12.19.2013

I do try but I might...

Burning out.

I guess the gist of that thing I wrote a few months ago about writing and the "next step" is this: I am not a genius. I am not god's gift. But this is a fucking waste. It's not about money, or fame or status, it's just. I can write. I can DJ. I can make music (well not amazing stuff yet but the potential is greater, trust). Do I really have to be judged on how well I can rim salt on a glass? Because in my real, "meatspace" life, that is how I am being judged. It sucks.  If I don't excel at doing something that I don't care about, that doesn't really matter, and takes me away from doing whatever it is I can do to make this world a better place, I can't pay my rent. Capitalism is simply not efficient. I actually have this weird theory that if money were taken out of the equation, if all tasks were compensated equally, life could constitute itself in exactly the same way as it does now, all options still available, all arduous tasks still completed, without anyone actually disliking what they do for a living. Crazy? Hmm, I dunno.

… Among the many pieces that I can't seem to write, here's the theme of one: the restaurant industry sucks. It's over. It's not a hiding place for the maladjusted anymore. Expectations are high. And getting untenable. Customers are entitled. Capitalism. Yeah. But here's the hard part, and this is coming from someone who hasn't made it out yet.

I mean, yeah, you could be twenty-five and reading this and thinking "yeah I wait tables now but...". But what?

Here's the thing. Next time you are on the floor, or behind the stick, or whatever, just look at the person you are serving and realize that it makes sense to them that you are there.

Consider that. The ramifications. It makes sense. But does it? Does it really?

(and here's where this is no longer an essay but just brain hemorrhage)

As much as I hate it, I take it seriously. My standards of service are really, really high.

No individual request is unreasonable. Really. But once the ratio of requests to time falls too heavily towards the former… 

I could go four or even for hours without a sip of water. If customers keep coming all night, I could lose my chance to eat. I arrive at 4pm. I get home after 2am. That's a long time without food. And what's available after 2am? The nice organic healthy shit you spent too much money on? Nope. Let's just say, there are meats, there are cheeses, and there are various ways to combine them, and I pick one.

But again, no request is unreasonable, but here's the thing:

It's my job to treat you like you are the only customer, but it's your job to not act like the only customer.

"Your job"? Aren't you on a very short vacation? Someone else cooking? Someone else cleaning? Someone else making your drinks? Someone else cleaning up the pieces of what used to be a coaster?

Restaurants are a paradox to me. There's something satisfying about the simplicity. I make a drink, you tip me. If I work, I get money, if I don't, I don't. Somehow weirdly Marxist, though not quite. And yet.

Restaurants are the purest expression of capitalism available in the sense that they express most simply, one of the biggest problems:

the responsibility of the person who pays ends begins and ends with the payment, and there is a strict segregation between the time being payed for and the "other" time. Personal time.

The money can be good. It can be. But it's only useful outside of the time which earns it. You are paying me to not act on my own behalf.

I get it. You probably spent all day being paid to not do what you want to do so that you could do what you want to do at other times. But here you are, bitching about your job, and not realizing that you are now doing to me what you are complaining about because it was done to you, right? Except it's even worse.

How much did you work today? Eight hours? Ok. And was each hour paid at the same rate? Yes? Ok. Well, was each hour you worked today equally as valuable to your employer? No? Did they watch over you and change your rate of pay based on your productivity? No? Huh! How would you feel if that were the case. Bummed, I'm sure. After all, you are not a morning person. It takes an hour in the morning to ramp up to full productivity, say, from 9am to 10am. From 10am to 11:30am you work well, but then it's time to sort-of-half-work while considering what to each for lunch. And then you eat. No matter how many things you have to do, you eat. Because it's lunch, right? What else would one do?

So lunch from noon to 1pm and then there is the after-lunch food coma and the early-afternoon post-after-lunch-food-coma coma and then it's 3:30pm and your rush for a bit and then it's 5pm and then you sort of wind down and maybe browse Amazon and then it's time to go home. How much real work? Could you decide at various times to work harder or more slowly, even if amount of total work to be done didn't change? And again, did your rate of pay change based on the actual quality of the time you offered at various points throughout the day? No? No.

So here's the thing, you come to my restaurant, and you are the boss. You command my time, and you can decide how much to pay me for it. 

(Let's be clear. At all but the very best and fanciest restaurants, your server is getting paid around two dollars an hour, all of which goes to the IRS. I have been working at my restaurant for almost two years and I have yet to open a weekly paycheck. There is no money on them, they are just pieces of paper worth less than the cost of printing them.)

So you decide how much to pay me. There is a social contract. I work harder, I get more, but all of that action is taken on faith. I don't even know how much my time is worth until after you have left. And, and I speak as someone who actually gives a shit, and for all of the people who give a shit, who care about offering good product, who assume your job sucks just as much as mine and that you are treating yourself because you fucking deserve it… you know what affects the quality of the work I do for you, boss? Other bosses. It's not a question of, if I am not getting you water, I am getting it for myself. It's not a question of, well, if you don't order food, I eat. Nope. All you are doing when you walk up to my bar is dividing the time I can dedicate to my employers. You and everyone else. That's it.

When you make your special requests, when you ask too many questions, when you feel entitled, all you are doing is taking time away from other people. It's not my time. I can't make music or do my laundry or count the hairs growing on and around a vagina with my tongue. It's all your time, except not you, but ya'll. 

Here's a little secret. If you consistently get bad service, not at one place, but at all of them, the problem is you. Yup. You. Your ratio of time to money is off. You think you actually deserve more time per dollar than all the other people I am responsible for. (And since I am good, I feel responsible for all of them. I mean, fuck, I am the bartender, but if I happen to be running food to a table [not my job, and uncompensated work] and see you sitting there with empty plates in front of you and your companions, I am taking them [not my job, and uncompensated work].) Which means you tip less. Either in absolute value (which is generally true, as any experienced server will tell you), or, well, let's say I am waiting on two parties of two (two two-tops in industry-speak). All four people involved order exactly the same thing, let's say a $15 plate and a $10 glass of wine. So two $50 tables. Each tip $10 on their checks. If your table takes twice as much of my time compared to the other table, the work per dollar is much greater. The absolute value of the $10 becomes relative. Of course, if all I had to do was wait on four people, I wouldn't care. But that's rarely the case. As I have inferred, even if actual dollar amounts remain constant, the actual value become relative. At a certain point, there are too many people, too many requests, too many demands. The time you are taking from other tables actually affects the income from those tables as the quality of the service necessarily decreases once the amount of tasks to be completed over a given time period actually exceeds the capacity of the server.

I am rambling and this is not going to be edited.

Let's try this again. If you are actively preventing me from giving good service to other people, your tips become less valuable because they are weighed against the loss of tips from others. The more you ask of your server, the more money you are taking out of their pocket as the tips decrease from the dissatisfaction of the people your server is not helping. So even if you tip the typical amount )which the most demanding people generally don't, as their sense of entitlement is ontological), the actual income for the server is a net loss. So the smart server abandons you. You are stress and less money. Which is why you get bad service.

This all might sound cynical. Let's put it another way. A server can take care of, let's say, twenty people an hour, and has twenty-five people to deal with over the course of a particular hour. Either all twenty-five people get compromised service, or some people get better service and some people get worse service. From a strictly moral standpoint, who should get the inferior service? Simply put, the five people who think, ultimately, that they should be able to take more of the server's time relative to the actual ratio of service time versus absolute time. I'm not a technical writer. 

I dunno. I could have said something innovative here. There is a lot more to explore regarding the idea of multiple bosses and the insanely quick decisions that a server, ultimately, a contractor for possibly hundreds of people a night, makes regarding the relative value of labor in relation time. Could there be some sort of larger analogy here? After all, it's all speculation, it's a weirdly pure form of market… but I dunno. Ask me some questions. But try not to ask too many. There are other people waiting.

Back to work in twelve hours.

Don't seat yourself at dirty table. Don't arrive at or before opening time. Don't arrive ten minutes before the kitchen closes. Read all of the materials you are provided before asking me questions. If you want to make a substitution, confirm that the actual thing you want exists as a menu item as part of some other dish (assume the cooks only have the ingredients listed on the menu available to them). The more complex your substitution, the more likely your dissatisfaction. And now that you know that, if you are unhappy with the dish you have constructed, it's your fault. The mark of a good server is to limit options. He or she knows what can be done, and what can be done well. If your substation request has been turned down, even if all the things you want are available on the menu, your server knows something you don't. Why not trust that person instead of waiting twenty minutes, being dissatisfied, and then blaming someone else for your mistake?

Lastly, if you are a party of five or more, call ahead. Unannounced large groups are the epitome of the kind of insensitivity to others that has been described above. A party of a certain size, well, the work involved, it becomes exponential instead of arithmetic. There are eleven of you, and it's 8pm on a Saturday? Setting up your table just killed the service to everyone else, and once you order your food, everyone else's food will take longer. Of course, this could have all been prepared for. Had you called.

Oh and don't even get me started on large parties. Like you are doing me a big favor by holding your birthday party in my section. Thirteen of you? Reservation (thanks, seriously) at 7:30? That means the six tables we put aside for you stop being sat at 6pm. They are not making money for the house or employees for almost two hours before you even arrive. And of course, you linger. So really, the tables are dead from 6pm-10pm. Four hours. You spend $20 per person. That's $260 total, or $65 per hour. In  one hour of that four, I could seat and turn six two-tops, or twelve people. If they only spend $20 per person, which  is unlikely (smaller groups tend to spend more per person), that's already $240 per hour. Let's talk tips then. Twenty percent of that $260 is $52. $52 for four hours for the server. Even if there are only two turns of all of those two-tops, the $480 in sales (at minimum) is $96. If shit is busy, and those tables are occupied for all four hours, we are talking $192 in tips versus the $52. No-brainer there.  And even though one scenario involves the server waiting on a whopping 48 people over four hours instead of thirteen, parties of two are significantly easier to deal with, both technically (all your drinks and plates can be brought out and then later bussed in one trip per task), and also on a human level (i.e. no waiting until everyone is paying attention to read off specials, a higher likelihood of two people being ready to order at the same time as opposed to thirteen, etc…).

Um. That's it for tonight…

Love.

12.18.2013

12.07.2013

Day In Boston

Man I needed it. When was the last time I was in a major city? DC, almost two months ago.

I don't know how to drive. Partially, this is because of my parents having had a car whose brakes would have provided excellent source material for the music of Neubauten when it was time for me to learn, part of it some idealistic youthful sympathy towards the environment and good urban design practice, and partially because I never expected to ever live anywhere where I would need one. The last year and three quarters is, outside of my stint at college, the only time I have bothered to even consider vaguely deciding to entertain the notion of even trying to imagine recriminating myself for it.

I didn't need one Tuesday.

Walked to the train, got one, and… well, you get it.

I've never loved Boston. I can't explain why. As various members of my extended family have lived and continue to live there, it should occupy a larger space in my heart. I've certainly been there enough. Some random thoughts. It's really American, somehow. White, complacent, educated but not always intellectual, and the intellectuals that are there seem somehow more self-satisfied and aloof. There's a lot of designer clothing stores (and I like nice clothing - I just never spend any money on it) yet, if I had the money, and lived there, I wouldn't shop at any of them. Because why bother? It's Boston. And I say that living in an even more casually-dressed city.

As in many American cities, there is a lot of culture, but it feels imported, learned secondhand, studied instead of felt. A mark of distinction, oriented around the consumer instead of the creator. It's worn like an ill-fitting suit, impressive initially but deeply inauthentic upon closer examination. Aspirational but empty of a desire that exists outside the gaze of others.

(OK I am being really harsh here, though this next part is true)

Also all of the black people I have ever been friends with seem to like it least of the major cities they have spent time in.

And yet, it'll do for now. Meaning it's cheaper and quicker than NYC and maybe I will buy a nice pair of jeans there some day and save them for wearing somewhere else.

I started my day with a bit of wandering, then went to the Institute for Contemporary Art.

It was only my second time there, and my dislike of the building has only increased since my first visit in 2008. To the uninitiated, it is a post-Modern modern building, I guess, in the sense that Modernism is an aesthetic, signified but the use of certain materials, etc., not a praxis of rigor (does that make sense?). Like a lot of buildings trying to look contemporary, it has aged badly.

The first time I went, I resented the building because it faced away from the street and towards the water. A pedestrian trying to reach it must traverse a large parking lot, all the while staring at the "ass" of the building, which has no doors. Nothing was different today, except that the building was dustier, like a glass cube left in the middle of a room where drywall is being installed. But it's really the orientation that bugs me the most. Remember what I said about Boston above. Typical that the building looks it's best to whomever lives across the water and can stare at it, not the people, you know, actually going inside.

On to the art, though. Or Art, oops. Or?

The first exhibit was entitled "Expanding the Field of Painting" and, even though I have not been a regular museum goer for years, I feel like I have seen this before. Not hard to picture. The blurb on the wall always says something like "people keep thinking painting is dead but it's not". And all the artwork used to bolster this argument is empty formalism. Today was no exception, sadly. Nothing sucked, nothing made me care, either. To all the artists worried that painting is losing or has lost both its pre-eminence within the world of art and also within culture and society at large, the solution is not to glue last night's leftovers on to the canvas (if only I had seen something like that today [DIBS]). The solution: instead of painting paintings, try painting something else.

The second exhibit was of photos (and some videos) by LaToya Ruby Frazier, all depicting the wreckage of the formerly relatively prosperous town outside of Pittsburgh in which she was raised, now decimated by the disappearance of steel industry jobs, and also the effects of that industry on the women in her family, including herself. Some of the photos were formally excellent and moving. The one frustration that I had: the artist herself states that she was influenced by Dorothea Lange's work, and perhaps that is why she chose to shoot in black and white. It could also be because black and white photography still seems to possess a certain authenticity and gravitas that meshes well with the subject matter. However, in this context, I found it frustrating.

For instance, some of the pictures were of a hospital that served the town until it was demolished for financial reasons. The pictures were technically excellent, if a little boring in terms of composition. But here's the thing. The hospital was demolished in 2010. On the one hand, yes, the past, but, on the other hand, not. "Not" because the photographer was not only concerned with the literal destruction of the hospital, not merely trying to depict an event, but is also concerned with the larger social, cultural and economic issues that lead to the demolishing, and the ramifications of that action. These issues are not specific to that town, they are emblematic of late capitalism. At least for me, using black and white made everything too specific, too resigned, somehow; the more expansive commentary was somehow foreclosed upon.

After Frazier, a show dedicated to Amy Sillman. I can't say anything negative or positive. I just didn't connect, and I think it is my fault.

After the art of others, I picked up a tool to further mine. Got a massive discount purchasing it secondhand. 

The place where I picked up the pedal happened to be across the street from a record store, so… guess what? I threw a hard drive filled with MP3s through their window.

Of course not. Digging, of course.

Though I'm actually getting sick of it. Not records, digging. Back before eBay and Discogs changed the market completely, I used to love digging. There were always gems, and they were always cheap. Especially since, well, most shops were run by old rock dudes who didn't care about anything after 197x. Now, deals and lucky finds are much, much more infrequent. The prospect of looking through 500 unsorted 12" singles becomes more daunting when the rewards have already been picked out and placed on the wall for inflated prices. At a certain point, I start to feel like an employee, paying for the privilege of sorting through the shop's records, or worse yet, not even paying, not even finding anything after all that work

And yet, I did find three great records for two dollars apiece. Two classic post-disco jams by Kano and Loose Ends, and a classic house record from the early 1990s.

Once I gave in to lust, I went all the way.

Next was Barnes and Noble. Forgive me or don't. Barnes and Noble seems like mecca at this point to me. I wanted specific things, they had them, though I ended up buying something I hadn't known about when I walked in, Ben Davis' 9.5 Theses On Art And Class. Yes. Do it.

For those who remember my reading list from August, well, I don't know what it is, but I can't seem to read anything but criticism. I've already made more progress in a few days on my new book than all the other things (history, fiction) that I have been trying to read. What does that mean? I don't know.

Then, then, then, then. Linear narratives are boring.

Then I bought more records (DNA On DNA, the repress of Kraftwerk's Computer World that has been, for some reason, much harder to track down than all of the other albums that were repressed at the same time).

Then I wandered. Surprised? You? Nah.

Then I ate at Wendy's because it was all I can find (Boston, you are so cosmopolitan with all of your kitchens closing at 10pn),

Then, a beer at a hotel bar, which is my favorite kind of bar, where nobody knows my name.

Then train then home. Blah blah blah. I guess if I wanted to be a real writer, I would have stuck to the Art, would have used more formal language, and would have tried to offer some real insight. Has the phrase "then I ate at Wendy's" ever appeared in Frieze?

Regardless… 
Love,
;-p