Doffing the Overalls: a Preferred Indifferent

Okay, so… THE SERVICE INDUSTRY IS CRAZY! The particular restaurant I work at poses daily challenges to my Stoic resolve. There is a level of cattiness among revolving cliques there that is detestable. Gangster rap and desensitized idle chatter violently churn the airwaves in the kitchen. On a given shift I will hear co-workers complain with passion about petty things, especially in regard to other co-workers. I’ve tried to admonish some by stressing that the trivialities they’re undergoing won’t matter, say, in 300 years, and encourage them to sustain that greater perspective when things seemingly go awry. I think some of them get that I’m trying to help, and share with me the serenity that comes from taking a few deep breaths in this chaotic business, but often times, in response to my attempted admonishment or simply my serving style, I’m labeled “weird.” Yes… I know I’m weird. I’ve known that since elementary school. I like it. It’s who I am. Now, lets get the job done and respectfully co-exist! Sigh 😉

I put in my two weeks notice around a week ago after I found another day time restaurant job. I told one of the managers I was being made to feel uncomfortable working with one particular employee and that I wasn’t making enough money during the week, though would “prefer” to still work on the weekends. She honored my requests, which I am grateful for – the money is definitely worth the craziness, on the weekends.

Without forgetting my bedrock, I can’t stress enough how reading and re-reading the later Stoic’s have helped me successfully navigate this restaurant terrain without going back to the bottle. When I wake up, I do a little bit of mindful meditation and stretching, then I say to myself:

“…The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they cannot tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.” (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations 2.1)

Marcus-Aurelius

This type of mapping out my day is incredibly realistic and also, when practiced (alongside other mindfulness techniques and Stoic principles), generates an accompanying pause, calm, clarity, peace and tranquility when “life happens” in dis-preffered ways.

So, it was out of preference that I found another job. I started working at one of the restaurants within the farmers market in Raleigh. They specialize in southern cooking and are ALWAYS busy. My reasoning was that I would maximize my income by working there during the week and keep my weekends at the other job. I had to wake up at 5am tuesday morning to do all my morning rituals, including a HEALTHY BREAKFAST, in order to make it there by 7am, my clock in time for training for the next three days. The first day of training wasn’t so bad. I was given my uniform: a pair of overalls, to be worn over a black shirt. I got to see another dimension of how people tend to behave in this business. Nevertheless, it was busy and I wasn’t strongly deterred by any facet of the restaurant in particular.

The second day of training was a bit different from the first. Upon awakening that morning at 5am, however, I witnessed a battle going on “upstairs.” Anywho, I didn’t listen to that voice in my head that was persuading me to sleep in and avoid the duties of being a citizen of the world. No, instead, I got up and pushed through and thought about LIVING…. while living. Donning my overalls (new work uniform), I hopped on my bike and pedaled to work. Once at work I busied myself with learning their systems and helping out the lady I was training under. I witnessed the manager on duty bark with, what I thought was an unnecessary and exaggerated tone, at three other servers about organizing the coffee station. I saw them all bicker among themselves about her when she walked away. The manager went to the host stand and proceeded to talk about the incompetence of these three servers with the host. My eyes were starting to open to see more of what was going on here. There were strong redneck undertones beneath the facade of this southern charm.

At any rate, while training under this older lady, I got a since of the clientele this particular restaurant attracted. A rather large man and his demanding son came in and I was assigned to them. They were nice, I suppose, but kept demanding more biscuits and butter, biscuits and butter, BISCUITS AND BUTTER. And one time the overweight son looked at me with this condescending gaze as he motioned for me to refill his ever diminishing cup of sweet tea. He didn’t ask me with his words because his mouth was stuffed with biscuits and butter. I must try hard not to slip into a complaining air myself here, but deep inside myself, I began to feel disgusted. Was I to accept my station in life as a redneck server person? Hell no. This was increasingly growing into a dis-preferred indifferent. Moments later, my trainer asked me to shadow her as she took an order for an agricultural business party of eight people. I’m watching them laugh and talk about the difference between city ham and country ham, and how the country ham is too salty, but then one of them says, “yea, but it’s sooo good,” then all of them laugh in this contrived, unreal, kind of spooky fashion, reminding me of the old judgmental southern baptist ladies I used to serve at my first serving job when I was 17. Slightly creeped out, I look up and away from the table at my surroundings, and I see everything, the restaurant, the people, from a distance. I noticed I was experiencing mild anxiety, although I knew it wasn’t bad necessarily. I just knew… I didn’t want to work there. In that moment, there was a pause – a deep clear insight into the importance of choosing to be true to oneself. The space-time there would never be worth the money for me.

I went to the bathroom and called a good friend who knows me really well, and said that I was wearing overalls, training here at this crazy job. Her reply was, “What?! What are you doing? Get out of there!” Hahaha, that was all I needed. She knew as well as I did that I was of the artsy fartsy type and simply did not fit in that kind of work environment. I guess I was doing it for the money… but the money, no longer had priority over my well being. I called my brother who encouraged me to give it the benefit of the doubt for a month first, but I told him that I’ve been getting to know myself for a long time now, and with a sober mind, I KNOW I don’t want to work here. He gave me his favor.

Now, all I had to do was quit. How was I going to do that? Well… Stay calm, don’t show your bottom, and be respectful. (Things I have to remind myself to do from time to time.)

I left the bathroom and went to the managers office and knocked on the door. Mind you, I had a clear resolve of what needed to be done, though sometimes the order in which my logic is executed in speech gets scrambled. (Sort of like a nervous verbal dislexia). My only concern was I knew I was about to leave there, but didn’t bring a change of clothes. After knocking, the manager on duty told me to come in. I went in, sat down, and said, “Ms. Jane Doe, I’m not wearing any pants underneath my overalls.” Her eyes got big. “… and I just had a moment of clarity…” (referring to my dining room experience and confirmation from phoning my friend and brother.) I paused for one second. Her eyes grew wider and she sat back stiffining in her chair. “…from which I realized I’m not going to be a good fit here at this restaurant. And before I waste anymore of your time here, I am choosing to bow out now.” Her body and face began to relax back into a comfortable posture. “I don’t care about the money, I just don’t want to bike home in my boxer shorts and t-shirt.” She said, with a comfortable acceptance, to just bring them in when I could, in the following days and that she appreciated me being upfront and honest now, opposed to waiting til they had worked me into their schedule. So whew, that was that!

I calmly handled “quitting,” and walked out the door. Damn, the air was fresh. I hopped on my bike and started singing, as I was speeding down the hill away from that establishment. Like Voltaire, I am a proponent of toleration, because people have a choice and “right” to pursue biscuits and butter as much as they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with my pursuit of inner peace. 😉 So, paying great homage to the Stoics here, I will say that I achieved a freedom in leaving that place, reflecting on what’s really valuable: my time and well being. ‘Twas a preferred indifferent. ‘Twas a merry bike ride home indeed!

 

-Christopher Edwards

 

 

 

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New Years Eve Blues.

Did the Ancients enjoy coffee?

On New Years eve, I went back to the house where I stay and celebrated vicariously with the rest of the world via social media. An underwhelming, slightly depressing, “whew,” it was on my end. Nevertheless, I didn’t irritate my “allergy” with superficial socializing and booze – I stayed home, alone, and got plenty of zZz’s.

Seneca, in his letters, stresses how vices become contagious in crowds. He also says it’s more of a challenge to be “a part of” without sharing in the base behaviors of the mob. This whole, being dutifully engaged in our society (in accordance with nature), for the Stoics, is a big balancing act.

The next day at work was a joke. Most, if not all of the employees were hungover beyond recognition…  …no it wasn’t that bad, but it was pretty bad. The zOmBiEaPoCaLyPsE was happening at my place of work! It was quite funny, actually, because I felt in perfect spirits, in comparison; darting to and from tables with a chipper air fueled by sobriety and my second cup of coffee. A part of KNOWING THYSELF for me, is knowing that I function better as a member of society when I don’t feast on the brains of vice. In the past, doing so tended to snow ball me into a super vice ridden Yeti – salivating and ready to scream, with cold heart pains heavy from cuts of dull machetes. Ha! – That was fun and unnecessary. Anywho! In that state, unlike the others (my co-workers), I wouldn’t have made it to work at all. So, I was grateful to be sober, albeit I felt “lonely” the night before.

At work, that day, I was a gladiator.

An important thing for me to realize as I practice Stoicism as a PHILOSOPHY FOR LIVING is to watch where I put my value. If I value my peace of mind, my good conscience, my zest for life, then I have to learn from the past where those very things were greatly diminished by mistakenly valuing externals: money, attention, fame, reputation, pleasure, etc.

Christopher

Songs About Philosophy