Sunday, July 27, 2008

Today's Special: Life Lessons

Although July has been a blessedly restful month for me at the café, it has not been without its dramas.  The “I want hours, no I don’t” scenario has continued to play out with several of my longer tenured employees.  Fortunately, I am over-staffed at the moment, so when they decide to crap out on me at the last minute, I either have so many people on the schedule that we won’t miss the miscreant, or there are plenty of people available to call to cover a shift.  For a short time, that fact alone seemed to have caused the old staff to get religion.  Knowing that there were others available and willing to step in when they flaked out gave them a little something to think about.  Sadly, that seems to be wearing off, now, and they are back to their old ways. 

Cook in Training No. 1 continues to be the star of this particular show.  Back in June, after graduating from her high school completion class, she left me a long, impassioned note about how she was now available to work any hours, wanted to work forty hours and, in fact, needed the hours/money in order to pay her bills.  And then she requested a week’s vacation.

After her return about four weeks ago, I took her at her word and started giving her as many hours as I could send her way.  None of my girls works a forty-hour schedule, not even the good and faithful “D,” who is the closest thing I have to a manager.  Hours of operation and the timing of rush hours, coupled with the fact that these guys seem to burn out if I give them any more than 35 hours a week, have dictated this policy.  So Cook No. 1 got between 30 and 40 hours on the next three schedules.  Essentially, she got exactly what she asked for, within my ability to grant it.

By the end of the first week of her new schedule, Cook No. 1 was already draggin’ her wagon.  All we heard when she showed up for work was how tired she was, and she was the first one to raise her hand if the need arose to send someone home early.  Odd behavior for someone who needed the money so badly, but I figured perhaps it would take a few weeks for her to get used to working so many hours.  (This in itself is crazy to me…when I was her age, I was working 45 to 50 hours with one day off a week.  AND I was young and in love, and future husband and I still seemed to have time to have a life and advance our relationship.  Yes, I know, this smacks of  “I walked to school uphill both ways in the snow when I was your age…”)

Long story short, after three weeks of working what passes for full-time these days, young Cook had apparently had her fill.  She went home sick two days in a row the fourth week.  But found time to research and register for some school program for which she will begin classes August 11.  And left me a note about how she was sorry, but she needed to go back to school and would only be available to work Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays after school started.  Was I surprised?  Not really.  Was I disappointed?  Not really.  I knew in my heart that young Cook did not want what she was asking me for. 

In another life, I would have been proud to fill the role of mentor in her life.  She’s a smart, talented girl, and if she wasinclined, she could have become an important part of our team.  Working at the café could have been a valuable learning experience for her, instead of a constant tug-of-war between her issues and her desire to rise above them.  It’s been obvious for some time that the issues  were winning. 

At least someone has turned this into a learning experience:  ME.  I’ve learned something about these young girls who have grown up in single-parent households, the kind of young women who, for good or ill, constitute a large percentage of the labor pool available to me.  These girls have one huge handicap:  young, irresponsible Gen-X mothers.  Who have raised their daughters, especially the older ones,  mostly as free day-care for younger siblings, and handy shoulders upon which to unload their messed-up parents’ dramas.  There's more of a co-dependent relationship going on here than a parent/child relationship.  More often than not, the daughter has had to take on the role of the adult.

In the olden days, our drive to become autonomous human beings caused us to lash out against the traditional authority figures in our lives: our parents.  They got the brunt of our teenage angst—that torturous time of life when adulthood is both the prize and the punishment toward which we are hurtling hell bent for leather.  But for these girls—who are essentially parentless, and were royally gypped when it came to childhood—that angst, that “Here, give me a hand…no, don’t touch me” stuff needs to find another outlet.  So folks like teachers and, unfortunately, bosses, get smacked in the face with it.

Yet that in itself  wouldn’t be enough to deter me.  I mean, I get it.  I understand that, as a business owner, I’m set up to play the “Evil Boss” role in people’s lives.  And I have been largely successful in combating that stereotype.  But these goofy mothers throw up yet another roadblock for me:   They viciously defend their title of “mother,” and they are extremely threatened by the existence of another competent woman taking any kind of role in their daughters’ lives.  In short, the mothers hate me (no, they don’t know me personally, but they hate the idea of me…) and are not shy about letting their daughters know it in no uncertain terms.

I’ve made it a personal policy to be available to help and mentor any employee who should so desire, but I’m not trying to BE anyone's mother (though heaven knows many of these girls could use one…) If I can contribute to a young person’s long-term welfare, I am happy to do it.  In fact, it’s one of the rewards of the job.  But I’m not about to play tug-of-war with some deranged parent for the affections of her daughter.  That’s sad for me…but it’s a disaster for these young girls. 

I wish things could be different. 

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Just my luck that when I come up for air, there’s nobody around.

Either everyone has found something more interesting to do with their summer days than sit in front of the computer….

Or no one is the slightest bit interested in my political opinions.


That’s the drawback of this hit and miss ethereal “community.”  People appear and disappear…fade in and out of the woodwork.  And I just let them go.  I’ve never been an “in your face” kind of friend.  Never been one to pursue people if I feel they’re headed away from me.  It’s a combination of my natural reserve and the lessons my birth order taught me.  I’m the youngest…the “baby.”  From the time I was little, I knew that if my presence was desired, my sisters would come get me.  Conversely, if I was not invited to be part of an activity, it was because I was aggressively  not welcome.  Like as in, “Beat it, you little brat!”  So I learned to just…wait for other people to come to me.  Always assuming that if they didn’t make the first move, they didn’t want me.  No amount of telling myself that I’m a big girl now and “you have to be a friend to get one” can undo that early imprinting and give me the courage to barge into people’s lives.  Because that’s what it feels like to me.  Poking my nose somewhere where it’s really not wanted.  Yes, I know that’s utter bullshit, but it is what it is.

So I’ve sucked at “community” all my life.  I’m not interesting or charismatic enough for people to come flocking to me,  and I’m just not going to walk up to people and say, “Hi! My name is Lisa.  You want to be my friend?”   The sidelines have always been my neighborhood.  I’m the quintessential wallflower.

Then you have to ask yourself, what’s the point of a wallflower having a blog?  Having a blog is all about cultivating a readership, right?  And if you’re not going to go out there and promote yourself, how are you going to get any readers?  And if you don’t have any readers, who the hell are you writing to?

Good questions, all.  I can only say that, in the early days of AOL journal land, the pool was small enough that you picked up readers more or less by accident.  We were all out there, searching through the relatively tiny community, looking for people who shared our interests or had something engaging to say.  Some of us picked up a couple dozen regular readers…  Some of us connected with hundreds.  Those with the hundreds of readers probably aren’t around anymore…they either burned out or went on to greater things, perhaps aided by the ad-inspired AOL exodus of a couple years ago.

I was one of those with the couple dozen faithful readers.  We were “friends.”  We read each other’s journals, cheered each other’s successes, gave out virtual hugs by the hundreds, gave counsel when needed.  And I suppose it’s pretty amazing that I still have contact with two or three of that original group.  But we’ve all gone through changes in the last five years, changes that have reshaped the role of the blog community in our lives.  Children, grandchildren, career swaps, bereavements, accidents and relocations…  The virtual community does not adequately roll with all those changes, at least for most people.  They turn to the flesh and blood connections in their lives when things get tough.  For those of us (those of me?) for whom blogland has been the ONLY community in the past five years…well, it’s gettin’ kind of empty out here.

At least once a year, when I sit down at the computer to write and I understand that my words will touch fewer and fewer eyes or hearts, I do this little reassessment.  I think hard about whether it really is worth it anymore.  Because, to be honest, though I don’t live or die by the comments or the hit counter anymore, it’s still a bummer when you write something you’re particularly proud of, and no one reads.  Especially now, when I have so little time or energy to direct toward this thing I love most in the world.  It’s that much more special (to me) when I manage to string two coherent sentences together.  And that much more of a disappointment when no one responds.

It boils down to two questions:  Why do I still do this?  Should I still do this? 

And every time, the answer is pretty much the same.  I write because it’s what I do.  And I write here because, well, why not?  I just can’t go back to writing stuff that I KNOW no one else is going to read.   Here in my little public space, I can continue to entertain the fantasy that some other person in the world will read what I write, even if it’s by accident.  Though that won’t ease my nostalgia for the community that has come and gone, it’s enough to keep me here. 

And, come to think of it, it’s what brought me here in the first place.        

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Waking Up to Current Events

Up until a few weeks ago, I was so submersed in the café and all its multiple layers of challenges that I had no time to write.  And if I did have a minute or two to call my own, my brain was too fried to craft anything worthwhile.  Forget about creativity…legibility would have been a stretch.  I was to the point where I could barely speak without screaming, growling or sobbing.  I had no desire to try to write from that place. 

All it took was a few successful (at least for now) hires to scoop me out of there and lift me to the plateau upon which I now find myself.  After successfully completing what passed for a vacation—a week in which I only had to work 1 ½ days—my chronic exhaustion began to abate.  In the two weeks since, I have been able to wangle two—count them, TWO—days off in every seven.  I’m almost beginning to feel human again.  Unfortunately, my ever-churning mind cannot seem to take advantage of the opportunity to switch off for awhile.  Sans the overload of café issues that have been swirling around in it for the past many moons, it has begun sucking in new topics.  Or perhaps it is simply letting in the stuff that would have been there, had it not been running over with entrepreneurial backflow.

First and foremost, there is the national political scene to worry about.  I can’t help but notice that the whole election process appears so much less snarky than it was four years ago.  With the exception of that horrid cartoon on The New Yorker, I’ve hardly seen or heard anything that has  made me want to scream at the television or hide my head under a cardboard box until the election is over.  I don’t know if this is because the Karl Roves of the world have been excluded from the process this time, or if the candidates are aware of the average American’s increasing disgust with the divisiveness, or if the media have for some reason changed their focus from creating sensation to responsible reporting (this seems doubtful…)  Or maybe John McCain and Barack Obama are just un-sensational men.  Well, that can’t be it.  Who could possibly be more un-sensational than George W. Bush?

And then there is the economy. 

I posted a prophetic little blurb back in March.  Rather than link to it, I’ll just copy it verbatim here (it’s short….):

Gas Prices Rise to New National Record

Watch for prices of just about everything to reach a bone-crunching crescendo as the Bush Administration grabs for every dollar it can for its Big Energy puppet masters, before it goes down into the tarpits at the end of this year...

Can they accomplish this without laying complete waste to the nation's economy?  Probably not.

Do they care what happens to the nation's economy?  Obviously not. 

Their solution:  Go borrow a bunch of money from China, throw a few bucks at the general population as you bow out, stuffing your pockets all the way, and let the next administration worry about cleaning up the mess.


Not really...

The soulless avarice of the Bush Administration is without peer, at least in modern memory.  This administration has existed for one purpose and for one purpose only: To advance the political and financial aspirations of Big Energy, particularly Big Oil.  I do not believe there is anything they would not do, anyone they would not kill, any society they would not destroy, any war they would not start, in order to establish and maintain their place as the richest and most powerful men in the world.  They would do anything to tighten their grip on a few more billion dollars.  And have no doubt, money does equal power.  The Texas Junta has demonstrated this so flagrantly that one would have to be the equivalent of an animated potato to have missed it. 

I further predict that gas prices and the economy will miraculously heal themselves almost immediately upon George W. Bush’s exit from the White House. It is to be hoped that we can all dig in our fingernails and hang on until that time…           

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's Summer... yay.

I have a birthday coming up this Saturday.  I’ll be fifty-three.  I don’t bother to lie about my age.  I don’t think about it very much.  Come to think of it, I invest a lot of effort into not thinking about it very much.  Kind of like the duck that looks so serene and smooth gliding over the water, while her feet are paddling like mad under the surface.       


Sometimes, though, one just can’t avoid the things that make it obvious that one is, shall we say, past one’s prime?  They flash like pop-ups on the screen of denial.  And there’s no patch available to make them go away.


For instance, I noticed that I’ve undergone a metamorphosis when it comes to my preference for seasons.  I used to love summer. Long sunny days, warm nights, baseball, picnics, hours spent splashing in the tepid waters of the Wisconsin northwoods, evenings around the campfire, talking (and imbibing) ‘til the wee hours.  Much as summer is touted as the season to lie back, relax and vacate, everything about it screams, “Get out there and enjoy it. NOW!”  I just don’t have the reflexes for that anymore.  By the time I’ve realized it’s summer and I need to get out and have fun, it’s September.


And needless to say, sultry nights are no longer my friend.  There are not enough fans in the world to make 70 degrees a comfortable sleeping temperature for me.  Sometimes I keep a window open and a fan blowing on me in the middle of winter.   The closer my bedroom temperature comes to that of a walk-in cooler, the better I sleep.  Even so, for the past few summers, I’ve been able to come to some kind of terms with sleeping temperature by having a fan in the window blowing directly on to the bed all night.   But the husband, who is right beside me on this descent into old fart-hood, is on blood thinners now…so he is always cold.  And the window is on his side of the bed.   Now, his last act every night before climbing between the sheets is to disable my precious, essential stream of cool air.


As I lie in bed sweating, steaming and cursing, an image comes to mind of a friend and me cruising up the freeway over the state line for a (not strictly legal) drink, at ten o’clock on an August night.   Eighty miles per hour, top down, wind whipping, northern lights twinkling above.  It was magic.  It was summer.   


I don’t do eighty miles per hour anymore.  I’m much more about the  “slow graceful glow of age.” 


Autumn.  Autumn seems to suit me very nicely these days.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Thoughts On Patriotism

Today is Independence Day.  The day we Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence—our first step toward becoming a sovereign nation.  Not a difficult thing to celebrate.  Our founding fathers were a brilliant, driven group of men.  They had it in their heads to wrestle their freedoms out of the hands of an absentee monarchy and command their own ship of state. 

It was a logical and progressive thing to do, to throw off the chains of an obsolete, distant government—one which was unfamiliar with and often contemptuous of the special needs of its subjects settled halfway across the globe for more than a century.  It made much more sense to create a seat of government for this land on this side of the Atlantic.  Yet, even considering these things, it was a difficult and eventually a bloody undertaking. 

Patriots won us our independence and put us on the road to becoming the country we are today.  We bought our independence with blood, we bled to keep it.  Our willingness to spill blood—both ours and others’—took us from sea to shining sea, and it nearly tore us in half.  A hundred or two hundred years ago, it might have been necessary to pour out blood to preserve and protect the freedoms our founding fathers spelled out in The Declaration.  There were plenty of forces in the world for whom success of a nation which trusted the people to choose their leaders and form their government was a dire threat.  We needed patriots who were willing to fight and die for that freedom.  We needed the concept of patriotism to flourish far and wide in the land, in order for the people to stand behind, and continue to fund and send forth, those soldiers and sailors charged with the protection of our freedoms.

But here in twenty-first century America, “patriotism” has largely lost its purity of purpose.  We don’t use the word to describe an abiding love and concern for our country and its revolutionary concepts of freedom and government by the people.  We use it to defend indefensible acts—like our president choosing to invade and destroy another country simply because he could. Acts like waterboarding and other forms of torture.  Acts like not prosecuting a private citizen in Texas for grabbing his trusty shotgun and killing two men who broke into his neighbor’s empty home.

We use the word as a weapon of fear and hatred.  We throw it in the faces of those who disagree with our personal politics.  We use it to measure the worth of the guy next door, and he generally comes up wanting.   I have never lived through darker days than the tenure of our current commander-in-chief, days when people actually feared to utter criticism of our government and the direction it took us in the aftermath of 9/11.  One stunning attack on our homeland was enough to cause us to renege on the freedom for which so many patriots had fought and died on so many battlefields.   “We’re afraid,” we cried.  “Protect us and you can take our freedoms.”   And the administration was happy to oblige.  Surely patriots were spinning in their flag-adorned graves…

So who can blame me, now, if I hesitate to snatch up the banner of “patriotism” and wave it over my head today?  It looks like something that fell out of Pandora’s box.  It’s ragged and putrid and covered with blood.  Yet, I should shove it under my neighbor’s nose and growl, “Love it or leave?”

I love this country.  I love her diversity, I love her beauty, I love what she still  stands for, in most of our hearts, despite the direction in which she has been dragged for the past several years.  I love that she has been a noble force in the world, and she can be again.  I love that there is still hope in our hearts that the next administration to whom we entrust the wheel of the ship of state can steer her gently but confidently back toward her original worthy course.

And I love that, because of the freedoms for which American patriots have fought and died for centuries, I can declare that I’ll take a pass on waving the beaten-up scrap that passes for patriotism today…until the shining banner of the genuine article is available once again.