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Tag Archives: work

PJs, tacos and and advice: An ode to my friend Chrissy

by SweetMidlife
This lovely lady has some wisdom for you.

This lovely lady has some wisdom for you.

Leslie here! (the one who lives in Florida)

Several months ago my brilliant sister put out a call for guest bloggers for this here Website, and we got an immediate “Heck, yes!” from one Chrissy Benoit, a longtime friend, chef, Food Network-featured restaurateur and dedicated supporter of the communities to which she serves food, laughs and love.

Chrissy wrote about the things that she wished she’d known about getting what you want, a pinnacle she’d seemed to have reached – working for Wolfgang Puck, opening several restaurants in South Florida for herself and others, and a local and national media presence. Her column was a funny, touching reality punch – written by an adult who knows her stuff -about unsolicited advice, the danger of mixing business and friendship and the facet that you might be forever chasing that feeling you thought “making it” would give you. Turns out that “it” is a journey, not a destination, and you never stop the pursuit.

This weekend, Chrissy closes her Boynton Beach restaurant The Little House, a cozy retreat from the ordinary featuring weekend brunches that were discounted if you wore your jammies, savory bread pudding, live music and adoration. She’ll be headed to the Tampa area to put her stamp on an established hospitality company, giving them her energies and ideas. And they’re so frigging lucky, because this is a quality lady. She “gave back” to her community by hiring local kids from that community, by being a role model to women and young people just by being her. She even gave an untested singer a shot to perform on her patio (and paid me in wine.)

Chrissy is testament to the trope that hard work pays off, although you don’t always know what the pay’s going to be. She left Havana Hideout, her successful Lake Worth Latin street food joint, where she cooked out of a food truck before that became the cool thing to do, to open the Little House and inject a bit of old Florida charm and “yumminess,” as she often says, into Boynton. It had a following but not the one it deserved. So she’s moving on, in the most non-bitter and positive way possible. Her biggest concern was not her ego but the staff she was leaving when her doors closed.

And that’s some good humble life advice for myself, who’s always half-joked that if I ever get fired, I’ll dress up in a satin gown like Bette Davis in “All About Eve,” stand on my desk with a martini and tell everyone off. I guess I’m writing this because Chrissy is an example of how you never have to stop wanting what you want, never have to stop working, never stop building on your reputation and never do anything, however temporarily emotional edifying, to mess that up. I’ll miss her. But I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. Raising a glass to you, my friend.


Work It.

by SweetMidlife

Lynne here!!

 

Hey, are you watching the new season of “American Idol”? It’s fantastic, mostly due to the addition of music legend/funny guy/brutally honest Harry Connick, Jr. He was hired as a judge this year after last season offering one of the most open and direct coaching sessions that show has ever seen. Lots of times, celebrity coaches will come in and tell the contestants how cute they are, and that, well, they like them, but not offer really constructive criticism, as if all criticism is bad. Well, Harry didn’t play that, and he took singers to tasks for not knowing what the heck they were singing, or from doing so many vocal runs that the meaning of the actual song was lost. It was brilliant. And this year he is offering up that same honesty for auditioning people. And it is awesome. He will straight-up tell you that you have a nice voice, but that you don’t have what it takes. Or that you need work. Or that you did too many runs. And he does it not to be obnoxious, but to actually teach. Shoot, he and fellow judge Keith Urban let one half a set of singing twins through, while sending the other home. As a twin myself, that stung. The very best kind of way. It needed to happen (and I am going to write more on that later, if I get to it).

But see, the show found over the years that America likes people who can sing, and people who think they can but can’t. Very rarely did they show people with okay voices who were pleasant, but not enough to make it to the next round. Because that’s not sexy. Or funny. Or going to make YouTube and get played over and over. But by leaving out the auditions of talented folks who don’t thrown tantrums, or cuss at the camera, but also go home, the show has left out a powerful message: Not everybody makes it. And if you do, it’s not always on the first try. There is a value in learning and growing, but if you think that you don’t have to grow, then you are probably wrong. Everybody wants to be that person discovered on the street corner singing, and with no coaching at all, they become a major star. And rock on if that happens to you. But there is no shame in work. Even Kelly Clarkson, the first “American Idol”, was sold as a spunky waitress from Texas, but they didn’t really tell you that she had briefly lived in LA and tried to start a career, and moved back home out of necessity. She had put work into this. Even the kids who make it onto the show have to work hard. Ask the ones who can’t remember their lyrics. Their job is to learn those songs, and those steps, and to be prepared.

I have my own story about this: I was in a show when I was 23, and I had, at that point, gotten a lot of attention from people I knew about my singing voice. People at church, people in college, and people I was in shows with. And a musical director for the play I was in told me that I had a great voice, but I could really benefit from training. And young me said “Thank you”, but inside I thought “What? He’s saying I can’t sing!” I didn’t hear what he was trying to tell me, and that was that I had an instrument that was worth putting the work into if I really wanted to go further. I got that eventually. I trained, sometimes on the job, and I am the better for it.

All of this to say, there is no shame in having to work for something. It is an accomplishment. So, young and old folks of America: if someone tells you that they see potential in you that you aren’t fully realizing, take that as a gift. Don’t go slink away and cuss at a camera. Or think you are a failure at 16 because you didn’t get on a TV show right away. Use that as experience. Let it drive you. Get better. Automatic is awesome. Getting something you have to work a bit for can feel even better.

 


“American Idol” judges – You don’t get to be over it.

by SweetMidlife

Leslie here!

Since I graduated from the University of Maryland 20 years ago (yikesy biscuits!) I have had four jobs – one of them a four-month gig selling hideous Gen-X grunge knockoffs at a mall, the other three at newspapers, including the one for which I currently work. At the previous three jobs, there inevitably came a moment where it was time to move on, because in each case I’d gotten a new position – which I’d applied for because it was just time to move on.

In all cases, I gave two weeks notice and then continued to come to work, as scheduled, until I turned in my ID card, turned off my computer for the last time and walked out the door. And in those two weeks, I continued to work as if I was not leaving, because I was still drawing a paycheck, and because it was not fair to the recipients of my work, whether they were readers or buyers of bad grunge fashion, to slack just because I was out of there.

In short, even if I was internally over my job, I never acted as if I were over it, because until the last word was typed, I still had a job.

Which brings me to Randy Jackson.

For some time, the lone original “American Idol” judge has been floating along on the strength of his production credits and that time he was in Journey, and the stream of many nonsense words that he uses to describe the performance he has just seen. Every once in a while he made some sense, which should not be shocking given his musical pedigree, but was nonetheless because of his seeming inability to just express a simple opinion in English. Or Spanish. Or even frigging Elvish.

Randy always sounded silly, but at least he seemed to be enthusiastic, even if it was enthusiasm that appeared to be directed by the Evil Emperor Nigel Lythgoe. But this season, especially since his announcement that he wouldn’t be returning next year, he’s seemed oddly disinterested in his critiques, as if he’s already mentally moved onto whatever thing he’s doing next and doesn’t have the time to be bothered.

Wrong. No. Nyet. I’m sorry, Mr. Jackson, are you for reallll?

I was making minimum wage pushing babydoll dresses and bike shorts on cool-obsessed teenagers, but I managed to act as if I gave a bleepity bloop. You are making millions of dollars to listen to people sing and act as if you care. Your job was easier. I don’t give a good happy if you’re over it. Candice Glover and Kree Harrison have worked very hard to get to the finals of “American Idol,” with the vocal demands, the scrutiny, having to sit there and listen to grown millionaires who are supposed to be talking to you take potshots at each other, and that time that the judges tried to convince the audience that competitors The Skinny Girls Angie and Amber were better than Candice and Kree, because they said so, even though their ears were like “Wait…what?”

And you owe it to them to feign some interest. Or – and this is a novel idea – actually having an interest. Since it’s your job and everything. Nicki Minaj, whose time on Idol is also reportedly at an end (Whoopie!!!!), once showed up more than 40 minutes into a live show because she was “stuck in traffic.” With the money she makes, there is no excuse for not making it through the same streets all the other judges, singers, producers, techs and musicians somehow braved. Unless she was being held captive by live monkeys or The Rock had to clear her path through a meteor shower that affected no one but her, there was no excuse not to be on time. Or early. It’s your job.

If I don’t show up to my job, I don’t expect to get paid. If I look bored , or yawn, or check my email while I’m supposed to be interviewing people, I should not get to have my job. And I don’t make Randy Jackson money. Doesn’t matter. If your job is too much for you, don’t have that job.

Apparently, Randy has reasons not to come back next year. Mazel Tov. But as he winds down his time on “Idol” tonight, he better be darned perky. That’s all I’m saying.


“Aretha has sung”: What a diva taught me about duty and standing your ground

by SweetMidlife

Leslie here! I have always been fascinated with the idea of niceness, especially when it comes to women. I’ve always suspected that a woman is considered “nice” the more she’s willing to let other people have their way, to accommodate what others want in exchange for downplaying her own needs, even if they are reasonable, so that everyone else is happy. And what’s more, she’s gracious about it and never lets on that she’s annoyed, even though she begins to wonder – If I’m the only one who ever has to step aside, to accommodate, aren’t the rest of you NOT being nice? And if you can do that and sleep at night, then why don’t I get to?

I was reminded of that weird line between nice and pushover when an actor friend of mine told me an awesome story a friend in the business had passed on about Aretha Franklin. She, of course, is known as many things – as the Queen of Soul. As a diva. As an innovator and vocal genius. As a legend, as well as someone who doesn’t always use enough fabric when she’s dressing herself. But a legend nonetheless.

What Aretha Franklin has never been known as is a pushover. More than likely, she seems like she’d be the one doing the pushing. The story my friend told me might be interpreted by some as just typical divagasms, as the entitled behavior of a long-coddled celebrity who wants things the way she wants them, with no compromise.

But to me, what The Queen did in this story was perfectly reasonable, the behavior of a professional who had earned, both in that moment and in her career, a certain leeway. And there weren’t even any minion beaten in the story, so…Team Aretha.

Here’s what I was told – Back in 1990, The Queen improbably recorded a promotional song for “Wheel of Fortune” about it being “America’s Game.” It was odd, but it was catchy, and because it was Aretha it sounded great. Apparently, my friend’s buddy was there in the recording studio where the jingle was recorded, and the mood was, at first, nervous, because of the expected divagasms. But Aretha immediately surprised and put everyone at ease with her friendliness and sweetness, shaking the hand of even the most humble technician. She apparently spoke to the producer, politely asking whether the booth was set to record. This was confirmed, so she went into the booth and apparently blew everyone away. It was brilliance. It was amazement. It was as transcendent as a song that name-checks Pat and Vanna could possibly be.

As soon as she was done and the adulation died down, the producer said something like “Hey, that was great! Fantastic! Now, let’s get another one in the can.”

The screech may not have been audible, but apparently it was felt immediately. Ru-roh Rorge.

“Aretha,” the Queen intoned, in the most insistently, regal manner possible, “has sung.”

Snap.

“But wait!” the producer stammered. “We want to get another one to…

“You said it recorded, right?” The Queen asked, as, I imagine, the musicians and studio staff were quietly making their way to a safe space to hide under a sound board.

“Yes, but…”

Aretha has sung,” she said again. And then, without another word, The Queen gathered her stuff and walked out. And then got into a car. And left the premises. She did not ask for permission. She didn’t hem and haw. She did what she agreed to do, which was to perform a game show jingle, made sure that the perfect take was on record, and then went home. She was not required to jump through hoops, or to do 87 takes, or to do any more than she agreed to do.

AND I WANT TO BE HER. How many times have you gone out of your way more than you had either agreed to or than you should, just because you don’t want the hassle of people not liking you? How many committees have you joined, Mary Kay parties have you attended, boxes of people’s children’s stuff have you bought, because you want to be nice?

And even though you didn’t have to, or didn’t want to, you did it anyway, because you kinda get the feeling, even if you don’t want to think about it, that the people asking would not like it – or maybe not like you as much – if you said no. Even though “no” is your right – my pastor once told me that it is sometimes godly to say no, because stretching yourself thin doesn’t do you any good, and it ups the chance that you’ll do a bad job anyway.

This is not about avoiding work, but about negating the pressure to do more than we have to, just to save someone else some trouble, or that people “like” us. And it’s about your right not to be guilted or bullied into doing something you don’t want to just so people will think you’re nice. I have no problem going out of my way if I think it is necessary, or can do the job better. That’s often how you become good at your job. I just don’t want to be looked down on because I don’t back down. I want to be judged by the work I do, not how many times I let myself be bullied. How is that “nice?”

Aretha Franklin has apparently done a lot of things in her life to get people to think that she is a diva, in the ego-centric, blowhard, imperious sense. Then again, she is also a diva, in the classic sense – a singer who has earned her way to the top of her craft through her talent, experience and hard-won stature. She has earned the right to be judged on the strength of her talent, and to not worry about what people think of her, at least inasmuch as it gets her to do something she doesn’t want to do. Maybe she wasn’t gracious about her insistence. But she was cool in the beginning. She did her job and then she went home. Aretha had sung. Sung well. Y’all should be happy. Aretha Franklin sang you a song. Cut, print, tell Vanna and buy a vowel. Or don’t. Not my business. I’m already gone.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if the next time we’re being “nicely” urged to bite off more of our fair share of work or obligation for no reason other than it saves someone else some work, the next time we’re being casually bullied into something that doesn’t benefit us except for the supposed regard of the person who’s already asking you too much anyway, if we looked them in the eye and said “Mary has worked. Bob has already driven carpool for the day. Leslie has blogged.”

And then we gathered our stuff and walked away.


Yes, we have no Monchos: That time I was a horrible cashier and a horrible person

by SweetMidlife

Leslie here! One of the purposes of reaching your 40s is being able to soberly and honestly look back over the previous four decades and see them with some perspective. And to think “Wow! I was a horrible toddler!”

Ha ha! No I wasn’t! I was brilliant! I’d have run the world at two if I could drive! And read! And speak English well! Believe that! It wasn’t until I was about, say, 17 or so that I completely kind of sucked. Not generally, but at least, in one instance, as a customer service representative and, it turns out, as a human being.

Sigh.

I posted yesterday about the hideous display of snobbery and bad manners I witnessed at a department store over the weekend, and the grace with which the young sales clerk handled it. And then I spent the day reading Web sites full of Stupid Customer stories and Stupid Waitress/Clerk/Gas Station Attendant stories. They made me chuckle, not only because it’s fun reading about and judging other people, but it reminds me that I, too, have been that stupid person. I must pull the sucky plank out of my eye first, you see.

When I got my first real job at 15, at a fast food restaurant, I was the model employee: Punctual. Swept and cleaned without being told to. Always looking for something to do. Could not have been perkier if I’d snarfed the whole tank of Mountain Dew. And it got me exactly nowhere. I was still the picture of perky at my next job, selling and singing about fudge at a touristy fudge place, across from my twin, Lynne, at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. I learned that I was not the world’s best cashier – numbers are my weak point, and I got flustered easily with the pressure of the crowds and the pace. I was, however, a natural salesperson, and fairly charming, and that got me out of jams. And I got free fudge, so there’s that.

It could not save my next job the next summer, between high school graduation and my freshman year at the University of Maryland. I’d gotten a gig at a local bank through my high school, counting large batches of cash for grocery stores and the like on these scary machines in the basement (I’m sure they’re counted by robots now). After about a month, the boss pulled me aside and gently explained that if I were a permanent employee, they’d have time to retrain someone as eager and positive as me. But since I was going to college soon, if they let me go now I’d have time to find something else for the summer. That was not working there screwing up their money. Fired, I was. But sweetly.

So I took my positive, eager little self down the street to UA Harbor Park theater, where I was more or less immediately hired as a concessions cashier. And that was the end of the positivity. I’m not sure what happened to me, but a case of delayed senioritis, snobbery, boredom, anticipation for school and an inner jerkiness that had been hiding under that chipperness for 18 years bubbled up like pretzel cheese. It was not pretty.

Now, I was not the worst person there. It would have been hard to be, because that was a rough movie theater – pretty but rough. The Lil’ Kim of Movie Theaters. Because it was downtown in an urban environment, I think a lot of my suburban friends’ parents wrote it off and wouldn’t let them go there. But it earned its roughness. There were fights, and some unsavory people, and sometimes a weird smell. And a shooting or two. I once came in to open on a Sunday morning and poured popcorn into the display case only for it to start smoking.

“Umm, the popcorn case is smoking,” I told my manager.

“Oh, that’s right. You weren’t here. It caught fire last night,” she said casually. WHAT? “And some dude with a gun chased the assistant manager through the lobby!”

The WHAT?

So, yeah, the bar of achievement wasn’t so high there at that establishment, and as long as I wasn’t cursing people out on a regular basis or selling stolen Skittles out of a van in the parking lot, I was at least better than somebody. And sadly, that become enough for me. I don’t think I knew how bad I was. I thought I was funny, or sardonic, or at least showing that I was better than that place. But I was simply a jerk, and did things, even subtly, that should have gotten me reprimanded, or even fired. But if they fired people just for bad attitudes, nobody would have worked there.

Still, I would not have wanted me to wait on me. I remember a woman complaining about the price of Twizzlers, which were, relative to their price at the drug store, rent-high. I shrugged and said, helpfully, “There’s a Rite-Aid down the street. Just buy them there and put them in your purse! I do!”

“You shouldn’t be telling me that!” the customer said, shocked. “They could fire you for that!”

“I’m leaving for college in four weeks,” I told her. “Whatever.”

I WAS THE WORST. I see now that jobs are a blessing and that I was a little snot for taking mine for granted. Now, I see that. But then, as long as I just bumped along and didn’t stab anybody, I felt I was doing my job. That was, until the Moncho incident.

It was a Saturday night – I remember that. And it was kind of busy – not “Die Hard” or “Batman” premiere busy, but very steady. I have no idea what was happening with me at the time that made me do what I was about to do. But it was evil. Evil-esque.

“I want some Monchos,” the lady at the register said, and at first, I had no idea what she was talking about. Munchos? The potato chips?

“We don’t have Munchos,” I said.

“No, not Munchos. Monchos!” she replied, pointing at something behind me. What? I turned around and saw that she was pointing at the nachos. Now, a decent person would have said “Oh, nachos” and just have sold her some stale chips and burnt cheese and sent her on her way. (Actually, the decent thing to do would have been to have talked her out of buying them, because they sucked.) I was not wearing my decent person hat that day. I was irked by her mispronunciation. I thought it was funny. I thought that made me better than her. I didn’t like working at a movie theater, and embraced my future college girlness as a sign that I was not one of these people. I was better.

I WAS THE WORST.

“Monchos?” I said again, in a voice borrowed from every evil rich girl in a John Hughes movie, mixed with Whitley from “A Different World.” You know – over-enunciated and clipped, as if speaking to a slow person. “I’mmmm sorry. We don’t have any Monchos.”

The lady looked confused, and began animatedly pointing at the display.

“MONCHOS! MONCHOS!” she said, almost jumping up in the air and spelling it out like a cheerleader. Of course, she would have been spelling them wrong. But that’s not important.

I waited a few seconds for effect, then looked behind me as if I was seeing what she meant for the first time.

“Oh!” I said. “You mean nachos? We have nachos! Would you like some nachos?”

Earlier this year, I told my dad this story as he was eating lunch in the hospital.

“Leslie,” he said, “it is shocking to me that no one ever tried to shoot you.”

And this was said with love. But he wasn’t wrong. Especially at that place.

So 23 years later, I am embarrassed by what I did to that woman, who would not have been right to have shot me, but at least should have reported me to someone, who probably would have said “I get it, but the other two girls on her shift curse people out and are probably carrying knives, so…she’s the Girl Scout. We need her.”

Jon Taffer of “Bar Rescue” told me that customer service is a skill just like writing, or leading, or acting. Everyone does not have the skill inherently. A manager can teach you procedure, but not patience, or courtesy, or decency. You have them or you don’t. I normally do. But that summer…it was not there. And anyone who I waited on who had to endure my growing pains while I sold them a soda – that was not their fault.

And if I could, I would find them and buy them all some Monchos. Whatever they want. I’m sorry. Please don’t hit me.


Marriage is Work. And that’s good.

by SweetMidlife

by Lynne Streeter Childress

So something happened a couple of weeks ago, and I have wanted to write about it, and it dawned on me that Labor Day was the perfect time to share, because it’s about work.

I made mashed potatoes, featuring my favorite food, the potato. Well, featuring the powdered version of the potato, because it was the open the box, add the water kind. It was a special treat for both of us because I’d made a turkey meatloaf the day before and AC was gonna make a meatloaf and mashed potato sandwich. And I just like potatoes.  So, I whipped up the stuff, and we each had some, and it was yummy, and we felt sufficiently carbed-up. AC went upstairs, and I started putting away the dishes. And as I put stuff away, I kept coming back to the pot of leftover mashed potatoes, where I had conveniently left a spoon. And as I worked, I kept dipping, until finally I just sat down at the table and finished off the rest of them. And yeah, I left the spoon in the empty pot.  I ran out to run an errand, yelled upstairs, and I left.  When I came back about an hour later, I saw that the dishes were done and the kitchen was clean (in our split of kitchen duties, the everyday upkeep of the kitchen is mine, while he does the weekly floor washing and counter disinfection and whatnot).  “YAY!”, I thought.  When I got upstairs, AC was kinda quiet. After a couple of minutes of small talk, he took a deep breath and said, “You know, I was mad at you for eating the rest of the mashed potatoes.”  It turns out, AC was planning on taking half of what was left to work for lunch the next day.  My first thought was, “Get over it. It’s mashed potatoes. There’s another package downstairs.” But thankfully, that thought went quickly. It wasn’t really about the mashed potatoes.  It was about me, in that moment, mindlessly eating the rest of them because I wanted them. I wasn’t trying to be selfish or send a spud-tainted “screw-you”.   I wasn’t thinking about him at all. Nope. They were yummy. I ate them.  I was doing what I would have done as a single person with a roommate. We bought our own food, and what was yours was yours. Umm, things are different when you get married.

Those of you who have been married for awhile are laughing and shaking your heads and saying, “Duh, Newlywed.”  And of course, I knew that marriage was going to be about togetherness and sharing and all of that, and that it wasn’t going to be all about me anymore, and I was going to have to sacrifice.  On the other end, though, at 39, I knew that I didn’t want to sacrifice my identity as me and become some drone who had no independent thought, which is a concern for people who get married younger, but can be a full-blown fear for older brides who have had more years to establish who they are to other people, but mostly, to themselves. But I had observed other people’s marriages, and we had done our counseling as a couple before we even got officially engaged, so I knew what I was getting in to, somewhat, and I figured out I would work the rest of it out while we were in it.

But while I knew that we would need to talk about big expectations like division of chores, and how much either of us would work outside of the house, and when we would start having kids, I didn’t anticipate how much thought needs to go into the small everyday moments.  Like  me deciding to close the computer or pause the Law and Order reruns when I’ve asked about his day and he is telling me about it.  Or him stopping to think before remarking about me being on the laptop first thing in the morning because he thinks I am cutting in to a nice quiet moment when I actually need info or need to return an e-mail.  I actually read a devotional today that said that the things that make a good friendship are the basis for any relationship, and that’s true. Respect, and genuine concern, and wanting the best for the other person. And when you get married, the need for all of that is multiplied.  You have those things naturally, because you love your spouse, but the everyday doing of it is WORK. Which I expected.  But it’s those small, common moments where the decisions you make can pile up to build a foundation of mutual respect, or of resentment. And it is daunting and exhausting to try to obsess or nitpick over everything, and that’s a thought that has me running back to the couch and scanning for the aforementioned Law and Order showings. 

So here is where I have landed in my 11 months of marriage.  We’re here because we want to be, and we’re willing to do the work that keeps us here. Not in a way that lessens who we are as individuals, but in a way that strengthens who we are together. And I can get into that kind of work.  Even if it means less potatoes. I can do that.


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