Tag Archives: work

The Waiting Ones

Oh, summer.  Long days, green trees, bright flowers, and a dog emphatically sniffing the dried refried beans on your shoes when you come home, hot and exhausted, after working a double in a Tex-Mex restaurant. For me, summer brings back memories of waiting tables. I spent  many of my high school, college and years beyond working in restaurants.  Some were summer jobs, some lasted longer.  I’ve  served food in small towns, big cities, breakfast places, diners, and corporate franchises.  The daily egg and bacon special, filet mignon, vegetarian souffles,  giant margaritas — I’ve delivered all of these things and more to tables of  hopeful, hungry diners.

I caffeine-buzzed my way through too many midnight shifts, waiting on the bar crowd, a crowd with a warped sense of time.“Where’s my food! I’ve been waiting forevveeerr!”  As a midnight shifter, I was also lucky enough to witness two drunk streakers racing through the all-night diner parking lot, which caused the restaurant to erupt in roll-on-the-floor laughter.

I’ve been a clumsy server.  I’ve spilled soda in laps and salsa down backs.  I’ve been left pennies, and worse,  no tip at all.   By the way, if you are thinking of stiffing a waitress, check out Jan Beatty’s poem – A Waitresses‘ Instructions on Tipping or Get the Cash Up and Don’t Waste My Time – in her poetry collection Mad River.  “Twenty percent minimum as long as the waitress doesn’t inflict bodily harm” is totally fair, my friends.

There are plenty of things I’d like to forget about waiting tables. But the best memories are courtesy of the colorful and entertaining co-workers.  So, below I’ve made a list of some quintessential server tropes, if you will. And yes, I’m generalizing for the sake of this post. I’ve met at least a couple versions of each of these folks, and remember them all fondly. Of course, the library has plenty of materials on waiting, some of which I have paired up below. So read on, and reminisce, commiserate or learn more about the art of waiting.

  • The one who works really hard and wants you to know it.  Arlene from True Blood and the Sookie Stackhouse novels, anyone?
  • The one who absolutely cannot stand their colleague’s cigarette breaks and the counterpart, the one who is always on smoke break. Would one such smoker have been Anthony Bourdain, the chef?  Perhaps not, but check out his amazing memoir with a most candid look at the restaurant biz, Kitchen Confidential.
  • The one that never does their side work, but all the customers love them (probably because they spend all their time in the front-of-the-house).  As Tori Amos ponders in the song Waitress,  “Boys all think she’s living kindness… is her power all in her club sandwich?”
  • The two who conducted a hot and heavy romance but now hate each other and you dread seeing them on the schedule at the same time.   Deborah Ginsberg, author of the server  memoir Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, was much more mature about her workplace relationships.
  • The one who just wants to do their job and go home and is totally over all of the drama.  This is the one to befriend; they’ll keep your head straight.  And this one most reminds me of Jennifer Aniston’s character in Office Space.  Aniston’s famous “37 pieces of flair” scene resonates strongly with  many of the servers and ex-servers I know.
  • The one in possession of a strong propensity for spilling things. That was me. Dear Catastrophe Waitress is a song AND a book, my friends.

Have you met any of these server-types? Or do you have a Waiter Rant of your own to share?   Please share in the comments.



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The Working Life

“You’re always dealing with teenagers, people, drunks, drug addicts, or prostitutes.”

–Lupita Perez, Bus Driver

Aw, the variety of the human experience. There are some jobs I am sure I would be incapable of doing; bus driver certainly ranks close to the top. Also, underwater welder . For the most part though, I enjoy working, and not just because I have a pleasant and thoroughly satisfying job at my local public library. I grew up in a working-class family, and have worked innumerable odd service jobs over the years—farm worker, pizza delivery driver, ice cream scooper, live-in housekeeper, waitress, Americorp worker, overnight shelf stocker, intern, to name a few—before landing at a public library some years ago. As a teenager I preferred working to other extracurricular activities. I could never get excited about sports or theater or any of the clubs, but I found workplaces endlessly fascinating. I spent many a happy afternoon in the kitchen of a hotel/restaurant in my hometown, watching the goings-on of the “front-of-house” and “back-of-house” staff, my own private version of Upstairs, Dowstairs. I was a busser and room service clerk, and enjoyed having a small part in the commingling of kitchen staff (largely immigrant populations), waitstaff (college kids and tough working moms), bartenders, desk clerks, and an endlessly rotating cast of hotel guests—winter brought skiers, summer brought windsurfers, and retired folks seemed to visit all year long. 

I’m not quite sure where my fascination with thinking about work comes from—I suppose it’s just interesting to consider how people spend their time and energy. Although most people work because they have to, there are some people who work even though they don’t have too, and there are people who instead of working develop elaborate systems for avoiding work (an ingenous act of work in itself, you have to admit). When I was eight or so, I remember having a really weird, quasi-existential conversation with my dad (a construction worker) about work that went something like this:

Me: Why do you work?
Dad: What kind of a question is that? I go to work because I have to.
Me: But why do you have to?
Dad: It’s just what people do.
Me: But do you want to work?
Dad: What? I don’t know. I don’t think about that. People just have to work.
Me: But why? What’s the point?
Dad: I don’t know. You know, you probably shouldn’t ask questions like that. You’re just going to make yourself miserable.

My dad may have had a point there. Nevertheless, I still keep thinking and reading about work. A few favorites:

Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do
by Studs Terkel

A wonderful, surprising, and addictive read. Mr. Terkel interviews farmers, office workers, hookers, janitors, car salesmen, teachers, poets, nuns, and many more about what they do, and how they feel about what they do. You should probably check this book out right now.

Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs
edited by John Bowe, Marisa Bowe & Sabin Streeter

Wow. This book completely blew me away. It is a great follow-up to Working, and is done in roughly the same format. Real workers are interviewed, and reveal candid, surprising, moving, and occasionally scandalous details about their jobs. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a UPS delivery driver or a Walmart greeter, this is the book for you.


The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work
by Joanne Ciulla

This book provides a history of the working life, as well as a philosophical discussion on the meaning of work, the nature of freedom and working for “the man,” and how we experience time. Overall, this is a very thoughtful book about the idea of work, and the question of how we can best spend our short amount of time here on planet earth.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
by Alain De Botton

A philosophical journey into the nature of work. De Botton looks at industries as dissimilar as biscuit manufacturing and rocket science (to name only a few) while trying to determine what ultimately makes work either fulfilling or soul-crushing.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you ever found yourself getting lost in a project, maybe while rearranging your cupboards, or possibly engaging in basket weaving? This book is all about being “in the groove,” that zone of contentment you go to when you’re completely focused and engaged in whatever task is at hand. Yep. Work can actually make you happy.
Happy reading, and happy working!


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Non-fiction fix: Loads of lovely love

Today is my parents’ 38th wedding anniversary – how cool is that?  Staying with the same person for more than three decades is no mean feat, especially since the complexities of loving and being loved are among the thorniest mysteries of being alive.

Whether you’re happily married, single and satisfied, desperately seeking somebody, or all up in your companion animals, the library’s got loads of lovely love for you. Here’s sample of the helpful advice, warm fuzzies and snarky laughter waiting for you in our collection:

A Practical Handbook for the Boyfriend, Felicity Huffman and Patricia Wolff. With their tongues wedged so firmly in their cheeks they look like squirrels hoarding nuts for winter, Huffman and Wolff offer suggestions for men who want to be good boyfriends. It’s a bit like training for The A Team, apparently. Who knew? If their advice works out for you, you can move on to The Mr. and Mrs. Happy Handbook and Why Did I Marry You Anyway?.

Career Renegade, Jonathan Fields. Life is short, and you spend most of it at work. Shouldn’t you be doing something you love? See also Living Your Heart’s Desire and A Life at Work for some thoughts about crafting a career with soul and spirit.

One Big Happy Family, Rebecca Walker. It’s a complicated world, and there are as many ways to relate to a person as there are individuals to love. Walker’s collection showcases the triumphs and challenges of non-traditional family structures by giving a voice to the people who embody them.  See also Opening Up, Together Forever and Best Date Ever.

The Powerful Bond Between People and Pets, P. Elizabeth Anderson. Ever wonder why people lavish so much money and time on critters that can’t talk back (in human language)? Anderson, a clinical psychologist, examines the compelling pull of a fuzzy face on the human heart, and shows how that bond plays out in various social contexts.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Divorce and Recovery, Jack Canfield. You may be down, but you don’t have to be out. This particular serving of Canfield’s signature soup is designed to give you the gumption to heal up, then get up and get back in the game. Those who prefer a more tough-love approach to healing might enjoy the “cover your bases” approach of The Sweet Potato Queens’ Wedding Planner and Divorce Guide.  Before you know it, you’ll be ready to take another shot at marriage (or, possibly, not).

With all due respect to my mom and dad, the thought of spending more than thirty years with the same person kind of gives me the wiggins. I’m open to the possibility that I could change my mind, especially for the right person. But for now, life seems pretty good.  I’ve got two adorable cats, one interesting gentleman caller (who, incidentally, doesn’t need the Huffman book), and a career I adore.  On top of that, the career part involves working in a 114-year-old building packed to the brim with fabulous co-workers (plus more books and materials than they’ll let me check out at any one time), and helping all of you find interesting and educational books to read.  Who could ask for anything more?

Your turn, constant reader:  who, or what, do you love?

–Leigh Anne

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Being green is not for everyone; or why I love my car.

I have a confession to make. Well, it’s not really a confession per se, as it’s not a secret and I don’t feel guilty about it – but still, here goes:

My name is Amy, and I drive a car to work. Alone. Five days a week or more.

“Oh the horror!” you exclaim. “Surely in these days of global warming, economic crisis, and high gas prices, there must be something you can do!”

Well yes, I am doing a few things. My tires are properly inflated, I have taken all of the useless weight out of my car, and I tend to drive at the speed limit now (which is boring, but it does save gas). But all of those other enviromentally-trendy things? Here’s why they don’t work for me.

Hybrids: Sure, hybrids are neato. But I’ve finally paid off my non-gas-guzzling compact, and I really don’t want to be saddled with another car payment, not to mention the potential increase in my insurance. As long as my monthly gas bill is less than a new car payment, I’m not switching.

Walking: I live 15 miles away from this here library, so walking is right out. Though we do have more than one librarian here who walks to work most every day – and good for them, I say! Maybe offering them a ride now and then can be my way of atoning for my continued car ownership. Any takers?

Bicycling: Ah, the smug bicycle-riding public. Now don’t get me wrong, many of them are quite nice and I certainly don’t wish them any harm. But again, I must point out that “I live 15 miles away” thing – and that’s 15 miles straight and true on the parkway. There’s no way I’d survive bicycle + parkway, even if it were permitted. And I’m sure that the library would like me to reach work 1. alive, 2. presentable, and 3. vaguely on time. That’s not going to happen with a bicycle.

(Another thing that annoys me about bicycles – those who park in the same garage as I do sometimes complain about the bicycle facilities, and they don’t even pay for parking! Meanwhile, I lose a chunk of every paycheck for the privilege of parking where I work. So shove it, bicycle peeps.)

Carpools: Sharing a ride and saving money sounds like a great idea, but where am I going to find a carpool that will stick around until 6 or 8 PM to wait for me? The library has some odd hours, you know. And I doubt that I can find three other people willing to listen to my preferred books on CD.

Public transportation: Ah, the bus. Again, great if you live in the city, but not so great for those of us on the outer limits. In the city you can choose from any number of routes and stops, but out where I live, there is only. one. bus. that would take me anywhere useful – and I’d still have to drive ten minutes to the nearest bus stop.

(I used to take the bus now and then when I was an undergrad, until the fateful day when someone puked in the back. Imagine spending a 45-minute trip watching particolored chunks of vomit and soppy bile rolling up and down the grimy rubber floor mats of the bus as it climbs and descends the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania – all the while keeping your feet up on your seat and hoping that the driver doesn’t make any sudden turns or abrupt stops. Nearly poetic, eh? If that doesn’t put you off riding the bus, I’m not sure what will.)

Moving closer to work: Well, there’s the higher rent, the higher taxes, the higher cost of living, the higher insurance, and who knows what else. Heck, even gas is more expensive in the city, sometimes by as much as an extra ten cents per gallon! So sure, I could move closer, but I doubt I could afford it unless I defaulted on my student loans. I like my credit rating the way it is, thank you kindly.

And there you have it – why green transportation is not for me. So the next time you’re sitting in a bus sneering at the people in the cars beside you, stop and think – maybe this is the best they can do. As for me, I’ll turn up my stereo and relax, and I promise to look out for your bicycle.


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from boxing to gardening: career transitions.

When speaking of his particular vocation, Muhammad Ali said, “It’s just a job.  Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand.  I beat people up.”  You might not float like a butterfly and sting like a bee during your work day, but whatever your job is, you have one and I have one.  And, it’s just a job.  However, since most of us have to be somewhere for eight hours a day, we all do the best we can to make the most of it until we come to the end of our workday. 

Maybe you absolutely love your job!  But maybe there is room for improvement.  Perhaps a little less complaining would make your time at the office more enjoyable or perhaps laying a little more blame instead?  A lot of us have experienced the cubicle, the least hospitable environment on Earth, but we have many books to feng shui your workspace and to awaken your day to increase your job satisfaction.Take comfort in knowing that there are those with worse jobs than yours.  And that there are always other jobs in the sea.  Take advantage of the 48 hours of your weekend to find the work you love and then get out of your funk.  Learn to get along with not-so-easy-to-get-along-with-coworkers or implement a rather provocative workplace rule.  Visit the Job Career Education Center upstairs on the 3rd floor where the career-savvy staff can find materials that will help you determine your next occupation-centric steps.  All of these resources will help you to love, change, laugh at, and slow down your daily grind.

With spring on the way, another idea is offered by Orson Scott Card who says, “Unemployment is capitalism’s way of getting you to plant a garden.”  It certainly isn’t necessary to quit your job to dig in the dirt, but why not take a day off and grab some seeds and a shovel?



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