Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Almost Hope

I am almost hooked on ABC's Lost, and while looking up my favorite male lead, Naveen Andrews, 36 years old, I came across this photo. His partner is Barbara Hershey. Yes, that Barbara Hershey. Yes, she's 21 years older than him. Demi and Ashton really didn't do much for me because I don't want Ashton, but THIS conclusively shows that -- hallelujah -- there must be hope, even for me.

Maybe.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Initiate Jobsearch

I'm lookin' for a new job, baby, a new job. Yes, the new management at Carson's Ribs is continuing to shake things up and the layoffs keep coming. It's been only managers and kitchen workers so far, but last week the first server was let go and I'm taking this as my marching order: start looking for a new job...now. I don't need to wait around for them to tell me not to come in anymore, although getting laid off does have the benefit of allowing me to collect unemployment. Tempting, yes...but the idea of getting a better-paying job with a more professional organization is also compelling. Well, we'll see what happens: will I find a new job first or will Carson's give me a permanent vacation?

Armed with a copy of Wine for Dummies, I'm ready to move on...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Longing, Part Three

In his cassette series, Prosperity Consciousness: How to Tap Your Unlimited Wealth, Fredric Lehrman, a motivational speaker, talks about meeting three monks who are going to visit a big city. The two young monks are awed by the sights, excited by the crowds and completely distracted from their usual meditation-centered lives. The older monk remains calm and centered and takes all the city bustle in stride. When Lehrman makes this observation to the older monk, the monk explains that the two young monks have lived their whole lives in the monastery and have never seen the city, but he himself had a full life as an actor in the city before he became a monk. Because the older one has had his fill of that world, visiting it doesn't throw him out of balance.

There is huge value in having your fill of something so that longing for it doesn't throw your life out of balance. I believe that some of the happiest and most satisfied people are women who have been married and divorced and have decided they have no interest in being married again. They know that world and have no need to chase after it. I envy them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Come Write With Me

One day two years ago some ideas came to me for a couple of short stories. I hadn’t written any kind of fiction in decades, but the ideas were so clear, and I had so much free time to fill at my office job, I had to follow through on them. One was the story I published here on my blog on March 16, 2005 called "The Day After Valentine’s." After I wrote that one, I decided it was time to find some sort of writing group and get feedback on my writing. I went online and found the website for the Neighborhood Writing Alliance. Their Rogers Park Library workshop was closest to me and their meeting time fit my schedule, so I dropped by. And I’ve been going ever since. It’s a group of about 10 people, six to eight of which tend to show up on any given week. People bring in short stories, poems, plays, screenplays, essays and biographical writing. I’ve also brought songs, a newspaper ad and even an employee self-evaluation.

These days we're no longer affiliated with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance and have changed our name to the Rogers Park Writers' Group, but we still meet on Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at the Rogers Park Library at 6907 N. Clark Street. We're on hiatus at the moment, but here's my question for you: who wants to come join us? We welcome people of all writing levels and backgrounds, especially amateurs and people who don't think of themselves as "writers" (I don't think of myself as a "writer").

Interested? We are a sort of support group that nurtures writers no matter what your writing looks like. We're also investigating how to self-publish our work. If you’re interested, please come to a meeting. We're on break for the rest of August, but we'll meet again starting on September 8, 2005. Stop by just to check it out. If you're not into it, you never have to come back.

Rogers Park Writers' Group
Thursdays, September 8, 15, 22 and 29, 2005
6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Rogers Park Library
6907 N. Clark Street


Maybe I’ll see you there!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Please Tip Your Waitress

Yeah, I know, I'm not supposed to use the term "waitress" anymore, it should now be "server." I don't care. I'm a waitress and I'm okay with it.

In today's Chicago Sun-Times, the editorial section features an opinion by Steven Shaw called "Outdated tipping no longer ensures proper service." I actually think the article is pretty good. I didn't know that Thomas Keller, one of America's foremost chefs (didn't know that either) is stopping the practice of tipping in his New York City luxury restaurant Per Se. Instead of tipping, Per Se will use the European-style service charge and pay its servers an hourly wage. Apparently this move is strongly opposed by customers (who think the possibility of a good tip will get them better service), servers (who think we can earn more money in tips than we can in wages) and restauranteurs (who don't pay their servers anything and rely on customers to pay them). I, however, have this to say about Keller's decision: thank GOD! Finally someone in the restaurant business has some sense!

Tipping exemplifies the exploitation on which the restaurant industry in the United States depends. Any restaurant worker who receives tips -- servers, bussers, etc. -- is relying on the kindness of strangers for our rent money and those strangers can pay us anything they like or nothing at all (it happens). I think a business that doesn't pay its own employees -- as most American restaurants DON'T -- is just stupid. How can you build a staff when you don't pay them? Shaw makes the very good point that some of the most consistent and satisfactory restaurant service you can get is in places like McDonald's where the workers are paid an hourly wage, are strictly supervised, and there is no tipping.

I would love for the restaurant where I work to move to an hourly wage. Every since I began working at Carson’s last November I have been disappointed by my earnings. An hourly wage would allow me to budget and pay my bills consistently. I have yet to take home more than approximately $1,500 a month, which means I’m not even making $19,000/year yet. It’s a good thing I have no dependents to support.

Shaw’s article also points out the weak relationship between good service and a good tip. He says the highest tips tend to go to the servers who are the most well-liked, that is, the ones who crouch by your table for some good chitchat or who make you laugh the most. I don’t have the experience or anecdotal evidence to agree or disagree with Shaw’s statement, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were accurate.

And let me review: American restaurant servers do not receive an hourly wage. At all. All we take home is a part of the tip you leave. I'm serious. The reason it’s only part is that if the restaurant has bussers, food-runners, bartenders, hostesses, etc. they all get paid out of the tip you leave for your food server. If I manage to amass $100 in tips on a Saturday night, $15 of it goes to the bussers, $5 goes to the foodrunner and $5 goes to the bartender. I actually take home $75.

Please keep this in mind when you wonder if 20% is too high to tip for the mediocre service you just received. Even if it’s just three bucks, I still have to give the bussers, foodrunner and bartender their cuts, and even if my service to you was unsatisfactory, I still have to pay my rent. Consider the aggravating workers at places at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the U.S. Post office. You don't get to dock their pay for poor service, but you can dock mine, so please have mercy.

Tipping 20% really should be the standard at this point, but unfortunately some people still seem to think of a tip as a “gift” that servers receive on top of the wages from their employer. Once again, American servers don't receive any wages from their employer. There’s some funky accounting thing that restaurants do to make their servers’ paychecks look like the servers are getting wages from the employer, but we’re really not. To create my "paycheck," my restaurant basically asks how much I received in tips and then it divides that number into an hourly wage amount called “Regular,” an “Extra Tips” amount and a “Tip Credit” amount. The “Regular” hourly wage amount is $3.10 an hour (way below minimum wage), but it doesn't even matter because I never actually receive any of these documented amounts from my employer. These wage and tip amounts are simply derived from the amount of tips I took home during the time period in question and my "paycheck" is really just a piece of documentation with little dollar value.

Is the picture getting clearer? I hope so because American restaurants really should use the European model of the hourly wage which is much more consistent and humane, but since that’s not happening any time soon please tip reasonably ("reasonably" being at least 20%).

Thank you.

NOTE TO INTERNATIONAL TOURISTS: please keep in mind that American restaurants use this ridiculous practice called “tipping” and your server is trying to pay his/her rent and bills out of the amount of tip you leave behind. Please consider leaving a tip that is at least 20% of your total bill because American restaurants do NOT pay their servers. Thank you.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Carson's Phoenix

The good news: Carson's Ribs, where I have worked since last fall, is under new management and has some exciting changes in the works. The bad news: I don't know if I'll have a job there much longer.

You know how I've complained that business is slow at Carson's Ribs on Wells Street? Well, it turns out I was right: this business has been a sinking ship for a while now. It's family-owned and a new family member is taking over the helm and he has plans for new decor, new dining room design, improved menu, tighter rules, etc. all of which I hope means MORE BUSINESS! A couple of the restaurants will be closing, but the one I work in will remain open. I imagine there will be a lot of "employee shuffling" going on as they try to place employees at the remaining locations, but since they'll probably only keep the best and the brightest and most senior, I don't expect to be around much longer. I have about five minutes of seniority and only two people have been hired since I was.

It's kind of scary and everyone's nervous. Some workers' hours are being cut and others are being laid off. The hope of new business is balanced by the scariness of getting ready to find other jobs. Oh, well. I survived the Arthur Andersen collapse in 2002 (I was a secretary there when Andersen was indicted by the Department of Justice and went out of business), so I'll be okay. Andersen was a much scarier experience: going to work every day with 3,000 people all freaking out at the same time. Much more drama, much greater losses (many more tv crews). Carson's isn't that bad. Also on the bright side, I'm learning to handle job loss and that's an important skill to have these days.

Anyway, I don't KNOW that I'll be laid off. I just won't be surprised if it happens. If only the Carson's menu could also be made healthier (we have a lot of overweight regular customers)....

Monday, August 08, 2005

Sleep Less, Gain Weight

Hey, everybody, it looks like the more sleep deprived you are, the more likely you are to gain weight. Finally, a way to fight obesity that isn't about dieting and exercise -- make sure you get enough sleep! An article in the current issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter says sleep deprivation, for as little as two nights in a row, causes an increase in the hormone that triggers hunger (ghrelin) and a decrease in the hormone that causes satiety (leptin) A lack of sleep also messes with your metabolism. When the brain notices the decrease in leptin, it interprets it as a sign of starvation and slows the rate at which you burn calories. So not only does a lack of sleep cause you to feel hungrier, it causes your body to burn fewer calories! A nightmare situation for those of us who are trying our best to fight American blobitude.

How much sleep are we talking about? Here's the article:

And researchers at Columbia University in New York City found that people who slept six hours a night were 23 percent more likely to be obese than people who slept between seven and nine hours. Those who slept five hours were 50 percent more likely -- while those who slept four hours or less were 73 percent more likely -- to be obese.

So turn off the light and get some sleep already!

As I said, I got this information from the July/August 2005 Nutrition Action Healthletter (volume 32, number 6), but unfortunately this article isn't available online yet. This WebMD article has similar information on the sleep-weight link.

I encourage you to check out the Nutrition Action Healthletter because it is an EXCELLENT source of nutrition information, practical ways to improve your diet and LOTS of reviews of supermarket items so you can steer clear of the worst ones and find the best.

P.S.

One of my friends has responded to today's post with complete despair of now being sleep-deprived AND fat. That wasn't the response I meant to trigger and I regret that I did. But I ask, why not just rearrange your entire life so you can get enough sleep? I know it seems impossible and unreasonable to suggest (my friend has a marriage, a three-year-old daughter and a killer travel schedule), but even the busiest and most overcommitted people change everything once they're diagnosed with cancer or heart disease. Why does it take such life-threatening crises to get us to treat ourselves well? Why can't we start treating ourselves well before the life-threatening crisis has to happen?

I could wait until I'm 50 pounds overweight to make sure I sleep at least 7 hours a night and exercise regularly. I could wait until I'm diagnosed with diabetes before I start curbing sweets. I could wait until I've developed high blood pressure before watching my salt intake, sure. And since most of those things are inevitable if I ignore my health completely enough, I am guaranteed to one day (maybe at age 65?) have to diet, exercise and get enough sleep. The alternative will be to resign myself to an early death. So, why not start making those healthier changes now?

Seriously, why would I put it off? Why would anyone? Seriously.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Slowly, Slowly

Slow Food is a movement to "protect the pleasures of the table from the homogenization of modern fast food and life." Thank god for Slow Food. The U.S. has almost completely lost the ability to relax and eat with, instead, everyone chomping our nutritionless non-foods as we hustle to our next appointment.

Our “Next!” approach to life characterizes the way many of us date as well. Hooking Up, ABC’s Thursday night reality show (and Match.com commercial) about ten women’s online dating experiences, illustrates our impatience with romance. Amy, a 28-year-old real estate broker, decides if she’s going to marry a potential suitor by their second date. Reisha, a 30-year-old technology consultant, wants the next man she kisses to be the man she marries (causing her to withhold kissing from well-intentioned, patient Acie until he stops seeing her). It’s ridiculous. And I used to do the exact same thing.

Many of my friends do it, too: we want the next person to be “the one,” and we dismiss people the moment we feel something’s missing. One of the main reasons I used to dismiss a date was that I didn’t feel physically attracted to the guy. If, within minutes or hours of meeting him, I couldn’t imagine myself one day ripping his clothes off and spending all day in bed with him, there would be no second date. Now I realize how unreasonable that is. I, like many women, have a slower “burn.” A guy might not be physically attractive to me before I get to know him, but as he turns out to be everything I’m looking for -- charming, funny, generous, dependable, romantic -- he can become extremely attractive to me. And guess what? It takes several dates for all those qualities to be revealed. You have to get to know someone over time to find out if they really have what you’re looking for. Each time I “flushed” after getting only the barest glimpse of a personality, I undermined my search for romance.

Some would argue that they have “non-negotiables” that can show up in one date’s time and after they see that “non-negotiable” there’s no reason for a second date. I say bull&$^*. If you met someone who was absolutely everything you ever wanted and s/he looked like Salma Hayek/George Clooney, but they happened to have that one thing, that “non-negotiable” (say smoking or living in San Diego), wouldn’t you at least give it shot? Wouldn’t you at least spend a few dates with someone like this if you were totally attracted to them and they were totally attracted to you and this whole thing was full of romantic potential except for that one “non-negotiable” (say kids or a crazy ex)? I believe most people would, and if they say no they’re either lying or not really interested in a relationship. Many (although not all) “non-negotiables” are just a defense mechanism against intimacy. Watch someone who says they just can’t date someone who likes country music when they meet the girl/guy who is absolutely everything they ever wanted and has a large collection of Garth Brooks CD’s. If they're serious about it, they'll "make an exception."

One of the biggest offenses against slow living (that is, life as it was meant to be) is speed dating. Yes, I’ve done it. Yes, I thought it was a good idea: meet about 25 men in one evening, spending exactly three (or as many as eight) minutes “getting to know” them, and at the end write down which ones I’d like to go out with. Later, matches were put in contact with each other and the rest was up to us. Fail-proof, right?

The more I reflect on how much I need to get to know a man before I really want his hands on me, the more speed dating looks like a huge waste of time. And the more I realize how much time I need to get to know someone before I develop true feelings of affection and appreciation, the more online dating looks like a huge waste of money. Online dating focused me on the things that really weren’t that important. Online, the guy I’m dating now never would have received a response from me. He doesn’t write well, doesn’t take good digital self-photos, doesn’t have a professional headshot and a list of our interests would have shown few in common. So the @!%& what? None of that matters in real life, but Match.com, Lavalife.com and all the rest, would have us believe it does. Such websites keep us way too focused on “flaws” like spelling and if he listens to NPR. Ridiculous.

Hollywood has already tainted American culture with the belief that true, lasting love develops in a few days or weeks. How long does it take the relationships in It Happened One Night or Love Story or While You Were Sleeping to turn into marriage? Not long. But in real life it can take a long time for romance to develop between two people who get to know each other gradually, say by sharing a common activity or going to the same church. How about giving someone a real chance to slowly reveal all their inner qualities? How about finding out how they feel about family, for instance, by watching them interact with theirs rather than grilling them on the first date? How about taking our foot off the gas pedal and letting feelings develop that are based on someone’s character rather than sexual chemistry? Because what does chemistry indicate? It indicates chemistry! Which is just one dimension of a very complicated dynamic between two people.

I’m in favor of slow food and slow dating. The term “crawling in love” (Charlotte Kasl’s term) is more relevant to my life than “falling in love.” I know most people would respond to this piece by saying they don’t have time to take it slow, they need to keep their lives on schedule, they’re not getting any younger, etc. As a never-married almost-40-year-old I know all about "not getting any younger". But I’ve found that insisting the next guy be “the one” makes me much harsher in my evaluations and less tolerant of, well, human characteristics. I have a friend who consciously walks into rooms wondering if his “wife” is there. I think this kind of approach narrows our field of possibility and allows for less romance instead of more. My new approach is to date for months before making up my mind. And after a few months I’m not reviewing “husband potential.” After a few months all I’m deciding is whether or not to enjoy his company for another few months.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Take Your Meds

I'd just like to remind everyone who depends on a little daily chemical help that it is very important that you take your meds as prescribed. Forgetting, deciding you don't need them anymore, wanting to wean yourself off without your doctor's guidance, etc. are not good ideas. When those of us who rely on daily medication start !#$%-ing around with our doses, we can have really bad days of either withdrawal symptoms or the old symptoms coming back. When this happens, it's important to GET BACK ON YOUR MEDS. Those of us on anti-depressants must not be fooled by joy, sexual satisfaction, infatuation, cheerfulness or any other chimera that masquerade as happiness. Despite any evidence of actually enjoying our lives, we must take our meds.

Must take meds, must take meds, must take meds...must not forget...damn it....