Monday, June 28, 2010

Not Likin’ Me Much….

Sleep deprivation and stress seem to be turning me into a person I really don't like very much.

Time was, when I hired a new employee, I could observe how that person learned, analyze his/her talents and strengths, ferret out the weaknesses, and—taking all those things into account—almost immediately turn that newbie into a functional member of the team. Not so much anymore. I just do not have the patience.

Three weeks ago, I hired two young men—one twenty-two-years old, and one twenty. Each of these kids possessed a resume that included some months served in some kind of commercial cooking environment; and each had some degree of formal culinary schooling. On paper, they appeared to have what it took to make them successful candidates for a cook's job at the café. Yet it took less than three weeks for both of them to go down in flames.

I'll just say here and now that, after all the staffing hassles I've encountered since buying the restaurant four years ago, I take nothing, and I mean NOTHING, for granted. I no longer bring people on staff with an expectation of success. I find it hard to even stand back and wait to see what happens. My attitude is more like, "I know the highest probability is that you are going to suck, or if you don't suck NOW, you'll suck shortly down the road. Prove me wrong…!"

I hate having that attitude. I hate expecting the worst from people. Negative thinker that I have always been, I have up til now had a way of expecting good from people. Expecting honesty, respect, empathy and a knowledge of some kind of decent work ethic. But somewhere along the line, the things I just took for granted from people have become almost extinct. These qualities are not only not part of prospective employees personalities; the words are hardly in their vocabularies (and they would not be able to spell them if they were…but that's a rant for a different day.)

Recently, I've been doing a lot of thinking about my work. I realize that I have been working myself to death just keeping the doors of the café open. I'm wearing every hat, doing every job, nose to the grindstone, hardly looking up to even see or recognize the faces of the people who inhabit my world. The customers. The staff. I don't know their stories, and I can't care about them. I have too much on my plate to care about the people. And there is something drastically, tragically wrong with that picture.

I feel like, within the next, say, six months to a year, I'm going to have to make a choice. Because just opening the doors and serving food is not what I want my business to be about. I have to be able to disentangle myself from the eternal knot of bullshit that has ensnared me since I took over the café. It seems like it's been drawing me in deeper and deeper, binding me tighter and tighter, until I can't pull far enough away from it to see the Big Picture. To BE the moral business owner I want to be. To care about my staff, the customers, ALL the people I come in contact with every day. And act accordingly.

What I have to figure out is, the way people are these days, CAN I care about them? Because part of the problem is that I have a really hard time caring about people who can't or won't reciprocate in any way. Have people become so self-centered, greedy and rude that I just can't find a way to care? It's not that I expect kudos or gratitude or…really, anything positive when I go out of my way to be kind or fair or respectful of people. I just don't expect to be treated like crap…which, unfortunately, is what happens most of the time these days. It's my misfortune that I tend to treat people as they treat me. Altruistic I am not, apparently.

So what I know is that I don't like this person I have turned into since I bought the restaurant. What I have to figure out is if I can change that, or if I just have to…bail.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Painful Encounters

I'm trying to decide whether I'm just overtired, or if hyper-sensitivity is something I've always had, but is serving to make my current life that much more difficult.

This business of long-term employees leaving "the nest" has been much harder on me than I would have thought.

Because we live in a small town, I can't help but casually encounter just about everyone who ever worked for me. I'd have to never go out and about in my own home town if I wanted to avoid these meetings. (Not very practical...but I have to admit, somewhat attractive, at the moment.)

Saturday afternoon, we had company, and since my own restaurant closes at 3 pm, we decided to try one of the other local eateries. It's good to keep tabs on what the competition is up to, anyway. But this particular place happens to be where one of my lost employees obtained employment (BEFORE giving me her notice...) I hoped against hope that Ms. Former Employee would not be at work that day. But I only had to glance through the glass as we headed for the entrance to understand that was a vain hope.

She saw us immediately. I smiled, waved.

We sat in this nearly empty restaurant in the middle of the afternoon, and Ms. Former Employee did not come any where near us. Avoided us like the plague. Hid in the back room, I think, when possible.

This girl who shared my Thanksgiving table two years ago, will now not even speak to me.

Who knows? It may not be that she hates me. It may not be that I am the total scum of the earth (which is how I felt.)

It may be that she was just so uncomfortable about the way we had parted that she couldn't deal with my presence on any positive level.

I held it together as long as we were at the restaurant. Made believe it didn't bother me. Pretended not to care.

And when we got home, I excused myself to my bedroom sanctuary...threw myself on the bed and sobbed like a toddler. Just for a few minutes...

I told my sister I was happy I had never had kids.

Because if other people's kids could break my heart like this, being rejected by my own children (and they WILL reject their parents, at some's part of their job description) would probably kill me.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Take That…

I did something mean today.

I got home from work about 2:30 this afternoon. And, it being the first nice day we've had in, well, forever (the local news says we've suffered through 21 straight days of rain, including rainfall amounts in the last two days equal to the normal rainfall for the entire month of June…), all I wanted to do was flip a couple of cups of sunflower seed into the feeder, sit on my back deck, soak up the sun and watch birdie TV. Quietly. No noise. No music. Just the soft chatter of the avian diners and the buzz of the occasional fly or wasp drifting by. A glass of pinot gris at my elbow and a mindless game of spider solitaire on my lap. Was that too much to ask?

Well, of course it was. Next thing I know, one neighbor's dog is barking, through the fence, at the other neighbors, who evidently have company and have chosen to give the "grand tour" of their back yard. From ten feet away on my left, I'm suddenly hearing:



"ARE THESE MORE STRAWBERRIES? OH, BLACKBERRIES, HUH?" (Like you could confuse the two….?!)

…and so on.

Now, these neighbors have vexed me much. They cut down the trees that screened my yard from theirs. They built Disneyland in their back yard. They send smoke of burning rubbish piles through my open windows. They till their garden at first light on Sunday morning. Most recently, they have acquired a chicken. A chicken, for gods' sake. Do you have any idea how LOUD one upset chicken can be? In a neighborhood where a dozen backyards snug up to one another in the space of about three acres? And this chicken is housed maybe fifty feet from my bedroom window?

So, this afternoon, their noisy stupid garden tour ten feet from my quiet sanctuary sent me over the edge. I stood up, retreated to my family room, opened all the windows and doors, and turned on the stereo. Loud. So that I could hear it clearly from my refuge on my back deck. Wanting only to drown out the unwelcome intrusion from the other side of the fence. Sort of.

The CD that happened to be in the queue was Kenny G. So it's not like I blasted them out with Led Zeppelin or anything.

I assume they were pissed. Almost immediately, they drifted away from the fence. Withdrew to their own deck, which is at least as far away as they can get from ME and still be in their own back yard. And within five minutes, they departed from there into their house.

"Hmmm…" I mused wickedly. "Well done!"

I half expected them to come knocking on my door to complain about how rude I was.

But I had my retort handily prepared:

"Tell that to your CHICKEN at 6:30 on Sunday morning…."