Friday, August 29, 2003

Thank you!

To Sean, my codemonkey in shining armour, for fixing my comments!

*Sigh*. If only it could have been before the poop blog...

Thursday, August 28, 2003

On Being Nickel & Dimed

I recently finished Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel And Dimed: On not getting by in America. I had been excited to read this book ever since a professor I had 2 years ago recommended it as an excellent commentary on the social mores and culture of status in America.

I was bitterly disappointed.

The premise of the book, for those who do not know, is fairly simple. Ehrenreich, a journalist, sets out to see if one can "get by" on the meager salaries provided by low-wage jobs such as retail, cleaning, and waiting tables. She travels to several cities in various places around the country, procuring low-rent housing (the cheapest she can find) and low-paying jobs, writing all the while about her experiences.

To some, I'm sure that reading about this could be a very enlightening experience. Actually going through it certainly was to her. But her surprise at the maltreatment of her amused me at the very least, and made me roll my eyes scornfully at worst. For the love of God, had she never worked a crap job before? Are people really that out of touch with what it's like to work a crap job?

I guess they are. But for me, I've been through much worse than anything she described. I had to laugh at her shock when management at a restaurant informed the staff that their "break room" was a "privilege, not a right" and could be "taken away at any time". Ha! Break room? At a restaurant?!? Every place I ever waited tables, we were not allowed breaks. We were usually not allowed to eat while we were "on the clock" (usually a 7 + hour shift)--except rolls we could quickly snatch and inhale. Bathroom breaks evoked nasty looks from the management. In fact, I usually didn't take one. I once worked a 13-hour shift and didn't take a bathroom break. I just didn't have the time.

And sheesh, I could go on and on! That's not the worst of it!
I had a customer at a retail establishment grab me by my smock and threaten to kill me; while the manager watched placidly, then forced me to return the customers' money for his (opened) CD.
A manager of a restaurant once tried to rip my clothes right off me--pinning me against the wall by my chin and grabbing at me with his other hand.
A cook threw an ashtray at me when I suggested that he make my customer's steak medium-rare, as they had ordered, instead of well done. Then I was reprimanded for talking to him "disrespectfully".

God, there are countless stories like that. It's not about the huge incidents, but more the day-to-day small humiliations that management in these types of establishment feels compelled to inflict upon their underlings. I've always said that I never had problems with customers in these types of postions, per se; but more the Napoleon-complexed managers who were trapped in crappy jobs.

It's sad to think that enough people haven't experienced the reality of a low-wage job and lifestyle that a book like this is met as such a groundbreaker. Don't get me wrong--she (Ehrenreich) did a great job. I just find it sad that this common-sense information isn't so common-sense.

There are a few things I have taken from the book, though; such as her observations of herself as a Wal-mart employee. She observes that, after having worked there for a reasonable stint, that she has changed as a person. "Barbara" is her Dr. Jekyll side; kind, caring, and reasonable. But at work she becomes "Barb"; a mean, nasty, spiteful, unhappy person. She wonders who she would be if she had worked there indefinitely, if "Barb" would have taken over and reshaped her as a person.
She also observes that, when every day's tasks are exactly like those of the day before's, time blends together seamlessly. It flies by, leaving her wondering what month it is and what happened to all the months previous.

I find some parallels to my own situation there. Since I've been in this godawful repetitive joke of a job, I find that I'm in a constant state of annoyed impatience. I used to be this starry-eyed world-saver, now I have fantasies about kicking people who get in my way on the T. And time? God, where HAS it gone? The weeks do blend together, marked only by the occasional weekend event.

Another thing that touched me deeply, and actually reminded me of the reasons I once went vegetarian, was a comment she made near the book's closing. I don't have the exact quote with me, unfortunately; but the jist was this: When you hire cheap cleaners, when you pay very little for a meal at a fast-food restaurant, when you buy merchandise at a discount store; you are perpetuating this miserable existence. The money the company is saving by lowering their prices so you can put the extra cash towards your Lexus comes out of the pay and benefits of their low-paid and mistreated employees. People are paying for your convenience with their blood, sweat, and tears.

Think of that, as you live your life of spoiled privilege. There are people who still suffer so that you can have it. And I don't just mean your mommy and daddy...

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Bathroom Etiquette

Gaw, I haven't posted in ages. So I guess I should make it worth everyone's while...

I walk into the ladies' room at work this morning, only to find one of the stalls occupied. Not just occupied, but silently occupied. This is the worst kind of occupied. You see, a silent occupation of a stall in the ladies' room indicates that not only is someone pooping, but someone is attempting to poop without letting on that they are pooping. So you will be obliged to do your business in as quick a manner possible, speedily wash your hands, and get out so the Secret Pooper can resume pooping. Otherwise, you're just being rude--trying to listen in on the pooping or just plain embarass the pooper.

Sometimes I'm tempted to wait till the Secret Pooper comes out, point at them and yell "POOPER! POOPER!!!" This is probably their greatest fear--being found out.
*GASP* Everyone will know I poop...

On the other side of the spectrum are the Joyous Poopers. Joyous Poopers revel in every splash, every echoing splat that emits forth from their bowels. Now, this is a rare oddity among women. But I did have the good fortune to encounter one once, here at work, awhile back.
It was a co-worker--an African-American woman of considerable girth. Ungodly, cinematic sound effects came from her stall. And following each one, she would utter some comment. *SPLAT* "Oh, my lord!" *SQUISH* "Oh, sweet Jesus!" *FART* "Oh, my word!"
It was all I could do to not erupt into laughter before I ran out of the room.

Now, your Secret Poopers are not nearly as annoying as the rampant flossers. Now, I understand that brushing one's teeth after meals is "good oral hygiene". Flossing? Great! But in the public restroom? Ewww. You walk in and someone's there at the sink, brushing and flossing away. How rude do you feel peeing while this goes on.? "Oh, excuse me, I'm going to spew forth waste products from my body while you play with your mouth. Hope it doesn't bug you!"
When I encounter a Rampant Flosser, I usually seek out another restroom. Or wait. It just bugs me too much.

Personally, I like to envision a meeting of a Rampant Flosser, a Secret Pooper, and a Joyous Pooper. That would be something to behold! Would the Secret Pooper be inspired by the Joyous Pooper and let go? Would the Rampant Flosser be disgusted enough to leave and complete her flossing elsewhere? One can only speculate...

Another common occurrence is a stand-off between Secret Poopers. Sometimes you'll walk into the bathroom and there will be not one, but two silent stalls. Both occupents are waiting for the other to leave first so she can commence pooping. These stand-offs are known to last days, even weeks; with the participants unrolling endless lengths of toilet paper and shuffling their feet countless times in an effort to conceal the fact that they wish they were pooping. If you encounter a Secret Pooper Stand-Off, it's best to hurry in, complete your business as quickly as possible, and hurry out. This way, the Secret Poopers will not be distracted by your presence and can concentrate on the task at hand.

Talkers have reached epidemic proportions here. There are two kinds of Talkers. Stall Talkers insist on talking to you while they or you or both are actually in the stalls. Eww. Hangout Talkers are trying to avoid being seen talking on the "floor", so are chatting away in the bathroom despite no longer having any business to complete there. Hangout Talkers are the mortal enemy of Secret Poopers, and can set them back entire minutes in their quest for a private poop. And they ick me out almost as much as Rampant Flossers. I mean, what are they doing in there? Smelling the air freshener? Listening to my tinkly pee-jingle? Get a life, people! Back to your cubicles!!!

All this ranting has made me have to pee. I'll catch ya'll later.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

When Geeks Dream

Our apartment, 6:15 am.

Sean: "Wow. You woke me up from a bad dream."

Me: "Awww, honey! What was your bad dream?"

Sean: (sheepish) "You'll laugh at me."

Me: "Er...probably. What did you dream?"

Sean: (grudging and sheepish) "Well...we were asleep in our bedroom. And there were rows and rows of washers and dryers in the bedroom, like they have at the laundromat. And you woke me up and said: 'Honey! Wake up! That penguin we hang out with? I left the dryer on and I think he's stuck inside!'. So I got up and checked and sure enough, there was a penguin going around and around in the dryer. I let him out and he kind of ran off, all dazed. Then I look more closely and say: 'Oh my God! There's a seagull in there, too!' So, I let him out, but he's really angry and starts biting me. I'm trying to pry his beak off my fingers when he just attacks me--pecking and biting. So I hid under the covers and pulled them over my head. That's when it got really weird."

Me: "Er...that's when it got 'really weird'?"

Sean: "Yeah. The next thing I know, a whole flock of seagulls is attacking me--"

Me: (laughing) "A 'Flock of Seagulls'? Did they have the hair--"

Sean: (emphatically) "No. So they're all pecking at me, and I'm saying: 'Hey, stop, just one of you was hurt! And I tried to help!'. But they wouldn't listen. They started dropping .pdf files on me!"

Me: ".pdf files?!?"

Sean: ".pdf files. There was code everywhere. I couldn't figure out what to do to stop it. So you were trying to reconfigure my web server to make it refuse .pdf files and beaks."

Me: ".pdf files and beaks?"

Sean: "Yes. I was shouting instructions to you, and you said you were trying to make it refuse .pdf files and beaks; and I was like 'There's no 'beak' file...' I didn't know what to do. That's when you woke me up."

Me: (not trying very hard to stifle laughter) "I think you're working too hard, honey..."

Now, we'll never know what happened with the seagulls who dropped .pdf files. Did I successfully reconfigure the browser to refuse beaks? Maybe Sean fell back asleep this morning and can let us know in a subsequent blog.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

The Bad News That Wasn't

The phone jangled insistently, startling me out of my data entry reverie. My parents' home number flashed on the console screen, a world away in Maryland.

My grandmother died, I thought; I'm sure of it. It's an "anytime" thing, you see. My mother tries to dissuade me from coming to see her, saying "She wouldn't know me, anyway". I think she's just trying to protect me from what she feels when her own mother looks at her with that bewildered, painful expression of knowing you should know who someone is, but knowing you just plain don't.
She didn't know me at Thanksgiving or Christmas--she actually asked me in a sad, desperate tone of voice where I was. She missed me so very much, and I was right there. But that's how it is, I suppose; with her and those who love her. We miss her, and she's right there.

I sat with my hand on the handset, not ready to answer the phone; savoring the last few moments when I wouldn't yet "know". I've seen enough death to recognize those strange minutes for what they are--odd and surreal in retrospect, the instant before everything changes. It all flashed before me--me as a little girl, my tiny hand folded into her soft wrinkled one; hopping barefoot on the soft grass of her front yard. Her puttering in the garden, a floppy summer hat on her head, a smile on her face. Summer days with watermelon and strawberries. Winter days with roast beef dinners. I thought of seeing all the cousins I rarely see; crying and laughing, remembering and letting go.

And then, taking a deep breath, I answered the phone.

"Hi, honey!", my mother chirped brightly. "How are you doing?"

And so, she hasn't died after all. It was a false alarm. But in those few seconds when I for some reason assumed that she had, I had already buried her. And it's strange to think that I'll have to do it again.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Thoughts for Today

1. Why do black people call each other "Boo-Boo"? They got me lookin' all over for a pic-a-nic basket.

2. I'm beginning to wonder if the apartment will EVER be unpacked. Or should we just leave some boxes to make things easier for the "next move"?

3. Mmmm....pickles.

4. We're going to visit Brandy and Robb in Baltimore next weekend! Yay!!!

5. Sean finally made me baked stuffed shrimp. I brought leftovers for lunch today. But no pickles. :(

6. I'm thinking of taking glass blowing, but the cost of a class is a bit prohibitive...

How are ya'll today?