The main reason I haven’t written a lot of lengthy posts the last week or so* is that the day job has been a gigantic sap on my time. Can you imagine? They pay me to show up and work hard. The nerve! In actuality, I’m thankful for the job and I enjoy it. I’m in a good situation, but I am a little too busy for my own liking.
*Sammy Bananas has promised a guest blog on these pages about coffee Down Under. If he reneges, I will extract his knowledge jewels in the upcoming chaterview that we have planned. He said that the tone of his post will mesh nicely with the tone of this blog, but I’m assured that it won’t be some kind of pinchbeck–it’s simply a relevant idea, from a relative of the blog, related on these pages to break up an otherwise relentless onslaught from your resident blogger.
Some folks bemoan the “day job”, the logistical details that fill our mind, and the mundanity that fills our days, but I’m not so averse. It might be a sort of mental myopia that affects me, but sometimes I prefer to see only the immediate details and deal with them one at a time. Looking at the big picture makes me dizzy. It’s a balance that I’ve struggled to achieve at times: keeping the smaller and larger cycles harmonized,* so I’ve often been content to keep the smaller ones in check.
*I remember in high school, I made up my own definition of “Zen”, in which I defined the term as having all of the time-based (such as the momentary, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly) cycles harmonized, so that none of our actions had to be reactionary. Mental and bodily upkeep would happen just as it was needed, anticipating care by mere moments, thereby maximizing usage of these parts of our lives, but never letting them fall into disrepair. Think of it like a car: if you put gas in your tank every two hundred miles, change your oil every 3000 miles, rotate your tires every 6000, and change your brakepads once a year, etc. then you will never have a vehicle in need of service. If you these things happen on time without forcing them, you will have found the “zen” of auto maintenance. I tend to think of it like a musical waveform, where the larger wave is harmonized with each of the smaller ones, creating well-harmonized intervals, like the perfect fifth and the octave. Hey, it may be a weak theory, but it’s my weak theory, so don’t come down too hard on me.
The smaller cycles are quicker to harmonize and can therefore give a sense of immediate gratification. Since harmonizing the larger cycles–say, for instance, painting the house, or losing 15 pounds–takes not only more time, but faith that work put in now will result in reward two weeks or months from now, I will often use these smaller tasks to distract me from the larger ones, giving enough of a momentary boost to offset any guilt associated with skipping out on responsibility.
That, in a rambling sort of nutshell, is why I have such a defined interest in the mundane: it’s controllable, to some extent, but living the finer details fully can inspire better living in general. You perform how you practice, right?
Well, my practice–and that’s not a jab, because I know it’s my life and not some kind of rehearsal–in this analogy is my day job at Whole Foods. I’m a supervisor on the Customer Service Team, which means I help manage that department, keep cashiers and baggers on task and on time, write credit slips for customers, take special orders, answer the telephone, run the cash register, bag groceries, train new Team Members and more. It’s a whole lot of little tasks that add up to a lot of full days. If I can do all of these little tasks well,* I will be happy with my full days, confident that I did good work, and lived my time as well as I could have.
*Mistakes are okay too, I guess.
The last few days, I’ve been ringing a lot, because we are a little shorthanded, and that’s where I’ve been needed. I’m good at that aspect of the job, and try daily to make it new for myself, because having the same mini-conversation three hundred times a day can lead to madness, if not boredom. Sammy Bananas and I had a conversation a few months back about the idea of “being the best cashier ever”, in which he said that he could imagine me doing that. At the time, I was a little insecure about having to spend so much time at that job compared to the musical one, so I took it as a bit of a jab. What he meant, though, was more along the lines of what I was saying above: I can commit to a singular purpose, and do well at that thing, because I have a hard time “mailing it in”. If I decide to, I can be “the best cashier ever”, even if my aspirations have more to do with being a main songwriter for the best blue-eyed soul band in the business…
[FYI: I am going somewhere with this post, even if it just seems like an excuse to put a bunch of ten dollar words in context. Compared to my bite-sized “How you gonna go to school like that?” series, this must feel like a weighty tome indeed, though.]
So, running the register the past few days, I have had a lot of people ask how my weekend was. I usually say something along the lines of “Good! We’ve been nice and busy in here, which I like!” Invariably, they come back with, “Yeah, it makes the time go faster.”
But that’s not my point! I don’t want time to go faster; it goes fast enough on its own. There is no worry of my day feeling interminable. The end of the shift and the end of the day will come, whether I want it to come or not, and faster is not the goal. What I do like is for that work time to be filled, so I can focus on the mundanity–the cycles of my Whole Foods reality–instead of thinking about other things I could be doing. Think of it like meditation. We don’t sit on our meditation cushion to make a shopping list. I don’t show up at work to pine for my evenings, or weekends, or days off. One day, I may spend more of my time on stage and in the studio, and I will hopefully spend that time focused on those tasks.
Ironically, I am a great multitasker. For all of these small things, I can hold seven ideas, plus or minus two, in my brain at one time, and keep them there as long as I need to. Sam and Wrall can attest to this, as I spend a lot of our time together making notes for the blog, even as we’re engaged in collective music work. In that context, it’s a way for me to keep from hovering over them when the works is mostly theirs, but at WFM it serves me in other ways.
Generally, I stay busy at the store no matter how many customers we have, but if there are lots of customers, I turn into a machine, moving from task to task with very little time to question, speculate, wax nostalgic. Hopefully, that means I’m buoyed enough by work that some of the “bad” stuff can’t bring me down.
Part of my job is to take customer issues and try to solve them. I’m constantly asking people if I can help them with anything, and if they found what they were looking for, if there was something wrong with the the item they are returning. Because of this, I hear a lot of complaints and excuses. And sometimes worse. If I were to relate the phone conversation I had with one customer from a couple of days ago, I would definitely have to expurgate the entirety of his side of the conversation; this is a family friendly blog, you see.
And some people are not interested in being placated. Their interest is simply in being froward, because as a squeaky wheel, they’d rather squeak than get the grease. I had a woman in line yesterday who did not want me to tape the lid onto her container of soup, but was going to hold me accountable if it spilled. I laughed off her comment, thinking she was joking, stopping only when I was the recipient of not one, but two hairy eyeballs. She then made it clear that she wanted only one bag for her entire order, but that “it will probably break, because your bags suck.” I offered to double bag and she responded thusly: “if the bags were better, you wouldn’t need to.”
No solution possible, she was being contrary just to be contrary. After we finished and I was ringing the next customer, she came back and said, angrily, “you should have asked me if I need anything else! I could have gotten a roll of quarters from you! Now I have to wait in line again.” I didn’t realize that it was part of my job to offer quarters, like postal employees offer stamps when you mail something. Typically, my conversations, including this one, end with “Thanks very much. Have a great afternoon!” Next time I see her, I will definitely add, “Can I make change for a ten for you?” or “How about I name the 50 state capitals alphabetically?” Possibly “Would you like a short history of the World’s Fair, with special emphasis on the 1964 one in Queens?”
Most of the customers are great, though–very pleasant and interesting, not trying to ruin anyone’s day. When I’m cashiering, I’ve noticed that customers mostly want an efficient checkout, and happy to banter about whatever is easiest: the weather, dinner, the sports scores. Occasionally, we can surprise ourselves by finding something in common, or by sharing a profound moment.
By trading in the daily ritual of cashierdom for life as a supervisor, keeping in the back of my mind the slow climb toward self sufficiency, the journey away from toadyism, I’ve given up on the mostly breezy repartee for an onslaught of difficult questions and harsh criticism. Like Whole Foods, I hold myself to a high standard, so having daily interactions borne out of a customer’s disappointment can be difficult, even if these are single-serving interactions.
I’m in the process of considering the next step up in the company, holding myself back with the hope that Miss Fairchild can find another level of success. I know we’re good enough. I know we’re driven enough. I don’t know if we’re lucky enough, but I can’t control that anyway. The more I work the day job, the easier it is for me to imagine making another move in that realm. One weekend writing songs, or making a special connection with a member of the audience at an MF show, though, and all this grocery store stuff just seems so…
*Not that that’s a bad thing.
You can see Miss Fairchild in Boston on 2/26/9 at Oliver’s/ Cask ‘n Flagon, 62 Brookline Ave. Also: Empire Dine & Dance, 575 Congress St., Portland, ME.