Being of Service

I recently began a new business venture with the idea that my services would be about helping people. A life committed to service worked well with my spiritual journey. At the same time, I wanted to do something that would bring welcome weight to my anorexic wallet. Enough volunteering already! Yet this new entity incorporated much of the skills that I have used throughout my volunteering. So my services included caregiving and counselling for seniors, post-op care, the special needs sector and support for just plain busy folks. The tag-line read, “can do just about anything.” The ad’s last line stated playfully, “Got a wish? Just ask!” The icon that summed up my business was a portly “mature” fairy godmother with glasses and a square dancing- like calf length skirt. That image said it all. The ad was posted on the web under household services and cleaning. Sounds straight forward right? My eyes were about to be opened.

When I received my first inquiry late afternoon on that Saturday, I was ecstatic. The 48 year old Frenchman gave a brief account of his intensive caregiving of an 85 year old friend who had prostate cancer. He explained that he had sacrificed everything – his job, his time and his well-being – to be his friend’s caregiver and that he, after all, had his needs too. I agreed to meet him at a local shop for a chat.

When I spied the attractive man, sitting outside smoking, I knew immediately that he was my client. We greeted each other and settled ourselves side by side at a table inside. Once I jotted down a few client history notes, the fellow, looking puzzled, asked, “What are you doing?” Surprised by this, I explained that if I was to quarterback this challenge, I needed a detailed picture in order to assess not only his present needs but also recommend future strategies. After a ten minute interview, feeling that I had thoroughly assessed his circumstances, I said, “So you’re looking for a weekly housekeeper.” Even more puzzled, he replied that he in fact had a lady coming in biweekly. Undaunted I probed for another ten minutes and discovered that the man’s caregiving included changing catheters and other nursing duties. I then confidently ventured, “Oh I see. You need help with medical care.” Pausing, the fellow looked particularly perplexed. He assured me that he had regular nursing support. At this point, we were both eyeing each other and scratching our heads. The poor fellow kept proclaiming that his sacrifice took so much out of him that there was nothing left for him and that he had his needs too. Then it hit me. I touted, “You need respite care, a total break!” Yet again he countered with, “no” while looking dumbfounded and a bit frustrated.

He seemed to be the perfect client for my services yet I couldn’t understand what he wanted. There was something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The feeling built as our conversation extended to a good one half hour. Finally the all too obvious pieces fell together for me. “You’re looking for sex?!” With considerable relief, he blurted out once again, “I have my needs too! I’m looking for someone to hop on the Frenchman.”

Now at this point, I had a choice. I could either get really offended and stomp out (like many sensible women would) or I could view the whole scenario from a lighter side. I chose the latter option and erupted into a hearty guffaw. Then I thought, just for fun, I’d engage the man further. I explained, “The way it works is that you meet a girl, take her out lots and hopefully have a good time. If you’re lucky, she can eventually move in and do all those things for you, including hopping on the Frenchman.” His response was that only happens in books and that this is how it is done these days. Incredulous, I challenged him again. I pointed out that what he had in mind was prostitution, i.e. illegal and never going to happen on-line. The guy just remarked, “No offense, but you’re going to get this response with an ad like that.” Reflecting on my innocent little ad, I was bewildered. I couldn’t wait to get home and dissect what I had written. In the end, we parted amicably enough, no worse for wear. After examining my ad, I couldn’t figure out where the problem was. It wasn’t until I had retold the story several times that I realized the Frenchman had misinterpreted the term, “special needs.”

In the meantime, I reflected at length on (a) what some guys thought was normal in meeting women, (b) how we communicate in modern society and (c) why the heck it took so long to decipher our cross purposes.

With (a) I have decided that many men just don’t get past their second “head” in living their lives. Indeed, it is their favourite thing since childhood. This may not be the case for every man, yet experience has me contending that (as a rule) there are three salient needs and focusses for the male gender of our species. They are food, sex and sleep (in that order). How does that song by the Judds go? “You can’t live with ‘em and you just can’t shoot ‘em, men … talkin’ ‘bout men.” (Just kidding.) We love them anyway, right?

As for (b), I see our species communicating on an increasingly shallow level. It is broad yet not deep. Just think about the flat dimension of email and the banal nature of conversations on Facebook. Teenagers cite people they have never met as their best friends in their cyber-driven world. More and more of our relationships are of a tertiary nature (versus in the past when they were mostly primary and secondary). They tend to be more short-lived and lack the depth necessary to either sustain them or give them deeper meaning. It all translates into priorities where loyalty, commitment and spirituality become increasingly irrelevant.

With regards to (c), I can only surmise that the Frenchman was wondering if I would “do” the old guy too. Hence, the lengthy exchange. In the end, I have had only one potential customer and he wanted sex. Am I targeting the wrong industry? Surely when I got the “service” message from Source, service meant “being of” rather than “servicing.” I sure hope that I got that right.

Helena is a Counsellor, Special Needs Worker and Writer.