Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cleaning House

Last Wednesday, "Dumb-Ass Rehire" called in sick about an hour and a half before her scheduled shift. Mind you, she was working the evening shift—on at 5 pm—and presumably had been sick all day. Now, I know these children have a tendency to sleep until noon, but, still…

When I asked her what was wrong, her reply was, "I don’t know." What a great answer! Not, "I’ve been throwing up since last night," or "I have a fever of 102," or even "My throat hurts so bad I can’t swallow." Just, "I don’t know."

Here is a girl who, two months ago to the day, called in to tell me she wouldn’t be able to work her shift because she had homework to do (she dropped the class after a week and a half…) Here is a girl who quit with no notice last January; called me the morning of her shift and told me her life was a shambles and she needed to move too far away to work. Here is a girl who came back to me three months later begging for her job back. So I, like a sap, took her back. Bad move on my part. Oh well.

After four months of struggling to make her into an adequate employee, I had had it up to my eyeballs. And she just happened to lame out on me the day I was making next week’s schedule. Bad move on her part.

My labor has been totally out of control this summer, partly because I have been making use of some fortuitous over-staffing to give myself a bit of a breather. I’ve been able to step back, gather my wits about me, and get some administrative stuff done that has needed doing for, oh, about two years. But the economy being what it is, I knew I would have to make some changes soon. I was hoping to cut the staff through natural "back-to-school" attrition. Well, "Dumb-Ass Rehire" wasn’t going back to school, but I cut her back to two days on next week’s schedule anyhow. Reasoning that when you start cutting, you cut the dead wood first.

This apparently didn’t set well with "D-A R", because she called me fifteen minutes before she was supposed to be at work today and said, "I quit!"

Fine. Saves me the trouble of having to fire your sorry ass.

We slogged through an unusually busy day (of course) without her. With a little help from the intrepid husband, dishwasher extraordinaire.

Much as this little episode does solve more problems than it creates, it still left me with some more of that negative energy to work out when I got home from work

I re-arranged my living room.

A few more café disasters and I will have caught up on all my neglected housework…

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ten Minutes 8/29~~Perhaps They Listened

Once again, I’ve been wandering the halls of my archives.  I went back to 2005 this time…back to when I still had the time and brainpower to write things that were really worthwhile.  Back before I became thoroughly sick of the political state of our nation—the posturing, the deceit, the muck-flinging.  The utter vapor-lock prevalent in the Democratic Party.

I dug up an entry I had written in September of that year, “A Political Admonishment.”  This post went into some detail about my personal p olitical history and my increasing disillusionment with the Donkeys.  My closing line was,

Let this be a warning and a wake-up call to the Democratic Party. You cannot afford to assume. You cannot afford to let us "idealists" trickle away. Speak to our ideals, ensure our loyalty. Inspire us to vote for you, because it’s increasingly likely that a vote against the current regime will not necessarily fall in the Democrats’ column. You need to stop the bleeding.

Three years later, it looks like the Democratic party has taken my admonishment to heart.  Surely someone in the higher echelons read my post and set about acting on it… ;)

All kidding aside, the Obama candidacy appears to fill the order for an inspirational person, policy or direction for the Dems.  Here is a candidate that urges us to stretch beyond the old high standards we thought forever lost, upward toward ideals we didn’t dare to envision.  Not just a candidate who stands for change from the policies through which we have slogged desultorily for the past eight years.  Here is a candidate for historic change.  For raising the nation to a level of open-mindedness and inclusiveness we had thought were decades away, if indeed they were ever in the cards at all.    The darkness of the divisiveness, hatred, selfishness and fear-mongering of the Bush Administration has brought us to the threshold of a promise brighter than we could have imagined.    

Is it too bright?  Will we reach for it, or shield our eyes and turn away?

Or will someone shoot out the light…  

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fear vs Hope

Try as I might, I can’t completely separate myself from the bonfire of inanity that is the Democratic National Convention.  I heard Bill Clinton’s speech yesterday.  And I caught a good portion of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech today.  It’s not that either of them had nothing worthwhile to say.    And, believe me, I am eternally grateful that I can listen to words coming out of an aspiring candidate’s mouth without seething with so much anger and frustration that I’m likely to grab the nearest object and tear it to shreds with my bare hands. 

It’s just that I know everything they say is…just words.  Abstract promises.  It’s an attempt—a noble attempt, I’ll confess—to drag American political rhetoric out of the gutter of hatred, and out from under the bed of quavering fear and paranoia.  But is it having any effect?  Are the idiots who have carried George Bush on their shoulders as if he were the conquering hero, who have worn his ignorance and ineloquence as a badge of honor…are those stupid sheep who have appeared to be in control of the country for the past eight years listening?  Are they getting it?  Or are these earnest men and women in Denver preaching so eloquently to the choir?  The minority choir who will go down to defeat again this November, unable to drag the nation back onto a course toward high ideals, dignity and moral rectitude.   

I’m of two minds about the coming election.  I look at the repulsive mob that has taken over our country—the ones who have prospered under the Bush/Cheney policies of fear, selfishness and dishonesty.  They are huge, and they are strong.  And they are not likely to let go of their hold on power very easily.  And I am afraid to what lengths they will go to keep what they have.  

Things could get very ugly.

But then, I think, what better time for a Barack Obama to sweep to victory?  On the heels of the most disastrous administration to have hit Washington in living memory?  This might be the perfect storm, the cosmic coming together of every possible circumstance to make an historic presidency possible.  Now.  Certainly never before, and possibly never again.  At least in my lifetime.  Perhaps our young people, flexing the muscles of their franchise for the first time, will be the force for change that ultimately unseats the evil oligarchy that has dug in its heels in our nation’s capital. 

There is hope.

But I am afraid to hope.  The events of the last eight years have destroyed any faith I may have had in the ability of the American people to make wise choices when it comes to whom they will hand the reins of power.

So.  We will see.  In approximately 67 days, we will see.         

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ten Minutes~~Chauvinism is Alive and Well

I’ve worked in food service for thirty-five years. In all those years, I’ve managed to ignore the male dominance of the field .  I’ve gone about doing my job, sometimes the only female among a group of males…and I always managed to, eventually, command their respect.  In time, I believed that old “the man is in charge” model had become a thing of the distant past.    

Oddly, in the past two weeks, I’ve been slammed in the face by two separate incidents of…let’s call them inaccurate assumptions based on the “boss=male” model that, obviously, still rears its ugly head in our society.  And it really pissed me off.

On Monday, I went to answer the phone at the café at about 12:30, the middle of our typically busiest hour of the day.  “Hi!” said the male voice on the line.  “I’m calling because I’d like to make you aware of a great marketing opportunity in Columbia County…” 

“Ummm…this is a restaurant, and we’re in the middle of our lunch hour, so this is a really bad time to call…” (I hate telephone solicitors, and I don’t even try to be nice or polite; I just put it all out there and then hang up.)

“Well,” says the guy, “Usually The Boss is around…”

Oh. My. God.  You didn’t just say that.

“Uh—I AM the boss.”  And I slammed the phone back into the cradle.  

I only wish I had thought to pleasantly ask him who he represented so I knew exactly with whom I was NEVER going to do any kind of business under any circumstance.  Ever. 

Today, this little old man toddles in the door of the restaurant, walks halfway to the counter and asks about soup.  My counter girl tells him about our soup and the prices.  He actsas if we're asking him to pay an arm and a leg.  But he pays for a bowl.  And then he says he doesn't want the cheese bread that comes with it.  He only wants crackers.  Counter girl takes him his bowl of soup, and he sets about eating it.

In the meanwhile, my Sysco rep has arrived, looking all clean-cut and business-like and MALE in a shirt and tie.  He and I are behind the counter comparing two different brands of napkins when the little old man walks up to the counter with a pack of crackers in his hand.  And I say, “Do you need something else?”

And he says, “Yeah, I want to talk to him.”  Looks at my salesman and says, “Did you ever think of getting better crackers in here?”

Sysco rep and I look at each other, momentarily at a loss, and then I say, “Well, this man is just a salesman.  If you want to talk to the boss, that would be me.”  Then Little Old Man goes on a little old man tirade about how we need to get Premium crackers.  These crackers (house brand of my old grocery supplier) are no good.  He’s surprised we don’t give them awayfree.  Okay, let’s forget the inanity of the whole situation.  And the fact that we DO give the crackers away free.  The point is he continued to address my salesman as if he were the one in charge…  AUGHHHH!

I feel like I have somehow fallen through a time warp back into the sixties…

Ten Minutes 8/26~~I'm Still Here

Okay, so it’s not still Tuesday, officially.  But to me, as long as I have not yet gone to bed, it’s today. 

Rather than tomorrow.

Or something.

This evening, I decided to while away a few hours going into the “Coming to Terms…” archives.  I went right back to 2006, the year we bought the café.  And I have to say, it left me wondering why I continued on this entrepreneurial road.

Sales were terrible. I had no pool of at least somewhat decent employees from which to choose.  It was a struggle every day. 

But I showed up.  I figured it out.  I delegated.  I hired.  I learned.

And…I’m still here.  Not only has the Old Town Café weathered the storm.  But so has “Coming to Terms…” 

I never stopped writing.  I never could.  Readers have come and readers have gone.  People I considered old friends have moved out of the “neighborhood,” never to be heard from again.  New people have come onto the scene, read and commented for a few months, and evaporated. 

But I’m still here.  And in approximately a month, I will celebrate the fifth anniversary of this blog.  Five years.  Seems short and yet incredibly long at the same time.  In my heyday, I had almost two dozen friends I ran to and asked to kiss my boo-boos, or shared victories with, or exchanged philosophy with.  Now, it’s not nearly so many.  But to those of you who know who you are…

All my love…

…and thanks. 

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ten Minutes 8/25~~Why I Hate Wi-Fi

I swear, I’m going to have to off the wi-fi at the café.  I don’t know how much good will I’ve sown with the thing, and it has been the source of some of the most traumatic interactions I have had with “customers.”  Customers in quotes because they really aren’t customers.  If they were, they wouldn’t so resent being asked to buy something, or move to a smaller table, or wrap up their hours-long internet sessions so we can close the restaurant. 

Not everyone who uses a free wi-fi connection at a restaurant is an ass-hat.  But the tendency toward ass-hatism does seem to run in the breed.  They are not just freeloaders, they are militant freeloaders.  With a penchant for hollering, blustering, threatening and promising revenge when they don’t get what they want—which is free, unmolested access to any available wireless internet signal, no strings attached.  Apparently I maintain my nice atmosphere and play my soothing jazz, offer clean restrooms and cushy leather seating for their comfort alone.  There’s no one else in the world; and the concept of a paying customer taking priority over their freeloading butts never enters their minds.

Today’s exchange ultimately deteriorated to Mr. Internet Freeloader (after having bought a drink only because he was asked to do so and proceeding to make use of my facility for over an hour) finally packing up his $3500 laptop and attempting to trespass into my kitchen to shout his parting jab at me.  At which point I went on the attack, insisting that he get OUT of my kitchen, and OUT of MY restaurant before I called the police.  And I did not whisper.

Luckily, this all happened nearly at the end of my shift, because the day was thereafter completely shot.  I ate dinner, came home, and went on a 90-minute cleaning binge in an attempt to channel some of that bristling negative energy into something positive.  So now, I have a jerk-off customer to thank that I have a clean (well, it looks better than it did J) house, and I can sit here writing about my crappy day without watching the animal hair tumbleweeds roll down the hall.

Is that what’s known as making lemonade?   

Dealing with the Inevitable

I gave in and got a new phone today.   It didn’t make sense to keep paying for a phone that didn’t work.  Even when I wanted it to, which was rarely.

I decided that all I really wanted in a phone was that it had the ability to assign different ringtones to different people on my “contacts” list.  That way, I would know who was calling (and whether I wanted to pick up) without digging out the phone and checking the caller ID.   

The first place we stopped was the Verizon store at the one of the biggest shopping malls in the city.  Oh my god, what a zoo!  It took fifteen minutes for someone to get around to acknowledging  us and “putting us in the queue.”  Which meant that we were now officially in line and would be waited on approximately when hell froze over.  We spent about fifteen more minutes looking at the available options and being bombarded with the loud alternative music they felt set the proper mood to drop a whole lot of cash on useless technology.  And then I leaned into the husband’s ear and hollered that we could probably make it to Costco before they closed. 

Hands over our ears, we fled out to our car and down the freeway to Costco--a less 21st century in- your-face venue for purchasing technology, certain that it we could get what we needed in spite of the lack of atmosphere.  Sans the music and the crowds, we were able to settle in and sign our lives away for another two years of essential cell phone service.  

So now I have a new phone, complete with a camera, games, and an MP3 player I had absolutely no interest in owning.    For the low, low price of $120, even though I've been a Verizon customer for almost a decade.  Oh, and if I should remember to follow up on the impossible paperwork trail, I'll be getting a whopping $40 rebate in the mail in about a year. 

Bleah!  There’s nothing like purchasing your own little bit of 21st century technology for making you feel that you have been screwed without even a peck on the cheek.  

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ten Minutes 8/23: Election Politics

So, Mr. Obama has chosen his running mate.  Senator Joe Biden.  Yay.

The airwaves and video waves were full of the politicking, the speechifying, and the analysis surrounding this momentous decision.  And all I could think was, “Oh, shut up!”

I have already decided for whom I am going to vote.  And I know why I’m going to vote the way I am.  And there is no changing my mind.  But I am not fool enough to think that anything in the good ole U S of A is going to change quickly,  no matter which candidate ultimately sweeps to victory in November.  I’ve lived in this country for 53 years, and I’ve been politically aware for about thirty-eight of those years.  That’s 9 1/2 election cycles.  Seven different presidential administrations.  And this is what I’ve learned:  Change is a fickle thing upon which to waste one’s vote.

Because evil change happens, it seems, at the drop of a hat.  Or a buck.  Or a few billion bucks.

And change for the better comes as slowly as spring in the Arctic.

So though the things that come out of Obama’s and Biden’s mouth are at least more grammatically and philosophically pleasing than the crap that has flowed from the current occupant for the past eight years, I know that it is all essentially meaningless.  First, they’ll have to get past legions of idiots who will vote against Mr. Obama purely on the basis of the color of his skin and the ethnic roots of his middle name.  Should they beat those odds, they’ll be subject to the whims of a deadlocked Congress that couldn’t pronounce policy on how to unwrap a stick of gum without six months of partisan tirades.

So I wish them luck, I wish them godspeed, I wish them fast planes and comfortable motel beds.  But I have absolutely no interest in what they have to say now.   Because we’ve all learned, have we not, that what a politician says and what he does are two utterly different things.  So I’ll plug my ears, cast my vote…and wait.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Truth is Out There...Get My Glasses

Along about May of this year, the husband took it in his head to drain , clean and rehab our hot tub.   We hadn’t had the time or energy to perform these essential tasks in almost two years.  But thanks to the husband’s noble efforts, we can once again lounge in our warm, bubbly tubby and soak away the stress and strain of our over-committed lives. 

Just like everything else, though, having my tub back has only served to remind me of my increasing decrepitude.  We were lounging in the tub, gazing up at the darkening night sky—one of my favorite parts of a summer’s evening soak.  I always loved to watch the stars appear one at a time.  Tonight, however, the first light we saw in the sky was huge.  I thought it must be an airplane, but it just hung there.  Squinting my eyes, I saw the thing had at least six separate lights arranged around a central dot.  Or, if I closed one eye and almost closed the other, I could see that this whatever it was had four lights arranged along a horizontal bar of some kind.  And it was twinkling…looked as if it had some kind of landing lights blinking on and off.

When soaking in your hot tub, one of the first things you do is take off your glasses.  They are not much good in the tub, as they get all steamy, and if you park them on the side of the spa, they’ll more than likely get swept off by a flailing arm or leg.  So I had left my glasses upstairs on my vanity.  The more we trained our naked eyes upon this bright vision hovering above the neighbor’s yard , the more convinced we became that we were witnessing the appearance of a super-ship of a superior race.  Any minute, a little green man was going to zap down into the middle of our spa and ask us to take him to our leader.

“It’s a plane.”  “It’s a star.”  “It’s got about six blinking lights.”  “It’s a plane.”  “No, it’s not.”

Finally, no longer able to contain my curiosity, I slogged out of the tub, sloshed in the back door and dripped my way up the stairs to get my damn bifocals.  I padded across the living room and bedroom carpets, collecting  yeti-esque pads of  unvacuumed cat hair  on the bottoms of my wet feet.  I located my glasses, slapped them on my face and waddled to the window.

Venus.  It was our lovely sister planet Venus that we were accusing of bringing the first salvo in “War of the Worlds.”

Ten years ago, sitting in the hot tub under the stars was an entirely different experience.  What was once a pleasant, romantic way to while away an hour and watch the stars come out, is now an adrenalin-pumping encounter with the Mother Ship.

Just one more way that growing older makes life more interesting…

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ten Minutes 8/21--Blood is Thicker...

Are some things best left in the past?  Is the past really the past…when it comes to our families?

I’ve heard people say that they have done with their families.  That their families are dead to them.  Too many hurts, too many misunderstandings, too much estrangement.  Apparently, sometimes it’s just not possible to weather the assaults our families launch against us.  And launch they will…

How many times have I said this…I have been there and I have done that.  Fortunately for me, the Universe will not let me turn my back on my family.  Though god knows, there are times I have wanted to.  And needed to.

But there is an old adage that time heals all wounds.  Heals?  I don’t know.  All I know is, despite all the crap and the harping and the hurts and the indignities (and who can hurt us worse than those who know us best?) you need to be able to step back and let the past slide into the past.  You need to be able to say, “This is now, and this is what I need, and I can’t care about who hurt whom and who said what, one or five or ten years ago.” 

I only know that my family is my family and I can’t help but love them.  Can’t turn my back.  Can’t walk away.  Can’t go off on my own.  Because they are a part of me I can’t erase.

Tonight, I sat in my living room and enjoyed a pleasant evening talking and joking with a sister with whom, not too long ago, I had despaired of ever being able to exchange three civil words in a row.  When we at last retired to our separate bedrooms, and I turned on my computer, there waiting for me was a message from a niece I thought I had lost forever.

Hurt?  Never?  Lost?

Words that, I have found, have little meaning when applied to those of my blood. 

We love each other.  We really have no say in the matter.     


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ten Minutes 8/20--Work Worries

Just what I needed.  One more thing heaped on top of the pile of things that need my immediate attention.  A couple of months ago, my sales rep from my (then) grocery purveyor screwed up royally.  He was responsible for receiving my payments and banking the money every two weeks.  Except there was a payment he seemed to have misplaced, because it didn’t get banked until the same time as the payment I gave him two weeks later.  The credit department almost refused to ship my order because I was over thirty days past due on two invoices.  Except I wasn’t.  I had given the numbskull the check, but he didn’t do what he was supposed to do.  Long story short, I caught him lying to me, the credit department, and everyone else he could think of just to keep his own butt out of hot water.  So I fired him.  His company lost my account.

So I am now in the process of transferring my business to another grocery purveyor.  Which should be easy, right?  I mean, this new company is the largest food service grocery supplier in the country.  They should have everything I need, right?  And at great prices, right?  And I should get better service, right?  If only it were that easy.

I had no idea how stupidly difficult this was going to be.  It’s not like I can go into a store, look at the stuff, and start loading it into my cart.  Nope.  I have to sit across the table from a guy with a laptop, try to describe what I used to get (and  lot of this stuff is private labeled, so I can’t just say, “I need Joe Blow’s French fries.”)  He can’t get me samples, and there is no way he personally can be familiar with every one of the ninety million items his company carries.   So I end up ordering things I have no idea what I’m getting, trying it out and giving it the thumbs up or thumbs down. 

I have to say, I’m not very comfortable using my customers as guinea pigs.  Several of our most popular items have been difficult to pin down.  Really simple stuff like potatoes or fries or salad dressing.  Turns out my fries were an exclusive product of my former supplier.  When you have customers telling you that you have the best fries in town, and now you can’t get them anymore, THAT is a big problem.

And salad dressing prices have been shooting up so meteorically, I’m having a bitch of a time finding the same quality at the same price point I had been used to.  Here’s an example of what prices are doing these days—I’m paying over $17 for a gallon of salad dressing that was just over $11 at the beginning of the year.  Unbelievable.  So of course, one pain in the ass (changing food suppliers) has led to another pain in the ass (realizing I’m going to have to raise my prices again, like, yesterday….) 

Augh!  It’s all in a day’s work.  I keep holding out the hope that someday I might even start making some money at this.  At the moment, though, it isn’t looking too good.   

Ten Minutes 8/19--Poem

It took me ten minutes to write it, and 45 minutes to post it, and it still doesn't have the formatting I want.  ::Sigh!::


little squares cut
from the past
or doors
flat and neat
no dimension
no substance
no emotion

when I look at them
I’m there, but not
I see, but I don’t
through those little doors
little windows
forever sealed

Monday, August 18, 2008


“How many things did you try before you settled on owning a restaurant?” asked one of my young employees today. 

“I was eighteen when I started working in restaurants,” I replied.  “So I guess the answer to that is, ‘Not too many…’”

Earlier, I’d had a short conversation with a few of my other girls, about educational choices and my feelings about them.  We had been discussing a former employee who aspires to become a surgeon.  Smart as a whip, I have no doubt this girl could attain that goal.  Unfortunately, she is also a little hoodlum.  She’s achieved very little of note in her high school career.  Histrionics, drama and a penchant for coming this close to running afoul of the law have been her hallmarks.  But, you know, it seems unfair that, if a child aspires to a career as a doctor, she has to start minding her p’s and q’s at about age thirteen.  High school performance is hugely important when it comes to getting into a good medical school.  I personally think it’s ridiculous that a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old’s indiscretions could put a serious damper on her career aspirations.  In fact, I think it’s criminal that  fourteen- or fifteen-year-olds should be required to have career aspirations.  Let them be children, for god’s sake.  They have an entire lifetime to grow up and shoulder adult burdens.

What about me?  What did I want to be when I grew up?  I had no idea, which is how I ended up where I am.  And it’s not a bad place.  I could be worse off.  But I could also be…somewhere else.

I’m smart.  I have a good mind, a tremendous memory, and I know how to turn a phrase decently.  When I was in high school, that meant I tended to excel in English.  But nobody told me what I could DO with that.  Continuing education, for me, appeared to be the opportunity to go to college, study my ass off at great expense to my parents and myself, and come out after four years with a degree in…English.  Ugh!  What the hell was I supposed to do with that?  Teach?  Not hardly.  Go on to a masters and a doctorate?  I was not a great lover of school…I wasn’t particularly attracted to the idea of becoming a professional student.

So, I didn’t go to college.  I passed on that experience and went to work at the local pizza place instead.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now….NOW, I know I could have…should have…gone to law school.  I think I would have made a hell of a lawyer.  But I came from the wrong social stratum…the idea of a law career wasn’t even on my radar screen.  Ever.  To me, college meant either liberal arts or biting the bullet to get some kind of degree I could “use.”  Like accounting or something equally depressing (not to mention completely counter to any talent I possessed…)  My family didn’t know any lawyers.  We didn’t move in those circles.  So studying law never, ever entered the picture.

Do I regret that now?  Do I consider the option of dropping everything I’m doing to go to college and on to law school?  I’d be, what?  Sixty-two years old when I got my degree?  What the hell would I do with it?  Who wants to hire a bright, up-and-coming OLD lawyer?

No.  It’s past time for those kinds of career upheavals.  I’ve made my choices.  I’m an entrepreneur now.  I own a restaurant.  And I’m here to tell you, it’s no less of a challenge than going back to college and getting that law degree would have been; but at least I have two years of it under my belt already.  Owning a business uses a huge skill set; you have to wear more hats than you ever knew existed when you started out on the endeavor.  It’s an uphill climb every day.

And I think that is precisely why I do what I do.  Any regret I might feel that I didn’t do something more “worthwhile” is shouldered aside by the pressing reality of my never-ending to-do list.  There are days that I am completely overwhelmed.  But, for the first time in my life…I’m happy with what I do for a living.  That has to count for something.  In fact, I think it counts for everything.          

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ten Minutes 8/17…::Sigh!::

Tomorrow, the last checks will be written and the account closed.  The final disbursement of my parents’ worldly goods will be made.  Mom has been gone since December, Dad since 1999.  But this makes it all too final, somehow.

It underscores the fleetness and fragility of life.  Retirement age is creeping up on me…yet it surely wasn’t that long ago that my parents retired.  All I can think is that the time they had from the day they retired until they died was woefully short.  Dad had seventeen years, and mom had almost a quarter century.  But it wasn’t nearly long enough.  I can’t help feeling, “What a gyp!”  But I don’t know who was gypped:  them or me? 

My parents had a pleasant retirement.  Dad got the cottage on the half-acre lot where he could play “Farmer Frank.”  He planted fruit trees and a huge kitchen garden.  Mom got her greenhouse and her front porch lush with the most beautiful begonias and fuchsias every summer.  Dad had his boats and his garage full of man stuff.  Mom had her crafts and her collections.  They had their family close by, and they didn’t really suffer a lot of health problems until the very last.  No…I guess it wasn’t they who were gypped.

It’s me.  I was gypped.  I don’t have a Mom and Dad anymore.  I have yards and bolts and skeins of memories.  But I don’t have them. 

And I don’t want to believe that I’m as close as I am to the twilight of my own life.  So I try not to ponder these things very often.

But when I look at that check…the very last I will see with my mother’s name on it…that tangle of wishes, sighs, memories and fears will bob to the surface for at least a few moments before I can jam  it down and put a rock on it…   

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ten Minutes 8/16--It's TOO Flippin' Hot

Sultry is not the word for tonight’s temperature.  It’s downright hot as hell, and it’s after 10 pm.  The weather has been so strange this summer.  Right after this ridiculous heat wave, a cool front is supposed to roll in, bringing rain and temperatures barely brushing seventy degrees.  This is not the Oregon summer climate I have come to know and love.

I remember the culture shock when we first moved to Oregon 24 years ago.  What was with summer?  We had been used to 95 degrees with 95% humidity in the Midwest.  Hot days and hot, steamy nights.  One lived in the shortest shorts and the skimpiest tanks or halter tops one could locate.  Not because one was trying to be sexy, but because one could literally not tolerate anything else touching one’s skin.  And you had to bring a coat to the grocery store…

I grew accustomed to Oregon weather after several years.  But it still seemed bizarre to bundle up to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July.  I finally got used to carrying a sweater or sweatshirt around with me even on the hottest of days, because it always got chilly at night.  Oh how I missed those balmy nights of my youth!

Well, I’m here to tell you, I don’t miss them anymore.  Not every woman is besieged by hot flashes as she approaches age fifty and beyond.  But they seem to run in my family.  When my four sisters and I sit around the dinner table talking after a family get-together, it’s a cinch one after the other of us will goopen a window or whip off her sweater or start fanning herself with her napkin.  We carry our personal summers with us year ‘round.  And I cannot imagine having to deal with this particular feature of growing older in the heat and humidity of Chicago.  I have truly grown attached to Oregon summers, where I can open wide my bedroom windows in the middle of August and be shivering under the covers by morning.

Most of the time.  But not last night.  And not tonight.  Which is why I am sleeping in my driveway tonight.  In our travel trailer.  Which is the only bed we own with air conditioning. 

And I think if we didn’t have that, I’d be sleeping in the car.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ten Minutes on the Corrosion of the Competitive Spirit

When I was younger, I was quite a sports fan.  Dad didn’t really know what to make of me.  Out of all his five daughters, I was the one who developed a love for the games.  In high school, I belonged to the “GAA”—Girls Athletic Association.  Basically we were a bunch of girls who availed ourselves of all the intramural sports the school had to offer—badminton, volleyball, archery, bowling.  I was never hugely athletic, but I loved the competition.  Saturday afternoons found me glued to every off-the-wall hairball competition the  “Wide World of Sports” had to offer. 

And the Olympics!  Every four years, we got to just roll in sports.  Almost every conceivable game.  Ski jumping, the luge, fencing, weight lifting, boxing (one sport for which I never could muster much enthusiasm…that, and golf.)  Mark Spitz and Olga Korbutt; Peggy Fleming and Ann Henning.  Had I been born braver, prettier, and richer, I might have been one of the first female sportscasters on ESPN. 

That’s all in the past, now.  I can hardly stand to watch sports anymore.  Just as I can hardly tolerate any “reality” tv—and that includes what passes for news these days.  It’s all hyper emotion and over the top competitiveness.  I remember when an Olympic medal—ANY Olympic medal— meant something.  Now, it’s all about the gold.  Silver and Bronze are not medals.  They’re consolation prizes.  Evidently, those lesser metals are forged into eternal reminders of having choked under pressure.

I remember when the amateur status of the Olympic games was jealously defended.  Today, I read an article in the paper about how Speedo and Nike are knocking each other out trying to get the most camera time for their respective logos on the backs (fronts, crotches) of the US swim team.  So and so athlete has a contract with Nike, so he has to wear his sweatshirt with the Swoosh at all award ceremonies, but his swimsuit is made by Speedo, and that’s causing some major angst in the ranks.  Good lord! Is there a corner of our lives where rampant consumerism has not invaded?

And don’t get me started about professional athletes.  Here are a bunch of guys who are paid more money than god to play kids’ games in front of a lot of people.  And all they can do is whine about how mistreated, misunderstood, underpaid and overtaxed they are.  It makes me sick.  I can’t stand to watch it any more.

So every Fall, when I used to be getting pumped up for the onset of football season, now, I just punch a different button on the remote.  And every two years (yeah, the media had to step in and screw up the Olympic schedule so more money could be made by networks and sponsors) I very pointedly tune out the Olympiad and her cold weather sister spectacle.  Sport has been spoiled: over-exposed by the twenty-four hour news cameras and buried under tons of mindless consumerism.   I have neither the time nor the desire to buy (literally) into it.   

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Today's Ten Minutes: On Housekeeping

My mother had a method for teaching her daughters the finer arts of housekeeping.  It wasn’t a good method…probably because my mother wasn’t much of a housekeeper.  Her mother made a living cleaning houses for other people.  Which is, perhaps, why Mom was not really into it.  After all, how can your efforts ever measure up to someone who gets paid to do it?

Every Saturday, each of us girls was assigned an area of the house to clean  One of us got the kitchen, one got the living room, one got the bathroom and the hallway, one got the dining room.  Each of these areas presented its own challenges.  And there were seven people living in about 1200 square feet of space.  Just decluttering the place took half the day.

Anyway, we would be set to our tasks early in the day.  Then Mom and Dad would go off grocery shopping, and we would proceed to plop ourselves in front of the television until about ten minutes before their expected return.  At which time we would sigh, start throwing things in closets, grab the vacuum and the mop and the dustrag and get to it.  Once in a while, if we felt like we really wanted to impress, we would actually dig in and DO a good job.  Or as good as we knew how.

Mom would then come into each room on the inspection tour, look around and say, “What did you do in here?”  Even if we had toiled for two or three hours, actually doing the work, she said the same thing.  “What did you do in here?”  Not once can I remember her coming in and saying, “This looks good.  Great job!”  Nor did she ever grab the broom or mop or dustrag and say, "Here, this is how it SHOULD be done."  We were on our own to figure it out; and it was never going to be good enough, so why bother?

I’m pretty sure that led to my adult outlook toward housework.  I’ve always been over-challenged by the magnitude of it.  For the first ten years of my married life, my house looked like a tornado had struck.  Simply because I knew I didn’t have the time or the energy to do it “right.”  So I just didn’t do it.

Now, I’ve adopted the “It looks better than it did” method of housekeeping.  If I hadn’t, I would have suffocated under a mountain of clutter, cat hair, mold and just plain dirt years ago.  For instance, this morning, I had to tackle the shower in my bathroom.  I won’t even say how long it has been since I scrubbed it.  Suffice it to say there were things growing in there…

So I sprayed it and I scrubbed it and I suffocated in a cloud of bleach fumes.  And I met with limited success.  Nothing short of sandblasting is going to get that shower to look clean as new.  But we don’t invite guests to shower in our master bath, so no one’s going to see it besides me and the hubs.  And I’m sure he’ll be impressed that you can actually SEE that the walls are white.  Or were at one time.

It looks better than it did.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ten Minutes

I’ve subscribed to a daily email called “Daily Writing Tips.”  One of the things they keep harping on is that one should make time to write something—ANYthing—every day.  The tip I received yesterday had me carrying a notebook with me everywhere I went and jotting down stuff while I waited in line at the grocery store or was stuck in traffic.  Okay…those are stupid ideas.  But I got to thinking that maybe the “write something every day” thing might be a good idea.  Surely I can carve out ten minutes a day to write something. 

This will be a challenge though.  It will be hard enough to find those ten minutes somewhere in my day.  But the real test will be to limit myself to those ten minutes.  Because once I sit down to write, it’s almost impossible for me to pry myself away from it until I have something I consider worth looking at.  Which is not to say it really IS worth looking at, but at least in my mind it is…

So, here is my first attempt.  And I’m going to sit down and write a ten-minute blurb for the next…well, however many days I can keep this going.  It ought to be interesting to see what kind of brain-droppings I can squeeze out of my head with this little exercise… 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Checking In

I’ve been incommunicado this week because it has been Scandi Week.  Husband is half  Polish, half German…I am half Hungarian/Romanian and half WASP.  But for four days each August, for most of the last twenty years, we become honorary Scandinavians—in order to serve up mass quantities of food to large numbers of Oregon residents who are either genuine or, like us, temporary Scandinavians who gather every year in Junction City, Oregon.   Anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time is familiar with our annual cultural transformation.

For the past six weeks, we have been investing evenings and weekends stockpiling  product destined for sale at this gig.  We’ve begged, borrowed and stolen freezer space for the more than 4000 puff pastry pockets we produced.   Even some of our regular customers at the café ponied up freezers for us.  We towed “Big Red” the trailer out of storage for its annual starring role.  We hung lights, arranged equipment, assembled costumes and ran around making last-minute purchases.  I spent five whole days away from the café.  (That was probably the hardest part of the whole thing…)

I had some trepidation about how the economy was going to affect our sales this year.  With gas still hovering around $4 per gallon, and the price of everything (including my product) going up accordingly, it was very possible that any less-than-affluent Scandinavian wannabes were going to have to take a pass on the festival this year.  Fortunately, there is no charge for admission, so if they just wanted to show up and walk around, they were welcome to do so.  Of course, that wouldn’t have meant a whole lot of profit for US…  But with a history of more sales in four days than we do in some months at the café, we could hardly afford to take a pass on the thing.  So we went for it.

At times, it looked like events were going to combine to guarantee failure.  Crappy weather was predicted for the weekend.  My insurance company “forgot” to send the proper forms to the event management.  Event management “forgot” to assign us a move-in time.  Up until two weeks before the festival, I was not sure I was going to have a source for one of the major ingredients in one of our best-selling items.   Why does something that we’ve done so many times for so many years—we should be able to do this with one hand tied behind our backs—have to be fraught with so many unknowns?  Just to make sure I get that ulcer I’ve been working on for the past two years, I guess…

In the end, the weather was perfect, attendance was down only a little, and we almost matched last years sales.  Missed it by a couple hundred bucks.  It could have been worse, I know.  Many of the other vendors were  very vocal about the lack of sales this year  So for me to see almost a carbon copy of last year’s numbers did not break my heart.   

So now, I’m home.  It’s almost midnight, but I’m too wound up to sleep.  Which will come back to bite me in the ass tomorrow morning when the alarm goes off at 6:15.  But, all in all, the week went well.  And I learned some things, which I plan to write about in future posts. 

Good night, all.  I’ve got about 6 ½ hours before I have to be up and at ‘em.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

On Religion: Pros and Cons

I’ve written in this space previously about my spiritual agnosticism. I’m not an atheist. I believe there exists a spiritual plane to which we are intimately connected, and about which we know almost nothing. Our chance encounters with the power of that realm have led us to create our pitiful forms of religion—mankind’s weak attempts to put something infinitely too huge for our comprehension into terms that we can understand. And manipulate…

Religious clashes have led to some of the most heinous human behaviors in recorded history. For whatever reason, once a group of modern homo sapiens has crafted a set of beliefs based on its perception of the Source of All Things, it has felt obligated to use those beliefs as a club with which to beat other groups into submission. We’ve gone so far as to weave the concept of "blood sacrifice" into our religious fabric, as a means of sanctifying our primal and uniquely human drive to kill large numbers of our own species. Oceans of blood have soaked the pages of history in the name of "God." The overriding question that comes to my mind in view of all this is, "What the hell is wrong with us???"

Clearly, I am no fan of organized religion. And I’ve often thought that if we could purge religion from modern society, the world would be immeasurably better off. Which is not to say that we could then live in blissful moral anarchy. There need to be rules, need to be codes of ethics in order for human beings to coexist peacefully. Yes, religion has traditionally bade us slit the throat of the guy who doesn’t believe as we do, but it has also passed down admonitions to feed the hungry, care for the indigent, honor our elders, and "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." If we do away with religion, what delivery system are we going to use to express and pass on those codes?

My own recent experience has led me to wonder about this. In the past two years, I’ve had the chance to work with young people of varying religious and social backgrounds. Some of the girls who work for me have had little or no religious training. Others were raised in strictly religious households. And there are marked differences in the way these two groups function.

The non-churched group has real problems with moral ambiguity. Having never been instilled with the codes of behavior that are part and parcel of our human "faith," they’ve been left to their own devices to create the filters through which they view their own behavior and make decisions. They’ve been forced to rely upon something else which permeates every aspect of their lives to form their moral foundations: the media. The media have assumed the role of moral compass. Bounced upon the knee of modern media, these children absorb such credos as "Does it work for me?" "How do I get mine?" and "What’s in it for me?" The idea that their behavior and their choices might have real consequences for other people is entirely secondary, if it’s considered at all.

In contrast, the young people who have been raised in a strict religious atmosphere have been endowed with a completely different set of filters through which they view the world. They were born into a belief system that set forth specific rules of behavior. They were brought up believing that they answered to a higher authority than themselves—higher yet than their parents, teachers or other earthly authorities. They’ve understood almost from infancy that any decision they made needed to be made in the context of that authority. They understand that their actions have implications that go far beyond themselves.

I see this in my own life. I was born and raised Catholic. By the time I reached high school, I had almost entirely rejected the confines of the faith in which I was raised. The bigoted, unimaginative written-in-stone-ness of the dogma drove me away as I grew old enough to chafe at the restrictions of it. But the moral foundation I received as a child of the church—any church—was mine for a lifetime. Catholicism and Judaism have been half-jokingly called religions of guilt. We joke about the knee-jerk guilt we experience whenever we try to color outside the lines of our upbringing. But I’m beginning to think that guilt is not entirely a bad thing. A little guilt—a twinge of understanding that what I do creates ripples that go far beyond myself—can be a healthy and necessary thing.

Those young people I encounter who were given a religious upbringing are now at the age where they are questioning, and in some cases, rejecting, their parents’ religious views. But they will carry the moral imprint with them for the rest of their lives. It will serve them well. It will make them more compassionate, more generous, more respectful and more aware of their duty to others than their unchurched peers. Viewed simply from my own little corner of the world, it certainly has made them better employees!

There are those of my generation who bear some responsibility for the lack of moral upbringing of the youngsters I’m working with now. Our churchy childhoods clashed head-on with the social changes of the sixties and seventies. We had to reject the conservative confines of the faiths in which we had been raised in order to embrace loftier ideals like civil rights, world peace, women’s rights, gay rights… As a result, many of us made the conscious decision NOT to church our children. Let them go on their own voyage of spiritual discovery, we thought, when they reached the age of reason (whatever that is.) It seemed like a logical and fair line of thinking. But in the end, it backfired.

Evidently a spiritual quest is best performed from the platform of having rules in place to accept, reject or build upon. We will seek to change or improve upon the moral code handed us by previous generations; but if we were never given any kind of ethics, we don’t seem inclined to go looking for them. At least, not in the right places. If parents leave the void, it will be filled with whatever pop culture jams into it. So by the time our children reached "the age of reason," they were perfectly satisfied with the self-absorbed me-first lifestyle with which they had been stuffed since they were old enough to watch their first television commercial. They were not inclined to go out looking for a new set of rules.

I have heard young couples say that, though they don’t go to church now, they will start going as soon as they have kids, because "kids need that." And I have thought, "How hypocritical!" But now, I’m not so sure they aren’t correct. Kids DO need that. Some of it, anyway. So how do we go about rejecting the negatives of organized religion while preserving the benefits? How many centuries will it take mankind to come up with some other way to codify positive moral values and pass them on to succeeding generations, while leaving out the mumbo jumbo of blood sacrifice and the admonishment to beat the snot out of those who don’t view the Almighty in exactly the same way?

I don’t think we have that much time.