Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Lutheran Ladies

Maybe it's just the summer; all these long, mild evenings are making me feel especially mellow. Down south, we get maybe a few weeks of this a year and the rest is relentless muggy heat; here that pattern is reversed. And I sit in a sunbeam with my window open and enjoy the breeze and listen to the sounds coming from the street. I'm back into a reading phase -- I've picked up Infinite Jest again in order to follow along at least approximately with the Infinite Summer reading challenge. I'm sort of cheating, because I last left off at page 350, and I certainly wasn't about to start over from the beginning. I figure I just have that many fewer pages to read each week. And I genuinely am enjoying the book. It's just that it's sooooo long, 900-some-odd pages, and that doesn't even take into account that every page equates to roughly two or three pages of your garden-variety novel.

And god, the tennis sequences. The Eschaton sequence! Some of these passages are like the Battle of the Ents in LOTR -- you know there's cool stuff on the other side but it seems like the long slog to get there will never end. David Foster Wallace was a brilliant, crazy motherfucker, nonexistent god bless his soul.

I'm looking foward to some visits over the coming month or so; one friend from college (c. 2005) is moving to town in a couple of weeks, and then my best friend from college (c. 1998) is hopefully/probably visiting not long after. The mover, E., has his work cut out for him -- he knows how bad the unemployment situation is here, and still he wants to come, and I can't blame him so I shall try to help in whatever small ways I can. I'll take him on the grand tour, introduce him to some people, try to help him not feel too lost. This is, if I'm not mistaken, his first real venture away from his home turf, so I'll be playing a bit of big sister. If he can just find a job, he'll do fine.

I might even be willing to give him mine. The situation at Fnorders is becoming intolerable -- the flailing and grasping of a dying corporation is never pretty, but these days it seems we're being subjected to a random, chaotic series of diktats coming from somewhere in Michigan, all of which seem to involve small humiliations and added stresses for us. This started out as a not-so-bad short-term job; then it morphed into an unsatisfactory-but-tolerable cage once the economy turned. Now I have come to profoundly loathe the entire company, and want nothing but to watch my store burn to the ground. And yet, I stay. I fight with myself over it, struggle against the deep desire to walk out on bad days. It's actively detrimental to my life -- all of it, not just the hours I spend there, leaving me cranky and discouraged the rest of the time as well. But without that paycheck, everything else falls apart; and I want to be here, want to stay long enough to get into something better. So I swallow the anger and stay.

I am actively looking for other work -- hell, it doesn't even have to be a better job; just being shitty in a different way would at least be a refreshing change. My hope is that (maybe? please?) I can find something else before summer's end if I try hard enough. The other job remains a good thing for the most part. There was a bit of a hiccup a couple of weeks ago -- nothing that affected me, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The two full-timers, who'd been working there for five or six years each, and who were teaching me the job and everything that goes with it, were summarily laid off one afternoon, right before I was supposed to begin teaching a new cycle of classes with one of them. It was so sudden, in fact, that in the forty minutes before the first class began, nobody knew who was actually supposed to replace the instructor who'd been laid off. The job was given to a long-timer who used to teach many of the classes, and he and I have made a respectable team. But it was still a shitty thing. And I have to wonder how much of this was already in the works before I came on -- I was told this was a job with room for advancement, that it could turn into a full-time position over time. And then the two full-timers they had were shitcanned. What does that mean for any long-term prospects I have? Did they know this was going to happen when they hired me? Was I hired as a replacement -- you know, get in some part-timers to replace the expensive full-time employees who are entitled to vacations and benefits? I would really hate to find out that had been the plan all along.

And yet, they still swear that the department is expanding. A local public-access cable station like this one obviously makes a strange fit in the world now -- when we have YouTube and bittorrent and Vimeo and blip.tv and all the rest, what do we need with public access cable? What's the point of pouring millions of dollars into what is arguably a white elephant? And yet, the place still serves some important functions, first among them accessible media education. I mean, the art colleges and film schools are all well and good, but not everybody can cough up the money to attend one. And that's where an organization like this one can fill the gap. Our classes aren't free, but they cost a fraction of the market price for what you get. We provide access to good equipment essentially for free. And there's something to be said for a distribution channel that's specific to the community.

And regardless, you could still do some pretty awesome shit in our studio if you had a mind to.

But whatever. I never expected this to be a forever job, just a for-now job. And there may be some future in it yet, at least over the short-term. They talk about opening satellite facilities around the city -- designed more for field-based work than studio productions -- and that plan sort of hinges on people like me. I've filled in some big gaps in my knowledge -- I'm comfortable in the control room now, I've got the studio stuff down pretty well -- and gosh darn it, I really enjoy the work. Whereas the prospect of going in to one job every day fills me with dread and frustration, I look forward to going to my classes here. I like the students. I like their projects, as amateurish as most of them are. And if the situation is kind of fucked-up on a political level, at least I can have some fun with it for a while. And anyway, I need the fucking paycheck.

The only thing I still enjoy about the other job -- sometimes, anyway -- are the people. I mean, mostly I hate them; and I feel bad about hating them, because very few of them deserve it. I admit that I'm not really very good at that part, and am not at all cut out for the job I have. I can fake it well enough to convince most people, but pretending to care, about the customers or about the company, isn't something I'll ever be really good at. In fact, not giving a shit has become my primary survival mechanism; it's the only way I can keep my soul and my sanity intact.

However, I get to interact with people in a way I never get to otherwise. This last week, for example, Portland hosted a huge convention for the Lutheran Ladies Missionary Society (or something like that), and like clockwork on Sunday afternoon we were deluged with prim, plucked, purse-lipped old women in twinsets and pearls, clucking disapprovingly at everything that intercepted their line of vision. They did not approve of Portland, no not at all. They bough up all our Glenn Beck and ravaged the Christian Inspiration section. The were needy and high-maintenance and ungrateful. And god, there were hundreds, thousands of them! I rode down MLK Blvd. one evening as they all congregated at the MAX stop and Burgerville; it was a full regiment in knit pants, sensible shoes, and tidy, highlighted hair. We all laughed at them afterwards.

I now take guilty pleasure, I'm vaguely ashamed to admit, in fucking with people, something I never did before. My favorite thing is to let a customer say something to create an awkward silence (which can be almost anything) and then to let it hang like a turd in the air between us. I've gotten really good at ignoring the stupid commentary that accompanies even the simplest transactions -- the redundant statements about rain, the tiny complaints, the veiled insults, the too-obvious jokes. I've also become adept at faking cheerfulness. I can deal with a customer without making eye contact or smiling, and still impart a sense of cheery eagerness through voice inflection alone. If I talk to customers with a hint of condescension -- as though I were talking to a small child, say -- they buy it every time. And I should feel bad about it, I guess, but I don't. I don't care that my interactions are rote and robotic, that my enthusiasm is 100% artificial, because they don't care either. They want the gesture, but their own end of the interaction is too rote and automatic and shallow for them to notice that I'm responding in kind. It's fucking depressing, but from a sociological perspective, it's pretty interesting, too.
1:38 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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