Photography

The Daily Indignities of the Physically Disabled

handicapped bathroom

Warning! Bathroom talk ahead. If you can’t bear to read about bodily functions, it might be best if you stop reading after the story about the baseball game.

I am physically disabled. Due to muscle and joint problems — which have left me with increasing debility and pain — I always walk with a cane or use a wheelchair. Anyone who has ever seen me walk can immediately tell that I have physical problems. When entering the grocery store, people will often wait until I make it to the door and then walk in behind me. If I see that this is happening, I usually say, oh no, you go ahead. I am a slow-moving vehicle. We all have a laugh and they quickly walk through the door.

Slow-moving vehicle — that describes me well. I can’t run, bend forward more than forty to sixty degrees, and I am prone to falling, especially when I hit raised sidewalks or miss seeing that there is a step ahead. Fortunately, I have not broken anything. I have, however, pulled neck, back, and hamstring muscles, along with injuring my shoulders, knees, and ankles. Often, the greatest injury comes when I try to keep myself from falling; that moment where I tense up my body and try to stay balanced. On more than a few occasions, I have kept myself from crashing to the ground, only to be unable to get out of bed the next day because I pulled this or that muscle or wrenched this or that joint. Such is life …

It would be easy for me to throw in the towel and resign myself to never going out in public again. I have all the physical reasons necessary to justify becoming a full-time couch potato. Of course, giving in only hastens my death. I know I need to be as active as possible, so I push myself to do things that cause physical exertion and pain. Athletes often wear shirts that say No Pain, No Gain. I remember living out that mantra as a young man when I played baseball and basketball; and even as an adult athlete — well into my thirties. Today, it’s lots of pain, period.

I am now sixty-one years old. I know there is coming a day when I won’t be able to carry out even the limited things I now do. Every year brings decreased mobility. I struggle psychologically with watching my wife do many of the things I used to do. I find it embarrassing to watch Polly weed-eating the yard or doing other physical activities that were once my domain. There are times I feel less of a man when Polly does these things, but I know she’s doing them because she loves me. There are times she will do things only to make sure that I CAN’T do them, knowing that I will try to do them, causing myself increased suffering and pain.

Today, I went to a nearby golf course to shoot photographs for a local high school golf team. Two years ago, I started shooting high school sports. I take the photos free of charge. I see it as a way to give back to the local school district and to provide parents with professional quality photographs of their athlete children. I know parents appreciate the photos, and on the back end it has driven some paying business my way.

I arrived at golf course around 3:30 PM. This was my first time shooting a golf match. I was nervous about how best to photograph the golfers, what aperture and shutter speed to use, and how much walking I would need to do. As always, my sidekick, my twenty-nine year old daughter with Down syndrome, was with me. I talked to the coaches, learning how the players would play the course. I thought, man I really need to rent a cart. (I always pay my own freight, be it tickets or golf cart rentals.) I went in the clubhouse to inquire about a cart, only to find out none was available.

As I exited the clubhouse, a man came up to me and said, Bruce, is that you? I paused for a moment, and then he gave me his name. He was my last pastor, a young United Methodist cleric whom I really liked. He and I had numerous conversations about theology, history, and life. Both he and his wife were delightful people to be around. I thought he and his family had moved away a couple years ago, but discovered they still lived in the area and their two oldest sons were on the golf team. We had a delightful talk, and I was reminded of how much I missed talking to him.

While we were talking, several golfers finished their round and returned their carts. The wife of my former pastor said, Bruce, you ought to see if they have a cart for you. Good idea, I thought. I went into the clubhouse and inquired as to cart availability. The girl taking care of cart rentals said, yes, two carts just came in. I told her, great! I am here to photograph the match for __________ school. She had me sign the rental sheet, and then said the cart would be free of charge. Come to find out, unbeknownst to both of us, the owner/manager of the course had promised my cart to one of the coaches.

I took the key for the cart, and off I went to the tee for the first hole and the green for the ninth hole. I had planned to drive to the other holes, hoping to catch all the school’s players in action. One of the coaches told me that the groups were staggered, so everyone one of them would eventually end up either driving off the tee for the first hole or putting on the green of the ninth hole.

As I was standing, waiting for match to begin, I chatted with one of coaches, the aforementioned pastor and his wife, and a photographer for the local newspaper. This was the first time the coach and I had any sort of extended conversation — light chit-chat as we awaited the start of the match. As we were talking, the manager/owner came up and joined our group. He let it be known that my cart was the coach’s cart. I replied, no it is mine. He said, no it’s not. Did you pay for it? That cart belongs to the coach. I reserved it for him. Confused, I replied, the girl up at the clubhouse gave me the cart. I am here to photograph the match for ______________.  The manager/owner, with a stern face, replied, I didn’t know that. No apology, no sorry for the misunderstanding or let me see what I can work out.

The coach let it be known that he was fine with me having the cart. Once I determined I could do what I needed to do without the cart, I went to the coach and said, here you can have the cart, I’ll be fine. The coach knew I was disabled. He coaches several other sports I have photographed. He said, are you sure? I replied, yep, and then made a joke about having a stroke and his name being the last words on my lips.

After an hour or so, I found myself quite fatigued, so I decided to call it a day. I went to the clubhouse to let the girl who handles the rentals know that I had given the cart to _____________. I then told her that the owner/manager thoroughly embarrassed me in public. I explained to her what happened and recounted what he said. She had no idea the cart was reserved for the coach (who, by the way, said if he got a cart he would chauffeur me from hole to hole). She asked if I wanted to talk to manager/owner. Still angry over his words, I replied, no, he’s an asshole and that’s all I need to know. She profusely apologized, but I stopped her, saying, hey it wasn’t your fault, it was his. As is often the case, low-level employees feel the brunt of criticisms over things they had nothing to do with. I always make sure to let them know that my ire and dissatisfaction is directed at the offender, and not them.

Several weeks ago, Polly and I, along with Bethany, attended a Toledo Mud Hens/Louisville Bats baseball game. Two of our sons and their children were also at the game. I was quite fatigued before the start of the game, and by the end — due to the heat and humidity — I felt quite distressed physically. Thanks to my failure to take care of myself and drink enough fluids, I began to notice the symptoms of heat exhaustion. The game was nearing its conclusion, but there were fireworks afterward and we wanted to see them. I turned to Polly and said, We really need to go. I’m sorry, but I really feel sick: light-headed, clammy, weak. 

I told my children I wasn’t feeling well, and then we made the long, arduous climb to the concourse. By the time I reached the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, I was short of breath and could hardly walk. I had a momentary thought of telling Polly that I needed medical attention, but I thought, we are parked close by, and I if I take it slowly — as a turtle “running” across the road — I will make it to our car.

I finally made it to the exit, thinking, I made it. All I have to do cross the street, walk a couple of hundred of feet, and sweet, wonderful, life-saving air conditioning awaits me. I noticed a Toledo police officer was blocking the street and forcing people to walk elsewhere (due to the fireworks). I thought, the car is right there. I can see the ship on the horizon, deliverance draws nigh.

Polly was walking behind me with Bethany, and unbeknownst to me, she decided to walk to the corner and cross the street. I went up to the officer and said, I am really, really sick. I would like to cross the street here so I can quickly get to the car. He replied, what’s wrong with you? At that moment, I wanted to, with what meager strength I had left, scream at the officer. Instead I told him I was really sick; that I felt weak and clammy. If the officer had bothered to LOOK at me, he would have noticed that I was profusely sweating; that my shirt, ball cap, and pants were soaked with sweat; that I was walking with f-u-i-c-k-i-n-g cane. Instead, he replied, if you are so sick, how come no one is helping you? I turned, thinking Polly was behind me, only to find out she was half a city block away, crossing the street at the crosswalk. I told the officer, that my “help” was at the street corner. Look I am really, really sick, I said. I just need to get to my car. The officer looked at me with a stern face, one that said, I don’t believe a word you are saying, and said, Go on… (meaning cross the street). For a brief moment, I thought about dropping over in the street from exhaustion, thus proving the point that I really was sick. Instead, I slowly motored on, reaching the car just as Polly arrived with the keys. She unlocked the doors, and I collapsed into the passenger’s front seat. Polly quickly started the car and turned on the air conditioning. I stripped off my sweat-filled shirt and hat and tossed them into the back seat. I made it, I told myself, knowing that I had pushed myself too hard and that I could have collapsed from heat exhaustion. Lesson learned — maybe.

Last weekend, Polly and I, along with Sinnuh (my latest nickname for Bethany, a corruption of the word Sinner, from the hit TV show on the USA Network) went to the Henry County Fair. We planned to tour the grounds and then watch the tractor pull. We found good seats and settled in to watch turbocharged, fuel-injected 1,800 horsepower machines see how far they could pull a weight sled. A perfect night for me: loud tractors and the smell of alcohol fuel; much like the smells at the dirt tracks I frequent.

An hour or so into the show, I felt THAT. I said to myself, no, please God no, not THAT!  As is God’s custom, he was nowhere to be found. I turned to Polly and said, I need to use the bathroom. She replied, okay. I told her, not that kind of using the bathroom. I am all cramped up. She looked at me with lugubriousness, knowing how fearful I was of using public bathrooms to take a shit. This, by far, is the one thing I fear the most. Dirty toilets, single-ply toilet paper, lack of privacy, did I mention dirty toilets? I get distressed just thinking about having to use a public toilet.

I always try to make sure my bladder and intestinal tract are empty before I go to a public event. When I left the house, I thought I was good to go, or better put good not to go. Unfortunately, I will occasionally have what I call the mother of all shits — an experience I don’t wish on anyone. I can “feel” when one is coming on, and that’s exactly what I felt at the tractor pull.

As I stood to make my way down to the concourse, I let out a big fart. I am sure the people behind me thought, OH MY GOD. I, one the other hand, was grateful that it was gas and not fecal matter. Built back in the days when privacy and handicapped access were not important, the bathrooms were under the grandstands. I knew using the toilet was going to be an adventure; adventure as in having to spend the day with Donald Trump. Not g-o-o-d.

man using toilet

Waves of cramps let me know that I better find the bathroom soon. I entered the bathroom, looked at no one (it’s a man thing) and made my way to the farthest stall. Finally, I thought, I made it. I quickly dropped my pants, checked the toilet seat for pee, and boom all of Polly’s wonderful cooking — and three crunchy tacos from Taco Bell — exited my body. The stall door had no latch, so as I sat there doing my business, I held the door shut with the handle of my cane. I hoped that the busy kids who entered the bathroom would see my cane and not try to expose Santa in all his glory.

I sat there for a few minutes, reading emails on my phone and letting my muscles relax. I stood up to wipe my ass, only to find out that the toilet paper was the cheapest single-ply toilet paper you could buy. Awful stuff. A sure guarantee that you will end up with shit on your fingers. Worse yet, the stall walls only came half way up my chest. Here I was, leaning against the plywood stall wall so I could wipe my ass — which is an ordeal in and of itself — looking as if I was peering over into the next stall, breaking the cardinal man-club rule: no looking. (Due to a loss of mobility, cleaning up after defecating is quite challenging. The doctor suggested Polly could help. I told him point blank, my wife is never going to wipe my ass. NEVER! I would rather be dead than have her do that for me!) Finally, I pulled up my pants, only to find out that my suspenders were wet and stained from lying on the pee-soaked floor. After a few moments of reflective cussing, I got myself together, ready to watch the next class of tractors.

Just as I was getting ready to exit the stall, my bowels said, oh no you don’t big boy. A sluggish meal had finally made it to my sphincter muscle and it was demanding exit. I thought, @#$%#@, really?  Yes, really. And so, knowing the sluggish meal would not wait, down went my pants, down went my ass on an undersized, low-profile toilet, and down went the last contents of my bowel. I once again read my email and approved comments as I waited for the physical calm to come. Finally, it arrived, and I stood, gathered up a long strand of single-ply toilet paper, tripled it over, attempted to make my ass look presentable, pulled up my pants, zipped them, pulled my pee-stained suspenders over my shoulders, and exited the stall. I made my way back to the grandstand, telling Polly that I had the mother of all bowel movements, and that my pants and suspenders will definitely need washed.  We looked at each other, smiled, laughed a bit, realizing that this was just another day in the life and times of Bruce Gerencser.

Just Say No to Ed Kidston and His Plan to Deplete the Michindoh Aquifer

michindoh aquifer

The Michindoh Aquifer — covering two million acres underground — provides water for all of Williams County and parts of Defiance and Fulton Counties in Ohio, parts of Steuben, DeKalb and Allen counties in Indiana, and parts of Michigan’s Hillsdale and Lenawee counties. I live in the rural Northwest Ohio community of Ney in Defiance County. Our sole source of water is the Michindoh Aquifer.

According to an October 5, 2009 KPC news story, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — acting on a 2007 petition from the city of Bryan, Ohio — proposed designating the Michindoh Aquifer a sole-source aquifer. A recent news story stated:

A sole-source designation means the aquifer is the only source of drinking water for people in the nine-county area; it would guarantee EPA protection against pollution under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The sole-source designation was suspended by the EPA in March 2013 following comments received in a study in April 2010.

Thanks to the U.S. EPA’s suspension of the Michindoh Aquifer’s sole-source designation, there are no federal laws prohibiting outside communities from tapping the Aquifer.

water protest pioneer ohio august 13 2018 (18)

Ed Kidston, the mayor of Pioneer, Ohio and the owner of Artesian of Pioneer, wants to tap the Michindoh Aquifer and sell the water to local communities for drinking purposes. First, Kidston must drill a well to test the feasibility of pumping copious amounts water from the Aquifer.

July 14, 2018 Toledo Blade report states that Toledo-area communities are looking at the possibility of gaining access to Michindoh Aquifer water:

City councils in Maumee and Sylvania want to explore the possibility of tapping into the aquifer and have agreed to conduct a study. Officials in Perrysburg, Whitehouse, Fulton County, Henry County, and the Northwestern Water & Sewer District also are considering the aquifer as an alternative to Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz’s plan to form a regional water commission.

The cost for each entity to perform the study, using a company called Artesian of Pioneer, depends on how many agree to it. The study’s total cost is capped at $35,000.

According to the Toledo Blade, Kidston’s:

… preliminary plans call for a pair of 36-inch pipes to be installed; one along the southern portion of the region and another to the north. An additional 36-inch line could be built along the eastern edge of Fulton County to connect the two lines and build redundancy in case either line needs to be shut down.

Mr. Kidston said above-ground storage would be built along the eastern border of the lines to supply each community for one day in case of an emergency. A treatment plant would also be constructed, although groundwater requires minimal treatment.

The Williams County Alliance has started a petition that states:

Artesian of Pioneer’s plan to make money by selling our drinking water to consumers outside the aquifer is self-serving and shortsighted.The Michindoh Aquifer is Williams County’s sole source of drinking water. If we lose it to depletion, we have no other economically feasible source of drinking water. Once a pipeline to extract and sell water to entities outside the aquifer is built, there will be no turning back. Rather than a business selling our drinking water for profit, we should conserve the aquifer for future generations.

The water of the Michindoh Aquifer is a precious resource that is essential for life. Water resources should not be privatized. Existing law needs to be changed to ensure that aquifers like the Michindoh remain sustainable sources of water for future generations.

Many of the people directly affected by Kidston’s commercial water operations are up in arms, demanding that local, county and state government put a stop to Kidston’s profiteering off of the Michindoh Aquifer — a finite resource. Kidston would have locals believe the Aquifer is a limitless resource that can easily handle pumping millions more gallons a day. The City of Bryan uses one million gallons of water a day. If Maumee, Sylvania, Perrysburg, Whitehouse, and other local communities start using Aquifer water, we are talking about millions of gallons of increased daily draw-down. Based on current rain and recharge levels, the Aquifer will, if Kidston gets his way, draw down faster than it can be replenished. And once this happens, communities such as Ney could face dry wells. And what happens then? Will Kidston be required to turn the tap off that supplies water to larger local communities? Of course not. Ney will just have to figure out how to best provide water for its insignificant, non-consequential 356 residents. This very scenario has played out countless times across the United States in recent years as commercial entities draw down water tables and cause dry or under-performing wells. Even worse, numerous ground drinking water supplies have been compromised by pollution and farm runoff.

water protest pioneer ohio august 13 2018 (19)

It is up to local, county, and state government officials to use their collective power to put an end to Ed Kidston’s money-making scheme to deplete the Michindoh Aquifer. Local leaders might argue that it is not against the law for Kidston to tap the Aquifer and sell its water to communities outside of the Michindoh watershed. However, just because someone CAN do something, doesn’t mean he should. This issue is clearly one of doing what is best for the people who rely on the Aquifer for drinking water.

Once Kidston starts pumping water to the highest bidder, there is no turning back. Not only will thirsty local communities be drawing millions of gallons of water a day out the Michindoh Aquifer, so will local manufacturing concerns and large-scale farming operations. The answer is to kill Kidston’s plan before it can gain traction. Local protests and anti-Kidston signs are important, but these alone will not stop Ed Kidston from continuing with his plan. Why? Because it is all about money. It’s always about money. If Kidston was concerned with doing what’s best for Northwest Ohio, Southern Michigan, and Eastern Indiana he would, without delay, cancel his plan to drill a test well. Unfortunately, every gallon pumped out the ground and sent eastward means more money for Artesian of Pioneer and its owner Ed Kidston.

water protest pioneer ohio august 13 2018 (21)

For Further Information

Save Michindoh Water

Save Our Water: Protect the Michindoh Aquifer Facebook Page

Religion, Death, and the Afterlife: St. Catherine of Alexandria, Columbia City, Indiana

st catherine of alexandria columbia city indiana 2018 (6)

As many of you know, Polly and I travel the highways and byways of Northwest Ohio, Northeast Indiana, and Southeast Michigan looking for photography opportunities. I have developed an interest in how we as Americans — particularly Midwesterners — memorialize life and death.  Of special interest is the various means religious people use to remember the dead. This interest might seem odd for someone who is an atheist, but I am attracted to roadside memorials and cemeteries. From time to time, I plan to share a few of the photographs I’ve shot while stalking death.

I shot these photographs at the St. Catherine of Alexandria in Columbia City, Indiana.

st catherine of alexandria columbia city indiana 2018 (5)

Hanging Out With the Squirrels at Riverside Park, Findlay, Ohio

One of my favorite spots to sit and relax is Riverside Park in Findlay, Ohio. Opened in 1906, Riverside Park used to have amusement rides, including a carousel and train. Currently, Riverside is home to a pool, band shell, and numerous well-kept buildings that can be used for picnics and parties.  Sitting along the Blanchard River, Riverside also offers delightful trails, observations areas, and boat rentals.

Recently, my wife and celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary. After eating dinner at Red Lobster on Tiffin Avenue, we headed to Riverside Park to walk off our meal. Riverside is home to numerous squirrels, two of which graciously “posed” for me.

You can view the rest of the photographs at Defiance County Photo.

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Forty Years Later

I recently wrote a post about Polly and I celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary. You can read it here.  I used the following picture:

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

This photograph was shot in May 1978 (two months before our wedding) at Cranbrook House and Gardens in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan by Mike Veitch, a fellow ministerial student at Midwestern Baptist College. There are several striking things about this photo. First, we are breaking Midwestern’s no-physical-contact, six-inch rule. (See Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule.) If I remember correctly, Mike thought it was okay to break the rule when posing for photographs. Midwestern itself waved the rules for Sweetheart banquet photographs. Here’s an example:

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977

Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977

Little did Mike know we had been breaking the six-inch rule for eighteen months. We were at the place physically that if we didn’t get married SOON, we weren’t going to be virgins when we walked down the aisle. The sexual pressure and tension was palpable, never far below the surface.

Second, I am taken with how young and fit we look. Polly was eighteen and I was twenty. Polly weighed around one hundred sixty pounds. She had two years previously lost a good deal of weight. I weighed one hundred eighty pounds. Age-wise we were adults, but I can’t help but see us as naïve children, unprepared for the real world that awaited us come our wedding day.

Third, I am still stricken by Polly’s beauty. She was (and is) one good-looking gal. There’s not much more that I can say here. She was and remains a beautiful woman.  I definitely got the better end of the deal in our marriage.

Youthfulness is fleeting, and that’s okay. Neither Polly nor I try to be any other age that what we are. While we hate the pains and physical debility aging had brought us, we are grateful for the forty years we’ve had together, and we intend to age honestly and gracefully. You’ll never see us in public acting like we are twenty-somethings. We have embraced life as it is. The world values youthfulness and beauty, but what it really needs is aged wisdom and dignity. Last weekend, I attended a dirt track race with my oldest son and his children. Between races we talked about the importance of living each day to its fullest. Don’t put off until tomorrow the things you want to do today. Life is precious, and all of us have just one bite of the proverbial apple. My son and I have attended hundreds of dirt track races together. He remarked, man, summer is almost over. Only a couple of more weekends for racing. I replied, Yep. If I live another ten years (and that’s being optimistic) you and I have fifteen or so opportunities to attend races together!  Why, years ago, we attended thirty or more races a year. To use a dirt track analogy, I’m powering out of turn four, headed for the final straight away and the end of the race.

This year was the first time since 1983 that we didn’t put in a garden. When the children were all at home, we had a huge garden. The Troy-built rear-tine tiller I bought in 1991 still works. This tiller has tilled up ground in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. All sorts of dirt, from sand in Central Michigan to dense clay in the hills of Southeastern Ohio. Our children have oh-so-fond memories of working the gardens; fond as in thinking they were unpaid migrant workers. Want to go to the races tonight? I would say to my oldest three sons. Yes! they would say. Well, get those weeds hoed/pulled and produce picked and then we’ll go. Happy memories, right? Over time, as our children got jobs and started paying rent, we reduced the size of our garden. In the past decade, our garden plot size was around four hundred square feet. Once the last two children moved out, it became increasingly hard for us to keep up with the garden. My inability to get around meant that much of the care fell on Polly. She did what she could, but weeds always seemed to win. It became abundantly clear that the financial, physical, and emotional costs of caring for a garden were such that we would be better off to stop and buy our veggies at the store.

We found it difficult to throw in the towel. Polly wanted to keep up the garden fencing, thinking maybe things would be better next year. I knew that “better” wasn’t coming, so I said, no, it’s time to admit that we can no longer do this. With a wistful, tearful sense of deep loss, my sons and I pulled the fence posts and removed the fencing. All that’s left is our twenty-foot asparagus patch and a bit of dill.

Aging brings loss, but it also brings razor-sharp clarity as to what is important. The Bible is right when it says, Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Solomon summed up life this way in Ecclesiastes: Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.

On Sunday, Polly and I spent the evening together celebrating our wedding anniversary. We had a delightful time sitting at Findlay’s Riverside Park watching squirrels and humans alike scurry about with nary a thought about tomorrow. We spent most of our time talking about our shared experiences over the past forty-two years. We have spent two-thirds of our lives with each other. Lots of water has coursed under bridge of our shared life. Once a fast-moving river, the water moves slowly now, following the path carved out by years of ebb and flow. So much of life has come and gone, yet there’s still life to be lived, be it a moment, a day, a year, or a decade.

I no longer plan for the future, choosing instead to take each day as it comes. I am content to enjoy the love and company of my family, knowing that, compared to many, I am blessed. Luck indeed smiled upon me forty years ago when I said yes, to the question, will you have this woman to be your wedded wife? I am confident that luck will continue to smile upon me until the end.

Let me conclude this post with two photographs from Sunday.

polly gerencser 2018

bruce gerencser 2018

 

No Body Here, Says Business Sign

Polly and I recently traveled to southeast Michigan to visit Sterling State Park and the surrounding area. Here’s a sign I saw on a local business in Monroe, Michigan.

no body here

I am happy to report that there was no body at this business. I do wonder though, should I have called the business and made an appointment to leave a body? My body? Polly’s body? A random body?

Life in Rural Northwest Ohio: Committing Social Suicide

jesus-flag

Local home flying the team flag. Go TEAM JESUS!

I have spent most of my sixty years of life living in rural Ohio. I was born in Bryan, Ohio — a small community in Northwest Ohio. My dad’s parents immigrated to the United States from Hungary in the 1920s and settled down on a hundred acre farm a few miles south of Bryan. Dad and his siblings attended schools in the very district my wife and I now call home. We live in a small spot along State Highway 15. Ney, population 345, has two bars/restaurants and a convenience store/fast station. Dad graduated from Ney High School in 1954. I attended elementary school for several years west of here in the flashing-light, spot-in-the-road town called Farmer. Dad frequently moved us from town to town, unable, for some inexplicable reason, to pay the rent. It wasn’t until junior high that I got a taste of “big” city life.  For three and a half years, we lived in Findlay, the home of Marathon Oil. This allowed me to attend the same school for three straight years. I actually had the same friends from one school year to the next!

Divorce and Dad moving us to Arizona turned my happy world upside down. At age sixteen, I returned to Findlay for my eleventh-grade year. I then returned to Bryan to live with my mother. Lots of drama, including Mom being locked up in Toledo State Hospital, resulted in my siblings and me being uprooted and moved once again to Arizona. By then, I had dropped out of high school. In the fall of 1975, I moved back to Bryan and took a job working at a local grocery store. A year later, I left Bryan to attend classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I returned to Bryan three years later, pregnant wife in tow.

Polly and I spent much of our married life living in small, rural communities. The churches I pastored were, for the most part, attended by white, working-class people. In 1995, we moved back to the flatland of rural Northwest Ohio. I pastored two nearby churches, moving away from the area to pastor a church in rural Michigan, along with a move to Yuma, Arizona. In the end, like the proverbial bad penny, I seem to always make my way back to Northwest Ohio. In 2007, we bought our house in Ney. Our six children and eleven grandchildren (soon to be twelve) all live within twenty minutes of our home.

There are times when Polly and I yearn for the big city; for the anonymity that living in such places provide. But, we love our family, and when we bought our home, we committed ourselves to living here until death do us part. This is the place and people we call home. We love the slowness of life, and when we need a big city fix, Fort Wayne and Toledo are but an hour away.

I write all this to say that my roots run deep into the soil of rural Ohio. No matter how often I fled the scene, looking for excitement and diversity, I always seemed to come right back to where life started for me. Polly was a city girl, but forty years of country living have turned her into a small-town girl who has embraced the rural way of life. Would we live where we do if it weren’t for our children and grandchildren? Probably not. And the reason for this is simple. While both of us feel quite at home in rural Ohio, our beliefs have changed greatly over the past two decades. This change of thinking puts us at odds with most of our neighbors — politically, religiously, and socially.

Rural northwest Ohio is the land of God, Guns, and the Republican Party. Hundreds of conservative churches dot the landscape, and virtually every public office is held by a Republican. In Defiance County where I live, the Democratic Party has fielded two winners in the last decade, neither of whom is currently in office. Living here means that I must accept  the monoculture of my surroundings, a society where it is assumed that everyone thinks and believes the same way. Someone like me, a socialist/pacifist/atheist, is a rare bird. While I have met more than a few people with similar views (particularly young adults), there are no liberal/humanist/atheist/secular groups or meet-ups in rural Northwest Ohio. People who don’t fit the rural Ohio political and religious mold exist, but few are vocal about their liberalness and unbelief. Why? Doing so would be socially suicidal.

One of my sons and I were talking about this tonight — about how being an out-of-the closet unbeliever or liberal leads to social suicide. While I am often lauded for my outspokenness about local politics and religion, my position has come at a high cost socially. I have in the past pondered whether, if I had it to do all over again, I would have been so vocal early on about my atheistic beliefs. I know that my outspokenness (and my age and disability) has made me unemployable. I own a photography business. When locals are given a choice between an Evangelical photographer and me, guess what? They usually choose the God-fearing one (regardless of the quality of work).

Over the past fifteen months, I have made a concerted effort to, outside of this blog, to tone down my public pronouncements. At times, I feel guilty for doing so; feeling as if I am a sell-out or a hypocrite. Everyone should be able to be who and what they are, right? Sure, but small-town life demands at least some modicum of outward conformity to tribal political, religious, and social beliefs. Disobey and you will pay the price. And for my family in particular, I don’t want them being socially and economically punished for who their father is. Some of my children may agree with me, but their futures depend on them not committing social suicide. Rarely does a week or two go by without one of my children telling me that someone at work — a boss, fellow employee, or customer — was inquiring about whether they were related to me. My children have become experts at fielding such interrogations, knowing that they are always free to say, Hmm, Bruce Gerencser? Don’t know the guy.

ney ohio village limits sign

Ney Village Limit Sign, Slightly Altered.

I plan to live the remaining days and years of my life in Ney, Ohio. As a committed liberal and atheist — who also wants to get along and be accepted by his neighbors — I have to find ways to be true to self while at the same time not being ostracized by locals. Everything, unfortunately, comes down to money. My wife and I need to earn money to live. Earning money requires acceptance by local employers/customers. While it would be wonderful to be a street-corner atheist (and some locals think I am way too outspoken, even at presently muted levels), I have to live here, and being one would be social suicide. The violations of separation of church and state are so common is this area that the Freedom From Religion Foundation could spend the next year or so filing lawsuits against local government agencies, schools, and businesses. Yes, I find these violations of the law egregious, and the street-corner atheist in me wants to call out and condemn their sins. But, I can’t, for in doing so I would cause great social harm not only to myself but to my wife, children, and grandchildren. If I made $40,000 a year blogging, things would be different, but as things now stand, I must swim in waters infested with Evangelical/right-wing Republican sharks, and being a lone fish is sure to turn me into a snack.

I have much hope in the belief that things are slowly changing here in rural Northwest Ohio. Local millennials are not as religious as their parents, and they most certainly don’t hold to the moral and religious values of their grandparents. It is in these young adults that I see promise. It is unlikely that this area will ever be as liberal as the West or East coasts, but I am hoping that there is coming a day when it won’t be social suicide to say that I am a liberal, a socialist, and non-Christian.

For now, I must choose my battles carefully, hoping that I can safely navigate the dangerous waters of rural Ohio. I have seen progress on this front thanks to my high school basketball photography. I have talked to more locals in the past few months than in the last ten years combined. I want them to see me as a family man, as a decent, kind curmudgeon who also happens to take really good pictures. I know that Google is not my friend, but there nothing I can do about the stories she might tell if someone asks her about Bruce Gerencser. Just last week, one my children ran into several people their age who were once members of a local church I pastored. These young adults have heard the gossip about me and read up on me, thanks to the Internet, but they still can’t understand how it is possible that the man they once called pastor is now a heathen. What happened? they asked, desperately trying to figure out how I ended up where I am today. Lost on such people is the fact that I am, in many ways, the same man I was when I was their pastor. Sure, I am a political liberal and an atheist. But, personality-wise I am pretty much the same guy. I am still a down-home friendly man with a wry sense of humor. I am…Bruce. [My editor commented, Your closing raises some interesting questions. Are you the same guy? I think it is hard for you to claim that you are. Sure, you are still a decent, hard-working man, but you have done an about-face in regard to many of your core beliefs of your prior life.]

I would love to hear from readers who find it difficult to navigate the waters of their communities. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

On the Road Looking For God’s True Church

As Polly and I travel the roads of Northwest Ohio, Southern Michigan, and Southeast Indiana, we are always on the lookout for God’s True Church®.  Recently, our travels took beyond our home range to Zanesville, Ohio. From 1983-1994, I pastored an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church west of Zanesville. During my time there, we had a youth fellowship that gathered together area IFB teenagers for special meetings and events. One such church was Landmark Baptist Church in Zanesville, Ohio.

Landmark closed its doors years ago due to internal conflict. The details are, sadly, lost somewhere in the recesses of my mind. What is not lost is that a new church — perhaps God’s True Church® — has taken up residence in Landmark’s former building.  Hopefully,  the sweet, sweet irony of the following photos is not lost on readers.  The new church is called The Foxhole.

the foxhole zanesville ohio 2017 2 the foxhole zanesville ohio 2017 3 the foxhole zanesville ohio 2017 5 the foxhole zanesville ohio 2017

The Foxhole in Warsaw, Ohio was in the news several years ago for picketing New Beginnings Ministries in response to the church’s picketing (and harassment) of the strip club. The women picketing the church decided to go topless, causing quite a stir at Bill Dunfee’s Fundamentalist church. Channel 10 reported at the time:

A rural Ohio church was the site of an eye-popping protest Sunday.

The Coshocton County church has been picketing a Warsaw strip club for years. On Sunday, employees of the club took the fight to the church, and took off their tops in the process.

The sign outside New Beginnings Ministries in Warsaw welcomes all, but this Sunday’s service had some decidedly unwelcome visitors: women bearing picket signs, and baring their bodies for all to see.

Thomas George said he is the man behind the protest.

“I have to point out the hypocrisy that I see,” he said.

George said he is the owner of a strip club called the Foxhole North.

He said New Beginnings has worked to bring his club to an end for years.

“They come up every weekend, and they’re very abusive and certainly unchristian-like.  Calling the girls (expletive) and (expletive).  They’re abusive to the customers. They sit out with video cameras, they take pictures of license plates, tell them they’re posting them to the web,” said George.

New Beginnings Pastor Bill Dunfee made no secret of his intentions on Sunday.

“I hope he will realize that the Foxhole has no business in this community,” Dunfee said.

Dunfee also said he makes no apologies for his crusade against the club.

“I take very seriously the responsibility as a pastor to see to it that the gospel of Christ is lifted up, that Christ himself is lifted up, and that evil is confronted,” Dunfee said.

George admitted that Sunday’s topless protest is an extreme measure, but said it’s far from evil.

Church members confronted the protestors outside of the tarps hung to protect their eyes.

“Love is the answer, and you don’t have it baby. God is love!” shouted one of the protestors.

“Ma’am, you know nothing about love. You know plenty about lust. You know plenty about sex, but you know nothing about love,” replied a church member.

Dunfee called the semi-nude protest shameful.

George said he and his topless troops will retreat when New Beginnings finds a new target.

George said he and his protestors plan to be back at the church next Sunday, and into the foreseeable future.

Ohio law does not prohibit women from being topless in public.

My Photography Website

bruce gerencser 2016

Bruce Gerencser, 2016

New readers might not be aware of the fact that I am a photographer. I have been taking photographs since the 1990s, and over the past year I have been working to get a photography business — Defiance County Photo — off the ground. You can check out my work on my business website. If you live in rural Northwest Ohio or Northeast Michigan and need to hire a photographer, please email me. I do on location and studio work. I also do business and real estate photography.

My photography business has a Facebook page. If you are so inclined to do so, I would appreciate you clicking LIKE on my page.

I also plan to get my Santa business up and running later this year. I have the beard and build. Soon my wife and daughter will have completed sewing my suit. I have spent the past year being called Santa more times than I can count. I might as make some money off my celebrity status.(My beard is five or so inches longer than in the photo above.)

 

Christian Nationalism and American Militarism on Display at Local High School Basketball Game

american militarism

It was ten after four as I pulled into the Bryan High School parking lot. I arrived thirty minutes before game time so I could make sure that I had a first-row seat for the night’s slate of basketball games between the Swanton Bulldogs and the Bryan Golden Bears.  Bethany, my daughter with Down Syndrome, was with me. Armed with pens and spiral notebooks, she spent the night drawing pictures and entertaining those who sat nearby.

I brought my camera equipment with me. I ALWAYS bring my cameras, feeling naked on those rare occasions when I leave them at home. I love watching high school basketball games. I am reminded of a time long ago — forty years ago now — when a young redhead boy sprinted up and down the court, hoping his meager effort would lead to a team victory. Never a great player, I still love the machinations of the game. Tonight’s varsity match was a blowout until late in the fourth quarter when Swanton mounted a comeback.  A flurry of shots fell through the net, trimming Bryan’s lead to eight. I wondered, would Swanton find a way to snatch victory out of jaws of defeat? Alas, it was not to be. Swanton lost all three games — ninth grade, junior varsity, and varsity.  My cousin’s son plays on Swanton’s ninth grade team. He, statistically, had a great game, but his fellow teammates did not.

I knew that tonight was going to be difficult me. It was Veteran’s Night — an opportunity for locals to recognize and applaud veterans for their service.  Surrounding me were fans wearing Trump tee shirts and hats, along with hundreds of people wearing flag apparel. These are the same people who would be outraged if I burnt a flag, demanding my arrest for violating the “flag code.” Lost on them are their own violations of the code with their Trumpesque accoutrements.

The public address announcer let the crowd know that the pregame events would begin with the Bryan band playing God Bless America. Everyone stood to their feet as the band began to play America’s second national anthem. Those near me put hands over their hearts, and several of them lustfully sang the words made infamous by the terrorist attacks on 9-11.

I did not stand, silently voicing my disapproval of the insertion of Christianity into a secular public high school event. It is not easy for me to do so. I can feel the stares, and in the past I have had people rebuke me for not giving Jesus his due. I remind those who dare to challenge me that I am an atheist and a secularist. Why should I give reverence to a mythical deity or show my support for those who care little for the separation of church and state.

Once the Christian Tabernacle Choir® finished with their hymn of praise and worship to America’s God, it was time to move on to the patriotic portion of the pregame events. The announcer asked all the veterans in attendance to stand while the rest of us stayed seated.  Dozens of veterans stood as people cheered and young millennials ran to them, giving them high fives and thanking them for their service. I did not clap, hoping that since we were seated no one would notice my lack of applause. Alas, I was quickly outed as the crowd rose to its feet, applauding and cheering those who were lucky enough not to return home in a body bag. Their raucous applause went on for several minutes.

I was the only person not standing. Across the way stood my uncle, a veteran of the Vietnam War. I am sure my refusal to participate in the night’s glorification of American militarism offended him. However, he knows that my refusal to do so is a matter of principle for me. I resolutely stand in opposition American imperialism and militarism. My refusal to stand is me saying that I oppose America’s continued involvement in violent, unwinnable wars in the Middle East.  Without soldiers, politicians would not be able to stuff American exceptionalism down the throats of the world.  Most of all I refuse to stand because I don’t want one more drop of blood shed in my name. I don’t want American men and women dying just so I can have the “freedom” to watch basketball games. I will gladly not watch another sporting event if it means no more violence, carnage, and bloodshed. How dare we cheapen military deaths with empty words about freedom and the American way of life. Enough! I say, to the endless violence and destruction.

After the veterans were seated, it was time for the playing of the National Anthem. As is my custom, I stood, removed my hat, and held it over my heart with my right hand. As the band played, I turned my gaze to the flag and quietly sang the Anthem.  A tear trickled down my cheek as I pondered what has become of the United States of America, the land of the free and home of the brave.