Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Longing For The "Good Old Days..."

I am a boomer. I came of age just past the middle of the last century. The sixties. The seventies. Those two decades of turmoil turned to enlightenment. When centuries of American apartheid gave way to the Civil Rights movement. When the arms race was shouted down by the Vietnam peace movement. Maybe the hippies—the "flower children" of the sixties and seventies—had it right after all. Maybe all you DO need is love. Maybe their very existence was the Universe’s answer to a cosmic overload of paranoia, xenophobia, race-hatred, and tunnel vision that had been the hallmarks of our nation for far too long. For a few brilliant ticks of time, we seemed to understand that in order for the human race to have a future, any future, we needed to embrace each other, change our polluting ways, quit lobbing bombs at each other, and figure out how to get along.

In retrospect, I’m beginning to wonder…was there really an "Age of Enlightenment," somewhere in the later years of the last century, when people got it? Or was it simply a time when the people who got it somehow managed to get more press than the people who didn’t? Because, judging by the events of the last, oh, six years, there’s no doubt in my mind that the vast majority in this country is composed of people who don’t. Get it. Don’t get that life is not painted in black and white. That there isn’t an "us" and a "them." That if we don’t start thinking in terms of everybody being "us," we will all perish. By our own hand.

I feel old. I hear myself thinking things like, "What’s this world coming to?" and longing for the good old days. The days when the looming shadow of the mushroom cloud was always in the back of our minds. It colored everything we did. It made us stop and think. It made diplomacy a necessity, not an afterthought.

What has this world come to? We’re not afraid of war anymore. We’re not afraid to encourage it in some remote area of the world, confident that it won’t happen here. We’re not afraid to wave our big nuclear stick in the air and threaten to take out anyone who doesn’t subscribe to our current whim. We are the nation with the biggest balls, after all; separated by very large oceans from other countries who might liketo raise up large armies against us and overrun our borders. What do we have to fear? Besides being blown up in airplanes, or in tall buildings in big cities? And Mr. and Mrs. Joe America, who spend 90% of their lives puttering around their own little towns or suburbs, don’t even have to worry about that. Their solution is to give our leaders carte blanche to go "over there" and blow the shit out of "those people" before they can come here. You see? It’s all good. Sigh.

Then again, maybe my point of view over-simplifies things, too. What is the point of all this hatred, fear and strife?  Nobody gets out of this life alive. And I’ve spent enough time at funerals and in hospital rooms over the last couple of decades to realize that there are some particularly nasty "natural" ways to go. It seems to me that it would be better to be blown up after a short life of loving and freedom, openness and inclusion, than spend eighty or ninety years cringing, hating, warring and watching your back. Surely a protracted existence carried out in constant fear and loathing is infinitely more frightening than a rich, full, expansive life cut short by an unseen enemy at some unforeseen time.

How "enlightened" do you need to be to figure that out?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Taking It

The alarm went off at 6. A creaky arthritic arm snaked out from under the blankets to pound the snooze bar. Twice. These days, I go to bed exhausted, and wake up in the same state. Somewhere around noon, with the help of my two-ounce daily allowance of caffeinated beverage, my eyes will open all the way—for about two hours. Then I float back down into that semi-fogged world of bleary-eyed sleep deprivation I’ve inhabited since July 1.

This morning, I dragged my butt down the stairs after my shower…about fifteen minutes later than I had planned. I wanted to get to the café at 7…a half-hour earlier than I really needed to be there. So I was fifteen minutes late for being a half-hour early. And now I needed to hurry out the door if I wanted to get there in time to let the key-less cook in for the start of his shift.

The sprinklers had been turned on, and mewling livestock had been rewarded with bowls of kibbles slid under their noses. Dog had been sent out the back door to take care of business. Chores accomplished, I collected keys, purse, satchel and prepared to fly out to the car. But the kitchen window was open, just a crack…and the soft calls of the goldfinches hovering around the seed sock derailed my businesslike exit.

My birds! The drip irrigation was still dripping, and I have set up one nozzle to dribble into the bird bath, refreshing the water and (hopefully) keeping it from turning too green and scummy in the summer heat. One little yellow bird was merrily bathing under that tiny drip. Fluffing wings, wagging tail feathers, scattering tiny droplets in a joyful shower on the other birds waiting their turn. I was lost in the moment. For several seconds, I couldn’t have moved, couldn’t have dragged myself away from that vignette if the house was on fire. I consciously ignored the little voice that droned that I didn’t have time for this…that I was going to be late. And the thought crossed my mind, about taking time. Taking time to smell the roses.

For several years, I have not had to take time. The roses were there. I had the time. I smelled them.

Now, I have no time. It’s all used up. There is not a moment to spare. If I’m not rushing around putting out fires,walking tightropes, planning changes, poring over invoices and schedules, I’m cramming in a couple hours of sleep in between. And those "boring" days when I had oodles and oodles of time float just outside my grasp. As unattainable as the Grail.

And now I get it. The part about taking the time. So I took it.

I watched, enchanted, while that little bird enjoyed his ablutions. In less than a minute, he finished and flitted away. But those few stolen seconds sent me off with a smile and a calm that changed the entire fabric of my day.

Time. Take some. For the important things.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Look What They've Made Me Do

Let me just say that being a “real” business owner is a fiscal nightmare.  And an accountant’s dream, I suppose.  I’ve decided that accountants must have a powerful lobby in Washington, because the layers upon layers of IRS rules and regulations governing just payroll are mind-boggling.  This is to say nothing of the quarterly, bi-weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, biennial, semi-annual, multilateral, interracial, and multi-orgasmic reports that have to be filed by a legitimate business, with every agent behind every desk of every federal and state bureaucracy in existence.  One could hardly afford not to hire an accountant…one would be have no time to run one’s own business if one tried to wade through this by oneself.

We had an amazing weekend catering at an event with my old business (the twenty-foot concession trailer) this past weekend.  Like shooting fish in a barrel, as the old saying goes.  We brought in more money than we ever have at a weekend event.  More money, in fact, than my newly acquired café brought in all of last month.  Which gave me pause this morning…and touched off a tiny tug-of-war in my head.  For the first time in my life, I felt the overwhelming desire to cheat on my taxes.  Not just the little white-lie cheating that everybody does.  I mean big cheating. 

We don’t use a cash register in the catering booth.  You add up the transaction in your head, throw the money in the money box, and hope you have given out the right change.  (Those of us of a certain age actually know how to make change, which is more than I can say for any one of the employees I inherited with my new business…but I digress.)  So, I thought about that eighteen-inch-tall stack of money I took to the bank, and I thought…no one but me knows exactly what our sales were over the weekend.  My accountant doesn’t know…my husband doesn’t know.  The bank doesn’t know, because I made deposits in two different banks.  We have no cash register, so there is no paper trail.  The only figures in existence are in an Excel spreadsheet on my computer, and I can change those to read anything I want.

I’ve never really been tempted to cheat on my taxes before--for two reasons.  The first reason being that I am the kind of person that cannot get away with anything.  I got pulled over by a cop once, and he told me he’d have to give me a ticket this time, but the next time he might just write me a warning (?!?)  I exude some kind of guilt pheromone when I’m trying to get away with something not quite savory.  So I generally just don’t bother.

But the second reason is, I always felt that my tax money was, for the most part, being put to proper use.  I knew that if I expected the society in which I lived to provide things like education for the children, support for the indigent, good roads and police protection, I needed to ante up.  I never could understand these anti-taxation idiots who whine about taxing being excessive and illegal, but grumble out of the other side of their mouths about the potholes and the lack of prison beds, and want to run around the world with a big stick to make the rest of the world toe the line.  Where the hell do they think the money comes from to make these things happen?

Which brings me back to my newly-inspired desire to cheat on my taxes.  I look at what my country is, in this day and age, and exactly where that tax money is going, and I think, “I’m sorry, I can’t support any of this.”  I can’t support an illegal war financed with billions of dollars that could and should be going to support the indigent, educate the children, fix the roads, fund research to free us from the burden of dependency upon foreign oil, clean up our environment and make sure we leave our planet fit for our children to inhabit.  I can’t pour my blood sweat and tears into the pit of deficit spending created by our GOP-led government.  I can’t give my money to the people who will continue to ignore, abuse and disenfranchise me and the rest of the middle class at every opportunity.  It would be like buying a .44 magnum and pointing it at my own head.

So, I wonder…how many tax cheats does this administration create each day?  And why do I feel as if this—this difficult choice between two wrongs—is just one more betrayal of the middle class by the Bush Administration and the GOP?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I don’t want to limit myself to the five minute timer…but I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to write before I pass out.

Scandi went great. Better than expected, and infinitely more. We showed a 23% increase over last year. $21,250 and change vs $17, 333 last year. I suppose that doesn’t mean much to anyone who hasn’t been intimately involved with a business that lives and dies by the numbers…but those are good numbers. I am proud. I am happy, and I am tired. But, I went into the whole thing tired. So this is nothing new. And, though it’s nearly midnight, I had to log in here to report my success. To…whomever. Anybody out there who might care. I’m sure there are one or two of you who do….J

And…today, I cast an exhausted yet somewhat renewed eye back upon the café, and made a few "executive decisions." Let me preface this by reporting that, while we were having a beyond excellent weekend at the Scandinavian Festival, the café was struggling through another weekend of spotty, anemic business. I don’t really want to speculate about the reasons for the café’s recent tailspin. But I did have one "a-ha moment" over the weekend: I decided that if I was going to fail, I wanted to fail with my own concept, and not someone else’s. So, all of Mr. Previous Owner’s warnings about not changing anything lest I alienate the (meager) regular customer base are going into the circular file.

I’m going to make this café mine. From the menu to the crew to the décor…it’s going to be the restaurant I’ve always envisioned. That way, if I fail, I will know it was MY concept that was crap. I’m not really interested in finding out if I can make someone else’s idea of a restaurant successful. Is this risky? Damned straight. Anytime you invest that much of yourself into something…anytime you put your heart and soul into a dream, it’s going to hurt all that much more if you fall flat on your face Nothing good ever comes without taking some kind of risk. I’m older now…wiser. I’ve soared through success, I’ve wallowed through loss. Enough to know that, whatever happens, I’ll survive. And to know that victory is all that much sweeter when yourisk everything to achieve it.

So I hired four people today. Did this weird, mass-interview thing. I’m sure the four of them had never quite been in this kind of interview before. I’m not sure I knew what the hell I was doing, suffering as I am from extreme stress and sleep-deprivation. But if I know nothing else, I know it’s time to re-invent the place, starting today. Bring in people who will see me as the boss. Who don’t know about our landlord-cum-former-owner. Who will look to me for inspiration, direction, and discipline. Lucky members of the old crew will observe and learn. Unlucky ones will be out pounding the pavement for another job within a matter of weeks, if not sooner.

I told my husband, I’m trusting the Universe to send me what I need. So far, It has been remarkably cooperative. Day by day, I discover little things, little blessings, that I don’t deserve and don’t expect, raining down on me…just to remind me that there is a higher power that might possibly care, might possibly want to allow me to succeed… I need that success; I so need that affirmation right now. And Someone knows that…

My internet connection has been extremely wonky this evening. In fact, I see that I’m going to have to go mess around with it before I’ll be able to post this entry. But, I just wanted to give anyone who cares a little update on what’s going on with me. Please continue to float positive energy my way. I can use it more than you can possibly know.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Time for Another...

Five minutes (or less) until I officially turn into a pumpkin. I was determined to be in bed by midnight tonight. I’ll make it…almost. After another five-minute snippet (I need to learn to type faster…)Tomorrow I go in to the café for a few hours in the morning, and then head down south to Junction City for the Scandinavian Festival--Café de la Rue’s biggest gig of the season. There was no way I was NOT going to do it this year…too much money involved. So I take off the Café owner mask and don the Scandinavian costume for a weekend. Trust me, even though it will involve four fourteen-hour days, and cranking out pocket sandwiches by the thousands, it will be like a mini-vacation. Going from wading my way through entrepreneurial quicksand to doing something that, though intense, I could probably do in my sleep. And I will enjoy the heck out of it.

I will NOT let thoughts of what could possibly be going on a hundred miles north tear me apart. I figure, I’m going to own the café for, god willing, a long time. One weekend away is not going to cause the whole house of cards to topple in on itself. I’ll go back Monday morning, probably feeling like I’ve been run over by a truck, but refreshed, and hopefully with a shade of new perspective on the café thing. It will be good to get away for a few days.

Friday, August 4, 2006

...Another Five Minutes

So, in the last two days, we have burnt, spoiled, dropped, or otherwise ruined about a hundred dollars (raw cost) worth of food. That would translate into about $400 worth of sales. I have a crew of cooks who wouldn’t use a timer to save their lives. Black bacon, quiches left in the oven overnight, turkey that comes out of the oven after ten hours looking like mop strings. I’ve already decided I have to fire the whole kitchen crew. Trouble is, this is a small town, and I don’t exactly have them lining up at the door to come work for me. Apparently, the previous ownership shot through the available labor pool rather quickly. That’s another story…

I bought some flowers to put out on the sidewalk, around the doors and under the windows, to make it look as if there actually WAS an inviting eating establishment open in this place. Despite the previous owners warnings that I not change anything lest I lose the loyalty of our regular customers, I’ve found that our ranks of "regular customers" are so small that I need to do anything I can possibly do to recruit MORE regular customers. Including changing the menu, changing the staff, changing the hours—all those things that Mr. Previous Owner was certain ought to be written in stone. Stone crumbles, my friend… And "regular" customers tend to ask, "What have you done for me lately???"

Thursday, August 3, 2006

What's happening in five minute sound bites...

Just in case anyone out there is wondering how it’s going… I thought I would set the timer on my watch and give myself exactly five minutes to write…stream of consciousness..about what’s been going on.

I’ve discovered that under normal circumstances, caffeine (which I had all but quit five years ago) gives me a pleasant buzz, makes me chatty and friendly, and generally improves my mood and sociability. However, when I am stressed, rushed, and dangerously sleep deprived, caffeine turns me into the bitchiest harpy that ever walked. I have no patience, I throw things, I drop things, I say stupid things, and I just about burst into tears at the slightest provocation. Note to self: Quit caffeine. As soon as I can stop long enough to figure out how to do that…

After ten years away from the customer service game, I have come to realized that customers have not changed. They will come to the restaurant in large, noisy groups when we are under-staffed. They will want whatever we just ran out of, even if we haven’t sold one of (whatever) in the last five months. They will beat on the doors when they are locked, but will not venture to show their faces during normal business hours. These are parts of the Credo of the Customer that I have long been aware of. The trick is to make them think you are understaffed, unprepared, or closed…just to get them to come in. What?????

Oh, well, my five minutes are up, and I haven’t written anything of great import. I considered doing an audio entry…I may yet, if I can figure out houw to do it in ten seconds or less. But once you all hear my voice, you’ll probably stay away in droves. Just like the customers.

See ya sometime…