Category Archives: Employment

Work It Real Good

So much of my work is editing other people’s work that I often find it fascinating to know where their work (and mine), begins and ends. The burden of the work is clear: it is theirs, but also, here and there, and after a fashion, mine. But not really. But also more than maybe so.

I suppose this is what you call the collaborative process. It’s certainly an interesting way to live, and not at all a bad way to mention earn a living.

It’s fascinating what people come up with as they work through things – to follow their ideas as they emerge, take shape, grow (and at times falter, at times slip and derail). It’s fascinating what can be done to help them; what they need, what they want. They only have to ask, or let me ask on their behalf.

There’s a lot of trust that goes around, only to come back again. Mistakes, too, happen, not all of them regrettable. Some of them very.

The work varies, from not-so-great to good to great. But maybe it can be a little better. Not everywhere, not always, but there will be room enough, here and there, to re-work things. Why not?

It’s up to you, and then it’s mine until it’s yours again. Between us, we’ll work it good.

Work real it good.

 

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Filed under Communications, Employment, Language, People, Relationships, Words

Points of Convergence (Repertoire of a 6:00AM Commute)

There was a time when my morning commute meant a pre-dawn commute before the commute. It required taking a very early bus to the subway, to another bus, and then to a station where I met up with my Work Crew for what was then another 30-to-90-minute drive to site, wherever it happened to be that day.

***

The Very Early Bus arrived at around 6:00AM and the stop was about a 10-minute walk from my house.

Now. There was my Work Crew, whom I saw every day, and then there was my Commute Crew, with whom I also had a specialized relationship (they being the first faces of the new day, which placed my Work Crew in a close, yet distant second).

 

There was really no comparison:

 

  1. Leather Jacket Motorcycle Man. The jacket was of a rich, heavy leather. It had shoulder armour (impressive!) and fit him perfectly; less like a glove and more like a second skin. I never saw a motorcycle helmet. I never saw a motorcycle. Seemed unnecessary, maybe even over-the-top.
  2. The Old Timer. He must have lived close; his stop was only one away from mine. We could have been neighbours, though I never saw him in the street. He was quite, if not rather, elderly, perhaps even venerated.
  3. Army Gent. Over the weeks I watched him go from civvies and duffle bag to full-on uniform: beret, Canadian Flag patched prominently on his camo jacket; shining, immaculate boots. And duffle bag. He looked rather dashing, set. He smiled often, and not unkindly.
  4. Mr. Hard Hat. The yellow hat was sometimes worn on this man’s squarish head or on his heavy belt and sometimes it was nestled securely in his lap. He never took his gaze off the middle distance. His hours were probably as bad (if not worse) than mine. He sat tall, and primly, regardless.
  5. Lady Grey. She and The Old Timer were friends (or maybe neighbours – there’s a difference sometimes). She helped him off the bus. She reminded me of Tea Time. She carried a big shoulder bag looped over her small torso. Sometimes it appeared heavy and overloaded, as if it were full of bricks or hard drives. Other times, it was so empty it swung chaotically around her, like a siren. Maybe she kept tea in there? It seemed full of promises. She and The Old Timer sometimes talked animatedly (though quietly) with each other, but I didn’t ever catch a word of their conversation. Why spoil a good thing?

 

The Subway was usually empty at that hour, or it was full of people still clinging to or retreating back towards the last vestiges of sleep (including me). It was warmer, roomier, quieter there: you could be totally alone. It was easy. Can you blame us?

The Another Bus was not without its charm. For example: The Man With the Scruffy Dog He Kept Inside His Jacket. For example: The Woman Who Cut Her Fingernails At the Back of the Bus. For example: The Bad Hermit. But by that time of day, the riders were more diffuse, more varied. I never kept close track of them.

The Station had the Steel Drums Man. By then, it was about an hour into my morning commute to my commute (sometimes longer if traffic was bad). Whatever time I arrived, he was there, playing away on a set of steel drums in the vast corridor connecting the buses and the subway, near but not too close to the escalators leading to daylight. The perfect spot.

After a while I realized that he was playing the same set of songs every day, day after day. I realized then as I remain sure now that it could not have been otherwise: they were nice, and he was very good at them. He made them sing. 1) Seeing the Steel Drums Man and 2) hearing him play meant that 3) I had made it (for another day at least). One more day at least. No small feat, by any measure.

***

My commute before the commute went on for months, until there came a time when work was scarce and I was laid-off from the company for the winter. In the spring, I walked to take the Very Early Bus again.

The bus driver recognized me immediately.

“Where have you been?” he cried. Each word was almost its own sentence, its own question: Where. Have. You. Been?

It felt good, if not right (not really) to be there again, with my fellow pre-dawn commuters. Sometimes you don’t need all that much to count on, and the extras you do get don’t make up for anything but themselves.

I saw Motorcycle Man, The Old Timer, and Lady Grey, though there were a few new faces I didn’t recognize.

If anyone was missing, I’m sure they had their reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under City Life, Employment, Jobs, People, Places, Routines, THE PAST, Travel

Regrets

Version .1

He was charming in the way that mayonnaise is appealing because of its apparent ubiquity in sandwiches (tuna, ham, chicken salad): agreeable enough as standard (or a standard, anyway). He told the new guy how he had talked to my mother on the phone, just the other day in fact.

“She’s a lovely woman,” he said, meaning my mother, looking me in the eye. He went on and on.

Except.

He never spoke to my mother. Or, to put it in better terms, my mother never spoke to him. Has never spoken to him. He spoke to Claudia’s mother. Claudia,* the only other Asian-Canadian woman who worked there. Claudia, who was not me, whose mother was not my mother. But, I guess, “a difference that makes no difference” (even when it does and especially when you’ve already committed yourself to the convenience, the ease and matter-of-factness that comes from it), right?

He smiled at me. I smiled back. I smile back.

He left and I didn’t have anything to say to myself after that.

Except. If only. But still.

Yeah.

 

Version .05

(It’s like stepping on live snails after the evening rains in the summer: the leaden air; the sudden crunching underfoot, the pop, the grinding of shell into sidewalk; the mess that cakes to the soles of your boot. The thought of what shouldn’t have happened, what could have been done. The damage, the waste, and what possible difference there could be separating the two).

 

Version .2

She spoke in quick clipped tones that shot out from the receiver as I held the phone against my ear. I didn’t want to be there. That’s not an excuse (and barely an explanation). She asked about paper lanterns (“Paper lanterns…paper lanterns…paper lanterns!”), whether we had any in stock and how many, what colour and what etc., etc., etc.

“Who was that?” called Mom from across the store, dusting shelves, merchandise, as always (as ever).

I told her, with my hand over the receiver, for cover. The phone dropped to the floor and I looked at it for a while before picking it up.

What difference did it make?

She came into the store later that day. A woman who looked very much like my mother, like me.

“I called earlier. The girl on the phone said I was ‘some white lady.'” She laughed.

“Oh! It was her!” Mom said, pointing, laughing, looking right through me, not nearly so cheerful. “You wanted lanterns.” It wasn’t a question.

I deserved it, the reprimand, the dismissal.

Except. If only. But still.

Of course.

 

 

________________________________________________

*Not real name.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book B-I-N-G-O (Part 2)

(con’t from Monday’s post)

The BOOK BINGO sheets were prominently tacked on the wall near the stairway leading up to the managers’ offices, a veritable dead zone for employees like me. Dallas, my manager, caught me a week or two into The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of Twenty-Fifteen, standing in her way, staring at the sheets, paralyzed by indecision.

The sheets glared back, white and hot and waiting.

“You know,” Dallas said. “You’re allowed to read whatever you want.”

“This isn’t a test. Just pick a favourite,” came her voice, tinny and smelling faintly of copper.

“I’d like to know your favourite,” said Dallas, and smiled.  

***

(Dallas’s teeth were sharp and yellowed. Rumour had it she had a fake tooth, but no one knew which tooth was the fake tooth. It was anyone’s guess.

I sometimes imagined her taking her new tooth, fresh from the dentist’s office – a brilliant enameled chip, or maybe a hard, alabaster nugget if it was a molar and meant to crush and grind – and staining the tooth with tea bags and coffee grounds on her kitchen table, late into the night, and doing so until she was absolutely certain no one, not one living soul, could tell just which tooth was the fake tooth as she smiled at them from behind dead eyes.)

***

Rumours are many-edged, double-faced things that can cut and bite you if you approach them the wrong way. They proliferate like vermin; spread like wildfire.

Which also means that rumours can be useful – travelling fast and burning away at things until their cores are naked, exposed.

Eventually, it hit me again: the categories didn’t matter.

It was the books.

The books were the key.

***

“Why the Hell would you read Fifty Shades of Grey as your BOOK IN A SERIES? That book is pure, unadulterated smut. And it’s not even good smut.”

“You sure, Dallas?”

“Trust me.”

I read, I adapted. I read some more.

The Secret is your IMPORTANT BOOK? Dallas and I love that book,” boasted Houston, another manager and Dallas’ husband (the place was pretty incestuous, but only insofar as most office environments are incestuous, which is to say not very much, by comparison). “You know,” he continued, lowering his voice, “It’s, like, an open secret.” He winked. It was foul.

I read.

It became a source of power, and a refuge.

The Art of War isn’t an EPIC POEM!”

“It is, Phoenix, if you read it fast enough. The Chinese starts to rhyme.”

“Are you joking?”

It saved me from myself.

***

Did I read all the books I marked off on my BOOK BINGO sheet?

Yes.

Did they fulfill their categories?

Yes.

Were they good books?

Honestly: any book that sets you free is a good book. Any book that does precisely that is worth its weight in fucking gold.

Yeah. I won BOOK BINGO that year. That year, I got bragging rights and learned so much compared to what I eventually gave away. And then I found work in a better, more supportive environment.

There is no doubt about it. It was because of the books.

***

I wonder: did the others who partook in The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of 2015 do the same as me? Had they recognized the power lingering on the other side of books?

If they had, I didn’t notice, which of course would have been the whole point.

 

THE END

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Education, Employment, Interruptions, Jobs, People, Relationships, Ritual

Book B-I-N-G-O (Part 1)

My interest in doing anything diminished by something like 98% whenever I’m specifically asked or told to do it.

Perhaps I am a contrarian, but I doubt it.

This tendency, this character trait, this human flaw, whatever you want to call it, thankfully does not interfere with my work life, which makes me a Good Employee. For all intents and purposes.

Maybe not a contrarian then, but simply a pragmatist.

Whatever it takes.

Look. I tried to get along with my office mates (I try to get along with everyone!) but it isn’t always easy or convenient (or wise) to do so. Offices especially can be strange environments – few resources (promotions, photocopying privileges, pens & paper) makes for some intense competition and, in my case, produced some rather toxic rivalries. Everyone seemed to know this, but that isn’t the same as saying it was acknowledged, openly or otherwise.

Or is it just me?

(It’s not just me.)

*****

There are things people did to ease the tension: some brought in cookies and candy, others organized office potlucks, a few nominated themselves (or were nominated) as to go-to people to for those wishing to celebrate their birthdays at the office (after work hours, and we all had to chip in for the cake).

There were few birthdays at the office.

For a while we were allowed, encouraged even, to bring dogs in to work (“Pet dogs,” reminded our boss, Tucson,* pale, immaculate finger wagging in the air, adding his usual linguistic garnish as a way to stay at the head of the decision, though it may have been a directive rather than description, it was hard to tell with him).

But the dogs quickly became bored, then destructive, then somewhat belligerent (they could sense it too, the tension, and were getting spoiled from the cupcakes people fed them under their desks).

A NO DOGS policy was instituted.

For a while after that, there was nothing, save the baked goods and the potlucks and birthdays as rare as black, winged unicorns (or promotions).

Then came BOOK BINGO.

*****

Phoenix came up with the idea, and it seemed a good one. It seemed inventive and sound and, most of all, harmless. We were, after all, a group of smart, educated people, who often professed our love of books in the narrow, sagging hallways of the ramshackle building that housed our cubicles, on the tacky carpeting that ran beneath our shared workspaces like an oil slick; in the upstairs kitchenette with the broken microwave. Some of us were even in book clubs.

Book clubs, even!

*****

The categories listed on the BOOK BINGO sheets that Phoenix printed out for us seemed interesting and (dare I say it?), fun:

 

B-3: A DYSTOPIAN NOVEL.

I-5: A GRAPHIC NOVEL.

N-2: A BOOK WITH A BLUE COVER.

G-1: A BOOK PUBLISHED IN 2015.

O-4: A BOOK WRITTEN BY A FEMALE AUTHOR.*

 

“Where’s the harm?” I said.

And Phoenix smiled.

*****

In the end, five of us (it was a small office, despite everything), signed on for what was already being hailed (by Phoenix, ever the ringmaster, ever the MC) as The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of 2015 (pronounced “twenty-fifteen”).

Because not only had we agreed to play, we would play big: no rows or columns of B or I, or the like or that ilk. Not even impressive diagonals would do. The winner would be declared the first to complete the entire BOOK BINGO sheet (all twenty-five squares, minus the star in the middle that marked the free space). The good space.

The prize would be bragging rights (or cake if we all wanted to chip in for it).

*****

Bragging rights I wanted.

Bragging rights I understood. Bragging rights were how you got around a place like the place where I worked, how you carved out a space for yourself and kept it that way.

I got books out from the library. I took gathered books that I had purchased from second-hand stores and garage sales and had always meant to read, sometime IN THE FUTURE, when the time was right. I made piles and lists. Books towered on my nightstand. They littered the floor, crept onto the bed and invaded my dreams.

I consulted BOOK BINGO sheet, and took a closer look at the categories carefully picked out by Phoenix:

 

N-1: A BOOK PUBLISHED THE YEAR YOU WERE BORN.

O-2: A BOOK BY SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE.

N-5: AN IMPORTANT BOOK.

O-3: YOUR. FAVOURITE. BOOK.

 

And it hit me.

Each category – it asked a lot. Each would give the people I saw every day – and really only because I was paid to be there (seeing them was, in a way, incidental to being there) – a little something of myself.

It hit me hard.

*****

(Was this a bad thing? Was it bad? It didn’t seem good. Not like it mattered at that point. I was in, do you understand? I was making progress, even.)

*****

I remember thinking: I am a Good Employee. I can do this. This is good.

Besides, I reasoned, maybe I was being silly. Perhaps I was overreacting in order to compensate for the state of things. Seeing ulterior motives and indulging in paranoid fantasies where there was only collegiate goodwill and a genuine, concentrated desire to connect. I was seeing entitlements where there were only efforts to create a more open, friendly, happy place to work.

A BOOK BY SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE.

But then there was never enough pens & paper.

AN IMPORTANT BOOK.

There was never enough to go around, if certain people needed it.

YOUR. FAVOURITE. BOOK.

And I was not certain people.

… TO BE CONTINUED

 

________________________________________________

* Not real name. All names, and possibly genders, have been changed to obscure the identities of the very real people that lurk just behind those identities.

* This required a special category???

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Change, Dogs, Employment, Jobs, People, Pets, Places, Politics, Relationships, THE FUTURE

Out Manned

 
The Man was already screaming at The Cashier by the time I turned off my iPod and caught on. I was buying bread and Drano®.[1] There was a line of people behind him, trying very hard to ignore what was happening or, like me, openly gawking at what was happening.

Cashiers have it hard. Sometimes they have it real bad.

There are certain inevitabilities to being a cashier and I think it has a lot to do with the obligations of the job and the expectations that surround it. Of being professionally servile and acting as if this were a feat of personality rather than a fact of cold hard survival.

Service with a smile.

This is true for a lot of places.

This may as well have happened: there was spittle flying from The Man’s bottom lip. He was, in any case, livid, screaming about The Cashier’s “stupid manners,” refusing to believe that the bouquet of flowers he wanted to purchase could be so “fucking expensive”. [2]

Taking abuse with poise and fortitude – keeping cool, absorbing it all until the incident passes or until management arrives to deal with the Difficult Situation – this is what separates committed employees from the unambitious dregs just out to get a paycheck.

The flowers were for The Man’s moth-er! Did the cashier not understand?

In this way, everyday abuses get disregarded, and managers don’t always come to help.

Hedging bets against the customer makes more sense than counting on them for anything.

The Man brandished that bouquet at the cashier. “Brandished” (vb. to wave or flourish [something, esp. a weapon] as a threat or in anger or excitement) is the word.  Had The Cashier been trained at all? How did she even get the fucking job since she obviously can’t even handle this obviously simple fucking transaction? No, he did not want a price check you stupid fucking girl.

I was a cashier for a while, and it was hard and sometimes real bad.  Working too few and too many shifts, standing for hours on end, earning next to nothing is hard; having to deal with other people’s total fucking bullshit is sometimes real bad.

Hell is.

The Cashier was poised and she had more fortitude than I imagined even possible in her difficult situation, but it was wearing heavy on her. It was very obvious by now that there was nothing she could say or do to appease The Man, even if she really wanted to.

Finally and thank god:

“Rachel,” the cashier next to The Cashier announced over our heads, “I’m calling The Manager.”

The Man scoffed, did not bother to turn around. “Go ahead and call the fucking manager! I’ll give her as good![3]

But The Manager did not come.  I don’t know why.  We waited forever until, finally, someone did come.

A man dressed in white.  A man whose motorhead mustache seemed to drip with the same blood that spattered his apron. A man whose solid, concrete frame and massive stature casually dwarfed those around him.

The Butcher.

The Butcher's Shop by Bartolomeo Passerotti c.1580

His arms knotted in work muscles – solid, but not quite defined – sleeves rolled up to reveal body hair as black as holy sin, he had come from the back of the store to tell The Cashier that The Manager was not there. He didn’t know why.

Service with a smile means survival of the fittest. You have to adapt.

“Hey! Over here, Bruce!” It was Rachel.

“What’s up?” asked The Butcher, looking at her curiously.  She directed his gaze with her gaze to The Man, standing there, agape.

Taking half a step, The Butcher turned to face The Man.

“What?” He may have barked it. He crossed his meaty butcher arms as he said it.

“I…nothing,” muttered The Man, wholly uncurious, the exact opposite of anything approaching curious.  Keeping at least one eye on The Butcher, he dropped a few bills and coins on the counter, hesitated, and took some back.

Rachael took his money, rang him up and tossed him his change. Hard. As soon as she was done, she excused herself to the old lady standing behind The Man and hurried to somewhere in the back of the store, away from the cash register.

You can’t pay someone to care.  You can’t not pay them to care, either.

I wondered idly how much of her shift she had left.

The Man shoved the change into a worn pocket. He left the store, flowers in hand, less now like a scepter than a lot of dead weight he had to drag all the way home.

They were limp. Obviously, he squeezed too hard.

 


[1] Mutually exclusive purchases, I assure you.

[2] Actual quotes.

[3] ???

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Filed under Emotion, Employment, Jobs, Politics

Day Planners Are For People Who Do Things

Now that I have officially dropped out of my PhD program and am underemployed, I have come to the realization that day planners are for people who do things.  It was pure arrogance and folly for me to have picked one up after wrenching myself so abruptly from the tender pink womb of academia, and now I am paying for my own abortion.

Case In Point:  Before my life went to total shit, my day planner read like the annals of an accomplished, successful adult human being:

See all that stuff up there?  That was me.  I was TREMENDOUS.

Now, the only things my day planner is good for is counting off the days until the up-coming year and keeping track of my period.  It has become a record for the obvious and tiresome.

And yet, I feel that I have to plod bravely on, if only to prove to my day planner that my life is still worth the effort of living it.

It is not going well:

Do I really need to remind myself that it’s garbage day?  No, goddamit, but I have to fill the pages somehow.  Gone are the confident days that I gave day planner the privilege of being privy to the wonderful goings-on of my day-to-day life.  There are more question marks than exclamation marks in my notations now, like I’m asking DayPlanner for permission to carry on.

Because I NEED DayPlanner’s approval in order to validate my continued existence.

Am I good enough for you, DayPlanner?!  Are you fucking satisfied, you fucker?!

I am trying, DayPlanner, I’m trying so hard to please you, o.k.???!!

(don’t you look at me)

So, to all of you busy people, with your lives of purpose and day planners replete with jobs to achieve and events to attend, remember that I, too, was once like you.

I, too, had things to do.

And now my day planner, once accomplice, devotee and comrade, seethes at me from its place on the corner of my desk.  It is an unhappy, sexless marriage of two formally vibrant, compatible individuals.

But I made a commitment and I intend to keep it.

I am even trying to spice up our relationship by making predictions and setting goals for the future!

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