Friday, September 18, 2009

Pickled in Eye Brine

Earlier this week, I had the most humiliating work experience ever. Really. It had been a long, frustrating day - nothing that I couldn't have handled with a full night of rest, but this was my third day in a week of working on just four hours of sleep. The dread of coming to work was keeping me up late.

The tipping point was a shitty customer, of course. Again, nothing I couldn't have normally handled with a sense of humor and some frigid courtesy, but I was just so tired. She made me cry, but that wasn't as bad as what followed. I would love to blame her for it, but she was merely the twist that flipped the tap on my tear ducts. It was the phone that wouldn't stop ringing and the utter lack of privacy in my workspace that made me sob at my desk for an hour straight.

In the old days, when a customer made you cry, you had a free pass to leave the room, take a walk, smoke a cigarette, break something - whatever you needed to get yourself better. But it was such a busy day, and I didn't feel like I could leave. All of my coworkers were having a hard time getting their work done. I suppose that's why five other people were able to sit with me in that one little room and completely block out my breakdown. That was the most humiliating work moment to date.

How did it all get so fucked up? I've had more "important" jobs where I've been paid an actual salary to deal with that sort of stress, but I purposely sought out an hourly wage one that I wouldn't have to think about when I was at home. Making "home" my real life is more important to me than money. And I picked this company because I knew they were known for treating their employees well.

Truly, for the first 14 months, it was a dream. It was challenging enough to keep me from being bored, I worked with really cool people, I always knew what was expected of me and I rarely felt overwhelmed. I had occasional bad days that left a sour taste in my mouth, but I got over those pretty swiftly. Actually, I often thought about work when I was at home, but mostly in a happy way.

Six months ago, my supervisor announced that he was leaving. Then came the drawn out hiring and training of a new supervisor. Most people hate change and react to it poorly, which was the case. On top of that, our sales plummeted and some of my co-workers were laid off. Now, we are very suddenly busy again, with even less staff than usual (the layoff plan didn't account for already-scheduled vacations and unforeseen illness). I've been trying to remind myself that these problems are temporal, but one big problem seems to succeed the next without any breathing space. And though I used to take pride in the fact that I never dreaded going to work, I find this one dreadful about 50% of the time.

I think the worst part is seeing myself become so negative. I'm usually the person who takes the dopey shit in stride and laughs it off, keeping my petty grievances to myself. I don't find commiseration particularly useful, yet I've been indulging in a lot of griping lately. It's just not the way I want to be. I make a point of not bitching about one co-worker to another (unless it's someone I really can't stand), but I've been doing that, too. Highly undignified, sorta like trying to talk to a customer about their invoice while choking back tears. A year ago, I just couldn't have imagined it being like this.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kicked the Habit, Shed My Skin

As I mentioned before, one of the things I love about karaoke is the way it gives you a fresh perspective on a familiar old song. On a recent evening, I was perusing the songbook at our favorite bar down the road. I wanted to sing something I had never performed before, but knew well enough to sing on the fly. Then I stumbled across Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer".

When I was in the 3rd grade, my parents bought our family our first VCR for Christmas. The first two things we recorded, in some order, were The Beastie Boys "Fight for Your Right to Party" video and the video for "Sledgehammer" - both of which we watched over and over and over. For years, "Sledgehammer" was touted by MTV as The Best Video Ever (it very well may be to this day), so it got a lot of play well after exiting the Top 40. Based on video viewings alone, I know every beat of that song. And I thought I knew every word.

When I got up to sing that night, the janky karaoke monitor got staticky for a moment and that first line, the one that leads into the verse, was illegible. Since I could never make out what he was saying - it sounded something like "Help me / eh ba da ba doo day" - I just ad-libbed "Help me / I can't read the lyrics". Perhaps the monitor heard me, because it righted itself and I had no trouble singing the rest of the song.

In fact, it was the most fun I've had singing a karaoke song! What a joyous piece of music, and all that "Come on, come on help me through / YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YOU" was a great way to get out my aggression in a non-violent fashion*

I was eager to sing it again last Friday at the Circus Bar in Ann Arbor, where we were celebrating a friend's birthday. The Circus karaoke is hosted by Stoo's, which is the high-end, shiny, wait-in-line-for-two-and-a-half-hours-to-sing karaoke. I prefer my white trash bar down the road, but I will say that Stoo's monitors don't get staticky. And when I finally got to the stage, I discovered what the first line is

"Hey hey / Is anybody using?"

And now I finally know what this song is about! I assumed that "Sledgehammer" was just code for a big, erect penis. Yes, I've come to accept the limitations of my low, mannish voice, and that sometimes I'm just going to sing a song about having a boisterous penis. If it's a good enough song, I'm cool with that. But that isn't what this song is about, or at least it's not all this song is about.

Rather, I think that the sledgehammer is the happy, natural fix that a recovering drug addict gets when they are finally sober - it could be sex or dancing or some other sort of good, clean fun. It's that thing you are so thrilled to find enjoyable after the detox, because isn't that the worst thing about coming off of any drug? That wondering if you will ever have fun again?

When Gabriel sings "I wanna be your sledgehammer," he's telling a friend that he wants to be that source of joy that helps them get over their detox blues. It reminds me of that line from David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes" when he says "Want an axe to break the ice / want to come down right now". It's that same idea of breaking through the cloud of addiction, but it's a hell of a lot cheerier. "Sledgehammer" isn't a song about getting sober. It's song about finding a reason to stay sober.

At least, that's what I think it's about. I could just be talking out of my ass. Anyway, I suggest watching the video.

* work has been a bit rough lately

Friday, September 4, 2009

My Bay Area Adventure - Days 3 & 4

Who's excited about babies?

The last two days in the Bay Area were pretty mellow. Dan and I took a bus up to Cotati, a little town about an hour north of the city, and stayed with some family friends. They just had this baby (pictured in the back mirror). He is well on his way to being a hearty, healthy giant. Less than 4 months old, he has already doubled his birth weight.

Needless to say, I was smitten. Hanging with him and his parents was what we did during those last couple days. A lovely time, but not much to blog about.