Safari

safari

 

 

 

© Copyright 2014

Sean Ganus

 

 

The coffee shop calls me two weeks after I submit the application. I’m in the shower when my phone rings, so I have to call them back. The hiring manager who called is unavailable, so I leave a message for him to call me back. I leave three more before I learn he has left the property for the week.

The next week I call to follow up. He tells me he was excited to review my application. My experience in customer service is just what he’s looking for in a shift supervisor. He tells me they’ve already hired someone else, though.

“But we still have positions open for baristas,” he adds. I tell him a barista gig would be fine.

“Come in tomorrow for an interview, then!” he tells me warmly.

I interview the next day. He calls me later in the afternoon and tells me the interview went wonderfully. He adds that he went with someone else for the two open positions.

“Someone with a little more coffee experience,” he tells me, in a measured, manager’s way. He adds artificial gravitas to the phrase coffee experience, as though coffee making is a degreed skill set.

In trying to avoid insulting their workers and applicants, companies now just condescend to them.

 

***

 

“So why are you interested in this job?”

The librarian interviewing me looks almost out of place. She’s very cold and businesslike, more suited to an insurance office than a public library.

I tell her I love books. I tell her I’m a voracious reader and that I’m fastidiously organized. I tell her I’m used to environments that require extensive electronic recordkeeping.

“I notice you have your degree,” she says.

I do.

“You know this job is only part-time, right?”

I do.

“Don’t you want to do more with your diploma?”

I’d love to. If only there was more available.

“I’m not sure this job is for you,” she tells me. “Frankly, you may be overqualified.”

It’s reassuring to know I’m too smart to feel hunger.

 

***

 

“We went with someone who has a little more bowling experience.”

Bowling experience.

 

***

 

I hear the dial tones of a computerized answering service. This is the third time I’ve called.

“Due to the extremely high volume of applications, we’re unable to provide any definite figures relating to the probability that you’ll be called in for an interview. We thank you for your call, though, and appreciate your interest in working with our team.”

 

***

 

I’ve spent the entire morning taking computerized tests, role-playing customer care scenarios, engaging in verbal interviews, and filling out questionnaires. This is the fifth person who has interviewed me today.

Customer service reps dutifully answer calls around me. One young man in the next cubicle is doing really well. He’s relaxed and personable, and I can hear customers on his headset. They’re delighted at the end of each call.

His manager comes by, whispers something to him. Whatever it is that she says, he’s clearly bothered by it. He answers the next call in the same artificially chirpy tone everyone else is using. The customers now aren’t nearly as satisfied as the customers before. They’re uncomfortable, put off. They can sense they’re just getting a form routine. No one is happy with the enforced brand standard, except, perhaps, the brand itself.

“We’ve reviewed your file,” the hiring manager says as she walks back into her cubicle. “And overall you’ve done wonderfully. But unfortunately, we aren’t able to offer you a job at this time. I’m so sorry.”

“Was there anything that caused particular concern?” I ask, honestly curious.

“I’m…not really at liberty to say. But…we just don’t think this job is the perfect fit for you.”

“But I’m…I’m qualified, right?”

“Perfectly qualified, yes. To be honest…” She looks around quickly, leans in, says in a low voice: “There aren’t any more training positions open until our next hiring cycle.”

“So…can I possibly apply for an opening for the next cycle?”

“Unfortunately no.”

“Were these openings already filled.”

“They were, actually.”

“So…why did you people call me in?”

“Company policy is to process employment applications as quickly as possible, as soon as they come in.”

“…even if there isn’t anything left to apply for.”

“Yes.”

“So it’s a policy of false hope.”

She laughs. “I wouldn’t go that far.”

“I think you people owe me two gallons of gas for driving out here.”

She gives me a sympathetic look. “Your application will remain on file. I’m very sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter if you are.”

She walks me through security. She asks if I’m okay with the stairs, since she’d need her card for the door past the elevators. I opt for the elevators.

 

***

 

“I’m calling about the application we have on file for you. Are you still interested in working for our company?”

“You people pulled this trick before. Have a good day.”

I hang up.

 

***

 

I stuff the lady’s receipt into her bag. She must be a big fan of James Patterson. Or, more specifically, a big fan of James Patterson’s ghostwriters.

Later, in the attached café, she and I talk about a scuffle in Iraq between militant and Iraqi army forces. While I prepare her mocha she asks me, “Are you in school?”

“Got one degree. Hoping for one or two more eventually.”

“Then what are you doing here?” She looks amazed.

“…working.”

“Don’t you want more from life?”

I ring up the coffee drink. “I do. But I also don’t want any less.”

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Boys and Girls

 

The first time I kissed a man, I was twenty years old and at a party. I’m more than a little ashamed of the fact that I don’t remember his name, but in my defense there wasn’t much about him that was worth remembering. He had that dull-witted personality that comes from liking weed a little too much, he favored the kind of angsty tee shirts usually reserved for people who consider Avenged Sevenfold “deep,” and to top it all off he was engaged to a woman. The kiss itself was only memorable for having been the first of its kind; it was really just a mushy, stubbly mess, less of a kiss and more of an intoxicated collision.

The catch with being a bisexual man in the Deep South is that you’re a bisexual man in the Deep South. Straight people either believe you’re actually gay or going through a phase, and gay people, at least the younger ones I dealt with in high school, consider you something of a poser, an uninvited guest popping in to test the water. You hear the phrase “fully gay” a lot as well, from everywhere, as though you can level up in sexuality like some prurient version of Super Mario Bros.

These issues are less frequent now, of course, though they’re still evident in small degrees. I’ve never been threatened with physical violence, but I have been unintentionally insulted in bars, by homophobic drunks who assume everyone around them shares their opinion. I’ve had women who previously expressed explicit interest in me cool in their advances once they learn that my orientation isn’t an exclusive thing. One woman told me she wouldn’t be able to deal with the fact that she was only satisfying half of my desires, assuming, I guess, that I was the adulterous equivalent of a 7Eleven Big Gulp. I get questions about my sex life that come off as some sort of categorization exercise; honestly, I answer fewer questions when I’m trying to figure out my tax bracket.

I’ve never actively gone out of my way to hide my feelings, which until lately I always took to be a sign of independent indifference. I’m much more attracted to women than I am to men, and the one major long-term relationship I’ve ever been in was with a woman, and we were genuinely, romantically in love. Practically speaking, I could very well identify as straight. LGBT rights could crumble tragically and it would likely affect my love life very little, if at all. Truth be told, sexual identity hardly matters to me at all, but it’s ignorant to insist it isn’t of crucial importance to our current society. I notice this when bosses make homophobic jokes to me about others, like I’m some kind of captive audience for their facetious bigotry. I notice it when my orientation alone makes others more or less attracted to me, regardless of my personality type. I notice it when lawmakers ignore their constituents, and pass discriminatory laws to please special interest hate groups.

And while, like most Americans, I would rather say that my orientation is my own, like everything else, the human being in me knows that there are issues in the world that are greater than myself, issues that I am intrinsically connected to by virtue of just being human. And lately, though it hasn’t happened often, I’ve occasionally been purposefully quiet about this aspect of myself, and that lack of honesty and integrity, however small, galls me. There are aspects of ourselves that simply aren’t ours alone.

I don’t plan on actively announcing myself as bisexual whenever I’m around those who are unaware of it, but I can’t call myself truly honest and allow myself to actively hide my sexuality, either. I never really came out so much as I just didn’t care if others knew, and high school was just the time when others found out about me. I have a lot of contempt for my adolescent self, because in most respects he was an idiot, but I think he got something really spot-on regarding honesty. So for his sake and mine, I won’t stop myself from mentioning something that I should be able to say in passing, without the quick looks over my shoulder that I’ve shamefully noticed I’ve adopted.

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Asleep in Coffeeland

coffee

 

There’s a very noticeable lack of energy after I clock in. I’m dragging ass, and no one is speaking too loudly when I make my way to the kitchen. I set out the pots and brew the first round of coffee for the day. Our overnight houseman comes bustling into the kitchen then, a squirrely woman who always seems a little distracted by something in the air no one else can see.

“Oh, you’re already here?” she asks me, looking mildly confused.

“…yeah.”

“There’s people at the counter. I didn’t think you was already clocked in.”

“Well we’re not open yet, but I’ll go check on them.”

There are three people in front of the register when I walk out. Two are men who we’ve poured early coffees for the past two days, and now it seems as though they’ve assumed our favor is the new standard operating procedure. When they ask for coffee, the request is made without the candy coating that was used when they first begged us to bend the rules. The assumption is that we’ve thoroughly submitted to their will.

“The coffee’s brewing at the moment, guys, so it’ll be a few minutes…”

“Why will it be a few minutes? Can’t you pour it from the machine?”

I lie to the guy and tell him no, it’s a sealed process, and he seems to buy it despite how outlandish it sounds coming out of me. They pay and take a table while I continue to open. Lee runs in back to grab the pastries.

The third guest is a woman engaged in a full yoga session right beside our bar. She’s in a position I like to call the Scorpion Monkey even though I know that’s not the actual name. Her right leg is curled so tightly over her back she’s a breath away from stomping on the top of her head. She’s middle-aged, not bad-looking but not the type of person I typically check out. For whatever reason, though, our eyes meet, and without skipping a beat she asks for a white chocolate mocha. Grande.

She lowers her right leg, and now arcs the left into what I think of as the stinger position.

Lee comes out with a cart, lugging the pastries, pots, and the first two coffee orders. I get to work on the mocha, foaming the milk for a moment just so it won’t screech so horribly for the five million minutes it takes to scald. More guests trickle in, though none of the lights are on.

“Oh, you guys are open already?” one man asks.

I finish the mocha while Lee opens the register, and ring the woman up. “Oh!” she puts her hand to her mouth. “Is this misto?”

“…no ma’am. It’s a white chocolate mocha.”

“Oh, I wanted it misto! I’m sorry!”

A line begins to form. We don’t officially open for an hour.

I make the misto drink.

 

***

 

“Tall coffee!”

At first I think the lady is stretching for a run, but after a second I realize she’s seething. Like, in anger. Shoulders hunched, fingertips digging into the countertop. I thought only Yosemite Sam actually got that mad.

“Yes, ma’am, that’ll be $1.87…”

“COFFEE?” she demands, making it clear she’s not paying until it’s in her hands.

“Yes ma’am, the coffee’s on it’s way.” And right on cue, the other barista hands the woman her drink.

She slams her money down, doesn’t wait for her receipt. A half hour later she’s back down, smiling and laughing with friends. She orders a muffin, and when I run it to her she falls over herself thanking me.

And people get onto me for smoking cigarettes.

 

***

 

“I’ll just be at this table, I don’t need the number.”

“No, ma’am, I’m probably not going to be delivering your food…”

She scoffs. “I’ll be right here. Just point me out!”

Ten more guests are making their way to me.

“Table #1, ma’am.” I hand her the number, and she sighs loudly and shakes her head. True to my word, I don’t deliver her food. The next guest is the same way, off-handedly telling me he doesn’t need a table number, like it’s a receipt he was just going to throw away.

If only their heads were literally that huge, then we could find them no problem.

 

***

 

“Good morning! Can I start you off with a coffee today!”

The guest unfurls a crumpled $10 bill with two shaky hands. “Nah. I’ll just get a Bloody Mary.”

Oh, boy. “Sir, unfortunately it’s too early to serve alcohol in this state. We also don’t have a bartender on duty. I apologize.”

“Bartender? You can make it.”

“Not legally, sir. You need to be certified to serve liquor. It’s the law. I’m sorry. We don’t have any licensed bartenders on staff.”

I’ve just lied to the guy, by the way. We have two bartenders pulling an AM shift, but neither wants to serve the guy. He’s stiffed us before on hundred-plus dollar tabs, carefully disappearing before the room ticket arrives, so that no one can actually stick him with the bill. But it really is too early to legally serve alcohol, so it seems like a moot point to make.

“Can I get you a coffee or anything?” I ask, trying to sound empathetic.

“No,” he squints his eyes, and his voice shakes. “I’ll just have that Bloody Mary, please.”

He’s speaking softly, but his breath is a torrent of fumes.

“Sir, I’m sorry, but we can’t. We’re on camera and everything. Our bar opens at five tonight, if you’d like to come back then.”

His hands shaking even more, he makes a sound like when you try to keep from crying, scoops up his bill, and hobbles off. For three more orders, there’s the lingering smell of old cigarette smoke.

 

***

 

“That’s my coffee!”

The woman is insistent. Predatory, actually, eyes locked onto me, jaw set in determination. She’s dressed in running clothes, the better for pouncing upon me should I make a break for it.

It isn’t her coffee by the way. Or, really, it is, but just the exact same order, made before she made hers. Tall non-fat cappuccino, two ordered in a row. I try to explain that to her, but she isn’t buying it.

“Yeah, okay, no, that’s definitely my coffee.”

Looking her in the eyes, defying her more out of a terrified trance than an act of rebellion, I hand the coffee to the guest that ordered it.

“Your’s is on its way, ma’am,” I tell her.

“THAT WAS MINE.” She’s baring her teeth. Like, actually baring them. I thought only sitcom characters did that.

“Tall non-fat cappuccino!” the other barista pipes up, defusing the situation before the woman can disembowel me with her bleached teeth. The guest takes her coffee, looks at me, and huffs, walking off without even a thank you.

“Excuse me,” the first guest asks. “I think I meant to order a latte.”

 

***

 

Most guests aren’t aware you can open the top dome of the Grab ‘n’ Go, but this guy opens it without hesitation.

“Two of these,” he says, in a thick English accent. “And two orange juices.”

Later he comes up to me, all flustered. “Look ‘ere!” he snaps. “We ordered two orange juices, and they never arrived!”

The orange juice isn’t behind any kind of partition. It’s out in the open, rows and rows of it, ready to be snatched away by thirsty guests with $3.50 to spare.

“Where is it?” he asks, righteously indignant.

“It’s right here, sir.” Right where he saw it, when he first had it in mind to order orange juice.

“Ohhh…oh, silly me! I thought that was just a display!” He takes an orange juice, then opens the section above for another scone.

 

***

 

We’re in the middle of a rush, and the manager injects herself into the turbo line, where I’m stationed. She’s punching tickets before I actually take the orders out, chastising me for punching some early when really the orders have long been processed.

Three separate times she begins an order that I’ve already run, and I have to bite my lip because she has a temper, and she’s not afraid to rip you a new asshole if you piss her off. Generally, I like her, but in a situation like this she can kill a man with a look from ten paces.

“Keep up with the tickets!” she snaps a few times. I force myself to keep quiet, fearing if I point out her mistakes she’ll gouge out my eyes with the oatmeal ladle.

The rush lasts a solid hour. Other managers come in to bus tables. Our cook, who I’ve never seen smoke a cigarette once, bums five from me and disappears. Our cashier spends a solid thirty minutes just clearing the tables.

We have five completed orders of breakfast sandwiches remaining on the line, duplicates my boss unintentionally made. She jabs my shoulder and points them out, like their furtive woodland creatures about to disappear.

“This is why you need to keep up with your tickets,” she lectures blindly. “That’s about thirty-five dollars we can’t make now.”

I wonder if Mr. Marriott will miss his car payment now, coming up exactly thirty-five dollars short, weeping into his cashmere sleeve as they tow away his 1989 Ford Taurus.

 

***

 

A squad of college cheerleaders makes its way to the counter. Under normal circumstances, in tight tee shirts and skimpy shorts, they would be a welcome distraction, but if you work in food service, there is no sight that chills your blood faster.

“I need coffee!” one of them moans. She sounds like a toddler but has the body of a porn star. Who is the asshole who gave women the idea that immaturity is cute? “Can I have a vanilla frappuccino?”

I choose to say nothing of her contradictory order, and ring her up.

“Can I have a quad mocha frappuccino?” another asks. She has cleavage that threatens to eat the thin gray tee shirt labeled “Pretty Little Party Shirt.” “Wait, is that iced?”

“Yes ma’am. Do you want just a quad mocha?”

“Actually can I have a triple skinny vanilla grande latte?”

“Sure.”

“That’s not iced is it?”

“No.”

“Can I have it iced?”

This goes on until all I see is red and murder.

They order breakfasts, too, an ocean of breakfasts that constantly changes after they’ve already been rung up. Half of them order platters thinking they’ll get sandwiches, the other order sandwiches thinking they’re getting platters. One orders oatmeal, then tries to change it to “just a bagel” when I bring it to her table.

It’s nine-thirty, and twelve of them have asked if we can make them Sweet Tart shots from the bar.

“That guy was hitting on you!” one says to her friend after I ring her up.

“He was totally hitting on you!” another says, like I’m deaf.

I’m trying to think of the crassest way I can tell them that I don’t fuck women I believe are legitimately retarded, when the woman currently ordering suddenly asks: “Hey, don’t get mad, but are you gay?”

“Uh, no. Why?”

“Well, you haven’t looked down my shirt.”

I look down then, expecting the sudden revelation of the near-mythic G-cup, but all I see are B’s. Nice B’s, admittedly, but not the most impressive set in this crowd. Why bring these up?

“Eyes up here,” she says, almost annoyed, and I not only meet her eyes, but roll my own.

“Ma’am, you’re barking up the wrong tree,” I tell her. I’m not gay, but this chick makes me wish I was.

“So you are gay?”

“No. Just not interested.”

She scowls the way I do when I see a dog turd left on the sidewalk. “Oh, yeah. Bullshit,” she says, taking her table number.

I want to tell her I’ve seen better, but instead I only say: “I can help whoever’s next in line.”

 

***

 

“These Corn Pops don’t taste fresh,” a guest tells me, with a look of legitimate concern.

“Oh, I’m sorry. We can reimburse you if you’d like. You shouldn’t have to eat stale cereal, that’s for sure.”

“Oh, no, they’re not stale. Just not fresh.”

“Ah. Well…they are Corn Pops.”

 

***

 

The cheerleaders leave a mountain of cups and platters on the communal table. None of them tip. The cook shuffles past after delivering a griddle item.

“Quittin’ time!” she sings. “Griddle’s goin’ off! Kicthen is closed!”

            A man walks up to the register and begins ordering breakfast. I tell him we’ve already closed our kitchen. He checks his watch.

“But it’s only 10:30!” he says.

I check my phone, and, yup, he’s right. We’re open another thirty minutes.

I sputter and apologize, privately vowing revenge against a cook too frazzled to read a digital clock. The other barista runs back to catch her and tell her we’re still open, goddammit, you’re not fucking leaving us like this. There’re hurried swears and clattering pans as she fires up the oven.

“This guy was trying to tell me they were already closed!” the guest laughs to his buddy. I ignore him, not actually caring, and hand him his table number.

“You’ll be table #14, sir!”

“Now are you sure?” he laughs.

“Or 16,” I say. “Could be 23, though. Maaaybe 7. Or…”

“Yeah yeah yeah…” he waves me off and goes to sit down.

The next guest lumbers up. His friends hurriedly say their orders, off-hand and under their breath, and I barely catch them as the guest in front of me, the human equivalent of a polar bear with psoriasis, tells them it’s on him, then mutters an order for oatmeal.

“Alright, so this is all one check?”

“Yeah.” He shakes his head so vigorously his bushy hair flares.

“Alright, so we have the oatmeal, the cereal, and the parfait…”

“No, I just had the oatmeal!”

“…oh. Okay, so their order is separate?”

“No! No, it’s all on me.”

“Okay. So that’s an oatmeal, her order of cereal, his parfait…”

“No! I just had the oatmeal!”

“…and you’re covering their orders?”

“Yeah! Yeah, it’s all on me.”

“Okay.” I abandon the itemized summation. “$14.47, sir.”

He’s astounded. “Just for oatmeal?”

He…looks sober enough.

 

***

 

A couple has been sitting at a nearby table for ten minutes, and it only now occurs to me that they don’t realize they order at the register. It’s after eleven. We’re closed.

“Can I get another order of Pops?” This is the guest who complained about the freshness of his first order of sugared Styrofoam. He speaks like a character from a nineties commercial.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we’re closed to food orders.”

The guest who I told the wrong time to looks over at me with a smirk. I roll my eyes, making no effort to hide it from him.

“Oh, okay, well…I’ll just have this orange juice, and a muffin, two muffins, and one of those yogurts, no, that yogurt, and a scone, and a glass of water, and some of that cut fruit.”

These are orders immediately available from our Grab ‘n’ Go cooler, and I ring him up. He complains about the lack of prepared food options, telling me lots of people still eat breakfast after eleven. He sounds honestly indignant. I tell him that I apologize, and that at the first opportunity I’ll review our menu with corporate. He doesn’t catch my tone, and takes his food.

I could have easily prepared his cereal. Everything is in the cabinet behind me. But I can’t bring myself to do anything but the minimum for such a person.

Now that I am allowed, I will do nothing else for anyone I have served today.

The couple seems to realize they need to order at the register, and the wife makes her way up. She’s a sweet middle-aged woman in a turquoise cotton jacket. “I’m so sorry! Is it too late to order food?” She’s honestly hopeful, prepared to be told no. She’s regarding me as someone with a choice.

“You know…” I tell her, “let me check. I think we may still have the griddle on.”

We do, but even if we didn’t, I would have fired it up myself. For this dear, sweet couple, who mean no offense, who at least seem to care…I would do anything.

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Thunder

clouds

 

My shoulders were sore from five paid hours of making specialty coffee drinks, and the additional burden of lugging a computer bag across downtown exacerbated the situation. I made my way to a green space near the Lifeway building. There’s a shady area I love to read in, behind a statue of Billy Graham. The statue is hilarious in its blatant egotism, Billy standing beside a cross, arms outstretched in a manner that could be called outreaching if it weren’t so clearly referential to the Crucifixion. The implied equivalency between Billy Graham and Jesus doesn’t bother me, though, and even if I cared I can’t see Billy once I sit in the dip of grass I favor.

It was a nice hour and a half. I used my computer bag as a pillow and chuckled along to David Sedaris. I was killing time until the library opened, drinking iced tea and listening to the wind billowing around me. Occasionally trucks with bad mufflers would break the quiet. Drunken tourists over on Broadway would hoot in embarrassing approximations of the rebel yell. Amps would squeak as bar bands tuned their instruments. This wasn’t so bad, just the usual noise of the city.

At two I made my way to the library, walking along Union, grimacing as the occasional delivery truck made its diesel-y way past. This was unpleasant, but understandable. Until the monopoly oil producers have on vehicular travel is loosened, we’re all at the mercy of noisy, horrifically inefficient combustion engines. What did seem avoidable, at least to me, was the situation I noticed a young Audi driver in. I’ll admit that the song he played was one I enjoyed, but the volume he played it at seemed extraordinary. I would almost describe it as pleasant, except that it was a pleasant volume for me, standing a good fifty feet from the vehicle. I could hear every note; there was absolutely no lack of clarity in the lyrics. How could that be anything less than agony for the poor bastard behind the wheel?

His calm demeanor added to what I was quickly coming to perceive as the scene of an accident. He just sipped a soft drink and bobbed his head to the beat, while people passing on the sidewalk covered the ear turned to his car and grimaced. Friends say I sound like an old person when I point out how damaging subwoofers can be on one’s ears, but it’s not like I’m saying I hate the newfangled hip-hop bebop music the young people are listening to nowadays. It doesn’t matter if it’s rap or southern gospel; anything over 120 decibels is going to sow a field of tinnitus that will bloom gloriously come middle age. I mean, for God’s sake, the car was shaking along to the bass.

I once had a past girlfriend chastise me for calling an old friend of hers an idiot. He was pulled over for a noise violation, and when he exited the vehicle his ears were bleeding. What else could I call him? A defender of auditory freedom? Please; that sounds too Republican for me to even entertain.

Overloud music is for my generation what smoking was for our parents. We know it’s going to wreck us, know it is wrecking us, but we simply don’t talk or think about it. We’re going to grow old pretending the world is simply becoming progressively quieter, in bizarre proportion to our growing age.

A block from the library I began to keep pace a few steps away from a man who decided to rap. He was pretty impressive, actually. His lyrics were insightful, melodic, and rhymed naturally, his themes building organically upon each other. But his attitude annoyed me. As we passed a known homeless camp he turned towards the gathered indigents and rhythmically detailed why he thought they were the cause of their own problems. Doesn’t it seem like they’re suffering enough? Does some dickhead twentysomething really have to cap a day of barely-not-starving-to-death by berating them with deprecating rhymes?

He flamboyantly waved his arms at random passersby, too, which I also found unjustifiably obnoxious. He honed in on one guy in particular when lyrics concerning the lack of concern on the part of the rich for the poor entered into his narrative. This seemed unfair. I mean, other than the man’s unfortunate decision to wear sandals with slacks and a sport coat, there didn’t seem to be anything about him that actually warranted criticism.

Then his rhyme faltered, and he lost his beat. “Aw, damn,” he said, then waved a hand in dismissal. “Fuck, these people probably thing I’m crazy, man.”

I’d thought the guy walking beside him was a friend of his, but when they reached the library entrance the two parted company, the rapper’s companion nodding while crossing for the bus stop. I then found myself beside the rapper.

“People gotta know,” he said to me as we entered, “what it’s like. Starting from the bottom don’t mean you can’t go back to the bottom, man. People don’t wanna hear that, but someone’s gotta tell ‘em.”

I imitated the companion from before, nodded, and made my way up the stairs as the rapper turned down a side hallway. It occurred to me that maybe he wasn’t finished, and that maybe I’d just been rude, but I decided I didn’t care. The large tea I’d drunk while I read had been increasingly threatening my personal annihilation since I’d started walking, and I would’ve stepped over the body of a dismembered child in my single-minded pursuit of a urinal.

When I finally pissed it was with the kind of relief that requires a sigh. The sudden choir music, though, seemed overblown.

Having been raised on television, I have a subconscious belief that any personal event of significance should be met with an off-panel choir singing “Hallelujah,” so for the first few minutes I was under the impression that the harmonized voices were solely in the back of my mind. But the more I listened, the more I realized that the sound was real.

“Oh, what the shit?” I growled, directly to my penis, to the bemusement of the guy beside me. Was noise pollution really this pervasive? Had they converted part of the library to a concert hall?

I stepped outside, and without the obstacle of a door the true harmonic beauty of the voices became clear. It was gilded, and I made my way to a nearby landing to find a Madrigalian troupe performing classic hymns.

I sat through half the performance, quietly changing seats between each song until I could safely walk into my favorite reading room. They’re still singing now; I’m typing this to the sound of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Adoramus te. While they sing, I think about the woman who stood across from me when I first sat down, how her forehead creased with each song, how she wiped at the corners of her eyes at each break.

Their voices make the marble around me quiver. I feel the vibrations through the oak table I’ve taken in a far corner. The strained grunts of diesel engines whisper through the second-story window. Clouds flash in an excited self-awareness that we call “heat lightning” out of habit.

I think again of the man in the shaking Audi, of every car stereo I’ve ever heard an entire city block away. I hear two drunk men yelling at each other on the sidewalk. I hear homeless men and women laugh together. I think of the order that keeps our lives bearable, and the random thunder that keeps us alive.

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Uniformity

The downside of working a breakfast shift in a hotel restaurant is that I have to wake up at an hour when the rest of the city only rises to pee with dubious aim.

The upside is that I leave work while everyone else is trudging back from their lunch break. I smile sincerely then, walking in the platinum sunlight, knowing I’m no longer beholden to hotel policy.

“Apologize. Accommodate. Take ownership.”

That basic mantra is drilled into us at every opportunity. Showing any level of disapproval is the kiss of death in hospitality. Guests will complain, receive a mountain of complimentary shit, and you will be reprimanded at least, fired at most. You’re confined to either yielding to virtually every demand made of you, barring anything injurious, or disapproving so strongly you melt down, cursing every one of the sons of bitches who don’t seem to understand that gray hair should forbid you from childish behavior.

We opened two hours early the other day, to accommodate guests participating in a marathon. Most were vocally appreciative, and their appreciation was, in turn, appreciated by me. Being a psychology grad helps me to keep in mind that, generally, people are basically good. Being a hotel employee, though, also reminds me that some people are complete fucking shitty assholes.

There was the guy who barked his room number at one of our managers, an elderly lady with a very motherly disposition, then refused to sign or give his name. He was furious, you see, because it didn’t make sense to him that a latte requires steaming milk. “It’s only coffee!” he informed us, shoving another guest out of the way.

There followed then a guest who derided me for not putting the guy in his place. Clearly, it seems, nametags and polyester server’s clothes translate to an air of authority.

And there was the woman who refused to take a table number, because she would be “sitting right in front of you.” In hindsight, her running shorts and tennis shoes made her remarkably distinct amongst the other eighteen-quadrillion marathon runners crowding the counter. Explaining that I wouldn’t be bringing her food only confused her. “But you’re the one who rang me up.”

I mean, I get it. The pseudo-sexual thrill of imposing your will on another is harder to resist for some than it is for others. In a uniform, behind a register, I may as well be a somewhat glitchy automaton.

Later I made my way to a local Starbucks, and while tapping away at my laptop I was recognized by a guest, the one who thought I should have dispensed a moral lesson to the hothead.

“Why do you guys just take that?” he eventually asked.

“It’s a personal decision,” I told him. “The hotel requires a three day walkabout of its employees. When we come back we report to management how we intend to approach the matter of unruly guests.”

Not surprisingly, he figured out I was bullshitting him. He seemed put-off by it. “Hey, I’m only asking.”

“But why would you need to?”

“Don’t you have any self-respect?” I immediately decided I didn’t like him then. “I could never let someone behave like that around me!”

“You’re so full of fresh ideas! Would you like my job? I’m more than happy to set up an interview for you. We’re starved for servers.”

He chuckled, unsure. “Do I look like I need a waiting job?”
“I dunno. You’re awfully inquisitive about mine.”

“I’m just saying you should expect to be treated like a human being. Why are you giving me shit about that?”

“You’re right. I didn’t buy the entire Marriott Corporation to continue the mistakes of those who came before me. I should step up my game.”

He got up in a huff. “I’m sorry, jeez.”

“Feel better, big guy?”

My hero shook his head and walked out, his message to wage slaves magically not beholden to those who sign their checks ignored. I wondered how long it would take him to realize his audience didn’t actually exist.

Truthfully I felt bad about growling at him, but I was cranky and the guy had pushed me, even if he’d done so without realizing it. Did he think the sixty-year-old woman in the business suit behind me was my subordinate? We get verbal reprimands if we call them “customers” instead of “guests,” for Christ’s sake.

Some in management like to push the idea that we’re always representing our workplace, even off the clock, but seeing as I neglect to put on a dog leash when I leave for the day, I can’t really see how this philosophy can be enforced. Not that I haven’t been threatened for being less-than-courteous to another guest who recognized me outside of work.

“Hey!” the guest had said, all smiles. He held out a hand to shake mine. “You made my coffee this morning!”
“Poured it, actually,” I reminded him, “but surprisingly that’s the more intensive process.”

He laughed like we were buddies. Not three hours ago he’d rolled his eyes and asked me how long it took me to count to ten. He was “only ordering a coffee,” you see, a process he helpfully explained took less than ten seconds. I told him the cappuccino he’d ordered would take at least thirty to sixty seconds to prepare, since that’s the time it takes to steam the milk. He rolled his eyes again and said: “Well Christ, what for? How complicated is it for you to pour a coffee?”

“It needs to build foam,” I told him. “Would you just like an espresso shot?”

“I want what I ordered!” He was awfully unconcerned with the pitcher of boiling milk I was holding in my hand.

“Yes, sir!” I said. “Coming right up!”

In his eagerness to add to the insult, he’d snatched the drink from me, sighed heavily, and muttered “Jesus” as he waddled outside.

“Must be great to work there!” he beamed behind his blue sunglasses. “I would kill to be around that much coffee!”

“I can believe that.”

I waited for the “WALK” signal.

“So how long have you worked there?”

I regarded this man, who only regarded me as being worth respect once I was in clothes like his own. I looked back across the street.

“Long enough.”

“You like it?” He had laughter in his voice. Good-natured, like you would be with a friend.

“Fuck no,” I told him. There was a pause, and then bawdy, but unsure, laughter.

“I guess you guys are relaxed around there, huh?”

“Why do you say that?”

He shrugged. “Not many hotel workers curse in front of guests.”

“We’re not at the hotel though, are we?”

He paused. “What?”

“I’m not on the clock. I’m not even on property. Who do you think you are?”

He leaned in, and calmly asked me if I liked my job.

I started to fume. “I just answered that question, you fucking idiot!”

He threatened to contact my manager. You know, to tell him that a random man off hotel property who resembled an employee he off-handedly remembered wasn’t nice to him. I shrugged.

“You’re pretty shitty at your job, you know,” he added, needing the control a molded coffee counter had afforded him.

“Oh, I’m great at my job. But I’m off the job now, you see. So go fuck yourself.”

I outpaced him as we crossed, his curses gradually lost to traffic noise.

I remember a guest’s condescending tone as he explained Starbucks concepts to one of our baristas. I assume he figured we only maintained a We Proudly Brew kiosk because we hadn’t yet acquired the mastery necessary to maintain a full-service Starbucks stand. While he added cream, I made a point of referring to Starbucks as “the new McDonalds,” and voiced my hope that we could close early enough to grab a coffee at Dunn Bros.

Once, at a bar, I had a lady who recognized me from work ask me to make sure we brought extra towels to her room in the morning. I told her all my towels were back at my apartment, but she could probably get some in the hotel she was staying at. She didn’t seem to get it.

I don’t mind being reminded of where I work. But out of that uniform, off that property, it should be clear that your ability to exert your will over me has concluded for the day.

We’re neither separated in our roles nor complete in them. We work, we move on, we live. We will break our backs to service you, but your pedestal descends when we swipe our time card through the clock. Outside, all footfalls on the sidewalk sound the same.

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Cursive: For People with Nothing Else to Do

I was filling out a birthday card for a coworker when the subject of cursive came up.

I have scratchy handwriting, by the way. I can write neatly, and I usually do when I know it’s important that something be legible, like when I’m writing a check for rent or illegally procured pharmaceuticals. But if the only eyes reading what I write are informal ones, I usually revert to the comfortable chicken scratch I’ve fostered through two decades of scribbling in notebooks.

While everyone around me discussed the inevitable disuse of cursive, I mentioned that cursive is a useless concept anyway, because, you know…it is. I mean, I guess I’m not opposed to promoting whimsical gibberish, but when something needs to be written down, it seems like it would be helpful to use an actual alphabet, and not a self-important system of loops and swirls.

This prompted a coworker to comment on my admittedly poor handwriting, the inference being that it resulted from my resistance to cursive. Because, you see, cursive automatically turns whatever you’re writing into a gilded masterwork. It certainly doesn’t become even more horrifically jumbled and incoherent. No, no, never. And never could the fact that I was writing on a thin piece of paper with only my thigh to support it alter in any way my ability to write legibly. Again, no, no. Never.

When I was little, I was always a little astonished by how personally old folks took the concept of handwriting. Still do, even. I once mentioned my dislike for cursive and had an elderly lady ask me in astonishment: “You mean you never write letters?” I told her I do, but at the expense of having people actually being able to read mine.

I’ve had teachers tell me that less-than-perfect handwriting indicates a lack of respect on my part. I’ve had youth ministers tell me that inattentive handwriting was a form of irreverence. My handwriting isn’t sloppy. Everyone I’ve ever interacted with can read it clearly. It’s just ugly, easy to read but irritating to look at, like a sign on the freeway. An aunt once looked over my shoulder while I wrote in a notebook and told me: “You must be dull-witted.” Casually, like it was an observation. The content of what I was writing was irrelevant. The contours of the lines were what mattered to her. I said nothing, assuming at the time that her leaky double-wide was filled to bursting with the works of Guy de Maupassant.

Old folks tend to forget that their handwriting was just as shitty as ours. I’ve seen letters aunts and uncles and grandparents wrote each other in the day, and I’m relatively certain half of them don’t use an actual alphabet. Going off first impression, I’d have to conclude that most of them simply mimicked the stylus of a seismograph, trusting their pen pals could decipher the peaks and valleys of their spasmodic slashes. If anything, the only aid cursive gives them is that it now removes the burden of lifting pen from paper, allowing them to save energy for the intensive tasks of the day, like lifting half-gallon jugs of milk while grunting with effort.

It really does bother me, knowing that we spent decades pushing an arbitrary alternative form of handwriting on our nation’s schoolchildren, instead of simply emphasizing fine penmanship while we taught them how to write checks or manage investments, or any other skill that actually meant something. Educate children on methods of financing college education? Oh, please. Once they figure out the cursive form of the lower-case z, those sorts of things just fall into place, don’t they?

Listen to the over-sixty crowd, and the absence of cursive handily begins to explain most of the ills plaguing the world today. I’ve found that Vietnam and World War II provide disquieting contradictions few are willing to address, however, and fewer still are willing to listen to a personal hypothesis of mine, concerning the correlation between declines in the use of cursive and declines in the practice of institutional racism. I will be heard, dammit!

I mean, I understand the importance of writing neatly. Accidental pharmacological overdoses happen because doctors are too busy to cross t’s or make m’s look like anything other than bumpy lines. But fans of cursive become hysterical when the obvious faults of cursive – namely, it’s absolutely uselessness – are brought to their attention.

If the written equivalent of Esperanto suits you, fine, use it, you savage. I’ll type my letters like a civilized person, looking beyond the bulky text to the spirit that set them down.

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Chucky Scares Everybody

Chucky

So I finally got around to watching Curse of Chucky, and like most of the reviews said, it was awesome. It was the refreshing return of Chucky as a true figure of horror, as opposed to his comedic spoof portrayals in the two films previous. Chucky was a sinister, malevolent abomination, not only dangerous, but truly evil. I’m kind of a puss-bag when it comes to haunted houses, but it actually takes a lot for a horror film to honestly creep me out. Curse of Chucky accomplished this in spades.

chucky 15

Curse of Chucky abandoned the parody of Chucky that had become popular in the last decade. This was the true return of an icon that horror fans have been wanting for years. Whereas Leatherface, Myers, Voorhees, and Freddy were all given somewhat generic reboots, Curse of Chucky not only revived the interest and original tone of the series, but did so in a way that continued the franchise’s legacy instead of scrapping it. It was an inspired effort that, frankly, should have seen a theatrical release.

“Is this guy trying to get in my pants? What’s happening here?"

“Is this guy trying to get in my pants? What’s happening here?”

But despite the film’s popularity, a statement on the commentary track by series creator Don Mancini brought up a recurring criticism leveled at the series, one that I’m sure will spoil some fan’s post-viewing afterglow in the near future. As beloved as Chucky is among horror fans, there’s a segment of the audience that insists that the character simply isn’t scary. They say that as creepy as Chucky may look, he’s still just a doll. Doll-sized, doll-shaped…in all ways, a toy. As Don Mancini pointed out in the commentary, and as a few of my friends have said as well, the dominant mentality behind the criticism is that Chucky is so small, simply kicking him should resolve whatever threat he could pose.

“Chucky just can’t be scary!” they say.

“Wait wait wait wait wait…they said what now?”

“Wait wait wait wait wait…they said what now?”

It’s time someone called that bullshit out.

Chucky is scary as hell. That’s the exact reason he’s so popular, despite the efforts of terrified critics to label him as a “cult villain” or “inexplicably enduring.” He’s an icon because he’s absolutely horrifying. They know it, you know it. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.

Oh, you think you could punt the crazy killer doll away? Then please, by all means, I encourage you to test your hypothesis. Wedge a steak knife between a couple of bookcases and kick at it, as hard as you can. Even with steel toe boots, are you positive you won’t miscalculate and give your ankle a bold, stylish piercing? Go ahead, take a swing. I can wait.

“Seriously, I got time. Let’s do this.”

“Seriously, I got time. Let’s do this.”

Oh, what’s that? You’re saying you wouldn’t be kicking for the knife, you’d be kicking for Chucky? Okay, yeah, I totally get that. So here he comes, waving a knife around like a foam finger at a college football game. Go ahead, swing. Kick for the maniacal figure swinging a blade in a murderous frenzy. Go on, take him down. I’m confident that the serrated edge won’t snag on your Achille’s tendon. And there’s clearly little chance that Chucky will bury the point of that painful-looking knife deep inside muscle or bone. Go for it. Kick him!

Do it, or your lady’s gonna think you’re a punk.

Do it, or your lady’s gonna think you’re a punk.

Oooooh, shit, you’re gonna need stitches. What? How could I have known he was gonna stab you? What, is he known for that or something?

 The cord represents any band of connective tissue in your body. The knife represents a knife.

The cord represents any band of connective tissue in your body. The knife represents a knife.

Alright, hobble over to the corner, ya big ol’ daffodil. Man, do you have to cry?

Alright, anyway, so kicking him isn’t the best idea. Oh, a baseball bat? Well, yeah, I could see that working. A good ol’ Louisville slugger or a solid nine iron should do the trick pretty…

“I call it Slugger 2.0.”

“I call it Slugger 2.0.”

…ah. Well, nevermind.

“Oh, come on,” you say. “I can totally take him! He’s still just a doll. Doll-strength* and everything! I can totally beat him down!”

*(Note: this is something I have actually heard people say. Admittedly I’m not sure if they were stoned or not.)*

Okay, wait…doll-strength? Motherfucker, did you just say doll-strength? What the hell is that? This fucking thing is possessed by a voodoo-practicing serial killer, how the hell do you know what it can and can’t do? Do you, like…routinely wrestle dolls? How strong would you say the average doll is?

 “Come at me, bro!”

“Come at me, bro!”

Okay, so yeah, you should be able to wrestle this thing, I can grant you that. Probably shouldn’t have any problem hurling him across the room, provided he hasn’t buried his god-awful child’s teeth gum-deep into your arm. Losing a wad of tissue is serious business, but admittedly it is something you can possibly recover from. Tear the little bastard loose and throw him out the window! You can worry about nerve and muscle damage later. Might wanna check the blood loss, though. Maybe get a few shots while you’re at it.

Or not. He looks like he brushes regularly.

Or not. He looks like he brushes regularly.

“But…but if I had the right weapon…!”

STOP. Yes, if you had the right weapon, you could easily take care of Chucky, but that’s a pointless argument because it applies to everything. Get your hands on an elephant gun and Michael Myers is suddenly a lot less invincible. Jason would quickly meet his match against a stick of dynamite. Dream yourself up a herd of polar bears and Freddy Krueger isn’t nearly as threatening as he was a second ago. Make up the Ultimate Nullifier off the top of your head and Galactus becomes less threatening than my grandmother’s overweight Pomeranian. The right weapon fixes everything. Or, you know, it would, provided whoever’s wielding it isn’t a fucking idiot. Either way, it’s a moot point.

 “What’s wrong? Gun jammed?” (Cue trademark, soul-shattering laughter.)

“What’s wrong? Gun jammed?” (Cue trademark, soul-shattering laughter.)

We both know what you’re doing here. It’s the same thing that one asshole at every haunted house has to do while everyone else in the group is trying to have a good time. You’re puffing up your chest and bleating “Í’M NOT SCARED,” when no one else really cares. You perceive something as a threat because it creeps you out, so you’re reacting like a toddler, yelling “NUH-UH!” and getting all huffy. You’re a twentysomething-year-old baby.

“Mmmm-hmmmm!”

“Mmmm-hmmmm!”

Look, I get it. It’s okay. You’re scared of him. Everybody fuckin’ is. It’s Chucky. He’s this terrible little knife-wielding goblin who sneaks around and ruins everything for everybody. He’s armed and dangerous and somehow lurking under every piece of furniture in your home. Even Redman admitted the little bastard gave him the willies.

“NO! I’M NOT SCARED OF…”

 Yeah. Yeah, you are.

Yeah. Yeah, you are.

“No! Seriously! I’M NOT SCARED OF CHUCKY!”

 “Motherfucker, please…”

“Motherfucker, please…”

Chucky is every child’s secret nightmare and every adult’s unspoken fear. He’s the kernel of evil we know lurks behind the façade of innocence. He’s the scurrying footsteps that we tell ourselves are just squirrels in the crawlspace. He wields the sharpened blade that will hamstring us when we step out of bed. He’s the reason we fearfully scan the floor when we know we’re alone.

 He’s also an accomplished hibachi chef, but that’s really more of a side gig.

He’s also an accomplished hibachi chef, but that’s really more of a side gig.

Look, I get it. A brave front in the face of terror is instinctive. The thing you gotta understand, though, is that the more you front about how much Chucky doesn’t scare you, the more obvious it is to everyone that he does. Most people are able to laugh off their fear and recognize Chucky for what he is: a fictional character, designed to give us the cathartic release we’re looking for when we watch a scary movie. But when you insist, without provocation, that Chucky isn’t scary…when you say it over and over again…you’re telling everyone around you that what you feel goes deeper than simple fright. You’re acting tough because you perceive a threat. Do you get that? You think he’s a threat. Chucky isn’t real, but you can’t make yourself emotionally understand that.

 Though to be fair, it is hard to ignore him when he’s constantly screaming at you.

Though to be fair, it is hard to ignore him when he’s constantly screaming at you.

Do you see what I’m saying? Your affected bravado is announcing to the world that you literally think that Chucky will kill you.

 Which he totally will.

Which he totally will.

And it’s okay to feel that. We all have that one irrational fear we have a hard time shaking. It ties into the natural defensive instincts that keep us alive. Open yourself up to it. Let yourself, you know, “feel your feelings.” Allow your fear to surface, and let it work itself through you. If nothing happens, your brain will process this and conclude that there’s nothing to actually be afraid of. I’m not kidding, either: that’s straight-up what happens. “Face your fears:” there’s a reason people say that. Within reason, it’s a mindset that can make this world a substantially more enjoyable place in which to live. So do that. Let yourself feel afraid. Be honest with yourself. Be scared of Chucky. And when your brain realizes he isn’t really coming to get you, you’ll finally be able to sit back and let yourself in on the fun.

 And while you’re distracted, Chucky will absolutely literally kill you in real life.

And while you’re distracted, Chucky will absolutely literally kill you in real life.

And if, after all that, you’re still scared of Chucky, that’s okay too. Like I said, we all have one stupid thing we’re scared of, like clowns or spiders or my neighbors’ kids. (I’M JUST GETTING THE MAIL, STOP RECITING MY DREAMS TO ME YOU TOWHEADED FREAKS.) There’s no law forbidding you from ever being scared of anything. Hell, I know grown men who can’t fall asleep unless they shut their closet door. It’s okay, really. Just try not to ruin scary things for the rest of us. Don’t be that asshole loudmouth making stupid jokes in a movie theater, or the dumbass yelling “Come at me!” at every single actor in a haunted house.

Don’t be that guy. People hate that guy. You don’t need to be snarky or macho. All you need to do is relax. You’ll be fine.

 At least until you’re asleep…

At least until you’re asleep…

Chucky scares everybody. Don’t be that tool who tries to say otherwise. No one believes you. We’re just hoping you’ll shut up so we can enjoy the movie.

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to keep the noise down. And I swear to God, if you spill anything before you leave..."

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to keep the noise down. And I swear to God, if you spill anything before you leave…”

- The Awful Writer

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