory contract hours taking up a half hour before and after.

And then optional (not really) hours are spent getting ready, laying the foundations for these courses which I have so recently been put in charge of. In general, I have left the school between 6 and 7 p.m., not counting when I had to come home early to wait for some dude to come turn on my gas. I have not been the last to leave on any of the nights so far.

But such is the life of the first-year teacher, as I both understood it to be and expected it to be. Other elements of my life are on the backburner but are not forgotten.

Who the deuce do I hang out with? As far as historical figures, I have met up with Jonathan from Bethel, Ray from Poly School, and Megan "Raider of the Lost Ark" Schwartz from ECC. As far as people from the school are concerned, there are seven new teachers, a couple of whom I have made trips into the greater Seoul area with, and some veterans, a couple of whom I have made trips into the greater Seoul area with. There is a church that calls itself DEW (DongAn English Worship), and rightfully so. There are good folk there, including the English teacher whose position I stole; in a wicked twist of fate, he is working (though not teaching) for Poly School now. Oh, how the tables have turned.

What the dickens have I done in my spare time? Read. Climbed Mt. Namsan, which is not actually any sort of feat at all, as there is a lovely stone stairway and many an old man accompanying it, and making me feel less accomplished. Eaten with citizens mentioned above. Learned to iron. Walked around.

Where on earth did I hang the Iowa flag I brought with me? Ah, a third question that likely no one is that concerned with. Right here:



Where the blazes do I live now? Here in this place that is a smidge bigger than the last place I resided in in Seoul:















The rain is done. I can hear old people yelling at each other outside. I gotta go.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

True or False

- - - Things that are true:

1. I arrived in Seoul last Wednesday around 4 p.m. local time.

2. I am teaching five high school classes for the next nine months, including AP English.

3. A teacher at my school was born in Marshalltown, Iowa.

4. Assuming nuclear war does not break out, I will have had intensely personal interactions with elementary, middle school, and high school students this calendar year.

5. It is hotter than sin here, and muggy.

6. My apartment is in Yongsan and is near the lofty Seoul Tower.

7. More than one person has complained, justifiably, about how long posts have been getting on "Take No Prisoners."

8. The head high school teacher, God bless his heart, went to Roseville High School.

9. The comforter on my bed is literally a yard wide, if that.

10. Seoul is still way sweet and it feels good to be back.


- - - Things that are not true:

1. I have taken a shower with hot water at my apartment.

2. The Minnesota Twins have been doing everything in their power to make this transitory period in my life easier.

3. I know how to use my washing machine but don't need to because I have lots of clean clothes lying around.

4. I am keenly aware of how many students are in each of my classes and what age each class encompasses.

5. The handle on my heavy, used suitcase did its job the entire way from Philadelphia to the spot in my bedroom where it now lies.

6. Internet access is readily available at my apartment.

7. I found two human heads in a trunk in my new classroom.

8. Despite eating lots of messy Korean barbecue and other fine delicacies, I have kept all my clothes completely stain-free so far.

9. My landlord stays out of my apartment, regardless of whether I am home or not and regardless of whether I am clothed or not.

10. I am finished writing about YouthWorks!, Niagara Falls, and/or other elements of my summer.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What Did the Five Fingers Say to the Face?

So there I sat, at gate D13 in the Philadelphia International Airport. Coming as a surprise to no one, I had not showered in a couple days; skin was peeling off my feet and toes, my eyes were red and bloodshot, and my face ached from getting slapped two hundred times. I was waiting for my flight to O'Hare, which I was not worried about, after which I had to switch both myself and my luggage to Korean Air in an hour and a half at the busiest airport in the world, which I was a tad worried about, after which I had a hundred-hour flight and an adventure in public transport awaiting me in Seoul. That task lay at the end of the road: getting all my crap from Incheon International Airport to Centennial Christian School in Yongsan. I kinda knew where it was and kinda what subway station I needed to get to. And all of that wasn't even really on my mind.

What was on my mind was the past two and a half months, specifically the last week and a half. One more wild week of programming, one that seemed very distracted to me. A lot of the time was spent scurrying around trying to properly wrap up the site by preparing banana nut bread farewell gifts and finding a place to store our hoarde of well-used equipment. To add to the madess, a man whom we partnered with in Niagara Falls abruptly passed away on Saturday, which was both emotionally trying and logistically detrimental. Adding to the situation still more was the group of neat young leaders who got excited as early as Tuesday night to hang out after hours with the four YouthWorks! personnel, which resulted in less-than-adaquate sleep patterns for an already seemingly-tired staff.

Along with the aforementioned circumstances, there were still more curveballs that would be thrown our way. On our way to Niagara Falls on Monday night, our caravan of church vans found itself in a unprecedented traffic jam that left us a good fifty-five minutes behind schedule. On our way to Murphy's Orchard (motto: "Our Jams and Jellies Can Kick Your Jams' and Jellies' Lousy Butts Each Day of the Week and Twice on Saturday") on Tuesday night, a kid got a bloody nose that was appropriate to get in Niagara Falls because both its volume and speed were comparable to Horseshoe Falls. And coming back from M.O. two vans that had half the kids in them got abysmally lost. On Wednesday night we had to restructure most of the evening around meetings and schedule conflicts with the Potter's House and funeral flowers. And Thursday we ran out of charcoal for most of the necessary grilling time. There were kids losing money and camera cards and hairbrushes; there were adult leaders unhappy with their kids and their partner leaders and with just the general experience. And Lisa grew giant, infectious warts on each cheek that pussed and oozed.

However! By the grace of God, we brought the pain like our lives were at stake. We played games that intrigued both young and old folk while we waited for the late-comers. We played Rick James at levels unheard of until a few days later in Philadelphia with Steubenville's staff. We went Amazon crazy when someone shared a Yea, God! for no rain. We got all our good-bye gifts out without much of a hitch. We made a wicked middle school dance party out of our traffic situation. A leader from Sheboygan, Wisconsin...where I was born...gave us a Double Ding for having a tremendous amount of energy, which was my main concern during the week. I was pretty proud of us, if you haven't guessed it already.

Friday morning we gathered on the stage at 6:25 a.m., grabbed the most absurd garb we could find from the prop closet, went and woke everyone up, and danced to Scatman for...a while. One kid came and joined us. We had the kids tear down the place. They left. We cleaned from sun up to sun down; then we went to the Canada side and looked at the falls one last tiz-ime. Went to bed at 1 a.m., but not before eating a bunch of peach cobbler from Juliet Thomas. Got up and blindly cleaned all day Saturday. I went to bed at 2:30, Lisa went to bed at 4:30, and Stockton went to bed at 5:08. At 8 a.m. the next morning we drove from Niagara to Philadelphia. Despite being the crankiest people I have ever seen and feared, Lisa and I drove us to paydirt: Quality Hotel on Industrial Boulevard in Philadelphia.

I don't really dig these giant reunions with people I sort of remember but don't really care about. I was dang tired and ready to just take it easy with Area 2. We had a meal at Chili's that culminated in shots of ranch dressing and then all went into a hotel room and played the most violent game of Rick James that has ever occurred. I can't tell it to you in a way that would convey how sweet it was. I can only say that Travis from Mon Valley enjoyed it an unhealthy amount and said that he was going to play it with his family. The game was super fun and we laughed a ton, but there was a part that I have to slow down and explain in detail, because at the end of it most of us were laughing harder than we had in a thousand decades.

Every once in a while someone new would venture into the room to see what all the ruckus was about, and usually they got coerced into playing Rick James as well. Most feigned shock and then got into it. But at one point this super bubbly girl came bounching into the room, very pleased to have discovered a happy group of people playing something. "Oh! Are you guys playing a game? What game? Is it like Mafia?" Someone said, "Not really...but kind of." We invited this eager lass to sit on the bed next to Kim and before she knew it, Lisa was passing out cards to everyone for the next round. The girl kept asking, "Okay, what do I do now? Do I look?" No, don't look yet. Lisa told everyone to flip their cards, and it turned out that Kim had the two of spades. So immediately all twelve or so of those in the room came over to her and slapped her in the face with varying degrees of intensity. The boisterous girl beside her was completely shocked; all she could say was, "What are you doing? No, don't do...stop...don't hit her...stop..." After everyone else had smacked Kim, someone told this girl that it was her turn. She very reluctantly and very lightly put her hand on Kim's cheek and petted it, and then got up and left, all the while at a loss for words. As she was leaving, the reality of the situation smacked most of us in the head in the same manner that we'd been hitting each other, maybe harder, and the pure innocence and genuine shock that had been everything about that poor girl became obvious to us. And we laughed for a good five minutes. I could not breathe and I could not move and most other people could not, either.

We played until everyone had gotten hit, including Kryn, who was super reluctant and super jumpy about it, which happens. Then the site directors stayed up late doing finances/looking for lost $400 amounts. Kim and Lisa and I stayed up for a while and processed the summer, one of a few conversations that I will take away from those couple days as valuable.

Maybe you can access this, maybe you can't. Young Wessels posted it on Facebook. This is our boss Ben "getting worked over by his area staff."

I hit the hay around 2:30 and got up at 7 a.m. to try to find somewhere to wash our cars; no dice. Frustrating start. The rest of the day was spent being late to the church where we'd had training at the beginning of the summer, turning in everything from extra t-shirts to finances to the Bronco, debriefing with Heather, talking to various siblings on the phone, starting the processing process, eating a gourmet dinner catered from The Olive Garden, sharing Yea, Gods! from the summer, worshipping, devouring pizzookie, and having important conversations with important people. Around 3:30 a.m., Lisa, Kim, and I salvaged the only decent sleeping spots left in the building: on the floor in the luggage room with stolen blankets, as Lisa and I had mailed our sleeping equipment home that afternoon.

The next morning at 7:00 a.m. I got hauled to that aforementioned gate D13, but not before getting slapped one more time by Travis and Lisa and parting ways with the last of those who are dear to me in the United States. I did not and do not know when I will see them again. I hope it is soon. My mom would have been proud of the Niagara Falls staff; they made some farewell festivities happen, just the way my mother would undoubtedly have wanted there to have been. At the cookout on Thursday, they got party hats and read this sweet poem that Stockton had written, and they got me a neat shirt. And that night we celebrated with a strawberry cake. It was good, and I appreciated it. As to those not on the N.F. staff, well...call me. We'll be in touch, in some form or another.

And I sat there at the airport, thinking about all those things. It made me return to the debate that has plagued my mind since last December: should I be going or staying? YouthWorks! is awesome and I love almost everything about it, and I have told countless adult leaders just that in countless adult leader meetings. But I am headed elsewhere, for sometimes unjustified reasons that have never really held up in any argument, especially in ones with Mike Moravec. We'll not open that can of worms yet. Not here. Not now. For now, the only can of worms to think about is the one Wesley presented us all with as we loaded the shuttle van for the airport. The last thing he said was, "Reuben, you look like you're about ready to be back in Korea. Your eyes are getting squinty."

Gifted shirt and cake box.



Staff photo at the falls. Please look at Stockton's face.



He Who Shall Remain Nameless during the Friday cleaning.



Where He Who Shall Remain Nameless shall remain lying for the next nine months.



Myself and the recycling stack that I put together.



Leaders from Sheboygan.



Monday night at the falls.



Stolen picture depicting a whipped-cream-pie victim.



Stolen picture of me handing out trail mix.



The Potter's House and YouthWorks! 2009.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Filler

So if you've been keeping score at home, you probably noticed that a few weekends have slipped through the records of this overly-detailed account of what is happening to me. I will now shore up those errors.

The weekend of July 17-19 saw the arrival of another Haggar in the Niagara Falls area. Yes, it's true...my very own mother Sue came to visit me! Hey-o! We took it as easy as possible, mostly because I aspire to be a weak little girl on the weekends and to sleep and to do nothing. On Friday my mother got it in at 6 p.m. or so and we checked into The Travelodge of Good Tidings, ate at Applebees, hit up the recently opened Super Wal-Mart (featuring a torture instrument that rips fingernails out of fingers and eyes out of sockets), and saw fireworks over the falls. On Saturday we hit up Niagara Falls State Park and Goat Island, viewed the falls, and took a ride on the Maid of the Mist. Then we met up with Lisa, Wesley, and Stockton and drove into the boonies of northwest New York to this girl's high school graduation party. Her mom both invited us and used several YouthWorks! coolers; the mom's name is Pam, she is the secretary at the church that YouthWorks! used to have housing at, and she is way, way sweet. To use an analogy that few will understand, Pam is the Patti East of Niagara Falls. It was fun. We ventured back and my mom and I perused around by the falls more, stopped by Taco Bell, and hit the hay. In the morning we attended the Potter's House. I was sort of bummed that my mom was not the only visitor, like when Lisa's mom was there; there were ten or so other first timers in attendance that week. After church we ate lunch, got crackin', and soon the kids came. I don't know if having my mom come back for supper, youth orientation, and club is against YouthWorks! policy, but that is what we had happen. She chatted it up with several of the adult leaders, many of whom randomly brought those conversations up later, after the business of the YouthWorks! week had made me forget that my mom had been there that night. After club my mom bought a t-shirt and headed out. It was dang neat of her to come and see where I was and what I was up to, both because it's hard to really know what YouthWorks! programming is actually like and because I will probably not get to see her again for some time. Thanks, Ma! it was great!

The weekend of July 24-26 was sort of the opposite: it saw the arrival of another Haggar in the Iowa area. That particular Friday I got up at the usual 6:30 a.m. and worked all day with the other three. We stopped working at 3:30 and immediately went to the airport. I flew to Des Moines, Iowa, as fast as I could and was met there by this dirty ol' van that was manned by none other than Steve Daniels and a shirtless Mike Moravec. We went quickly to our Ramada Inn, where Steve and I threw it down in the parking lot with "Define the Great Line" seeping loudly out of the back hatch of the aforementioned van. A bit later we went to some bar in downtown Des Moines, where I, clad in a dirty Free YouthWorks! shirt and an unaffiliated pair of swim trunks, had the ultimate pleasure of reuniting with the best people in the world, all of whom were wearing dinner rehearsal garb. No matter. It was super good to see those folks. Super good. The next morn we had a men's breakfast at Perkins, stopped at some mall to get T-Duck a sports coat, set up some DJ stuff, showered at Josh Miller's cousin's empty but nicely decorated apartment, and went to some sweet church for the event of the weekend: the marriage of a one Ryan Orvis and a one Katie Clark. Sweet ceremony, I must say. Cole and Kristin did the music, which I really enjoyed. Katie's father did the service, which I really enjoyed. Orvis and Katie (should I call her Orvis now, too?) became a family unit, which I really enjoyed. After all that happened and I met Bettger's parents, I went with Cassie and Rachel to grab a wedding gift quick (it's YouthWorks! policy to never buy wedding gifts during programming, or to take them anywhere on planes) and hit up the reception, also in downtown Des Moines. Delicious meal, captivating slideshow. Then came the dance, which, to be honest, was absolute insanity. People were running around waving their arms. I'd been telling my staff in Niagara that that would occur all week, so I was pretty pleased with how awesome it was. Stuff that happened:

- We threw Orvis way up in the air a whole bunch of times, and then threw up Katie against her will in a similar fashion.
- Probably ten of us tied our ties together and danced like that for a while.
- T-Duck played Scatman for me, and I called Lisa and put my phone on the floor and danced away from it.
- Micah, Dan Ochs, and Steve went and stood on chairs and danced and waved other chairs in the air at the empty tables where the reception/dinner'd been.
- Steve picked me up and danced me upside down for at least one minute during "Sandstorm."
- Everyone sweat out twice their weight in salt water.
- Micah went in for a hug with some pretty, well-dressed girl, but Clayton came up behind her and smashed her between his soaked body and Micah.
- A strange totem pole of musical celebration formed.
- It was awesome and made me real happy.

Afterward we all helped tear down the DJ stuff. Now can I just say that there have been many, many times at which I've been really proud to be friends with the men of Lissner 301 and the others close to us, but that when we all attacked the lights and speakers and mixing boards, I was particularly happy to be among that circle? No one said, "Okay, it'd be nice if we helped T-Duck with this," and T-Duck didn't ask for help, and people not in this tightly-knit group just went and sat at their eggshell white table to recuperate, but we just took equipment down, put it away, and loaded up the van with it. Men and women alike. Anyway. We went back to the hotel and stayed up too late talking. The next morning I hugged Mike and Clayton good morning and good-bye and Steve took me to the airport. Can I also just say that he is one huge stud? The last time I'd seen Steve had been when he had sought me out and come to the Country Inn and Suites where my family'd been staying the night before I initially left for Korea in December. I hadn't seen him for many months before that. Then he found out that I was flying back to Des Moines for the weekend and came and got me. At the men's breakfast I had said, "Hey, dudes, does anyone think they could bring me to the airport at 7 a.m. tomorrow?" I wasn't done speaking; I was going to offer to pay for their meal if they'd take me, but before I could verbalize that, Steve had already put up both his hand and a huge grin. The world needs more extra stout men like him. After he dropped me off, I flew back to Buffalo, where Ben picked me up, brought me back to the Potter's House, and work began again.

The weekend of July 31-August 2 was more chill but still enjoyable. The streak ended and I didn't see anyone from the homeland. Friday night we all went to Applebees on the tab of various adult leaders who felt like leaving a part of themselves with us in the form of gift cards. When we came back, folks started hittin' the hay as early as 8:30 p.m. The fatigue had arrived. The next day we went to the Potter's House cookout in Oppenheim Park. It was dang sweet. We played football with some kids for a while (my team lost) and the stuffed our faces with all kinds of deliciousness and got to play this game that the church put together, some sort of a hybrid between "Deal or No Deal" and "The Price Is Right." Lisa won Excedrin and some anchovies in mustard sauce. After a while we moved on to Buffalo to bake banana nut bread for our friends and partners in Niagara Falls at our boss's boss's sister's apartment. It took forever but was pretty relaxing, and it was good to spend time with peers outside the YouthWorks! setting. We got home and hit the sack, individually. In church the next morning, Bishop and Co-Pastor Booze had us come up to the front and thanked us for all that we were doing in Niagara Falls. Lisa and Stockton received bags and t-shirts; Wesley and I got Men of P.R.A.I.S.E. coffee mugs and notebooks. It was sweet and we felt appreciated. After we sat down, Bishop Booze asked, sort of as an afterthought, "Oh, did you guys want to say anything?" Caught off guard, I cupped my hands and yelled, "Thanks for letting us stay here and thanks for being awesome!" Bishop Booze paused and said, "I knew there was something wrong with him as soon as I met him."

But let that exchange lead into the last point I'd like to bring to light, one that has nothing to do with any of our weekends in the so-called Grand Canyon of the East. My yelling in church was completely out of character for the person or persons who the Potter's House congregation sees us as in church, but it was completely typically of any and every YouthWorks! staff member. The thought that keeps coming to my mind is that despite housing us, the Potter's House crew does not really get to see the craziness that we had going on in their gym for the last eight weeks. They see four mild-mannered young people in church and around the place, but only in the rarest of occasions do they see the real us. Once was when Wesley, fully clothed as self-proclaimed YE Man, went down to ask Deaconess Dru if it was okay that he blasted music and used a megaphone. Which he did, even though only Ben and Lisa were the only other ones there. "YE is now for sale." Another instance came to mind when Ben introduced me somewhere as the most likely to be considered a raving lunatic by the Potter's House for the music I play while putting away dishes. A third instance occurred the last morning that we were sending kids away. That morning the whole staff had ravaged the prop closet and put on the most ridiculous crap we could find, so we all had that on. Wesley, in full YE Man wardrobe, was flinging bags of pretzels frisbee-style at kids as they drove away; the other three of us were getting super silly to some heavy rap song that one vehicle was gracing the airwaves with. Then Lisa and I chased the vans for five minutes as they sped away. During all of this, Deacon Ron happened to walk by. He later told us that he'd seen Wesley and thought, "What on earth is this?" and that he'd seen the rest of us and thought, "This is crazy. These people are crazy." The last instance that I thought of occurred when Tracy from the church asked if she could take some pictures of club for the Potter's House website, so people would know what kind of extracurricular activities the ol' place had. I didn't know she was going to be videotaping, though; I saw the video tripod from onstage right before I started a "We Will Rock You" announcement about keeping the building clean that went:

Got a great big church here,
Keep it clean!
Put your clothes in your bags,
If you know what I mean.
You're a great big group,
Whoop whoop whoop,
Flush the toilets whenever you poop.
We will, we will rock you.
We will, we will rock you.

I don't know if she used the footage or not.

So. I don't think it would change their decision to let us stay there or not, but I am mostly just amused at the idea that they do not get the whole picture. Come to club on Wednesday night sometime, I guess.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Repeater

So Ben and I went to St. John's AME, which is this church that has an elderly lunch program that we send kids to. We got there and everyone was talking about some house that some of the older folks wanted them to go see when they left. I asked what was so sweet about this house, and the kids shrugged and said to ask the old dudes. So I did, and they just laughed. I said, "How will we know when we find it?" And they laughed more and both of them confidently said, "Oh, you'll know!" Ben and I both agreed we had to go see it. They were right...we did know it when we saw it.



On Monday evening, Lisa was sitting on one end of the dining room, innocently writing Happy Fun Notes. I was in line for cheesy chicken poison, and some kid in front of me dropped a dinner roll on the floor. Being obsessed with cleanliness, I obviously picked it up. I threw it twenty yards across the room, between participants and leaders alike, and it smacked Lisa in the side of the head and bounced away into oblivion. I took off in a hasty walk, though I knew she would immediately be in pursuit and that my attempts at escape were futile. I ran outside, only to bump into Deacon Ron. I immediately put away my truant guilty face and put on my mature, responsible, site director face as he first told me couldn't have kids hanging towels hanging out the front window and then told me he was quite impressed with how well things were going. I thanked him for his words and tried to go back inside, but I knew I was locked out. Feeling quite sheepish, I rang the doorbell that I'd so vehemently condemned in the adult leader meeting. Suddenly the door opened, and a dinner roll that had been soaked in saliva was smashed violently but justifiably into my face.

During club one night, each person on site gets a "Myface" page and, on it, writes all about himself or herself. Then Stockton asks a couple people what they wrote. One leader raised her hand and said, "I wrote about how I love the New York Yankees and how much better they are than the Twins." I threw my sandal at her, and she threw it back but hit a meek boy who was sitting near me in the head.

One dude came up to me the morning after Murphy's Orchard and said, "Reuben, we decided that you look more manly in the picture where you're flexing one arm than in the picture where you're flexing both arms.

We played Rick James with a couple of the leaders. I don't know if they liked it as much as past leaders. My only hope and prayer was that it wouldn't turn up on an evaluation at the end of the week, i.e. Question: Did you feel cared for by the staff? Answer: Yes, except for when Lisa slapped my face.

A typical Monday visit to a ministry site:



There is rule at YouthWorks! sites that prohibits "purple" from happening; boys are blue, girls are pink, and together they make purple. So the staff tells kids about this rule at the beginning of the week, so there is a non-romantic framework to the week. On Thursday one kid was wearing a purple shirt, and another guy came up to him and said in a dead serious tone, "Hey, you can't wear that, remember?" And the shirt-wearer said, "What? Why not?" And the serious-tone-haver said, "They said no purple, remember?"

Lisa discreetly pulled me aside on Thursday morning and told me that we hadn't done a garbage run all week (the church has no dumpster, so we have to haul all the garbage we produce in the Bronco to an off-site locale) and that there were small forest animals all over our pile of waste. We did the garbage run, but not before discovering that a carpet of maggots was growing between two of the garbage bags. If you are thinking, "Did it rain one day and get up to 87 degrees the next?" you are on the right track.

One night there were a bunch of boys pretending to be vampires; they went around biting people on the neck. Do not ask me why. I got bitten and then choked and, being sort of tired anyway, I decided to just go down in a heap and play dead for a while. Someone yelled, "Quick, guys! Give him CPR!" And then someone kicked me hard in the stomach, and I was healed of the death that I was faking.

Wesley and I are usually the one who end up doing the grilling. This week a chaperone said he'd gladly do it, because he loved grilling. I said, "Oh, yeah?" And he told me about a time that he'd grilled 10,000 burgers in one day, so I let him grill.

So. Recently the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted a one Jonny Flynn, who played basketball at Syracuse. Not only did Deaconess Dru tell me that Flynn is a cousin of Co-Pastor Booze, which is sweet in its own right, but this same point guard attended and graduated from Niagara Falls High School, the very facility at which we have the kiddies shower every week. On this particular week we were hanging out, waiting for everyone to finish showering, when some young buck came and said, "Jonny Flynn is shooting in the gym!" I immediately abandoned the serious conversation that I'd been engaged in and went inside, where several kids and a few adults were watching this dude drain threes like it was his job. Which, now, it is. I wanted to interrupt him and tell him he'd better do some serious damage in Minneapolis, and that I knew people who pulled a lot of weight there, and he'd better turn the T-Wolves around. But I didn't.

Stockton and I were at the church on Thursday afternoon when Pastor Jones came up and informed us that they had captured a bat. I sauntered on down, not really sure if they wanted me to bring my Iowa flag or just wanted me know that that was the situation. Deacon Joe had the beast in a garbage can with a piece of cardboard taped over it, and we peeked in at the winged terror. I do not know what he did with it.

These dudes were some of the aspiring vampires:



Ben told me about this story that had reached his ears from a one Sam Townsend, who was sort of my boss in the fall and is sort of some people's boss right now out in South Dakota. The tale comes from Martin, South Dakota, where YouthWorks! has a site on a Native American reservation. On this reservation, and on many others in that fine state, there are what are known as res dogs...packs of dogs that just roam. In Martin, there was this law that each household could only have two dogs. Thus is the context. Sam reported that a community contact, someone who YouthWorks! worked with on a regular basis, had gone door-to-door with a machete during the past week or two and had asked residents how many dogs they had, and, if they had more than two, which one(s) they liked the least. He then put to the sword any canines that violated the so-called "Rule of Two." The part that directly involved YouthWorks! was that multiple vans of kids who had come on mission trips and were on their way to Kid's Club or a work project had driven by this man as he was mercilessly slaughtering excess dogs by the side of the road with his machete.

Stockton and some students were making tacos for everyone on Wednesday night. After the meal had begun to be served, she was cleaning up. Suddenly a sign that had been hanging over the stove fell off the wall and onto the stove. A girl nearby remarked, "Stockton, a sign just fell." Stockton replied, "Okay, thanks Kassidy." A couple minutes later the sign was in flames, and Stockton was trying to grab it off the stove with tongs, but the tape, which had melted, was preventing the sign from leaving the stove. Stockton told Kassidy, who was maybe the most laid back person we'd had on site all summer, to go get me ("What exactly was he going to do?" asked Lisa later). So I am eating my taco and hanging when Kassidy comes over and calmly says, "Reuben, Stockton wants you. There's something on fire on the stove." I jumped to me feet just as Stockton leaned out of the kitchen and yelled, "Reuben, get in here!" I sprinted in there to observe Stockton spraying de-greaser onto the sizable flames that had leaped up. Somehow, the de-greaser quickly put the flames out and quickly put many a billow of chemical smoke into the air. I don't know how that liquid, of all things, did not spur the flames on to greater heights. The kicker is that the sign, which had hung above the stove all summer, had said, "It's getting hot hot hot in here."

Ben was in Niagara Falls from last Tuesday to this. On Monday night during club, I announced that he'd be leaving in the morning, so everyone had better get up and give him a hug. I guess I was hoping that that would be a funny thing to say, but about twenty middle schoolers leaped up to their feet and tackled him from off the chair on which he sat. Everyone was okay except the chair that he had been sitting on.



A leader from Michigan brought, for some reason, a bunny suit along. He let his kids wear it. Now for those of you pondering this over at home, I will tell you the truth: it is seriously a top drawer idea. The rabbit suit got worn at Niagara Falls, at Murphy's Orchard, and during the YE fashion show Wednesday night. I want to comment on the guy who wore it most of the time, particularly on how he carried himself. The dude just wore the thing. He didn't act ridiculous or run around or tell everyone, "Hey, watch what I'm going to do next!" He just did it. He stood on the side of the road all by himself, waving to cars and doing backflips. He was walking up the stairs and nonchalantly started hopping up them with no additional comment. It was perfect. It reminded me a lot of Tie-Day Friday during the fall of 2005, my sophomore year at college. The five men I lived with and I wore some of the most absurd suits that had ever bothered the population (I think?), but we didn't do much other than wear them. Just act normal. And this kid did that, and I thought that casually bringing this ridiculous element into a normal situation was hilarious.







Last year I worked for YouthWorks! in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. We were on the border of Canada, people. The border. I worked with a one Ross William Enger. Ross loved to hate Canada. He ripped on the place all the time. It was sweet. One week a group from Grand Rapids came to our site, and there was a dude on that trip who really embraced the way Ross hated Canada; we took this large group picture of them at the beach, and Canada was in background across the waters, and the dude remarked, "Well! We're gonna have to photoshop Canada out of this one!" In a wild and delicious twist of fate, this same group decided to come to the YouthWorks! site in Niagara Falls this year. The leader of this group was the wild man who decided to bring the rabbit suit. The Canada-hater and his two sisters and many other awesome young folks also found themselves under my cruel site direction once again. It was way cool!

However, an interesting twist presented itself to this young man who despised Canada oh so much: there was another group or two at Niagara Falls this week, and one of them happened happened happened to be from Quebec. You heard me. I pulled the dude aside early on and warned him. But not before he had questioned our decision to play "Oh, Canada" from Five Iron.

I knew this guy didn't have any real or actual hatred in his heart for Canadians, and I was pumped to see how he'd handle the group from the north, a group that was full of patriotic pride. It was a recipe for a good time, and maybe a war.

What ended up happening was that by Tuesday morning, the Canada-hater and a kid from the Canadian group came up to me and begged me to switch the crews so that they could be in the same group. And, though I denied them this pleasure, they could be seen throughout the week having a sweet international time and bonding together. The Canada-hater also remarked in passing on how not all Canadians were that bad.

So that was ironic and cool. I don't know if I am supposed to do this last part or not, but here goes anyway: on the evaluations that the kids fill out, there is this question that says, "How do you feel you made a difference this week?" The Canada-hater wrote: "I met a man who needed food but didn't want to be preached to, but by being nice to him I showed him the love of God."

This is him, and me: