There’s an old saying, “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.” It basically means that he who complains loudest gets attended to first. Joe LaQuiere used to like this saying very much. He used it, funnily enough, to instill competition for his attention among his followers. If one family wanted help and asked him for it, that was fine. But if another family asked him for help and was waiting on his doorstep early in the morning, well….they were placed first priority. They received the coveted attention and the first family would just have to wait for another day. Any time you could show your zeal and fierce determination to shove anything and anyone aside to get to Joe first, he would honor it by giving you first priority and kicking others further down the line who didn’t show your passion for his help.
Families that wanted his time and attention would show their determination to be close to him by tagging along with him all day while he ran errands. Nothing was allowed to get in the way – not even meals. I remember endless hours following Joe around Home Depot with my little brothers and sisters in tow, our legs tired from walking, stomachs empty and pinching, because we hadn’t been given anything to eat since breakfast and it was 4 in the afternoon. In the adult-centric world in which Joe lived, children ate…or didn’t eat…according to his schedule, not theirs. Only nursing babies were lucky enough to have meals provided during these outings. Our parents quickly stamped out any complaining, making it clear that our empty stomachs were a small price to pay for the chance to be with Joe all day.
Today I look back on Joe’s behavior, and see him as a bit of an egomaniac. The more your world revolved around him, the happier he was. The more you idolized him and gave up things to prove your devotion to him, the better he was pleased. He wanted a fan club, ready to fawn on his every word. I’m sure he felt he deserved that, because he was doing everything right in his own estimation. He got it right, God approved of him, and this was his reward: his own groupies who would push and jostle to be closest to him.
Some members used to make jokes about the story in Mark where two of the disciples tried to claim the places to the right and the left of Jesus, and would substitute Joe’s name for Jesus’s. We weren’t concerned about getting to sit next to Jesus – we wanted to be next to Joe! Joe LaQuiere encouraged this currying for his favor, even though it caused divisiveness in the ranks. He would dismiss any hurt feelings by saying “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”, and then he’d shrug and walk away, and the triumphant family who had shouldered their way into first place would turn and follow him.
Another story Joe liked to use to demonstrate how we should be was the Parable of the Unjust Judge. A poor widow goes before an unjust judge and pleads for him to hear her case, and give her “justice against her opponent”. He refuses to listen to her and sends her away. But she is persistent and stubborn, and keeps coming back day after day, after day, after day. Finally the unjust judge, who doesn’t care about justice, gives in and settles her case, because he’s so sick and tired of seeing her in his courtroom. Persistence wins the day! These were our role models to follow: the squeaky wheel and the persistent widow.
In practice, it worked something like this: Let’s say my family wanted to go see Joe LaQuiere to get his help with some more child-training. We would get up in the morning, get ready to go, and drive over there after breakfast, say 10 AM. Ordinarily this would be enough to be first in line, and get Joe’s attention all day. But let’s say another family heard us say the night before that we were going to come over at 10. So they got up, rushed out the door, and got there at 9 AM. Joe would let them in, and when our family arrived, we were sh*t outta luck. He wouldn’t see us that day, or at the most, he’d say we could wait until the other family was finished, but he had no idea how long that would take. He might or might not get around to seeing us. So we’d either wait around half the day, or pack it back into our 8-passenger van and go home to try again another day.
It quickly became clear which families were willing to go the furthest to guarantee Joe’s time and attention. One family was willing to go further than anyone else. Not only did this family take every opportunity to arrive earlier and stay later, but they were willing to do whatever it took to beat out the competition and get one-on-one time with Joe. Then they took it to the next level: they bought a house on his street. Joe was tickled and flattered at this show of zeal for his time and attention: and he gave it to them, generously. They became his new favorites. It became very rare to find them at home – they were always at Joe’s house, every day, every weekend, day-in-and-day-out. They started going there after breakfast and would stay all day. Then they started coming before breakfast, and eating with the LaQuiere family. It became next to impossible to talk to Joe without this family standing right there, “holding their place in line”. The rest of us chafed a little at the special treatment they were getting. It was nearly impossible to beat them for first place in line anymore. They lived practically next door – I remember once or twice that we managed to get to Joe’s house early enough that they weren’t there yet, and boy, were we smug! It was a pretty good feeling that this time we got to be around Joe all day, and they had to wait! I can’t believe Joe actually encouraged this pettiness, but clearly he was more focused on getting his ego stroked than on preventing jealousy and petty competition between his followers.
One time my parents found a temporary solution to holding on to first place in line for a few days: we just got Joe’s permission to stay at his house. It was like a sleepover that lasted for a week, except of course, it wasn’t about having fun, it was about being next to Joe all the time, to hear his life wisdom on each daily situation as it came up. At the time, I thought it was just about the coolest thing ever! We ate all our meals with the LaQuieres, we did chores with Mrs. LaQuiere, or got to tag along on errands with the older kids. We slept on sofa beds or in sleeping bags every night. Best of all, we knew we were finally the Number One family, at least temporarily. We got Joe’s undivided attention for nearly an entire week. We felt like we were on the inside, and everyone else was stuck on the outside. For that one week, we were special.
As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with the family I mentioned earlier. They were determined to regain their first place in line. So the next thing we knew, they had moved into Joe’s house…for good. It was the ultimate line-jump. They now had access to him 24/7, and had permanently cemented their status as first-in-line-to-Joe. Never again did any of the rest of us come close, not even when three of the families also bought houses on the same street, one of them actually directly across the street from Joe’s house! It didn’t matter: he had accepted the first family as adopted family members, and Joe considered that they had earned their spot in the sun, no matter how much anyone complained. From that day on, their family has lived in Joe’s house, a permanent part of his household. They still live there today: I don’t think they’ll ever leave. For legal purposes, they “live” in their house down the street. That’s where their mail goes, because they aren’t legally allowed to reside in the same house as the LaQuiere family….zoning regulations or something, I don’t know. But they do anyway. Within five years of them moving in, the LaQuiere family built a huge addition on their house. It was poorly designed, and an eyesore that the whole neighborhood winced at, but it made sure there was plenty of room for the LaQuieres and their new “adopted” family.
Even this wasn’t close enough of a connection for the mom of this family: she used to laughingly claim Joe’s youngest son as the future husband of her oldest daughter. At the time, her daughter was 8, and his son was about 16. True to her word, about 12 years later she witnessed her daughter marry this same son, making at least part of her family “real LaQuieres” at last.