Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Demoralizing Lunch Break

You've either seen it or done it: hunched over a to-go box or brown bag on a bench or in the car, all business-casual, checking the wristwatch to see how much of your 30 minutes you have left. This is perhaps one of the greatest casualties of our 9 to 5 lives. We completely quantify, dehumanize, and rob of all pleasure our mid-day meal in an attempt to keep from going over our allotted time and avoid the ire of like-minded coworkers and watchful supervisors.

I've had no less than ten jobs, and maybe two of them had a lunch break I actually enjoyed. The worst are those with timeclocks, because god help you if you don't swipe back in less than 30 minutes after you swiped out (timeclock jobs never give you an hour). My first, Toys R Us, was particularly rough because I was young and hadn't learned the wisdom of bringing your lunch with you. So I had half an hour to get in my car, drive down the street to Wendy's, order my meal and eat it with enough time to get back to the store. Then I got tired of Wendy's. OK, Taco Bell. But that was a bit farther down the road, past a few lights. Pushing it.

By the time I began working at the library at UT, I knew enough to bring a lunch. However, I didn't much like going to the staff break room and sitting across from my supervisor, who would take five minutes to eat and spend the next 25 staring into space. You think I'm exaggerating. He didn't bring a book, there was no TV, he just sat there so he didn't have to work. So I started going down to the public study room on the first floor. Well, sometimes I couldn't find a seat. What's sadder than a man on his lunch break hunkered down in his car finishing his lunch? A man sitting on the floor finishing his lunch.

Probably my least favorite job has been working at Dillard's, the department store. It wasn't the worst job I've had, but it's the worst job I had the longest. Their break room was stereotypically depressing: fluorescent lights, a burnt coffee carafe, 13" TV with rabbit ears halfway tuned in to depressing daytime television. So I started going to the food court with my box lunch. I'd get a free water from Taco Bell, where the guys started to know me, and I'd find an empty seat under a skylight and read. Not so bad really. But as the job progressed, and I began hating it more and more, I found myself stretching out my time. We could take an hour if we wanted, but I tried to save money and keep it to 30. That lasted a couple months. By the time I left, I was taking an hour and a half lunch break at least once, if not twice a week, punishing the company by making less money. Wait, what?

I can think of one lunch break I enjoyed, at one of the only jobs I've enjoyed. It was a construction/renovation job for this classy women's boutique on the Upper East Side. I got it through a theatre friend whose dad Sam was the makeshift foreman. I worked with friends and acquaintances, pretty hard-labor stuff sometimes, but Sam felt more like a coworker than a supervisor so it didn't feel like we had to answer to anyone, and we got done what we needed to get done. We'd all take lunch together, grabbing sandwiches and coffee or bringing out the brown bags. We'd sit by the corner windows of the unfinished store, listening to the radio and watching passers-by. We didn't watch the clock. We ate, finished, digested, and got back to work. And the job didn't move any slower for it.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Shameless Plug Time!

This is the first episode of a new web comedy I'm in, Citizen's Arrest:

We also have a dedicated website that's pretty cool. And if I may toot my own horn, I wrote a lot of the content there, such as the character info, trivia, and citizen's arrest guide.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

This Is The Way I See It

This quote was on the cup of my Peppermint Mocha (grande) at Starbucks the other day:

People need to see that, far from being an obstacle, the world's diversity of languages, religions and traditions is a great treasure, affording us precious opportunities to recognize ourselves in others.
Youssou N'Dour, musician
While I applaud efforts like this, or Poetry in Motion on the subway (short poems or excerpts on posters), in place of advertising, I would prefer they not consist of meaningless platitudes. Part of what bothers me is the platitude itself; part of it is people's reception of said platitude: pleased mumblings of "hear hear, we should think this way," followed by finishing your $5 coffee, getting into your four-door sedan and driving to the grocery store where you buy enough food to feed a village, all the while feeling self-satisfaction at your expanded worldview.

So here: I get N'Dour's point. Let's not treat our differences as antagonisms, less-thans. Valid and worthy. But they're still differences. That cannot be changed, and we need to acknowledge that. Call the room. Acknowledging them as anything else is like taming a lion by pretending it's a jackrabbit. Sure, that'll give you the courage to approach it, but it won't make the lion tear your face off any less.

What of herself could a burkha-clad Afghani woman see in an American blonde tanning poolside, wearing a two-piece? In what way does not sharing a language make it any easier for me to understand a Russian's take on capitalism? N'Dour's probably the kind of person that says "Who wants a perfect world? That's boring." No, it's perfect. Or "If we were all the same, we'd never grow." No, we'd all grow the same because we'd quit blowing each other up trying to prove who's right.

There is little to nothing of me in a fundamentalist Mormon or a jackbooted fascist (inevitable comparison by juxtaposition incorrect, unintentional and unfortunate), and I'm fine with that.

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