"There will be time, there will be time/To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet"

Today on the ride back to the sticks from home base I did what I usually do, which is sing off key and think too much. What I thought about was perception; how it's often not based on any kind of fact, but has a viscous fluidity about it like mercury in a thermometer. Your perception is your truth, your reality. Often nothing can shake you from it, neither logic nor fact can sway you from that which you perceive to be true.

The problem here is that most of the people who walk through the world have no sense of self awareness. They don't know what drives them, why they react, why they feel the way they feel. They cloak themselves in self-righteousness and arrogance to mask their fear and doubt and shame, because to look within themselves and face those things is so much more terrifying than living the lie. If they believe themselves to be prosecuted, then it must be true. If they believe themselves to be victims, then they are. If they feel that you are to blame for all that has befallen them, then you are. Such is the strength of perception.

I refuse to be defined by anyone else's perception of me, because I worked very hard to see myself in a brighter light than most people. I know the workings of my own machine, and it isn't always pretty but it feels more real to me than the fake face I used to wear growing up and through the early years of my adulthood. I am proud to be able to defend my self-perception with logical argument, and if I had a single wish for the world it would be that we could all enjoy that sense of inner peace.

It is this faith I have in myself that keeps me strong. It lets me know that I cannot be cowed by fate when I am true to myself.


"You are black and I am white... life's an eskimo pie, let's take a bite."

Week three of my confinement begins with a little more hope than week two did. I couldn’t even write about it at the time, because I was just too pissed off. Suffice it to say, I had to confront the intellectually challenged a little sooner than I expected to. It just amazes me that in the year 2008 there are actually people walking around who think it’s acceptable to use the word “nigger,” especially to someone that they barely know. I’m not such an idealist that I think those people don’t exist – I know that stupidity is the true plague of the 21st century, after all – but I tend to believe that in this day and age people are a little more cautious about revealing their true beliefs to total strangers. Not here apparently. I’ve discovered that certain areas of the building are subject to this vortex of stupidity and narrow-mindedness that just cannot be dispelled. I’m working on the theory that this building is just like the one in Ghostbusters -- it was specifically designed to harness the power of ignorance in certain areas. I’m keeping my ears open for anyone referring to themselves as “the Keymaster.”

In other areas, however, there is a semblance of sanity; or at least what passes for sanity to me (which I’m sure differs incredibly from the textbook version). The people in these areas give me hope that this place is not entirely a lost cause, and for that I am grateful. I don’t need to make a huge amount of friends; I just need to find a little niche of good people with open minds.

I think it’s a shame that most of this country still cannot embrace what is different. This entire nation is made up of different people who came from somewhere else, usually fleeing ignorance in their own home. Walt Whitman called us “the nation of many nations,” and it’s something that demands respect. Without such a vibrant pallet of colors, races, religions and creeds, what would this nation be? It would be a gap-toothed, tobacco chewing, ass crack showing ignoramus sitting in the back of his pick-up truck talking about white supremacy while scratching his balls, that’s what it would be. I don’t think that’s the image I want representing me. I’d rather be a quilt, made up of different fabrics and colors, of different textures and stitch patterns. Something made by many different hands, a collaboration. When I’m cold I can wrap myself in its warmth, and when I am weary its vibrance will lift my spirit.

I am so often frustrated by those who define themselves by who they exclude. I choose to be someone defined instead by who I include, because I think I’ll lead a richer, fuller life that way. If the only people I exclude are those who are stupid, ignorant and can’t find a way to be open-minded, well… I’ll still make out better, because the people around me will be so varied in interest and scope. We might disagree or even fail to find compromise, but we will learn from each other. That’s the beauty of open-mindedness, to see your point of view from another’s perspective. Maybe their perspective will change your mind, or maybe it will only reinforce how you feel. The point is that you’ll know another avenue, another road, even if you choose not to take it. That’s the only way to really enjoy life’s journey – to know all your options, and take the path most exciting to you. To only know one route and follow it because that’s what everyone before you did without question… that sounds like one of the circles of hell to me.


"I'm stuck in this pit, working for less than slave wages."

Sometimes I miss the excitement of working in retail. Retail is kind of like the Grateful Dead – you can’t really appreciate it unless you’ve been there in person. The only time there’s ever a dull moment is when you’re working an overnight shift. Even those lulls are counterbalanced by the sheer magnitude of crazy that makes its way through the doors in the middle of the night.

Nowadays I have a nice little desk, with a chair and a lamp. It wasn’t always that way. Most recently I worked in a retail pharmacy, and I used to have to pace aisle after aisle of industrial grade, perpetually stained carpet, sniffing out shoplifters and opportunists. I always hated the carpet. Once it was a week old it looked like crap no matter how much you vacuumed it, and it was always the first thing your district manager would jump all over you for.

You got to know the type after a while. Packs of teenage girls were an automatic flag. For them, shoplifting is a girl group activity that ranks right up there with sleepovers and going to the bathroom. If they headed towards the makeup aisle you made sure to be there, too. In the early 2000’s you had to start stalking emo groups of teenage boys, too, who had no problem wearing eyeliner but were ashamed to buy it, much like condoms. You also had to keep an eye on old people in the vitamin aisle, because supplements are expensive and they are on fixed incomes. More than once I would find an empty economy size bottle of geriatric vitamins that someone had dumped in their purse as they kept moving.

The people you interacted with were actually the best part of the job. I never have the opportunity to call the cops on people like I used to. I’ve nailed people for bad checks, bad credit cards, bad scripts, shoplifting, harassment and assault – both customers and employees alike. There’s nothing so exciting as working in a retail environment, believe me. Where else can you have the cops arrest a 90-year-old man for assaulting employees with his cane? Those were good times.

You have to have a pretty thick skin to pull it off, though, because people will treat retail employees in ways they would be ashamed for their mother to see. I’ve had people scream at me and call me rather colorful names in the middle of the floor because their item didn’t ring up at the correct price and I’m robbing them of ten cents. I had a woman tell me to my face that I’d be so beautiful if I just lost some weight, and then go on about it for twenty minutes in the most nonchalant fashion, as though we were discussing the weather. I’ve been hit on by men older than my grandfather who would rather explicitly describe the good time they were going to show me.

I’ve been thinking about my most memorable moments from every retail job I’ve ever had, and I think this would have to be my list.

Fast Food Chain:
There was a homeless man who frequented the place. Some nights he would be very polite, and he would collect trash and trays from the dining room area and clean it up for us, so we would hook him up with a free meal. Other nights he would haunt the drive-thru, picking up loose change and masturbating while unsuspecting people sat in their cars waiting for burgers and fries.

Bookstore Café:
If you’ve been to any of these you know that they have an area with tables and chairs, and that throughout the store are usually other chairs scattered about. It gets really, really busy on the weekends, because you can sit as long as you want reading the paper and eating your scone at a snail’s pace. One Saturday I had a woman get indignant with me because the place was so crowded, and she demanded to know how to get to the “additional seating upstairs” because she couldn’t find the sign. Maybe that’s because this is a one story building, and what you see is what you get. Instead I told her that the Garden Veranda was closed for renovation. I often wonder if she’s still looking for it.

Sporting Goods Store:
There are so many things about my tenure here that it’s hard to choose just one, but I think I would have to go with the Phantom Shitter. This person used to hit the bookstore, too, but I never had to deal with it as often because we had a daily cleaning crew there. This allegedly female person would come to the store, take a dump, and then smear feces all over the stalls and the fixtures. There weren’t many women working there, and those who were didn’t get paid much. They would refuse to clean it. Can’t say I blame them, really. I was the only female manager, so guess who got to do it (even though I was paid much less than all the other managers)? If I was off the day it happened, believe me: it was waiting for me when I got back.

Car Dealership:
I had a kid show up with his parents and his girlfriend who wanted a Mustang. This kid had a car that was one of the most disgusting things I had ever seen. Not that the car itself was bad, but that inside it was utterly filthy and completely filled with trash. I could not believe how hard his parents were working to help him get a really nice car that would just end up looking like the dumpster he drove onto the lot.

Retail Pharmacy:
I worked at several different locations during my tenure with this company, but the most interesting was a 24 hour store in this really nice, moderately wealthy area of suburbia. On my first night my job was to keep the overnight supervisor and the head cashier in the building at all times, because corporate loss prevention were coming at 5:00 a.m. with the police to arrest them both for theft. That’s not even my favorite moment. That would have to be the day I noticed a suspicious car in the parking lot. Out of state plates, car parked askew, motor running, blinker on, and middle aged shirtless white guy passed out behind the wheel. I called police to report it, because I thought he needed medical assistance but was wary about approaching the vehicle. It turned out that the car was loaded with crack-cocaine, and that was more excitement than the police force in this snoozy town had ever seen. They had off duty cops showing up just to watch the proceedings, and clap me on the back for making the phone call.

In light of all this excitement, can you see why sometimes I just miss it? Nowadays I sit and wait for things to happen at work. When they do, it's really great. When they don't... I can't help but be nostalgic for the days when I could have people arrested.


"They Say Goldfish Have No Memory... and the Little Plastic Castle is a Surprise Every Time."

The leaves are beginning to change here, and as I start to explore my new environment I find little things over and over that take my breath away. It doesn't take much to thrill me. I enjoy finding little winding roads that take me by interesting places, or finding out that this backstreet connects to that one and realizing that suddenly I know where I am. I've learned to enjoy the simplest things in life: the way autumn paints the trees with henna and saffron, the crest of mountains in the distance, the way my dog looks up at me after a long walk with so much adoration in his sweet face. I weave all these things together and blanket myself with their comfort.

The hardest part for me is that I keep thinking about the person I wanted to share all of this with. Every time I see something incredible my first instinct is still to tell him all about it, and I have to remind myself that the only reason I'm enjoying any of this is because he made it clear that he would never commit to me. Given the choice of loving me forever or losing me forever, he chose to lose me. No amount of beautiful landscape has made that knowledge easy.

I don't mind so much being alone. I enjoy my own company, and being alone has never really bothered me. It's the sudden absence that unsettles me, and I need time to get used to it again. When you've had someone in your life for four years who's been your lover and your best friend, it's hard to reprogram yourself so quickly. In so many ways, it feels as though someone has died. You can make comparisons to that without even trying very hard, because what has passed away is the person who used to love you. The person who looked at you in such a way, who fit to you like spoons in a drawer, who made you laugh, who held your hand... that person is gone. In it's place is someone else that you don't know, a stranger who wears your lover's face.

I know that time will take care of that, will smooth away that pattern in my life like waves on the sand, but it's amazing how slowly time moves when you're in pain. So I find distractions and try not to think about Smaug, as we'll call him in these pages. Why Smaug? Well, in The Hobbit, Smaug is a dragon who sits around hoarding his gold and smoking. It seems like a fitting moniker for the man who told me marrying me would lead to him losing all his "amassed personal wealth," and who instead opted to replace me with a girl who found the 420 lifestyle as awesome as he does.

Strangely, I'm not sorry for what has happened. I did the right thing breaking up with him after he told me that marrying me would ruin his life. I did the right thing taking this job and moving out here. I would do those things the same way, because I believe that we all get what we deserve. So I get to be coddled by my company and live for free for at least a year in a beautiful new place, and Smaug gets to revert to the life of a frat boy, getting stoned every day and letting his house fall apart around him. Somehow I think I'm making out better.


The Only Thing that Separates Us from the Animals is our Ability to Accessorize

I was pretty apprehensive before I came down here, not about the area but about my job. My job is essentially the same, but I worried about the new environment and whether or not I would like the people. Specifically, my new boss. Understand that except for a month here and there, I haven't even had a boss since April of 2007. Now I'm going to a new location where the supervisor is, well, a little more perky than I would like. I met her a couple of times on other visits, and she bothered me. Don't get me wrong, she is a very, very nice person; it's just that she's a little too... holy for my taste. Now imagine her being tall and thin, with enormous boobs and gigantic hair. I can't actually make this up folks.

In my head I think of her as Bible Accessory Barbie. We can just call her BAB for short. By the way, BAB does Holy Yoga, because regular yoga is, you know... Hindu. You know that part in St. Elmo's Fire where the people around the dinner table whisper bad things during conversation like "cancer," because saying it aloud might make you get it? It was kind of like that.

Now, I meant what I said about BAB being a nice person. She is very, very nice. She also seems to be very, very narrow-minded the way most overly religious people are -- she automatically assumes that everyone she talks to has the exact same beliefs and doesn't think anything about talking freely to them about how much she loves the Lord. I mean, I loved the Lord once, too, but he wanted a commitment and I was just way too young for that; then he couldn't accept that it was just a fling and oh, the phone calls just wouldn't stop... where was I? Oh yeah. Narrow-minded.

Now, I'm not exactly in the deep south here, but I'm south enough to be able to get sweet tea wherever I go, and that means that we are in the Bible Belt. So no one here thinks that it's at all strange to have a company mission statement hanging up on several walls that contains the language "With God's Help." No one finds it at all unsettling that our boss forwards religious blog posts to the entire department with the message "God will help us on our way for he is Good and Great" or some drivel of that nature. Seriously, I'm not making this up.

I have many friends of many different religions. Religious people don't really bother me. It's people that are in your face with their religion ALL THE TIME that get on my nerves. Is that honestly the only dimension you have? It's like homosexuals that are ALL ABOUT their homosexuality 24/7: guys in assless chaps walking down the street wearing a rainbow vest with a big triangle on the back screaming "You go girl!" in some lispy high-pitched voice at every person with an ounce of fashion sense who crosses their path. They are the ones who give normal gay people a bad name. (Enrique especially will know what I'm talking about, because we ran into these people every Friday night at Woody's, and yes I am specifically talking about the twins, among others. I know you remember the twins.) I absolutely love gay people, they are the best people I know. I just don't need them to remind me every 10 minutes that they are, because I like them to relax and be themselves.

What I mean is, have some depth and think about your surroundings. I am not even a Christian, and this fact has not even occured to BAB. It hasn't even crossed her mind that I might believe differently about things, and that it would be respectful for her to consider that. Her automatic assumption that I am a bible thumping hymn singer is actually more offensive to me than the fact that she seems to have a stranglehold on the Good Book. It also bothers me that she is my supervisor and thinks absolutely nothing about bringing this into the workplace as though it were appropriate. It's actually a pretty severe violation of human resources guidelines, and I just have to shake my head.

All things considered, I'm enjoying my time there so far. It's kind of slow but there's certainly more work to do than there was the past couple of months in Jersey. The slow period allows me to learn their data entry system at a pretty decent pace. There is, however, a severe lack of individual expression permitted as far as my computer goes: I cannot change my desktop background, and am forced to look at the company logo and screen saver ALL DAY LONG. Internet access does not exist except to visit three company approved websites. Web surfing is just something people talk about in whispers over by the water cooler. I'm forced to use Internet Explorer for those three approved sites because they won't permit me to have Firefox. Basically, I am DYING because the boss can abuse company policy by sending me religious emails and I CAN'T CHANGE MY FRIGGING BACKGROUND to my Bioshock wallpaper. Is nothing sacred???