Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Parable of The Weasel and the Music

A little story. It has no bearing on real life. It's just something to consider.

My wife is both the spiritual one in the family, and the musical one. For many years, she has been supplementing our income (sometimes very well) by directing church choirs. When I was still in the military, she often directed choirs at the base chapel. And, in fact, when I retired, she was already directing the Catholic choir on base, so she kept right on doing that.

Now, understand that she is not Catholic. However, she has often attended Episcopalian churches, which she likes to say is Catholic Lite: all the liturgy, but none of the Pope. (OK, technically, that last bit is mine. She does call it "Catholic Lite," but she's always careful not to say anything that could be taken as derogatory toward Catholicism, especially when she's working with Catholics. But I'm not as careful as she is...)

There are actually two Catholic services on base: the traditional service on Sunday morning, and a more "contemporary" service on Saturday evening. (If you can call anything "contemporary" that's based on almost 2000 years of tradition, anyway...)

Now, here's one place that military chapels differ from a regular church. A lot more military people go there. (Gee, I'll bet you could have figured that one out on your own, couldn't you?) And the Saturday service was directed by a colonel who we'll call "Col. Moon."

OK, in the interests of full disclosure here, let me explain that the choir directors are contractors, and by law, contractors to the military cannot be active-duty military. That's just how it is. So, technically, Col. Moon was not the choir director. His wife, a fairly drab woman named.... um... we'll just call her "Alice"... anyway, Alice was officially the director, but her husband was one of those pushy, annoying military types. He also, for no obvious reason, thought that he was musically talented.

In fact, let me just rant about Col. Moon for a while. In the course of 21 years in the Air Force, I worked with a number of officers, and he was definitely one of the worst. He was always confident in the absolute correctness of every thought that wandered quietly through that dark, empty place he called a brain. He was positive that he knew more about Catholicism than the priest, and he was also positive that he knew more about music than my wife, an operatically-trained spinto soprano with 41 years of training in every variety of music.

A quick aside about my wife: aside from her incredible voice, she can play piano and guitar, and she taught herself to play organ for a traditional church-sound in the services. She has played folk music, rock, jazz, classical music, gospel (she's pretty white, but she tries), opera (obviously), and in fact, two decades ago, she stage-managed for a jazz-bluegrass fusion band that is still touring (but without her, obviously). She even played backup for a kathakali troupe at one point.

So maybe she knows what she's talking about musically. What'd'ya think?

But none of that mattered to Col. Moon. Basically, he had two problems with my wife. The first was, obviously, her lack of papal attachment. And secondly, she is obviously much more musically talented than he is, and his tiny little ego couldn't take it.

Moon is not a popular man, incidentally. If he outranks you, he is dismissive with your opinions and vaguely abusive, so his subordinates don't like him. The computer people don't like him, because he can cause system-destroying errors in electronics merely by sitting in front of the keyboard. And the people who work in the chapel don't like him because he thinks that, by being a colonel, he is in charge of everything around him.

Just so you know, even though, as a colonel, Moon is relatively high-ranking, that's not how things work. An officer is only in charge of what he has been assigned as a job. But somehow, Moon has picked up the same opinion that a lot of scientists get - since he's an expert in one field, he must obviously be an expert in everything.

Now, here's where it gets weird. The priest was very happy with my wife's ability as a musician, and since Moon was leaving, Father Tim wanted her to take over the Saturday Mass, too. Nobody's sure why - maybe he just wanted to get good music in that service, too. It's hard to tell. But he set up the new contract so that one person would be in charge of both services.

To take this contract, you had to submit a résumé, and then a panel selected by the Parish Council questioned you. But we weren't too worried - my wife had years of experience, and a proven track record.

This wasn't news that Moon wanted to hear. His ego couldn't take it, apparently. Now, remember, he was leaving, and so he wouldn't be around to see her anymore. But the strain of using logic was too much for his little reptilian brain.

Moon wanted so badly to keep my wife out of "his" service that he started lobbying for another member of the congregation to take over, a woman who we'll call Nadine. And then, as a form of insurance, he brought in a ringer, a guy with no connection to the military, who'd never even attended the base chapel.

(Technically, that didn't work out too well for him. Take a note here - if you're going to bring in a ringer, the best choice would be a reliable ringer. Somebody, maybe, who will show up for his interview. It's just a thought.)

Anyway, back to our story. In his desperation to screw over my wife, Moon tried to get on the panel to appoint his successor. But that wasn't going to happen. The chapel manager, Don, saw from the beginning what Moon was trying to do, and was having none of it.

So Moon's next trick was to explain that he needed to act as an expert witness for the panel, essentially. He tried to explain that he was the only person who could understand that highly-technical musical jargon that my wife was going to start spewing. That didn't work either.

So, in desperation, Moon did what any reasonable person would do. He cheated.

We're not sure how he did it - whether he stacked the panel, threatened them with his lofty colonel's rank or what. But after extensive talking to the members of the panel, suddenly Nadine was selected to take over both services, and my wife was out of a job.

Oh, well. That's the way things work sometimes, right? Luck of the draw. This is all just sour grapes on my part, right?

Not so much. You see, when I went looking for Don after the panel interviewed everyone, I noticed that he had left the results on his desk. And you know how they voted?

A whole lifetime of music on my wife's part, and wide-ranging levels of experience at composing, directing, teaching, scoring, and playing instruments; she has literally been directing choirs for decades (two of them, but "decades"), and has sung in choirs for even longer. Nadine had a degree in music, and she taught in the elementary school system some years back. But Nadine scored higher than my wife in "Experience."

My wife had worked with both the Protestant and Catholic sides of the chapel. She'd organized a number of ecumenical services. (Ecumenical - a fancy word that just means "all the services working together" - you know, that whole mythical "spirit of Christian brotherhood" thing.) Nadine admitted that she might have met a Protestant at some point in her life, but she didn't socialize with any of them on a regular basis. But in the rating for "Plurality" ("How well can you work with other faiths?"), she scored top marks across the board, and Annette was marked down.

And here's the kicker. My wife, figuring that this was a job interview, wore a skirt, a nice blouse, some tasteful jewelry. Nadine went to see them in jeans and a tee shirt. And guess who scored higher in "Appearance"?

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

My wife was pretty upset for a day or so. She'd gone from having a job, to needing to go find work. Her talent had been ignored. Her music (which is a large part of her self-image) was ignored, for petty partisan reasons.

However, do you recall that old saying about "the best-laid plans?" See, Moon had subverted at least a few members of the panel, but guess who he hadn't turned to the Dark Side?


It seems that Nadine had no interest in conducting two choirs. She just wanted to work with one of them. So she subcontracted Annette to continue directing her own service. But, as the primary contractor, it was Nadine who had to go to Parish Council meetings, do paperwork, sign forms, and generally do all the administrative details that my wife hates.

So, as all this boils down, my wife is doing the same job, for the same amount of money, but with less stress. Moon has shown himself to be a vicious, backstabbing weasel. And when Nadine goes on vacation (as she does for several months out of the year), you know who's going to be directing "Col. Moon's choir"?

My wife. Now I've just got to make sure that he knows that. (Not that I'm petty or anything.)

Of course, you realize that none of this actually happened or anything. It's just a parable. It wasn't an example of God looking down on his people (not that I really hold a lot of truck with that anyway). Not anything remotely related to reality.

What's that newly-popular word? Oh, yeah.


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