Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just This



Not much to say, today.

And that's a good thing.

Just a planning kind of day. I'm laying out goals for myself, for Jason and I, for this whole living-in-the-South enterprise we've got going. So far I've decided that listening to two elderly Southern women talk in a coffee shop while reading a book was pretty much the most relaxing hour ever, and that tells me I need to develop that accent, because I don't even know how someone can be stressed when they've got that lilting soft-consonant thing going for them.

I am scrolling through real estate sites looking at little houses, trying to find the one that sticks out at me, has a little bit of personality, is in our price range, as low as that price range is.

I am still on my nonfiction kick. Right now I'm reading Unprotected Texts and a book on
Saturday Night Live.
I am wearing a T-shirt I bought when I saw The Lion King in New York City and a pair of shorts and thinking, after having gone outside to run some errands, that I love central air conditioning more than I even begin to say.

It's a calm day. Yesterday I cleaned the bathroom, as the opening shot of my epic war against my own apartment. We have a friend coming to visit us in the next few weeks, and I have declared this war in the hopes that my apartment may even look remotely livable by the time he shows up. It's a dream I have, you see.

I have a couple of paintings I need to start working on. Inspiration has been a little lacking these last couple of days, but I think last night I finally hit upon my ideas. Now to sketch out to see how I'll need to plan this and then get started.

Also...

it's time for lunch.


So away I go!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Retail, Retail, Retail (Also Goslings!)

picture is in no way related... but baby goose! Look at his cute little face!
 
So my sister reminded me that I hadn't posted since last Wednesday. I thought to myself, that can't be right... tried to do math in my head, finally just brought up the blog to check, and wow. Okay. So it actually has been since the 11th.

So.

That's quite a while. I really dislike going more than a week. Mostly it's been a combination of my days being full of reading, which is not exactly exciting to write about, or work, which I try not to write about if I don't have to. What I can tell you about work, though, is that if ever you send your 11-year-old daughter up with a 20-dollar-bill and give her your order and then tell her "order whatever you want" while you sit out-of-earshot...

don't seek to blame us when your daughter orders a Frappucino with three different 50-cent add-ons. Turns out that those things are expensive, and also clearly marked on the menu. Please do not act as though we're trying to be deceptive and trick your daughter into buying costly things. She came up with that order all on her lonesome.

Also, saying, "Well, this time I suppose I'll accept this," doesn't actually mean anything. I understand people who get worried, anxious, or defensive when we actually accidentally overcharge, make the wrong drink, make the right drink the wrong way or any number of problems we are actually responsible for. I will go out of my way to make someone a new drink that is exactly to their specifications. That's on us, and it's on us to fix our mistakes.

But seriously, we made the right drink, as it was ordered. We made it the right way. Your daughter read the menu before she ordered; she knew the add-ons cost money. Either discuss ordering cheaper drinks with your daughter or come up with her to the register next time.

 Picture still not related. But look at their cute little feathers!

So that's work.


Well, it's not all work. There's a lot of good things.

But that woman's little hissy fit, and the hissy fits I have seen since I started in retail to begin with, continue to bother me.

In Old Navy the other day I witnessed a woman drive the poor lady working the register close to tears just picking at her about how she didn't seem cheerful enough. The cashier looked a little out of sorts to begin with, and by the time this lady got done with her, she had to step back and ask someone else to take over so she could just sit down, out of sight somewhere. In the end, the woman used the line that has most made me grit my teeth in all my time in retail...

"I used to work in a clothing store, you know! I know how you're supposed to be acting!"

I seriously don't get people sometimes.

When I'm a shopper? I'm a very understanding shopper. If my cashier is a little down or, you know what, even if they appear to be a listless, emotionless robot? Doesn't bother me. I don't really need them to smile their brightest and wish me the bestest day. It's nice, and I do appreciate the effort, but I'm not personally offended if they don't.

I know what it's like to have to come to work when you got three and a half hours of sleep the night before for no good reason, when you're on the verge of tears due to illness or worry or fear, when you're so sick you can barely stand. I know how hard it is to continue to grasp onto the tiniest handhold to get through your day... how time crawls or eventually slows to an absolute standstill.

I like when cashiers are happy, because it means they're probably having a pretty good day. And I like to see that. I try to be courteous, and kind, no matter what. I don't go into any store within a half-hour of their closing time unless dragged by well-meaning friends or relatives (who then take it upon themselves to explain to the sales associates in JoAnn Fabrics about how uncomfortable I am... Mom).

I don't even know anymore. I have like fifty pictures of baby geese.

 Hee.

Working in retail taught me a lot about retail, and who I am as a customer, and what I expect both as an employee and as a shopper. I've never understood people who work retail and then are harder on the associates than they were before. You've been there. You know how five awful customers in a row can make you already defensive and worried when a sixth walks in.

You know what it's like to be so sick you really should be at home, but you can't afford to lose a day's pay, so you stand on your feet for eight hours anyway on concrete tiles and pray you make it long enough to go buy Nyquil after work. You know that the service industry is overworked, underpaid, trying to make a living on scraps of income that would have been unimaginable to our grandparents.

My experience in retail has made me easier on service industry employees...

Sometimes, I don't get people.


I finished reading Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell. I think it should be required reading.

Between that and Malled, that I wrote about a couple of blog posts ago, it's giving me a lot to think about. I know that blogs, on the whole, try to write only positive things. I understand why that is a good draw, if one is looking for a large audience; your readers would rather laugh with you than worry with you, I think. But sometimes, I am not always thinking positively.

Trails of thought like the one above come and go pretty often for me, and have for a long time. I don't dwell on this, exactly, but it does pop into my head every time I am out trying on clothes in Old Navy or JCPenney's or any number of places and see someone giving the poor customer service rep hell for no reason other than to take out their own bad day on someone who is paid less than they are. Every time a customer talks to my coworkers or I like we are year-old illiterate monkeys.

Every time in six years I've witnessed a manager, a supervisor, a keyholder, anyone at all have to grit their teeth to be polite to someone who is clearly trying to see how far they can push before we explode and they can complain to corporate about the "rude employees" to try and get a free gift card for their 'troubles'...

These thoughts pop into my head.

Seriously. Their little beaks!

And they develop, over time, into this almost-cohesive thoughtful post.

Which I write, when I realize I haven't written in days.

And then I go make little cooing noises over adorable pictures of baby geese, or something.

Or what really happens, which is that the cat realizes I haven't petted her for a whole four hours now, and that is not acceptable.

Currently she is staring at me with her absolute saddest "nobody loves me" look.

Maybe she's just worried she can't compete with baby geese.

Their little running feet! Okay, I'll stop now.

I want to tell the cat not to worry; even I can't compete with the startling cuteness of baby geese.

I should have another post up for you tomorrow! Jason and I are headed to downtown today to hang out at the Greek Festival. Let me tell you how wonderful it is to live in a town where the words "Greek Festival" have absolutely nothing to do with fraternities or sororities or college.

Instead... FOOD.

Food and jingly coin-skirts. And Greek coffee, gritty and scalding hot, sweet and cooked over an open flame.

  And I promise, absolutely no meditative ruminations on what it means to work in the service industry into your actual adult years. Not tomorrow.

Because I have a four-day weekend, Saturday through Tuesday, and I am not going to spend it thinking about work.

Boo.

Yah.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What the Hail

Oh what, I can't like terrible puns when I'm making blog post titles?

I mean look at that up there.

That is a terrible pun.

In any case, just as Jason and I began to discuss taking the Lead-Lined Monster (our ridiculously heavy old TV, a  hand-me-down from a former roommate, whose weight is frankly legendary among anyone who has ever attempted to pick it up) out to dispose of it, it began to rain. I mean, just as I was finishing up my dinner after getting home from work.

So we settled in.

It poured buckets and buckets of rain, but that's not so unusual. I noticed the sound of rain hitting our roof was getting weirdly loud. Then I looked at our front steps.

 

"Hey, honey? I think it's going to be a while before we can take the Lead-Lined Monster out."


The hail, for the moment, was small. Not-quite dime sized, really.


We could hear it banging into the roof, but in little sounds, more like taps than anything else.

That didn't last long.

One of my friends, who lives about ten minutes away from us, posted pictures on her facebook of hail cupped in her hand that was not quite the size of a golf ball, and some that really was the size of a golf ball.

Sure enough, the sounds of hail on the roof started quickly becoming something more akin to the sound of someone hitting something with a baseball bat and less like someone wearing tap shoes. So Jason and I stood outside and watched it, from the dubious protection of our front porch.

Turns out hail that big ricochets like crazy. Which you'd think common sense would have told me, but nope. I had to get nearly hit in the face with ricocheting hail three or four (or five) times before I ducked back inside like a smart person.

Only to duck outside every thirty seconds to take more photos.

 

(Note: Our car was under a large tree, which provided some protection from the hail apparently... although our poor little red sports car had to be hosed off after the hailstorm, since it was basically coated in fallen green leaves. My car looked like Christmas! Violent, hail-y Christmas.)



Our basil plants (the Thai basil and the spicy globe basil visible in this photo) were pretty protected where they were, but we did have to move the tomato plant back to safety against the screen doors, behind our chairs.

You can see the golf-ball size hail in a couple places in the photo just above.


Yeesh.

It ended soon enough, and I texted my mother-in-law to make sure they hadn't been caught outside somewhere in it or anything. She replied that they were sitting on their sun porch at the back of the house just watchin' the hail come down.

In her own words, "We are cheap to entertain."

So are we, Robin. I took like twenty photos of hail. I'm not sure what that says about me.


 

Actually, maybe it's not the taking photos of hail, but then taking the time to post those photos up here for the internet to see that says something about how easily I am entertained, huh?

This was actually meant to be a belated Mother's Day post, in which I discuss all those ways in which my mom is awesome. Instead, it's a post about hail, because I am easily distracted and I happened to look at the hail photos first.

My mom is awesome all year round, anyway.


I know she's awesome, because twenty-five years ago she made that adorable hair-bow'd jaundiced little creature above, and despite all my temper tantrums, complete lack of common sense, argumentative teenage years, repeated begging for blue hair (for four years), the spiked jewelry and Sex Pistols t-shirts and my high school boyfriends and tears...  I think I came out pretty well.

I don't wear hair bows, though. I stopped wearing hair bows the moment I discovered how to take them off. Technically before that, since it turns out you can just yank those suckers off when you're two years old and don't have great motor control yet. Even if you have to pull some hair out with 'em.

That I am as delightful as I am speaks highly of her character, because seriously, I'm not sure that I could handle raising a kid like me.

Although I'm guessing just saying that means my kids are going to be terrifying monsters, and my mother will laugh, and laugh, and laugh when they are just like I was.

Hopefully that means she'll be full of really good advice for dealing with problem children after having dealt with her obstinate stubborn little third kid for the two decades it took me to move out of the house.

So. I guess this turned into a belated Mother's Day post after all.

Which means I accomplished my goals for today! Yay!

Cookies for everyone!*











*I do not actually have any cookies. Although if I did, I would totally share.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Flowers & Books


These are all over the place along the boundary of our apartment complex, these beautiful wild white things. Honeysuckle is everywhere, in the air all the time. That reminds me of last year's spring in Illinois, where we lived near the countryside and honeysuckle was all I could smell for weeks.

The geese living in our pond have goslings. One set of goose-y parents have four little babies, one set has three. They are the fuzziest-feathered cutest things I have ever seen. The wood ducks who live there year-round just seem confused.

I have spent a lot of time in the last couple of days trying to think of what I really want to do for the next six months or so. Just... what do I want to spend my time on? I'm reading a lot, lately. I just finished Malled by Caitlin Kelly, about a fifty-something woman's sudden shift from her longtime journalism career to part-time retail work in a store for The North Face in a wealthy part of New York.

The book was occasionally infuriating, mostly due to Kelly's naivete and her strange way of writing about her coworkers with nothing short of surprise at every tattoo, less-than-stellar attitude and, a couple of times, the way her female coworkers, when pregnant, just kept working until the last second. I had to remind myself sometimes that some people haven't really worked retail or sales in their lives, haven't dealt with having to grit their teeth against a customer who has decided to take out all their personal pain on you, how issues with coworkers can taint your whole day. Occasionally she let herself fall into a kind of low-level not-quite-acknowledged judgment of their lifestyles and who they were; while Kelly herself had previously been living an upper class lifestyle, most of her coworkers are like me; they have worked these retail jobs for years, and are looking at continuing retail for the foreseeable future. Kelly seems... unable to grasp that, and to view their lives outside of work with some kind of strange "Look at the adorable lower-class people" mentality. It put my teeth on edge, but at the same time I have worked with women like Caitlin Kelly, more than once.

Then again, the book was really engaging. Caitlin Kelly is actually really likable and I actually, after giving it some thought, enjoyed how much of herself she did not edit out of the book. Her occasionally forays into statistics and reports were really interesting, although mostly they just proved to me what I had already known. Her manager, a well-meaning man who burns out trying to juggle everything corporate throws at him, reminded me of every good manager I've ever had.

In the end, I definitely give Malled a 3.5 out of 5 (didn't know I actually had a rating system, did you? Well that's because I didn't, I just made it up). I definitely don't regret spending money on it, and I want to start passing it around people I know to get their take on it, but it does have a lot of problems as well.

Next up?

I'm about a third of the way through College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Co-eds, Then and Now by Lynn Peril. It's actually a fun nonfiction look at the history of women in college in the U.S., from the first "girl's seminaries" in the 19th century to the start of women's-only and co-ed universities... right now I've hit the 1950's part of the timeline. It's often hilarious, full of tidbits about girls curling up in their "study slacks" because that was the only time wearing pants was considered appropriate or the interesting point that dating used to be about being seen with as many boys as possible, not dating a single boy and having a serious long-term relationship with him.

So both of those are really interesting. I should be done with College Girls soon, after that I'm moving on to Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. Yeah, apparently I'm on a nonfiction kick right now.

So my week, really, has been defined by what books I'm reading and thinking whether or not I really should be reading books, not writing them. Or looking into freelance writing. Or painting. Or... something financially viable.

I dream about seeing books with my name on them on a shelf in Barnes & Noble. Of course, I also dream about being the maid of honor for the wedding of a hunchbacked, but really nice queen in a palace the size of New York City.

So... I'm not sure my dreams are anything I should go by.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

And So It Goes (Alabama/Illinois)

It would be easy to post pictures of pretty spring flowers I have seen, and I'll get back to that.

But right now, I don't think those pretty spring flowers are important at all. You'll have to wait for those.

Southern Illinois is still flooding. Parts of it along the Mississippi are rapidly turning into little "islands". I was reading a news story about a man basically taking people back and forth in his boat between their houses and the nearest dry place that their cars are parked, so they can go to and from work. There are photos of people riding horses through the floodwater. The sandbags in Cairo, Illinois are starting to go. They've ordered "non-essential" people to evacuate the town.

The town I lived in for six years, Carbondale, has set up an area for evacuees to stay in. They already have people staying there. Murphysboro, less than ten minutes down the road from Carbondale, is looking at a possible loss of their wastewater treatment plant due to flooding. Sandbags have been airlifted in. The Big Muddy is expected to crest less than an inch from its previous record and roads have been closed all over Jackson, Massac, and Franklin counties to deal with the onslaught of water.

My friend in Cape Girardeau is still watching the Mississippi and its inexorable climb. Discussions are happening on whether or not to purposefully flood certain areas in order to relieve the strain on more-populated ones.

In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, help is on the ground. Volunteers are showing up to help in whatever ways they can. My throat closes up reading the opening line about a truck showing up with some Krispy Kreme donuts - sure, it's not any kind of permanent help there, but it's a start. It's something normal.

My friend who was living in Tuscaloosa is looking at complete uncertainty as to when power and water will come back. She and her husband are doing the best they can to figure out what to do. The National Guard/Red Cross took over the parking lot next to their apartment for the relief effort.

The whole state is looking at debris, picking through rubble to find what's left.

There is a lot of damage and destruction, and it's only been a couple of days. It's incredible how quickly devastation on this scale in our own country fades from the front page of the newspapers not in the immediate area, how easily these storms and floods became a tiny link below large pictures of William and Kate in England getting married on CNN.com.

I know it's hard to think about, I do. But please, please consider donating or helping in any way you can. We are talking about people who have lost everything, who are staring at five blocks of nothing but debris and flatness. We're talking about people desperately building sandbags to hold off a wall of water. We are talking about empty towns and people who need every ounce of clean water they can get.

I am going to repost, now, a post my friend Tea made about where to donate, places you can give money to, ways we can help.

Obviously, this particular post is focused harder on ways to send help to Alabama. It was the hardest hit state and is having the worst time dealing with the destruction. These tornadoes cut a swath across the lower half of this country, but the highest death-toll, by far, was in Alabama. The Red Cross will be on the ground wherever they are needed. There is a Mississippi Disaster Relief Fund set up for victims in MS.


----------------------

Originally posted here.

As you’ve probably noticed, one of my best friends in the whole world lives in Tuscaloosa. You can read about her experiences these past few days here.

Here are some ways you can help.

CBS42 has a list of ways to donate water, non-perishable food items, clothing, etc., for people who are within driving distance.

AL.com has more ways for people who are in the region to help.

If you want to volunteer, call the United Way at 211.

[info]alephz took the time to put together a list of ways to donate money. I’m c/ping that here.

You can donate to the Alabama Red Cross. Or even the regular Red Cross. There’s also the Salvation Army and the Alabama Governer’s Emergency Relief Fund

There is also a link to many ways you can help here:

Stuff to send to Alabama.

A couple things you should know: They are looking most for money, bottled water, and non-perishable food items, flashlights, batteries, hand sanitizer, as well as gift cards to stores like Wal-Mart, Lowes, and other big chain stores that are located in the area.

Anyone who sends me confirmation of a donation of $10 or more (you can send me a photo of a text confirmation if you do the text to the Red Cross or Salvation Army thing) will get a black and white drawing of a single figure (person, animal or thing). If you send $50 or more, I will draw 2-3 figures for you.

Please re-post this anywhere you can.

----------------

Please don't look away from these hard moments.

These people need whatever help we can give, whatever items we can send.