Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Job, the TV Show

I know I alluded to my new job in my last post, and since I'm here, you know, "working," as I write this now, I thought I'd tell you a little bit about it.  But because the job is actually rather mundane, and some days, offers me lots of free mental time and space, I've begun to think of it as something with real possibilities-- at least in my own mind. Today is one of the slower days, so I have already obsessively checked my e-mail, Facebook and Etsy pages, played several rounds of Words with Friends, and destroyed countless gems in another mindless game.  It's almost noon. If I eat my lunch now, I will have nothing to get me through the eternal two to three o'clock hour which somehow stretches longer than any other in a 9 to 5 day.  Normally, I would say that 4 to 5 is the longest work hour, but I work in a little post office which closes at five so, that last hour is full of people rushing in to make sure their mail goes out before I do. Compared to the rest of the day, it often flies by.  

Picture from here 

The post office is a contracted sub-station inside a bicycle shop next to a supermarket about a block from my house.  Right there, I think we have the makings of a zany workplace sitcom of the sort that has not existed since the heyday of late 1970's-early 1980's television.  I'm thinking of something like Taxi here, but with bikes instead of cabs.  I see myself as an over-educated, under-employed (sarcastic, but humble) clerk reacting to the people who work here and the people who come in to mail things. 

There is the owner of the bike shop, a cute as a button, yet tough as nails, Canadienne who has recently purchased the bike shop from the man she used to work for.  She is a human Energizer bunny, the heart and soul of the place, darting here and bustling there, painting, tiling, wielding a wrench, assessing the damage to bikes brought in to be fixed, ordering, accounting, you know, doing everything it takes to run a bike shop. ( Maybe there's a multi-episode arc in here somewhere about how she falls for a customer who brings in a badly damaged sprocket... something to think about.)  She employs two mechanics, who are utter physical opposites (you know, one tall and thin, one shorter and round, like a perfect pair of Disney sidekicks) who are each good with the bikes and good for some snappy commentary and smart remarks as they shake a wrench at the sky, muttering about how awesome bikes are wasted on people who can't figure out how to shift the gears properly.   There is one more clerk/mechanic who works part time in the store and part time as a personal trainer.  He is a heart-of-gold used-car salesman of a man who has never met anyone with whom he could not strike up an enjoyable 45 minute conversation.  Oh, and I share the job with a woman named Lou, a postal sub-station veteran, though we work opposite days, so after the pilot episode, where she shows me the ropes (certainly replete with goofy postage mishaps) she would only drop in for "very special episodes."
Image from here

The customers fall into two main categories, though there are outliers all over lot.  The first group, which won't surprise anyone I'm sure, is the oldsters. The post office seems to be a magnet for everyone in my neighborhood over the age of 70. There are quite a few packages going to far flung relatives, especially grandchildren, and the chance to mail a package is also a chance to reminisce about when the mail didn't cost an arm and a leg. These people remember when a first class stamp could get a nice fat letter half way around the world. Good talk!  Good times!  

Usually, though, with just a single piece of mail in hand, a nattily dressed man or thoroughly coiffed woman walks slowly, very slowly, through the entire bike shop, sometimes with the aid of a cane or a home health worker and either a) asks me to make sure they don't need more than one stamp--"It felt a little heavy dear, just check, I don't want the phone company to return it and shut off my.... Oy my phone," or b) hobbles an extra four feet past me and my outstretched hand to forcefully shove their envelope through the after hours mail slot in the door next to the post office counter.  Just to mix it up, I sometimes get both with one customer, who asks me to weigh the letter, then grabs it from me before I can drop it in the box so that they can forcefully shove it through the slot in the door.   I see this as an opportunity for lots of fun guest spots with sit-com stars of bygone days to add a self-referential pop culture twist.  Or maybe someone like Betty White or Doris Roberts could appear every other episode or so, and pull the "weigh the envelope and grab it out of my hand" bit to peals of pre-recorded laughter.  

Children, also, don't seem to think some thing's been mailed unless they get to push it through a slot, but I don't want any pesky child stars gifted with an unexpectedly popular catch-phrase like "Did I do that?" or "Whatchyou talkin' about Willis?" to draw attention from the ensemble feeling of the show.

Picture from here
The other main category of customers is the growing group of Internet entrepreneurs  selling "handmade," "vintage,"and "found"  items on e-bay and Etsy.  They either bring in bushel baskets full of pre-paid packages and dump them unceremoniously all over the tiny counter, or try to bargain with me about postage for individual parcels, as in: "If I take this to the Main post office, this will be less, for sure, so what can you do for me?" or "You don't have to charge me extra for a tracking number, I come in here all the time..."  They like to disregard the fact that postage costs are set as federal rates and cannot be tampered with, even for the small business owner.  As a group, they are more assorted but less colorful than the oldsters, though their stories could bring the elements of sweet pathos that a successful show must have to go the distance.  And their creative recycling of packing elements and duct-style tape is always good for a visual joke. 

Another way this could go of course, is gritty (sub)urban drama. By taking a little license with the neighborhood I live in and moving it South and West about 10 miles, we have a whole new cast of characters with heart-wrenching stories-- purloined letters, snarled bicycle chain, a West Side Story-ish crossed stars romance:  "Baby, I told you not hang out with that boy from the bike shop!"   

But that's something for me to write on another shift....

*To be clear, I have lots of nice customers and good people to work with-- no disrespect meant to anyone here, of course.  I am thankful to have a job.

**Just another note-- I always try to carefully link credits to the random images I include.  If I make an error, I apologize to the original poster of the images.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

No Excuses Here, Just Explanations and Apologies

So here is how I picture the blog right now, readers:  it is a less than picturesque ghost town, extremely dusty, with a tumbleweed or two rolling aimlessly down the dismal, empty street of what was once a bustling gold rush town with a saloon and a general store, maybe a livery stable... Whoa Nellie! I'm getting farther off the track than ever.  (I'm such a geek-- I just went off and virtually checked whether I should say further, instead of farther, only to spend 15 minutes reading about how they are just about equivalent...)

"Really?" you might ask," is that kind of word-nerd lollygagging why it's taken so long to write a simple blog post?" And I might be tempted to tell you about the nasty summer cold I've had, or that I've been busy writing a couple of pieces for one of my favorite sites, The Equals Record, or that Delia is starting second grade and Fiona is going to start kindergarten, or the fact that I started a part time job about six weeks ago. (A job really does take up a lot of a girl's free time.)  All of these circumstances might have impacted my blogging productivity-- and indeed they have.  But because of the weird way my brain works (thanks to years of studying philosophy-- oh yeah, and law school didn't make me want to stop over-thinking this kind of thing either) I can offer these as explanations for why I haven't blogged, but not as excuses for failing to post.
...or not.  This image from here.
"What's the difference?" you might ask.  (Yeah, I have you pegged as pretty inquisitive.)  Or maybe you don't really care and maybe it doesn't really matter in this one-sided conversation I'm having with you. But there is an important difference between an explanation and an excuse, which I suppose is pretty obvious, but which I find is often skipped over in every day conversations.  An explanation gives just a reason for something, but an excuse is some kind of mitigating circumstance that somehow gives the offerer a pass for some undesirable behavior.  Like neglecting to blog.  To me, and to some other philosophers, an excuse also comes with an implied and valid request for forgiveness, or as we real people like to call it, an apology.  I don't know about you, but I get a lot of explanations offered to me as though they were excuses, and it doesn't make me feel too kindly toward the offerers.  Especially when the apology that might have been implied with a genuine excuse is never actually offered.

We tend to think that circumstances beyond our control are valid excuses, because, well, we couldn't control them, so they don't count against our valiant effort to do whatever it is we are supposed to do. So, a traffic tie-up on the interstate can be offered as an excuse for being late to a meeting, but stopping to have coffee and a chocolate cheese danish really can't, because, while I had no control over the traffic situation,  I could have easily built time into my commute for a delectable snack, to avoid being late and inconveniencing whoever I am meeting. Likewise, illness is usually counted as a genuine excuse, because, really, who would choose to be sick? On the other hand, even illness can fall out of the excuse category if someone is believed to be responsible for their sickened state (hello, hung over much?) Just to let you know, I have saved you whole philosophy books' worth of discussion about the difference here, but I think I've still gotten the salient point across, so, you're welcome.  And I'm not saying the philosophy is air-tight here, either, so I reserve the right to apologize in the future if I've been unclear or if I figure out a better way to explain this.  
I know, right?  From here.

Anyway, all I'm really trying to say here is that, while we can explain or offer reasons for some things, like I can for not blogging, we can't always offer excuses. And when we can't, maybe we shouldn't try.  Because people who do things like neglect their blogs, or come in late to meetings with chocolate on their faces and lattes in their hands, or step on your foot, or whatever people do to neglect, or inconvenience, or hurt you, should really understand that when they're only offering an explanation, it should come with a clearly stated apology.  And maybe a promise to do better next time, because, after all, they're asking you to forgive them, and still like them and read their blog and stuff.

So, I am really sorry if I let you down, because I really like you and hope you'll still read my blog. I know this is just a small thing in a big hectic world, but I'm going to double my efforts to blog now and heck, yeah, for avoiding other stuff that I really should do to be a good person.

Even though you're thinking, "Wait, what, she didn't blog-- who knew?  I was busy... but that's no excuse for not reading someone's blog, right?  I should do better..."  

That's why we're friends.  

Tumbleweed pic from here.