Mike the barrista/cashier/pianist

Extraordinary cashiers and other customer service people are everywhere.  Musicians or other artists, writers, master gardeners, creative parents – they find all manner of creative outlet.

I’m at the City Bakery on Biltmore Ave., waiting for my car to be done at Toney’s Car and Truck, my current favorite mechanic who got three votes on my recent informal Facebook poll of local mechanics.  What I brought to them today was not heavy-duty mechanical challenges for them, but maybe challenges nonetheless.  My dome light burned out and I absolutely cannot see a way to get at it.  People tell me there will certainly be a step-by-step video on YouTube about how to do this, but I not only am not handy but I have a real block around stuff like this.  Someday maybe my personal growth will move in this direction, but right now I’m happy to pay for stuff like this – and celebrate that I do have enough little financial cushion to pay for it.  Now when the transmission goes out I’m gonna look it up on YouTube.

Pretty much everywhere I go, I’m telling cashiers about this blog and, when I get the chance, interviewing them about their work and lives – and hearing so much great stuff.  Here at City Bakery, Mike just took care of me.  He gave me great service: my coffee routine includes that when I put all my half-and-half in my coffee it becomes not hot enough for me, so I ask baristas to either microwave it for me after I have doctored it up or, if they have no microwave, to steam some cream for me – the latter of which Mike did for me very cheerfully.  Great service, good tip and good feelings all around.  I tend to tip cashiers, restaurant servers, etc. well.  Hey, we do hard work – largely unrecognized or misunderstood by people who think it’s easy or mindless – and for shit wages.

I have come to expect that people who make their living doing front line customer service also have some artistic outlet.  Maybe it's more so in Asheville, I dunno.  Mike is a pianist and composer.  I'm gonna check out his music on YouTube.

I have come to expect that people who make their living doing front line customer service also have some artistic outlet. Maybe it’s more so in Asheville, I dunno. Mike is a pianist and composer. I’m gonna check out his music on YouTube.

So I told Mike about the blog. (“I’m a cashier too, at x grocery store – and I’m also a writer.  I write this blog about cashiering, which is also about customer service more generally – but it’s also about bipolar disorder, which I’ve got, and about mindfulness and human relations and Tae Kwon Do and lots of other stuff.”)  Mike did what most cashiers do when I give them this spiel – he got excited, as did his coworker Joe, who was listening in from behind.  “Hey, sounds like fun – I’m definitely going to check it out.”  I think they always mean that when they say it, even if they don’t always end up doing it.

Then, because Mike was steaming my half-and-half and there was no line, we got a couple of minutes to talk.  Mike said, “You gave me your card – I’ve got one too.”  As he struggled a bit to pull his card out of his wallet (sometimes my cards don’t always ease their way out of my wallet), I noticed that his left hand and arm were dramatically misshapen.  His card read: “Mike Anderson – pianist”.  There was a really nice open vibe between us – I was liking him a lot – so I made bold to ask him about the arm.

“How does it work for you playing the piano with that arm?”  Mike did not blink, acted not at all surprised or put out by my directness.

“I hold my arm at this angle.  I mostly improvise, so I don’t use these fingers very much and it works out fine overall.”

“How did it happen?”

“I was in my 20’s, driving too sleepy, fell asleep and went under a semi.”

“You’re lucky to still be alive.”

“Big time.”  Charming, warm, friendly, smart – physically wounded but personally very intact.

“Could I write a post about you?”  “Sure.”

“Can I use your name?”  “Yeah.”  “Maybe I’ll include your contact info – you might get some business.” “Great.”

“Can I get a photo?” “Sure.”  “Can I include your bad arm in the photo?”  “Let’s not. I don’t want it to be shtick about the handicapped guy or for sympathy or anything like that.”  Got it.

So here he is: Mike Andersen.  Cashier, barista, pianist, composer – cool guy.  Yes a barista – and good at it.  But so much more.  Patronize him at City Bakery and get great, warm, real service.  Book him for an event.

Mike Andersen: (850) 481-5596, Ma.Piano@gmail.com, http://www.youtube.com/mikeandersenpiano.

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The day the store was so slow that the cashiers….

The store was super-slow today.  Yesterday the weather forecast was for lots of snow overnight, so the store was a madhouse yesterday with people stocking up on the necessities: milk, bread, chocolate, wine sushi ($5 on Wednesday!).  There actually was lots of snow overnight and today everybody stayed home.  A couple of our cashiers were similarly snowed in, but even shorthanded we had lots of time on our hands.  So we used that time:

Sparring with each other over  produce codes.  Actually there was no real competition – just fooling around.  These kids totally blow me away with the nimbleness of their brains.  I hold on like it was the holy Bible to a laminated list of produce codes which I tape to every cash register where  I work.  Occasionally I will leave it taped to the cash register I have just left.  When I discover that it’s missing, I will sheepishly go over to Jessica, for example – who at that point has been doing the work for all of a month.  “Hey, do you want that produce cheat sheet?” “Nah, i don’t need it.”  And she doesn’t – they’re amazing.

So today I am for some reason saying some of this to the middle-aged lady I am checking out.  I shout across the way to Regina.  “Hey Regina, what’s the code for Romanesco cauliflower?”

Romanesco cauliflower (or romanesco broccoli) -wild and wonderful, a cross between broccoli and caulifower.  Everybody says it's quite tasty.  i was gonna get some after work today, but then had to run out fast.  Hopefully there will be some there tomorrow.

Romanesco cauliflower (or romanesco broccoli) -wild and wonderful, a cross between broccoli and caulifower. Everybody says it’s quite tasty. i was gonna get some after work today, but then had to run out fast. Hopefully there will be some there tomorrow.

We’ve been selling it for just a couple of weeks and you get less than one bunch a day.  I’ve got the code just to my right on another list that has been taped to our counter,  but want to show Regina off to my customer.  “94630.”  “See – she’s amazing.”

Regina said today that even she doesn't know how or why she learns the produce codes so fast.  It can be an item you sell once every couple of weeks, and she doesn't hesitate to spit out the code.  She's awesome - and a very cool person who adores children and babies and is great to work with.

Regina said today that even she doesn’t know how or why she learns the produce codes so fast. It can be an item you sell once every couple of weeks, and she doesn’t hesitate to spit out the code. She’s awesome – and a very cool person who adores children and babies and is great to work with.

But I had to find a way to pull her chain.

“What’s 94237?”

“94237?  Nuthin’.”

“Ha – organic bananas.”

“No way. Organic bananas are 94011 – it’s like the first code we learn.”

“yeah, 94237 is organic bananas too.  They’ve been coming across the last couple of weeks, just some of them.  Maybe they’re from a different distributor or something.”

That was fun.

The other way I amused myself today was bantering with Rowdy about his PA announcements.  Rowdy is a very cool, funny, creative guy with a huge heart.  All the staff and customers love him.  I’m almost the only person who isn’t entertained by his sense of humor in these announcements and I think I have genuinely hurt his feelings.  Today i tried to inject enough playfulness into our back and forth to maybe detoxify the exchange.

Rowdy is really tall and big in all kinds of ways. He makes a very strong impression and mostly a very good one.  He's good for the store.

Rowdy is really tall and big in all kinds of ways. He makes a very strong impression and mostly a very good one. He’s good for the store.

Rowdy, in a totally over-the-top southern drawl (he’s not southern), “Attention Earth Fare shoppers, produce you have a call on line 2.  Could the fine people in produce please pick up line 2.”

“Oh now you’re turning us into a totally hick store.”

“This is Appalachia – I’m talking Appalachian.”

“You’re talking like a redneck – they’ll never take us seriously.”

“I’m just having fun.”

“You sound unprofessional.”

Here I am criticizing a young guy who is committed to creativity and i’m taking a stand for professionalism.  I can’t believe my own ears, but his announcements really do bother me, if almost nobody else.

Rowdy makes another countrified announcements and I ask the customers in front of me, “Now what did you think of that?”  “I think it’s funny.”  “Yeah, most people do.”

But not everybody, at least not all the time.  One day Rowdy made one of his classic low, slow, breathy, stage whisper announcements.  Lou Anne yelled, “Rowdy, that’s creepy.”  “That’s two of us for creepy.”

I can get away with teasing Rowdy because he knows I like and admire him.  And today it was so darn slow, we needed the distraction.

Life…and more life

The husband of one of my coworkers (let’s call her Sally) died a couple of weeks ago.  It was not exactly sudden, but greatly unexpected.  He just developed one medical complication after another for about three weeks, until finally the doctors told them he had a week to live.

Sally is much beloved in our department and throughout the store. One person used the term “angelic” to describe her.  It’s a word I would be slow to use to describe a mortal, but she is so consistently sweet and warm and positive that it really kind of fits.

I was greatly honored when she asked me if I had a poem about death that I could offer at her husband’s memorial – and told her that in fact I do have one.  I felt good about going to the memorial service last night.  There were several other workers from our store, a couple previous workers who have moved to jobs at another grocery store, and several customers who have over the years gotten fond of Sally.  These are the kinds of situations that poke through the distance that work roles may set up between us, between us coworkers and between staff and customer.  Mixing together in ways like this makes the relationship more personal, more meaningful.

Here is the poem.  Sally liked it.

What's after life?  Native Americans call it "the great mystery".

What’s after life? Native Americans call it “the great mystery”.

LIFE – AND MORE LIFE
(Majo, 11/19/05)

We have been wandering around, you and I
By ourselves, with each other, never knowing
We bump against our different selves
We hold foreign who is our home
We see the dark because we know the light

What is this fog that holds us?
What in us would let be held?
Where are we going?  Where have we been?
What is “us”?  “You”?  “I”?  “Her”?  And “him”?

Life – what is that?
This mystery in which we are lost
The light that leads us
And where does it end?
Where is there that life is not?

Our minds want to separate
Thrive on boundaries
Do not see how dark connects the light
Make you and I imagine
A gulf between the isness that we are

Each moment arises from nowhere
Then slips silent from our grasp
Our grasping punctuates the moments
Makes them seem separate, which they never are

Letting go is our nature, who we’ve always been
And how we got here
Our parents surrendered to the moment
Life has been conceiving us anew ever since

Every birth requires a death
Call it what we will, life changes
Stays not one moment the same
We are not who we were, who we will be

Where we think we see a wall, a cliff, an end
Life continues, in forms we never imagined
We emerge, again and again
New beings of light we never knew

Light is held and framed by dark
As dark is surrounded by light
Our minds see difference
Life does its dance of many forms

Where will we go?  Where have they gone?
Our human eyes, limited as they are
See a river where there is a sea
This connection in which we swim
Has no beginning and no end

If we but shift our gaze
Oh so gently, no effort, no looking for
See the light under the dark and light
The We that always holds you and me
We will not go, they have not gone
We are all right here, one unending now

Drop into this breath of life
Do not try to make this or that
Nothing goes away, while all must die
Life is us, we are Life
We feel the good under “Goodbye”.

 

 

I want everybody to watch this video

I want everybody in the world to watch this video.

It’s the highlights of the third degree black belt testing last year of Amy Dexter, who is a very beloved Tae Kwon Do instructor at the martial arts school I attend.  It’s probably especially inspiring to women, maybe especially little women (she’s not 5′) – but it inspires me tremendously.  You don’t need to be considering martial arts practice – it’s about what you can do in all areas of your life if you really go for it.  Go to this link and scroll down to December 15.   https://www.facebook.com/AshevilleSunSooTKD

The “I can’t do it” voice

On Saturday, I spent six hours at belt testing at our local Sun Soo Tae Kwan Do martial arts school.  After three weeks of taking classes at the school and never having experienced anything like this testing, I was stunned – blown away – by all I saw: so much support and love, so much go-for-it energy, so many people going out of their comfort zones, stretching themselves, doing things they had not thought they could do.  So much excellence, so much mastery, so much beauty.

I have spent the last two days integrating what I experienced.  I expect to continue doing so for a while, but I want to capture some of it now.  First I want to write about how all this confronted me with the “I can’t do this” voice in myself.  I hear this voice on and off the mat.

On the mat (and, by extension, on my imaginary mat when I practice my forms at home), I don’t think I can do it.  I am a total spas, my body just doesn’t work this way.  I am too in my head and can’t get out of it.  I can’t get myself to class enough.  I can’t learn my white belt forms.  I can’t bear the humiliation of being so terrible at movements that everybody else knows – and that 12-year olds are learning faster than me.  I can’t bear the stress of testing on this stuff that I cannot learn.

I do know for sure that my legs will never stretch like this, but how much is possible?

I do know for sure that my legs will never stretch like this, but how much is possible?

Off the mat, I don’t think I can do it.  As I have reflected about this today, I have come up with a long list of things I think I can’t do – and for now will mention two of them.

  • I can’t stay off of sugar.  Sugar is not a harmless indulgence for me.  So much of my life goes out of whack when I am in the clutches of that addiction.  And now I am getting fat from it – and feeling unattractive, less eligible for a romantic relationship, which is an aspiration for me. Each of the black belt candidates read a two-page essay about their Tae Kwon do journey to that point.  One of them related that he stopped smoking the day he started practicing – five years earlier.  I got inspired, but that went away for much of today.  I do intend to get off of sugar tomorrow, but I’ve fallen off that wagon so many times that I don’t believe I can succeed this time.
  • I’ll mention just one more thing (out of that long list) that I feel sure I can’t do.  I can’t keep my room from being a chaotic mess.  I have struggled with this for a lot of years, have had periods of some progress – but mostly not for long.  One of the people testing for a black belt said of her life progress related to her martial arts practice, “I clean my room now.”  This spoke to me.
    Google pulled this up when I searched for photos of clutter, so I shall call this clutter - and it's much less painful to look at than an actual photo of my room.

    Google pulled this up when I searched for photos of clutter, so I shall call this clutter – and it’s much less painful to look at than an actual photo of my room.

    I intend to spend 15 minutes organizing my stuff tomorrow, and I know that if I did 15″ on most days I would eventually have things in order, and some days I will not be able to hold myself back from going longer than 15″ – in love with my momentum.

In Tae Kwon Do, you are continually being confronted with tasks that take you out of your comfort zone – tasks that get more and more complex and physically challenging.  As soon as you master one belt level, you move on to the next.  And, at this school at least, you are also flooded with encouragement  and cheerleading and instruction and connection with your peers who are being similarly challenged.

It starts tomorrow.  I continue to do my Tae Kwon Do practice every day – at home on days, like tomorrow, when I can’t get to the school at the time of a class.  I stay off of sugar.  I spend 15 minutes organizing my room.  A voice in me says I can’t do it.  Another voice says “Maybe I can.”  This already seems like progress.  Another voice says, “We’ll see”.  This is not terribly positive, but better than “I can’t do it.”

In and out of my head on the dance floor

The last post described my Friday dance a week ago.  Here I’m describing last night.

Last night I went to dance even though I was tired and had been depressed for over a week.  I had had a better day and thought I might not be depressed any more, so wanted to give it a try.

And, in fact, I wasn’t depressed.  But I wasn’t having fun.  I was not depressed, but also not high.  I miss being high – I feel so great.  But I think this in between state is way better.  I’ll write about it in my next post.

I love being up, but this state with some up and some down is way better for me.

I love being up, but this state with some up and some down is way better for me.

I wasn’t having fun – was barely dancing.  I thought about leaving – at one point kind of resigned myself that I would probably leave.  But I knew that I wasn’t depressed – and that’s when I leave.  I wasn’t having fun because I was in my head, thinking – thinking about myself, thinking about my day, thinking about dancing – and that was a not fun place to be.

I realized that this was a great chance to practice getting out of my head and into my body.  “For four out of the last five days I have been locked behind a cash register.  Look how much room I have to move here.  My feet hurt, but it’s still fun to move all round, fill the space.  And there are these great playmates encouraging me to move free by the creative ways they are moving.”

I clapped my hands all over my body, to remind myself that it was there.  It’s mostly a non-verbal practice, this dance, but two times i went up to good buddies and said, “I have a body” – and bumped up against them to emphasize it.

There was a new woman there who was very attractive.  I danced into her zone (she mostly stayed in the same place) and found how it energized me – how it got me out of my head and into my body.  I was shy with this new person and didn’t initiate to dance with her – and actually think it’s usually better to give a new person lots of room to move before trying to dance with them – but I still found it stimulating to have her in the room and to dance near her.  At one point she danced around me and even bumped into me.  I looked for eye contact that might indicate she was doing this intentionally.   I didn’t see any, so didn’t follow up, but it still lit me up.

Tom and I have a multifaceted relationship: we were roommates for two years, we work together at the grocery store, we do Interplay (improvisational movement, storytelling and song) together – and we dance together (at the same dances).  And we usually do dance together – like really together – more than once over the course of a dance.  He likes engaged dancing probably even more than me and he frequently initiates towards me – and I like that.

Tom and I sometimes do contact improv dancing as we pass each other in the store aisles.  It's mostly pretty minimal, but it brings the world of dance into the world of work and kind of lights things up.

Tom and I sometimes do contact improv dancing as we pass each other in the store aisles. It’s mostly pretty minimal, but it brings the world of dance into the world of work and kind of lights things up.

He also takes a stance for the value of me staying on the dance floor when i feel like i have to leave – and likes to do what he can to keep me there.  We typically dance rough and energetic – it really gets me into the room, into my body.  This helped a lot last night.

Solon came in late and wrapped me up in a big  bear hug.  He frequently says he loves me when he sees me.  He didn’t say it tonight, but I felt it.  I felt better about myself from his presence in the room.

I succeeded only some of the time at getting into my body – I was in and out of my head.  But getting out of my head is big work for me – it’s going to be my work for a long time, maybe forever.  And I was neither manic nor depressed and that’s good stuff for me.

Dancing back to life

Sometimes dance saves my aliveness.

Sometimes when my spirit seems dead, dance brings it back to life.

Sometimes when my spirit seems dead, dance brings it back to life.

Including today, I have worked eight-hour shifts the last three days – eight hours of standing in front of a cash register.  By the time I left the store today (2/13), my body was frozen and my feet were burning.

Yes I'm smiling - but my feet are killing me.

Yes I’m smiling – but my feet are killing me.

(Tae Kwon Do last night helped a lot to loosen me up, but the frozenness set back in today.)  I was badly in need of my regular Friday night dance, but I was in the kind of depressed state where it tends not to work for me.  I am too frozen to move, too self-critical to engage people, too judgmental to improvise.

The dance I do is free-form improvisational dancing inspired by the 5 Rhythms dance work created by Gabrielle Roth.  On a good (high) day I have a total blast on the dance floor: I am free, energized, spontaneous – and especially groove on jamming with other people.  We may dance all around each other, in and out of each other’s space, maybe (or maybe not) sometimes touching each other – or we may do “contact improv”, improvisational dance with more extensive touch.  On a good day, I’m really good at this kind of engaged dance – I know how to connect with people in my life and I know how to connect with people on the dance floor.

Contact improv can get pretty athletic, but not for this 68 year old dancer.  It can also be finger-to-finger.  i explore that end of the continuum and some of the mid-zone.

Contact improv can get pretty athletic, but not for this 68-year-old dancer. It can also be finger-to-finger. I explore that end of the continuum and some of the mid-zone.

When I’m down, I’m so terrible at moving and connecting that frequently it seems like the only viable option is to leave the dance.  And I do, often.  Or sometimes I just don’t go to the dance at all: when I’m in the kind of depressed state where I typically leave, it seems more kind to myself to save myself that kind of painful failure experience.  I’ve been telling myself that Tae Kwon Do can help me develop more discipline to go and stay regardless of how I feel.  So after work today (6:20), I decided to go to the 7 o’clock dance, then decided not to go, then got really sad at letting it go and decided again to go.  “Even though I’m in the kind of mood where dance doesn’t work for me, I want to go and try.”

I implemented a strategy that has evolved for me over the last many months, but I have never used so aggressively.  Before the dance, I caught several of my best dance friends and said one version or another of, “I’m in one of those moods which you know in me – moods where my body won’t move and I feel disconnected from everybody.  I’m at risk of leaving.  The thing that most keeps me here in this state is connecting with my people on the dance floor.  I may come by you and reach out to dance with you and  if it works for you right then that would be great.” (There is a very strong priority in this group to honor people’s space when they do not want to dance with you – and to learn to not take this personal.)  “And I may totally stall out and not be able to reach out to you.  If you see me in that state, it would be awesome if you were to reach out to me.”

And it worked, enough.  I initiated to my friends and that worked some of the time.  I had a couple of segments where I was on the ropes, feeling like I probably had to leave – and someone came by and danced with me.

I didn’t get high – and I miss that.  But I more and more believe that I’m better off not getting high.  I had a good time – interspersed with not good times.  Connection connected to separation.  Happy and not.  Human.

I’m glad I went.  I’m hoping that Tae Kwon Do increases my strength around going to and staying at dance.  I hope I will remember to ask for help when I need it.  I hope I will remember this evening when I asked for help and got it.