Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Go in peace...

i dreamed of him last night
he was clear
his voice was strong
and he said i
was the only one who knew
but i don’t know
what i’m supposed to know…

i called out to him today
told him to come for you
told him you needed him
to lead you

will you go
light and new and free
or will you stay
sad and tired
frightened and burdened
wizened and stubborn

did he hear
i don’t know
will he come
i don’t know
i can only look at you
and sigh
and hope

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No Way to Say Goodbye

One of my closest journal friends has vanished. Someone who sometimes posted two or three times in a day simply quit writing. Hasn’t left comments anywhere else. Hasn’t replied to emails. She’s just…gone.

Since I know she was going through a lot of upheaval in her life, I am alarmed at her disappearance. I’m afraid something really bad may have happened. I am worried about her. And I’m completely helpless to do anything about it.

This episode has sent me on another of my "internet friends suck" tangents. From time to time, I am rudely reminded that the internet is a really bad place to "meet" people. Because you never actually do. Meet them. You only know what they write. It could be real, or it could be complete fantasy. When you choose to cultivate internet relationships, there is a huge amount of blind trust involved. And, as is true in any other aspect of our 21st century lives, real or virtual, blind trust is often misplaced.

I have to admit, though…I understand that this sort of thing—this popping in and out of relationships—is not necessarily an exclusively "ethereal" occurrence. There is something about people in our society…we are so able to walk into others’ lives, interact until we have our fill of whatever it was we needed, and then walk away without looking back. We are so…disposable to each other. Friendships are disposable. Marriages are disposable. Family relationships are disposable. We hang around only while it works for us. If for whatever reason the tide turns, we are outta there.

Then again, I’ve never been a master of good relationships. In fact, I have no idea why I have a decent marriage. Just about every other relationship I’ve had in my life has, well, sucked. I have an inkling that I’m too easily bruised, and way too unwilling to be needy. My husband gets me, and to some extent, my family does. But that combination of hyper-sensitivity and stand-offish independence has not been a great way to win friends and influence people over the years. So I haven’t really had a lot of friends upon whom to test out my theories on good relationships… J

So all I can do about my missing internet friend is to hope she is okay and try to wish positive energy in her direction. And hope she will pop back into the ether as quickly as she disappeared from it. What a lame, helpless kind of friendship. But it is what it is, I guess.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More on End of Life Issues

Thank you all for your virtual hugs and understanding nods about my mother’s plight. I wonder how many of you are thinking, "Why did she not just have a signed DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order available for any medical personnel called in an emergency?"
Very simply—Mom is not the least bit interested in dying. She’s old, she’s ill…her body is worn out and failing. But Mom isn’t ready to go. And I don’t think she ever will be. Any more than I suspect I will be, when my time comes. The specter of the unknown is just too overwhelming.
A while back, some bloggers did an exercise expounding upon the concept that "Anything I’ve ever let go of in my life had claw marks on it," or something like that. That is my mother, in spades. Her emotional attachments to places and things are more of Super Glue than of Velcro. She never made a change in her life that didn’t leave a psychological crater the size of the Sea of Tranquility. She is not remotely ready to consider the idea of the most profound and final change she will face on this earthly plain. Not long ago, when my sister approached her with the idea of signing a DNR, Mom, in her uniquely mom-like way, deftly changed the subject. Immediately.
Of course, like it or not, at some point she will have to go anyway. Western science seems to be on Mom’s side, standing ready to prolong her life to the nth degree. But Someone, be it God, the Great Spirit, the Almighty, or the Universe, as I’ve taken to calling It, understood my mother’s issues. On the day when she just…slowed to a stop, the Universe had said, "This is the transition appropriate for this soul." And stupid, bumbling human hands snatched it away.
Now…who knows what’s going to happen? She has her good days, and her bad days. At her best, it looks like she might just get sprung from the warehouse of human suffering she is in; maybe even be able to go back to her Assisted Living apartment…or at least somewhere a little more like home. At worst, it looks like the dreaded call from the nursing home staff, "Elsie didn’t wake up this morning," could come tomorrow. Actually, maybe that wouldn’t be the worst. The worst would be for her to linger in that awful place, between life and death, for weeks or months.
And it pisses me off to know this isn’t what the Universe had in mind for her. But arrogantly stupid western medicine had to interfere.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sometimes It's a Good Day to Die

My mother died last week.

Two seeks shy of her eighty-fifth birthday, her failing heart slowed to a trembling twenty-five beats per minute. Her care-givers became alarmed. "Elsie, do you know where you are? Elsie, what day is this? Elsie, what’s my name? Elsie? Elsie!" They called an ambulance.

On the ride to the hospital, her heart went silent. The paramedics zapped her. A few more miles down the road, her heart stopped again. And once again, they shocked her back to life.

So Mom, robbed of her peaceful, mercifully muzzy exit from this life, spent four days in the hospital receiving the "gift" of a pacemaker, which will keep her heart bravely pumping while she dies, by inches, of kidney failure. Her doctor gives her three to six months before her kidneys give out completely.

Oh, yes; she’s alive. But she can’t go back to her apartment now; she shares a room in a nursing home with two other women in much the same state as she: mostly cognizant, thoroughly miserable, and afraid.

On top of that, it seems my mother was rudely yanked back into this life only to be at the mercy of the 21st century American health care system. A system rife with absentee physicians, overworked office staff, and so many layers of responsibility that it’s impossible to know whom to call when for what condition. And whether that person will deign to call you back if you do figure it out. Mom’s orders have been lost, her meds have been screwed up, her doctor has gone AWOL. Her care since her miraculous rescue can be accurately summed up with the old WW II army term—" FUBAR."

But, hey. She’s alive. In pain, afraid, and not receiving a tenth of the attention she needs. But she’s alive.

Everyone knows that I am hardly mankind’s foremost cheerleader lately. We’ve screwed up so badly that I honestly don’t know why the Almighty doesn’t just rear back a huge celestial hand and squash us like the poisonous insect we are. Every day, in millions of ways, our science merely proves what ignorant control freaks we are. That we have poured a disproportionately immense amount of resources into our ability to physically control our world, and not nearly enough study and effort into learning the intangibles. We’re not interested in why things happen, we just want to know how to change them.

Doesn’t anybody get the inkling that there’s a reason why bodies shut down as they do? Why has modern science "advanced" only to the point where it feels ethically bound to interfere in the dying process, whether it should or not? And why does our system keep a heart beating only to warehouse the body somewhere and allow it to die of neglect?

And why does my mother have to suffer through all this arrogant ignorance?

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Ten. Good. Things.

How long has it been since I've inventoried...

Ten good things:

  1. "Oriental Spice" scented candles, which can be found at Pier One. And, for that matter…
  2. Pier One. Ahhhh…. Do you know, I have been shopping at Pier One for almost forty years? As trendy as they attempt to keep their image, it’s difficult to believe they’ve been around so long. Yet, they were there, the unassuming storefront just a tad south of downtown Glenview, in all its incense-scented, Indian beaded glory. A mid-century counter-culture treasure…almost a head-shop, in those days. Today, re-invented through urbanization, yuppification, generation-x-hileration; on into Queer Eye and generation "y" and beyond. They must have a helluva marketing team.
  3. Fall. Autumn. The Equinox and the dwindling days thereafter. I love this season. The time to pause, rest and reflect…though it all seems to be flying by at astonishing speed this year. Wasn’t August just a couple of weeks ago? I want to drag my feet, throw out my stiff arms and slow it all down, so I’ll have time to look, and breathe…
  4. My "children"—so neglected these days. Lucy, whose gratitude for a walk around the block or five minutes of ball-throwing is embarrassingly evident. And the feline children—soft and sweet and funny and bad; ready to climb in my lap and hold me down if I should actually sit and stay sat somewhere in the house for more than a three-minute stretch.
  5. My "ladies"—the crew at the café that keeps me from completely losing my sanity. They are a great group of girls; I’m not sure they really know how much I appreciate them.
  6. Pumpkin Ice Cream. Tillamook’s seasonal flavor. And, let me tell you….it’s GOOOOOOOOD. We’ve crafted a drink with it—called the "Punk-a-ccino…"
  7. The "Café Cat." It seems like every thing I’ve done, everywhere I’ve been that has been worthwhile, there has been a prominent feline cast member. At the café, it’s Mila, the neighborhood cat who drops by several times a day for her kibbles and turkey. She doesn’t weigh fifty pounds yet, but I don’t know why…
  8. Regular customers. God save me, this reclusive hermit has actually begun to recognize and acknowledge people who consistently grant us their patronage. Essential in any service business, but especially critical in a small town. Makes me think I may yet pull this thing off…
  9. Walking. Early this week, we were able to wangle a walk with the dog in the old PGE nuclear park . And today, I sneaked out of the café early and stole an hour to throw the leash over the dog’s head and get out into the neighborhood to see the sights before this year’s early rain and winds completely denuded the trees and pelted the colors to soggy brown. God, how I needed to just get out into the air and refresh my soul!
  10. My husband. My life partner. My undeserved gift from the Almighty. Sick, depleted and fighting off defeat at every turn, we celebrated our 31st Anniversary on Tuesday. Truly, god only knows what I’d be without him…

Monday, October 15, 2007

It's Almost 2008...

Ever since it became obvious that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were going to be the major players in the Democrats’ bid for the presidency in 2008, I have had an uneasy feeling. "No way," I thought, "is this country ready to embrace a woman or a black man as president. Especially not now, directly following the most conservative administration this nation has known for decades." I could only hope that Bush and Company would screw up SO badly that it wouldn’t matter who the Democrats put up; the clamor for change would be so strong that even Bill Clinton (were he allowed to run again) would win by a landslide.

Not that the Republican administration hasn’t been doing a pretty good job of fulfilling their part of the bargain. Finally, one can sense that the majority of the American people are thoroughly sick of Bush, his war, his oil interests, and his cronies. Isn’t it a relief that we can once again openly express our misgivings about our country’s leadership? At least we’ve come some way from the insane days directly following 9/11. Those days when we were all so intimidated by the gung-ho war-mongering nationalists that we were afraid to speak out--about anything. Lest we be labeled unpatriotic, or worse. I honestly felt like I was living some post-apocalyptic nightmare during those disturbing months.

And yet, I still feel that the Democrats are not advancing a viable candidate. They’ve blinded themselves to the reality of the average voter. The outcome of the 2008 election will have little to do with who has the best strategy for Iraq, or who can come up with a workable health care plan, or who can stop American industry from shipping our jobs overseas. There is such a huge block of the electorate that is patently ignorant. They have no grasp of the issues beyond what’s fed them by right-wing talk radio, Fox News, or the guy standing behind the pulpit at their church. The issues are immensely complex, and there are so many who are not capable or not interested in understanding them. They are sitting there waiting for someone to tell them how to vote. Quite simply, the party that can most convincingly demonize the other is going to win this thing.

So, let’s look at the Democrats’ front runners. We have Hillary Clinton, former First Lady who was routinely vilified by the press and the American people at large during her tenure. She didn’t fit the mold of the dignified, unassuming, social-directing presidential help-meet. Yes…Mrs. Clinton was, or wanted to be, a political force in her own right. And I wish I could say there was no reason why she couldn’t be. She’s intelligent, well-educated, driven, and politically savvy. Unfortunately, she wasn’t what American tradition demanded of a First Lady.

Yes, she has since gone through all the right moves. She relocated to New York, got elected to the senate-twice. Has spent unknown quantities of time and money distancing herself from her husband. Unfortunately, I sense the American public has not forgiven her for her past sins, including being married to a man who they believe utterly betrayed their trust. Though why that should be her fault is anybody’s guess. I don’t think the Democrats have any idea how much Americans relish nursing their grudges against females. Dick Nixon went from "You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore" to the Oval Office within a decade. But mention Jane Fonda to any redneck older than, say, twenty, and see what kind of reaction you get. I like and admire Hillary Clinton, but I don’t think she has a chance

And then there’s Barack Obama. He’s young, he’s charismatic, he’s intelligent. He could be the next John Kennedy or Bill Clinton. He is the personification of the future. Except… How many barely literate voters out there are trying out the sound of "President Obama" and rejecting the candidate on that basis alone? You don’t think the name is an issue? You think the American people are sophisticated enough to get past that semantic road block? Hmm…don’t forget his FULL name. Barack Hussein Obama. If that isn’t the kiss of death, I don’t know what is… And let’s not forget that Senator Obama IS black. As "un-pc" as it is to discuss the race issue, it’s definitely the elephant—no, the tyrannosaurus rex—in the corner when it comes to Obama. What’s really unfortunate is that his name is going to snuff him so fast that the race issue will hardly need to be called into play.

And so, I find myself piningfor a strong, experienced, WASP-ish male Democrat to burst upon the scene. As a woman, a feminist, and a liberal, I’m not at all happy with that feeling. But I’m desperate for an abrupt change of direction in this country, and I don’t see that happening with another Republican in power. And another Republican it will be, if the Democrats can’t dig up, create or draft a more universally appealing candidate.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tending the Fire

For all my touted agnosticism, there are times when I know The Universe has sent me a clear and undeniable message. Tonight was one of those times.

As a "writer," I often deal in metaphors. The Universe conferred my talent upon me, and It knows that metaphors are often the best way to slap me upside the head with a message that I really need to get.

Recently, I’ve tumbled headlong into the pit. Life has chewed me up, spit me out, and left me feeling like a failure. Fifteen and a half months into my "dream come true," I can’t honestly state that I have mastered, conquered, or even held my ground against the challenges with which I have been presented. The best I can say is that the restaurant is still open, we haven’t gone bust, and we haven’t poisoned anybody (as far as I know…) But we sure haven’t set the world on fire. In fact, we aren’t making money. We’re losing a dollar or two or a couple hundred every month. AND I continue to be plagued by labor woes. AND every time a new restaurant opens anywhere in the county, or an existing one comes up with a particularly hot promotion, we slide right to the edge of the abyss.

I have a stack of things—important things—piled a mile high upon my shoulders. Marketing. Labor. Hiring. Training. Menu. Ambience. Christmas catering. Holiday time off requests. How to survive during the slowest months of the year when the busiest months didn’t quite get us to where we needed to be.

So I’ve felt those shoulders giving way. Felt that burden driving me to my knees. Threatening to lay me flat on my face. Yes…all these things should have been part of our original "business plan." But I had no idea what I was going to be up against until it was staring me in the face. Ignorance is…well, in this particular case, it certainly isn’t bliss.

With too many things clamoring for my immediate attention, I have finally, in the past couple of days, simply shut down. I have sat back on my haunches, looked up at my huge mountain of responsibilities and, for the first time, entertained the thought that there is no way in hell that I can do this. Any of it.

This evening, after ducking out of the café early on a disappointingly slow Saturday afternoon, I sat in the family room with my computer in my lap, preparing to compose an Autumn essay to post on my blog. I laid the computer aside for a moment to attend to the business of lighting the pellet stove. It’s not really cold, but a cheery fire usually puts me in a properly prose-worthy mood.

I’m searching, here, for a way to explain to anyone not familiar with the beast, what a pellet stove is and how one goes about making fire with it. Because without this knowledge, you won’t understand the message the Universe chose to confer upon me this evening.

Pellet stoves are contraptions that create a cozy, house-warming fire by continuously feeding themselves little compressed pellets of sawdust. Theoretically, one merely needs to fill the hopper with these magic pellets, press the "on" button, and sit back to enjoy the warm, cheery flames. At least, that is the intention. The reality is, the newest incarnations of these little buggers are equipped with so many safety features that it is anybody’s guess whether you are really going to, in fact, get a fire when you want one. As often as not, you push the button and ten minutes later are staring at…darkness. Because the stove has decided it has gotten too hot during the ignition process and has shut itself off. Superfluous safety feature to the rescue!

Back to this evening, and me, my burdens, my pellet stove, and my message.

I poured in a bucket full of pellets, pushed the button, went back to my seat on the couch and returned my attention to my laptop. Taking for granted that when I next looked up from my work, I would see bright orange flames dancing behind the glass of the stove door. Ten minutes later, I glanced up to see…darkness. Nothing. Damn.

I shoved my laptop aside and went to the stove, where I saw a last few glowing pellets dwindling in the fire pan. Yep. The stupid thing had shut itself off. I reached for the "on" button, hoping the situation wasn’t beyond hope…that if I started the flow of pellets again, they would catch and I might possibly save my fire.

So the pellets began to feed, a dose every ten seconds or so, on top of those last half-dozen weak red embers fading in the bottom of the firebox. With every feed, the glow of those last embers became dimmer and dimmer. Finally, I was convinced that all was lost. I was going to end up with a pan full of cold pellets, and my fire was going to go out. And yet… And yet… Still they glowed. And then they smoked. Until the view through the glass was all but obscured.

All at once, a ball of flame burst from beneath the mounting pile of cold fuel. And I knew I was going to have a fire. As surely as I knew I had been sent a message.

Yes, I am going to have stuff piled on me. Enough stuff to convince me that I can not endure. And yet…and yet…I will not be snuffed. I will catch fire. I will achieve my goal. It will simply be a matter of….tending. No, it won’t be automatic. I’ll need to pay attention; push the buttons and open the damper at the appropriate times. And I’ll get where I need to be.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Losing It

I had a melt-down this evening.
Up until now, I’ve been able to keep these things quiet. I’d go somewhere where no one could see or hear me and just sob like a two year-old. Tonight, unfortunately, my husband was in attendance when I just…lost it.
The theme of this month’s incident was "It’s all too much." I have way too many things to think about, to do, to accomplish….complete with deadlines. And I’m SOOOOOO friggin’ tired.
Today was a fourteen-hour day that followed a fourteen-hour day. One of my key employees is out on vacation this week, and the only one available to stand in the gap is, of course, me. When I made the schedule last week, it looked almost easy. It looked doable. I thought I’d gotten off pretty easy, only having to work TWO double shifts. But hours on paper and hours on my feet dealing with a constant barrage of shit hitting the fan are two different things entirely. The last straw was our last group of customers last night. A party of eight who began arriving twenty minutes before we closed. They stayed until nearly 9:00 (we close at 8:00) racked up an $86 tab (which is really a pretty reasonable cost to feed eight people), displayed some kind of inappropriate sticker shock when they got their bill, and left all of ten dollars for a tip (which is not even 12%, in cast you’re trying to do the math…) Talk about a "WHY THE F**K AM I DOING THIS, AGAIN?" moment…
I struggled to get the money counted and paperwork completed (the first thing I lose when I’m tired is my ability to count money…) All I could think of was that I had to be back at it in less than ten hours. I reached into the closet to grab my purse and coat, looked in my briefcase and spied the stack of bills I’d been carrying around for two days that I would have to deal with before I could go to bed. And I burst into tears.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Something's Happening Here...

Does anyone else REALLY hate that "There’s no reason not to have a plan in case of a terrorist attack..." commercial?

The one where they have all those cute, wide-eyed children gazing innocently into the camera saying things like, "Mom? What should I do? Should I wait for you? Should I go to the neighbors? Should I get Tommy out of class?"

And then the concerned female voice comes on and says, "There’s no reason NOT to…"

Brought to you by the good folks at Somebody-or-other dot gov…

Maybe I’m one of those people who wants to live with my head in the sand. Maybe I’m one of those who wishes life was simpler.

Like it was 40 years ago when I was a kid. When the thing of which WE lived in fear was The Bomb. And the only realistic course of action in the event of that attack was to bend over and kiss one’s ass good-bye. Funny…at school, they did tell us to hide under our desks and cover our heads with our arms. Why? So the final image seared upon our consciousness wouldn’t be that of a young classmate incinerating before our eyes?

It’s hard to say how real the nuclear threat was forty years ago. Equally hard to judge the probability of a large-scale terrorist action on American soil today. There is the fact that the nuclear assault upon our shores never happened; and a terrorist attack, unfortunately, has. Then again, as the only nation that had ever resorted to that particular brand of mass-murder, we knew what The Bomb could do. We knew The Bomb, had it been launched, would be infinitely more devastating—perhaps even unto the end of civilization as we know it—than the temporarily paralyzing kick in the balls of the 9/11 terrorist attack. (My apologies to the families of those who died on September 11, 2001…but the body count on that day amounted to less than one-one-hundredth of the potential devastation of just one of the hundreds of weapons cached in the U.S., Soviet, or Chinese arsenals of WMD’s.)

I can only imagine how terrified my parents were by the fearsome weapons that proliferated following World War II. Weapons capable of destruction almost beyond their ability to comprehend. We were raised with that fear; yet, to a certain extent, we were inured to it. Life was what it was…we never knew the more innocent world our parents remembered. We post-war children of the atomic age learned to take life with a grain of salt. We arrived at the conclusion that, if the wolf is not at this precise moment crashing through the door, all is as well as it is ever going to be. We learned to live in the moment, because there was no guarantee that there would be another.

Forty years ago, Americans were fed a steady diet of hatred and fear of all things Russian, Chinese, East German, communist. "They" were out to get us. "They" were poised across the ocean, weapons raised. Covetous of our prosperity, "they" were ceaselessly plotting to conquer us, to take away our freedoms. I was brought up—not by my parents, but by mid-century American society—believing that crap.

Perhaps it is only with the perspective inspired by the most recent decade of American history that I have come to a new understanding. That I realize that there are those in power to whom it is a tremendous advantage to keep the populace in fear. "They want to conquer you. They want to take away your freedom. They want to kill you. We are the only ones who can save you from Them. Keep us in power and we will protect you."

So pardon me if I have a hard time believing that "Somebody-or-other dot gov" does not have something other than the best interests of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Citizen and their cute, wide-eyed children at heart…

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sanctuary Part 2

"I know that feeling. That feeling that even the dirtiest, meanest task performed in the place you love, the place you belong, is like an embrace. Just to be where you know you are the perfect fit, is a harmony matched only by the most exquisite, exalted music. Anything you touch there is sacred; anything you do, a masterpiece."
So. If my sanctuary is not in the kitchen, where is it?
Outdoors. Pretty much anywhere not constricted by four walls and snuffed by a ceiling, not supplied with mechanical air.
The sun. The breeze. The rain. The moon and stars. Earth. Sand. Water. Snow. Trees in all their seasonal finery.
Flowers, grasses, brambles and bracken. Animals, from the tiniest beetle to the greatest whale.
And my personal altar in that boundless sanctuary—my garden.
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

An Old Fart's Talking Points

From time to time, I try to look back and assess the progress I’ve made in any given area of running the café. I must say, I thought there would be a lot more marks in the "nailed it" column after fifteen months of the most intense education I’ve experienced in my half-century on the planet. Then again, I realize I thought I already knew a lot more than I actually did. It’s been mighty frustrating, and humbling, to find that I was not half the restaurateur that I believed I was.

One of the things on which I used to pride myself was my ability to build a team. I had developed a little cache of guidelines that I used to evaluate and reward employees. Rule number one was "Show up and wear the uniform." I always considered that one a "gimme." Once that was accomplished, we went on to the more specific things, like learning the menu or understanding how to handle cash register transactions. Having mastered those basics, we went on to the more abstract things, like what constitutes good customer service, and how to work in tandem with the rest of the team.

In the universe of running a business in a medium-sized university town, where there was an endless supply of poor college students ready and willing to work to keep themselves from starving, my system worked brilliantly. Prospective employees came to me pre-wired with the basic knowledge that they were going to work, for which I was going to pay them. They needed the money, and I needed the help. Seems pretty…basic, doesn’t it?

The reality of the first decade of the 21st century, out here in the sticks, has turned out to be life on a completely different planet. I’m hard pressed to dig up one applicant with anything I recognize as a work ethic…and generally if I find one, I realize they really don’t want to work at a café. It seems that all the competent, experienced people I’ve interviewed would consider working for me only as a last resort. They’ve done their time in the food industry, and now they’re eager to put that part of their resume in the past and "move up" to a real job. Nothing less exciting than a career in some satellite of the booming medical industry or designing web pages for the next dot-com start will do. Working in food is the job that everybody is getting mad at the illegal immigrants for taking away, but is way too much like grunt work for Mr. and Mrs. Suburbia-wannabe or their kids to want to soil their hands with.

The kids! I know I sound like a total old fart, but I honestly believe these kids are in big trouble. They don’t know how to work! They haven’t learned—either at home or at school—the most rudimentary basics of employment. Like that work has to have SOME kind of priority in your life. And that you have to care enough about what you are being paid to do to bother to remember what you’re taught from one day to the next.

Last January, my chronic inability to find people to hire caused me to embark upon a "Great Experiment." The café had never, in its history, hired children under 18. With good reason…first of all, the fact that we DO serve alcohol presents one dimension of problems—since you have to be 18 to serve, we would have to jump through some hoops to make high school students useful in the front of the house. And if they’re under 18 they’re not allowed to run any of the more complicated equipment, like the slicer or a mixer, so that puts a crimp in how useful they could be in the kitchen. Still, I kept getting a steady stream of applications from high school students, and I was becoming more and more disenchanted with the quality of "experienced" help I was able to dig up. I figured maybe it would be a good thing to give a couple of "blank slates" a go.

So, I hired myself two bona-fide High School Students. Two bright girls…or so I thought. One is an honor student at the high school just a few blocks from the restaurant. The other hailed from the next town up the road, but seemed eager to make the commute (mostly because her boyfriend worked at the pizza place a few doors down from the café.) I sat them down and gave them the whole serious talk, about how I was going to limit their hours to two weeknights and one week-end day per week, because I didn’t want their jobs to interfere with their studies. And all the things I expected from them to be able to learn, like customer service skills, and handling money, and cleaning bathrooms, and showing up and wearing the uniform.

Well, I wish I could say that, after eight months, they had at least mastered showing up and wearing the uniform. But…not so much. When it came to "showing up," while they didn’t call in sick constantly or no-show me, they made liberal use of the "schedule request" clause. Prom. Dances. Christmas vacations. Spring vacations. One of them made the softball team last March, and was able to work about an average of one day a week thereafter. Practice was every night after school, and the coach "got mad" at her if she left practice early to go to work. The other girl landed a part in the spring play, so between rehearsals and performances, we didn’t see her much after that, either. I tied myself in knots trying to schedule their work hours around school, extra-curriculars, social activities and family vacations. But I soldiered on, hoping that I would at least end up with two semi-experienced workers who could be counted on for more hours during the summer. And when summer came, they asked for SO much time off, they were as useless as they had been all year. The capper was when the one left me a note on August 15th, saying she was having surgery (which turned out to be an elective cosmetic procedure) on August 20th and she would be able to return to work around September 20th. Apparently she had been planning this for months, but didn’t feel it important to give me more than five days’ notice that she would need a month off. Is there an appropriate expletive for that?

So, Ms. "I Need A Month Off" no longer works for me. But the Softball Queen is still hanging in there. And—get this: in desperation, I hired a friend of hers to replace the surgery girl. Knowing that it would either be a brilliant move (a way to get Softball Queen more engaged with the job) or a disaster. And after four weeks, the scale is tipping towards NOT brilliant. Right off, we discovered that we can’t schedule these two to work together because all they do is huddle and titter the entire time. And then there’s dance/prom/social activities conflict. Since they go to the same school, they both need those same days off. AND the new girl has attitude problems of her own that have nothing to do with her connection to the Softball Queen.

It all boils down to the reason these children want a job. And I have to confess, I haven’t figured out what it is. They don’t seem to need or want or care very much about the money. Softball Queen sometimes forgets to even pick up her paychecks, and then she doesn’t cash them for weeks afterward. The nearest I can figure, they want jobs because their friends have one. It’s fashionable. Like a tattoo or thong underwear. It seems like nearly everything kids do thesedays, they do because "everyone else is doing it." I know peer pressure has always been a great molder and shaper of the teenage world. But, I’m sorry, that’s SO LAME. It seems like such a cop-out to me, to let what everyone else does determine every move you make. When did being a teen-ager become so much a matter of toeing a very narrow, proscribed line or not being fit to live?

I can’t remember being a slave to conformity when I was a kid. I realize that I was a member of a generation for whom bucking the system WAS the fashion. It was the peer-pressure generated course of action. You just didn’t do what everyone else did. It wasn’t done.

You "did your own thing." But you understood early on that you needed money to do it. You needed a job, and you needed to perform adequately at that job in order to make more money. My parents worked. And we understood the correlation between what they did and what kind of life-style we lived. We had a comfortable middle-class suburban life, but we knew it wasn’t served up for free. What don’t today’s kids get about this?

I am not a parent, so I don’t like to trash out of hand the parenting skills of the public at large. I only see and have to deal with the end product of what looks to me like a less and less effective system of bringing up kids…whether or to what degree the parents or the school system or society are to blame, I have no idea. But I’m not inspired to look forward to where this generation might take us when it’s their turn to be in charge. On second thought, it appears that they might never be able—or willing—to take charge. And that is frightening.