Thursday, August 30, 2007

And Then the Nice People

Today was an eight-hour shift of grace, in which I got a glimpse of our many very truly wonderful customers, who treat us well. I thought I should share this with you, just to balance things out a little.

Yesterday I messed up someone's drink. I mean, I actually did. It wasn't just her saying I did. But she didn't even say I did until this morning, when she subtly and politely asked Hannah to make sure that the barista made her drink with white mocha instead of regular mocha. I overheard her, though, and so I went over and apologised, and arranged for a little discount. I mean, she really hadn't gotten what she wanted yesterday, and she should have, and then she was nice about it. She was so grateful for the discount (even though she deserved it), that she thanked us a million times and left us a big tip.

Later, just after noon, I did the trash run. (It took five trips. In spite of how eco-earnest most of us Starbucks employees are, we do generate a dismaying amount of rubbish.) As I was bringing the bin in for the second-to-last time, a young woman exiting the store with her husband and daughter grabbed the door and held it for me as I approached. Her husband must have said something about this to her, because she smiled at me and said, "Well, I want to, because she's always nice to me." Whatever the cockles of the heart are, mine were warmed. This young woman is more or less a regular, and we've chatted. For one thing, she has a spectacular butterfly tattooed on her left arm. I don't like tattoos as a general rule, but this one is quite gorgeous. But I couldn't think of ever having been extra-specially nice to her. Not so that she would notice, I mean.

And then there was the guy who phoned to talk to his wife. "What does she look like?" I asked.

"She'll be sitting there with her laptop," he began.

"Oh--is it Betsy?" I said. It was Betsy.

And that, my friends, is what I love about my job. I love to see people being gracious even when a situation wasn't their fault. And I love having a rapport with people I see every day, so that we smile genuine smiles at each other when they walk through the door. (Um, I guess I probably kind of like when they tell other people I'm nice, too.) And I love when I know someone's name.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

No Need to Make Your Barista Cry

I think some of you Dear Readers have worked in the public sector before (at least, if the comments the other day are any indication). If you have, you know that most days you will have at least one customer who gives you something of a metaphorical or an actual headache. You know this is going to happen, and so you grit your teeth when it happens, and try not to swear or slam lockers or "accidentally spill" scalding beverages in their general direction. Then, ideally, they leave, and you look at your colleagues and roll your eyes in a "could you believe that person?" sort of way, and get on with your life. Or, if you're really in tune with Jesus that day or something, you might even manage to genuinely smile at the person and not say anything mean about them later at all.

And then some days you just can't countenance it.

Last Friday was one of those days. The deal was not a big one. This lady wanted a tall one-pump-vanilla latte. Really not hard. Really pretty much impossible to mess up. Particularly when your espresso machine pours automatic shots. But it was the end of a rather intense day, and the woman desiring this elementary drink had clearly not brushed up on her diplomacy and tact. Maybe ever.

I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that, not only was this woman displeased with her drink--twice--but she was very abrasive about it. I made the drink a total of three times, and the last time I handed it off, I suggested another way she could order it so that maybe she would like it better. "No," she said abruptly. "I always order it this way, and everybody else makes it just fine."

Implication: You don't know how to make this drink. I don't know who "everybody else" is, because I didn't recognise her, and I recognise almost all our customers if they've been in twice. But apparently "everybody else" knows how to make tall one-pump-vanilla lattes, and I don't.

She stalked away with the drink she conceded to (which I found out she brought back two hours later, telling my colleagues that I "never make her drink right"). After she left with it, I burst into tears.

This stuff happens. We have off days. Customers have off days. Today one of our all-time nicest customers had a completely over-the-top rude moment which almost knocked the wind out of me, I was so astonished. I didn't cry then--I was too shocked, and also, I know it's completely out of character. Like I said, sometimes it's not a big deal.

But sometimes, you find yourself doing things with your life that you might not have thought important, and then those things are all you have, and it hurts when people tell you you're bad even at those things. It doesn't really matter what the things are. It's just a good reminder that to treat people with dignity, I guess. Even if they "only" return your shopping cart from the parking lot to the supermarket. Or--gulp--maybe even if they're rude customers who undermine your sense of worth for an afternoon.


My blog is one year old today. Soon it will be out of diapers and demanding access to public toilets everywhere.

Thanks to all you readers and particularly commentators who, in a very real way, make it what it is. Or who at least don't seem inclined to squelch me. You guys are great.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Dial 911

Earlier this week, an elderly woman appeared in our store. I say "appeared" because, since she didn't actually order anything and it was pretty crowded in there at the time, we didn't even notice her until she emerged from the back hallway and demanded, in tones which only people from this part of the country can muster, "Excuse me! Can you please tell the person in the ladies' room to hurry up?! This is an emergency!"

"Oh," I said, concerned for this woman, concerned for what might happen if she were not allowed immediate access to a toilet, yet also reticent to hasten the person already using it, "You can just use the men's room if you don't mind. It's exactly the same."

The woman made no objection and pounded on the door to the gents'. Regrettably, there was already someone in there, too.

So the woman stationed herself in the hallway and bawled, loudly enough for every single person in the store to hear, "Can whoever's in the bathroom, please hurry up?! This is an emergency! Hurry UP! It's an emergency!"

My fellow baristas and I were torn as to whether to laugh or panic. There are certain tasks which they really do not pay us enough to do.

At last the woman in the ladies' room emerged, and the elderly lady entered. The woman who had been hurried along looked very put out, and I could sympathise. Until she said, with disgust and ire, to the coffee shop at large, "Did you hear that woman yelling at me to hurry up? How rude! I was on my cell phone!"

The elderly woman came out a little while later. She never did buy anything.

I'm still puzzled as to who I should have been routing for.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Good of the City

I had this idea, a couple of months ago, that I should be moving along here. I find I don't typically stay in any one place for longer than five years, and look, I've been in the ol' WC (you can interpret that how you want, since I'm not going to tell you what County "W" stands for, and anyway, many people find the city about as inspiring as a watercloset) for nigh on four.

So, maybe I'll be moving on within the next year, but so far every door of which I've rattled the handle has either shut or remained locked. And then about two weeks ago a situation arose which made me think, "Yeah, you might want to rethink going into Starbucks management, but you are staying in this geographical location for the foreseeable future." Some of this is related to the stuff I was talking to my pastors about the other weekend.

The realisation that the WC would most likely be my home for at least another two years was a little discouraging for me, maybe because I get naturally stir-crazy, or maybe because it's tough to live in a city that has so much personality and so little going for it. My brother once likened it to a relative with an addiction (and I may say it probably does have an addiction)--you love them and they're family, but sometimes their decisions are painful and at the very least embarrassing.

I had to sit with a feeling of trapped-ness for a while, and then the phrase "seek the good of the city" began to circulate in my head. It is a paraphrase of part of Jeremiah 29.5-7, which, in the NIV, reads:

"Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."
Jeremiah wrote this (at the direction of God, though very few people believed it) to the exiles of his people to Babylon. I doubt they found Babylon any more inspiring than I find my city, due to the fact that they had been brought there against their will and everything. I used to embrace this verse in the context of East London. East London wasn't all that fashionable of a place to live, either, but at least it was connected to a "real city" with lots of stuff to do, and at least I knew people there from varied ethnic groups. I think I had a sort of desire to seek the good of my current city when I first moved back here, but I maybe have kind of given up.

Just like the city.

I'm a little dubious that I personally will be able to effect a whole lot of change here. But as I'm seeking what to do next, I have the sense that the question I need to be asking--and trying, with God's inspiration, to answer--is, "How can I promote the good of my city?" And then, whatever the answer is, I need to do it. I pray I do.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Thanks to jasdye, I now know that Over the Rhine has a new CD coming out this month. I also now know that I really like it; they're streaming it on their site right now. Tracks 1 and 5 are my favourites; # 5 (entitled "Trumpet Child," just like the album) kind of gives me the chills.

Just had to let you all know.


There comes a point in every woman's life (well, maybe not every, but it makes for easier grammar later on) when, after feeling at age 19 that she was going to change the world, she realises that the most daring thing she can do in a given week is Wear Two Totally Opposing Shades of Green. At The Same Time. In Public. On Purpose.(This photo doesn't properly capture the oppositional nature of the shades, but it's the best I've got.)

I did this last night when I went out for Indian food with Dawna and Hannah's-Mom-Heather. Neither of them remarked on it, which shows remarkable good manners. I do like to wear non-matching shades of the same colour on occasion, but especially green for some reason. Maybe because I'm in an I-think-green-might-be-my-favourite-colour phase. My favourite colour changes about every five years (which is why I can never be too assertive about it), as does my job; perhaps they're related.

Anyway. I was thinking that things were getting a little intense around here, and I have more intense things that I want to talk about coming up, so I thought I'd throw in some banality to lighten the mood.

Oh, and:

Don't worry. I've only done two of these. Really.

Photo by jennw2ns: Greens, 2007.
Cartoon by jennw2braids, 2007.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

But Then . . .

On Sunday I went to my pastor's house for lunch. I could say my pastors' house, actually (note apostrophe placement), because his wife is also ordained, although she is not the pastor of our church. I wanted to meet with them because life has suddenly got rather confusing lately, and I felt the need of some guidance. Or at least some wise listening.

Sometimes I know viscerally that something's not quite right, but it takes kind of a lot of talking to get to the heart of the matter, if I ever do. It's like spinning around blindfolded and then trying to hit a target. So I pretty much wasted most of our limited time animatedly talking in circles and not even really realising I wasn't actually addressing what was at the root of some of the issues I was discussing. Just before both of us had to leave for other appointments, Pastor Steve said, with a flash of true brilliance,

"Based on some things you said, I'm wondering if the reason you're feeling like you need to hurry up and make some decisions is because you're 35 and you think you should know what you're supposed to be doing by now?"

There isn't a way to write this without making it sound like he was being brusque and condescending, but actually, in context he wasn't that at all. It was like an offering of grace--he had pierced right to the centre of the pile of stuff I've been confused about lately, and even though he didn't have any answers for me, just having someone see that, and say it with compassion, and not force me to say it myself, was such a relief that I burst into tears.

Then the two of them asked if they could pray with me about this. And so, in the traditional way, we bowed our heads and closed our eyes, and they talked grace with God over me. In this particular case, I didn't feel like our earlier conversation had been particularly prayer-like at all--or at least my part of it hadn't. I had just been blethering. When my pastors took the preceding conversation in their hands and held it up to God in a set-aside moment, that suddenly seemed like the right way to pray.

Basically, I'm saying I still don't know what to do about corporate prayer. Sometimes that's like being blindfolded, too, it seems. I do think there's something to what I said last post, but I guess it isn't all of it. I guess, as Craver commented down there, it's a good thing we don't have to know all about praying before we do it. And what a relief that we don't only have to pray for ourselves--that we can pray for others and they can pray for us. Really, I know I couldn't live without it.

Photo: jennw2ns (or it might have been another Jenn), Blindfolded, 2006.

Monday, August 06, 2007


I think maybe my problem is this. The way prayer usually happens in the groups I've been in where it usually happens . . . doesn't seem like prayer to me. At least, not if prayer is supposed to be communication.

I felt some shame when I realised, all those months ago, that the Item was really talking about me when he asked why people say "Lord," all the time when they're praying. And then I felt some defensiveness, because I thought, "You know, if that's the way I have to talk in order to communicate with God out loud, heck. At least I'm making an attempt at communicating with God. And if it is weird-sounding and unnatural, that's too bad, but it's better than nothing."

And I think there is something right about that. If I'm trying to bring someone's request before God and I'm all worried that I'm sounding like a dork while doing it, it renders me completely incapable of saying anything. And besides, I'm not talking to whomever else happens to be in the room, so what does it really matter what they think?

But then when Dear Friend Paulina and I were sitting there praying together, I thought of some other things.

Like, why, when we were telling each other our stories the day before, was that not praying? Jesus said when two or more people are gathered in His name, He's right there. We both love Him and want our lives to reflect Him, so I'm pretty sure He was present. Why didn't we just include Him in the conversation?

When we were talking that first day, both of us were really into what we were describing. When we recapped for each other, we were probably a little less so. When I, at least, closed my eyes and repeated Paulina's stuff after that, I was mostly just rehashing a list. I wanted to mean the things I was saying for her, but I'm pretty sure I would have meant them more if I hadn't been thinking how wooden I sounded, and how I was just reciting, and how I might forget something, and how there has to be a better way of doing this.

I don't know if this would be just as unnatural, or become just as rote and meaningless, but what if there were some way that Christians, when they spent time together, could dedicate their time and conversation to God right at the outset? What if we could be constantly mindful that He was there with us, and what if, instead of occasionally remembering that He was overhearing our conversation (and then maybe feeling guilty about it, because--well, I at least am not always proud of the things I say) we intentionally made Him a part of them--not by talking about Him piously all the time (which would probably bore Him, too), but talking to Him?

I don't know how you do this without sounding (and feeling) like you're talking to a mutual imaginary friend. I'm just trying to fight a disconnect, and brainstorming about it. It seems to me that when you go into your room and shut the door--to talk to God privately--that's appropriate compartmentalisation, if you will. But animatedly talking about something with my friends, and then repeating it all as a list to the Lover of my soul . . . it just seems like there's something wrong with that.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Ill at Ease

Maybe I have secrets. I don't really think so, but you know. It's possible. I just don't like people overhearing my conversations with other people. It makes me self-conscious. It doesn't really matter what I'm talking about or to whom I'm speaking.

For instance, if I'm at a restaurant with some friends and someone asks me a direct question, I feel the need to lower my voice in answer. Which can be problematic if it's a loud restaurant. And if I were talking to my brother on the phone in the living room and Roommate-Rachel came home and started cooking in the kitchen or something (which is purely hypothetical, mind you, since Rachel asserts she doesn't cook--although she did the other day), I would probably take the phone upstairs, go into my room and shut the door. Even if David and I were only talking about Dinosaur Comics or something.

So, given my natural proclivities, and adding to that the fact that Jesus told us to go into our rooms and shut our doors when we talk to God, is it all that weird that I feel really uncomfortable praying aloud? I mean, in front of other people?

Then again, there is also biblical precedent for praying in groups. And, you know, I did grow up in this evangelical subculture, so it's not like I haven't had years of practice. And yet, I find I still can't really do it.

After Catholic church, Dear Friend Paulina and I went back to her place and had lunch and then sat down on the floor in the living room to talk to God about (and on behalf of) each other before I left. We recapped for each other the specific things we're each experiencing, or trying to decide about, or thinking about for which we feel a conscious need of God's assistance. (As if we weren't completely helpless without Him to do anything.) Then, one at a time, we rehashed each other's list to God.

I noted that, as I was doing this, once again I said things like, "Lord," and "just" far more times than necessary. What's up with that? (Stay tuned for Monday. I think I'm as reticent to tease this issue out as I am actually to pray aloud, but I really do have a train of thought here.)

Photo by jennw2ns: Hidden flowers. 2006.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Accidental Church

On Sunday we went to Catholic church by mistake.

I will vehemently speak up for the Church universal. As discussed (though maybe not in as much detail as possible) in a previous post, it has a lot in its history--and its present--to discredit it. But if the Bible calls the Church as a whole Christ's Bride, and if He died for her, then who am I to denigrate her? And who am I not to invest my time and effort into serving in a local expression thereof?

On the other hand, I really don't like going to church when I'm on vacation.

I don't know what it is, exactly. You'd think with all this highly-sanctified-sounding talk about the Church, I would embrace every opportunity to participate in fresh expressions of worship with the people of God. And I do--on missions trips. Or when I first move to a new location (although even then, I tend to settle on one congregation fairly quickly; I hate church-hopping). But if I'm on holiday, I'd rather not venture out.

Last weekend, I felt, I was on holiday. So when Paulina talked about visiting a church even she had not yet attended, I felt mildly ill-at-ease. Sort of like you might when you head home for dinner and realise that you forgot to go grocery shopping, so all you have to eat is maybe a baked potato with some cheese--if it hasn't gone bad yet. (Oh. Maybe you don't do that.) You know you'll get through it, and you'll receive some sustenance, but it isn't your all-time favourite dinner option.

On Sunday morning, Paulina herself was not feeling one hundred percent, so I subtly hinted that, you know, if she really didn't feel up to it, we could maybe pray together at her place that morning, and leave it at that. But she rallied. She really wanted to visit this Episcopal church not too far from her house. So we got in the car and set out.

As it happened, the Episcopal church was just moderately farther from her house than she had thought, and there was a very similarly-structured Catholic church on the same side of the road . . . so we ended up at it, instead, and didn't realise our mistake until the people in robes at the front started talking about how they were going to baptise some new babies into the Catholic faith that morning.

But, well, we were there, so we stuck around. A lot of things happened in the service that I could talk about I guess. For example, one of the poor mothers got overheated and passed out on her way to the exit, and then didn't even get to be present for her child's christening. Paulina had the compassion and presence of mind to jump up and help out with damp towels during this exciting interlude in the mass.

However, the observations I really want to make, as the daughter of a Baptist minister, are these:

1. My parents, though willing to talk about differing theologies, have never put down the Catholic church, for which I am grateful. However, I do recall someone in my family saying that Catholic hymnody is virtually non-existent. I don't know about that, but at this church they sang a lot of hymns, and they were really good, beautiful hymns with good theology, which were a pleasure to sing.

2. Here is where liturgical churches have an advantage over non-liturgical ones: if the person up front is having, say, an off week, there's still so much Scripture and prayer and powerful words about God spoken around and over and through and by the congregation, that it's always possible to come away with something. Granted, it could become an excuse not to prepare a good sermon, I suppose. I'm not going to say that the priest at this particular church proffered the greatest homily ever. Then again, he did have a woman pass out in the middle of it. (Some charismatic pastors might give anything for that to happen in their talks, I think--and I am speaking from experience, here, by the way.)

3. I didn't know, any more than I ever truly know, in any congregation on any Sunday morning, what percentage of the congregants have what is sometimes termed a "true, saving relationship with Jesus Christ." But I do know that I was worshiping Him there, and I'm pretty sure that I wasn't the only one. And it just reminded me that yeah. I really do love the Church.

Photo by jennw2ns, 2007: Catholic church building, Costa Rica.