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June 30, 2011

Maybe I’m just more aware now or a little less self-centered, but the last few days have me reflecting on people and my own internal battle over what I think of them.  The idealist in me wants to believe we are all innately good.  But days like yesterday keep me wondering.  Can that be so? I’ve been duped, forced to act against that ideal and for my own interest, conscience be damned.  Even if it’s not me who’s naturally selfish or bad.  There are people who are takes actions that get us here, who get us to become selfish, ruthless, inconsiderate, beings just to survive.

But today, in some small way, a few guys renewed my confidence in humanity a little bit.  I sit in the local coffee shop.  It’s quieter than usual, and I like it–there’s not a struggle to tune out the low murmur surrounding me.  Usually it’s just mostly regulars at this time, the cool people who don’t have office jobs, lucky ducks.

Three twenty-somethings walk in–definitely indie with sting bracelets, canvas shoes, v-necks.  Definitely not regulars, though since they introduced themselves to the lone employee behind the counter.   One walks my way and introduces himself, then asks some basic questions (“Working on a book report?” Still look younger than I am).  And he gets to what I think must have been his goal–he works with the college ministry at a local church.

After eight years in the South, and a whole life in the religious minority wherever I am, things like this don’t shock or offend me, or make me uncomfortable,  I respect the differences of religion I encounter and what they require of their followers.  So I explained that I am Jewish (I left out the part that I wasn’t a very a good one).

Usually, the conversations can head down two paths from there, both equally awkward.  Sometimes the conversation just stops there.  Or they begin to explain why I should convert or join them for a service or pick up a bible, to which I respectfully just listen.  It can be hard to listen to that kind of lecture when you get the inkling it’s an “I’m right you’re wrong situation.”

But he did neither of these.  He asked me, taking an interest in what I believed, even if I didn’t give a very helpful answer.  And then we moved on.  Eventually his two friends joined us (oh are you working on a book report? no, it’s summer).  And we just talked–no religion involved.  And that’s a respect I can appreciate and I’m intrigued by.  To have confidence your beliefs, religious or otherwise, so that you don’t feel threatened to the point that you need to defend and explain your position without any sort of questioning or attack is something I don’t see very often.  I respect that.

They left with my blog address so more than one may read this…  awkward? Maybe.

Thanks for giving me something to write about, guys.

June 29, 2011

Cartersville is still a very hometown place, driving through the square you get the feeling that things haven’t changed here in a century, people just get places a little faster.  You feel that way at the grocery store too.  I walk into Ingles and inevitably see an old friend’s mother, a teacher, an ex, a principal, a boss.  No one is a nameless face in a crowd; somebody knows your name,  your face, where you work and where your kids (or you) went to school.  So it can be startling when I realize that we still all are nameless faces in a crowd to anyone not from this sheltered place.  Especially when you realize it at the cozy gas station plopped in front of the west end’s grocery.

Early this morning I rolled my battered Celica out of the driveway and towards town.  Mom gave me 30 dollars to put in the old girl’s tank.  That thirty was all I had and I wondered how far I could stretch it; if there’s one thing I hate paying for it’s gas… or well, anything I need for that matter.  Wants are just so much more fun to spend on.

There were two trucks parked under the fill station’s cover when I pulled in, and I knew their wallets were probably angrier than mine was at the gas pump.  While I prepared to part with my thirty dollars, both trucks pulled out and another pulled in without my noticing.

“Excuse me miss.”

I looked up as I was just pulling my debit card from the machine.

And middle-aged women, proably younger than she appeared, stood peeking around the pump. In baggy and drab work clothes, khaki ball cap on her head, she appeared to be heading to work.  Maybe at a Shaw plant, or Anheuser-Busch; wherever she’d done it, she worked her whole life.  Beyond the clothes, there was more to her appearance.  She looked desperately hopeful.

“You wouldn’t have a few dollars for gas money, would you?”

Before I knew what I was answering, I blurted, “No, I don’t have any cash.  Sorry.”

She slowly stepped away.  I guiltily watched my own pump rise $20, $22, $28…. I had nothing left to help her.

She climbed back into her truck and sat for a few moments.  I have never seen such a sorrowful and desolate picture up close in my life.

I drove away from the station, and soon after she did too.  I’ll never know if she got where she was going or the help she needed, or she if gave up after I let her down.  I do know that whatever happened after we met, it’s not her fault and it’s not mine either.

She was forced to desperate acts, to put all her dignity aside and ask me, a young kid at a gas pump, for help because someone else wants to make a profit off of a necessity.  The thing they need to have a livelihood, to support themselves, to live.  I denied one woman a few bucks on one occasion and the guilt is getting to me.

I can’t imagine what you must be like to be willing to risk millions of people’s dignity and livelihood for millions in the bank without feeling an ounce of remorse.

Why I Work at the PO: 1-800-BE-SHADY

May 25, 2011

Before I share with you my first blog-worthy experience in the post office, I should tell you that I felt my boss needed a good respectable nickname for the web.  And when I think of the PO manager I think of two things—patriotism and stamps.  So I came to the utterly uncreative name Sergeant Major Postage.

On Monday afternoons, the post office at Brenau is usually hopping.  Since there’s no one around Saturdays and Sundays to collect the mail, things sort of pile up.  This Monday was no different.  There was plenty to do when I clocked in at one.  But there was some extra action in the PO that neither the boss man nor I expected.  Sergeant Major Postage isn’t exactly computer (or as he so lovingly calls it, “compooter”) savvy.  Sometimes, the technology is beyond him—he knows how to do what he’s gotta do and he leaves it at that.    On occasion, however, he’s got to reach outside his knowledge base of Word, Excel, Outlook and all the Pitney Bowes doodads, and today was one of those days.  Poor Sarg got himself locked out of his customer account on the Office Depot website.  It was time for a call to the customer service hotline; they’re always the best with Postage because he likes to leave ‘em laughing, which usually leaves me laughing too.  But today I got to laugh before he even got a rep on the phone.

As I printed postage on the flood of out-going university mail, I heard the boss’s gravel –like voice: “What the—“

A few more moments pass, his whispers to himself drowned to my ear by the zips and swooshes of the postage meter machine.

Then again he voices his building confusion and frustration, turning to me to say, “this is not right. Chloe, dial up this number for me.”

Then I realized he’d been trying to call the service line, but they only printed the number in that obnoxious 1-800-AS-DIFFICULT-AS-WE-CAN-POSSIBLY-MAKE-IT-FOR-YOU-TO-CALL-US numbers where you have find the corresponding number for each letter.  You know, since when you’re already frustrated with the company’s shit, you really want to spend more time translating their pain-in-the-behind numbers into actual numbers.

So, after a few tries on his own, the boss called in for backup from his right hand lady, the “top woman in charge” in the PO (aka TWIC), me!  He rattled off the company’s number, and I started dialing.  I got customer service on the first try.  But the Mail Marine got it wrong one more time.  He just couldn’t understand!  And I don’t blame him. He explained, “every time I try to dial the number, I get some sex hotline.  It says ‘something hotline, free phone sex for men and women.’  How could the numbers even be so close?”  I couldn’t help but giggle at the boss’s mistake.  He was clearly beyond uncomfortable about the situation.  He admitted the number he dialed in a barely audible voice.  If only he’d gotten to an actual phone operator.  I wonder if he would have stuck to his “leave ‘em laughing” rule. And imagine the headlines if he had: “respectable long-time university employee enjoys explicit telecommunications on school’s dime”.  Shocking.

Life Planning?

May 18, 2011

So one of the perks of my job as an office assistant for a department at Brenau is that there’s an 80% percent chance I’ll be answering phones.  And it’s summertime, so that means calls can be (and most of the time are) sluggish.  And that leads to a whole lot of unsupervised computer time.  Now, I know what you’re all thinking: Facebook.  But how wrong you are!  Instead, I make what I like to call life plans–forever changing and ever-so idealistic visions for my future.

Let’s take yesterday, for example.  In the morning, I worked the switchboard.  Between transferring calls to Financial Aid and Admissions, giving directions, and attempting to pick out names over the loud music playing on the other end of the line, I made budgets.  I whipped up an excel spreadsheet, calculated my approximate earnings for every month between now and December, and clicked in my spending goals.

Then in the afternoon, I moved over to the admissions office to provide my excellent miscellaneous services.  The one woman welcoming committee was out sick, so my boss threw me in to cover the main phone line.  And things were awfully calm.  Inspired by the commotion around me of enrolling new students, applicants, and first year questions, I began a quest for grad schools to occupy my time.  Which lead to a search for internships in the publishing world.  Which ultimately lead to a two year life plan.  I noted deadlines for my dream grad programs, application requirements, and costs and filled them in accordingly on my month-by-month schedule to my dream life.  Along the way I included things like “practice for the GRE,”  “apply for summer internships,” “begin scholarship hunt,” and “decide what to do with your life.”  It may seem crazy, but that pink post-it has put me at ease about the next two years.  I’m getting panicky about the idea of moving on to a new part of my life and making important decisions about my future.  It may seem a little soon for that, but a year from now I’ll be thinking about statements of interest and the GRE subject tests and that’s daunting.  However, with my trusty Life Plan in hand, I know I have a vision of where I want to end up; I’m planted solidly in my undergraduate world, rather than aimlessly floating along counting down to graduation day.  And that feels good.

Why I Work in the P.O.

May 10, 2011

Today was my first day at my new job: I’m a mail clerk at my university’s post office.  My boss is Post Master Vern.  He’s a retired Marine and probably the nicest guy you’ll meet.  I also know he’s got  jokes and (I hope) great stories.  But today, I was on my own, faking my way through the day.  There is something nice about the cramped BU Post Office during the summer.  It’s mostly calm with just a few folks popping in through out the day.  This may be the perfect job for a charming loner like me.  I’m hoping I can make a Eudora Welty style short story out of it.  Fingers crossed.

Giving it up to the computer screen

May 10, 2011

Today while some-what eavesdropping on Mother’s conversation with an old friend, he angrily blurted out a few words that got me thinking: “While the kid’s down stairs cursing at strangers, where do you think the parents are?  Probably upstairs watching porn–or you know, whatever!” (Or something along those lines).   His rant got my wheels turning about a ridiculously peculiar scene I witnessed a week or so back.

Picture this:

It’s four-ish on a Thursday at a suburban sushi and hibachi place.  It’s too early for much action in the hibachi rooms, but the sushi bar is buzzing.  I’m sitting at table six in the center of the little shop front with my good friend Laura.  Just an arm’s length away at a table in the window sit a mother and son pair; they seem pretty normal, so I overlooked them when we entered the scene.   Then when our server disappeared Laura noticed something was up.  With her swift head tilt, I found something that would hold my attention my whole meal. The mother and son pair have accessories: an iPad, two iPhones and earbuds.  Mom’s plugged into her iPad, which she has propped on the soy sauce, and seems to be engrossed in a movie, every once in a while she checks her phone.  And her son is taking bites between rounds of games on his iPhone.  I know he played more than one while we were all sitting there, and I’d like to think one was Angry Birds.  It was all I could to keep from staring slack-jawed until my food came.

But I wonder what on earth would make them want to eat their dinners in such solitude, since that’s really what it was.  Do the mother and son really not have anything to talk about at all?  If she’s not having grown up conversations with the kid, where’s he going to learn it from?  I picture this little boy thirty years from now playing the wii of the day and grunting to his family while they all try to guess what it is he wants.  I mean, I know there are people out there who believed this kind of meal would become the norm, but I never thought it would actually happen.  Sheesh, America.  Of course this is all coming from the girl who checks her Facebook three times a day and has been known to spend the entire day on the couch in front of the TV with the computer on her lap.  So you should probably take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Absentmindedly Losing Everything

May 3, 2011

And by everything I mean stuff and my mind.  Today Mother and I wasted close to an hour looking for a book that I know I’ve seen since I returned home, but I can’t nail down its exact location.  Sure, this time I have the excuse of just moving back in; my crap’s everywhere, and most of it’s still in boxes and bags.  But this kind of thing happens on an all too regular basis–like everyday…. multiple times.  In fact, I probably waste an hour to two hours daily looking for my keys, my bag, my cellphone and my shoes.  It’s exhausting.

Mother blames her parenting skills for my pain-in-the-neck flaw.  She thinks she micromanaged me too much.  Her theory is that because she was always tidying up after me, I never learned to keep track of my own stuff.  I don’t like her theory too much, even though it’s probably true.  It just encroaches upon my rosy image of my independent, wise beyond my years childhood.

I’d much rather blame it on genetics.  After all, Daddy is always forgetting things.  Mother has to check everyone of his pockets for pens, cash, credit cards, keys, cell phones and who knows what else before she throws anything in the washing machine.  His brain’s got bigger fish to fry than keeping track of those minor things that make life go smoothly.

Or maybe it’s a medical mystery… I think I like that option the best.  Maybe it will be my claim to fame.

Whatever the cause, solving this issue would be a huge weight off my shoulders.  It’ll make my metaphorical hike to that unknown destination noticeably easier.   I’m going to spend some time pondering how to fix this.