Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Don't Worry, I'm Not Actually Sick

Food service workers are not allowed to work while sick. There's very strict guidelines for that sort of thing: if you see someone working with a conspicuous cough, dashing to the bathroom every few minutes, or straight up puking on their lunch break, you send them home.

And in an ideal world, the transit time google maps gives me for I-94 is accurate whether it's 11PM or 9AM.

In reality, two forces come into play when you're sick:

a) You only get paid if you're there. Paid vacation time exists, but it's earned over a span of years, and must be submitted ahead of time. There's no such thing as calling in and taking a personal day.

b) Unless you get sent home, it's your responsibility to find coverage. Otherwise, tough luck, keep making those drinks and try not to cough so much, the customers are staring.

Once I worked three days with strep throat. By the end it was so bad I couldn't talk, and I communicated in gestures and written questions on receipt tape, like some unscrupulous mime. It took a visit to a real live doctor and a handwritten note for me to get out of work, along with the warning that I could not speak for at least three days. (I made it about two before I couldn't take the silence anymore.) My boss didn't want me working to begin with, but what could he do? His usual workweek ran above 50 hours, so covering me was out, and any hourly employees would've gone into overtime trying. It was a doctor's note or nothing.

Doctor's notes don't fix everything, though. An ER nurse's response to my predicament a few months later, when both my wrists were in such agony I had to drive to the hospital using my elbows? "I can write a note saying you can't perform any tasks at work using your hands." Remember: you don't work, you don't get paid.

Me: "There's nothing I can do at my job without my hands. I need to be able to work, can you do something for the pain?"

Her: "I can prescribe you Motrin."

Me: "Is it special Motrin?"

Her: "Well, it's a larger dose than regular Motrin. But you could just buy generic Motrin and take twice as much."

Me: "Could I get...something stronger...?"

Her: "Motrin."

That conversation cost me $110. I really must remember emergency rooms are for when you're about to die or about to give birth.

This. This is what I want to see when I have my time machine. I won't even go all Bad Guy From Timecop to make myself rich--

Okay. That's a lie. I'll totally steal Confederate gold using sweet machine guns. But I won't go full Ron Silver.

You never go full Ron Silver. Otherwise this happens.
I want a giant wool cake hat. I feel it will make me look solemn and wise.

I also like to think that Playboy apparel finds its way to Uyghur-ville in much the same way "Patriots 19-0" shirts find their way to Nicaragua: People need clothes. Clothes exist in abundance. Why not send them the clothes?

Alternately, Playboy is a popular brand in Uyghur-ville, which means if they're still a highly Islamic society their interpretation of the Koran is pretty badass.

Also, I plan on using "What do? Cat." any time I notice I've got extra space from here on in.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Not Much Today

I can count on one hand the times I've been angry enough to, after storming out, return to the place from whence I stormed to continue ranting. Usually these incidents involved alcohol. Never have they involved anger over not getting free stuff.

Homeless lady wants sample. Homeless lady really only wants the sample of coffee so she has an excuse to sit inside our cafe and "discreetly" (in her mind, anyway) ask our customers for money. We've thrown her out multiple times. Now we just refuse to give her samples.

Today's the breaking point. I get called obscenities so obscene Quentin Tarantino is taking notes. I hear all about her "work history," how she gets a thousand dollars a month, how we're all losers who need to get jobs.

I get told to kill myself.

All this in front of an eight year old girl. After we finally got the cops in and the lady out, the little girl asked her mom why "that lady was so mad."

If only we knew, kid. If only we knew.

Who's getting married today? I wonder if they'll have nice hors d'ouvres. I could murder a bacon-wrapped scallop right about now--
Eyes. On sticks. Uh. Well. I can almost see myself eating hearts, but eyes...eyes look back at you, man. Eyes watch you eat them. I'm not sure I could handle being judged by my food.

Friday, January 27, 2012

[Insert Obvious Tom Petty Reference Here]

Lines suck.

I know they suck, you know they suck, we all know they suck. They're right up there with airline food and fluorescent lights. But they're something we have to deal with in this crazy mixed-up world, right? Standing behind a total stranger for an eternity only to watch them do what you wanted to do first is just a cost you pay to live in modern society.

Unless you're in a coffee shop.

Then a line is this inexplicable, infuriating thing devised by god and man to ruin your morning. What...what is this? You just want to order your drink, and then leave. Don't these creatures understand? There's no time for this! Your bus leaves in five minutes. You're illegally parked! The terrorists have your family!

And you need your coffee



But the people ahead of you in this seething mass of impatience don't understand, and they all take too long to order their half-decaf-double-tall-in-a-grande-extra-foamy-three-splenda-seven-pumps-chai-lattes, and why can't they just--

Oh! One of the baristas--y'know, those coffee robots who look like people--is talking to you. She's asking for your drink order! A moment later you pay and stroll over to pick up your beverage. They day is saved! 

...but your beverage isn't there. Where is it?! You need it! And then you see it: past the barista you'd describe as slaving away if baristas had feelings. Past a row of cups arranged in a formation you find disturbingly familiar. Your cup sits at the end of...


It's about that time when people get angry. I once saw a man--presumably not a supervillain--point and scream "YOU DON'T KNOW WHO YOU'RE DEALING WITH!" and storm out of the cafe. Because we wouldn't take his order at the delivery counter or put his drink ahead of the twenty other drinks already on the bar. I've seen moms order ten different frappucinos blended drinks for kids and then freak out as we blend them one at a time because we only have one blender.

And people think they can get around all this somehow. People try to form secondary lines. Tertiary lines. People come in clumps of three or four and hope they can overload the order system. People stand at the hand-off station and stare at you, stare into you, like they're trying to get their drink faster using the freaking Force.

All these tricks? They're like asking a retail associate to check the back. We don't distort time and space, we make coffee, and until you replace us with robots or four-armed apes...it's going to take a minute.

Today's entry was heavily inspired by this Cracked article. I'd be remiss if I didn't give credit where credit was due.
...why do I get the feeling I'm being invited to a wedding?
Ah. Because this is a wedding invitation. Apparently the Uyghurs aren't all that into postcards.

But they are into utilitarianism! No disposable diapers? Laundry's a pain? Just aim that crotch in the proper direction! I wonder how many ruined shirts it takes to get the timing right.

Drop some food, pick it right back up, eh? Tell me, Jess, what's the Uyghur word for "five second rule"?

Monday, January 23, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different

The explosion had been quite loud. And now Agatha's feet hurt.

Subjectively speaking, Agatha never understood there were muscles in her feet. Objectively, of course, she knew all about them, but then objectively Agatha knew lots of things. She knew, for example, that the human foot had nineteen muscles, or twenty if one classified the extensor hallucis brevis as distinct from the extensor digitorum brevis. Esoteric knowledge even for her, but then the Institute had a lot of books, and Agatha had a lot of time to kill in detention.

Knowing a muscle group existed, however, had nothing on Agatha's new subjective understanding as she tried in vain to move her legs. Pain. Pain everywhere. Every single muscle in her body burned, twinged, ached. Even the stupid little ones she barely knew she had in her stupid little feet. She blinked up into pure darkness, felt fine rock dust shift on her eyelids, and realized she didn't even have the energy to cry.

Not that she would. When did crying ever help, after all? Tears, that was one thing. Pain drew tears like wounds drew blood. But crying? Huddling into a ball and sobbing and hoping that would fix it? Crying was what you did when you couldn't do anything else.

Crying was giving up.

She lay covered in rock and dirt. She lay on the wrong side of a door between worlds--a door just slammed shut by two tons of dynamite--and every inch of her swam with pain. It would be so, so easy to simply relax, close her eyes, and die.

Instead she raised her arms above her head, hissing at the effort, and did her best to sit up. She was Agatha Byrne, and she saw no sense in giving up.


I've been reading a lot of Terry Pratchett. Does it show?

...oh great. Now I want noodles. And Penny's is closed. THANKS, JESSICA.

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Recently, during a morning shift on a Sunday, my assistant boss pulled me off the floor. We weren't exactly overstaffed, so I found it odd she needed to talk to me right then and there.

"Are you okay?" She asked.

I stared at her as though I could suss out her meaning through eye contact alone. That didn't really work, so after what was either a few seconds or an uncomfortably larger amount of seconds I supplied: "What?"

"You're looking pretty low. You look--like you'd rather be anywhere but here."

She radiated concern. Not for the business, and not because I'd been rude to a customer or anything, but because when I wasn't "on" serving coffee I was clearly exhausted and miserable. This provoked two reactions on my part:

a) Touched. My previous location became a daily grind so misery-inducing I often stared into the mirror and wondered, out loud, if I could make it into work that day. This fact was as apparent to my former manager as a forest fire is to the trees, and yet he never commented once. As long as I was upright, sober, and not audibly cursing, I'm fairly convinced he couldn't give less of a damn. And now here we are: I haven't been at this location more than two months and already my assistant boss can tell when I'm unhappy on the job, and it actually worries her.

b) Annoyed. It's Sunday morning. I want to choke out every well-rested smiling coffee swiller that comes through my door and makes me navigate through my fog of fatigue long enough to pretend I'm interested in their coffee, long enough to find which stupid button I have to press to ring up their stupid warmed butter croissant, and now you're telling me I can't even drop the facade once they leave?!

Somewhere in the past year of getting home every night past 1 AM I broke my sleeping schedule. Never had a very solid one to begin with, but now every morning shift is an insult, every night I need to go to sleep before 1 AM is an Everest I must climb. An Everest filled with kittens...kittens covered in spikes.

But I know in my heart of hearts that option A is the right one. And after talking with her for a few minutes--admitting my sleeping schedule's about as reliable as the Grecian economy, making sure I wasn't screwing over my coworkers--I returned to the floor and felt awake. Enthusiastic, even. No more anger, no more bitchiness barely restrained, just the pleasant knowledge that my bosses, if you'll pardon my Mandarin, actually give a 狗屎.

That...that's not in China, Jess. I've been close enough to high-five that dinosaur, you can't fool me with clever text bubbles. You didn't even try to hide the Field Museum logo!

...oh, Sue, I can't stay mad at you.
I can't say much about these ladies, other than how utterly badass they must be. I mean, the drawing is awesome, but only sort of does their badassocity justice. Giant freaking shears! Steel spikes! IRONS THE SIZE OF GIANT MECHA ROOMS!

I won't claim I'd give anything to work there, because I value my health insurance and I'm pretty sure they don't get free coffee. But my job, and pretty much any job, could benefit from the introduction of RAZOR SHARP CLEAVERS THE SIZE OF FREAKING FRANCE, YOU GUYS.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bonus Double-Postcard-Post

Look, people: I get it. You need a place to write or draw or whatever that offers an internet connection and yet is not your bedroom, but you're not so flush with cash you can buy your own office on Michigan Avenue like those fancy-pants one-percenters with their big cigars and their monocles and their hybrid cars and their stock tickers.

But at least pretend you're a customer. Buy something. Anything. See that lady over there with the rainbow hair and the laptop so old its processor speed is measured in KB? She bought a banana for $1.10, and she's been here for six hours, but at least she bought a goddamn banana. You didn't buy anything! You just walked in, ordered a glass of ice water, then took one of our approximately four tables. And, upon finding we have no restroom, you glared at me. Buy a cookie and you can straight-up cuss me out, but buy something! 

There's a sense of expectation that goes with entering our stores. We created it, we nourished it, and from time to time it bites us in the ass. On the plus side, most of our laptop hobos are not actual hobos. Future aging liberal hippie douche I may be, but my experiences with the homeless during my time in the Coffee Mines haven't made me relish the moment any of them walk through my cafe's door.

 Hmmm. This...doesn't look Chinese. But it's a postcard and I got it in the mail. Who else would send me a postcard? And it's from New Belgium? What happened to regular Belgium? I liked regular Belgium, they were the second country sane enough to let their gays get married.


I...mostly remember sending this. From the Hoptacular. I think there was this line? And I sort of, sidestepped it? There were definitely glaring faces. And I wrote it with a Sharpie. In retrospect, going to that thing on an empty stomach was a bad idea.
 See, this is what I looked like once I got home from the Hoptacular. My sample glass only held like six ounces, but we got there late and I had to make up for lost time, and I'm pretty sure six times five hundred is...a lot.
I want a sweet Uyghar hat! I may already own the best hat ever (well, not that exact one, but almost identical), but I'm always up for new and exciting headgear.

I do feel vaguely offended that the Buddha image on the front of this postcard was not actually ever seen by the person writing it. I've been lied to. I've been had. And now all of you have, too. So I'm just spreading the mendacity around like butter on toast. You're welcome.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Supply Drop Needed

Remember that one episode of Band of Brothers where "Doc" Roe keeps running around the battlefield, constantly asking fellow medics if they've got scissors?

That's where we're at with Sharpie pens. You lose your Sharpie, you'd better pray you're not on register. Otherwise it's off to the back room to scour the desk, the shelves, the bathroom--all the while vainly hoping you'll see a permanent marker somebody missed. And there's always one guy--in this case, our Supervisor--who knows where he can get one or two more. But maybe there's a price. Maybe he's gotta bum a pack of smokes from ya, or maybe you've gotta take night watch tomorrow so he can get some real sleep--

Okay, getting too into Band of Brothers. Remember that show? What a great show. Why wasn't The Pacific nearly as good? Anyway. We've all taken to bringing our Sharpies home with us, stuffed inside our aprons. It always feels vaguely like stealing. If I ever get in trouble for something else, I think they'll show a damning videotape of me stuffing my pockets with sharpies as evidence I cannot be trusted.

Other supplies run out. I've worked in stores where the manager feuded with the supervisors over daily ordering, so sometimes crucial stuff like milk suddenly be unavailable. Borrowing a CVS shopping cart in order to haul 12 gallons of 2% down the block is an experience I won't soon forget. Calling sister stores at least once a week to plead for extra whipped cream chargers and garbage bags, driving to the hardware store for replacement brooms...

In the end, you gotta hustle for what you need, and then hold onto it with an iron fist. Who knows when the command structure could come tumbling down, and suddenly it's just you, facing down a thousand customers, and they're whittlin' at your supplies--

Right. Sorry. Postcards. Here we see the Grand Courtyard of the Wangs, a lovely place which I will refrain from joking about in any way whatsoever. There's nothing funny about the word "wang." It's a highly common surname,  and without it we wouldn't have the greatest single of 1986.
Oh. Condoms. Um. Complimentary condoms from the minibar (or does "uncomplimentary" imply they're not free? Makes sense, it is a minibar). Condoms featuring everyone's favorite vampire slayer. I wonder if I can find the actual brand on google--

Yes I can. Thanks, Engrish Brog!

I like how Buffy doesn't even seem excited to be all skimpy on these condoms. They found Sarah Michelle Gellar doing her--badass face? Disapproving face?--whatever, some kind of frowny face. And now you're picturing her. Looking at your junk. Making that face. Thanks for ruining all my adolescent Buffy fantasies, China.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

This Explains All The Unanswered Texts

Oh god scanning things takes so long.

But yeah, let's talk about cellphones for a second.

Way back when, I refused to even use a cellphone. I thought they were stupid. I thought anyone who used a cellphone was stupid. Somehow, using complex mental gymnastics, I even thought the brilliant dudes who invented cellphones were stupid. But in a twist of Shyamalanic proportions, the stupid one...was me.

Regardless. Fast forward to now. I have a cellphone, I love my cellphone, I use my cellphone constantly. Me from 2005 couldn't conceive of playing scrabble on your phone. Any moment there's downtime I'm all up in my phone's grill, googlin' and textin' and flingin' ill-tempered birds. Every single barista at my store is the same way every single barista in the universe is the same way. And while my previous location was a soul-devouring hell from which I thought I'd never escape, we at least got away with the occasional glance at the iPhone on the floor.

Not so now. I actually like my current location, but we've cracked down on phones quite a bit. The rule is simple and effective: keep it in your jacket, or it goes in the safe.

"Wah wah wah, Jim," you're saying. "Cry me a river and then build me a bridge and get over it, then get hurt crossing the bridge so you have to call a wahmbulance." And you're playing the world's tiniest violin.

Wave away the first world problems fog a moment, and do this for me: Pretend you work at a cafe. Now pretend you've done every conceivable task in the universe. The daily tasks, the weekly tasks, the yearly tasks. The store sits empty. It's two days after Christmas, everyone who can afford three lattes a day is off skiing, and you cannot leave this space for four more hours.

All you have to distract you from your boredom is the inevitable screeching of these goddamn things. And ten paces away, tucked inside your jacket, sits a magical tool. A magical tool that plays scrabble. That's like putting a starving man at a full table and telling him he can't eat anything until the restaurant's closed.

Jess doesn't look too thrilled on this postcard, as indicated by the multiple frowny faces. I particularly like the crossing out of "small" in favor of "isolated." I'm picturing her hunched over a rickety counter--tumbleweeds blowing by outside, natch--scribbling frownies while a puzzled postal worker looks on.

How isolated, Jess? Is it a geographical oddity?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

a bit of housekeeping

Just so everyone knows, my scanner is either broken or haunted. I intend to keep posting in a timely manner, but that may involve jaunts to kinkos or the suburbs to mooch off my mom. Blogging is glamorous.

Petty Little Vengeances

I don't spit in your coffee.

I can't spit in your coffee.

I can't, as a waiter I knew once bragged about to me, rub my fingers on my unmentionables and then run them along the rim of your drink. I can't drop your food on the floor, pick it up, and serve it anyway. I'm right there behind the bar, in full view of you and three to four cameras. There are a million things I can't do to get back at you when you throw cookies in my face, tell me I'm a Nazi, or tell me you wish I would kill myself (that one didn't happen to me, but I got to watch).

All I can do is give you decaf.

And I don't even do that.

There are a lot of opportunities to be angry in this job. A lot of chances hunger for revenge. And on my bad days, my really bad days, my ultimate vengeance in the end is always:

Being so good at serving you that you feel guilty about whatever it is you did.

It's hard to be a jerk to someone being nice to you. It's hard to ignore a barista when they remember your name, your usual drink, the fact you had a game the other night. And as the barista, it's gratifying on two levels when you change a person's mood:

1) You've made his day! Maybe he'll be nicer from now own, and possibly give you a tip!
2) You've made him, on some level, take note of his bitchy behavior and feel bad enough about it to change his mind!

Passive aggression. Harnessed for good.

Below, we see a lovely wall in Datong, China, as well as the first, but probably not last, incident of what you all came here to see: hardcore nudity! 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, LET IT SNOW ALREADY

We need snow.

Without snow, winter is just interminable cold with a dash of bitter wind. Or it's wet, cool weather that produces mud and head colds. Or it's shivering on the El platform and cursing this stupid goddamn weather.

But put snow on rooftops and winter becomes Winter. I can't be angry on that el platform if there's big, fat snowflakes falling all around me. I just can't. Yeah yeah yeah, driving sucks in snow, but driving sucks in rain, too, and we don't hate spring for that. Point being, snow is magical. I don't even mind mopping up the salt and sludge customers bring into the store, because I'm too busy pointing outside and going "LOOK IT'S SNOWING YOU GUYS LOOK LOOK LOOK!"

Here we see some "pretty old buildings" in picturesque Beijing, taunting me with their snowiness. I'm in Chicago, it's January, and the high for today tops fifty degrees. What the hell, Old Man Winter? Are you asleep, or did all that global warming finally kill you?

Of course, this could be the lull before the storm. Old Man Winter could be winding up for another gut-punch like last year. If so: good. I want to see lightning in a snowstorm again.

Sidenote 1: Blogger's interface changes how I type paragraphs next to postcards with every entry, so if the formatting seems wonky, thank the ghosts in the machine. Sidenote 2: according to wikipedia, [Red] carries a largely positive connotation, being associated with courage, loyalty, honor, success, fortune, fertility, happiness, passion, and summer. So don't worry, Jess! Happiness, passion, and summer look good on everyone!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

*static noises*