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Archive for April, 2008

See Stick Run.

My daughter, Caroline, has a new pet stick. Denied any real pets in our house, she now takes inanimate objects under her wing. This week, it’s a big stick. Her benevolence is adorable as she cuddles her orphan stick broken off cruelly from the mother tree and left alone in the grass. And it is cold out, it’s so sad, the poor little….oh yeah, STICK.

She brought it in the house the other day –this chubby, gray stick that’s smooth on one end and flaking dead bark on the other. She’s been talking to it, carrying it around. Somehow, it always seems to end up in the kitchen when I’m racing to clean up and start dinner. And like with everything at that time of day, I have no patience. I grab it and throw it far out the back door. It doesn’t take very long before Caroline notices.

“MMMMOOOOMMMM!!!!!! WHERE’S MY STICK??????”

“Um, I don’t know. I think it went outside” I try sweetly.

“MMMMOOOOOMMMM!!! Quit throwing my stick outside!!!!

She stomps outside to retrieve it, totally disgusted with my cold heartedness. Now it’s back in the house, all cozy and warm, making little piles of dirty bark on my floor. I’m going to kill that little stick.

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There’s this woman who works at our Starbucks that I call the White Woman.  Not because she’s the only white woman – JCrewville couldn’t be any more lily-white.  But in a coffee house that employs hip, sullen, young folk; she stands out glaringly.

She’s middle-aged and totally suburban.  She looks like someone’s mom. Her Dorothy Hamill haircut and neatly tucked-in golf shirts are too clean and prissy among the surly Starbucks staff.  The first time I saw her behind the counter, it startled me.

She’s simultaneously too perky and too serious about her job.  She’s always trying to suggestive-sell some homemade muffin or an extra shot. The first time I ordered a tall-with-room, she asked me what kind of roast I wanted.  I got a little pissed.  Doesn’t she know that we expect a little attitude from the people at Starbucks?  Urban condescension with my morning coffee is part of the ritual. Disregard me and my day starts off on just the right note.

If you asked anyone in town, they would readily complain about her. She was achingly slow.  All that questioning and suggestive selling dragged down the whole vibe.  She didn’t bark out drink orders to the barista, she tediously checked off the little boxes on the side of the cup and paused to ask you for your name which she printed carefully in correct spelling—even if you were the only one in the place.  When she got moved to working the espresso machine, it was excruciating.  You could tell she was the barista just by driving by the store because the line of frustrated people stretched far outside the door.  She was painful.

I confess I once planted a little seed to get rid of her. I had had enough of this mommy-looking woman who seemed to have added this part-time job to fill some downtime.  One afternoon when she wasn’t working, I asked the young, hip manager if she was new.  “People are talking” I conspired, “she needs to pick the tempo.”

Then one day I was backing out my car on a cold morning when I actually drove the three blocks to Starbucks, and I caught her smoking in the alley. Wait, a flaw?  I would have to recalibrate. A sliver of guilt poked at my mean heart, and it cracked open slightly. It was only a cigarette, but I sensed there might be a whole back-story behind the bright, white golf shirts.  She looked lonely and tired, exhaling her carcinogenic smoke.   She had unknowingly exposed a vulnerability, and I would have to re-evaluate my disdain.

I’m a firm believer that human fallibility is what connects us to each other. Good times may beget relationships but sharing a rough patch is what cements them. It’s why we love tragic stories and root for the underdog.  It’s why friendships shift and deepen the first time someone discloses an inner weakness. It’s why perfect people bug us so much.

Standing there in the alley, hunched over, hiding her dirty habit – I saw the White Woman had a dark spot on her otherwise squeaky clean veneer. My scorn for the bright barista lessened.  She’s human, I thought, and doing the best she can.

It’s been three years since and the White Woman is still there, still slowing the whole joint down, but I’ve lost my contempt.  I’m still brisk with her most days, as if this will somehow make her go faster, but I’ve come to accept she’s just another part of the slower pace that marks life in a small town.  And that means sometimes I just have to take my coffee slow with an extra shot of perky.   

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When I was living in Chicago, I went through a lonely period. All of my good friends had left the city to settle down, and I was still there, working at this small ad agency that was going out of business. Almost everyone had been laid-off, so I didn’t even have co-workers to hang out with. I was between boyfriends.

I was 26. I was all alone.

During this time, I was going to this big Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue that had a counseling center that put on helpful, not-too-churchy seminars: dealing with bereavement, balancing work/family, stuff like that. So one day when I read in the bulletin about an upcoming seminar called “How to Deal with Loneliness” I thought why not? Maybe I could get a few tips. Plus with Chicago being such a big city, I figured I probably wouldn’t know anyone there, so I wouldn’t feel like a total loser. I called and registered.

Three or four weeks later, I got this call at work from someone at the counseling center. She told me that unfortunately, they’d needed to cancel the loneliness seminar.

“Okay,” I said. “Thanks for calling. I’m curious though, why did they cancel it?”

She sounded nervous, “Um, I guess there was a lack of participation.”

“Really? How many people signed up for it?”

“You were the only one.”

I swear to God.

I started laughing. “Well, I guess that makes me pretty lonely then”.

I’m sure she thought I would jump off a bridge. Imagine that: You are the only one in the entire city of Chicago that signs up for a “How to Deal with Loneliness” seminar.

True Story.

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001

When you live in a small town, the store clerks, waitresses and mailpeople take on a celebrity-like status. It’s funny, you don’t think of them as celebs until one day, one of them dies and you find yourself in a strange state of disbelief — like when Anna Nicole Smith died.

There was this guy, Jamie, who was a cashier at the grocery store. He was the nicest guy. Every time you came in, he would chat with you, or laugh at how cute your kids were. On many days when my kids were young, he was quite possibly my only source of adult contact. Jamie was good with that. He was always in a good mood without being annoying. He had a knack for being personable yet efficient – a natural at cashiering.

Jamie was a giant man. He struggled to fit in his little cashier space. He had a full beard and glasses, which gave his size a friendly, Santa-like effect. My friend Laura got to know him a little more than the rest of us. She knew his name (which is how I learned it unfortunately, posthumously) and she was the one who called me to tell me he had died suddenly in his sleep. I was shocked. I know I was just at the store the day before he died…in his isle. I always chose his isle.

I am haunted by the thought that I was there in front of him on his last day of life. Was I in a hurry? Did I chat with him or did I rush on through, scolding my kids for begging for gum? I feel a loss every time I go in the store now. I miss him being there.

The store posted his obit near the customer service desk. It was cut out from the local paper and sitting next to the lottery tickets in a little plastic stand. It seemed too small a tribute for such a big man.

I didn’t go to his funeral, though I did think about it. Instead, I’ve decided to pay respects in my own personal way. In his honor, I’ve decided to try and be kinder – especially when I’m in his isle.

In memory of Jamie, I will not roll my eyes or make obvious gestures that I’m in a hurry. When I see someone slowly pull out a checkbook in the express line (hello — EXPRESS) after their 25 (!) items have been bagged, I will not mutter under my breath.

I will remember that even the smallest moments of human contact can have an impact…that one little gesture of kindness can change the current of a whole day.

Mother Theresa once said “Kind words can be easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless”. Our small town was blessed, indeed, with Jamie’s kind words and endless echoes. Godspeed Jamie, you will be missed. 

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A Little Debut

debut

Helloooo! This is my first posting.

Welcome to my take on the small things that happen in my small town.  I know it’s a little cliche, all this small stuff (of which I never sweat, of course), but it’s all about perspective, right?  Besides, if I can’t have some fun jabbering about life in Mayberry, then I’m heading back to the city where the food is sooooo much better.

So please tune in later for a “little business”.

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