“You’re dreaming your life away. Fish out of water. Go swim in the tide today…” Fish Out Of Water, Recorded by: Tears For Fears, (1993) Composers: Alan Griffiths/Roland Orzabal
Fish Photo: ABCNEWS.com
The following is a true story. Have your giggle box turned on.
An old friend of mine had an office just two doors down from a family-owned cleaning business in Buffalo, NY. He and the owner of the cleaners became friends over the years and fishing buddies. In fact, the two were maniacs for the open waters, with fishing poles in hand, two or three times a month. The owner of the cleaners had a large freezer set up in the back storage room of his business. Whenever he came back from a fishing trip, he would store the fish there at the establishment for future dinners at home as needed.
Chow Chow Photo: petwave.com
One of the pleasures of having your own business is feeling free to bring the family dog with you every day. He had a beautiful Chow Chow (we will call him Chang) by his side each business day. The beloved Chang became somewhat of a mascot for the business. The customers always expected to see his special brand of canine greeting as they walked through the door with their bundle of laundry. Chang was fun-loving with an obvious sense of ownership for the place. Whatever he saw and sniffed, he felt he owned it, as most dogs do. When the little bell on the top of the front door rang, he came running to the counter to see who had come to say hello. Chang also loved ice fishing with his owner. He knew the fish-treats were coming in short order, while watching the line sink into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario.
On the night of October 12, 2006, and throughout the overnight hours bleeding into October 13th, a terrible blizzard blew across the region leaving behind broken trees, collapsed roofs, crushed vehicles, downed power lines and four to six-foot snowdrifts. To say it appeared to be a winter bomb would be accurate. It was called the October Surprise Storm and it was devastating. Two weeks later, on Halloween, officials were discouraging trick-or-treaters from going door-to-door because of broken limbs, debris and power lines remaining on sidewalks and common grounds. It took the rest of the year to clean up after that horrific blast. Erie County snow plows were not yet prepared in mid October for this kind of icy squall. Many, including your’s truly, were without power for many days, some for weeks on end. Convoys of utility trucks, from power companies from several states, came to our aid in the aftermath.
The shopping center strip, where the cleaners was located, had been closed for business for lack of power. After a good week or two, power was restored and the cleaners opened its doors to receive customers. Unfortunately for the owner, the freezer packed with fish had to be unloaded and cleaned out. As you can imagine, when the freezer door was opened, everyone had to cover their noses. Naturally, this wasn’t good for a well-respected cleaning business and the racks of customer’s clothing just waiting to be redeemed after being cleaned and pressed. So, the business man made a quick executive decision to remedy his problem. Behind the business, beyond the alleyway, was a rather large vacant field. Snow was still on the ground as he loaded up the rotting fish on a flatbed dolly, dumping the fish into a pile a good distance from the back of the building. After a good cleaning of the freezer, and some air freshener, all was right with the business once again.
As the snow began to melt with the sunshine in late October and early November, the back door to the business was often propped open for deliveries and for a fresh breeze during decent weather. One day, Chang peered through his facial fur and spied a glorious canine opportunity as the back door was left opened. He ran across the alleyway and into the field with a giddiness in his step. As he approached the rotting, putrid pile of decomposing fish, without missing a beat, Chang dove right on top of the mound of fishy mush. He lavished in the rolling of his thick-haired body all across the stack of stench of stiffs. He was seen exercising intentional maneuvers to shellac his coat, belly, face, head and rear with his newly-found heaven of heaping hell. He enjoyed it greatly. So much so, that he made a happy bee-line back to the cleaners to share his wallowing experience with his owner, as well as his patrons. My friend, two doors down, told me he laughed the whole time as he witnessed Chang’s joy while on his smelly excursion. He said, as Chang trotted into the building, it took less than a minute as the customers and staff ran out of the doors, evacuating as quickly as possible as if a wild bear had just raided the place.
Poor Chang. I’m a dog lover. I’m not a pro, but I know canine psychology fairly well. As he rubbed his fur all over the foul fish, a witness might have heard him say, “MINE! ALL MINE!” (In dog language, of course.) I’m certain, as he entered the cleaners afterward, he was proud to share the fog that followed for a collective celebration.
Chang comes to mind when I am reminded of the new world we are living in. There are too many instances where law-breakers expect the rest of us to accept their actions. You see it surrounding recent current events, like the “Me Too” movement of sexual harassment survivors revealing their abusers. You saw it, while on trial, in the face of Dr. Larry Nassar, the USA gymnastic sports physician who sexually molested young girls in his charge over the decades. You see it in the street thugs and gangs who openly live a life of crime as the neighborhood watches without protest. You see it in a family member who has given themselves over to drug or alcohol abuse while bringing the results back to a sober peaceful home. Too often I am seeing blatant rudeness, abusiveness, lawlessness run amok without consequence. Too often I am seeing actors of hatred and violence show rage when a minority of the general public stands against their actions and words. Too often I see, so-called, elected civic leaders in high places speak and showcase various fits of immaturity with vile disrespect for their colleagues, all the while not expecting another opinion or debate.
Is it not true, we trot into where we hang our hat, stinking of our offensive sins of disorder, disrespect or disregard, not caring what our loved ones think? I’m seeing a lot of that. Is it not true, offenders have false expectations of acceptance concerning their selfish actions or destructive words? Like Chang, we tend to own our faults, show them off with a twisted pride. There was a time, not long ago, we had enough sense of shame to hide these infractions in a deep dark closet. Today, it seems we want to smother our neighbors with it, even encourage them to join in the fray. Meanwhile, we wonder why we lose quality friends and family as they run out the door as if a wild bear just raided the place. We roll around in our choice of muck-pile as if we want to own it, be one with it. The dad of one of my best friends in high school always had a quick word for us just before we went out on the town. He would always say, “You boys don’t bring home somethin’ you can’t keep.” He passed away in December, but left this young man a brand on the brain. In his blue-collar Texas wisdom, he knew we could be like Chang.
However, this is not the bitter end of the story. The story is not so much about the stinking pile of rotting fish, or the patrons and staff running away in horror, or even about the beloved Chang himself. The story is more about the business owner. He didn’t chase and kick Chang out of the cleaners, while silently counting the profit escaping out the door, like we might have. Rather, he put the closed sign in the front window, locked the door and proceeded to fill a utility sink with hot water mixed with lemon scented detergent. He rolled up his sleeves, wrapped his arms around the crusty dog of disdain and placed him in a makeshift bath for scrubbing. Now THAT is love. Before you knew it, Chang was back to smelling like the famous mascot of the corner cleaners once again.
I believe in that kind of grace, in that kind of love. If only our world would understand it.
And if one should pass the sniff test in life, that one is ever so much closer in catching the aroma of fuel for the race.
“Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” – Psalm 51:7 (NAS)