Tuesday, September 26, 2006


This morning, my front counter girl poked her head into the kitchen to relay a question put to her by a customer:

"How do you spell ‘dirt?’"

Which is more pathetic? The fact that this guy--on his cel phone--had to consult my counter person for this, or that she had to then ask me?

A little scary, this proof positive that there are at least three adults loose in the world who are slightly fuzzy about a first-grade vocabulary word.

…and so, the first thing that popped into my mind was, "You mean, as in ‘dumber than…?’"

Monday, September 25, 2006


I really wanted to take my own advice to heart. I wanted to start out the week in control, on top of things, slightly more rested than I have been (we got the hell out of Dodge yesterday…packed some bags and went down to Eugene for the day…) I was ready…really ready…for today to be something like the first day of the rest of my life.

So, I wake up at 5:45 to the beginnings of a beautiful day. I roll up to the side door of the café at 6:58. I decided last week when I made the schedule that I could save a half-hour of employee labor by opening both the kitchen and the front counter. So I make the coffee, start the bacon and sausage, set up the kitchen for breakfast, take down all the chairs from on top of the tables, and cheerfully wait for my first customers—and my 8:00 counter person—to arrive.

8:00 comes and goes…I have customers, but no counter person. 8:05….8:10…counter person is still a no-show. I am trying to wait on customers, make espressos, and cook breakfasts, and I need to dodge into my "office" to grab the phone number of this missing employee. Round about 8:15, I manage to make the phone call.

"Hello, is Counter Girl there?"

"Counter Girl is unavailable."

"Ummm….this is her work calling. She’s supposed to be here…"

"Counter Girl is in the hospital."

"Oh. And someone was going to let me know this…when?"

"I was unaware that she had to work today…"

"Okay…well, could someone please call me and let me know what’s going to be happening in the next few days….?"

Jesus H. Christ. What the fuck else could happen? This girl is one of my first batch of new hires, which as of this writing appears to be going down in spectacular flames. Here are the stunning results of my first hiring wave: one promises to call me back and I never hear from her again. One accepts the job (and a uniform shirt) but calls me before her first day of work to say she’s accepted another position. I never see her, or my shirt, again. Of the two that actually did show up to work, one is now out for God knows how long, and the other has been hijacked by one of her other part-time jobs so that she’s only available to me five hours a week. Net gain: less than zero. Time and energy invested in training completely wasted.

I know I must look like a total bitch, looking at another person’s misfortune only from the aspect of how it is about me. I mean, I like this girl, and I feel bad that she has run into this complicated web of health crises in the last two weeks. But she’s in the hospital getting the treatment she needs. On the other hand, the immediate fallout from her health crisis for me is that all that wonderful "administrative time" I lavished upon myself on this week’s schedule has gone utterly up in smoke. Today was another grueling fourteen-hour-day, which found me running the store with one other person—a girl who is now in her third week of employment with me. And then I also had the pesky former owner hanging around wanting attention. And flames shooting out of the back of the deep fryer. Thank god it wasn’t busy, or we would have been SO completely screwed. As it is, I’m just sitting here physically and emotionally strung out once again. You would think I would be getting used to it.

I don’t know. It just seems like things are determined not to come together for me here. I can NOT catch any kind of a break. Tonight as I was driving home, almost in tears from the frustration of busting my ass for yet another day and getting absolutely nowhere, for the first time, the words, "I want out…" tried to form themselves into a real seed of capitulation. I won’t let myself go there… I know things will eventually get better. But right now, it seems like I’m destined to spin my wheels for an unspecified length of time. And what I really need is to get some traction under me and make some forward progress before I get totally mired in the muck.

It’s gotten so that I can hardly look forward to going to work every day, because I don’t know what new crisis is going to hit me right between the eyes this time. Speaking of which, I had better climb in bed and try to prepare myself for the next wave…

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pausing to Refresh

I decided to compose another whiney entry about the hardships of a fledgling entrepreneur. Sat down at the computer and found that my hands hurt so much, I can barely type. The arthritis is bad enough…but since I’ve tried TWICE in the past week to sever various pieces of my poor, swollen arthritic digits, they are really giving me a raft of shit. Is there such a thing as a "Hand Fixer?" I could also use some Playtex Chain-mail Gloves ("so flexible you can pick up a dime...")

What a week at the little café! Business was SOOO terrible early on, I wondered exactly why it was we were bothering to open the doors. By Friday, I had just about written off the week. Then my cook called in sick, and I ended up being THE cook for the entire day. Chained to the kitchen for fourteen hours. And of course, it was the busiest day we had all week. Honestly, I was so exhausted by the time I left there last night, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Exhaustion. It is my constant state of existence these days. And it is NOT a good thing. I know better than to let myself get into this condition. I know that I am no good to anybody or anything when I’m so tired that just remaining vertical feels like a feat worthy of a standing ovation. How can I achieve anything, make plans, take the restaurant forward, when it’s all I can do to drag myself through t a fourteen-hour day of the sweat-hog labor it takes to run the place?

I’m all for rolling up my sleeves and getting in there, shoulder to shoulder with the employees. If that were what I was doing—demonstrating my personal philosophy of not asking anyone to do something I’m not willing or able to do myself—it would be fine. But in reality, what I’m doing is trying to wear every hat in the place at once. And that is not getting me anywhere. Lesson number one is just about in the can: A successful entrepreneur must get an adequate staff, train them properly, and then turn them loose to do what they were hired to do. Okay…my first move has to be "get an adequate staff." And believe it or not, I’m actually working on that. I wrote next week’s schedule with an eye to giving me enough administrative time to accomplish that feat—interview and hire more staff.

That’s the first thing on the list…that "to do" list I have yet to actually write. I’m afraid to write it, really…afraid it will be so hugethat I will be overwhelmed. On the other hand, without a physical list, in my current state of exhaustion, I’m having all kinds of difficulty organizing my time and getting focused on what really needs to be done. I barely eek out the time to write payroll checks and pay the bills. (And, by the way, I realized I need to fire my accountant. That’s a story for a different day…)

I know, now, exactly what it means to be "too tired to sleep." Funny how I’ve always scoffed at that cliché… For the first time in my life, I’m experiencing the combination of mental, physical, and emotional overload that creates exactly that state. And it is SOOO strange. I tried to describe it in an earlier post…that feeling of running on depleted batteries. It’s as if my connection to reality is dimmed. Stuff comes at me, but it takes a tick and a half longer than normal to penetrate the fog. I’m used to thinking and reacting quickly in any given situation. I’m used to prioritizing on the fly and organizing my day in such a way as to maximize my progress toward a goal. Always on the right path, always making progress up the mountain. These days, I feel like I’m trying to scrabble up the hill on talus. One step forward, slide back two. I’m using twice as much energy as I should be just staying in the same place. What’s wrong with this picture?

What I have to figure out now is how to refresh myself without taking a month’s vacation. Or even a day off. There must be a way…

Sunday, September 10, 2006

How NOT to Land A Job With An Utterly Desperate Employer

I’ve owned a restaurant for 71 days. An indescribable roller-coaster ride. If you had a couple of spare hours, and I could reconstitute the trillion brain cells I’ve shorted out in the process, I’d endeavor to tell you about it. But as things begin to settle into a routine, and I regain some of my equilibrium, stories do float to the surface. Stories that my writer’s heart can’t not share, when conscious time permits…

As I knew would happen, the crew I inherited from the previous regime has begun to exit, one by one. Since returning triumphant from our record performance at the Scandinavian Festival, I have lost three employees. One of them actually gave notice. The other two…not so much. Let’s see…one left a message on the café’s voicemail at midnight, saying he wouldn’t be coming in the next day because he quit. And the most recent—a "woman" of thirty-four whom one would assume should know better—told me on Thursday that Friday would be her last day. Annoying, frustrating, and inconvenient…but not unanticipated. What can I do but roll with the punches?

What has been unanticipated, however, are the dynamics of running a small business in a small town. And the incredibly tiny labor pool available into which to tap to supplement my dwindling crew. Three weeks ago, I interviewed and "hired" four…two of whom actually reported for their first day of work. And one of those has, in the interim, acquired two more part-time jobs, making her availability to me limited and unreliable.

Which is how it came to pass that on Thursday, in the aftermath of Ms. X apprising me of her one-day notice, I sat down with the telephone and the pathetic pile of applications I had stockpiled through the auspices of two newspaper ads and a sign in the window. From a field of six acceptable applications, I managed to wangle three interviews. Since losing one of my three remaining cooks (Mr. Midnight Voicemail), I have been working seventy hours a week. (The café is only open 74 hours a week, or I’m sure that total would be higher…) On Saturdays, we close at 3; it is one of the few times I can conduct job interviews while I’m still at least partially cognizant. So, today was designated "Half-conscious Interview Day."

Interview Number One: Applicant arrives fifteen minutes early. Applicant speaks English. Applicant is dressed (relatively) conservatively. Has thought to insert an almost invisible "plug" in her pierced lip. Applicant is hired on the spot. Shake hands. See ya on Wednesday.

I report back to my two counter girls that I have hired this applicant. Joke with them that my interview questions are, "Are you breathing? Do you have a pulse?" They laugh. Not all that amusing, really. Too true to be funny…

Interview Number Two. Applicant is breathing. Has a pulse. She, too, is hired on the spot.

In the back of my mind, I am wondering if I have become an "employee whore." If I am so desperate for help that I will hire anyone. To be fair, I did draw the line at the homeless man who submitted a barely legible application. Although I’m not entirely convinced that I wouldn’t have set up an interview with him had he supplied an address or a phone number…

And then along comes Interview Number Three.

She is dressed…not all that objectionably. A strange coral—colored matching top and capris. With a rather deep décolletage, about which she is obviously not the least self-conscious. I’m willing to ignore the tendency for my focus to shift from her cleavage to the huge dark circles under her eyes to her unkempt, peroxided hair. When she opens her mouth to speak, I cringe inwardly…her voice has that sort of ignorant, quasi-southern, not quite cowboy cadence cultivated to sound optimally redneck. Acknowledging that I have a tendency to be somewhat of a dialect snob, and prompted by the urgency of my present need, I club my aging hippie soul to insensibility, and wade into the interview with what I hope is an open mind.

Unfortunately, having dealt with the sound of her voice, I now have to digest what she is actually saying. And I can’t really believe she is regaling me with stories about the messy divorce she is currently in the middle of. And that her soon-to-be-ex is sleeping with her ex-roommate. And that the reason she needs the job is that she needs to move out of "his" house and get her own apartment. She and her two kids, of whom she is about to become a single mom. Out of the corner of her mouth she wisecracks, "wouldn’t it be funny if you were also interviewing my husband’s new girlfriend for this job?"

The flags appearing before my eyes are getting redder and redder, but I am so desperate, I decide to ask her about her customer service experience. The first story that pops into her mind, to demonstrate her ability "to handle all types of customers" is about the time at the Winn Dixie when she chased a "colored man" out the front door of the store, steaks flying out of his baggy shirt and pants…but by golly, she stopped ‘im, and got that meat back. And got her tires slashed by his girlfriend for her trouble.

I look at my watch. Surely this interrogation has gone on for hours. It’s 4:10. We have been "interviewing" for an interminable ten minutes. (And I have already learned so very much about her…!) My depleted brain is chugging on its last fumes, but I am desperately looking for a way out of this conversation. She has been filling out applications for months, she tells me. She is mystified as to why she can’t find a job. I am not. Mystified.

Eventually, it occurs to me that I can tell her I’m going to be interviewing a few more people, and then making calls for second interviews in a week or so. This will keep me from having to tell her to her face that I can’t possibly hire her (which I’m convinced I could not do without somehow telegraphing what a horrifying prospect she is…) In the blurry recesses of my exhausted mind, I’m already planning how I can "lose" her application and just never bother to call her back. Not a week from now, or any other time. I’m sorry I can’t be more mature, more professional, more considerate of the applicant’s feelings. But I have only just enough presence of mind to look out for my own survival. And this girl might as well have come into the interview with "Do not hire me under any circumstances" tattooed on her forehead.

So, on the one hand, I am bummed. I really, really, really need the help. But, on the other hand, I’m gratified to learn that desperation has not blown my standards completely out of the water.

Just another day on the roller coaster…