Everything about life learned via waitressing

I spent eight years of college waitressing. And it’s a good thing, because my step-and-fetch-it server skills have never come in handier than now that I am no longer in restaurant work.

During job interviews, I have been asked about which former job taught me the most. Usually, I’ve chosen to lie (something I learned extremely well while waitressing!) because I can tell the interviewers want some profound insight garnered from a white-collar, so-called “professional” position. But in reality, my most useful skills were restaurant-honed. Here are the top five:

  1. Taking Orders is Part of Life – The world is full of wannabe leaders and that’s because it’s far easier to be the leader than to be the follower of someone else’s cockamamie (now there’s a word you never see in print and probably didn’t know how to spell!) plans. But the habit of pulling out a pad and pencil and taking dinner dictation and accepting dictatorship taught me how to do the subservient thing for as long as I need to put up with someone else’s self-important nonsense. The line of shallow types wanting to be in charge never shortens.
  2. Faking Patience is Virtuous – I used to pray for patience, but my prayers green-lighted God sending me wait-requiring obstacles in the form of indecisive people, which begat patience. Here’s a sample exchange, my thoughts in parentheses. Diner: “Hmmm, should I have steak or seafood? I just don’t know. (If you don’t know, how could I possibly know?) What do you think I should have? (How about the steak?) Well, I really don’t think so. (So don’t freakin’ order it!) Do you think I should order the orange roughy instead? (I don’t really care, but I’ve got other tables to wait on.) It doesn’t taste really fishy, does it? (Duh! They call it fish for a reason.)  What are other people having? (Who cares!) What did I order the last time I ate here? (Let me go get the chart I keep on these things!) Did I like it? (I hate YOU!) Why don’t I have a drink while I decide? (I’m the one who needs a drink!) What wines are sold by the glass? (Far too many to name. And I have other customers.) I was thinking maybe Chablis, but it depends on what I have for dinner. Maybe I should go with beer, instead . . . (I think you should go somewhere else instead!) What would you do if you were me? (May I suggest self-harm?)
  3. Pseudeo-Enthusisam Will Suffice – Remaining silent is one thing, but saying something totally opposite what you’re feeling is an advanced skill. Working for tips requires the ability to disengage mouth from brain. Unless you’re serving at rudeness-themed Ed Debevic’s, you’d better swallow the smart remarks that are simply begging to be uttered, lest you find yourself out begging on the streets. Fortunately, smarmy customer servicy, pseudo-sincerity comes more easily over time: “You are going to be sooooo happy with that entrée!” Make a game of sounding as enthusiastic as a 1950’s children’s TV show host. In the interim, best to keep it zipped.
  4. Accurate People Reading Reigns – Most of the above is successful only following the proper reading of people. While it’s possible to read some folks like a book, others are more like a warning label: Highly Combustible! Best always to err on the side of respect when you need to discern whether you should call someone Sir, Mr. Smith or Bob (assuming that is the person’s name). Some people are just as offended to not be treated familiarly as others are offended when they’re not referred to as “sir.” Get this one right.
  5. Assumptions are Presumptuous – I quickly learned some diners viewed being complimentary to me as a suitable enough tip. Not okay, as my sub-minimum wage job wouldn’t pay the bills. Conversely, some people who looked and seemed like they couldn’t afford a tip or who literally gave me a run for my money ended up leaving enough to make up for the deadbeats. Treat everyone well.

There it is: everything to be successful as a restaurant server and citizen of the world.

Pope wants to cure Curia’s common cold

I’m the first person to admit I know next to nothing about the current Pope. Well, except the answer to the trite question, “Is the Pope Catholic?” For the most part lately, I live under a rock, only coming out long enough to go to work or to haul kids somewhere, with little time to devote to anything that is not absolutely necessary. Along with the rest of my so-called life, Pope-watching falls into the unnecessary category.

So it’s really unusual anything about him came across my radar. I assure it was absolutely accidental and happened through reading a friend’s leadership blog in which she mentioned a Christmastime address Pope Francis gave to the assembled Roman Curia (aka central Catholic Church higher-ups).

Apparently, the focus of the Pope’s Dec. 22 remarks was not the typical celebratory glad tidings of joy and peace message to which the group (and the rest of the world!) is accustomed near Christmas, as he both topically and tonally took them to task for illnesses and temptations.

Far be it from me to be an apologist for the Catholics or any other religious group, but I think there’s been a tendency to elevate church leadership to a ridiculously supernatural level, making a topple from grace (human, as opposed to Divine) a much steeper fall. I truly appreciate the Pope, as a leader, addressing what essentially amounts to petty workplace misbehaviors (“illnesses and temptations”) and not being afraid to verbally rap the very human knuckles of the senior governing cardinals, bishops and priests of the Vatican.

While I try to keep table talk relatively light at my own seasonal gatherings, there are times I need to use that assembly time to re-align attitudes, judgments and behaviors. Sometimes a little coal in the stocking along with the candy gets a lot of attention. And that’s what the Pope Francis received from the press for his remarks. Granted, people should know better in every area of their lives. But we don’t.

What exactly did Pope Francis say? You can find the full transcript all over the Internet, but in an online WordPress commentary at audacityandsupposition.com, businessman turned Christian blogger Robert Robinson succinctly summarized the15 ailments addressed by Pope Francis:

1. Feeling immortal, immune or indispensable.

2. Working too hard.

3. Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened.

4. Planning too much.

5. Working without coordination, like an orchestra that produces noise.

6. Having ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s.’

7. Being rivals or boastful.

8. Suffering from ‘existential schizophrenia.’

9. Committing the “terrorism of gossip.”

10. Glorifying one’s bosses.

11. Being indifferent to others.

12. Having a ‘funereal face.’

13. Wanting more.

14. Forming ‘closed circles’ that seek to be stronger than the whole.

15. Seeking worldly profit and showing off.

Wow, what a list, kind of a post-Papal appointment public pettiness parade. Not how you think it should or hope it would work. But that’s reality. Let me further reduce to common language and graspable reality the Pope-observed problems inherent to the Curia: invincibility, busyness, indifference, self-direction, unilateralism, pride, arrogance, self-reliance, catty back-stabbing, butt-kissing, schadenfreude, dourness, greed, cliquishness, and empire-building.

Surprised? These behaviors sound pretty human to me. Not just selfishness and mission-drifting, but also a real waste of the special gifting God placed on those individuals that enabled them to move up the organizational ranks within the Catholic Church. It makes you speculate as to the huge amount of good the respective members of the Curia might be able to do if they weren’t so busy looking out for their own interests.

The same goes for the rest of us. Are we individually and collectively living up to our God-given potentials to make a difference in the world? Or do we keep one eye occasionally upon Jesus, while the other eye is consistently upon ourselves? No wonder I end up feeling cross-eyed in moral cross-fire.

Question to self: what kind of real, direct good could I be doing if I weren’t living under the rock of daily responsibilities that require little character and offer little return (save a paycheck) toward meeting the deeper needs of my family, friends and community? Maybe Pope Francis was speaking to us all. I heard and will heed.

Without cheap flicks, movies are an investment

If you caught me sobbing uncontrollably at the end of the summer, it was due to the announcement Battle Creek’s Cheap Flicks movie theater was closing its doors. The area’s best entertainment value “where all seats are just three dollars” would be no more.

Was I alone in mourning the passing of this unique venue that enabled me to spend an enjoyable evening at the movies without spending a fortune? I could afford to take along my children and a handful of their friends. It was nice to take in an evening show, too, not just the cheaper matinees at other theaters, which still required stopping to pick up and cash in pop bottles on the way there to afford the show.

Sure, Cheap Flicks was getting dilapidated. The flooring had seen better days, the seat padding was thinning and the big screens were battle-scarred. Really, whole place felt sticky. However, the outrageously low admission and snack prices helped me conform to budget, which, in turn, enhanced my willingness to overlook just about anything.

Had they fixed it up, the place might have lost its appeal to those on fixed incomes, from seniors, to single-parents, to young dating couples looking for an excuse to sit close in a darkened room. I preferred the bargain prices and shabby chic to the first-class flight seating and sky-high prices that are rapidly becoming the movie industry norm.

Cheap Flicks felt more like camping than a five-star hotel. I appreciated the simplicity of having only one flavor of popcorn salt and extra salt packets you could pocket and take with you into the movie to gradually add salt, rather than over-salting your popcorn on top and then unsuccessfully shaking the bejesus out of it to redistribute salt to the lower layers.

I loved that if I missed a first-run movie, which frequently happened, I could catch it a month later at Cheap Flicks. It was also fun to watch “coming attractions” for movies I had already seen, noting how much they differed from the preview. And, if a movie turned out to be a real stinker, I was out only three bucks.

We used to ask for Cheap Flick gift certificates at Christmas, thereby making this most economical of options an even sweeter deal. But that’s all gone now and I’m left with reclining theater seating that’s suitable for royalty, overwhelming surround sound systems, and mortgage-sized movie ticket prices. What will they think of next?!

Recently, following an unexpected infusion of cash, I went to a regular movie theater and took along one of my children. Okay, I just wanted someone to send for popcorn refills, because you never know the best time to make a popcorn or bathroom run.

When the pre-preview ads popped up before the movie, one of the products touted was a pharmaceutical solution to overactive bladders. But if the bladder drug’s list of side-effects sounded too prohibitive, it was suggested we instead get the new “RunPee” app.

What?! Just like it sounds: a special phone application that shows the best window(s) of time to leave the movie while you can, to get to the can. No kidding! I Googled that high-tech, high-alert app as soon as I got home (after using the bathroom, of course).

According to the RunPee.com website, a guy by the name of Dan, his mother and his sister watch newly-released movies and make notes of the 1-4 minute most leaveable intervals during current movies. They convert their findings into an application that can be accessed via SmartPhones. How smart is that?

I picture Dan from RunPee speaking to students at an elementary school career day. “Well boys and girls, I earn a living by watching movies. Not to enjoy them, but to figure out the best times when to step out and take a whiz.” Oh, Mr. Dan. I want to scout potty breaks, too, when I grow up!

What would happen if everyone in the theater had the RunPee app and all left for the bathroom at the suggested stated time to pee. “Stampeed!” I nearly peed my pants laughing at the thought! I’d better get the RunPee app for better bladder control.

Trusting that turning things over is what’s needed

Christmas Eve was the deciding factor. I hadn’t heard so much cursing uttered in such a short expanse of time since I had worked in the prison system. And these were coming from my son’s mouth on our way to church.

“I don’t know why you think it’s okay to drag me to this f***ing place every Sunday, and especially on Christmas, when I have a lot more important things to do. I’m old enough to decide how I spend my time,” he shouted at me while my daughter put her hands over her ears, trying to muffle the un-muzzled conflict.

“Every OTHER week,” I corrected. “You are with your dad every other weekend, so it’s mathematically impossible for me to drag you to church EVERY weekend. Someone as smart as you think you are should be able to figure that out.” I couldn’t resist slicing in half his argument.

“And when I last checked, I couldn’t find a more logical place than church where to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. Think about it.”

But at 14, he is not prone to much thought beyond immediate gratification. On those rare occasions when he attempts to be conscious, it swerves toward contemptuous of the world around him.

“Believe this, believe that, blah, blah, blah!” he ranted. “The church is all a bunch of f***ing hypocrites trying to cram God down everyone’s throat. Religion thinks it can tell you how to think and act. Well, I don’t need any help with that.”

“Yup, just look at how in-control you are of yourself and your life right now,” I said, resisting speeding around the curve-filled, deer-laden 12-mile church route in response to my heightened blood pressure.

I debated stopping the car and kicking him out in the middle of nowhere, but he was already there. Plus, I didn’t need another thing on my mind when I sat down at the church piano bench to play the Christmas prelude I’d prepared. There was also the issue of the food I’d prepared for post-church dinner at a friend’s house. Life goes on despite spiritual bankruptcy, so I kept driving, unprepared for what came next.

“You told me you hated church while you were growing up, so why force me to go, Mom?!”

Great question, but not really a question. Bait. Debate bait. I internally debated taking or ignoring it. Instead, I split the difference.

“The church I grew up in seemed more interested in attendance than faithfulness, more concerned with rules than relationship with God, and wasn’t deeply Bible-based. It excluded women from top leadership roles and on top of that, the parent dragging me there didn’t talk about faith in our home between services. Church was a total disconnect for me, going through the motions with no emotion or life application. I stopped going as soon as I started living on my own.

“So, this is the last time I will make you go to church. I’m not into hostage-taking,” I said. Not the response he anticipated.

The question that really begged answering was why I returned to church. Not to the same church, or church, per se, but rather to God, after my many similar, but less profanity-laced childhood family trips to church.

Somewhere, somehow, I figured out church should be more action for God and less about church activity. My issue had never been with God, but how others had falsely packaged Him. No “I saw the light” dramatic faith transformation needed. Need and self-reliance running amuck are what drove me to my knees. If I saw any light, it was from the flames of the fire God gradually lit under me to burn away my own youthful defiance that had sabotaged my adulthood spiritualty: a great re-starting place.

From the corner of my eye, I sized up the long-term rude awakening my son had in store from doing things “his” way versus “His” way. We all remain susceptible to it. But time, toil and trouble eventually lead us to consider exchanging self-wisdom for Godly-guidance.

“Just don’t wait ‘til you’re 45,” I mentally willed my son. And I deliberately turned over this aspect of parenting to his Heavenly Father.

Guest of honor forces vehicular cleaning jag

CLEANING FOR COMPANY - Sometimes just the threat of having someone more important than you riding in your vehicle is enough to drive you to clean. But not very well.

CLEANING FOR COMPANY – Sometimes just the threat of having someone more important than you riding in your vehicle is enough to drive you to clean.

I have never been a neatnik. I have also never been a slob. In theory, that averages out to a medium level of neatness. But don’t mistakenly think it means I maintain moderately neat environments in all areas of my life.

Those who know me well can attest I am a mess of contradictions. While there are a handful of neatness issues about which I am incredibly picky, there are multiple others about which I don’t give a flaming rat’s patootie!

Dishwashing is one task where I’m extremely anal. I feel compelled to wash dishes immediately after use. If you can’t handle that bit of OCD, don’t bother to try cooking with me. I wash everything as I go so there’s not stack of utensils, pots and pans to contend with at the end of my culinary projects.

I have never gone to bed with dirty dishes in the sink and hesitate to speculate what might happen if I did. The world might grind to a halt. But, alas, we’ll never know, as I will never let it happen. If my kids want to set me off, they leave dirty dishes in the sink after I have gone to bed at night. My next morning reaction is akin to that of the man who lifted the lid of his toilet and found a baby alligator under it. Heart attack!

Another “just so” issue for me is newspaper clipping archiving. As soon as I get done reading something I have published, I cut it out, date it and put it inside a protective, plastic sheet protector, then sequentially file it in a special notebook I maintain for my writings. I cannot deviate from that ritual.

Yet another neatness issue for me is lawn mowing. I don’t just mow lawn, but mow lawn right! I like 90-degree corners, uniform heights of grass and no small clumps of anything left behind. I have been known to sit on my front porch and gaze fondly at my freshly-mowed lawn. Yeah, I know: get a life! And don’t even get me started on precision bed-making. I cherish the crisp feel of climbing under the sheets of a neatly-made bed.

Those examples given, I confess when it comes to the rest of life, I don’t really care about neatness. Well, until something or someone comes along that/who forces caring. Usually, it amounts to company coming over to my house. But recently it came down to who would be riding in my vehicle.

Former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Luther Elliss was in Michigan from Utah to speak with high school students celebrating their sports teams being awarded Nature’s Sports Drink chocolate milk grants. For at least part of his Michigan tour, Luther was to ride with me, in my vehicle. Panic time!

My kids’ primary concern was that the 6’5”, 318-pound athlete might not comfortably fit in my car. “Then I guess I’ll have to either toss him into the cargo bay like our bicycles or strap him to the roof of the car like a Christmas tree,” I said. They also wondered if he misbehaved, would I stop the car and/or threaten to knock some sense into him with my snow brush? Legitimate concerns, grounded in experience.

My concern was more immediate: getting my vehicle clean enough for Luther to ride in it. A break in the December weather allowed me to attempt vacuuming a two-year accumulation of vehicular dirt, litter and crumbs. Within five minutes, my trust mini-vac konked out, job undone. Good thing I’d started cleaning the front passenger area where Luther would be sitting!

Before I let Luther get into my car, I handed him an old, ketchup-tipped French fry with which to sign a disclaimer aimed at absolving me of responsibility for any clothing stains, cockroach bites or bacterial illnesses he might contract during his ride.

“Kristy, my wife and I have 12 children, how do you think our vehicles look?!” Luther laughed.

Nevertheless, I threw a towel over the surface where he’d be sitting, fastened a protective mask over his mouth and nose, and sprayed Lysol. Luther may have survived the NFL, but my car mess is truly daunting.

Giving of your own gifts is best Christmas gift

No sooner than the Thanksgiving dinner dishes were washed, someone was passing around slips of paper, asking family members to write our name and Christmas gift ideas. My mind was as blank as the slip of paper. Outside of a pricey gift certificate for handyman services, there wasn’t much I wanted and even less I needed.
Do other adults find themselves in this jam? Under the gun to come up with Christmas gift giving and receiving ideas for those who seem really into gifts? It was easier back when I was growing up and making wish lists that contained items like b.b. guns, bicycles, sports equipment, a piano and whole series of books.
I remember wanting all the Nancy Drew books – dozens of them. It seemed reasonable. My kids have read several series, including Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Lemony Snicket. Gift givers simply purchased the next annual installment. Gifting resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, while also decreasing the odds of wrong sizes or someone shooting his/her eye out.
My adult friends recall begging for Barbies, cool clothing, new television sets, movies and video games, an unlimited supply of candy and horse-related items. One even wanted a nose job. Santa must have had to take on a second job to afford our materialistic demands!
As an adult, I wonder if I’m odd to not care about receiving gifts. When pressed for a list Thanksgiving Day, I pulled out my phone and Googled greenhillmusic.com to get the official names of the two most recent CDs by jazz pianist Beegie Adair. Those would be nice, but did I really need them?
What’s the difference between the average adult’s childhood Christmas list versus his/her grown-up Christmas wishes? I posed the question to my Facebook friends and received a quite mature collective response: they were more interested in relationships than stuff (with the exception of a perpetual kidder who said he’d asked for good looks and money as a kid, but now wishes he had more money, and a gun geek who asked for an automatic weapon and 10,000 rounds of ammo).
Overwhelmingly, my friends requested peace, tolerance, kindness, warmth-and laughter-filled homes, better health, more time with family and loving relationships. One wanted a cure for Angelman Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects her son. Another wants to spend all day in pajamas. Perhaps we should be posing our requests to God, and not Santa. Just a thought.
Others were more pragmatic, wanting good buys on serviceable clothing rather than the latest fashions. One asked for the practical gifts of a snow-blower, decent gutters and non-dripping faucets. I could relate. It’s hard to think peace when you’re battling hardship.
The most practical adult gift request came from someone who wanted a new ironing board cover. Like me, she doesn’t have many wants or needs, so she keeps it basic. It also lessens potential disappointment.
I keep it basic. Not just with my gift requests, but my gift-giving. With all the needs I see in the world, I have trouble justifying frivolous gifts and favor affordable and/or sentimental. Maybe I’m missing the point, but the older I get, the more I feel like I am on point.
To that point, during the past two months, I decided to start sharing with others more of my God-given gifts. I have used my piano playing ability to raise money the local food pantry. I have cooked and entertained guests in my home to earn funds for the Fredonia Grange “Words for Thirds” dictionary project. I have used my gift of gab to call and check on people who can’t safely get out during winter. I used my shopping gift to supply a church-sponsored family that’s needier than mine. I shared my gift of health by donating blood. And I volunteer my gift of writing to cover local stories of people who are making a difference.
It’s much more meaningful to give of yourself at Christmas in the ways you are specially-equipped. Serving others is the only way to acquire the desired relational feelings on the adulthood Christmas list. You’ll find it’s a wonderful life when you go beyond self-interest and compassionately re-gift your own, unique gifts.

Gift certificates get used in last minute flurry

Although gift-giving and receiving are not in my love language vocabulary, if I have to receive a gift, there is nothing more exciting than a gift certificate. Some memorable ones have been for favorite restaurants, a visit to a masseuse and a haircut. Others appealed to my frugality: Goodwill and Cheap Flicks.

I think merchants like gift certificates and gift cards, too, because with them comes the distinct possibility I will never get around to redeeming them, which translates to pure profit via upfront payment. What’s not to like about that?!

Running the gift certificate/card gauntlet can be difficult. You open the envelope containing a gift certificate or card, then promptly set it down somewhere or drop it, if not instantly lose it among the wrapping paper scraps from the other presents.

There’s an unwritten rule such items are never found until AFTER you have picked through mounds of disgusting coffee grounds, potato peelings, dirty diapers, discarded casseroles and catbox droppings in the garbage, which seems to prompt the epiphany, “Oh yeah, I stuck it in the phone book drawer to get it off the kitchen counter.”

In the rare event my gift certificate survives initial misplacement, my next careless move is to “wisely” tuck it somewhere so absolutely safe (Maybe I should put it in my safe!) that I won’t locate it again until the next time I move.

On the outside chance I don’t misplace or too-safe-a-place it, I will forget to put my gift certificate in the glovebox of my vehicle, a location that would give me direct access when I am in the vicinity of where to use it. Typically, I will drive past that establishment, clueless and gift cardless, at least 29 times during the year for which a gift card is good, then have to take a day off work to drive 29 miles out of my way to redeem it the day before it’s set to expire. Can I have an Amen?!

Maybe I was a delusional when I said gift certificates were a good thing. Clearly not in my careless, irresponsible, procrastinating hands! You’d be better off to go to the restaurant yourself, eat one of the two pork chops on your plate and drop off to me on your way home a doggie bag with the remaining chop. It would be easier than teaching this old dog new tricks!

The good, well-intentioned people at my church could not have known the worthless ways of their Sunday service pianist when they generously gifted me last Christmas with a gift certificate. As scripted, I promptly lost it, found it, then tucked it out of sight and mind for nine months, followed by forgetting to put it in my vehicle for another two, which brought me to needing to use it in the 11th month/hour.

Finally, I entered cautiously the store where I was to redeem the gift certificate. I knew by reputation the place sold ornamental plants, carried pet food with brand names I can’t correctly pronounce, and is frequented by people who refer to their riding lawnmowers as “garden tractors.” As someone whose family grows corn, feeds off-brand pet food and drives real tractors, I doubted they had anything useful.

POISONS GALORE - There is nothing more grounding in an upscale store than to find poisons galore!

POISONS GALORE – There is nothing more grounding in an upscale store than to find poisons galore!

Walking past cutesy displays of homemade jams and impractical lawn ornaments, my spirits sank. Toto and I weren’t in Kansas anymore and it’s doubtful we could afford the dog food. Then, rounding a corner, a yellow brick road rose up, shining, in the form of bright yellow rodent poison products, a language in which this farm kid is fluent!

I’d never seen such a comprehensive display of poison baits, sticky traps and other ways to dispose of unwelcome houseguests. I selected special-fuse lighted underground mole gassing sticks that paid homage to Bill Murray’s “Caddyshack” character dynamiting the whole golf course to kill one gopher, and a live wire cage trap that would allow my cats to terrorize unlucky farmhouse mice about to meet their demise.

How I spent my gift certificate would probably disturb my church congregation far more than my nearly forgetting to redeem it. At least they’ll know who to call the next time a bat terrorizes the sanctuary.

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