Monday morning. The place is shipshape. Unlocking the front door on Mondays is a little bit exciting. I am ready! What will today bring? Who will it bring?
Oh, all the regulars. The coffee row boys. The bank tellers and store clerks. The seniors who have closed up their clubhouse across the street and moved into my “library.” They meet twice a week and this is one of those days. And Dawn; she’ll drop off her baking, take a reconnaissance tour of the café, and when she sees what needs doing she’ll get it done like magic, like all she had to do was wiggle her nose. It’s like she has an invisible troop of soldiers that do her bidding. I’ve never seen anyone do so much so apparently effortlessly.
But sometimes a stranger comes in and never really leaves. Remember Caroline, who got stormstayed at the café? Longtime readers will. And Ginny, whose bus ticket only brought her this far on a cold winter afternoon?
Those are stories for another day, alas. I’m short one employee so can’t sit here and scribble, I’m afraid, like the boss lady doing important paperwork. Onward and upward, tally ho! Our ad came out in the paper this morning and I’ve already had a phone call from a guy looking for work. He’s coming in later to apply for the job; fingers crossed it’s someone who knows how to wash his hands. I can’t control who comes in here—and isn’t that just like life—but I can control who works here.
By the way, Dawn’s reaction to my news about the handwashing termination:
With a GRIMACE OF DISGUST: “Ew! Tsk. Well. Onward and upward.”
Clearly we sisters were raised by the same people. Onward and upward indeed.
You would think, wouldn’t you, that because I deal with so many people every week I must be an outgoing and personable woman. But I’ve got you fooled then, because if I had my druthers I’d be up here in my suite on the second floor day-in and day-out while someone else manned the great ship below. If someone else were to open up the front door in the morning and look after everything, I might never come down the stairs except to take my walk to the lake with Annie Doodle the Dumpling Dog.
Sometimes I wonder if I am too well insulated.
What I mean is, lots of customers come in. They are friends and family, and if they aren’t, by now they feel like it. I welcome them and am pleased to see them and to talk to them. I hear all kinds of personal things from them, some they don’t know I’m hearing when they speak to each other instead of to me. It’s quite fascinating, really; reality truly is less believable than fiction. Every day it’s like a new story is being made up for my benefit. I am delighted by what I hear, often amused and sometimes puzzled or disturbed. It’s never boring. Never, ever.
And yet I guard my time off like a pitbull with a raw steak. I avoid making plans to socialize. I don’t invite anyone over. I have been feeding and serving and cleaning up after people for 10 hours a day, five days a week. I need respite from the buzzing and bustling and everything that the world brings into my orbit down in the café.
I try not to judge. (It’s hard not to when you are wiping a table after someone has left it a mess.)(Where did some people learn to use a knife and fork, for heaven’s sake?)
I even try not to care, though that’s impossible.
Maybe that’s why I covet my tower here, up here all alone so I can dream and dance around and look out over the village and the road and the lake and the trees and just have a life of my own.
Some might say it’s no life. I don’t go anywhere. I don’t do anything besides work and read.
I worry (but just a little) that they could be right, that I am keeping myself at arm’s length from people. When they knock on my door I let them in gladly, but I don’t seek them out.
Does it matter?
I get a little tired of people. Is that so terrible?
I had to do something yesterday that I’ve never done before: fire someone.
It was a simple matter of insubordination that pissed me off.
The first time she did it, I made sure that what I wanted done was clear.
The second time she did it, I reminded her about the first time and gave her a stern lecture about hygiene and public food service.
And yesterday—the third time—late in the day— I said, “I’m sorry, dear, but I can’t have you working here without washing your hands before coming out of the bathroom. And I know you didn’t, because I can hear the water when the taps are used. And you’ve been told twice before, when you shouldn’t have had to be told at all. Clearly I can’t trust you to do what you say you will when I ask. I have to let you go.”
It may seem to be a harsh or even undeserved consequence for being forgetful— or likely just lazy— but I don’t care. If you can’t remember to wash your hands before coming out of the bathroom, what else are you forgetting? Not to pick your nose before serving food? I can’t have it here, and I can’t be listening all the time to make sure she does it. What about when I’m not here?
But boy, I feel like shit. All the doubts! Should I have given her yet another chance? Should I have been less intransigent? What else could I have done? Anything?
I suppose all her relatives won’t come here anymore. I don’t care about that. I care about what Dawn’s going to say when she gets here. I can almost hear it already: “Everybody forgets once in a while!” or “Oh oh. Who are we gonna get to take her place?”
We shall see.
Yesterday’s “Overheard” left me wondering:
How does one partner properly ask the other to do something?
Surely it’s not an offence to make a request for help or for a favour.
Why did this wife feel she was being given an order or that her husband was attempting to organize her day?
I suppose it has to do with their history as a couple, and maybe his tone of voice. Maybe he always tries to boss her around but won’t do anything she asks him to do. Maybe she figures it’s his job and he wants to unload it on her, or that it’s a job they should share and if she does it, he won’t pitch in, and once she does it, it will be left to her forevermore. I would love to ask! This is the hard part of being a fly on the wall; you can hear but you can’t participate except to buzz around the speakers’ ears.
It gave me food for thought.
Speaking of food, I was recently asked if I ever get tired of baking bread.
You’re damn right I do. I make a batch of six or eight loaves every weekday morning and there are days when the thought of cleaning up sticky dough one more time makes me want to run away screaming.
I make the bread anyway, a different kind each day.
And I remind myself, as I fight to keep the sticky globs from going down the sink drain, that most of the women in the world don’t even have running water or an oven, let alone a sink to make cleaning up convenient. How easily I forget this, in the safety and comfort where I live and make a decent living doing what I choose to do.
A middle-aged couple in for coffee and toast sat alone in one of the three booths.
“When we get home, why don’t you spend the afternoon cleaning up the yard?”
“How about this. When we get home, why don’t I tell you what to do today?”
Picking Vegetables, a painting by Dora Carrington
Virginia Woolf wrote this in her novel The Waves:
“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.”
I cannot say it better.
Why oh why oh why do I keep insisting I’m going to do this blogging thing?
I’m too goddamn tired and busy.
Lord love a duck, it’s all I can do to keep the tables wiped some days.
Nah. I’m exaggerating. There are always lovely lulls when I can find whatever window there is and sit down with a cup of tea, even if only for a few moments.
Still, those moments are not spent blogging, is what I’m saying.
I’m angry today, as I was yesterday, at the incomprehensibility of some things that people choose to do.
Their decisions astound me.
When it comes to violence like that experienced in eastern Canada this week and in the Middle East, I don’t believe in the different-strokes-for-different-folks theme.
I think those who murder others are mentally ill.
Certainly they are spiritually ill.
I’m just surprised at how goddamn many of them there seem to be.
My heart does ache for this world.