Showing posts with label work. Show all posts
Showing posts with label work. Show all posts

09 December, 2016

Notes on the Grand Experiment: nothing but a twisted ankle will get me down...

 In forgiving an injury be somewhat ceremonious, lest your magnanimity be construed as indifference. - Ambrose Bierce

Buster Keaton, Steamboat Bill, Jr., (1928)

Somewhere between trying to forget that I hate washing dishes and trying to remember that I do, in fact, like cheese*, I've been remiss in my writing and podcasting duties. Catering, maybe more so than any other job I've had (other than teaching) is more than a job. It is a universe entirely unto itself. It operates on its own time and at it's own speed regardless of and in spite of what speed the Earth is spinning on its axis. It reminds me a lot of life in theater, too, except for the absence of wrap parties. It's driven by a chaotic energy** that doesn't quit and it requires a certain steel backbone and a particular emotional acquiescence in order to enter it.

As it happens, I am a dishwasher. Being a dishwasher requires a respect for the absurd futility of life.

It also helps to be fast.

One of the things that helps, other than I get to listen to loud music and being nice is considered more of a liability than an asset in a working kitchen, is that I keep the image of Sisyphus firmly in my mind. No matter how many hotel pans I wash, there will always be more. No matter how many times in any given work day I wash the 3 foot tall mixing bowl that the bakery uses to mix batter and the hot side uses to make mashed potatoes, it will always come back and will always need to be washed. No matter how many times I wash cutting boards...

you get the idea.

It never stops. Not really. The goal isn't so much to finish as it is to get things looking like everything isn't one dirty sauce pan away from collapsing under the weight of the gravitational chaos the entire catering cosmos is built upon.

Of course, it would happen during what  is probably the busiest week of the last half of the year that I fall and twist my ankle. I didn't even fall at work, though I'm sure a few of the people I work with have been surprised that hasn't happened. No. I fell in my driveway Because life is basically absurd and futile and it never stops.

Well, Dear Readers, there's always tomorrow. And I'm scheduled for a double. Thank God for over the counter painkillers.


If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:
www.amazon.com/author/mickparsons

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*I wash so much cheese sauce in any given week. On the other side of nearly being broken of my love for cheese, they make maybe the best Kentucky Hotbrown I've ever eaten.
**Working in a busy catering kitchen is pretty much like signing yourself into an insane asylum. Just take your medicine and enjoy the ride.

17 October, 2016

Notes from the Bunket #6: the grand experiment resumes

Lord give me a job of work to do. - Tom Paxton


Back to the work force for me. After nearly 6 months of drawing unemployment and trying to find work in a field for which I have ample training and massive experience, I have, at the tender age of 43, entered an industry where I have hardly any expertise at all.

Getting a job in catering means signing yourself into an insane asylum, regardless of how sane you actually are.* It moves fast and for the most part -- even in a good shop, like where I work -- what you don't know you pretty much have to pick up on yourself. It means asking a lot of questions, sometimes to the point of annoying people who would rather work around you to get the job done instead of trying to teach a newbie how things work. While I have tended bar and worked around food, there is a mountain's worth of difference between serving in a sports bar or bowling alley working in fine dining. There are expectations. There are particular ways of doing things so customers feel like they got their money's worth out of the thousands of dollars they spent in hiring us.**

Catering is the kind of work with long and irregular work schedules. 12 hour days are not only common, they are pretty much the norm. With the holiday season fast approaching, I know there are long days and even longer weeks ahead.  It's the nature of the thing and you have to be willing to embrace the tidal wave even attempt it. People at the shop have been asking me if I've gotten used to the long days. To be honest, it's not been the schedule that bothers me. I could tell them about teaching at 3 or 4 different universities at once, sometimes leaving home at 6 am and not getting back until after 10 or 11, depending on where and how many classes I was teaching.  Most everyone at the shop knows I used to teach, but I like to think I approach work with enough tenacity and fearlessness that they are also figuring out that I don't think my past career has any bearing on my position in the shop. I'm a grunt. I like being a grunt. When I'm done with my work, I clock out and leave, and I leave work at work. When you teach, you can never leave work at work. You carry it with you, even when you're supposed to be relaxing.

I plan on working in catering for the next couple of years as move onto some other new possibilities, and I plan on learning as much about it as I can.

Being back in the work force also means that the grand experiment resumes: the quest to balance my creative life and my family life with the world of work. This is a challenge with any job, but I have too many things in the works to pull up my creative stakes and shrink away from all my projects.

The Kentucky Muck Podcast will resume on an irregular schedule, and Alidade: an audio map, will launch later this week. I also have other writing projects to work on, and I'm really looking forward to what being back in the work force will do for my writing.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed the link to a Pantheon page. This gives you the opportunity to help support the writing. Yes, I'm back in the work force, but your monthly patronage, at one of several levels (with accompanying perks!) will maybe someday enable me to return to writing and podcasting full time.

I'm pleased to announce that the blog has it's first patron, Ernest Gordon Taulbee. Thanks, Ernest! Look for your patron-only post later this week as well!

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*I commented to my wife how strange it is that I would end up in a field that attracts so many quirky personalities. She simply patted my arm and said "Well, you did enter it on your own."
**It's crazy how much people spend on food. But then again, it's why I have a job, so...

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:
www.amazon.com/author/mickparsons

04 October, 2016

Notes from the Bunker #4: There's more than one way to baptize a cat

 What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn't have any doubt - it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn't want to go anywhere else.  - Hal Boyle

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.  - Heraclitus, the weeping philosopher

Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time? ― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha


 There's something comforting about having to start over. At least, there must be -- since I tend to do just that, in some form or another, over and over again.

In my latest regeneration, I'm working as a waiter/grunt for a local catering company. That's my paying gig, anyway. I'm still at work on other projects like my podcasts (The Kentucky Muck Podcast and the up coming Alidade: an audio map), my poetry, and some new short stories. I'm applying to go back to school -- not to study English*, or Creative Writing**, or God help us Rhetoric and Composition***, but to work on plying my skills elsewhere where the machine isn't so broken and the culture not so apathetic.  But for now, the Parsons/Hay household needs more than one salary and "unemployment insurance" that does not insure any kind life above bare sustenance. And while I have spent the better part of six months looking for work using the skills and experience honed over the last 13 years, I am back to working with the one thing I have always been able to count on -- my back.

When it come to work, I'm not a snob. All work is noble and deserves respect. I've held enough jobs in enough fields^ that I know there isn't any difference between the respectability of "white collar" and "blue collar" work. When I was a janitor and when I was a college instructor, I saw work in fundamentally the same way:

Work is a massive and inevitable inconvenience that I seem unable to shake off.

 As I mentioned in a previous video update, my motivations for working have less to do with me than with wanting to be a good husband. I don't mind work, of any kind, as long as I have a reason. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that staying alive should be enough of a reason. You're thinking that I wanting to contribute to society should be enough. You're thinking that not wanting to be a bum should be enough.

Clearly you don't know me at all. But that's ok. Read enough of me and you'll figure it out.

Some might see my exit from 13 years of higher education experience into a field where I have
hardly any experience at some sort of decline. People who view life in this way -- as some mountain to climb, a la Sisyphus -- might see this as tumbling to the bottom only to have to try and roll the rock up to some unattainable pinnacle.

Embracing that kind of metaphor can be tiring, and I have too much to do that. Once I let go of the fundamental illusion  of "until" and "someday", life ceased to be a mountain and it became a river. Sometime it ebbs. Sometimes it flows. Sometimes, over the course of years, it changes course. But the current always knows where it's going. I doubt I'm going to retire from the line of work I'm currently in. But I know why I'm doing it, and I'm grateful to have the work. I may not be able to avoid the inconvenience of it just yet. But I can follow the current.


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*Not Again.
**Writers learn to write by writing. And failing. And more writing.
***Hell, no.
^I can honestly say the only kind of job I haven't had yet is a nightwatchman. But I'm young. There's time.

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:
www.amazon.com/author/mickparsons

01 June, 2016

Roar of the leisure class warrior - something towards a draft manifesto (Or a more thought out explanation for my daughter)

What we spend our time on is probably the most important decision we make. - Ray Kurzweil

In our production-oriented society, being busy, having an occupation, has become one of the main ways, if not the main way, of identifying ourselves. Without an occupation, not just our economic security but our very identity is endangered.  - Henri Nouwen

My kids are in hock to a god they call work
spending their lives out for some other jerk. - Utah Phillips



Lately I've been thinking about the indicators people use to define success.

This topic is not a new one for me, and those of you (if indeed, there are any among you Dear Friends and Readers) who have been reading me for more than a few posts and more than a few blogs have probably picked up on that.  If you're one of those who used to read my American Re:visionary blog* and have followed me down here by the river side, you know good and well that I rejected the specter of traditional success, along with all of it's pomps, circumstances, and traps and dropped it somewhere between Butte, Montana and Boston Massachusetts.

Some men** define their success on their income. Some on the kind of house they live in. Some on their golf swing, or what percentage of -- or how many -- cases of beer it takes before they get shit-faced. I've known men who define their success within the parameters of their level of education, their lack of formal education, the length of their beard, and the size of their gut. I have seen men who I suspect define success based upon how big their truck tires are ***. I've known men who defined their success based on how little they slept.  Fathers sometimes mark their success by their children's general happiness and appearance of "success."+

The problem I find with these measuring sticks of what is and what is not success is that they don't really change, and I have found that success -- like every other aspect of life -- changes.

I have at various times, defined my success by my education; by the number of political figures I have annoyed and offended; by the number of bosses, department chairs, and people in socially constructed positions of authority over me I have pissed off; and by the ability to play the trumpet well.++ I thought I reached a measure of success when I was writing for the local-dining-and-concert-guide-that-shall-not-be-named-here.+++

Time is the only yard stick that matters, and the only currency that has any real value. While it's true that I'm not employed^ at the moment, my time is occupied with those things that matter most to me: my art, my family, my garden. I've never particularly felt the need to maintain regular employment as a condition of deserving dignity.  I agree with the idea that a man needs to DO something. But I question the assertion, often made by people who are terribly concerned that they are doing all the heavy-lifting for humanity^^ that everyone needs to go out and "get a job." I see that sort of noise a lot, generally in regards to anyone panhandling. The long history of vagrancy, anti-vagrancy laws, and people general  ooky-ness about people living in some other reality other than that of a worker bee for the capitalist state aside, I have chosen to reject the yard stick for success that measures me against the number of zeros in my pay check -- or, indeed, if I make a paycheck at all.

Yes, I have to find a way to make a living and meet my obligations to the home I'm making with Amanda (love you!) and to my art. Yes, I do like to have a little cash on hand to buy a cup of coffee, to rent movies, buy books, or go argue politics^^^ at the neighborhood watering hole. But I don't need to make piles of it prove anything. And I don't need the trappings of success as defined by the larger cultural imprint that would have judged me as a failure years ago if I had bothered to listen.

I do have my methods of measuring my success, though.

The first is whether I can sleep soundly at night. Most of the time, I sleep pretty well.

My other measure, at least lately, is whether or not my nosy, rude, and overall obnoxious asshole of a neighbor, Chalkline Larry, spies on me. He spies on us a lot. Just this morning, I caught him watching me as I watered our front yard garden. The expression on his face was one of disgust.

From this, I can only conclude that I am living right.

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*Sorry, no link... it's indefinitely archived until such a time when art, science, and religion can somehow figure out a way to reanimate the corpse of the American Dream without it turning into another zombie.
**While many things are true of all people, I am, probably to my detriment, sticking to a group I feel I have some understanding of. It's true that I have met men who claim to understand women; but as far as I can tell, they are either deluded or liars, or both.
***More often than not, I feel sorry for their love partners. Not because size matters -- but the inability to understand proper proportions leads to someone going to sleep unsatisfied.
+It's the rabbit hole. Success is, in the way, often described with the same terminology as pornography,  i.e.,  "I know it when I see it." And generally, in both, someone ends up getting screwed.
++I was a pretty good trumpet player once upon a time, back in high school. I had trouble picking it up after high school, though. 
+++Yes. I hold grudges. It's a failing, but I'm working on it. You can google it. I wrote some pretty good stuff that they didn't, in the long run, deserve.
^ According to the powers-that-be, I am one of the great unwashed masses. But don't worry. I'm sure that Bevin's inhumane policies will somehow lead me to a better billet. These things just take time, I guess.
^^Martyrs All. Without their self-crucifiction, the homeless could use the wood for heat. 
^^^ Or sports. Around here, that pretty much boils down to the same thing.

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:
www.amazon.com/author/mickparsons
Donations are also appreciated, and help keep the critters in kibble and the lights on. Thanks for reading!

29 October, 2013

Gator People Live In the River, Interlude: Words, Work, Wobs, and The Root of Misunderstanding.

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. - Wittgenstein 

I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." --  Robert McCloskey

I got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it. - Rufus T. Firefly, Duck Soup

The more I write the more I run into the same  problems. I see it when I teach, too. There's a limit to language.

As a writer and sometimes teacher of the craft, I find this disconcerting. I remind students there are currently over one million words in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and so there are certainly enough words to convey whatever it is we need to convey at any given time.

And then I find myself talking politics with friends.

If there is any topic that will completely unspool the language, it is politics.
  
If there's another, it would be religion, but there's not enough room on this blog to cover that one, and only one picture of monkeys that I liked.

The problem with politics is that by its very nature it ends up covering everything that happens when two or more people get together and do more than sit in guarded silence. (This trick has saved more than one family get together and has curtailed more wars than are recorded in the history of the world.) When two or more people get together and agree on everything by saying nothing it's called tolerance. When two or more people get together and actually speak honestly, it's called "getting political."

It won't surprise anyone who knows me or who has stumbled on my scribbles from time to time that I am something of a political critter. That is to say, I distrust politicians and the entire system for which they stand, but I am motivated to at least discuss my views and to live in accordance with my high falutin ideals as best I can. Recently, after being more or less a Wob without a chapter, I found some people in Louisville who are trying to get a Kentucky Chapter of the IWW up and going.  And since I have been trying to place my actions and my words in the same time zone, I decided it was worth checking out.

That I self-identify as a Wob is nothing new. I long ago discovered, over the course of 10,000 meaningless jobs, that the employing class and the working class have nothing in common. I figured out growing up in the 1980's that it is never prosperity that trickles down. Until moving to Louisville, though, it has been impossible for me to find a group of Fellow Wobs. So I'm pretty excited about the prospect of helping get the chapter up and going and finding useful trouble to get into. Or at least find some way to be useful.

I posted as such on my Facebook page -- that's what we do now instead of yelling in the streets -- which led to an interesting, albeit short discussion with a good friend on what it is means to be a Wob.

When he asked me what the IWW was, I told him it was a union dedicated to the proposition that workers are entitled to the rewards of their labor and that people are more able to control their destinies than politicians and authoritarian assholes.

He asked for a bit more information, so I sent him the Preamble to the IWW Constitution. The Preamble is the pill people on the fence have the most trouble with. For those of you who don't understand the fence metaphor, insert the never ending meme from The Matrix:

Nope. I'm not this bad ass. It's a metaphor, kids.
He responded that it sounded too much like Marxism and Socialism to him. This response didn't surprise me for a variety of reasons, but mostly because terms like "Marxism" and "Socialism" are fundamentally misunderstood and generally used out of context. But then, so is "Democracy" and "Capitalism."

So, a bit of definition and clarification is in order:

  • Marxism boiled down: the people who do the work are entitled to reap rewards, and should own the means of production in a stateless society. (Note: Marx was referring to an agrarian economy.)
  • Socialism boiled down: people should not be exploited by those who control  the necessary utilities of every day life and should, therefore own and control those utilities.
  • Democracy boiled down: One PERSON, One Vote. Not to be confused with a plutocracy masking itself as democracy.
  • Capitalism boiled down: the accrual of capital (i.e. wealth, i.e., the means of creating wealth, i.e, the product of labor sold for the purposes of creating wealth) by any means necessary. Not to be confused with democracy, which posits that all people are equal. Capitalism (as described by Adam Smith) means there is always a boss and that boss will always profit more off the collective labor than the individual laborers will.
  • Anarchism boiled down: As U. Utah Phillips said, it is an adjective describing the tension between personal autonomy and political authority. Specifically, it means "No Ruler." It only works when people get together and make things happen without the state or the boss.

My understanding of these terms is the result of reading Marx, Smith, Friedman, Zinn, and Chomsky. Also Emma Goldman. Also Albert Parsons. Also Walt Whitman, who explained the high hopes of Democracy in his poetry better than any politician or historian ever could. Also numerous other writers whose names escape me. Also listening to the the music of Joe Hill, Ralph Chaplin, Utah Phillips, Hazel Dickens, Woodie Guthrie, Jack Elliot, and Rosalie Sorrels. Also listening to the stories of people I have run across and whose stories filter through my bones daily: Roger from Grand Rapids, Cletus the Dog Man, Joe from Kansas City, and T.J. down in New Orleans.

The issue, though, is not that people don't understand these terms. The problem is that we have ceded control over the language we think in over to those whose self-interest is more important than the goodwill of all. A hand full of multi-national corporations own 99% of the media in this country. Their first goal is not to create an informed public, but to make a profit. Sometimes they act liberal. Sometimes they act conservative. But in the end, it is all about profit and until we decide we own our words like we ought to own the means of production, then all of our conversations will fall mute and we will continue to tolerate the despots and dictators ... those appointed as well as those who are supposedly elected.

09 September, 2013

Gator People Live In the River, 4: Persona Non Grata Chimichanga

I'm a very good man. I'm just a very bad Wizard. - L. Frank Baum



Back in the saddle again, as it were. The academic year is officially in full swing and I am back at what one of my former professors, Layne Neeper liked to call The Salt Mines. He was not only referring to teaching, of course. You don't work in higher education -- or institutional education in general -- and have the luck to be limited only to teaching. There are the politics of the thing to contend with. And whether you're a GOPper, a Dem, a Libber, a Fibber, a Tea Bagger, a part-time word slinger, or a rodeo clown, you can not escape the politics. Even those who claim to be apolitical are impacted by the systemic dysfunction that often parades as professionalism.

I am still not yet a real person at the University of Louisville. The latest snafu involved some a policy gap between the Great and Powerful Oz (U of L) and the most monolithic of institutions, the Department of Homeland Security. (Or, if you like, the Wicked Witch of the West.)

I'm not entirely new to the misfunctional nature of large universities. Arizona State University is itself an exercise in how to tread water in the middle of the desert. Sometimes my annoyance at how things don't work is misinterpreted as a lack of understanding or a sense of entitlement. The truth is that while I expect the great machinations to not function, I choose to maintain my idealism by holding onto the notion that we can do better inspite of a general attitude of benign neglect.

Update 9 September:


In the process of fighting an unjust parking citation -- unjust because were I an actual persona pro grata in the eyes of the university, I would have had a parking pass and would not have been at risk for being slapped with said citation for Failure to Display Proper Parking Decal -- I managed to get an actual Faculty/Staff Parking Decal in addition to not having to pay the citation. 

While this is progress of sorts, do not mistake that for the university's official recognition of my existence. I am, at the time of this writing, still an undocumented worker. All the work, none of the glory, and I still have to pay the same rate to park as someone who is full time and/or tenured.

Mayhap it will fall to future generations of Part-timers to find justice for this inequity.

In the mean time, I have to cut this short so I can go fight for a parking space. Save peace and love for the future. In a world in which might makes right and in which I drive a pick-up truck with large tires, there is no mercy for tenured folk in fiberglass new-age hippie mobiles.

[Feel free to read some sort of politically attuned message into the previous statement.]

Also, feel free to stop by Iron Belly, a blog of my new poetry, some prose, and whatever else I feel like posting there... though it will be mostly poetry.

Don't worry,though, Dear and Faithful Readers.  I'm not going anywhere.

Thanks and Gawd Bless.

06 August, 2012

Southern Jaunt: More of the Name Game / Of Anachronistic Cartography

We make trials of ourselves and invite men and women to hear - Walt Whitman

It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to. - W.C. Fields

hic sunt dracones. - Old Cartographer Shorthand for "We Have No Fucking Clue What's Here."


A redemptive rain fell over the weekend, potentially wiping out several weddings -- but to anyone paying attention, the Earth moaned like a woman in the throes of an long delayed orgasm. A friend here in town, whose garden was struggling so much she and her husband were debating whether to quit watering it or not has reported that the garden has exploded since the rain. I was sitting out on the Front porch at Dave and Julie's yesterday, smoking my pipe, and heard one of the neighbors actually mowing his lawn. I was pretty sure there still wasn't anything to mow, but gawd love him, he felt the urge anyway.

Growing up, I had a neighbor like that, Mr. Foster. He would mow his lawn every few days, manicuring down to the dust during the driest years. I understand from my brother that one of  the Foster daughters -- WHO I DID NOT, I repeat, DID NOT peep on while she was sunbathing in a bikini --  has bought the ranch style house we grew up in. And though Mr. Foster has been dead for a while, his widow continues on in the house, probably not mowing nearly as much or messing up neighbor kid's attempts to sing along with Molly Hatchet or Waylon Jennings by getting on the H.A.M. Radio. 

Today marks a full week since I arrived here from Chicago, thanks to the kind assistance of my old friend Paul H., the Medinah Train, and my new friend John Briscoe, no longer of Stone House Fudge, but still playing the blues guitar like a fiend. And while I was hoping my long lost birth certificate would be waiting for me in the 40 pounds of mail waiting for me at the Post Office, I am (not all that) sorry to report it was not.

I did wander back into something resembling a jobby job, though, in the form (once again) as an itinerant local newsraker for The Prairie Advocate News. And while the news of my return as undoubtedly rippled through the ranks of those who were more than happy with my departure in January, I am sure that none of the town or county officials -- I will refrain from naming names herein, but find me at the bar later, if you really want to know them; I'll talk for shots of bourbon -- who had, in the past, tried to get me fired because they didn't like my "editorializing" (replace with the appropriate term "style") -- would stoop to anything so coarse and vulgar as trying to beat me to the punch and get me fired before I even get started gain.

Naturally not.

I expect much more from current and former elected officials like Doris Bork and Nina Cooper.

Oops.

Ah, well. I need to keep a lid on my bar tab anyway. Moving on...

More Of The Name Game

If you're a regular reader, you may recall this post wherein I question, again, what it is a person has tied up in a name. Not long after it posted, I received a text from a friend of mine here who informed me that her name directly impacted who she became and that she couldn't imagine being named anything else. She also pointed out the difference between how she felt when she was married and took his name (which was Smith) versus how she felt about retaking the last name she was born with. Now, I will admit -- as someone who grew up with essentially two names -- one of them being associated with a nauseating little cartoon mouse that had his own club for years, and which has given us such cultural icons as Annette Funicello, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake (one of which was known for her swim suit, the other known for free-twatting*, and the other for being smart enough to ditch the free-twatter before she went crazy and for being completely overlooked in the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction debacle that turned the Super Bowl Half Time Show into a geriatric sock hop), not to mention the most evil pop song ever written, I have to agree. To a point.

My friend was, of course, named after a race horse, and her middle name is Twilight. I have ample sympathy, given that she now feels chained at the ankles to that annoying series of badly written books that have spawned terrible movies. Growing up with a name outside of the norm, and putting up with the usual verbal (and sometimes physical) jabs from other kids with names as unique as John (Sorry JB! I don't mean you!), Terry, Mark or [insert name of average named bully here] does impact the sort of person you become.

And that, actually, was sort of the point.

Part of the that culturally constructed applique personality I was talking about comes, in part, from how we're socialized as kids. Some people get past all the juvenile shit. Some people, well into adulthood, allow themselves to be defined by whether they were picked last ... or not picked at all ... in high school gym class.  Some kids grew up enduring far worse, and somehow managed to grow beyond it... and somehow, I think it had less to do with their names than with one of those undefinable qualities that most people have and few people access. As humans, most of us have the ability to change who we are and how we are -- if we're willing to do it. That many who are able to simply don't says more about the culture that seeks to blind us all.

I mentioned that I grew up with two names. That's true. My given name is Michael. But no one calls me that. There's nothing wrong with it, the name. It translates roughly as "One Who is Like God." I've been called Mickey, or Mick most of my life. That's also the first name of the guy who saved my Dad's life in the Navy. It translates roughly as "You're so fine, you blow my mind."

As you might be able to tell, I'm still not all that convinced my name means much except that The State can identify me, track me, share my information with the Grand Marketeers of the New Millennium. I'm still me... and the me I am in the process of becoming. Whatever the hell that means.

Anachronistic Cartography

To stave off the itch while I'm waiting for my State Identity to catch up with me, I look through my travel atlas and ponder my next jaunt. My plan... still... is to go south, like the birds, and spend some winter days in southern Florida, maybe celebrate my birthday in New Orleans. But I've also been thinking, lately, of going north... to North Dakota, specifically, to check out what an oil boom looks like. I've seen boom towns in decline. I'm thinking it might be worth noting what one looks like as it's building up

But then there's that whole winter thing. And I don't want to count on another preternaturally warm winter. So I'm thinking. And looking over maps. And pondering my own ridiculousness.

The Crossing of St. Frank

The 8 page chapbook is ready and for sale. For a $2 minimum donation (that includes postage), I'll send you a signed one. It will be signed with one of the names I go by. You can try requesting which name, but chances are good I'll pick a different one. If you run into me on the street, chances are good I have some with me. Ask nice, buy me a beer, or donate to the travel fund, and I'll give you one.

If' you're reading this from Where I Am, find me, I probably have some on me. I"ll give you one for a $1 donation, or something in kind (a cup of coffee, a beer, a bowl of soup.)

If you're reading this from Not Where I Am, go to the Beggar Bowl Page. When you donate to the Travel Fund, there's a box for a comment. Make sure you tell me where to send it and who to send it to.  Gawd Bless.

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*free-twatting -, noun. Female version of free-balling.

29 January, 2009

The Seven Minutes

Everybody called him Fat Larry. He was the boss. While we were on the floor keeping the food court clean and emptying garbage cans around the mall, he sat on his ass in his backroom office watching a small portable TV. When I interviewed for the job, I’m pretty certain that my desperation showed through. I wore one of my two dress shirts – the white one – and a tie that I’d been carrying around since I bought for the last time I had to wear a tie – which was maybe ten or fifteen years ago. There were five other guys interviewing for the position. I was the only one wearing a tie.

“Why do you want a job like this?” he asked me. He was eating peanuts from a can on his desk, and every time he talked, he spit little bits of peanut on my resume. “A guy with an education like yours ought to do more. Teach, maybe.”

I’d heard this kind of thing before. One of the ironies the high school guidance counselor never mentioned was the downside of having a college degree – namely that you’re over qualified for regular work. I could also tell that he sort of enjoyed having the college boy tottering on the rickety chair in front of his desk, begging for a job. I’d seen that before, too. But I needed a job, and I had actually been a janitor before and didn’t mind it.

“Look,” I told him. “It’s true, I went to college. But I didn’t really graduate, ok? A lot was going on. Got married. Got divorced. Started drinking…” I looked at him, hoping the silence would fill in the blanks. The story wasn’t strictly true. It was vague enough, though, to sound true.

He squinted at me, popped several peanuts into his mouth, and chewed them loudly. Like a horse. The reception on the television was lousy. Some game showed fizzled in and out between bouts of white static. The Wheel of Fortune, I think. I don’t know how long I sat there, but my ass was starting to hurt. The seat of the little chair I was sitting on was split into two pieces and a splinter was digging into my right ass cheek. I was considering standing up and leaving.

“When can you start?” He finally spoke.

“Tomorrow,” I answered. “Or whenever you want me here. Sir.”

Fat Larry smiled, sat back in his chair, and folded his hands across his giant belly. The chair creaked so loudly, I expected it to collapse. “You can start on Monday,” he said.

I stood up and shook his large plushy hand. There were no calluses on his hands. It was Friday.

On Monday, I got there early to fill out forms and take the grand tour. Fat Larry left me alone in a small room next to his office, where there was a small table and a slightly more comfortable chair. The application packet was one page of tedium after another. The first few pages were the actual application, which was basically where I filled in all the information on my resume. I had to list personal references and all my past jobs and why I left. Then I had to fill out the I-9. Then there was a 10 page packet explaining OSHA regulations in regards to cleaning chemicals and handling garbage, with a page long quiz after. According to the directions, the quiz was supposed to be given to me after I’d studied the ten page packet thoroughly and put it away. I passed the quiz without really reading the whole ten page packet.

When I was finished, I walked out of the room. Fat Larry wasn’t in his office, so I went down the short hallway and through the double doors that led to the food court. I opened the doors and Fat Larry was talking to one of the women. She didn’t look very happy. He dismissed her and then turned around to face me.

“Finished already?” He smiled. My stomach turned, just a little.

“Yeah.”

“Ok. Come on. We gotta get you a uniform shirt.”

He took me back into his office, where he unlocked a metal cabinet. He kept the uniform shirts inside – baby blue polo shirts with the mall logo on it. “Size?”

I told him and he threw three shirts at me. “You’re responsible for these shirts,” he said. “You have to wear one every day. If you’re not wearing a uniform shirt, you get sent home. You have to make sure it’s clean. If it’s not clean, you get sent home. You get sent home three times, you’re gone.” He paused for a beat to let it sink in. Come this way. I’ll show you the time clock.”

When we got there, there was a time card with my name on it and a nine digit number that was my new employee identification number. He demonstrated how to clock in. I would have two fifteen minute breaks and a half hour lunch. I would have to clock out and clock back in for each of them. “You get a seven minute overlap,” he told me. “If you clock back in more than seven minutes late, you get docked an hour’s pay.” He paused a beat to let it sink in. “Ok. Come on.” He led me back out into the food court, and flagged down one of the other janitors. He was a short and shriveled and walked with a shuffle. Fat Larry beamed. “This is Harold. He’s one of our BEST. He’s going to show you the ropes. Just follow him around today so you can get the feel for things.”

“Ok.” Fat Larry turned around and wobbled back into his office to catch the last bit of The Bold and the Beautiful.

I followed Harold around the rest of the night. Basically, he pushed a cart around the mall, emptying garbage cans, cleaning up kiddie puke and scraping up discarded chewing gum, candy, and ice cream. “It ain’t a hard job,” he said over and over. “So long as you get a good pair of shoes.”

The shift ended an hour after the mall closed. That was when we got out the floor machines and went over the entire mall. The only thing that complicated this was the movie theater: it was still open and when shows let out, kids were always running through the mall when it was empty, leaving drink cups, popcorn, candy, and footprints all over the place. I was pushing one of the machines around when Fat Larry found me.

“How you doin’ with that thing?” he asked.

“Ok. I’ve ran them before.”

He nodded. “Good. Be sure to get under the benches in and behind the garbage cans.”

“Ok.”

Fat Larry stood there, watching me.

“Yes sir. No problem.”

He smiled and nodded and wobbled off. Prick, I thought. Asshole. By the time I finished my shift, my feet were killing me.

The next night I got there about twenty minutes early. We couldn’t clock in until seven minutes before the start of the shift – a seven minutes that we weren’t paid for, naturally. So I walked into the break room. Harold was sitting there, along with five other people: Kate, Jim, Russ, Keisha, and Bev. I recognized Bev as the woman Fat Larry was yelling at the previous day. She looked like she was beautiful – once. Straw colored hair, hazel eyes, a thin frame. She was sitting at the table nearest to the refrigerator, smoking a cigarette and reading Us Weekly.

I sat down next to Russ. “Hey buddy,” he said. “Is this your first week? It’s my first week, too.” He stuck his hand out. I shook it. Russ was older than me. He sported a mop hair cut that was probably a dark brown once upon a time, but was now mostly gray. He had a large droopy mustache of the same color. He talked a lot, but I liked him ok. He talked about being new at the job, but being grateful that he had a job. He needed to work, he said, because his wife needed all kinds of medicine. “She’s older than me,” he said. “Rose is almost 70.”

“Damn man,” I said. “That’s gotta be stressful. You’re not anywhere near that old.”

“Nah. She’s like 30 years older than me. She wasn’t always sick, though.”

If you say so fella. “Cool.”

“When do you take lunch?”

I had to think about it. We all took lunch at different times. “7:30, I think.”

“That’s awesome,” Russ said. “Me too. We should eat together.”

“Sure thing,” I said.

Harold was the first to stand up. That meant it was time to clock in and go to work. I clocked in and looked at the assignment sheet. I was given a zone on the other side of the mall – near Sax Fifth Avenue. That meant walking around with a cart, just like Harold. At least, I told myself, I didn’t get placed near the movie theater.

The thing about taking my smoke breaks was that I had to make sure I started wandering back towards the food court in plenty of time if I wanted the full my full fifteen minutes. I didn’t mind walking in rectangles pushing a garbage can, but I sure as shit was going to make sure I got all my break time in. I ran into Harold coming back from the food court on my way to my second break.

“Where’re you going?” he asked.

“Heading in to take my break.”

Harold shook his head. By the look on his face I knew what he was thinking: Lazy fucking kid. “Be careful,” he said instead. “If Fat Larry catches you, you’ll get written up.”

“Written up for going to take my break?”

Harold nodded. He was about to push off when I asked him how long he’d been working at the mall.

“Well,” he said, “I worked for the city, and retired. Then I got this job. It’s beeeen about… ten years.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Nope.”

“How many people have you seen come and go in this job?”

“Plenty,” he said. He looked at me and smiled – sort of. “And I’ll see plenty more, I bet.”

When he pushed off I watched him shuffle off. He walked like the cart was the only thing keeping him upright.

Sure enough, when I was almost to the food court, Fat Larry found me. “What’re you doing?” he demanded.

I told him I was on my way to take my second break.

“You don’t leave your zone until it’s time for your break to start,” he scolded. “This is your first write-up. Don’t do it again. You get two more write-ups and you’re out on your ass. Got me?”


For a month I kept my head down and stayed out of Fat Larry’s line of vision. It wasn’t all that hard. I was careful not to leave my zone until my breaks started, and I made up for it by hiding in during my shift and taking small breaks throughout the day. When I clocked back in from lunch, I always made sure to wait the extra seven minutes. Bev warned about this on several occasions.

“He doesn’t like it when we do that,” she whispered.

“Who?”

“Fat Larry. He doesn’t like it when we take the seven minutes on purpose.”

“Fuck him,” I said. “I do my job. Besides, he’s had me on Saturdays ever since I started. Most everyone else rotates.” Saturdays were the worst day to work; the mall was flooded with kids who bought 50 ounce buckets of sugar-filled pop, took two sips and, once the ice started to melt, threw it away. They spilled smoothies, ice cream dots, and nacho cheese everywhere. Sometimes they made messes because it was funny to make me work. By the time I emptied all the garbage cans, they were all full again. Plus, the cheap ass liners Fat Larry gave us for the garbage cans always leaked. The only time I ever saw him out on floor at all on any day of the week was when he was yelling at somebody. And most of the time, he was yelling at Bev.

“How do you do it?” I asked her. “What do you do to keep from getting fired? I see him on you all time, shaking one of those sausage fingers in your face.”

She was taken a little aback. “I do my job!”

“I KNOW you do,” I said. “We ALL do our jobs. But he seems to take special pleasure in giving you a hard time. I don’t think it’s fair, actually. He’s a bully.”

“Oh.” She softened a little. “He just… well… he… he calls me names a lot.”

“Like what?”

“He thinks I’m stupid,” she said. “He’s the same with all the girls. That’s why most of them moved to the day shift.”

“So he’s a pig.”

“Oh YES,” she hissed. “I hate him.”

“So why don’t you move to day shift, too?”

“He WANTS me to, I think. But I can’t. My husband works days, and somebody has to watch the kids.”

“Oh. They must be small.”

“They’re both in school,” she shrugged. “But somebody has to make sure they get up and dresses and fed and out on the bus. And if there’s a SNOW day…” she smiled. It was a sad smile. “Well, SOMEBODY has to be there.”

“And he knows that.”

She nodded. “Yes. He tells me that if I were a good mom I’d be home all the time. He tells me if I had better husband…”

“And you LET him say those things?”

“I need this job,” she said. “We get health insurance through my husband’s job, and that takes a lot out of his paycheck. If I don’t work, we can’t afford groceries.” She looked down at her watch. “It’s time to clock back in.” She looked hurried, and a little scared.

I sat for another five minutes and stood up to go clock back in. When I passed by Fat Larry’s office, he was leaning back in his chair watching what looked like American Idol. I watched him for a split second then passed by to clock in.

That’s when I heard the crash and I heard Fat Larry scream. “SHIIITTT!” I turned and looked back in the office. He was wallowing on the floor, on top of what used to be his chair. In fall, he must’ve kicked the desk because the television was laying dead on the floor. He looked shaken, but not hurt. I watched him cuss and huff and puff, struggling to get to his feet. I walked away before he could turn around to see me.

When I got to the clock and punched my card, I looked at the time. I was eight minutes late.