Personal Thursday: Retail Horror

Oct 30

I asked on the Twitternets, as you do, what I should write about for this week’s Personal Thursday entry. And I got a request for retail horror stories. So here is an entry about that.

After I got that request, I started thinking about horror stories from my retail days, at Borders and then Starbucks. Let me tell you, I had many unpleasant interactions with customers, despite my efforts to give good or at least adequate customer service at all times. I’m too much of a Boy Scout to actually be a dick to a customer no matter how tired or angry I might be. I used to type up long, angry screeds full of expletives at whatever the lastest customer idiocy was.

But as I mentally chewed on those, trying to decide which ones to write about, I realized I’ve cooled off on them. I may retain some bitterness about some of the common threads of retail work, but the individual stories have faded enough that I can’t muster up the energy to fill them with “colorful metaphors”. Mostly they serve to remind me to be kind to the retail workers (and everyone else) I meet in my day to day existence.

Some people dismiss retail work as “trivial”, “not real work”, or — in the current debate on raising the minimum wage — “not worth real money”. In their minds the retail worker is a fumbling high school student, a college student in a “fluffy” major, or someone who has somehow failed at life and is therefore not worth the dignity of basic humanity. The numbers show of course that this is not true, and that for many retail workers it’s the one thing putting food in their, and their families’, mouths. But let’s put that aside for a second; let’s pretend that entry-level retail is all surly high schoolers too lazy to competently perform basic tasks. Even in that weird parallel universe, they are still worthy of compassion.

Many horror stories from retail workers have a common theme: a rude, oblivious, condescending or downright hostile customer. Why is this? Why do so many people feel the need to be jerks to someone who’s not only there to provide a service, but is literally forbidden to defend themself? It takes almost zero effort to be a little understanding, so why do so few people stop to do it?

I don’t know. I feel like it’s similar to bathrooms. No no, hear me out — just about everyone here in the US has a bathroom at home. And most of those people don’t pee on the walls, smear poo on the floor, or leave their vomit in the sink. Most people have a bathroom that, while probably not spotless, is safe for visitors to use without coming into contact with bodily fluids or trash. They don’t break the fixtures. They don’t put holes in the walls. They don’t scratch things up.

And yet … someone does all those things in public restrooms. Someone who wouldn’t dream of leaving an unflushed turd on the seat at home has no problem leaving that little landmine in a restroom that other people have to share with them. A restroom you share with roommates or family or pets gets a certain amount of respect as a shared space. But a public restroom shared with strangers, and cleaned by strangers? Some people just can’t be bothered not to shit the place up. It’s not their problem. They don’t need to clean it up. They’re not gonna sit down and find their ass suddenly wet. Unless of course the person before them thought the same way and the workers hadn’t had a chance to clean it up.

And it’s the same thing, it seems, with retail workers. You don’t know them, you don’t have to deal with any consequences for being a dick to them, so it’s not your problem. So hell, might as well be a dick, right? It’s your chance.

Not all customers think this way. Not even most customers, depending where you are. But you know what? It only takes one person. Or two, or five. Like a turd in the urinal*, even after they’ve left and the physical evidence of their assmillinery has been cleaned up, the stench lingers.

There’s a flaw in my analogy of course, and it’s this: people aren’t restrooms. They’re not made to be shat on even if you aim in the right spot. And I’ve found that 99% of the time it takes zero goddamn effort to treat them with kindness. The person behind the cash register may be performing an outwardly simple task, but even the simplest of tasks becomes harder when you have to balance rules, management, customer desires, the current status of the store, and the inevitable turd in the urinal.

So I guess what I’m trying to say with this rambly mess is — be kind. Have compassion. The sting of being poorly treated will eventually fade in a person’s memory, but being an asshole will stay with you for life.

*Turd in the Urinal is my Marcel Duchamp cover band.

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Personal Thursday: Personal Coffee

Oct 09

I feel like it’s cheating, doing my Personal Thursday entry on something coffee-related this week. But here I go anyway.

There’s a reason my website is mostly about coffee, and it’s not just for Google clicks. It’s because, as weird as it sounds, cofee and tea occupy a important spot in my life. Before I got a job wearing a green apron, that wasn’t the case. My caffeination needs (and voracious non-alcoholic drinking habits) were fulfilled by soda, in mass quantities when possible. But as I began to pick up a coffee habit, and a decade later, a tea habit, I realized just how useful it was to me.

It means I can make myself comfortable almost anywhere with a nice warm drink. I’m a habitually early person, so I often find myself with some time to fill in a random location. All I have to do is locate the nearest coffee/tea joint — not always a Starbucks — order myself a drink, and sit there sipping it for a while. Usually while checking Twitter or writing. Wherever I go, there’s always a drink somewhere, even if it’s mediocre coffee in a lobby.

It also gives me something to help focus while I work on things. Not just because of the caffeine, but because the act of stopping to take a sip helps regulate my thought process and give my hands a break. When I worked in an office, I always had a mug on my desk. At home, I have a coaster that hosts a wide array of beverages throughout the week. Seriously, even if all you have to drink is water, give this a try. You’ll pee more but you might just find yourself getting a better rhythm going.

Thirdly, coffee and tea occupy the place in my life that a lot of people fill with alcohol. No, seriously — if I have a rough day, I crave a hot drink to help me unwind. If I want to be less inhibited, a boost of caffeine is the way I go. I drink it in social situations, I treat myself to it when I need a pick-me-up, and best of all it’s not illegal for me to drink too much or drive a car afterward.

Everybody has their vices. Smoking, shopping, beer, movies, games … everybody has something they spend some spare money and time on to get a little more enjoyment out of life. I spend a fair amount on my habit, and I’ve suffered through some pretty nasty withdrawal, but this is one habit I don’t see myself ever giving up.

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Personal Thursday: Why I Can’t Write About Me

Sep 25

I’ve kept an online blog since 2002. When I was younger I’d occasionally try keeping a diary, but I’d always forget about it after a page or two. Something was missing. Then, as an overcaffeinated undergrad in my early 20s, I discovered that LiveJournal had the missing element: an audience.

LJ has the setup that most social networks have now. You have a place to post your own updates and a feed of updates from people you’re following. So even my most boring, inane blog posts — and there were many — were still read by my friends. I had an audience, and it was easy for them to comment on my posts to give me feedback. I had someone to aim my words at.

Today LJ is a quiet place. I haven’t posted there since November 2013. Instead of my LiveJournal I now have this blog, hosted on my own domain and prettied up with WordPress. When I first set it up I made a few posts about mundane personal things like my Thanksgiving preparations. But since then it’s been strictly “business” — and by business* I mean coffee.

Why is that? Several times I’ve decided to go back to posting personal stuff, but each time I’ve run into a wall made up of two questions:

  • What should I write about?
  • Why should anyone care?

The answer, of course, is that it’s my blog. I can write about whatever I want, and it doesn’t matter if anyone cares.

But even after telling myself that, I hesitate. And I think it’s because I’m back to that missing element: audience. Without the social networking of a service like LiveJournal, and with RSS feeds apparently going the way of the dodo, I can’t shake the feeling that anything I write is just vanishing into the void.

It’s not so much a need for validation (though of course I crave that like anyone else), it’s that without an audience I have trouble finding a voice. I don’t need to write for myself, I know all my mundane personal crap.

That’s why I’ve been able to keep doing coffee posts. There’s a clear goal, obvious content, and I can just look at my Google hits to see what works and what doesn’t. The trick is getting the same sort of feel for my non-coffee stuff.

Well, I won’t learn that trick if I don’t write. I’ve been doing okay for the most part managing a coffee post at least once a week, usually on Fridays. So my goal is to do the same for non-coffee, on what I’m gonna call Personal Thursdays because I like the internal rhyme. Keep an eye on my Twitter for links to new posts, and hopefully I’ll find my voice.

 

*I use the term business loosely, since I make zero money off it.

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How Blinkie completely lost her groove

Nov 23

One thing has become abundantly clear to me as I’ve spent time staring at a blinking cursor over the past couple of months — my writing flow is pretty much gone.

I’ve been making sure to update this blog a couple times a week, but each entry just seems to be a bunch of disorganized thoughts haphazardly blathered into the text editor. There’s no hook, there’s no logical progression, there’s no flow to anything. My non-Starbucks stuff pretty much only gets traffic via pityclicks from friends, but that’s no excuse for being boring. Plus, I’m not exactly gonna get any new readers with these yawnfests.

Likewise I’ve got a monthly podcast stalled out mid-script, because I just can’t get any momentum on it. I’ve got ideas, but I just can’t get them into words on the screen. And I find myself spending much more time going “I need to write something” than actually writing.

The usual recommended cure for this sort of thing is more writing, which for obvious reasons is easier said than done. Or maybe I need to spend more time planning things out, so that when I do start making words they’re in a logical order.

Or maybe there’s just something missing somewhere that’s throwing me off. All I know is, it’s taken me forever just to write a blog entry about how I can’t write these days.

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Maybe I was bitten by a radioactive trivet.

Nov 15

As some of y’all are aware, I have an unusually high resistance to heat. I enjoy 100 degree weather. I never notice getting sunburned until I’m in lobster territory. Touching hot things only rarely leaves a mark.

I call it a superpower for a reason.

You may scoff at my hyperbole, so let me tell you a little story that happened to me today: I was making chicken for lunch. Used a potholder to take a pan out of a 400 degree oven. Upon inspection, it was clear the chicken wasn’t done so I’d need to move the pan out of the way and finish it in a skillet.

I actively thought to myself, That pan is still hot from the oven. I need a potholder.” And lo, I put a potholder on my hand and moved the pan safely like a motherfucking adult.

Not five goddamn seconds later I thought “I’d better move it over a little more” and sure enough, I grabbed the pan with my bare hand — potholder still on my other hand! — and moved it.

End result of grabbing a 400 degree pan? A brief pain and not a single mark on my hand.

Doesn’t sound like a superpower? Consider the fact that I do stupidass things like that all the time, and I still have full mobility of all ten fingers. I’ve grabbed a hot pan hard enough to hear my skin actually sizzle — didn’t even have a mark to show for it afterward. That ain’t normal, man.

My mother thinks it’s because I was born (as she loves to recount over and over) right before a historic heat wave. I’m not discounting gamma rays or ancient curses, though. Maybe an alternate universe is involved?

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Operation Stop Being A Blob update

Nov 13

So not too long ago, I stepped on the scale and discovered that I’d hit 200 lbs. Everyone has a different ideal weight, but for me at 5’7″, knowing what I used to weigh, that was the last straw.

I’ve struggled with my weight since I moved away to college and immediately slid into the soda-and-chips diet. I’ve done Weight Watchers a couple of times with great results (lost 25 lbs each time) but inevitably fell back into my old eating patterns. I like chips and fries and white rice and soda, and I drink sugary caffeinated drinks the way a lot of people drink alcohol. I work a desk job at home, in an area full of coffee shops and restaurants. I’m a decent cook but often lazy as hell and I get bored with things if I eat them too often. Pretty much a recipe for blobularity.

To make matters worse, 90% of my extra fat goes straight to my gut, pretty much the least healthy place to be carrying it. Add in a family history of diabetes and hypertension, and you get a lot of reasons to lose weight.

After seeing the scale hit two bills I decided to start on Operation Stop Being A Blob. I started it gradually by attempting to make better food choices and starting on the Couch to 5K running program. I lost an ittybit of weight but wasn’t gaining much traction. Then I started personal training sessions at a nearby gym. The trainer recommended a strict high-protein, low-carb diet and I figured what the hell, why not give it a try.

So far I’m down to 165, a weight I haven’t been in a long time. I have three sizes of jeans in my dresser due to weight fluctuations and right now the smallest size is starting to fall off my butt a little. I’m cheating a little by lapsing into sugary lattes instead of plain drip coffee, and I’ve lost momentum on the running program, but damn if I don’t feel a hell of a lot better than I did.

Things that have helped the most:

  • Going high-protein/low-carb. I’m not sure how much to believe the “carbs are evil” story but the simple fact is that protein keeps me full longer. I have a chicken breast with a little bacon on top for breakfast/lunch and I’m not hungry again till late evening.
  • Having appointments with a trainer. This is expensive, but ensures that I will get in those intense 1-hour workouts twice a week.
  • Having those appointments at a gym I can walk to. Seriously this thing is half a block from my house, I have no excuse for not making it there and it doesn’t eat up much time in transit.
  • Paying attention to my progress via how my clothes fit. Making it down to my small jean size, and seeing my shirts no longer sausage-tight, is a huge boost. It gives me a reward for getting this far and a reason to keep going.
  • Finding stress foods that are not as disastrous for my waistline. Sugary lattes and bunless cheeseburgers may not be good for me, but they’re a lot better for me than cheese fries and 96 oz. sodas.

The Operation will continue (with a few “cheat days” for the holidays) but overall I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made. I’ve got better muscle tone, better endurance, and my back hurts less. I’d love to see 140 again someday but you know what, if I don’t make it there I’m okay with that. I don’t want to be thin, I just want to be healthy.

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