Monday, June 30, 2008

And in Today's News...

With two new employees and a returning college student firmly in place, I’ve gone out on a limb and decided to take a desperately-needed “week off” from the café.  I was to the point where I was so tired I was consistently on the verge of either dissolving into tears or breaking something over somebody’s head.  Not a good place to be when you have to worry about dealing with employees and customers.  Last week, I sat down to wolf down a quick bite of lunch at work…I was reading the paper and my eyes welled up ridiculously  when I came upon a story about some woman saving a couple of falcon fledglings from drowning in the Willamette River.  It was then that I knew it was absolutely essential for me to carve out a few days of R & R.

While I stepped out in faith and created a vacation schedule for myself this week, I kept waiting for some employee disaster that would make it impossible for me to take the time off after all.  Possibly Assistant Cook Number One would decide never to come back from her vacation.  Or Flaky Cook would develop some unforeseen sudden drama in her life, as she is wont to do from time to time.  Or one of my new hires would decide she didn’t really want to work for me, and would just…stop showing up.  Any one of these disasters would have been unsurprising…in fact, I fully expected some such nonsense to transpire.  But, wonder of wonders, by Sunday afternoon when I dragged my exhausted butt out the side door of the restaurant after twenty-eight days without a day off, not so much as a vapor of crew drama loomed on the horizon, threatening to deep six my anticipated rest. 

Still, if the past twenty-four months have taught me nothing else, I’ve learned to never count on something good happening until it actually DOES.  And of course, Monday morning, as husband and I settled into our al fresco seating and let my crew feed us breakfast, a dark cloud of employee flakiness blew in and threatened to pummel my parade.   I believe I’ve mentioned the girl who came to me eight weeks ago begging for her job back after quitting with no notice in January, and I, like a dumb-ass, rehired her (for the sake of expediency, let’s call her “Dumb-Ass  Rehire.”)   Well, this morning, she called in ( expecting me to not be there.  I’m sure she was a bit nonplussed when my counter girl handed me the phone.)  But she charged ahead bravely with her yarn that she would not be able to come to work because she had too much homework that she had not done over the weekend (she worked four hours on Saturday and had Sunday off, so if she didn’t do her homework, it wasn’t her job that prevented her from doing so.) 

I was not surprised or shocked or blind-sided by this development.  And I’m impressed with how quickly I was able to deal with it.  Much as I wanted to go off on Dumb-Ass Rehire about what constitutes an excused absence (not having homework done is not on the list), I stopped myself short and simply explained to her that if she felt she was not going to be able to work a scheduled shift, she needed to find someone to work for her.  And, luckily, Assistant Cook Number One is back from vacation, so there was actually someone for Dumb-Ass Rehire to call to take the shift.  Crisis averted.  Husband and I finished our breakfast and continued on our merry, no-pressure way. 

However, I AM going to have to dump Dumb-Ass Rehire.   ::Sigh::   I’ll worry about that when I get back from my “vacation.”

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More on "The Responsibility..."

I promised I would write about :


As I said, even though I personally do not believe in letting my cats outside, I understand that other people DO.  In the seven years we’ve lived in this house, we’ve had a succession of neighbor cats who visit the yard for awhile (my bird feeders are a cat magnet.)  Unfortunately, it is unusual for us to have long-term visitors out here in the sticks.  We have a burgeoning coyote population.  Which does not make for long and happy lives for cats who are allowed to roam unprotected, especially at night.  I’ve lost count of the number of cats and kittens that have appeared, hung out in the neighborhood for a few months, and disappeared.  Then the forlorn little “Lost Cat” flyers go up on the light poles.  And all I can think is, “Uh-oh….another ‘coyote lunch…’”

Last fall, a new visitor started hanging around my yard.  A big, light orange tom with an out-sized, round head that looked like a full moon.  And he didn’t just pass through on his rounds of the local bird feeders.  More often than not, I would see him outside one of my two sliding glass doors.  Staring in.  Hopefully.  As if he were one of my own who had been out for a stroll, and was ready to come back in for dinner and a nap.  

I’m a sucker for any cat, so of course I had to try to make his acquaintance.  When I opened the door to go out and pet him, I had to play “kitty goalie”—that little foot-pushing shuffle perfected by cat people wishing to keep a feline on the desired (by the human) side of a door.  He was all prepared to march into the house and make himself at home.  But I didn’t think he was a stray…he was clean and fit and wasn’t the least bit shy around people.  He had a purr loud enough to rattle the windows.  Certainly he must have a home somewhere—probably with a new neighbor.  So I limited our encounters to outside, and since he didn’t look hungry, I didn’t feed him.  But I had to call him something, so I dubbed him “Orangie.”  Hey, you don’t get too creative when naming other people’s cats…

As fall deteriorated to winter and the weather got ugly, Orangie continued to appear outside my back doors.  Gazing longingly through the glass.  In the dark.  In the wind and rain.  Though I grew increasingly incensed at whoever his owners might be, I still did not let him come in the house, or feed him.  With all the stuff going on in my life at the time, I did not have the resources to try to introduce another cat to the household.  Especially not a full-grown, unneutered tom.  I hoped against hope that he had a decent home somewhere and enough to eat.  And I felt like crap.

As spring approached and we emerged from the worst of the weather (both emotional and meteorological) I realized that Orangie hadn’t appeared at the door for many weeks.  I hoped that he had decided to stick closer to home,wherever that was.  And then, one day, I caught a glimpse of a light orange body skulking away and scrabbling over the fence when I was out in the back yard.  It was Orangie.  But he looked awful.

He was thin, scruffy and bedraggled.  His once soft, puffy coat hung in damp, dirty mats.  He had scratches and scabs on his face. 

And he was deathly afraid of me.  No matter how sweetly I talked to him, that day or any day since, he has cowered and skittered away from me every time. 

My heart is broken for him.  The once sweet, loving, ready-to-be-anyone’s-friend kitty was obviously dumped or abandoned by someone who apparently had treated him well, then decided they didn’t want him anymore.  And since, after all, he’s just a cat, they figured he would be perfectly fine without a real home, fending for himself.  By some miracle, he hasn’t ended up coyote lunch.  Not yet.  But it’s obvious that someone here in this place where he was expected to find a new home was so mean to him, abused him so badly, that he is now as deathly afraid of human beings as the most wild of feral cats.  I cannot imagine what horrible thing some person might have done to him to so completely change his personality in such a short time.

Now, I would like to adopt him, if I could.  I hope I can convince him not to be afraid of me.  I’ve started leaving food out for him.  He still seems to spend a lot of time in my yard…he sleeps curled up on the gravel by my back fence.  If I talk to him softly enough, I can get him to turn around, sit down and look at me, but he won’t come anywhere near me.  Unfortunately, with my insane work schedule, I don’t have a lot of time to invest in the process of helping this kitty trust some person again.  I’m going to try, but it will, if anything, take way longer than it should—if it happens at all.  And time is one thing I’m afraid homeless kitties in my neighborhood do not have.

In the hope that we will eventually be able to take him under our roof, I’ve given him a new name:  William.  As in “William of Orange.”  (Who apparently is one of my ancestors, a fact uncovered in a genealogy trace done by my grandmother years ago.)  We will call him “Will.”  I hope… 

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On The Responsibility of Being Human

For whatever reason, the Almighty chose to confer upon me a strong affinity for animals.  Most women degenerate to gibberish-spewing, chin-chucking mush heads in the presence of a baby.   I’ve always been more inclined to grin and coo at a puppy or kitten than at an infant of my own species.  The older I get, the more all-encompassing my tenderness towards non-human souls becomes.  Any spider crossing my threshold will more likely receive the catch-and-release treatment than the bottom-of-the-shoe treatment.   Fruit flies in my wine glass will have their drunken butts gently removed from the pool and deposited upon a safe surface to sober up and live to fly another day.

When we were kids, our house looked like a pet shop.  Cat, dog, birds, fish, turtles, hamsters, mice…nothing terribly exotic, but we always had plenty around. As an adult, I’ve never had enough time to maintain a proper home much less a home zoo, so my focus has turned to cats.  Loving, independent spirits, they fare perfectly well on their own for several hours a day, then welcome us back into the pride when we drag ourselves through the front door after a ten or fifteen-hour day.  My cats are my family, my children.  It bothers me not one iota if people think of me as a “crazy cat lady.”  That’s exactly what I am.

I realize that not everyone feels the deep bond I feel for furry friends.  But what I cannot understand, and cannot abide, is human beings who choose to acquire companion animals, but neither understand nor accept the grave responsibility that is laid on their shoulders with that choice.   Pets are perpetual children.  They will always need food, shelter, protection and affection.  Unlike human children, they will never grow up to the point where they will not need their “parents” to provide these things.  In the past few weeks, I’ve encountered the sad stories of two innocent animals who have suffered from the criminal neglect of the humans entrusted with their lives.


I don’t believe in letting pets—dogs OR cats—roam the neighborhood unrestrained.  My philosophy has always been that if my neighbors want a cat, they will get their own.  And if they DON’T want a cat, it’s my responsibility to make sure they don’t have to deal with mine.  Still, every home we’ve lived in has come equipped with neighbor cats whom I have welcomed, petted, and tried to gently steer away from my bird feeders.  In Eugene, there was Qat (I didn’t know her real name, so I gave her one…); in Tigard, there were Coco, Buster and Fester; in Springfield, there were Eleanor and Phoebe.  The café had Mila.

When Mila was still not much more than a kitten, her “owners” brought home a new baby (a human one) put the cat outside, and never let her back in.  They continued to feed her, but she was no longer welcome inside her own home.   They providednothing else for her besides a tag on her collar with her name and their telephone number on it.  Oh, they were very huffy about being her owners, and became righteously indignant when a tenant of our building offered to give Mila a proper home if they were no longer willing or able to do so.  They thought it was perfectly okay to call her “theirs,” but leave her outside to fend for herself.  After all, she was just a cat.

So she became the neighborhood cat.  She would do her rounds every day—grab a bite of turkey here and a mouthful of kibbles there.  Be invited in for a snooze on a reception-room chair or in a sunspot on a soft carpet.  She especially liked to sneak into the café at the feet of an unsuspecting customer, jump up on my fancy hemp chairs and work out her claws.  Once finished with that business, she would either invite herself to share a patron’s meal, curl up and fall asleep on the leather sofa, or try to sneak into the kitchen to discover the source of all the great foody smells.  I had a soft spot for her.  I shoveled my share of scraps into a dish outside the back door, and I turned a blind eye to the gray fuzzball curled up on the couch…until a customer ratted her out to the Health Department.

The landlord disapproved.  He fussed that there was only one end for a cat that hung around in parking lots, and it was going to happen sooner or later.  I told him I thought she had an adequate amount of street smarts to stay alive…all the while knowing in my heart that her days were numbered.  Which was why I kept on feeding her, and letting her sneak in for a nap on the sofa until the Health Department put a stop to that indulgence.  I felt like, if she was going to have a short life, I was going to try to make it as pleasant as I could. 

Why didn’t I just…take her home?  I’ve never had any qualms about adopting cats that I thought were being endangered by neglectful owners.   And I’m sure if she just disappeared, her “family” would not have cared overmuch.  But I already have six cats of my own.  And the capacity of my colony seems to have topped out at that number.  Every time I bring a new cat home, one of the old ones dies.  We adopted Maude, and Marbie died not long after.  We brought home the boys (Alvin and Theo), and lost Beaker and then Sprite within less than a year of each other.  The matriarch of my current clan is eighteen-year-old Bebe.  As bad as I felt for Mila, I just couldn’t risk losing my Bebe.  I felt that if Mila could stick around until Bebe was gone—how long could it be?—it was meant for me to take her home.

But apparently it was not—meant to be.  Back in January, Mila was sitting on the front stoop of the café on a Sunday morning when she was attacked by three dogs being walked unleashed by yet another criminally irresponsible pet owner.  Punctured, mangled and mauled, she was duly bundled up and taken away by her neglectful owners.  We thought we’d never see her again.  But a couple of months later, when her little gray head showed up outside the café door, I nearly burst into tears.  She was several pounds lighter, slower, stiffer, and not altogether okay.  But she was alive.  I felt a certain responsibility for the attack—she wouldn’t have been outside my café that Sunday morning if I had never fed her or let her come in.  So this time around, I refused to feed her or let her sneak in for a snooze.  I did everything I could to discourage her from hanging around.  But the rest of the neighborhood welcomed her with open arms, and she became the Neighborhood Kitty once again. 

She particularly liked to hang around the parking lot, where she would sleep on or under the warmest, most recently arrived vehicle.  People laughed when they would go out to start their cars, even go so far as to put them in gear and start moving, and she would remain stubbornly curled up on the hood or the roof.  But it wasn’t funny, not really.  And last week (mercifully for me, I was away for the weekend) one of the other tenants backed out of her parking space, right over the dozing Mila.

We don’t know for sure what’s become of her; we think she is probably dead.  Two of our tenants hustled her to the vet’s office right across the street; but they made the mistake of calling the number on the tag around her neck.  Though the lady who ran over her, and the other tenant, repeatedly offered to pay the bill, Mila’s self-righteously neglectful owner refused all treatment and offers of help, packed her up and took her home—what is wrong with this person?  The vet, shocked and dismayed by his behavior, called Animal Control and reported the incident as animal abuse. 

We heard that Animal Control confiscated Mila and took her to another vet for x-rays and treatment…possibly euthanasia.  At least she won’t have to suffer for who knows how long on the whim of a criminally irresponsible owner;  who didn’t want her but wasn’t going to let anybody else have her, by god.  Is there an appropriate punishment for this? 

I don’t care what the law books might say.   Pets are not property. You don’t OWN another soul.  You adopt an animal.  You cherish it.  You provide love, food and shelter for it.  For as long as you are fortunate enough to share your life with it.  If you can’t do that, please, please, please do not inflict your sorry self upon the innocent, trusting, dependent soul of an animal.

This has turned out to be a very long post.  Tomorrow, I’ll write about William of Orange…  

Cross posted at Women On...     

George Denis Patrick Carlin 1937-2008

In your honor, sir:


Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, Tits.


Oh, how we will miss you!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Blah. Blah. BLAH!

I realize I haven’t had much to say lately about life at the café.  I’ve posted little celebratory entries about our successes.  Those successes have worn me to an absolute frazzle.  Last night, I sat down to write a “catch-up” post.   I typed for an hour before I realized that I had no chance of making what has been going on in my life funny, interesting or entertaining.  It’s just been like slogging uphill through a downhill lava flow.

I’d like to say that we’ve turned a corner, that we’re confident now that we’re going to make it.  And there are those days when I look out into the dining room and understand that this is not a restaurant that is going to be closing its doors from lack of sales any time soon.  But generously interspersed among those days are the ones when people stay aggressively away, and I am beleaguered by negative speculation:  Did we make someone sick?  Did we slight the wrong person?  Did we finally make the mistake that is going to spell our doom in this unforgiving little town?  And I’ll realize that someday I may be able to rest in the confidence that we are a success, that we’ve been fully embraced as a fixture of the town.  But that day has not yet come. 

As I continue to face down the challenges, great and small, that the restaurant throws in my face, I’m starting to get seriously worn down.  I’m wondering, why?  Why do I KNOW that if I have to be away for a day or even a few hours, my crew is going to get slammed?  Why do I KNOW that if we take pains to be prepared for a busy rush, it is perversely NOT going to happen?  Why, after two years, are these the only things I can accurately predict about my business?

And I am sick to death of trying to keep the place adequately staffed.  Staffing has been a thorn—no, a stiletto—in my ass since day one, and that has remained an infuriating constant.  I can safely say that I have two girls that are utterly dependable.  They are the two girls who remain of the original staff.  It is a huge bruise to my ego that I have not been able to personally recruit any employees who have turned into ultimate successes. 

Flaky Cook is back in a new incarnation, and she has been the polar opposite of her former self.  She shows up, she works any hours I give her, she has even begun to take on some responsibility for the operation as a whole, rather than donning the apron, going through the motions, and cutting out the door as soon as her shift is over. But her history keeps the question mark tattooed on her back.  I try to ignore it, but I will always know she is capable of completely flaking out on me.  It’s probably best to keep that in mind.

My staff was cut by 25%, and the scope of my labor pool seriously reduced, when I made the decision last month to stop employing high school students.  Let’s just say I came to the realization that hiring high-schoolers was a failed experiment.  I have enough trouble trying to manage irresponsible adults who can’t give priority to what they do for a living.  I can’t take responsibility for molding the characters of kids whose parents have not felt compelled to impart any kind of decent work ethic to their progeny.    

Then there is the case of Assistant Cooks Number One and Number Two. Hired in early 2007, they were supposed to be the foundation of my future staff.  I’ve worked very hard to make cooks out of those two…and they both had the natural talent to be successful at the job.  And for awhile, it looked like they might just be my first recruiting successes.  But alas, it was not to be.  Surprise.

Number Two is gone.  She worked her last day a week ago.  She finished her pharmacy tech internship and immediately dropped us like a hot rock to accept a “real” job.  I did everything but stand on my head to work around her schedule and give her the hours she needed/wanted while she was in school, and this is the thanks I got. 

Which brings us to Assistant Cook Number One.  The one I have been training and grooming for over a year to step up and take on some real responsibility once she finished her high school completion classes.  (And who has consistently assured me that this is exactly what she intended…) As I did with Number Two, I’ve stood on my head to accommodate her school schedule, and played tug-of-war with her recurring personal dramas.   She graduated last Sunday, almost two years late (she’s nineteen and a half).  I wish I could say that the way is clear, now, for her to focus on her job and take on a huge role at the café…in short, for her to make good on her promises to me.  Unfortunately, it looks like I am losing the tug-of-war with her drama.  The job gets shoved further and further down her priority list as she skates from one “crisis” to another.  She is starting to look and perform very much like Flaky Cook did just before she disappeared off the face of the earth last June.  I don’t expect Cook Number One to be with us a whole lot longer.  In fact, I’ll be surprised if she lasts out the month.  And I am anticipating a painful and dramatic termination.

Of course I’ve tried to bring on some new talent to at least soften the blow when Cook Number One does go down in flames.  And of course this has been the source of even more frustration.  In desperation, I brought back a girl who begged for me to re-hire her after SHE quit with no notice back in January.  She wasn’t exactly the best available athlete; she was the ONLY available athlete.  So I brought her back.  Let’s just say that she hasn’t done a night-and-day metamorphosis a la Flaky Cook.  She was an adequate-to-poor employee in her earlier tenure.  And she hasn’t changed an iota.  She is little more than a warm body.  But that seems to be the best I can expect, these days.

Then there was the girl I hired in March.  The one I hired against my better judgment, but was convinced by a combination of desperation and assurances by people on my staff who knew her to give her a chance.   At first, I wanted to believe that this temporary loss of discernment was not going to come back and bite me in the ass.  She performed no less than adequately-to-poor.  She showed up, most of the time…  With a little coddling (and who have I NOT coddled in some way to keep them on the schedule?) I thought we might make it work.

Two weeks ago, she called the café in hysterics, wailing that she had to quit so she could go into re-hab.  For heroin.  Jumpin’ Freakin’ Jehosophat….!  If you think that didn’t have me seriously questioning my judgment, not to mention my powers of observation…

So …I ended up writing it anyway, didn’t I?  I told you it wouldn’t be funny or entertaining or even interesting.  It’s just the same old long, sad tale of woe.  I realize that I’m wallowing around on the bottom of the roller coaster just now, and that it will surely head on up to another peak soon.  In fact, last week, probably because we were down to our lowest staffing level in over a year, we did some record business.  And then yesterday, with a new girl to train and an adequate staff on the schedule, I wondered if we had forgotten to unlock the doors.  Which is why I’m so bloody exhausted and frustrated that everything looks black to me.  

We have two new girls starting this week, one girl who is back from college for the summer, and I have two more good prospects waiting in the wings.  So maybe in a week or two, things will be improved to the point where I won’t feel like I’m crawling up Mt. Everest with the whole restaurant strapped to my back. 

I’ll let you know.

Friday, June 6, 2008

One More Rant About Cel Phones

My husband and I had an argument the other day. This is nothing new…we argue quite a lot these days. We are both so tired, so overwhelmed and so frustrated. Who better to take out negative emotion on than your life partner? J

The argument du jour was about my cel phone.

Once upon a time, I needed a cel phone. I had a small business that took me hither and yon to events all over northwest Oregon. The phone was an essential tool for keeping in touch with the husband and my sisters (who constituted my work force.) I was forever having to make arrangements to meet so-and-so at such-and-such an event, and then track them down once we arrived. And then I needed to make calls for lodging reservations, or repair issues, or any number of things which demanded that I have a phone at my immediate disposal.

I carried my phone on my person at all times. It hung from my belt as I slung quarter-ton pieces of restaurant equipment in and out of the trailer. It lived in my purse, which got stashed and squashed wherever I could hide it while we were doing an event. It sat in the ash tray of the truck as I made my way over the highways and byways. Eventually, it literally fell apart from being smashed, stashed, hung, bashed, dropped and trashed. By the time I traded it in after its two years of faithful service, it was held together with rubber bands and electrical tape.

I got a new phone in 2006, just as my life underwent a major metamorphosis. I’m no longer an itinerant food vendor; I command a real restaurant with an actual permanent location. Gone are the days when nobody knew exactly where I was at any given time, and the cel phone was the go-to communication tool. And it’s a good thing…because the new phone has proven to be an absolute piece of crap. It gets terrible reception, it drops calls, sometimes it doesn’t bother to ring at all. And it has lately developed this malady where it suddenly loses contact with its battery and goes dead. I’ve taken to calling it the "pocket rock," because it is exactly as useful as a rock, most of the time.

Our particular phone plan allows for new hardware every two years. So I am eligible, now, to get a nice discount on yet another phone. Husband insists that I run right out and get that phone. And I could not care less. I HATE cel phones. At this point, I’m seriously considering declaring "Conscientious Objector" status when it comes to owning one.

What the hell good are they, anyway? First of all, though cel phones have been in use for—what…twenty years?—the technology has never been perfected. Why should it be? We, the consuming public, don’t demand that the things perform as promised. We just lap up the next mutation as soon as it’s available. The folks who make these things know they don’t actually have to work to sell. They just have to be the sexiest, newest toy on the market. So I’ll pay one hundred, two hundred, no…three, maybe even five hundred bucks for this wonderful little device that will take photos, play music, display video games, show movies, compute gratuities, do everything but cook breakfast for me. But I’m still hanging out of open windows or ducking out onto the sidewalk in the rain hollering into it, "Can you hear me NOW ?"

Why can’t it just BE a telephone? Or at least a passable imitation of one?

The technical foibles alone should be enough to have us doing what one normally does with a piece of crap (***floooosh***…bye-bye!) But then there are the ring tones. Who knew there were quite so many supremely annoying pieces of music to be had? Of course, even the "Hallelujah Chorus" sounds like hell digitized and blaring at top volume from somewhere in the vicinity of the ass of the guy in front of you at the Wal-Mart check-out. The other day, I heard a ring tone that was a loud, obnoxious laugh… like something from a sleazy joke store at the mall. I could not believe someone chose as his signature sound something that stupid and irritating.

Cel phones have turned us into a society of ill-mannered, self-absorbed, careless, thoughtless communication junkies. We cannot be alone with our own thoughts; nor can we be with the people we are with. Sales clerks, waitresses, service people of any kind are made acutely aware that they are not worthy of our full attention. Friends, spouses, parents and kids all suffer the indignity of hanging on the periphery while the obviously more important conversation takes place with whoever is on the phone. People talk—or, heaven forbid, text—while driving. It’s like, you lay hands on that little silver box and it just sucks the brains right out of you.

Well, I’m sorry… I don’t want to play. These days, I am almost always either at the restaurant or at home trying to rest up for my next stint at the restaurant. Both the cafe and my home have phones. If I’m not at home or at work, I’m generally with my husband or one of my sisters…and they all have cel phones. If by some off-chance I am somewhere where I can not be reached, I am most likely out of touch by choice. There are times when one just needs to be alone; cel phones have turned us into a nation of co-dependents. It’s unhealthy to always be just a few beep-bip-boops away from someone else. It’s weak, it’s scary, and it’s…sick. I can’t buy into that any more.

So, I told the husband, here’s the thing: I’m going to approach the cel phone issue the same way I deal with religion. You believe what you believe, and I’ll believe what I believe. You don’t tell me I have to have a cel phone, and I won’t tell you you shouldn’t have one.

I don’t know if I made my point…but I’m still not getting a new phone.