Thursday, February 27, 2003

Once again, snow falls on Baltimore.

The forecast is for 6-12 inches. I don't work tomorrow and that is good. No worrying about the drive or cleaning off my car in the morning. Just me in my bed, and of course, my two cats.

I had an interesting experience at work today, where the manager called me in his office to talk to me. I guessed it was probably one of a few things. My attitude has not been the best at work, and several times I have been late in the morning. Luckily, my tardiness is before the store opens, but it does put me back in my tasks which does cut into the work day. The longer I have to do the cash, the longer I'm not out on the floor. Surprisingly, it was about neither, but that I was taking a long time to do the cash and if I could just speed it up a bit so that the other leads or managers didn't have to keep coming up front for returns or cash pickups. That was supposed to be the end of the conversation.

I don't think he expected what would come of that simple request that he put very nicely. First, I acknowledged his concern and then defended my performance. I didn't get defensive, just shed some light on why things take as long as they do, and why I was less than enthusiastic to get out on the floor. I told him I was aware that I was lackluster about the work and that it was only time before someone talked to me about it.

He wasn't expecting me to have a reason behind my lagging work performance, nor our conversation to go as it did. Because this is just a job, not a career, I'm going to try to make it short. I explained the problems I was having, that the place really seemed to be an "everyone out for themselves" place and no one really offered to make anyone's job easier. And, that this all filtered down to the cashiers. Why? Because if someone screws up, the person eventually ends up at the cash wrap and I get the brunt of everyone's complaints. If there is no one at customer service, I hear about it. If their order was wrong, I hear about it. If the bathrooms are messy, I get it, and every customer looks at me like it's my fault that the place is the way it is. The booksellers are constantly messing up people's names on their orders, which then sends me on a wild goose chase to find the book up front. As that is happening, the line thickens and the person whose order I cannot locate starts to complain. My main grievance is that when booksellers, leads, and managers see that there is a line or hear the call for additional cashiers, they don't come over and ring a couple of people through to help the line move, but scurry away to avoid the cash wrap. And that, I said, is a problem. One that I noticed my first week there.

One that I did not encounter in my other store.

One evening, during my first week, I was scheduled at information. I heard the call for additional cashiers, and saw three people at information standing and talking. No one moved to help the cashier up front. Why? They weren't scheduled as a C1 or C2. They had a drawer up front, but they weren't scheduled so they didn't budge. That floored me, and though I wasn't scheduled either, I went up front and rang much to the shock of the person up front. It's just something that you do, called teamwork. I explained the absence of it at this store, and also that I didn't feel protected there. I mentioned the incident with the space invading coworker, and that I wasn't satisfied with how that was handled when I brought it up to not one, but two managers. It was the first time that he had heard of the incident. I said that was a perfect example, and that I shouldn't have been left out in the cold to correct the behavior myself, AND, that if an incident that serious fell on deaf ears, then how was I to expect the not so serious ones to get taken care of? The way it was handled was that I spoke to the female assistant manager and when this coworker started doing the same things to her, she came into the cash room and said, "Anne, look at this!" Her hair was full of pens. I didn't react, because I knew that she was trying to show me that I wasn't the only one who was enduring this treatment, but also get me to react to it to gently "teach" this coworker that this was not appropriate. I did neither. He should have been sat down and told, "hands off." What she did encouraged him, and included me in it.

In short, I told him my concerns and he said to come to him from now on. I'm not so bold to say that I know how he felt about the conversation. I don't even know how I feel about it. Like I said, it's a job. One that I'm working to replace. I think my time at this store is coming to a close. I'm tired of talking about it, and writing about it. I feel better, but it really doesn't matter that much since I don't plan on staying there much longer.

To those of you who have written me with your concerns about my well being, believe me, this has been on my mind as well. I guess I kept wanting it to be the store in Calabassas, and it will never be that. This Barnes and Noble is like working in a K-Mart.

But, fear not. The larger goal behind all this haze is what's really important, and that goal is being attained. I'm changing my life and building my artistic skills. The artist, like I said before, is taking center stage. Perhaps she needs a better job to further stretch her muscles that were tight after so long in hibernation. A job that will allow me to use more of them, but not tire them out so there is nothing left for my classes, but enhance them. These are all small steps, part of a bigger plan. Perhaps I have filled up my capacity of working in this job and it is time to branch out a little more. Just a little more, not much. Kind of like adding an extra plate on the weight rack. So, I'm looking for another job closer to home and one that will shelter me from the unwashed masses that congregate at the store.

On another bright note, one of my coworkers told me that she'd just been accepted to graduate school for creative writing at Emerson College in Boston. I wasn't surprised by this, as this girl is one of the smart ones there with whom I can actually hold a conversation. It heartened me that someone there is striving for something else and that she attained it. There are a couple more there, but that's it. Quietly persevering. And, they usually leave at some point.

Like me.

Monday, February 17, 2003

I'm in big trouble tomorrow.

Not because of a dastardly deed, but because I just finished two hours of digging my car out of three feet of snow. I took the shovel from the front hallway and went to work. I made sure that I ate protein for breakfast and had bottled water next to me during the task, so I was able to keep going. We'll see if I can get out of bed tomorrow. I can already feel my muscles protesting, but the hard work felt good. There is nothing that lifts the spirit like getting those endorphines going. Once again, I am floored by my strength. Apparently, so are others. An African-American man who was looking for work shoveling snow said to me as he passed by, "You're tough for a little woman." I wanted to say, "You have no idea," but just thanked him and smiled.

It's really quite beautiful, the chorus of the people who walk the streets looking for work. They carry their shovels and sing outloud, their voices filling the silence with their song of "cars, front porch, sidewalk" as they pass by hoping for a taker, or someone who isn't "tough for a little woman." It reminds me of that musical bit in Oliver Twist when the peddlers are toting their goods, each of their songs chiming with the others and echoing up the rowhouses.

My art class was cancelled for tonight. The city is at a standstill, so I imagined that it would be, but I wanted to be sure so I called my teacher. That's okay, as it gives me more time to work on my homework. This assignment is to create a monochromatic collage, and then paint it. The color of choice is red. The exercise is not to create a killer collage, but to learn to mix color by concentrating on the variations of one color. There are cool reds, and warm reds, and pinks, and purples, all are variations of red.

I'm really enjoying my art class and have seen improvement in just these few classes. I look at things differently and analyze my approach to art much more closely. Ironically, that frees me up to be more creative.

Though I'm frustrated with my job and at times with Baltimore, I have noticed a very important thing. The artist in me is starting to take center stage. She is emerging, and growing in the attention that I've given her. Like my strength, I'm constantly surprised at what I can produce and my patience with it.

Tonight I wallked around the city in search of an open store to buy some comfort food to keep me until things open up. I walked around in the dark, finally stopping an art student who had a bag of food and asking him where he got it. "Rite Aid," he said, "if you're willing to walk."

I was.

I walked down the middle of the street, along with other wayward pedestrians looking for food or just stir crazy after being cooped up for three days. The city looked post-apocalyptic. Silent, deserted, covered with snow and lonely figures like myself making their way down unplowed streets. At one point I came to an intersection with two other groups of people. Like traffic, we were all going our own ways, but obeying the traffic rules. A woman commented on that, and we all laughed. I asked if we needed to obey the traffic signals. Like I said, everyone seems in good spirits and understands we are all in the same place. Our lives have been interrupted, and that has forced us to notice each other. I've met more people outside during this last three days than I have since moving to Baltimore in August. I have nice and interesting neighbors, and I like knowing that.

I made it to Rite Aid, just as the man locked the door. They were closed, but I stood at the door and looked pathetic, and another man let me in. They were the only store open besides a tavern down the street from me and their store showed it. Their merchandise was scarce, but I found what I had been looking for. Stouffers macaroni and cheese, Coke Classic, and some sort of potato chips. I bought Pringles. I also bought ice cream, instant oatmeal, chocolate and film for my camera.

Then, I walked home. Mission accomplished.

Once again, work is postponed tomorrow. Despite my best efforts at digging out my car, if the streets aren't plowed, I am not going anywhere. From what I've heard from the managers, neither is anyone else.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

A snow storm has taken over Maryland and Virginia. There is already over a foot of snow on the ground from the fall that began last night and it shows no signs of subsiding. It's absolutely beautiful.

I was supposed to work today but got a call from the manager at 6AM asking me if I had anticipated coming in today. I told her yes, then heard her sigh in exasperation. She told me about the weather, and I looked outside. I had no idea that our city had endured such a storm. Even at around 3AM, there was nothing, and this was only three hours later.

"Holy cow," I said.
"Yeah," she said.

She told me she'd call the district manager and call me back. Ten minutes later, my phone rang again and she said, "We're closed." And that was that. No work for me today. I can't say that I was disappointed, because I just finished a five day stretch of work, and only had one day off between another five day stretch that was to begin today. Now, I have a real break that may continue into tomorrow. Two feet or more is predicted.

Just after typing this, my same manager called and said that tomorrow we were closed as well. So, no work once again.

It is now 11:29PM, and I'm about to retire to bed. The snow has not let up, and continues to accumulate. My car is completely buried.

Completely buried.

Only the mirror sticks out to identify the large lump of white as a passenger vehicle. We have more than two feet on the ground, and now they are saying that it might get to three. Incredible.

I haven't let myself be cooped up inside, taking two walks to my mom and Jack's house. Once to make waffles and once to get some soda. I fell once on the sidewalk, but it was a good fall where I just let my body go limp and not fight it. I doubt that I even have a bruise, except for on my pride. My mom saw the whole thing from the front door. It's amazing to walk in two feet of snow, at times the drifts were so large that I sank above my knees. The sheer energy it takes to get around. We had people pulling their kids on sleds (because they would have sunk in the snow otherwise) and one guy who used cross country skis to get around. Everyone used the streets for sidewalks and was in good spirits. I met a lot of neighbors that I'd never seen before. Dogs played in the snow, including Reese the Great Dane and Annabelle, a smaller black dog from next door whom I can hear barking when she's by herself. Another dog named Persephone joined the group and it was fun to watch them romp in the snow, chase each other, and bite at the snow clumps that we tossed in the air. Reese managed to take out Bill, my next door neighbor and owner of Annabelle, and knocked him right on his rear. Bill took it in good stride.

It's a winter wonderland outside, so I'm going to tuck myself into my sleigh bed and open a good book. I'm happy and content right now, and that feels good. I think it's because the snow storm has forced everyone to take a communal break, which we need to do from time to time.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

I made use of my museum membership and tooled around the museum today. I felt strange and alone in such a place, surrounded by massive paintings and hearing my boot steps across the wood floors interrupt the quiet. A guard who looked close to his seventies chatted me up in front of an Andy Warhol, then tailed me to a Jasper Johns. I exited that part of the gallery quickly, and he found me again at the elevator. Thankfully, it arrived in seconds and I stepped inside and bid my admirer goodbye.

I've been very lonely lately, particularly because I'm missing my friends in Los Angeles and the faces that I saw on a daily basis. I miss the liveliness of the people and yes, I'll say it, the warm weather.

I'm also wondering a lot of things, like if anything I'm doing counts. I can't help feeling like an unfinished project. Sure, we are all unfinished projects, but I feel like one that is unfinished because it has been neglected too long. Sitting in a dark corner never to realize it's full potential. I worry about getting older and becoming invisible, a compilation of unfinished projects and unrealized potential.

When I was growing up, I used to think that being depressed was part of being an artist, that my extra sensitive perception meant that I was going to be something special. I feel far from that. Yes, I've done a lot of cool things and lived a lot of cool places. But where has that gotten me? And where will that take me?

I'm obviously feeling uncertain right now. Sundays tend to do that, as they are the beginning of another week. Mini New Years every seven days that make me wonder what I've accomplished.

And what I'm missing.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

My mom and Jack bought me a membership to the Baltimore Museum of Art. This means, that I can go in at any time and not have to pay, and be invited to special events and the like. I even got a present, but will have to go to their house to see what it is. What a nice surprise.

My spirits have been a bit better at work due to a few things. One, I've begun my oil painting class and am very much enjoying it. It also exposes me to another side of Baltimore, the creative and artsy side inhabited by smart and funny people.

The other thing, is that at work, I've allowed myself to let go and realize that this store will never be the experience that I had at the other Barnes and Noble. That doesn't mean that I've been able to turn a blind eye and ignore the unshaven armpit of humanity that comes in the store, but that I've allowed myself to search for other opportunities. My knowledge and experience is being wasted on those people who buy romance novels, Dr. Atkins books, bargain books, and coin price guides so they can go home and see if one of those dusty coins up in their attic may be their meal ticket.

The customers who come to our store are honestly the dimmest and grossest people that I've come across. Yeah, people who work retail say that about everyone, even John Updike was inspired to write A&P where he's less than complimentary of the clientele. However, these people go beyond that. Really, they do. I have gone from one extreme, affluent and educated Calabassas to Deliverance. So, I am working to remove myself from their presence before I get told I have a pretty mouth and to squeal like a pig. Again, nothing drastic, but I have now given myself the freedom to let go.

There is a dog next door that barks all night. I think his owner is away and the dog is suffering anxiety over being alone. His owner lives in a lavish rowhome and drives a BMW, from what I can tell. I don't really see him that much. I've seen the dog though, looking out the ground floor window at passers by. He's a cute black lab type and doesn't look like he's yet full grown. I'm guessing that he's a recent addition to the house. He sets off the other dogs on the third floor above me and sometimes it's a chorus of barking dogs for a few minutes while my upstairs neighbors, both dog owners, try to settle their canine friends down. Just now, as if on cue, Reese the Great Dane has chimed in which has set off the two poodles above me. I don't think the guy is aware that his dog barks all night, but I have a feeling the neighbors will let him know. I may drop a nice note in his mailbox to alert him that his dog is not doing too well when left alone in the house. I'm more concerned for the dog than bothered by the barking.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

God bless the Space Shuttle Columbia crew. Your courage and dedication is and will always be an inspiration to us earthbound dreamers.

Even in your deaths, you remind us to look skyward.