Ron Roy, 12/24/2012

Current Occupation:  Operating Room Processing Technician.

Former Occupation: Operating Room Processing Technician, Car Dealership Delivery Driver, Traffic Flagger.

Contact Information: Ron Roy has always written about work and working people.  Since graduating from college with a degree in Literature, he has worked primarily in the Health Care industry. His first novel, “Passing Time” which takes place in a paper mill, was published in February  2011 by Blue Cubicle Press of Plano Texas, which also devotes itself to people caught in the daily grind.

 

#

Bigfoot

For twenty years you worked in the mill, collected your paycheck while it spewed poison into your air and streams of black shit into the river that ran through your town.  The grey-blue peaks of the Presidential Range loomed to the south and smaller mountains cradled you even as the stacks spewed clouds that sometimes masked the sky.  People came from all around the country to savor the wilderness around your valley, but you might as well have been living in the Rust Belt of the Midwest.  You had more in common with a Pittsburgh Steelworker than you did with the Yankee dirt farmers and the hippy tree-huggers.

You learned early not to drink the water or eat the fish.  You washed your car once a week because if you didn’t the paint peeled off beneath the thick, white sulfur that fell from the sky.  You didn’t think about your lungs, your children’s lungs, the cancer clusters popping up all over town.  Everybody needs to make a living and without the mill, your town would have dried up and blown away and damned if you wanted to pull up roots and move to some angry, overcrowded city where you couldn’t let your kids stay out after dark and you had to lock things up tight when you drove to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes.  You had that in common with the dirt farmers.

So, you looked the other way until the owners shut it down. They left, but you got to keep the ruins, that ugly mass of bricks in the center of your town, its smokestacks dormant, the river finally running clean.  The Chamber of Commerce feels confident that they can get flocks tourists to hunt and fish in the shadow of the smoke stacks.  They’ll even be able to eat their catch.  Maybe you could try that, too, because those kids of yours were going to need a new source of protein, that’s for sure.

You watched the mill go in disbelief.  Hadn’t you looked the other way? You’d done your part.  Shouldn’t they have had to do the same?

Once they pull out, there isn’t much for you to do.  The next biggest cash cow in town is the car dealership. Driving into town the last two miles is cars, every make and model lined up big as life.  For years, you wondered if the world needed this many Silverados,  this many Sierras and F-150’s.  How many Tundra’s and Rav 250’s and Outbacks were enough?  You don’t ask any more.  You’re grateful that there are more cars than people in your town.  You fill in an application.  You wait.

The big money is in Sales, of course, but you have to work your way up.   You start out driving cars.  You make the minimum.  You work on call.  Some weeks you get your 40 hours but others they forget that you’re alive.

The minimum.  You wonder who exactly came up with this number.  As if a man could support his family on it.  You’re lucky you’ll have unemployment for a while.  If the government keeps extending it, you might just make ends meet.

You thank God for the internet.  The dealership sells cars all over New England and Upstate New York and someone has to get them there.  You know they wish a robot could do the job, one that doesn’t need to eat or piss or smoke, one that doesn’t have to take a break when they get punchy and the lines in the center of the road start jumping in their vision, but for now, you’ll fill the bill.

There are routes that you could drive now in your sleep.  Sometimes you have, on the late nights when you’ve done a long out-and-back.  On those days, six hours from home, the customers always ask,  “So they must be going to put you up in a hotel overnight so you can drive back in the morning?”  You just laugh.

One of those routes is across Vermont and into Upstate New York:  Montpelier, Burlington, Plattsburgh, Saranac Lake.  The farthest you’ve gone is Gouverneur, not far from Lake Ontario.  You picked up the newspaper from Watertown.  You knew it from a Harry Chapin song.  In concert he would always say, “I spent a week there one day.”  Now you know how he felt.

You’ve ridden the Ferry across Lake Champlain in glorious sunshine and through a channel choked with ice that grumbled beneath the bow.  You’ve felt rough seas, the kind you thought you’d never ride unless you sailed out past the continental shelf.

What was that line your French Canadian grandfather loved?  “You’ll never drown in Lake Champlain as long as you stay on the sho.”

One week you drove to Fort Kent, the northernmost city in Maine on Monday, eight hours on the Mapworks from your home, but that was before the snow began to fly.  Three days later, you ended up in Deliverance, Long Island, eight hours in the other direction.

In Maine, the snow started in Bangor, not quite half way.  The roads were bad and you got there during the morning rush. You cursed the idiots who cruised along at 60, who cut in and out as if they were in Miami Beach, but an hour later, as you crawled with one wood truck in front and another behind, you longed for company and distraction.  Then the trucks pulled off.

You drove the last turnpike miles alone. You saw the signs for Baxter State Park.  You knew Mount Katahdin lay within its boundaries.  Katahdin, the northern anchor of the Appalachian Trail, a jewel.  You’d seen its peak in pictures rising above the surrounding woodlands like Kilimanjaro in the movies.  You wished that you could see it, now, but you felt fortunate just to be able to the see the sign.

The directions took you up Route 11, your path now true north, the road as straight as the needle on the compass.  The snow stopped and you thanked God because here the plows hadn’t been able to keep up.  You hugged the brown bands of sand the plows had dumped in their wake. You were your own snowplow.

You thanked God that your vehicle had all-wheel drive.  You frowned.  You weren’t used to being on such close terms with God, invoking his name twice in the same day.  It had been awhile.  You hoped he was still taking your calls.

The road stretched through The Great North Woods, a narrow canyon through acres of black woodlands.  Long, rolling hills stretched out ahead three at a time and every time you crested one, there were three more.  You knew you wouldn’t escape these woods until you reached the shores of Hudson Bay.

You only saw two towns.  They popped up and fell behind you in seconds.  You needed gas, but the lights came and went before you could turn your wheel. You wondered if you’d imagined them, conjured them up in your need for fuel, your fear of being stranded by the roadside. Then you broke into the light.  The sun shone over the endless fields of Aroostook County.

You swapped out one SUV for another.  You couldn’t tell the difference, but you knew the one you picked up was special, somebody’s one-and-only.  Maybe it was the leather seats or the back-up camera or the hands-off blue tooth.  Maybe the cup holders were just right in the back or the DVD player was some kid’s Christmas wish.  Who knew what mysteries lay beneath the hood?  Whatever, it was the perfect combination for some lady in Tupper Lake, New York.  Somebody else would probably deliver it once you got it back and prepped for sale.  Maybe you’d be the one to do it, see the look of pleasure on the new owner’s face, but that kind of closure is rare in this job.  Every day, every trip begins at square one and you never know who or why you make them, you only know where.

In Long Island, three days later, sixteen hours south of that dealership in Maine, you smelled the salt air and wished that you could detour a few miles and stick your big toe in the surf, but you drove that day with Claude.  He told you once that he knows the general manager checks the odometer readings on every trip and if you stray too far off course, you won’t get called for two or three weeks or might get canned outright.

It was your third trip to Long Island.  The route is always the same: I 91-95-295-695-Cross Island to the LIE.  The Long Island Expressway is 495 and cuts down the center of the Island.  The towns you’ve seen all branch out on the perpendicular, each one a strip of car dealers, fast-food joints and mini-malls. For you, Long Island is a giant cell phone tower.  They tease you with exits for streets called Ocean Boulevard, Seacoast Drive, and Pinnacle Point.  You’ve always heard about the rich people and their mansions on the beach, but you know it’s just another myth.  This crap that you see is what Long Island is all about.

You picked up a Suburban.  It was big enough to ride nine people comfortably, Hell, a family could have just moved in.   It cost a hundred bucks to fill the tank. That barely got you home.  Claude drove the chase car and it did better gas-wise but he needed  a hundred-twenty bucks to go round trip.  By the time you reached the dealership your fuel tab had topped two hundred bucks.

You swear you’d picked that same vehicle up in Plattsburgh two weeks before.  You delivered two more just like it in the next week.  You logged another thousand miles.  You burned sixty-five more gallons of fuel.  You realized that nothing had changed for you.  You still look the other way.  Maybe the mill had cut you loose, and the smokestacks don’t spew poison every day, but now the pumps piss gasoline, instead, the exhaust pipes let their poison fly, all so some lady who lives in the Adirondacks can get her leather interior and luggage rack, her kids those cup holders and entertainment system and you can get your cut.

If everybody has a carbon footprint, you know yours is a goddamn snowshoe.

###

Posted in

Caroline Taylor, 12/17/2012

Current Occupation: writer and editor
Former Occupation: publications director, speechwriter, and magazine editor
Contact Information: Caroline Taylor’s short stories have appeared in several online and print magazines. She is the author of two mystery novels and one nonfiction book. Visit her at www.carolinestories.com
#

SPLITSVILLE

“We need to talk.”

No other four-word sentence manages to combine a plea with a threat quite so effectively. I ought to know. I hear it often—from subordinates and superiors, from friends and family. In every case, my blood pressure spikes, my palms grow sweaty, and I start looking for a way out. As in “Oh, no we don’t.” Not that I ever say that. But I want to.

I look at the person who’s just ruined my day. “Can it wait, Wendy? I have a meeting in”—quick peek at watch—“about two secs.”

“That’s what you said the last time.” Her pudgy arms are crossed, her thick brows furrowed. I’ve seen that look before. But, right now, I just can’t deal with it.

“I’m sorry. It’s just— I’m all tied up in those Pangaea negotiations these days. If I miss even one session, who knows what will go wrong?”

She spins on her heel, stalking off down the corridor, her three-inch spikes gouging holes in the industrial-grade carpet.

“I’ll catch you later!” I holler.

The meeting is actually at three o’clock, which would, theoretically and otherwise, give me plenty of time to deal with Wendy’s issues and still be able to meet Rachel for our regular lunchtime tryst. Only, I don’t want to talk to Wendy. She’s a pain in the ass. Always telling me gossip and things I’d be better off not knowing—especially because I can never seem to remember when I’m supposed to keep a secret and when it’s okay to pass the rumor on.

Anyway, I have enough on my plate. Rachel, for example. Lately, she’s been pushing for “commitment.” Like I’d ever leave Judy and the kids. Rachel doesn’t want to meet me at the hotel this time, suggesting lunch at Tony’s instead, defending her choice with, you guessed it, “We need to talk.”

No, we don’t. We need to find stress-releasing sexual oblivion in each other’s arms like we usually do. I‘m perfectly willing to fund the room (and the occasional champagne from room service), but don’t want to have lunch with Rachel. And I certainly do not want to talk in the sense that she intends. In fact, I’m tempted to cancel our little rendezvous and let her wonder—hopefully, worry—what that means. I do, after all, have to prepare for the three o’clock.

I am dreading it. Mort wants us to say yes; I think we should say no. Mort’s my boss. Even at this late date, I continue to marshal the facts, canvassing my colleagues in search of support. Nearly everyone agrees with me. Save the Earth’s Wildlife (aka STEW) should not permit Pangaea Publishing to use our name, not to mention our logo, in a new, internationally circulated photo magazine—“the rival of National Geographic”—that will feature gorgeous full-page photographs of the Earth’s endangered ecosystems. Pangaea has already lined up the VISA and MasterCard mailing lists of customers who pay in full monthly. (They’re the only ones who could possibly afford a subscription as the magazine will not carry advertising.)

And, okay. I was tempted use that loathesome same four-word sentence on Mort when the idea first manifested itself three weeks ago. But Mort and I have difficulty dealing with each other face to face. He hates my guts. I think he’s stupid. So I sent him an e-mail outlining my reasons: STEW has always conditioned use of its logo on our approval of editorial content—for obvious reasons. Yet, the proposed new magazine’s publishing schedule does not allow sufficient time for content review. Mort’s counterargument: “We can always do what other journals do: We’ll just have Pangaea put a disclaimer at the front of the magazine that the views expressed are not necessarily those of Save the Earth’s Wildlife.”

Like people ever read the fine print.

Aside from editorial reasons too numerous to mention, I have other reasons, too: If STEW could afford to publish a full-color, glossy photo magazine, we would already be doing it—and controlling the editorial content. But we can’t afford it—both financially and politically. Financially, magazines published by nonprofits are a black hole sucking up nonrestricted funds faster than they can be solicited. Politically, we know that donors of restricted money want it spent on conservation, not a costly collection of photos that, one hopes, will eventually be recycled into something more environmentally helpful.

Mort’s counterargument to that: “But we’re not publishing it. Pangaea is. This way, we can have our cake and eat it; and the donors won’t have a leg to stand on.” (Mort always uses clichés.)
Then I get the call from Alex, the editor I deal with at Eden Press, publisher of our scholarly books. He’s married to our board liaison, Delia. Rumor has it Alex has been angling for a job at Pangaea Publishing as the Washington editor of the hoped-for glossy. “We need to talk,” he says.

“Not now, Alex. I’m up to my ears. Let’s catch up after the three o—”

“How could you do it!” he screams.

Yanking the phone away from my ear, I say, “Do what?”

“Everybody knows where you’re coming from. You’re a f***ing troglodyte!”

“You don’t have to talk like—”

“Are you paying attention? You’re days are so numbered. When I told Mort you’ve been going behind his back—”

“What?!”

“Nobody speaks to Edgar without going through Vicky,” he snarls. (Edgar’s the chairman of the board; Vicky’s our executive director.)

“Well, I certainly haven’t.”

“Is your name Ted?”

Actually, it’s my nickname, which is what everyone calls me. But no way would I be so foolish as to go over Mort’s head—and Vicky’s—to the chairman of our board. I have a very clear mental picture of Edgar’s reaction if I were ever to say, “We need to talk.” Nuh-unh.

Stunned, I hang up. Then I call Delia. “Your husband is furious with me,” I tell her. “He thinks I’m pulling an end run with the board on the Pangaea thing.”

“Oh shit,” she replies. “I told Wendy to give you a head’s up. I guess she . . . Damn. It’s my fault. I sent Alex an e-mail tipping him off that Ted had a little chat with Edgar about risks versus rewards on Pangaea.”

“You what?!”

“I wasn’t talking about you, Ted. I was referring to the other Ted. Ted Fulton. Alex’s boss? He doesn’t want Alex to leave Eden. Oh dear. Let me call him and straighten this out.”

It’s too late—in more ways than I thought, as I notice the time. One o’clock. An hour late for a lunch I forgot to postpone, cancel, whatever. Rachel will be furious, so furious that she might at this very moment be calling my wife, saying, “We need to talk.”

Oh, God. Lose the wife and kids? Lose the afternoon delight? Why not go for the trifecta? Mort’s been looking for a reason to dump me, and now he has it. Alex can explain about the Ted mixup all he wants. It won’t change Mort’s mind. In fact, it’ll make his day. Even if I could manage to pull off a complete turnabout at the three o’clock meeting (something my conscience mightily resists), I’m eventually going to be canned.

I wonder if there’s any way I can save my job. With a heavy sigh, I head down the hall and poke my head inside Mort’s office. “We need to talk.”

###

Posted in

Danny P. Barbare, 12/10/2012

Current Occupation: Custodian
Former Occupation: Mail Delivery at a Company
Contact Information: Danny P. Barbare resides in Greenville, SC. His poetry has appeared locally, nationally, and abroad. He has been writing poetry for 31 years. His most recent publications include Calico Tiger,  picayune, Gold Dust, as well as other publications.

 

#

The Janitor

With
A
Dustpan
And
Broom

I
Sweep
My
Troubles
Away

Because
I’m
The
Janitor.

 

#

Mopping

Swinging a
Mop
Working
Up a sweat
So salty,
Splitting
Fingernails, milky
Moonlit rivers flowing
From inside a latex
Glove. I’m certain this is why
They call it a job
A dollar hard earned
One appreciates.
And just the small
Things in life
A cup of
Cold water
Swallowed
By the sea
Filled
With treasure.

#

The YMCA

Smearing
A
Rainbow
Across
The
Glass
Door

I’m
Cleaning
The
Smudges
Away
So
The
Guest
Can
Shine
In.

The
Parking
Lot
The
Limit

Blue
Skies.

#

 Sunny and Warm

Cleaning the
Windows with a
Brown paper
Towel and Windex,
Looking at the weather that awaits
Me, the world. It is predicted
To be sunny and warm.
I think I’ll leave my
Coat on the
Hook at work,
When I go home.

Posted in

Marc Swan, 12/3/2012

Current Occupation: Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor

Former Occupation: Free-lance writer

Contact Information: Marc Swan lives in Portland, Maine, a working seaport with a thriving arts community. He has new work coming out in Slipstream, Common Ground, Pearl and Owen Wister Review, WORK Literary Magazine, among others. Simple Distraction, a collection of his poems from 1989 to 2009, was published in fall 2009 by tall-lighthouse in London, England.

 

#

 

East to West

On the seemingly endless flight from east to west
coast I sit in a small aisle seat
purported to be roomy
on the web site next to two economy-sized Indians
of the Mumbai variety—

very pleasant folks indeed, but very large.

I set up my high-end noise reduction ear buds,
my wife’s Kindle Fire and get ready
for the smooth sounds
of Pandora when the pop up tells me 15 minutes free
and then

the money clock starts rolling,
which is not what I imagined, but I’m so far
removed from this technology
I try to fathom on a daily basis it quickens
my heart. Undaunted

I plug in my high-end noise reduction ear buds
for a few blues riffs from Gary Moore
and then quickly hit the Amazon.com site
for a download of a Billy

Collins collection and a David Kirby collection.
On my 2nd one-click the free time line expires.
Feeling more confident I settle in for a quiet read
of the 1st poem in The Trouble with Poetry.

Whoops!

I’ve already read this book
No stress in my head and then I sit back and read
Kirby’s “Talking with Jesus about Movies”
front to back. He does have a natural style and home
boy feel that brings

me right into his living room:
he and Barbara drinking wine, revising poems,
setting the poem sequences right, sharing the space
and pages together.

My eyes close and I begin to nod off,
but I start thinking about why I’m on this endless flight.

I’m meeting with Googlers at the Googleplex,
a place I’ve never been and have very mixed
feelings about visiting. I’m on a mission to sell them a program
that they may not want
or need but a mission it is.

I imagine I’m Peter Graves receiving the message
and I self destruct
rather than the message as in that classic
opening scene in Mission Impossible.

I wonder about my Mumbai seatmates and the technology
they employ to master the ever-evolving aspects
of their daily techno lives.

What keys to techno nirvana does this large man snoring softly
on my left, head nodding back and forth against
my shoulder, bring into the life
of his rotund tea-drinking sari-clad mama with quite
beautiful large brown eyes.

 

#

Forecast—fair winds and following seas

It’s late July and August looms
like a wild cherry tree in Nagasaki.
I read the news, listen to the stories
the media spin, watch human beings
in a state of ongoing disrepair.
No one said life was an easy ride.
But no one told me some things would
be so far beyond my control
they would become barely visible
to a naked eye,
broken heart,
bleeding soul.
Sure it all seemed easier back then
when people smiled
and meant it
when they said how are you
have a nice day.
It wasn’t NO PROBLEM.
It was you are welcome.
And then I read, hear, get bombarded
by the movie house murders in Colorado,
suicide bomber in Damascus, another
round of headless bodies in Mexico…
the mind numbing 2012 election debacle.
And then there’s the corporate world
I inhabit where hundreds of worker bees
buzz around me looking for ways to close
rather than pay disability claims.
Sounds pedestrian when I write these
words and that in itself seems a loss.
I’m ready for Timbuktu. I do love
the sound of the kamale ngoni, the kora,
the zing of the Tuareg electric guitar,
but the fundamentalists
have arrived and altered the smooth
flow of the Niger delta. Maybe Oslo
or Helsinki or Copenhagen, but
winter arrives and stays and the days
mire in rain and mud and political
upheaval rises even in these once
unspoiled destinations. Perhaps
a slow boat ride to an ancient island
like Patmos where Robert Lax
lived his last thirty five
years far removed from the daily mind
fuck. A dream you say, we’ll just see
how far the big jib draws my friend.

 

#

Pinned and Forgotten

Suppose you are a carpenter,
a bricklayer,
a systems analyst or maybe
a doctor of medicine

and you get sick
or hit by a car or flip
your motorcycle

at a hundred miles an hour.
Suppose your employer has long
term disability insurance
for just this kind

of thing and you think
well that part is settled.

You’ve never read the print,
small or otherwise,

that talks of pre-existing conditions
and limitations of coverage.

In most cases after 24 months
if you have any capacity to work
and there is a job remotely
related to your skills that exists
in your town that pays
sixty, fifty or sometimes forty
per cent of your pre-disability
earnings

your benefits end.

By then you’ve probably lost
your job,
your car, your house,
sometimes your spouse,
but the bills keep arriving
day after day.

In the parlance of the bottom line
you’ve become the donkey’s tail
at the corporate party.

 

Posted in

Leonard Owens III, 11/26/2012

Current Occupation: Teaching Assistant, wherein I spend part of my time working at the College Writing Center: not making that up.
Previous Occupation: Years ago I was a movie projectionist where I was often left alone, so I slept on the job now and then, between start times, but never scratched a film.
Contact Information: Leonard Owens III is a humble student at Daytona State College who likes sleep, but gets very little, so he stays up and writes instead. Poems of his can be found at Daily Love, Dead Flowers: A Poetry Rag, and Downer Magazine, and short stories of his can be read at Fiction365, Every Day Fiction, and Free Flash Fiction. Hopefully, more of his stuff will be accepted by various journals of awesomeness soon. If not, he’ll just keep writing anyway.

 

 #

The Failed Application

 

My name is Leonard Owens III and WORK may be the perfect place for an email I wrote a ways back. I am a student, and for a long while I have wanted to work at the Writing Center on campus, but they kept slamming the door in my face, never even responding to my applications. A couple days after being told, in person, they needed no more help, I saw a posting on the “Job Board” advertising that they did need help. A bit miffed, I sent them the email I have attached for you to read. I figure it might fit into your wish list under “failed resumes/cover letters.” The only changes I’ve made are to the names and numbers. Hope you enjoy it.

 

Stefany,

My name is Lenny Owens and I am extraordinarily interested in working at the College Writing Center. I have submitted applications in the past, both to be a peer tutor or an assistant, and have not had the luck of the draw I suppose (I recently filled out a paper application for the position, but am emailing to cover my bases). I would prefer to be a peer tutor, as I plan to one day earn my Ph.D and become an English professor, so tutoring would almost be invaluable as hands-on experience in my field of choice. That said, I would happily settle for manning the front desk, directing students where they need to go, refilling the occasional coffee cup (even though I loathe the stuff myself).

At the risk of sounding arrogant or egotistical, I find it hard to believe you would find a much more qualified candidate than me. I have a 4.0 GPA; am an excellent writer (ask Dr. Lilly, or any teacher I’ve written for, and I’m sure they will agree); am actually a published author on a couple smaller fiction sites (I know what you’re thinking, that anyone can get published these days – trust me, it ain’t that easy); have loads of experience as a stage actor that translates well to dealing with people and conveying ideas via talking (even in a “text” world, talking is still king); have given numerous speeches (I hosted a multicultural show for Prof. Mathis on campus last year, as well as delivering the keynote speech at the DSC adult education graduation ceremony); have loads of experience typing in MS Word (and Word-like programs — though, I must admit, my PowerPoint and Excel game is pretty lame) along with other PC skills I feel are valuable; I’m a practiced “brain-stormer” and can bring many ideas to help students, and staff, with problem solving. In summation, I know I can do this job, as tutor or assistant, if given the chance.

I’m sure this email is not typical of what students send you when inquiring about an open position, and you may not like it (or perhaps you do), but I have taken the time to write an entertaining and well-thought email in the hopes I may leave an impression, or at the very least provide something entertaining for you (and maybe even your colleagues) to laugh at. I feel it better in this instance to break the wall rather than be another brick in it.

Thank you for taking to time to read my scribbling, and I hope you do consider me, and I hope you have a nice day as well.

– Lenny Owens

Full name: Leonard Owens III
Student ID#: 654789
Phone #: I ain’t that easy.

Posted in

Suzy Eynon, 11/19/2012

Current Occupation: assistant at a life insurance company
Former Occupation: file clerk, cashier-slash-manager, author’s assistant, medical office assistant, work study student assistant, and maid (for a day)
Contact Information: Suzy Eynon graduated with a BA in English from University of Washington after years in and out of classrooms in the West. Her work has appeared on Airplane Reading. She writes on the bus, in her cubicle, and at holdinghandswithstrangers.com.

 

#

Employee Talking Points for Store Closing

 

My mom saved the advertisement from the newspaper for me as a suggestion. I still have the clipping. A chain of natural foods grocery stores planned to expand to my home state. I attended the hiring fair, conducted underneath tents in the parking lot, the ground still simmering beneath our feet even in fall. Despite incorrectly answering one of the Natural Living (code for Vitamin Department) Manager’s interview questions, they hired me as a cashier. (“What would you do if you saw someone shoplifting?” “Uh…confront them?” She shook her head, and gave me the answer.)

    Later, one of the assistant store managers told me that she didn’t have much hope for me in the beginning because I was timid — they knew I’d be eaten alive. A customer once let me know that my seat in hell was reserved because I have a forearm tattoo. Unfortunately, my tattoo features a word common in the coupon world, which another customer found hilarious. (“Does your other arm say ‘Null?!’ Did you get that because you’re a cashier?”) A woman screamed in my face because I couldn’t understand that she was mumbling that “dried cranberries” were in her bulk purchase bag and she’d neglected to attach the tag with the code; a customer told me to “get a hearing aid!” in a less-than-helpful tone because I couldn’t hear her ask for the location of Italian dates; a man on an motorized scooter yelled that I wasn’t helping him by placing his fruit on the conveyor belt for him if I was just bruising it. “You didn’t like that very much, did you?” he said as I returned to my spot behind the register counter after his scolding.

    I’d never seen this phenomenon in my personal experiences at grocery stores, but a customer asked me to remove her carrot tops before placing them in the bag. I wasn’t doing it quickly enough or with enough gusto, so she took the carrot bunch from my hands, twisted the green clump off, and said, “There, now you can add that to your resume.” The mind games abounded. Customers argued over the verbiage on the credit card machine when I asked them to please push the button (“It doesn’t say ‘enter,’ it says ‘go.’”). They announced the name of each fruit or vegetable as I grabbed it from the conveyor belt, as if I had never seen green onions or romaine. When I was first promoted from assistant manager to manager, and my nametag still said the former, a customer refusing to leave the store after hours asked for the manager. “I’m the manager,” I told her.

    “That’s not what your nametag says.” Point.

As I faced the bread in the bakery one night, lining up each bag of bread so that its logo shimmered just so under the neon store lights, I had a conversation with a customer about school. I was completing my associate’s degree at community college in the mornings, and working the closing cashiering shift.

“What can you get with an AA degree?” he asked

“This,” I said, and we both laughed.

    An elderly woman accused me of stealing as she paid for her order, even though I stopped to count the drawer, the protocol for a discrepancy between the change the cashier gave and what the customer thought they should get back. “I know what you did,” she said so that only I could hear.

Occasionally, I was driven to angry tears, an activity — along with hangover vomiting on the opening shift and hiding from a persistent customer — reserved by employees for the sacred territory of the office. Cashiers would joke that the small plastic bin kept under each register for “go-backs” (unwanted, abandoned groceries found littering the aisles, or returned vegetables likely bought at another market, all accepted with a smile) was for pissing in because we weren’t allowed away from our registers with the exception of our scheduled breaks. If it was overwhelmingly busy and the check-out lines grew to be more than two or three customers deep, managers would get antsy and call cashiers back from break. I practiced writing my resignation on receipt paper as I watched free-wandering grocery clerks, holders of my dream position, walk the store kissing babies and making old ladies blush before barking that we were incorrectly ringing cases of organic soda. Nonetheless, I wanted to do well. I’m a natural people-pleaser, avoiding confrontation if possible, so I honestly wanted the customers to not be angry, and I wanted my managers to think I was a capable and enthusiastic worker. I took pitiable pride in rising to the rank of fastest cashier, and while the repetitive motion of scanning and bagging at a rapid pace was sometimes dizzying, it was also satisfying: accomplish task at hand, feel accomplished!

The store was a complex organism consisting of hierarchies and rife with drama. Everyone knew who was having an extra-marital affair with whom, and friendships were built and broken around firings and promotions. I went through the break-up of a long-term relationship, and my best friend, who helped me through that time and who became my roommate, was a co-worker first. A group of us closed the store together at night, and then went home together or attended the same parties. The store was the central social force in my life.

A small number of original employees remained employed in the store after two years, and I lasted through multiple changes in rank naming and organization to become a lower-level manager, perhaps by default of seniority. I was in charge of the cashiers and baggers, so I got to hire and fire for my department, write the weekly schedule, and close the store nightly. The store manager became a close friend, and taught me how to work in different departments, a rare “in” to the more desirable grocery department. I worked a short, forgettable stint in the deli as a clerk in my efforts to escape the drudgery of the front end ghetto only to nip off a bit of my index finger in the deli slicer. (For weeks after, co-workers brought me small chunks from a roasted turkey in the deli case, claiming they’d found my missing tip.) The deli clerk with whom I traded positions so that she temporarily became the head of the front end said she hoped they didn’t lower her pay for making the switch to the front of the store.

A rumor, spurred by the fact that managers could no longer order packaging with our logo on it and originating with the bakery manager, claimed that our company, owned by another, larger natural foods company, was shutting us down. Before Thanksgiving, just over two years from our store opening, management called an all-store meeting, a rare occurrence. The store manager, my friend, promised to call me at home that night to let me know what was going on, since he planned to talk to regional management in the interim. I never got a call; the next day, when I arrived for the 7am meeting, he avoided me. At the meeting, we were informed that the company was “withdrawing” from our state, closing the four local stores operating under our name. We would close our doors in a month, and our regional manager, whom I had only seen on rare and terrifying occasions, said he expected us to “keep a clean store.” He distributed a handout of “Employee Talking Points for Store Closing,” to assist in answering customers’ questions.

“Let the looting and pillaging begin,” said my favorite bagger.

    We sold all products from the shelves at a discount. Employees were laid off in groups of ten or so over the next few weeks, beginning with the lower-ranking of each department. Even though we were all in the same situation, I hated sitting in the small manager’s office with each front end employee to let them know their time was up. When the numbers dwindled, I asked to please not have to let go of a good friend yet, since we were to keep a few select employees until the last day, to assist with cleaning the store. “It’s either your roommate or your friend, pick one!” My store manager used this opportunity to teach me a managerial lesson, despite my position’s end-date.

In the last weeks, customers plundered our shelves as we watched from our perch in the front of the store. What was inevitable was no less surreal. Some were kind: a customer who knew that some of us had worked there for the store’s lifespan gave us each a twenty dollar bill, and brought in pizzas for the closing shift, which we ate at our registers. I was offered a job lead by a former community college professor (which sadly never materialized) and by one of our vendors. Some were less helpful, wondering if they’d have to buy their weekly grape purchase at another store not as conveniently located. A customer tried to purchase the dirty broom and dustpan that we used to clean the floor by our registers; others asked if the shelves or carts were for sale.

    When few employees remained, and the once majestic shelves of the store decorated to look like a farmer’s market sat empty, and there wasn’t a customer in sight, the closing shift of the end of days devolved into playtime. What more was there to do? There was no glory in standing stiffly at our posts. We knew, by then, that what we did didn’t matter. The store no longer appeared or functioned as a store. Grocery clerks dodged packed boxes on forklifts in the middle of the store. We re-wrote the Weekly Special Code List, posted at each register, with items like “Dandruff Flakes: 5678.” The manager’s office door read “I sleep naked.” A produce clerk chose an Angels & Airwaves song for his dramatic exit song on his last night, which we played through the store’s hijacked, formerly untouchable stereo system. The Muzak tunes wouldn’t cut it for his final stand. A few of us started the café: a table and chairs dragged in from the ill-used entryway at which we ate our Mexican take-out dinner in full view of the non-existent customers, mid-shift. I was managing this shift of the sinking ship, and we were getting our dinner breaks.

As Christmas and the store closing date drew near, former employees had already started new jobs or had gigs waiting. A co-worker warned me to not wait until the end or to rely on the other managers to let me in on something, like a lateral move to another store. I was let go one day early, a reminder that I was still not quite within the small circle of leaders.

As a manager, I was allotted a month’s severance but decided, at the last minute, to pursue employment by a store owned by the same company because I didn’t see any other obvious option. Since I was technically not leaving the company, then, I wasn’t allowed severance, though the corporate office mailed me a single check by mistake, which I cashed. My more-clever friend let his clock run out, and was then hired by that same store, so he got to keep his payout. At the other store, where I was a newbie again but with a darkened viewpoint on the company, I held a lower-ranking position and subsequent pay decrease. (The parent company was openly anti-union, it might be noted.) I quit three months in, after I found out that a fellow cashier, another refugee from her original store, whom I trained years prior, made more money than me. My parting gift, won in a raffle at my first and only Christmas party with the company, was an inflatable raft leftover from a store contest, which I thought was hilarious.

I tried working at two more natural foods stores for different companies, both of which are, ironically, now owned by the same parent company (unlike the previous two companies at which I worked, which no longer exist) before realizing that I was too bitter to start over again as a bagger or cashier shamed away from taking bathroom breaks, and to do it without attitude. I like to think that I’m on a hiring blacklist for these stores, if there is one. I re-applied at one of the still-existing companies during a stint of unemployment a few years later, and didn’t get a call back. On job applications, I write “no longer in business” or “try calling this 800 number, maybe,” and offer a short explanation of who bought whom, who owns whom now. My own resume is a history of the bastardization of the natural foods retail scene. I read an article recently about the family who started the first store, and bought and sold many others — about the “retail saga” of their family, as the article called it. Of all the stores and companies bought and sold, opened and closed, they said: it didn’t do any good to hang on to the past.

In some of my retellings of working at the store, I say I hated it; in others, I say I loved it, that it was my life.  In desperate moments of office cubicle hatred, I get a winsome longing to return to retail. Sometimes, when I’m checking out at the grocery store and a cashier is searching for a produce code or verbally sparring with a hysterical customer, I want to smile knowingly and roll my eyes and say, “I used to be a cashier,” but I know they don’t care — they’ve probably had to use the restroom for the past three hours.

I still remember the code for bananas. It was the first code they taught us.

Posted in

Hugh Burkhart, 11/12/2012

Current Occupation: Librarian
Former Occupations: Vocational skills instructor, high school teacher, automotive plant worker, and poultry farm laborer
Contact Information: Hugh Burkhart was born in Windsor, Ontario and lives with his wife in San Diego, California. Other work of his is forthcoming in Glimmer Train.

 

#

Exit Assessment

    When Sherri came to Occupational Fundamentals (OF), she was assessed in reading comprehension at the eighth grade level, spelling at the sixth grade, and performing mathematics at the fifth. She had previously attained a high school diploma and completed one year of a community college general arts program. Following the year at college, she was employed for eight years at L&A Performance – an automotive seat manufacturer – as a line worker. After a workplace injury, she began receiving compensation benefits. A year later, she was tested, and, with the help of her Case Manager and OF Allen Park Branch Manager Jennifer Roberts, she decided on the Customer Service program. Customer Service (CS) is a wide-ranging vocational goal, with graduates attaining such varied positions as call center operator, retail outlet greeter, and food service provider. While these positions do not generally pay as well as Sherri’s previous job, her benefits should top off her income to close to her pre-injury earning level. This last point was stressed repeatedly to Sherri over the course of her program as reassurance about her positive future prospects upon graduation. As she advanced towards her vocational goal, her progress was evaluated based on the criteria below:

Cooperation

Working effectively in group environments like the classroom is an important component of the CS program. Sherri initially struggled with the transition from injury recovery to an academic schedule. During her first three weeks at OF, her progress suffered due to attendance issues. Sherri typically attended class three out of five days per week. She often did not notify her instructor of absences even when reminded by her Case Manager that her benefits were tied to attendance. When in class, Sherri reported pain in her injured right shoulder frequently and requested work from her reading book, which required less writing. However, since she had already fulfilled the comprehension level requirements of her program, her reading book was considered strictly supplementary. Though she continually stated her preference for reading “stories,” Sherri was encouraged to do the exercises in her CS workbook. Requests by Sherri to read “real English books” with more literary content were denied on the grounds that the study of literature was not part of her formal plan. On several occasions, Sherri stated that she did not think the lessons in the workbook were relevant to her. On these occasions, she also stated her intention to return to work with her former employer in spite of the fact that her injury and subsequent compensation claim precluded her from doing so. Meetings with Sherri’s instructor, Case Manager, and Branch Manager Roberts were designed to help Sherri maintain her commitment to her vocational rehabilitation. It was stressed to Sherri that, like all OF clients, her job was to learn essential skills for her new potential employment, namely verbal and non-verbal communication, basic business mathematics, time management, and cash register operation.

General Academic Performance

Sherri’s lessons centered mostly around a combination of written exercises and role playing based on potential job scenarios. For the most part, Sherri’s writing, consisting mainly of answering questions about handling the workplace situations depicted in her CS workbook, was perfunctory. A typical answer about a fictional situation involving one worker encouraging a colleague to complain about a supervisor is as follows:

If I knew my super was being unfair, I would ask around the shop to see if it was true. Then I would go to my union rep. Its a supervisors job to be fare. If their not, then you file a grievance.

The excerpt here not only demonstrates Sherri’s hostile attitude towards authority; it also shows her poor grasp of spelling and grammar, particularly as they apply to distinguishing proper use of homophones (e.g. its and it’s, fare and fair, their and they’re). Though mistakes were pointed out to her, Sherri maintained she did not require rudimentary spelling and grammar lessons. Rather, she made repeated requests to be assigned work “more like what I had in college.” It was explained to Sherri time and again that her job at OF was to complete the assignments relevant to the CS program, which is based on the vocational goal she herself chose. Despite these explanations, Sherri often refused to complete her assignments, citing shoulder pain or, increasingly over the course of her schooling, headaches as the reasons for her failure. Due to her problems completing work, it is difficult to make an accurate assessment of the skills Sherri acquired. She did advance in calculator and cash register use more than she did in the CS workbook. A somewhat better assessment can be made of Sherri’s job searching capability.

Job Search Strategies

Employment seeking techniques are an important component of all OF’s programs. Sherri was instructed on resume and cover letter construction, as well as Internet and “hidden market” job searching. While Internet job searching involves more conventional strategies like scanning classified ads, hidden market searching features such job search techniques as using social networking and cold calling potential employers. Unfortunately, Sherri took advantage of the hidden market search classes by choosing to use her Facebook account for strictly personal purposes. By the conclusion of her program, Sherri applied to twelve jobs relevant to her program, though she protested in her CS personal journal that she would never “in a million years be caught dead doing a Wal-Mart cheer or delivering pizzas.”

 

Summary

In a final meeting with Sherri’s Case Manager and Branch Manager Roberts, Sherri’s instructor stated that while Sherri developed cordial relations with her classmates and generally remained respectful, development was difficult to measure. Sherri’s time at OF might best be summed up in her final journal entry:

I never asked to be injured or put in this fuckin school. I paid into comp and I should get the benefits I deserve. I’d rather be finishing college.

We wish Sherri the best of luck in her future endeavors.

 

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Posted in

Jerred Jolin, 11/5/2012

Current Occupation: Intake/Assessment Coordinator for a company that provides vocational-related services to individuals with a variety of intellectual deficits and developmental delays

Former Occupation: Clinical Assistant for a company that provides early intervention services to children with Autism.

Contact Information: A writer by night, between the hours of 9-5 Jerred works supporting individuals with special needs. On any given day he might be found at Walgreens completing a vocational assessment or learning the ins and outs of selling flirty flats in the Kohls shoe department alongside a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome. He resides in Oakland, Ca., holds a Master’s Degree in Human Science and has been interested in writing poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction since around 2005, the year he completed an undergraduate degree in armchair anthropology. His writing has appeared in Challenger International and he currently has forthcoming publications in The Binnacle, Chest, The Ultimate Writer, Conceit Magazine, and Amulet. He has managed to survive 31 years on this Earthplanet.

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E00791

 

“E00791. O.K.! Jo! #1 wait staff! Gonna make some big tips today!” It was Glen working the gate that morning and his level of exuberance never waned. The potential big-tip earner, who was in the throes of a hangover of Bukowskian proportions smiled, not in the mood for small talk as Scotty, Glen’s coworker, pulled up on the opposite side of the guardhouse having just completed his beat around the compound ensuring safety along the vulnerable perimeter that demarcated this exclusive gated community from the other, multi-million dollar estates and members of high culture that composed the high-class hamlet known as Montecito within which the former was situated. Scotty displayed what was best described as mildly autistic social interaction skills and behavioral manifestations: poor eye contact, awkward bodily posture, an inability to interpret and act accordingly to his conversational partners’ nonverbal cues as he carried on about his interests. He took his post at the club VERY seriously. For instance, Jo had once got a ride to work and upon arriving at the gate Scotty broke down: hesitating, appearing visibly flustered and mumbling to himself a bit, looking back and forth between the car and guard house as he stood there in a state of behavioral uncertainty before telephoning the clubhouse to speak with relevant personnel to ensure it would be o.k. to grant the vehicle plus Country Club employee in the passenger seat entrance.  At the core of this situation was a change in routine and his breakdown at encountering it was further evidence of said autistic characteristics.

Once his identity was confirmed and arrival time properly documented Jo drove off toward the parking log. It was a beautiful morning and this meant one thing: they would be slammed. This observation, of the general tendency for increased member activity to correlate positively with increases in environmental temperature had led Jo to the conclusion that the members of this club were not unlike reptiles in this very basic sense: when the temperature rose they became more active. Their blood flowed more smoothly, perhaps thinning the result of the heat, the lubrication in their joints becoming more fluid which provided for easier bipedal locomotion and increased physiological activity. But on cooler days a driver within the club grounds had to remain vigilant and ready with the horn lest he run over one of them laying supine, absorbing the heat stored within the asphalt roadway, raring their heads in contempt and rapidly flicking their tongues at any motorist while slowly undulating to a safer region at the road’s shoulder to continue their never-ending endeavor at core temperature increase.

“We are ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentleman.” That was the motto in the employee handbook he received when first taking on the job one year and a half prior.

“Don’t touch the members and always maintain a professional mode of deportment when in their presence.” This was Jo’s favorite stricture as it served the function of setting a kind of social gulf not unlike the one distinguishing the Brahman from the Pariah.

“Refer to guests as Sir or Madame” This was another helpful tip in the book and these weren’t the only language directives either. According to this all knowing resource, it was thoroughly reprehensible to call their (members’) cocktails “drinks” when taking an order, this moniker being too closely associated with alcoholism by extrapolation and one more suited to subterranean institutes inhabited by low-brow simpletons binge drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and Yagermeister. At the club, the preferred term was “beverage”

 

And speaking of beverages, a stated goal in the ‘Country Club Front of the House Training Manual’ (a supplement to the aforementioned ‘Employee Handbook’) was that a basic understanding of alcoholic beverages—one more developed, for instance, then knowing that Stolichnaya was vodka or that Tangurey was gin and that merlot was red and chardonnay white—be cultivated. To rub elbows successfully with patrons such as the ones who’s asses graced the chairs in these dining rooms, it suggested, it was necessary that front of the house employees be comfortable regurgitating such descriptors as ‘oaky,’ ‘tropical,’ and ‘floral’ in proper context and they damn well better be prepared for queries about palettes, finishes, and body. Vitipedanticism was especially important for if there was anything that upper-class white folk out to dinner at a country club desired it was fine wine and new hires were warned of the potential for discomfiture that was very real in the presence of such dignified patrons showcasing  their equally dignified guests when if questioned about how the house Syrah was, one (a new hire) responded in such vague terms as: “We have a fine Syrah. May I bring you one?”

And in this same vein one did not ask if they (members) would like to “see” menus. Instead one queried when it would be appropriate to “present” them and it was in the accumulation of all these seemingly irrelevant (irrelevant with respect to the full actualization of a successful meal) details that the high culture of the club was manifest. The whole scene (in terms of member interaction) was characterized by a kind of watered-down monarchial-structured formality put in place specifically to upset human equality and the potential for meaningful relationships and this of course was nothing new. Throughout history the rich have surrounded themselves with subordinates, the latter, in many cases, being almost completely dependent on the former with respect to successful/fruitful existences and these relationships, in Jo’s mind, were very ancient and observable elsewhere in the animal kingdom, viz., like those between large sharks and parasitic lampreys and those birds that eat stuff out of Hippopotamuses’ mouths, which is to say, more specifically, symbiotic.

Jo was one of them, the wait staff that is, who willingly interposed their bodies and, with respect to about sixty percent of them, healthy psychological states, between these hungered members and their desire for food not without high-culture accouterments which at times was like what it must be like coming between an angered bear mother and her cub, an endeavor Jo had heard was risky business.

The first member to arrive that afternoon was the venerable Sir Bushington, an heir to a prestigious textbook publishing family who had invested early on in oil and sold out to Chevron for big money. Standing over six feet tall, Bushington was an imposing character with a thinning tuft of gray hair who for the most part donned Tommy Bahama and who had a concupiscence for females young enough to be his granddaughters unmatched by any other member and a tendency to speak openly about this penchant with any of those male wait staff he thought he could trust.  He migrated to the club from Boca Raton each year to spend about five months as he didn’t own a house on the grounds but instead rented one of the guest cottages that were available. He walked by where Jo and One Lung stood folding napkins—the latter having been the focus of his concupiscience on more than one occassion and whistled quietly to get their attention. He told One Lung that she looked beautiful and then sat in Jo’s section which was inside the Terrace Grill.
“I would love to get into that. Those tall legs…” Bushington offered Jo a lecherous smile as he said this. He was not modest about his penchant for vagina which was well known in the country club scene and the fact that the stuff he wanted was between the legs of women young enough to be his granddaughters only seemed to ostracize him slightly. Each year that he came out from Florida with a woman whom he paid an undisclosed sum of money to drive him and always claimed that it was not only driving that these girls did—in all, a prurient bastard. One of his favorite jokes made itself known when dessert time came.
“So Mr. Weaver (Weaver being his formal, Christian surname), will you be having any dessert this evening?”
“Not tonight. I didn’t see any hair pie on the menu.” Hardy Har Har fuckin Har! The comment certainly dated him for in Jo’s experience with the women of his generation, hair pie was no longer the vogue. But Bushington was a serious proponent of the fully actualized bush and this was another fact he was happy to make known to those trusted wait staff when circumstances permitted him to do so: there was no better place for him to be than entangled in a fully actualized pubic tangle. In these situations Jo often pondered how he might get along with the late Henry Miller. No doubt they would have hit it off just fine. Jo imagined the two of them sitting at Bushington’s normal table there at the front of the Terrace Grill ogling the young trim rounding the room in their black skirts and shape-concealing, white dress shirts and paisley vests. It would be Miller to speak up first, drunk again and rambling on the verge of incoherency when young Tania, a freshmen at the local Catholic school who had only fairly recently allowed her boyfriend Sylvester up her blouse for the first time approached their table to tell them of the delightful specials of the evening:
“Yes Tania, where now is that warm cunt of yours, those fat, heavy garters, those soft, bulging thighs? There is a bone in my prick six inches long. I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed. I will send you home to your Sylvester with an ache in your belly and your womb turned inside out. Your Sylvester! Yes, he knows how to build a fire, but I know how to inflame a cunt. I shoot hot bolts into you, Tania, I make your ovaries incandescent. Your Sylvester is a little jealous now? He feels something, does he? He feels the remnants of my big prick. I have set the shores a little wider, I have ironed out the wrinkles. After me you can take on stallions, bulls, rams, drakes, St. Bernards….” At this point Tania would have fled in a state of utter terror, informing the dining room manager of the potty-mouthed man at table one who had just violated her completely without ever having laid a hand upon her. Of course, Bushington would be in a state of awe, never having had the courage to manifest into words his thoughts which were tantamount to Henry’s, lauding him all the way back to the privacy of his guest cottage for such profanity was not looked highly upon in the general rank and file of the country club.

At around 1:00 in the afternoon the sun reaches its zenith and outside the Terrace Grill is filling up at a steady rate. HE WAS RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF A FUCKIN’ REPTILE ZOO. AND SOMEBODY WAS FEEEDING BOOZE TO THE GODDAMN THINGS! Wide brimmed sunbonnets, pastel dress suits, pressed dockers, expensive golf spikes, here and there a designer handbag, and all around a general air of upper class hauteur. A steady rush characterized the hottest part of the afternoon and Jo sweated profusely over the course of his many trips to tables, kitchen, and then back again. Over half the wait staff that afternoon was hung over and, overall, morale was low. Espresso was imbibed in an attempt to boost energy levels, cigarette breaks were taken to relax nerves, and those with true grit had already managed to get a bloody mary or two into their systems. But this was nothing out of the ordinary when the majority of a work force consisted of college-aged students.  At one point, a misjudged chip shot found its way onto the patio, bounced once, and cracked one of the windows that lined the wall inside the Terrace Grill and this was excitement among the diners, especially those inside who never saw it coming. Those golfers in the lunch crowd chided the individual responsible for the act and everyone had a good laugh, some relating similar instances of folly behind the club.

And then reality sets in with the sweat amassing along the brow line for its downward progress and the possibility of complete mental and physical collapse becomes very real, there being no possibility for attenuating this debilitated state with mental faculties devoted entirely to the prevention of projectile vomiting onto the son-of-a-bitch that just can’t seem to decide between the frittata or the turkey burger….

Posted in

Moriah Erickson, 10/29/2012

Eleanor Leonne Bennett's Floating Ghost

Current Occupation: respiratory therapist

Former Occupation: hairdresser at a funeral home

Contact Information: Moriah Erickson lives in Duluth, MN with her husband, 7 children and one very hairy hound dog. Her work has been published in numerous journals. She is currently pursuing a MFA from Fairfield University in CT. Her hobbies include laundry, vacuuming and cooking for mass consumption.

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Daughters

When they are born, children look to their mothers for comfort. This continues through childhood, be it a skinned knee or hurt feelings. When children reach adolescence, they feign self-sufficience through young adulthood. And then they realize that they are forever joined to their mothers, whether they like it or not, and they seek their comfort there again. Any way you look at it, being a parent and more specifically a mother, is a lifelong job that pays only in love and heartache.

What our daughters need to know
(or what we wish we had known as girls)

My folks tried to prepare me for the “real world,” they really did. I tried to figure a lot of it out on my own, because asking just isn’t my style, and telling wasn’t my parents’ style. So, as a direct result of this don’t-ask-don’t-tell relationship, I was pretty naïve.

Now I have girls of my own. There are things that I want them to know, things my parents never told me. Things I learned the hard way. Things all girls should know, no matter where they live or how privileged they are. These are those things:

Learn to drive a stick-shift. Inevitably, someday you will be somewhere and want to leave and the only way to go will be to drive a stick. So rather than be dependent and weak, why not be wise and worldly and able? Don’t wait for someone to offer to teach you; these days those people are few and far- between, and cars are far more likely automatics than not. Make a point to learn this skill. You don’t have to be good at it, but you should be able.

Learn to change a tire. Same concept. AAA is great, but when you rely on any service too heavily, they will undoubtedly fail you in your neediest moment. Learn to do it, so when they fail, you aren’t stranded.

Learn that all the boys (men) who say they love you, don’t. Only the ones who act as though they love you really do. Its proven over and over that actions speak louder than any words, even when they are the words you want to hear. Learn also that if someone loves you, you do not have to love them back, but you do need to treat them kindly. Love doesn’t necessarily mean
sex, and sex doesn’t necessarily mean love, ladies.

Learn to throw a football, catch a baseball, and bring a man to his knees in an instant. These things will render you both fascinating and dangerous, something every female needs to be, at least a little bit.

Learn that tigers do not change their stripes. Once a cheater, always a cheater. No matter how good you are, there will always be someone who is perceived as better by someone with a wandering eye. You deserve better than that, anyway.

Never have more children than you can care for alone, and always have the means to make a decent living before you start having children. Be prepared to walk away if you have to.

Love only those who are worthy of love, and those who will love you back with the same fervor.

Having daughters has changed the way I look at the world. It has changed the way I look at boys, men, and my sons. Young girls learn primarily by example, but these are the things I would tell them every day if I could. I try to set the best example I can, I try to be the strong, smart, worldly woman I want my girls to someday be. But there were things I learned the hard way, the way I would never want my girls to learn them.

Posted in

Spey Rod, 10/22/2012

Current Occupation: Steelhead Stalker
Former Occupation: Composition-grading Robot for Large Urban Community Colleges
Contact Information: After 20 years of teaching college-level composition, Spey Rod uses the few brain cells he has left trying to trick big steelhead on Oregon’s Sandy River. You’ll have to find him on the river, but if you ask him if he wrote this poem, he will deny it.
Check out Spey’s “Post Tenure Fish in the Machine” and Satori on I-84 in the back issues of WORK.
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Key

In an old wood desk in a storage room
a man discovers a key
with the antique font “LOVE”
that, curiously, opens each room
in the building.

“Is this a joke?” asks the boss.
“I thought we destroyed those
years ago.”

It’s only a dream, of course.
But sometimes dreams happen.

Posted in

Gregg Williard, 10/15/2012

Current Occupation: English as a Second Language Instructor
Former Occupation: Art Therapist
Contact Information: I was born in Columbus Ohio, lived in New York to pursue a painting career and now live in Madison Wisconsin, writing and drawing.

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Be Part of Him

You get an e-mail from Disney.com: “Be part of Mickey.” You don’t open it. You try not to think about it. You are at work and should be thinking about other things. You should certainly not be writing about this unopened e-mail at work. However, there is enough ethical, psychological and behavioral ambiguity about the subject of goofing off on line at work for you to condone it in yourself and others to a large extent every day. You’ve heard arguments that such goofing off can actually promote creativity, and even productivity (though the latter concept is so abstract at your job that it might as well not exist). The creativity part seems credible, especially in light of other articles you’ve read that day-dreaming has a very positive effect, emotionally and intellectually, on the day-dreamer. This appeals to you as well. Anything that shines an approving light on goofing off, day-dreaming, wasting time, hanging out, free-associating, doodling, bullshitting, embroidering the truth, stretching the truth, staring out the window, being by yourself, wandering around, getting lost, not answering your cell-phone or not keeping it charged or forgetting to carry it or not having one at all appeals to you. And to some extent trivial or bizarre or inane questions, like what “Being Part of Mickey” could possibly involve. The internet has been described as an “interruption machine.” I agree with this. But there are all kinds of interruptions. There’s TV and answering the phone and doing the dishes. That stuff you don’t care for very much. The stuff that Buddhist self-help books say is as worthy of mindfulness as “important” things like art and sex and happiness and chocolate. You watch yourself edging toward the tricky proposition that day-dreaming isn’t being distracted, and that being taken away from day-dreaming is the distraction. But that’s not the same thing as suddenly realizing that you’ve spent all day online and have accomplished or learned exactly nothing. You kick around a troublesome question: how is wandering around and wasting time by yourself, either outside or in a dark movie theater or a quiet used bookstore or sitting in front of a window watching the rain or the wind in the tops of the trees different that wandering through websites and links, wading through YouTube videos and movie clips, playing games and sims and songs? At the same time at work, in the culture at large you abhor what seems to you a cult of I.T., the spread sheet as Shroud of Turin, the latest voodoo management mumbo-jumbo jizz. As you are writing this your supervisor sits down to chat. His latest enthusiasm is “Logic Models.” The chair is positioned on the other side of your laptop screen. He’s “checking in.” You briefly consider a world where you could say to your supervisor, “I’m working on that Being Part of Mickey problem.” Down the hall laptops are firing up with the windows reveille-welcome chime. Is it true that Brian Eno composed that sound? Maybe our morning call to prayer, our Tibetan gongs and horns. But back to Be Part of Mickey. You latch onto this imperative because it speaks to that part of you suggestive of concrete thinking and autism. The Amelia Bedelia syndrome, so that Be Part of Mickey evokes images of an enormous cybernetic mouse controlled by hundreds of individual Mouseketoids, Mickey-Mandelbrot Fractal Friends, each of them, and you, representing all of Mickey in each part. Synecdoche Mickey: Be Mickey’s ear. Be Mickey’s glove. Be Mickey’s nose. Be Mickey’s eye. You gravitate to the glove, that curious three-fingered hand, over the years evolving from an all black appendage growing from his black arm to an elastic covering, sensuously bulging outside lip like a gasket of Goodyear rubber, with three vertical lines down the back of his hand like some Masonic sign or rank. You consider opening Be Part of Mickey one more time before leaving, and getting back to work.

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