Is it a good thing to ask? Giving part 2

When you are raising money for a good cause like the Our Voice sex abuse counseling center, one could make a case that you should ask everybody who comes through your grocery store check-out line.  But this is not feasible or even desirable: asking takes energy, being turned down can take it out of you, and some people are better off not being asked.

You can similarly make a case for not profiling who you should ask.  I certainly have gotten yes answers from groups my profiling would target as bad risks: too young, too old, too southern, too poor, too minority.  But I do still have a profile of who is most likely to give, for this charity especially: a woman between 25-50 with a big order and our frequent shopper account.  And I do find myself, when I am burned out from being turned down, trying to intuit who is going to say no, so as to maximize my yes’s.  Call it profiling or call it psychic or simply picking up on their energies, I’ll defend my right – even my responsibility to my own self-care – to leave some people out.  There are some other times that I think it makes sense to not ask:

  • when they seem worried or angry or hurried
  • if they are paying with food stamps (you don’t always know this until right at the end of the transaction)
  • when they are buying for work or for somebody else
  • if they make any reference to a recent financial reversal – big dental or vet bill, home remodeling that’s going over budget
  • they have had to wait a long time in line, you have created a complicated transaction right before them or you have otherwise pissed them off
  • they have already pulled out even change -or their change is going to be less than a dollar, the least we are equipped to take
  • they have gotten in a groove of saying no – or seem to be enjoying it too much. “No I don’t have your frequent shopper card.” “No I don’t want a bag.”  “No I don’t have a highlight to report” (my favorite conversation starter)
  • if you have made a big pitch for the frequent shopper program and they have said no
  • if they are with their mother or grandmother who is paying
  • if you get any kind of a bad vibe from them

In my first “Giving” post, I made the case for asking – even while I said that sometimes they would be doing right by saying no.  Here I’m making the case for not asking, mostly to take care of our own energy.  Sometimes we just need a breather.  The other day, in a burned out moment, I bargained with myself that I would ask the next three people and if none of them gave I would take some time off.  None of them did give, but I had so much fun with the  fourth person that I couldn’t resist asking – and she gave $5.  That kept me going for a while.

Sometimes we get burned out because we have lost our center and started to care too much whether they give.  The whole enterprise is a great opportunity to listen to ourself, to tune into our subtle sense of things, and to let go.  It can potentially enrich our experience of the work.


Is it a good thing for them to give?

Not always.

We’re asking for money at the cash registers again – for a very good cause, one I can really get behind (Our Voice, a community agency that fights against sexual and domestic abuse).  There are all kinds of good reasons why it might be good for our customers to say “No”.  They may need to pull their energy in today.  Even thinking about this agency may trigger some of their own traumatic experiences.  The bottom line is that in that moment “No” may have the most integrity for them – may in some way even be healing.


If we want to let it be equally as good for them to say “No” as “Yes”, then – to keep our own energy intact – we need to somehow just not care whether they give or not.   We need to plant our feet, take a deep breath, hold our center – and simply be glad we asked.  That’s all: we did our part in the dance.  Now we turn it over.

Now here’s where there’s a delicate paradox.  At the same time that you don’t care whether they give or not – while you say to yourself that “No” may be just the right answer for them – still it’s OK and maybe useful to have another part of your mental machinery that is pulling for them to say “Yes”.

Why?  Because, overall, yes is more life-affirming than no.  It’s good to say yes. It’s a celebration of life.  Be happy for them that they are in a place of yes.  If they are in a conflicted place, cheer for them to break through their no barriers and choose life.

Bless them whichever way they choose.  This is good for you too.  Embrace life. Don’t ask because you are supposed to ask or because it will look good in your numbers.  Ask because you believe in the cause.  Ask because you want be filled with yes energy.  Ask because you want to offer your customer the chance to have a yes moment.  Ask  because it’s a chance – in a job that sometimes can become robotic – for real human contact.  Ask because otherwise you’re just swiping groceries.

Bring out all your compassion for customers who are in a place of no.  It’s a painful place.  I say “Great”, whether people say yes or no – and I really mean it.  When I say “Have a great day”, I lean into it even a little more with people who have said no.  “I think your day maybe hasn’t been all that great so far.  I wish for it to get better.”

I give them all my big toothy grin at the end.  If they think I’m a goof, so be it.  It may help them dispel any energy that accumulated during this transaction.  It might be right.

The Whale (Majo,2005)

I ride the back of a massive whale
Called luck
Or chance
Or the convergence of the spheres
Or “Just coincidence, you dreamer, you”.

When my son was 12,
I told him that God winked at us
When things converged
He thought me more goofy then
Than even I was wont to be.
Today he says it back to me.

I worked as a gasoline station cashier
I played with numbers all day long
They winked at me many times a day.
My boss and I talked of what life was like
In the 70’s in the good old USA
As we talk, this woman writes her check
For her gas and cigarettes combined
It comes to 19 dollars and 70 cents –

This girl says her birthday is today
She’s 29 years old
Her several purchases add up
To twenty-nine dollars on the head.
What kind of dance is this
This rhythm of the spheres?

At my fav place to fill my tank
My charge for gas is thirty dollars and thirty-nine cents
The cashier there knows my numbers thing
And is less enrapt with the synchronicities of life
“Boring number this time, hon.”
Next stop the food co-op
My total there thirty dollars and thirty-nine cents.

This whale
Which dwells so far below
The waves which toss our human lives
Has breeched
It takes my breath away
While my mind sees but an empty sea

This is the first or second grade
Of the “everything thing in synch” elementary school
But fun and helps me pass the time
And, in their so-light ways
These connections
Dare me to still believe
This world is chaos, just
The senseless random bounce
Of the billiard balls of life.

Why is this old song
On the radio at this just perfect time?
Or, coming ‘round that bend
Why is this perfect person there?
Is everything connected?
Do my five senses know
How to perceive beyond
The seeming separateness of things?

This sixth sense – sleeping most the time
Sees the web, the one tapestry of life
Can see what’s next
Because it’s all there at once
All the time.

Could it be
No matter what I think of you
Or my gripes that you
Are even here at all
That you were always meant to be right here
Right this moment, now?

If I dive deep
Engage with you more full
It might get clear
The wink you have for me
And I for you

If some events synch up like this
How can I make this happen more
Here in Asheville, where these things go on
Faster and much more than in the normal world?

What if the secret is
That it’s not for me to do it all
That I may not do anything?
This freeze-frame
Where all seems one
May really mean that all is one
There are no actors
Or those they act upon.

There is just life
Dancing its dance
Dancing us
Even when we just sit and watch.

“You’re not going away unhappy…”

“I’m not going to let you go away a less-than-satisfied customer.”  That’s been the stance with me of James at the Frugal Backpacker.  And he has twice now rescued me from being an unhappy customer, to where I am now very happy – and a big cheerleader for their store, right next door to my store.  And I do like to chat – and will certainly tell lots of people, admirers of the new winter coat I bought from James and customers in my checkout line, about how much I like James and his store.

James and I got off to a great start with each other.  I don’t remember how I found out that he worked at the outdoors outfitter next door.  But I vented with him.  “I am so much needing a really warm winter coat – an industrial strength winter coat.  I hate winter and I’m really suffering.  My current winter coat was old when I got it at the resale shop four years ago and has never been warm enough.  Now the zipper is broken and takes forever to get it to work – and it’s not worth the expense to replace it.  It’s january 8 – have I missed all the good post-Christmas sales?”

James has shown world-class customer service chops since I first met him.  Not just a good businessman, but the kind of guy I'd like as a friend.  Starting next week he'll be in the store on Thursdays only - but Becca is also great, and Emily.

James has shown world-class customer service chops since I first met him. Not just a good businessman, but the kind of guy I’d like as a friend. Starting next week he’ll be in the store on Thursdays only – but Becca is also great, and Emily.

“On the contrary, you are right on time.  Our sale on winter coats starts tomorrow – 40% off.  Come by and I’ll hook you up.  We open at 10.”

“Great.  I’m not working tomorrow – I’ll be there at 10.”

The next day at 10:15 there were already a lot of shoppers in the Frugal Backpacker.  I don’t know how they had advertised – probably not just word-of-mouth –  but the word had gotten out.  James gave me a big warm greeting, made points by remembering my name, and immediately made himself my personal shopping assistant.

I kept feeling like I was being a very demanding customer because one jacket after another seemed to me not warm enough.  I wanted industrial strength warmth.  But the truth is that from start to finish I didn’t spend a lot of time picking out a jacket.  And, in that moment that I found the right one, I loved it.  I thought it was probably warm enough – and it was a beautiful blue color.  It was a good brand, one that radiated quality.  A brand new winter coat, after years of resale coats!  And, let’s just say it, I was manic.  Reality on steroids.  What might seem nice another time seemed awesome, fabulous with that manic chemistry flowing through my veins.  James was happy, I was happy, life seemed happy.

When I saw James three weeks later, back in my checkout line, he was clearly happy to see me and very brightly asked how I was doing with the new jacket.  I practically hung my head.  “It’s not warm enough.”  It had taken me a couple of weeks to decide this.  Those first two weeks I was manic and warm.  I don’t know if it’s anywhere in the clinical research that people are warm when they are manic and cold when they are depressed, but it makes good sense to me and certainly fits with my experience.

So now I was depressed, cold, feeling like I had mismanaged the whole situation, discouraged about the chances of setting it right three weeks after making my purchase – genuinely ashamed of myself.  James brightened right up.  “We’ve got to fix this!  We can’t leave you unhappy.”

“I don’t have my receipt.”  My personal organization is genuinely chaotic and I have a hard time holding on to receipts.  (About an hour ago I pulled out an envelope, labeled it “receipts” and deposited in it a receipt from today.  I really do mean it that I intend – no matter what voice says I can’t – to bring some order to my life.)

So I went back to the store the next day and this time James found me a genuinely industrial strength parka – not as pretty as the previous jacket, kind of industrial strength looking, but as much goose down as any jacket they carry and a strong windproof exterior.  The 40% off sale was well over, but James gave me that discount.  I went out of the store once again a happy customer.

People think I'm dressed for the Arctic in this coat.  I feel good that I've done everything possible to stay warm, even though I'm not.

People think I’m dressed for the Arctic in this coat. I feel good that I’ve done everything possible to stay warm, even though I’m not.

I returned to the store today, three weeks later, once again feeling like a failure.  The jacket is definitely warmer than the last two, but still not warm enough for me.  I have basically given up on finding a jacket that will keep me warm – and blame myself for being so bloody cold-blooded.  I have really kind of resigned myself to that limitation; what brought me into the store today was that all the buttons were falling off the jacket.  “They really ought to do something to make good for that”, I thought.

James was once again clearly happy to see me – exactly the way i would most love a shopkeeper to greet me.  Knows me, remembers my name, happy to see me – and wants me to be a happy customer.  And, in this instance, ready to let me get to know him as a person.  Very shortly into our conversation he shared his good news.  “I’m going part-time, one day a week, so I can stay home with our nine-week-old baby.” He was radiant.

“Awesome – congratulations.  Does this mean you will have to give up your job as the store manager?”

“I’ve never been the store manager – I’m a sales associate.”

“But you take so much personal ownership for the store and its products.  You’ve gone way out of your way to make sure I’ve been happy, including maybe bending policy by giving me 40% off when the sale was over.  You didn’t consult with any manager, you just empowered yourself to do it.  How did you learn such great customer service chops?” (I didn’t say, “and so young”, but I thought it – ageist that I am.)

“My dad ran a hardware store for 30 years – I picked a lot of it up from him.”

Then I gave him my bad news about the buttons.  He was clearly shocked at the sight of my buttonless coat.  “That’s terrible – I’ve never seen anything like that.  We’ve got to do something about this.  Let me see what we can do.”  This time I think he did go consult with a manager, the lovely Becca whom I would meet a few minutes later.

He came back and said, “Woolrich has a warranty on the jacket, but you’ll have to call them to work that out.  From our end, to try to make up for your inconvenience, we’re going to resell you the jacket not at 40% off, but 65% off.”  I brightened right up.  By the time he finished his calculations, I was buying the jacket not for its original retail $170 nor for the $107 I had paid for it three weeks before, but $67.  I said, “I honestly don’t completely love this jacket, but at $67 I love it and am a satisfied customer.”

Becca then came out and introduced herself.  I told them both about my blog and about how some of my posts get kind of psychological because I have a background of being a psychologist.  “James said Becca’s a doctor – she teaches courses at UNCA” (University of North Carolina Asheville).  Turns out she has a doctorate in environmental science and is a classic destination Ashevillain – she and her husband moved to this job-challenged town for the life style and are cobbling together jobs to make ends meet.  It felt good to know that I’m not the only front line customer service worker in this plaza to have a Ph.D.

Becca was smart and charming - a classic Asheville overqualified front line customer server.

Becca was smart and charming – a classic Asheville overqualified front line customer server.

This incited me to probe a little deeper into James.  “Us cashiers are such interesting people.  What else do you do besides working in the outdoor store?”

“Well, I’m an audio engineer.  I have worked with various bands, but these days I’m reining in all the traveling and I do audio work with Biltmore Baptist Church.”

“I knew it – an artist.”

Before I left, I got James’s email address so I can send him my favorite book on stay-at-home dads – From Deadlines To Diapers, written by my friend Mike Perricone during a period when he was a therapy client of mine and left his job as the hockey reporter for the Chicago Sun Times to stay home with little Jenny.

Oh, and before I left, Becca introduced me to her cute and very sweet and friendly dog Pepper, the store mascot.

Not  a great shot of Pepper - she's way cuter than this shows, and as friendly as James and Becca.

Not a great shot of Pepper – she’s way cuter than this shows, and as friendly as James and Becca.

Asheville is a very dog-friendly town and it is common for people to bring their dogs to work.  Jubilee, where I go to church, will have several dogs in the room on any given Sunday.

I left there feeling redeemed as a consumer – and proud to be doing customer service for a living.



Charm their pants off

At work this week, we got news that sounded on the surface like bad news: some of our popular customer discounts were being reduced.

The very popular senior discount is now just one day a week.

The very popular senior discount is now just one day a week.

The equally popular military discount is also going to just one day a week - and is being cut from 10% to 5%.

The equally popular military discount is also going to just one day a week – and is being cut from 10% to 5%.

The student/teacher discount continues at one day a week.

The student/teacher discount continues at one day a week.

When I worked at Greenlife a couple of years ago, they had recently been taken over by Whole Foods and the very popular senior discount was discontinued.  I’m sure nobody ever determined how many  seniors took their business elsewhere (including to my current store), but certainly some did – and some stayed but harbored resentments.

So how do you deliver potentially bad news in a positive way?  The company gave us some talking points.  The strategy is to not get rid of the discounts altogether, but to move towards optimally low prices applied to everybody.  I feared people would respond to that one with cynicism – “Low prices, sure.”  But they mostly seemed to accept it.

It will make it easier to focus on the discount of the day – new people may learn that they are qualified.  I’m disturbed by how often people tell me, “I’ve been coming here for years, but I never knew there was a military discount.”  Now on Thursdays we may poll more thoroughly for it.

My strategy is just to charm the daylights out of them.  Really go after them.  Let them know we want their business and their loyalty.  If there is any part of me that genuinely loves my customers (and there is), then lean into that part now.  We have a community of staff and customers at our store – and I don’t want that community ruptured.

I personally happen to think this is a positive way to go.  I am influenced by the young people who complain “I’m way more broke than the average senior citizen – I think it’s unfair that they get a discount but not me.”  Parents of young kids say similar things.  And nurses wonder why they don’t get a discount. And firefighters and police officers.  And students and teachers have wondered why their discount was just one day a week – now there is more parity there.

I had mixed success today trying to use that argument with customers.  Two of them together said, “Our young adult children are way more affluent than us on social security”, while others seemed to accept the fairness argument.

We're the face of the grocery store.  This is a brief period where the goodwill of some of our customers is at risk.  Let's pull out the stops to let them know we value them and their business.  It could be practice for going after people we care about in our lives.

We’re the face of the grocery store. This is a brief period where the goodwill of some of our customers is at risk. Let’s pull out the stops to let them know we value them and their business. It could be practice for going after people we care about in our lives.

I think a little apology is fine – this is a disappointment, we want to show that we understand that.  But not to come across with an apologetic attitude.  Stay proud of the store and of our commitment to our customers.  Lean into whatever positive gambits you usually use with customers.  I have been working in my stock “What’s been a highlight of your day?”

Some customers may go away mad – probably not for good (our primary competitors don’t offer these discounts any day of the week).  But there is the risk of them leaving – or at least of their enthusiastic connection to the store being diminished.  It’s a critical juncture here – time to pull out the stops for their loyalty.  Time for me to get out of my comfort zone – really show them we want them.  This could be really good for me – may transfer to other relationships where I want to pursue someone, want to show them I value them, want to come from my loving heart.

Why not? Otherwise you’re just swiping groceries.

Thursday evening p.s. Today I ran into a few people who were determined to be mad about this change, but many more who were susceptible to charm.  I had some who responded to my fairness gambit by saying things like “Well that makes sense”.  Most of the people I dealt with who are adversely affected are seniors.  I developed a whole patter about that change: “Man, I’m disappointed.  These are my peeps (I’m 68) and I’ll be missing them because I don’t work on Mondays…It will be like a seniors club in here on Mondays…We’ll play mahjong and bingo in the cafe”, etc.  Lots of people who started out bothered, worried, etc. walked away seeming at least content.

My five dirty secrets

See the happy, smiling cashier.  This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points.  This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

In my store, we give people bonus points on their membership account when they bring their own bags. These points eventually apply as a discount on your grocery bill. I have five dirty secrets about how I implement these bonus points:

  1. I frequently forget to touch the button on my touch screen that applies these points.
  2. To counteract this tendency, my policy is to give the points right up front to everybody who comes through my line – including people who take bags and thus don’t deserve the bonus (remember the parable about the laborers who work different durations in the fields), and people who don’t belong to our frequent shopper program and for whom these points are completely irrelevant.  (I picture them poring over their receipt at home and asking, “Bag points?  What bag points?”)
  3. Our system is a little screwy and often requires people to re-enter their credit card at the end of the transaction.  Sometimes, however, when I tell people “The machine is asking you to swipe your card again” a more honest statement would be, “I just realized at the end of the transaction that I had not yet entered your bag points.  Touching that button at this point in the transaction caused your credit card info to fall out.  I understand that the hassle of once again pulling out your credit card may greatly outstrip the value of your 5 measly points.”

    See the happy, smiling cashier.  This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points.  This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

    See the happy, smiling cashier. This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points. This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

  4. Sometimes, after the transaction is over, I have a moment of wildly neurotic insecurity in which I ask myself “Did I give them their bag points?” Then, in an environment that greatly values conservation and where we are all proud that we recycle unwanted receipt slips, I print out another copy of the receipt so I can see if I actually did dispense the magical five points (value 5 cents).
  5. More often than not the receipt says that I actually did give them the points.  What’s more out of it – to forget to do something or to do it and not remember doing it?

I really, really want not to care very much about all this: we’re talking about five cents, for chrissake!  But it haunts me.  It adds stress to my day.  It makes me feel like a bad cashier.

Oh, here’s the deal: it haunts me when I’m depressed.  When I’m manic I don’t give a shit.  

Just that time of year…

My Christmas poem.

Really kind of long – and dark in places, like the season.  But worth it, I think.  Set aside maybe 5-10 minutes or more (it’s most satisfying consumed in one sitting), get yourself in a comfortable chair with a good cup of coffee or tea or a glass of wine – and maybe with a journal and pen.  My journey is not your journey, but perhaps in places they may touch.  I wish you love and hope at this dark – for some of us at times very difficult, but really still pretty special – time of year.

winter dark 4


Just that time of year…  (Majo, 12/15/14)

It’s that time of year again
Jingle bells and all
But is there really all
That much to celebrate?

The cold and dark have returned again
Do pretty much the same time every year
I try to be cheerful about them
But this little whoosy man
Gets depressed with the onset of the shorter days
And pisses and moans pretty much the same
The whole winter through

The events in the world
Wars, gang shootings
Racial profiling and horrific injustices
Seem no better than ever
I want so badly to believe
That the human race and societies
Are somehow evolving
Somehow getting better, smarter
More fair, more loving
But can see no signs
That this is true

In my own so-limited human life
What sign is there of positive change?
My biochemistry maintains as cruel a reign
Over my desperate moods
As does the Islamic State over
Its desolate segment of humanity
Oh, I’ll give you that
I have not now been suicidal for five years
No more trips to the hospital – or even close
Housing – with Tom and Will for two years
And with Lotus Lodge newly now
Has been a good part of my life
OK, actually very good
After some extended tsuris before that
Alright, I can’t deny that work has been good
A really good year at my new job
With no end in sight

winter dark 2

OK, I will not deny that
There are some good things
OK, very good things
In my life
But what about my moods?
My moods!
Ten days up, fourteen down
Pretty predictably these days
Now is that fair!?
The steady repetition of the cycles
Is so discouraging
The ups slightly to more-than-slightly
Out of control
If also predictably a lot of fun
But the downs, the downs
So painful, so disheartening
So much self-hate
So much of everything looking ugly and wrong

I had my one big shot at a shift
October 18-25
Eight days of training in
Brainwave Optimization
I put a lot of eggs in that basket
My Chicago friends Sally and Mary Ellen
Who knew a lot about it
And who deeply love and support me
Had very high hopes that it would help
Gave me financial support
To make it happen
My friends Byron and Nancy
Took this traveler in
For ten days in my home Chicago
I got to see my beloved brother Terry
Three times on this visit
Instead of one on my last week-long visit
Just back in May
His new chemo is hitting him less hard
He has more strength
For spending time with his
Intense handful of a brother

winter dark 4

The brainwave treatment is very subtle
No effects promised for 3-6 weeks
But half-way through I got depressed
And everything else looked like shit
In the throes of depression
Nothing ever seems to have changed
And I have no hopes
For anything new to help

On November 6, the Shine Expansive
A very exciting personal growth workshop
Stood before me like a shining city on a hill
But I got depressed the day it began
And was significantly depressed for all three days
But the Shine did have power – enough power to
Keep me moving, with even some real high points
And I came away with a new mission statement
“I shepherd my flock”
Which seems to pull together
All the threads of my life up to this time

But my mood swings
Remain unabated
What of the Brainwave Optimization?
What of the Shine Expansive?
What of any of it?
What of positive change in the world?
The dawning of the Age of Aquarius –
My youthful dream?
What of my hopes for humanity?
For the world?
What of peace on earth?

winter dark 8

But then there is this blog…
Born 11/24/14
Now 21 days later – an adult?
Not in blog years – still a baby
70 followers in three weeks – unprecedented
In my personal experience with writing blogs
1085 page views
261 on one particular day
55 yesterday
So many people posting beautiful comments
So many people emailing me encouraging words
So many people telling me on the street
How much the blog means to them

Except for an occasional poem
My writing had been stuck
For over a year
Now completely unstuck
My sense of purpose in my life
Fully reborn
My mission from the Shine
“I shepherd my flock”
Being lived out

winter 1

I have now several very potent flocks
The community of people sharing the blog
My community of co-workers at my store
One of my blog posts is in our cashier log book
At my boss’s suggestion
And many of my colleagues are talking about it
I will soon post one of my blog entries
By the time clock
(Again my boss’s suggestion)
Where all my coworkers can read
And maybe return to the blog on their own

My customers are a flock
I tell them about the blog in the checkout line
The other day, two customers
Friends to me but strangers to each other
Discover that they are each fans of the blog
And begin an animated conversation about it
My boss says
“When you print up business cards for the blog
Give them out to customers”
Amazing support from the store
I had thought that if I gave out cards
From my cash register
I might get in trouble with the brass
And so I will print them up and give them out
The blog creates for my customers
A sense of connection with our store
With our staff
With each other
With the cashiers of the world
And with me

winter 2

And what of those cashiers of the world?
About ten years ago
Working as a cashier
At the Enmark gas station on Merrimon Street
Standing in that little kiosk
Selling gas and cigarettes for a year
Until I got fired for calling a customer a bitch
But oh she deserved it
I didn’t just use the term
When she said
“How dare you call me a bitch”
I looked her straight in the eye and said
“Sometimes it just fits”
She took it badly
But I never regretted it
Even my boss did not blame me for it
“I never would have fired you for this
But she went straight to a company VP
I had no choice.”
It was a great moment in cashiering
Though obviously a strategy
I cannot recommend in this blog
Except in moments of great trial
And when your integrity demands it
I used to teach Empowerment Training
At a local community college back in Chicago
And taught people to say “Fuck you”
When no other assertiveness technique worked
And when their sense of self
Was at stake

But I digress
But then it’s my poem
And I did tell you to curl up in a good chair
With a good cup of coffee

So there I was spending all my work time
In this little kiosk
I wrote a blog on customer service
My own model
Authentic Customer Service
I got really very excited about it
46 posts, 2650 page views
Check it out
There’s really some very good stuff on it
A great payoff from that at times boring
At times very stressful job
Along with some very good
Experiences with customers
(No coworkers there in that lonely kiosk
One of the biggest downsides)

winter 3

So I have this blog
My ability to keep writing when I am down
Unprecedented in many years
Perhaps the Brainwave Optimization is working
And the Shine Expansive
And my newly refined but longtime mission
To shepherd my flock
I have a walking stick that Annie gave me at the Shine
When she so ably facilitated us
Through our mission-developing process
A flag hanging from the handle reads
“I shepherd my flock”
Amazingly more apropos for a staff
Than if it said “I sell more widgets this year”

So maybe I do have more light in my personal life this year
Even as my grueling moods remain unabated
Maybe I don’t get to have my whole Christmas list
Delivered for me under the tree
But then the human race
My brothers and sisters
Do not get to suffer appreciably less this year
And maybe you readers of this poem
My brothers and sisters
Still have pain in your lives parallel with my moods
My brother still has his cancer
My friend Bob still has his grief
From his wife Nina’s so-recent passing
My roommate Jesse has his
Search for a fulfilling job
My old roommate Tom has his
Pressing need to unload
His desperately financially depleting house
My old roommate Will has his frustrating
Quest to live out his calling as an artist
My store has its battle to contend
With all the supermarkets
Flooding this saturated market
My coworkers have their struggles
To make ends meet on paltry wages
To live out their gifts
As artists and musicians
To manage their relationships
Their health, their work aspirations

winter dark 7

Everybody, it seems
Has their struggles and their sorrows
Caroling at the hospice last night
In the Community Room
I looked around and it looked like only us present
“Where are the dying people?” I thought
Then I looked to my left and saw
In a little pod, three of my dear friends
Who have had tragic losses
In the last few years
I realized that we were singing
Not just for the shut-ins we were visiting all evening
But also for ourselves

We – all of us
Need to buck up our spirits
At this dark time
We – all of us
Need all of us
To come together
To love each other
We – all of us
Need this poem
We – all of us
Need to create
Whenever we can
However we can
We – all of us
Need to hope for the future
For our writing and painting
And music-making
And our gardening and cooking
And parenting and love-making

We need to come together
As we are reading this poem
As we read this blog
We are coming together
As all of us staff at my grocery store
Are serving all of our customers
We are coming together
As all of our customers
Rub shoulders in our store
Stand next to each other
In our checkout lines
Greet and often hug their friends
You are coming together
As all of us front-line customer servers
In all of the various stores
Serve all of our customers
Who, at other times
Are all of us
Who, when we are not working
Also patronize these other stores
We are all
Every one of us who deals
With customer servers
Coming together

We are serving our customers
Trying to put a smile on their face
Trying to put a smile on our face
Trying to get our customer’s needs met
Trying to check them out
Quickly and accurately
Bagging their groceries tenderly
Ripe avocados on top
Trying to exchange some pleasantries
And, when we are lucky
Even some meaningful exchange
Some “What’s been a highlight of your day?”
Trying to be real for each other
And to be kind
Trying, trying, trying
All of us humans trying
To make things work
To make this a better year
And when we are lucky
To love, even

winter final


“Bring on the cash!” (and the kale)

Yesterday, based on an experience at my Friday evening dance, I got aroused around mindfulness – especially as applied to cashiering.  Having been off on my cash once last week, my rallying cry became, “When the cash comes out, the chatter stops – focus on the money!”)  I put my “Cash only” mindfulness sign right in my cash drawer, where I would see it every time I dealt with cash.  (This did not guarantee that I would always pay attention to it.  Like all the mindfulness props I use, it would eventually go into background.)

Show me the money! Nothing gets past me!

Show me the money! Nothing gets past me!

I had thought that mindfulness of the groceries would for now take a back seat to mindfulness of the money, but I quickly found that they worked well together – that paying attention to the groceries helped me to pay attention to the cash.  And I was carrying a real sorrow about how relatively mindless I had been at the dance the previous evening.  I couldn’t shake the memory of the last piece of music – haunting bells and chimes – which pretty much flaked everybody else out and which I really didn’t hear because I was composing yesterday’s blog post.  Today I was hungry to be in the present moment.

I discovered several things about the groceries:

  • Produce was the best fodder for mindfulness practice. The color, the texture, the different weights.  It’s alive!  The source of life.  Great.
  • The dill today seemed an unusually dark green.
  • If you look close enough, flat parsley (Italian parsley) really is clearly distinguishable from cilantro – and it’s prettier.
  • Grapes are great.  All those little bumps.  Fascinating – and so satisfying to run my hands over.  I hoped this lady didn’t notice or mind me lightly resting my hand on her bag of grapes.
  • I adore our “Holiday” grapes – boy are they succulent!  I made a strategic choice that I could get away with asking this young woman, “Could you please take out one of your grapes and give it to me?” Then I popped it in my mouth and said, “Man that’s great!”  She adored it, but that will never go in any manual of good cashier techniques.
In the right state of mindfulness, grapes are a gas to touch.  Holiday grapes - which look pretty much like these, only fatter - can be orgasmic to eat, worth the risk of the customer saying that they actually don't want to give you one.

In the right state of mindfulness, grapes are a gas to touch. Holiday grapes – which look pretty much like these, only fatter – can be orgasmic to eat, worth the risk of the customer saying that they actually don’t want to give you one.

  • Cans are also pretty cool – the hardness, the heft.  Satisfying to handle.

All in all, a great shift – facilitated by the fact that I have shifted from depression to a little bit of mania.  Now the issue is to keep my feet on the ground – and mindfulness is the perfect tool.

“Shut up and dance!”

Last night it looked like, after twelve days depressed, my depression was shifting.  This morning I was right back in the crapper, but this afternoon my mood was rising – and I decided to risk it and go to my Friday night ecstatic dance.  When I’m up, I adore this free-form improvisational dancing; when I’m depressed I hate it.

I had a good time during the warm-up and it was clear that I was going to have a good dance.  After the opening circle, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to write a blog post about dancing?  I’ve been writing about cashiering and about bipolar disorder – let’s write about a fun topic, dancing.”

And a voice in me screamed “No!! Don’t spend the next hour on the dance floor thinking about what you’re going to write about it!  Just shut up and dance!!”

Nothing I do on the dance floor looks like this, but on a good night some of what I do is exciting to watch - especially when I can turn my mind off and just dance.

Nothing I do on the dance floor looks like this, but on a good night some of what I do is exciting to watch – especially when I can turn my mind off and just dance.

And I had some luck doing that. (I really am very mental.)  One set of thoughts that came right away and I felt fine about went, “How shall I apply this mindfulness/not thinking principle to the cashier dance floor?” The answer was clear and immediate.  One day last week I was off on my cash at the end of the day.  This is not good for a cashier.  A previous time when I was off, in a different grocery store, my boss gave me some very sage advice: “You’re good with the customers – you have great conversations with them.  But when the money comes out the chatter has to stop – only focus on the money.  Then you can finish your conversation when your money is straight.”  I may have to apologize to a customer for interrupting our conversation – “Give me a second to take care of this money, then we can finish talking.” They’ll understand – they want you to get their money right.  I will put a sign on my cash register saying “Cash only” to remind myself of my intent.

Cashiering groceries begs for mindfulness practice: stilling the mind by focusing only on the colors, the texture, the weight.  It's food!  The source of life.  And still I forget.  For right now,  I'll pay attention to the food the best I can, but focus especially on mindfulness of the money.

Cashiering groceries begs for mindfulness practice: stilling the mind by focusing only on the colors, the texture, the weight. It’s food! The source of life. And still I forget. For right now, I’ll pay attention to the food the best I can, but focus especially on mindfulness of the money.

You may need to come up with a different mindfulness break for your job, but I bet you can.

One other little glimpse of the dance floor, from my dance with sweet Mary.  How differently can you dance from each other and still be dancing together?  On the dance floor and in my relationships, I want some times when you are moving sensuously in rhythm, effortlessly mirroring each other’s movements – like Darlene and I did tonight – and other times when we go way out into our unique, quirky self-expression, yet still know that in some intuitive way we are creating something together.

Buddy can you spare a dime?

On Thanksgiving I was talking with my friend Nancy, who works at Manna Food Bank, about our drive at work to raise money for them.  We have a Manna display in front of each cash register and ask customers if they wish to donate.  Some of us do it better than others.  I do it well sometimes, not so well other times.

It was great to get Nancy, who is so close to the action, talking about where the money goes.  She was talking about “food insecurity”.  The vast majority of people helped by Manna are not street people – they are working poor who at certain times in the month don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  They may have to choose between food and paying a utility bill.

We had a pretty fabulous spread at Thanksgiving - wonderful food, beautifully prepared, abundant.

We had a pretty fabulous spread at Thanksgiving – wonderful food, beautifully prepared, abundant.

My plate - I ate well, and I had been to another feast a few hours earlier.

My plate – I ate well, and I had been to another feast a few hours earlier.

I liked getting a better picture of the issue because I am not all that great at asking for money.  When I am “pumped up” (manic), I’m pretty good at it.  I don’t take it personal when people say “No” – it just feels good to ask, to feel like I’m doing my part for the cause.  When I’m depressed, the “No”s feel punishing – they grind me down.  I just don’t have the energy to ask.

My friend Feather who I worked with at another store said of these kinds of drives, “You’ve got to not care whether they give or not.”  There’s a lot of wisdom in that – and it has helped me hang in there.  But now I think I’m taking it a step farther.

When I am asked to give money – at a cash register, on the phone, or on the street – sometimes I give and sometimes I don’t.  I don’t always know why.  I’m fortunate enough that usually there is at least a little bit of money in my checking account at the end of the month – I usually could give a buck or a few bucks.  It’s not as simple as mania and depression – they don’t directly correlate to giving or not giving.  I just know that sometimes it feels right to say “Yes” and other times the only authentic answer i can come up with is “No”.

Sometimes to come up with an authentic "yes" or an authentic "no" is a victory in itself.

Sometimes to come up with an authentic “yes” or an authentic “no” is a victory in itself.

If sometimes my genuine (healthy?) answer is “No” – and I don’t know why and can’t predict when – then who am I to know what is right for the person on the other side of the cash register?  This may be a moment where saying “No” is a truly life-affirming thing for them.

So now when I pump myself up to ask for money for Manna Food Bank, I coach myself with three points:

  1. Don’t profile them. That skinny little girl who you assumed had no money gave $5.  The gruff guy who you assumed would bark at you gave $2.
  2. Give them a chance to give.  Giving feels good.  If you don’t ask, you are depriving them of a chance to feel good.
  3. Get over the idea that you know what’s right for them to do.  It’s deeper than “don’t care”.  Go ahead and care about them – and want them to do what’s right for them to do.  And you don’t know what that is.

For me, the deepest reason for asking is that it gives me the chance to practice humility, to practice not knowing, to practice letting go.  There is no deeper life lesson.  I don’t want to miss a chance to practice that.