Friday, December 27, 2013

Pavlov's Bitch-mas

I'm idling in front of a McDonald's while Greg and Henry play inside.  Oliver is sleeping in his carseat and I'm - oh, so quietly - munching on some popcorn I just picked up while braving Target.

Okay, he's awake.  We can go inside and do a "proper" bloggy-blog now...

Double Cheeseburger
Small Fries

If you're scoring at home, I've just named two places that I'm shunning - Target and McDonald's - and one food I've decided not to eat anymore - cheeseburger.  Two words: gift cards.  And the meat is being phased out.  After the new year.  And our meeting with the nutritionist isn't until February, so we've got time to work it out a bit (so there). 

I have also named one place I recommend people stay away from this time of year - any retail establishment.  I recommend this, not just for the sake of the shopper, but for the sake of the clerks, as well.  December 26th through the new year is known by the Ramenista class as Returns/Gift Card season.  Or, to appropriate the word my dear friend Kate just coined: Bitchmas. 

And there's blame to go around for the high stress of this season.  For every one returns horror story you might have, we cashiers and service managers have at least a hundred more stories of unreasonable, belligerent customers with unrealistic expectations of the world.  I've had my share of situations I wish I could go back and do differently, of policies from Corporate that make our lives unnecessarily stressful, but if I'm going to be perfectly honest... you people are awful. 

Okay, I know, I know - it's not everybody...  It may not even be most.  But it's enough of you.

Some of you are inherently jerks in any situation, some of you are well-meaning but just thoughtless.  But the overarching problem comes from the average customer's social conditioning.  People have been told that low-wage workers are just kids - immature slack-offs.  Disposable.  Otherwise they would have a better job.  And as much as I love Kevin Smith, movies like "Clerks" only reinforce those negative stereotypes.  People are not taught to treat the people in the polo shirts with pinned-on names as fellow adults deserving of respect.

And then there is the original sin of customer service... 

I'm not an inherently violent person, but I would dearly like to punch that person who first said, "The customer is always right," right in the face.  With those five words they entitled the biggest douche-bags of human society and unleashed a torrent of undeserved disrespect upon the American worker.  The "customer is always right" mantra enables any person to be as abusive and disrespectful as they want and then be rewarded for it.  In other words, instead of being accountable for their actions, that policy turns them into another one of Pavlov's Bitches.

These perceptions infuse the customer-clerk relationship.  I cannot defend every jerk behind the counter - and many of them buy into the advertised role and treat their job as just as disposable as they are perceived to be.  But my experience is that the attitude is not the norm, nor is it entirely unfounded when it's there.  Since I spent so many years developing my customer service skills, I get a little extra rankled when I receive legitimately bad customer service.

The best advice I ever had from a manager was, "The customer is not always right, but the customer is always a customer."  I could write way more than any of you guys want to read about what good customer service - and good customer behavior - should look like.  For now, let me just leave you with a few tips for the season...

- Be patient.
- Mind the line.  It's fine to have a conversation as you wait, or to play games on your phone, but be aware of your surroundings and keep the line moving.
- Don't converse with others when you're at the counter - and that goes for cashiers too.  Don't start a conversation you can't drop as soon as you have to interact with another person, and tell the person on the phone that you're at the counter now.  Let them wait or call them back.
- If you don't have the receipt or didn't know the return policy, expect nothing.  My personal policy as a manager was that exceptions should be made for exceptional situations.
- Be contrite and polite, because most stores are trying to find a way to make you happy, especially this time of year.
- Be mindful.  Take a moment to think about what the person behind the counter experiences every day as part of their job.  Consider what amount of control they have over the situation, and if you have to take your matter to the manager or the corporate offices, try to acknowledge that you understand the limits of power of the person in front of you.
 - And if the person behind the counter is being a douche, you don't have to get nasty about it in response.  Nor should you just take it.  Just follow-up with the appropriate higher-up in a calm and assertive manner.  After all, how else are they to learn about the bad behavior - or misinformed behavior - if they never hear about it from the people who are experiencing it?

This time of year is also known as, "And I'd like a tax receipt..." season for those working the donations departments out there.  So, on Greg's behalf, if you're heading to Goodwill or wherever, and especially if you're going to ask for a tax receipt, please do not:

- Donate trash, especially items contaminated with fecal matter.
- Hand over three separate bags with a single shirt in each so you can claim, "three bags of clothes," on your taxes.
- Ask that your receipt can be back-dated if you show up after the new year.
- Ask them to unload the 40 pounds of books right away so you can have the box back.
- Set your donations on the ground for them to lift up again.  They are lifting and carrying and contorting all day.  Just wait your turn and hand it over so they do not have to put more strain on their backs.
- And if you are donating "as is" items or items to be recycled (like your bulky old TV now that you've gotten that new spiffy flatscreen for Christmas), just don't ask for a receipt.

If you really, really wanted something and didn't get exactly what you wanted, remember that it's no one's responsibility to get you anything.  You can take responsibility for that desire and work to get it for yourself.  And try to keep in mind that if you have received something that you ultimately don't like, you have still been given the opportunity to make someone else happy by passing on what you have been given for free.

Friday, December 20, 2013

When love delayed is a good thing.

Downtown Grounds
12oz Soy Milky Way Mocha
Maple(?) Muffin

Let's talk love.  Again.  And baby love.  And depression.

I had heard enough stories of postpartum depression to know that I should not expect some cosmic maternal bliss to hit me as soon as I held my firstborn in my arms.  I knew that I would love him because I already did.  But there is so much nostalgia and romance surrounding that moment of childbirth and first meeting, it is a really novel thought in our society to not expect deep, astounding, irrevocable love immediately.  Too many women feel like there is something deeply wrong with them after they have experienced the long (long, long, long) awaited birth of their child and don't feel the warm fuzzy rainbow glory of maternal love wash over them.

This is a great article about one mother's experience.  I highly recommend you all give it a read -  Just Show Up: A Love Story - if you have not seen it already.

I think I'm lucky to have heard so many honest stories ("I felt like I was babysitting at first...") before I gave birth, because I might have been alarmed at the unexpected feelings I had.  Like I said, I knew I would love him - even if I couldn't feel it.  It was like a tulip bulb in winter - a bright flower that I knew would bloom once the snows had melted.  Unlike the mother in the story above, I trusted that that love was there from the beginning, though even I was surprised at how deep and insulated it was.

What I did feel immediately (other than complete physical and mental exhaustion and pain) was an all-consuming protectiveness.  You kind of know you're going to worry and fret and want to protect your child more than you have ever experienced before.  But the force of that feeling is really astounding...  Just because you grew up with Southern California's Santa Ana winds wrecking some havoc every autumn, that doesn't mean you have a clue what it is to have a Kansas tornado hurl you to Oz.

I have my own theory for why we parents feel this way - because fathers also experience hormonal changes during pregnancy and childbirth.  The more involved they are with the whole process, the more they are affected and the faster and deeper they bond with their newborn.  But in a pre-industrial state of nature, without the intervention of prenatal care and antibiotics and other life-saving procedures, the sad truth is that we lose a lot of babies.  Our brains and bodies are designed, both for that deep emotional attachment, as well as for more frequent loss than we experience nowadays (though we are not without loss now, and my heart goes out to anyone who has lost a loved one, especially a child).

It seems very logical to me that we should feel that overwhelming need to protect our vulnerable newborn, but also that our love is allowed to grow over time, to give some protection to our heart and mind should we lose that child in its infancy.

The obvious caveat here is that there is a limit to that sense of detachment, and every parent should be aware of the signs of serious mental health concerns.  But the point is to keep perspective on what your emotional expectations should be, because failing to feel what society expects you to feel after giving birth can drive you into, or deeper into, serious depression or anxiety.


While all that preamble directly pertains to parents, it also relates back, a little bit, to my previous rantings about our "soulmate fetish."  Our society's relationship to love is so whacked out I think we are still centuries from having a healthy understanding of it in all its forms.  But one lesson I have learned - the hard way - is about trusting love to grow.  Not exactly the same way it does with a child, but still...

As a child of divorce, I had a lot of anxiety about commitment.  And when I have looked back, I have seen how I have withdrawn too quickly from love that still had a chance because I was protecting myself from possible hurt.  I found reasons - not invalid ones - to shut down the relationship when there was a crossroads, or when I was too absorbed in my own baggage.  (Apologies go out through the Universe to Dave... to Auden... and so on...).

Fortunately for my husband, I had learned some of this about myself by the time we met.  I had learned that if I put an official designation on us too soon, I would freak out on some level that we didn't deserve to be at that point in our relationship.  It had more to do with my mindset about my feelings than about the depth of my feelings.  It's also probably fortunate that we had an entire country between us for almost a year, so that my mind could settle into our relationship before we were close enough to complicate it too much.

For us, that has proved the winning formula.  He may not have needed it, but I did.  And instead of following that stereotypical storyline of wonderful romance at the beginning that declines and settles into the marathon of maintaining a long-term relationship, our love-line ascends.  Like my love for our children, which surprises me how it grows and grows, so my love for my husband grows every day.  Like a tree growing from seed to sapling to a towering redwood or sweet apple tree, love accumulates, ring after ring.

My metaphors are getting too sappy for me.  (See what I did there?).  Time to go.  And to you all I say (as a racier Leonard Nimoy might put it):

Love long, and perspire...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Five degrees.

The (dinning room/office/toy vehicle race track) Table
Some kind of Christmasy Tea
Roll of Everything Ritz Crackers

We got snowed in last night (Friday, December 6th), so there was no official mom-escape to a coffee shop to write today.  With 53 minutes left in the day, we'll see what happens...

Five degrees.  Fahrenheit.  That's the projected overnight low here.  There's also half a foot of freshly fallen snow that ain't going anywhere.  We're pretty warm and toasty in here (though my tea has gone cold after Henry resurfaced for a cup of milk and one more storybook before we dragged his butt back to bed).  And even though we weren't able to go to the mall to get our picture with Santa, this is one of those days when I don't bitch about the weather, because my first thought when I saw that forecast was for all the homeless people in this town.

There are a lot of them here, loitering downtown, holding cardboard signs by busy roadsides.  They often have companions - other transients, an adorable cat or imposing dog, children.  I watched one woman go from begging for her growing belly, to begging for the tiny bundle in her arms.  I figure the baby is not quite a month old yet.  Mother and child will most likely have found their way to a shelter, as many others will, too.  Others will have a sympathetic friend of some sort who will let them stay on their couch, or at least take shelter in the garage or shed.  More will break into cars or homes or offices.  And those are just the ones we see, who wear the trappings of homelessness on their backs and their disintegrating clothes.

But shelter is scarce in this town, and almost nothing is open late for people to find a temporary haven of warmth.  How many will be out there in the elements with whatever paltry shelter they can drag around?  How can they possibly keep warm enough on a night like tonight?

My first reaction when I saw that number - 5 degrees - was that I wanted to go out and buy a bunch of those $5 throw blankets from Rite Aid, and just drop a pile of those cheap blankets in the middle of the downtown plaza where the homeless tend to congregate.

Oh, look SNL is on...

...and it's Monday!

Still snowed in.  At least, I haven't yet been forced to put my chains on and shovel the rest of our parking lot to get my car out.  Yet.  Time to make myself some more tea and finish this...  Hopefully.

Nope!  Tues - no, Wednesday.

...or, Saturday...

My usual Out Day, but I'm blogging from home again.  Today I had some running around to do and a Hobbit movie to see (very Empire... that's all I'm gonna say...).  But I am going to finish this!  Damn it.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Kettlecorn (on which I have made myself sick)

Tonight, it's a balmy, sauna-like 31 degrees Fahrenheit.  It's still damn cold.  I did end up buying some of those cheap blankets - 4 of them.  They're now in my car.  I'm not sure what to do with them now, but I figured in the store that I already spend too much money on coffee outings, and the occasional Hobbit movie, so why not go further into debt for something more useful.  I imagine I'll just hand them out as I see somebody who seems to need one.  Or I'll find some kind of non-profit or church or something.

I should have gotten socks, too.  Because aren't wet socks the most annoying fucking thing in the world when you're already pissed off at something important, like being homeless in the winter... or ever?

Okay, it's Sunday.  Clearly, I am not good at working at home.  I literally fell asleep at my computer last night.

Peppermint Tea
Pretzel Sticks

Since I've completely lost the plot at this point, I'm going to just go somewhere else and see if it meets back up with me along the way.

I got into an internet conversation recently with a conservative (or two).  I would consider this particular person more thoughtful and intelligent than many, though he did throw in a number of Fox "News" specific bullet points, which were mostly ludicrous by nature.  We were discussing the minimum wage and the fast food workers striking to get their base pay raised to $15/hr.  The discourse brought to mind a phrase: compassionate classism.  It's like hateless racism - because you don't have to hate black people to throw around the n-word. So, too, with classism.

The argument was approximately that, yeah, it would be nice to raise wages, but that would raise the cost of labor too much and force those same people to be laid off or replaced by automation.  (Also, another person thought that these jobs need to be low and unlivable to motivate these workers to better themselves and move on to other jobs... 'cause it's only lazy, unmotivated people who stay in a law-wage job... Yeah, that's what would hold us back - too much money).  So the "compassionate" view would be to keep wages down low so people don't lose their jobs - AND so that "job-creators" can utilize all the capital they need so badly to innovate and create new jobs for those people who will eventually be replaced by automation.

That's a convenient opinion if you're not one of those people working minimum wage.  It's also not a capitalist society if almost none of the people in that society cannot utilize capital.

Whatever validity  there might be to that argument in some contexts, we are way, way beyond those bounds.  I have argued all these economical points before (you know, customers are the job-creators, too, you don't need THAT much capital, innovation can come from anyone, etc).  But what allows these policies and stereotypes to persist, is that those who are espousing them aren't feeling the 5 degree temperatures outside.  Many of them are in a completely different climate altogether.

There's a difference between sympathy and empathy.  Your heart can go out to the poor starving kids on TV, to the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, to the Haitian people who are still devastated by that years-old earthquake.  Yet you somehow talk yourself out of doing anything about it.  It's overwhelming, you've got your own kids to take care of, etc.  When you're warm indoors you feel bad for people living in the cold.  But when you are feeling the bone-biting chill yourself, and seeing ice form on the inside of your windows (not condensation, not frost - fricken ice!), you feel them.  Even if it's just an extrapolated experience, it becomes real, present.  You no longer have to argue yourself into doing something - you have to justify not doing something.

There's a Rumi quote I came across just the other day: "Every story is us."  This may be my next wrist tattoo.  It sums up so beautifully my core belief that a person is a person is a person, and on some level it can be said that there is no such thing as "others."

Ideas that keep you from seeing or treating some people as your human equals - markets know best, poor people are poor for a reason, minimum wage can't be raised - those dangerous ideas are the electric blanket that smothers your humanity and keeps you from feeling the five degrees of separation between us.

And it's Monday.  Nighty-night.