Saturday, November 23, 2013

Who Works on a Holiday?

The holiday season is upon us. A season of love and charity. A season of kindness.

So what's up with so many hateful posts on social media about employees having to work on a holiday, meaning, of course, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Nobody really gets riled up about employees having to work on Valentine's Day, the Fourth of July or Veteran’s Day, do they? Not that worked up, anyway. Not enough to try to shame people into staying home. 

When I was young, I worked as a veterinarian’s assistant, dishwasher, and waitress. In those jobs, I worked the holidays, and although I sometimes felt disappointed to miss a family gathering, I was grateful for the extra hours that holidays brought.

I worked Thanksgiving as an electrician’s apprentice (we worked a huge shutdown while the mill was closed for the holiday) and as a foster parent in my thirties and forties, I ferried children back and forth to their birth parent’s homes in Portland, Salem, and around Clackamas county so they could attend their family event even when it meant missing some or all of my own.

It’s na├»ve to believe that if only stores closed, everyone could be home with their family having a meaningful time. Who is everyone?

Everyone means all the employees, I guess, except the food service workers, foster parents, child welfare workers, movie theatre workers, gas station attendants, animal caretakers, veterinarians, electrical power crews, pilots and flight crews, police and fire responders, EMT and hospital personal. Everyone must not count the jailers, dog walkers, funeral workers, Armed Services personnel, toll booth ticket takers and so on, and so on. 


The world does not stop because of a designated holiday. Life, and death, and many diverse activities, including, yes, shopping, go on. Those who work in the businesses that support holiday activities will work for those who partake in activities on those days. Some of those employees will resent working, some of them will be neutral about it, and some of them will be grateful for the hours.

To expect that workers are entitled to that particular day off in a business that depends on holiday activity to thrive is as ludicrous as someone expecting accounting firms to give accountants time off during tax season, or school districts providing teachers vacations during the school year. If an employer chooses to, good for them, but to demand they do is ridiculous.

If you don’t want to support businesses that operate on any given day, fine, don’t patronize them. But don’t expect me to join you in trying to shame them for operating as a business.

I enjoy the frenzy of holiday shopping, or going out for dessert on a holiday evening, or hitting a movie theater after the turkey has settled. And my venturing out into the world on a day you’ve designated sacred, doesn’t make me wrong. You don't get to be the arbiter of what is sacred for anyone but yourself.

For me, every day we’re alive is sacred. Every day is a good day to shop the companies that treat people well and pay them a decent wage, and a good day to boycott the ones that don’t.


Ministers, priests, and comforters of all kinds work on holidays. Funeral directors still arrange to pick up bodies of those we love, social workers still investigate child abuse, coffee shop workers still prepare coffee. We are human beings and live rich, complex lives. Society seldom stands still. 

We could argue it should. There are moments so important that we ought stop in our tracks and reflect. There are moments worthy of a caesura in speech and deed. Let that be when we hear of another person's suffering. When someone dies. When a new infant is born. Let us all stop a moment and praise when some other human being's heart pulses a little more open in love. 

Let's not beat each other up because somebody shopped or profited or worked on the "wrong" day. We are, all of us, more than such arbitrary measure.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Deb's Nail Salon

 Like my twin sons, I, too, had a creative mind. One of the earliest products I concocted is captured in my poem:

Backyard Bundt Cake

Find a good tree with a bald patch
at the base of the trunk. It is perfect
if erosion has worn away a bit of root
to form a puddle from yesterday’s rain.
Find an old Folgers can, rusty will do,
and a thick stick to stir the goo
you will make from two handfuls of dirt,
a bunch of dry leaves crackled into bits,
and (don’t balk now) a bit of dog doo
from over by the back fence. If the tree
is cedar, gather a handful of tiny cones,
stir them in whole. If it’s fir,
you only need one. Crush it
underfoot so the scales slide free.
Mix them in your muck with a little green
grass and dandelion wishes. Stir
vigorously. Your arm won’t get so tired
if you sing, “Delta Dawn, what’s that
flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose
from days gone by?” Make a circle of
small pebbles on a hot sidewalk.
Spread the batter inside the round rocks.
Bake until crusty brown.

My kids never had access to rusty Folgers cans because I buy Starbucks Coffee (Kimodo Dragon, if you must know.) No MJB or Folgers for us. And I don't know if the rap songs the kids liked to sing were conducive to stirring. Their backyard  cake would have turned out lumpy. They never really found the charm in making old-school mud pies.

In fourth grade, I developed a marketable product: Fake Fingernails. 

My friends paid me a penny a set.

I got in trouble in Mrs. Rabey's class for wasting glue. I didn't really understand why she was so upset about it. 

We were required to have one bottle of Elmer's Glue, one container of white paste, and one bottle of rubber cement with a stiff little brush (the kind that could get you dizzy) or the kind with the slanted rubber lid with a slit that you had to bend so the glue seeped out. Wasting a little Elmer's didn't seem like it should be a crime. 

Forty years later, women would pay $40 for what my friends paid me a penny. I should have taken out a patent on the idea, but instead of encouraging my enterprise, the teacher forbid me from making more fingernails in the ruler on the top of my desk.

The desks were square with an opening on one side where students placed their books, paper and pencil boxes. Just inside the lip of the desk was a groove, slightly wider than a pencil. It was meant to lay your pen or pencil in so that it didn't get lost behind the books. 

While Mrs. Rabey read Johnny Tremain aloud to the class, I filled the groove with Elmer's glue. 

After recess, it was dry. I peeled the long strip from the cold metal groove, then snipped pieces about an inch long with my scissors. That went fine until one flipped right out of my desk and landed by another student.

Mrs. Rabey had excellent ears and eyes. (The better to hear and see you with, my dear.)

I had to empty my desk, then turn it around with the opening pointing away from me. All my belongings were crowded on top. I hardly had room to set the paper for my times test.

I missed recess where the other girls--one was a girl named Dawn Reams, I think--sat out in the grassy field and talked about Tom Jones. That day, I had to clean the blackboards and the erasers instead. CLAP-CLAP-CLAP: Chalk dust everywhere. 

There went my nail salon. I don't wear fake nails to this day; you can blame Mrs. Rabey for that.