Workers and Widows

Would you believe that right after I posted about receiving no calls, my phone rang? Now, they didn’t tell me I was amazing and they had to have me; they only called me back because of the borrowed respectability of DD’s reference, a good friend from college who works there now and kindly put in a good word for me.

Today I went in for an interview. A four and half hour interview. I actually really enjoyed the whole thing, although I did require a nap after fighting traffic home. I’ll probably gush about the company in a later post, (perhaps after I hear back from them. . . ) but for now I want to talk about other things.

In the car, I listened to a segment on Lawyer’s Guild about one of California’s Ballot initiatives, namely Prop 32. It’s been campaigned as “Stop Special Interest Money Now!” but callers on the show suggested that rather than stopping special interest money, the legislation would only take away power from the unions to efficiently gather money from workers to support campaigns and give a voice to workers. Now, I don’t feel entirely clear on how giving money to a campaign gives a voice to the giver, I don’t think democracy should mean paying to have a say, but apparently it does. And this legislation keeps unions and corporations from giving directly from the institution, but doesn’t keep owners of corporations from taking their share of the profits and then giving millions as a private citizen. The callers suggested that if this law were in place when folks were campaigning for 40 hour work weeks and other rights for workers, those laws wouldn’t have been passed.

Biblically, should we care about this?

For other reasons, I was reading this passage in Deuteronomy today. Chapter 24, 14-22
“You are not to exploit a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether one of your brothers or a foreigner living in your land in your town. You are to pay him his wages the day he earns them, before sunset; for he is poor and looks forward to being paid. Otherwise he will cry out against you to YHVH, and it will be your sin. Fathers are not to be executed for the children, nor are children to be executed for the fathers; every person will be executed for his own sin. You are not to deprive the foreigner or the orphan of the justice which is his due, and you are not to take a widow’s clothing as collateral for a loan. Rather, remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and YHVH your God redeemed you from there. That is why I am ordering you to do this. When harvesting the grain in your field, if you forgot a sheaf of grain there, you are not to go back and get it; it will remain there for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, so that YHVH your God will bless you in all the work you do. When you beat your olive tree, you are not to go back over the branches again; the olives that are left will be for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. When you gather the grapes from your vineyard, you are not to return and pick grapes a second time; what is left will be for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. That is why I am ordering you to do this.”

I think the rule in America is you must pay every two weeks. But this passage calls us to pay wages daily. Whether we follow this specific or not, the call that we are not to take advantage of workers is clear, and we have a responsibility to care for not only our neighbors, but “foreigners living in our land or town,” to see that they are treated fairly rather than exploited. Making this happen is very complex in our enormous and confusing system, and preserving a diversity of voices in government is a big part of legislating protection for poor or immigrant workers. If you’re voting in California, look into this and other initiatives at http://ballotpedia.org/

Going back to the passage, it continues to talk about Reaping and Gleaning. When my mind wanders, I think about this concept and am fascinated by the repetitive admonition not to harvest every last bit from the fields. What does that look like in the modern day, when most of us aren’t very connected to farms?

I imagine that with cash, you could see change as a way to connect to this idea. For any purchase you make, less than a dollar comes back in coin. If someone asks for money, giving them the change in your pocket is like leaving the edges of field. (Kind of.) Now that I swipe for everything, I don’t often have change. I’m trying to figure out where in my life I can leave grapes so that they can be eaten by others.

An interesting project on kickstarter this week is The Gleanery, a group in Putnam, VT who has built relationships with farmers to take their unsold produce, which might otherwise become compost, and help it find mouths. “We are looking to purchase a commercial dehydrator, freezer, prep tables, smoker, pressure canner, food processor, and an ice cream maker: the tools of Gleaners,” their campaign explains. These aren’t the tools of the biblical Gleaners, who probably took as much as they could carry, likely enough for that day. . . but in the modern complexity of food systems, I would like to support an effort that works locally within a community to keep good food from going to waste, and feeding people in a way that is so much better than slopping “food” out of Sysco buckets onto plates, the way many camps, cheap restaurants, and soup kitchens do.

What do you think?

Leftovers are new again

I moved to Los Angeles last Saturday, and am searching for a job. It’s both disheartening and uplifting, as no one has called me to say “You’re perfect! I want to pay you!”, but I’m starting to believe these cover letters I’m writing, and getting more bold in saying “Look, I don’t have a line of boring linear experience, but I’ve done some pretty neat things and I’m a bright young thinker who’s eager to please.” My frugality these past months has allowed me a few weeks of freedom from anxiety as I search, and I’m amusing myself with the process. Last night I dashed off an unlikely application in which I called myself an ethnographer of modern life, sans pith helmet.

The rest of my time is spent in the kitchen, making banana pancakes, lemon-artichoke-feta pasta, and crazy tropical beet salad, with dried papaya and banana chips over spinach and pickled beets. I made fresh challah with the most marvelous (secret) recipe, although the apartment had no measuring tools or even mixing bowls unpacked, so it wasn’t quite as wonderfully light and moreish as usual. This caused a third of each loaf to be left over, and I didn’t cover them, so I had a cutting board full of hard bread pieces last night. 

By the time the others woke at 6:30, though, all those remnants were already soaking in a french bath of bread pudding goodness. I was impressed at what 45 minutes on 350 with 

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

can do to some hard, dry leftovers.

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The bread pudding, which I explained as a sort of french bread casserole, turned out beautifully and fueled more than one med student through their morning lectures on various rashes. I hope I have done my part today helping some future patient with Targetoid Hemosiderotic Hemangioma.

Reddish

I’ve been enjoying perusing the line of an industrial design studio in Israel called Reddish. I like their menorah, made by uniting intriguing solo candlesticks in a minimalist frame.


They have similar projects which tweak old or mismatched materials, bringing them to a higher level, like their playful planters, which use a round glass full of soil within a typical drinking glass to mimic the experience of growing a seedling from an avocado seed.

Another cheeky project? This picnic dress, complete with terrycloth waist.

Nihilophobia

When Don began a transaction today with “How are you feeling, Laura?” I didn’t immediately connect that this was the same Laura who Jessica told me was mugged in the parking lot while I was in California last week. 

Apparently, she was loading her groceries into her trunk at about three in the afternoon when someone snatched the purse resting in the child seat of her shopping cart. Instinctively, she grabbed it back, slipping her arm through the straps just as a getaway car pulled up and the thief jumped in, dragging Laura along as they hit the gas. She was knocked off her feet and pulled, her body scraping the parking lot pavement until she was able to let go of the purse.

Today at the bank, the large bandages on her hand didn’t manage to shield her swollen yellow fingers from view. She had trouble signing for her withdrawal because the pen wanted to rest where her stitches were, though in the end she managed a brave if garbled signature. 

Our manager Brad, former bouncer with a robust brotherly instinct, offered to walk her to her car, but she declined, saying she needed to learn to stop being scared. I protested that after my window was broken in, I had people stay over for several months, and it was a long road of fearful window avoidance, but I’m not scared anymore. I argued that it takes time to get over things, and in the meantime, she should do whatever she needs to for her own emotional well-being. She didn’t end up  taking Brad up on his offer, but I was glad she had the chance to talk about it a bit, and that I got to tell her that she shouldn’t feel crazy or weak for being scared after an experience like that.

I remember hating knowing that I was paranoid. I was in a study about eating habits shortly afterwards which administered a questionnaire which dealt, in part, with changes in my emotional landscape. I admitted that I sometimes freaked out when I was alone at night because I thought a hand would come flying through the glass, that I felt scared and reacted irrationally, knocking on my neighbor’s door and asking to spend the night when the wind made too much noise. But the girl asking the questions essentially said she wasn’t going to record it as abnormal, because those things are normal after a traumatic event. Just having someone say “This is a normal reaction to what you experienced,” was incredibly relieving. 

Well, wouldn’t you know that after my neighbor and I carpooled home and pulled into our shared driveway, I should look up and notice that the upstairs door to my house was wide open. “Uh, Don. . .” I started, and he turned from his own door and followed my gaze to the dark hallway falling away behind the open frame. He lumbered back up the steps to his truck and loaded his gun. I called my roommate’s sister to see if she recalled leaving the door unlocked while house-sitting. When Jenny said she didn’t remember anything about the door, I wanted to throw up. I asked if I should get a maglite from my car, but Don already had one in hand. I followed him from room to room in the darkened house as he checked all the closets and we secured the doors. The tools were all still upstairs, but I feared robbers were more likely to seek electronics and was expecting the blow to come once we got down to the living areas. I waited in the hall while he checked another room and wondered whether that position made me a more likely target. What would happen if someone was in the house? I imagined the safety I felt holding my cell phone was probably false, since cops can’t apparate and it’s an awfully small bullet-stopper. Living in an enormous house is definitely a drawback when trying to “secure the premises,” and I was thankful to have Don (and his gun) going ahead of me. 

When we finally got downstairs, my laptop and camera were still haphazardly placed on the desk, and everything seemed the same as I left it. None of the 6 outside doors showed signs of breaking in. The only explanation seems that the upstairs door was unlocked the entire past week and finally blew open tonight in the high winds. (The same winds that are now causing all manner of strange noises as I type this in my otherwise silent bedroom.) 

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This is particularly unnerving as our profile grows larger; two front page newspaper articles this month have made us small-town celebrities. The first, appearing on New Year’s Day, was juxtaposed with an article about a small child who was stabbed the previous night on our same street. “An MF man was arrested today by local police after he stabbed a 4-year old following a night of drinking. Gregory Cheslesky II of 201 N. 5th St., is being held in the county jail on charges of felonious assault, aggravated assault, contempt and failure to appear. No bond has been set.” Don also tells me that in December there were 4 break-ins on our street. (He’s the only neighbor we know on a first name basis, but he keeps up with many others living nearby.) 

So many things make me wish I didn’t come home after dark every day. 

 

Haiku Covers and Holiday Cheese

I’m gushing right now with enthusiasm after reading an email from a poet whose chapbook I may get to help design and print! It’s a collection of the most lovely urban haikus and I as soon as I read them as an e-chapbook on my phone I could envision carving this luscious woodblock for the cover, maybe two colors and essentially illustrating the title haiku. Then I second guessed myself, and after much backspacing and retyping, I tentatively sent a reply asking somewhat sheepishly what he thought of doing something “fairly literal,” trained by years in art school never to come at something head on. His reply sent me out of my chair to dance around my chilly room: “Your cover idea is spot on. A handsome woodcut cover of [chapbook title shortened] sounds perfect! In response to your “fairly literal” comment, the thing about haiku is that they are first and foremost exactly what they are. The title poem is literally about [chapbook title extended] That image, though, simple and straight forward as it is, opens up a whole world of ideas, stories, and settings that are unique to each person who reads it. The poem sets a concrete image/setting and the rest is all filled in by the reader and their life experiences, which is something so darn cool about these little poems.”

Sorry for editing out the gem of his first poem, but you’ll just have to wait for the forthcoming edition! I haven’t been so jazzed about a project since I was being graded on them. :P

I think part of my hesitation towards the idea of an honest illustration ties into this culture of cynical irony which I sometimes encounter in the art world, and elsewhere. Perhaps we feel too heavily the postmodern sigh of everything having been “already done,” but it’s almost as if to simply make work about beautiful things is automatically trite or cheesy. But I want to argue that activities like painting oats in a field in late summer are not automatically cliche, unless you refer to them as “amber waves of grain.”

This line of thought comes partly in reaction to yesterday evening’s activities, attending a womens’ advent dinner in the church basement. After a dinner provided by the women’s bible study (mostly meat dishes), a program followed in which various sentimental holiday stories were told (memorized and dramatized) by a speaker, with a carol in unison following each tale. Now, it’s true that these pieces were of the variety I have previously received in email forwards, and which seem to thrive in religious environments; the saccharine grocery store scene in which a little girl sees a little boy without shoes and foregoes a purchase to help him, or something along those lines. But most of the women seemed to follow the stories earnestly, laughing at the appropriate times, and tracing the graph of emotion with their expressions. One woman, however, the daughter of a sunday school teacher who just moved back from out west, not-so-subtly snickered through the whole thing.

I don’t entirely know how to react to this genre myself. It’s easy to mock, and perhaps deserves it to a degree. I think sometimes affluent white Christians have a tendency to stick to “heartwarming” stories of chance encounters in which they do nice deeds (one story featured a woman asking a strangers for directions to “a street where poor people live” and ultimately catching a cab to Harlem so that she could drop off a baby dress she bought in a department store on Christmas Eve.) instead of engaging daily in the real mess of life side by side with neighbors who don’t have a “comfortable lifestyle.” We may make a gift-giving trip once a year, but still keep real poverty a cab drive away from our own lives.

Other stories, though, which might be written off as equally cheesy, celebrate the tenderness of a child learning to make sacrifices and finding joy in serving others. And those are things I want to affirm, those are moments which may be worth repeating. I cried during one of the stories. But there the tears were mixed with anger and embarrassment because I felt emotionally manipulated. Perhaps there are better ways to talk about meaningful holiday observance than with these stories which seem designed more to make us “feel inspired,” rather than animating us to action.

Last Thursday, the night before I left for a weekend trip to St. Louis, I found out that the first friend I made here, Rob, had broken his leg two weeks ago and had been in the hospital for over a week and I hadn’t known because of missing church. (Thanksgiving with family one week, then work the next.) Rob and his wife Nancy are my closest friends in the church and I had no idea! I felt awful, especially as we don’t simply see one another Sunday to Sunday, but have shared meals and shopping trips throughout the week on several occasions. Well, I wrote him a card that night, since visiting hours were over, and determined to visit him the Tuesday after I returned, my day off. I called Nancy to make sure he was still awake and headed over. She was there crocheting, I could see her nestled into the armchair through the window as I walked up to the rehabilitation center. The three of us chatted and caught up for two hours before my stomach called me away to dinner. Before I left, Nancy began searching for her keys so she could walk out with me to her car to get a suitcase to pack him up (he was finally going home the next day). The keys were nowhere to be found. Walking out to the car, we saw them in the ignition, though she’d manually locked the doors.

I had the pleasure of driving Nancy back to Ohio and then out to the rehab center in West Virginia again, and was tickled pink that I finally had a way to serve the friends who had so welcomed me, feeding me so many times and taking me to Sam’s and to the local farm market for produce and cider.

This is the part where a religious forward would probably insist that the reason I hadn’t found out until so late is that I would have been unlikely to go visiting on the last night in the hospital if I had already had a chance to stop by, and then wouldn’t have been there to help retrieve the second set of keys, but I don’t know about all of that. I just know that for me there was joy in getting to spend that hour reciprocating some of the love shown to me, and I wish you that kind of joy this December.

Mercer County Wedding

I was a bridesmaid in another friend’s wedding this weekend. And it was country. You might wanna drop an octave and drawl that last word. I’m talking this kind of country, the guy from Ohio.

I drove out Thursday to try to be helpful, having been MIA thus far, and after I drive through miles of flat two lane roads surrounded by fields and turn onto a road even Google doesn’t know how to spell, I pull up to the groom’s house. The bride to be is standing barefoot on the trunk of the car watching for me. I should not have been surprised that before we left for the rehearsal dinner I would learn to fire a gun.  

When I arrived, however, our first task was to work on the centerpieces, mason jars filled with wheat berries which the groom pulled from the freezer in a 50lb bag he proceeded to open with a screwdriver. Ever the adventurous eater, I tried a handful. Frozen unground flour is actually pretty good if you let it soak in your mouth a while before chewing.


 

We measured the berries a cup a jar as a base for the flowers and long-stemmed wheat which would be added the day of the wedding. All the while, 6 or so dogs swirled around us, trying to trick us into throwing onions they had selected as balls. Not surprisingly, we were fast friends.
Later, I met the chickens, chicks, and toured the garden. I felt very at home.

 

As the groom’s siblings came by the house (12 children total, only 1 who still lives at home) things got particularly interesting. I had the tree explained to me over and over and with the help of a quilt diagram and a room with a portrait of each, I finally started to get names, ages, and marital status right. I worked a little bit on their powerpoint of childhood photos, enjoying the chance to have a long look at their histories.

That night and the next we had incredible skies: double rainbows with sunsets. We made excuses to stay outside, wrapping saran wrap around the wagon the bridal party would take from the ceremony to the reception, so it wouldn’t be too windy. The groom’s father hung a rosary in the tree for good weather on Saturday.   

 

Full-time

I just started my first very-own, grown-up job! It’s not work-study, or for a family member, or even fast food! And I’m not even making minimum wage, because I’m now a bank teller! Well, sort-of. I’m officially a Sales Associate. . . at a grocery store branch. . . and I can’t handle money yet. But I’m thrilled with the position. It’s like living some kind of bizarre reality TV show. Or maybe not reality, maybe it was just The Office. Either way, something about the way my coworkers describe the Ins and Outs of the job–and each other–makes me feel like I ought to have a film crew with me (not that they’d fit behind the counter).

My first day was like being stuck in an elevator with two strangers for 8 hours, only with better people-watching. Something about the confined space seemed to invite intimate details of my coworkers’ lives into conversation as they flipped through stacks of 5s, 10s, 20s. Don ran the counterfeit pen across a stack of fanned fifties as he told me and a customer that in high school he’d held out on shaving his legs until he tied another swimmer for first by some thousandths of a second, and figured the small difference made by streamlined calves would be relatively large. (He won the rematch.) Brad, who cites the health of his three-year-old daughter as the only thing that would lead him to rob the bank, recounted how he’d started working full-time at 13 when his father got crushed in the coal mine.

Today, I met the other girl, Jessica, who I’d been nervous about meeting, because friendships with guys are sometimes much easier for me to manage. There’s a little more grace for things like forgotten phone calls, less need to mince words. Right after I read in the manual that office supplies are not to be used for personal gain, she tells me how she sends her Mary Kay catalogues to the main branch through interoffice mail. She freaked out when the branch manager, Cheryl (who sometimes writes her name as Sherry) sent someone else to pick-up her make-up order and forgot to send the catalog for the purses she sells in a similar scheme. They finally came out with the bag she likes in a medium size and she can’t wait order it.

Jessica flirts over the counter with the guy shelving the new shipment of fruit, pouting when he doesn’t stop to say hello. She and Brad keep up a constant, affectionate banter, “Hey Dipstick, you gonna count that customer-coin?” They each tell me how he was the one to stick up for her last year when rumors were flying about her and various other Kroger employees (only one of whom she’s actually talking to, and it’s Matthew from the meat department, not Troy with his hands full of peaches) and Brad tells me, too, that he takes care of his own, citing the way he used to start the cars of the dancers at one of the clubs he bounced as prior evidence.

As we warm up to each other, Jessica tells me she was worried too, when she heard about the new girl. She didn’t want someone who was obsessed with shopping, she says. I say, “Yeah, I was worried you would be one of those girls who was like ‘Oh my gosh! They have the purse in medium!'”

We both grin.