Jesus and the Topless Strip bar

Map showing Vienna in Austria and Bratislava in Slovakia

Astonishing as it might sound, I ended up spending two weeks living in a topless strip bar, not despite Jesus, but because of Jesus. It was entirely his fault, if he had not been involved then this would not have happened to me.

For the record, this is a totally true story that I felt might be worth sharing so that you can have a good laugh about it. I am also using it to draw out a point about how to cope with the fanatically religious.

OK, so let’s dive in.

At one time I worked within the consulting team for a well-known global organization that shall remain nameless. The deal was this – we were the technical “experts” and so when there was a sale of their product, part of the signed contract included the sale of several “experts” to go set it up and configure it. That often resulted in us being involved in projects that could take many months.

When I wrote “expert”, is used air quotes there. That’s because of a dirty little secret. The guy I worked for would tell it like it was by asking during the job interview “can you take pressure?“. It was not bluster, he really meant it. I kept cool and assured him “Sure, no problem“, so I got hired. My very first Monday was spent reading the product manual. By Tuesday I was installing and configuring it, then Wednesday I was off to the airport for a flight to wherever because I was now the “expert”. I wish that this was a bit of poetic license and an exaggeration, but that was literally my first week.

As for how the guy I worked for coped with this reality … well he would often take trips to Scotland on a regular basis. I mean of course he rather liked Scotch between bouts of yelling at sales guys across the open plan office (really), or hitting on all the secretaries who quickly learned to duck and hide when he was on the prowl.

Yea Fine, but what about Jesus and the Strip Bar?

One of the other guys within our global organization was involved in a long term engagement with a rather large state company in Slovakia. He needed to take a few weeks off at very short notice for personal reasons, so they scrambled around frantically looking for somebody to replace him for those two weeks. The selection criteria meant ticking two boxes. The first was a willingness to travel to Slovakia for two weeks and to be paid to do so, and the second was the elimination of anybody who was already profitable elsewhere. In other words this was for anybody breathing and available. Since I was on the bench waiting for another engagement at that point, I was it.

My travel instructions were bizarre. I was told to fly to Vienna in Austria, a completely different European country and then wait. If you go google it (or check the image at the top of this posting) then all becomes clear. Vienna in Austria is just the other side of the Slovakian border and so the actual destination, Bratislava, was just a one hour drive from Vienna airport. It made a lot of sense. There were plenty of direct flights to Vienna, but nothing direct to Bratislava without stopping elsewhere.

Travel tip: If doing regular travel like this then go for carry-on bags only and direct flights. One bag in the overhead, one backpack for laptop, and you are all set to just walk on and off. It really will save you a great deal of hassle. With this strategy you will also soon learn to pack exactly what you will actually use.

My arrival into Vienna was akin to stepping into my very own personal twilight zone episode. To be clear, I’m not disparaging Vienna in any way. It’s a wonderful city and a great airport. Upon arrival I found nobody was there to greet me, so I rang a contact number and was assured all was well, “Just hang about looking foreign and lost, and somebody will find you“.

How the heck was I supposed to “look foreign” in Vienna?

However, hang about is what I did, as if I had a choice, and sure enough, a guy turned up. He apologised, explained that he had never done this before and had managed to get lost on the way. Off we went to the car park for my first moment of this alternative reality. He had been in such a rush that he had forgotten where he had parked, so we then spent roughly an hour searching the car park looking for a car with Slovakian plates. The car park at Vienna airport is not small and is sadly now way too familiar.

Once his vehicle was located, our next “moment” was his realisation that he had no way out of the car park. The problem was this, he was from Slovakia and this was just before Slovakia adopted the Euro, so he had no way of paying for the car park. Yea, it felt like a bit of a scam, and I did wonder, but since I was on expenses I simply paid it for him and kept the receipt.

It was during the road journey that I discovered what was really going on.

He really had never done an airport pickup before. Apparently picking me up was being traded as a commodity in the backstreets of Bratislava. What had happened is that a few night earlier he had won the right to pick me up in some dingy bar backroom card game.

Moment of Impact

I’ve stayed in many many hotels in many different places. I really don’t get to choose, either the organization I work for, or the hosting organization make the bookings and so you go to wherever a deal has been negotiated for a good room rate.

This was the very first time, and for the record also the last time, I have been placed into a hotel where the hotel bar was a topless strip bar.

People make decisions on behalf of many other people whom they don’t know and have minimal contact with so they will usually opt for the bland and neutral. The most immediate question that very naturally sprung into my mind was to seriously wonder why this “hotel” was picked.

The moment of revelation came the next morning.

Before I want on site I was to meet with a colleague from my organization for breakfast so that he could quickly bring me up to speed.

I had never met the guy before so I had no inkling of was about to happen.

As soon as I sat down, he reached across the table, grabbed my hands, then closed his eyes and proceeded to pray and give thanks to Jesus for Breakfast. Once done, he then pulled out his new testament and proceeded to share Jesus with me.

It was a lightbulb moment, a revelation that suddenly made everything crystal clear.

This hyper-religious guy had been going around annoying literally everybody he came into contact with and so as revenge somebody had arranged for him to stay in the only hotel in town that had a topless strip bar. I was there simply because I worked with him.

What is the best way to cope with the hyper-religious?

People should of course be free to do whatever they wish and to be themselves, so what should you do what faced with stuff like this?

Tempting as it might be to get into an argument, in a work context the best approach is to be strictly professional by making things clear. Once he had determined that I was not a member of his Jesus fan club and nor was I in the market for joining his club, he backed off, left it at that, and did not persist.

I guess he felt his job was also his mission field and so he had been approaching literally everybody he came in contact with.

In some ways I get it. It was perhaps akin to encountering somebody who was deeply into something, so much so that they felt compelled to share it with all those around them.

I did once share office space with a guy who was a Contract Bridge fanatic. When he came into work in the morning he would, in the full knowledge that I had exactly zero interest, spend about five or ten minutes talking to me about his previous night’s Bridge game and would even occasionally draw up the details on a whiteboard (he was seriously that eccentric).

It was ever so tempting to tell him to F-off, but in the end I came to the realisation that burning five or ten minutes a day tolerating this was an investment. Later, when I needed his input on work related stuff, he would drop what he was doing and spend the time helping out. If I’d shut him down at the start of the day he would never have been so helpful.

Accommodation is actually enshrined in law

What should happen if somebody holds a belief that prevents them performing a specific duty at work. We have all seen this of course with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clark who refused to issue marriage certificates for gay people despite it being wholly legal to do so. The line she crossed is that she was imposing her specific religious beliefs as state policy when acting for the state as a state employee.

She is not the first religious person in history who found herself in a job that required her to perform tasks that conflicted with her specific religious beliefs, for example …

The list goes on and on, staff who will not, for religious reasons, handle alcohol or pork, or work on a specific day. So how do we square this circle and cope with the need to not discriminate and also at the same time handle religious people who can’t do the job for religious reasons?

Regardless of what you might feel, the law is rather clear. Title VII of the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act directs employers to accommodate religious employees on the understanding that doing so does not cause any “undue hardship,” (translation: costs an excessive sum to sort out). So what this means is that normally people work things out by simply delegating – “I’m sorry Mr Smith, I’m afraid I’ll not be able to assist, but my colleague over here will be right over to help you“. Where people like Kim Davis got this very wrong is that she refused to step aside and did not permit any of her colleagues to step in and issue the marriage certificate.

The basic principle is this: People are free to impose their religious restrictions upon themselves alone, and where appropriate employers are legally obliged to accommodate them. What they don’t get to do is to impose their beliefs upon others. Doing that crosses the line.

Let me Try and wrap this all up

We live in a world filled with a vast diversity of belief and also non-belief. If we don’t learn to live with that reality then we will end up at each others throats.

While the deeply religious might indeed strive to impose their weird beliefs by force on everybody, long term history reveals that this never goes well for them. That’s the challenge we now face with a rising tide of fanatical Christian nationalism that seeks to impose itself universally.

Yes the guy in Bratislava danced rather close to the line, but to give him credit, he never stepped over it. Once I made my position clear that was the end if it.

I also just love the sweet revenge that somebody imposed by sticking him in that “hotel”.

It can all be basically summed up with just four words.

Whatever belief or lack of belief you hold – don’t be a dick.

Sadly today’s Christian nationalists have not yet managed to achieve even that low bar.

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