Selfish, Socialism

I am a Barista Person

I gave my two weeks notice at what will hopefully be the last food service job I ever work. Food service and I have a relationship, and as with any good relationship there is horrible emotional turmoil. Mostly I have worked as a barista. It is a noun, it is a verb, it is even an adjective in the title of this blog entry, but it is rarely a profession. It is a job that some people take way too seriously and end up in competitions because of, but it is a job. Most people who do it don’t want to do it any more, but have addictions to food, rent, and art – mostly art. They deserve our tip money. They are good people.

Last week a woman ordered a Large Iced Americano. The Americano at our cafe involves two shots of espresso and then water. The amount of water changes depending on if you order a small or a large. This means that a large involves a lot of water. So I wasn’t surprised when she sidled awkwardly up to the counter and politely demanded that she get to cut in line to politely explain that her drink was watery.

I hate barista stories about shitty customers who don’t understand what the drink they order is. It’s okay to not understand the drink you ordered because you don’t spend 8 hours a day in a coffee shop like a barista does. Our job as food service employees is to politely explain the food that they ordered so that they understand how to order it better next time.

I politely apologized for our policy on including two shots of espresso in all sizes of our Americanos and politely offered to add additional shots to her Americano for $0.50 – which is this cafe’s unreasonably low price for an additional double shot of espresso. She politely explained that she did not want to pay extra money because we gave her a watery drink. I wanted to politely explain that I didn’t want to give her free things because she ordered a shitty drink and then politely stick my fingers in her mouth and make her deal with the taste of my dirty fingertips on her tongue the rest of the day, but instead my fellow barista saw the cartoon steam billowing from my ears and stepped in to solve the problem by giving her free things for ordering a shitty drink.

Working in food service often does mean that parts of your life are not what you want them to be. It indicates a certain amount of failure. Especially in New York. All of us baristas, servers, bartenders, etc. have come to terms with that and talk about it to each other. But this life decision failure does not imply that we are worse at everything than those we serve. Especially serving food and drink. Because we’ve been forced to spend so much time serving that food and drink, we are better at it then our customers. That’s why we get paid the big bucks/change you didn’t want to keep in your pocket.

I truly believe in the draft – a common experience for entire generations to talk about forever where they dedicated themselves to bettering the world around them. I don’t believe that war betters the world around us. Food does. I truly believe in the food-service draft – where everyone from ages 14-22 must work at least 9 months in food-service. One must understand what it’s like to pick out stranger’s half eaten food from a drain pipe in order to understand how to do dishes correctly when you live with people. One must understand how to organize an efficient list of tasks that are both menial and degrading that a higher up has given you to make it seem like you are busy in order to understand how to prioritize your laundry and check cashing tasks for the day. Most importantly, one must understand how to serve people and maintain an environment in which people enjoy being in order to understand how to be a member of a community.

The laundry for our apartment building is in the apartment building two doors down in a building owned by the same management. 66 people use these three washers and three dryers, but because the people who own them are a reality management company and not a laundromat, they don’t clean the laundry room very often. Our laundry room is dirty – there is dust everywhere, a pair of panties that has been sitting on the ground for two and a half weeks, and the trash bin, which is tied to a heating pipe with a piece of string, has been overflowing for a week and yet people keep stuffing their dryer lint on top as though someone is going to take out this bag of trash. I don’t think I need to go over the cultural implications that someone is more worried that a plastic trash receptacle gets stolen by criminals too lazy to untie a knot than worried about getting rid of the trash the receptacle holds. What I’m more concerned by is the attitude taken by us tenants.

Each time I go down and think: “this is disgusting. Somebody better clean this up.” and then I think “I should clean this up.” and then I think “it’s not my job to clean this up.” and then it stays messy. It may not be my job, but I’m affected by it, and it’s not that hard to fix. Just as I get frustrated when someone sees a napkin next to someone else’s spilled milk and dances around the spill with their coffee as though it is a radioactive e-coli strain searching for human flesh to eat through, forcing me to walk all the way around the counter and wipe up a bit of dairy, I need to take out the trash and replace the trash bag instead of forcing some guy who lives in Bay Ridge to drive all the way to my apartment building to take out some trash.

So I did.

I didn’t sweep the floor or pick up the panties, but… baby steps. Maybe I’ll do it out of nostalgia now that I’m leaving food-service.

comedy, My favorites

Performance, Therapy, Science

I began performing because it was an opportunity to be sure that people were listening, and I kept performing because it was therapeutic to hear and see reactions to me. It was why I enjoyed comedy – it was why I was only able to do things that made an audience laugh or cry. They were the only performances that were really therapeutic because without a guttural reaction to watch as a response to me I couldn’t be sure that people were listening.

A girl transferred out of the democratic cooperative k-12 school that I volunteer in, and we held an appreciation circle.

1st. Whatever intention I had of rebelling against my parents’ vegan, swedish, kibbutz, health-food, anti-war, gender bending hippie upbringing has obviously been quelled.

2nd. About 3/4 of the way around the circle a boy began crying.

Height: 6’2″
Height with hair: A Little Too Much
Weight: 235lbs
Muscle Weight: Not Enough
Glasses Size: Smaller Would Have Been Better
Humor: Above Average
Sadness: Even More Above Average
Ability To Write Poetry: Good. He’s 16 Years Old, So, Don’t Stick With It For Too Much Longer, But, Y’know, Stick With It For Now
Ability To Care: Great
Coolness At A Regular School (Out of 100): 32
Coolness At The Commune/Child Labor/Educational Environment That I Volunteer At (Out of 100): 79

The amount he cared about this girl that was leaving was touching. Obviously. Also. We all understood that the genuineness of his tears was embarrassing. How we reacted to that embarrassment was different. A group of kids laughed. A group of kids defended. A group of kids ignored. A group of kids gave sympathetic looks. I cried.

It just looked like so much fun.

I think that’s why laughing and crying are so appealing to me. We think of laughing and crying as being extensions of smiling and frowning, but I see more in common with yawning. Real laughing and crying is an uncontrollable reaction – something that happens because you had to despite your best efforts not to. This lack of control is appealing. It is something we as humans are rarely faced with. Its rarity is the cause for our obsession with fate, our fixation on addiction, and our creepy interest in psychopaths. More interestingly though, the acts are contagious.

Seeing someone yawn makes you yawn.

Being around laughter makes laughter more socially and emotionally appropriate.

Watching someone cry always makes me cry.

3rd. The superior temporal sulcus (an area of the brain) is strongly activated when you yawn (proof). This part of the brain is connected to understanding the emotions of others and how those may differ from our own (proof). Kids under the age of four and people with autism don’t “catch” yawns (proof). The sounds of others laughing or crying activate the STS as well (proof).

This all implies that when we perceive laughter, crying, or yawning, a similar thing is happening in our brain, and also that that thing that is happening is making us subconsciously want to do laugh, cry, or yawn as well.

3rd(ii)) When a restaurant that I had worked at for a year and met most of my friends at and met my girlfriend at and had been the start of my life in New York City closed I cried. But only when I looked at my friend Claire and saw that she was crying too.

This also implies that there is some subconscious understanding of emotional dissonance ingrained within us as humans – that there is a part of our brain working without our knowledge aimed at finding those moments where emotions overtake our fellow humans and they are simply reacting to their surroundings. And when we are faced with this understanding that others’ emotional reactions are completely separate from our own we seek to correct this – we join them. We yawn because they yawn, we laugh because they laugh, we cry because they cry. We emote because they emote.

I perform because it is therapeutic to watch an audience’s superior temporal sulcus get activated because it will activate my own. I worry they will find a drug that does this chemically and I’ll no longer have to perform.

PS. They have found that the smells from Vanilla and Rotten Eggs activate the STS a little. Makes sense. The only two smells that can make you viscerally frown or smile come from STS activation.

PS(ii). This does imply that if they do find a drug that activates this part of the brain it could cure autism, right?

PS(iii). People with a larger STS have more facebook friends (proof). I think that’s important.

Indignant, My favorites

Thoughts From a Hardened Criminal: Part IV

I was always embarrassed of my parents because they were very loving and supportive. They would show up to all four performances of the play that I had less than four lines in. When I was reprimanded by the school for performing in the talent show as the co-writer/director/star of a ten minute skit riddled with masturbation jokes my dad stood up and yelled at the staff head of the “hearing committee” for making a sham of the public educational system. I always had more fans in the stands than minutes played at soccer games. They made me an unwilling activist from the age of 10.

My dad was not just a part of every peace protest he was the one at the beginning of every email thread that started every peace protest, and I hated it. It’s embarrassing to get dragged into town on a cold December Saturday to chant “No More War!” because you don’t have plans that allow you to excuse yourself from protesting because you look and talk like you’re twelve and your friends are starting to have sex. And it’s embarrassing to discover your voice cracking at age 16 through screams of “Drop Bush, Not Bombs.” I confused my teenage angst with disgust for the way the movement was run. I was looking for errors in the way we presented ourselves – searching for flaws in the message – claiming a higher understanding of the morality that we were supposedly together to espouse; all because I had delivered upon myself the role of critical thinker – of the prophetical voice of reason in the confused mayhem of longhaired wishful thinkers stuck in an era where they had the ability to change things but didn’t have the internet.

They said: “Show me what democracy looks like.”

I said: “This is what democracy looks like.”

Then in my head I continued: “But was Winston Churchill right? And if this is democracy, is democracy simply a futile exercise ultimately aimed at finding solace in like-minded accompaniment? Is democracy purely a therapeutic activity for a group of individuals needing a loudspeaker on which to hear their voice?”

Fuck Winston Churchill.

Faith is a belief not based on proof or necessarily evidence. I understand the animosity some people have towards it as one of those people, but I think it’s important that we understand that that absence of rationality is linked to the same emotions that make us human. It’s sometimes okay and necessary to release logic. It’s just important to direct that release of logic in a positive direction. Therefore I choose optimism. If I am to have faith, I have it in hope – the idea that improvement is possible. It may be irrational, but it seems to be a reasonable way to improve.

Before this gets too Oprah, I want to tell you what I first saw when I came to Zucatti Park in late October.

There was a vibrant group of individuals no longer concerned with individual goals. Flashbacks to my days in the midst of Vietnam protest veterans at first filled me with trepidation. There were the same telltale signs of futility – signs, songs, and repetition. Repetition was my least favorite. It’s what I always hated about marching down the streets of Bangor, Maine. Someone would yell “No Blood For Oil” and the rest of us would be expected to yell the same, as though we all had the exact same belief on what our oil policies should be. Sure, I agreed with the idea that the blood to oil exchange rate should be zero, but I didn’t think that was the only reason to stop our descent upon Iraq – and I wanted to be welcoming to new people who might slightly disagree. Repetition was the death of discussion. Repetition forced us to masquerade under the false concept that we all believed the same thing.

This repetition was different though.

Repetition was a tool being used to amplify each person’s voice as opposed to being used to simplify a message – forcing a palatability of concept so that the legislators can hear our voice on the news and interpret the changes we want. The trust in our lawmakers had vanished, but the occupiers had reinstated that trust within themselves. They said let’s finally have the conversation we’ve been telling our leaders to have for years.

Within this 33,000 sq. foot rectangle was an open mic, a kitchen, a library, a medical tent, a sanitation department, and people – lots of people: discussing. Still, I felt self-conscious about joining the discussion so I took out my sign and sat down.

It claimed a message that could not be repeated because it was too silly, but I felt it pushed at a deeper truth about the structural issues in our financial system. But most of all: it was my belief. Most people (including most occupiers) don’t believe in the dissolving of our currency system, but it proved to be a conversation starter. I didn’t have to worry about starting discussion because soon discussion came to me – not started by a discussion starting leader, but rather by an environment that encouraged dialogue. A 25 year old after school teacher who had left his job at a bank and I talked about the political movements and image and the importance of a representation in a media environment bred for 24 hour slogan machines. A 43 year old tea party activist from the Midwest and I talked about the role of a government paid for by the people. A day traveler from Philadelphia and I talked about the validity of a wheat and ore strategy in Catan.

We talked. In the past month and a half I have discussed more politics and formed more solutions to our current problems than I had in the rest of my life combined, and that was because of the Occupy Movement. Occupy’s openness to discussion is all the Occupy is about.

Discussion means not focusing on that one detail you don’t like, but rather searching for the details you do like and expanding upon those. Discussion means not interrogating a message until you discover what you disagree with, but rather uncovering the truths you do agree with and providing your perspective. Discussion is an improv game and you need to say “yes, and…”

The world is a terrible place full of hope.

That frustration that comes from the fact that this world is terrible is understandable, but not the end of our journey. You can be a critical thinker that adds to the critical dialogue.

I always assumed I would get arrested at some point in my life. From a young age I understood that laws were not always just, and it would be my duty at some point to stand up against those laws. That was what ran through my head when I got arrested for the first time just over two weeks ago. And all of my fantasies of jail were exceeded. Jail was a just another place for us to occupy. The discussion continued. Join. Join this discussion because it needs your voice – because it wants your voice. But if you join, want other’s to join because this is about hearing – this is about listening. Go get arrested when there are unjust laws because they cannot shut down discussion by putting it in a jailcell.

Our first amendment is freedom of speech because it is the principle our country was founded on, but we have to remember the freedom of speech is also the freedom to listen.

Attention Whoring, Indignant

Thoughts of a Hardened Criminal III (There will only be IV)

The minute I was permitted to prison, I was pained by the possibility of public pooping.

I didn’t want to be the first occupier to occupy the half stall in the back of the cell, but I was aware that the two servings of yogurt that I had scarfed down to start the day were finding their way to the bottom of my large intestine. The farts that were sneaking out somewhat embarrassing, but I felt the farts were really just warnings of a more embarrassing situation. As I peed in anticipation of a more significant bathroom experience I noticed that there was no toilet paper sitting next to the toilet, but I didn’t want my last sentence in this paragraph to have a different form than the other two.

“Mic Check!” “We need to ask for some toilet paper.”

A few chuckles followed, but everybody knew I was deadly serious. A few people hugged me and told me that they were proud of me for speaking up.

This is what the Occupy Movement is about: reveling in the small victories that good communication affords us. We live in a world where shame rules our conversation – where we sometimes refuse to say what we want to say solely because we’re scared that people will be scared about the way we say it or the place we say it. Opinion is simply opinion – it isn’t fact. No one’s opinion is true. Just as no one’s opinion is false.

On my trip back to New York after Thanksgiving I found myself in Baltimore’s downtown just after I got off a bus looking for another bus that would take me out to a suburb where another bus that took me to NYC awaited me. As it was downtown in a major American city, there were people milling between the buildings – all with a better understanding of the public transportation of Baltimore than me. Instead I opted for trying to read maps that were new to me as my ride stopped and left. I called after Bus 35 to White Marsh, but it was too late. The next one was 20 minutes later. Just late enough to make me miss the third leg of my bus journey. Well, that was only half of it. The other half of it was that I got off three stops too early because I was too scared to ask… anything. I had overheard someone say they were going to White Marsh and just got off with them, but there were multiple stops in White Marsh and I was left with a 15 minute walk to catch up to where the bus would have taken me in 2 minutes. Once again I found myself unable to find the correct bus. It wasn’t until my third Magellanesque trip around IKEA I finally asked someone for directions. They quickly directed me toward my final leg and I was in New York 4 hours later.

My inability to create dialogue with my fellow man left me $23 poorer, an hour later, and a pound of sweat weaker.

Somehow in leaving New York I forgot what I had learned in my occupy days. I forgot to ask questions and listen for the answer. We do not live in this world by ourselves, so to think that we can solve the world’s problems by ourselves is absurd. We must work together.

Sometimes it is nice to be alone though. To allow yourself to think on your own can sometimes lead to positive results. Like this joke I thought of on my journey to the bus:

I think the existence of IKEA has to make us question the very fabric of our government, I mean now socialists are better at even capitalism.


Thoughts From a Hardened Criminal 2

The cop looks at the five of us standing – somewhat smiling – hands strapped behind our back – trying to force the monologues we have racing through our head into soundbites so that the reporter will quote us in their indy internet newspaper. He knows we’re human.

“You should be in the NBA.” he says to Jacob. Jacob is 6’5″ and tired of that statement. He never wanted to be pigeonholed into being a basketball player. You can tell by the look on his face. Or maybe he’s just tired from being arrested. It takes a lot out of you.

I spend most of my time in the occupy protests on the edge of the masses trying to talk to police officers to try to convince them that we are all human. They don’t respond because their freedom of speech has been infringed upon by their commanding officers who have their freedom of speech infringed upon by the commissioner who has his freedom of speech infringed upon by Mayor Bloomberg, but the cops can’t help but listen. I talk about sports, or food, or love. Not about the occupy wall street, or wealth inequality, or the right to peacefully assemble. They know I have thoughts on these issues, but they also need to know that I go home and eat tacos while I worry about my fantasy football team and worry that my girlfriend is ignoring my texts.

This is what the police officer is trying to do. He knows he’s arrested 5 people for irrational, immoral, and illegal reasons and wants us to know that behind the riot gear is a human who likes to joke around and wants to talk about sports, or food, or love.

But it’s not fair: Is how I immediately feel. We’re tied up – unable to gesticulate our feelings, and we’re scared that if we are to respond incorrectly further punishment will be enforced. When I try to joke around with the cops they still have the gun, baton, mace, and power and are therefore still able to respond.

But it’s not fair: Is what I realize after I write this. They’re hands are placed firmly on the baton that they have to hold out – unable to gesticulate their feelings, and they’re scared that if they are to respond incorrectly their boss will find punishment. When they try to joke around with us we have our full freedom of speech and are therefore still able to respond.

When Zuccotti Park was first closed and the police were forced to occupy it I was on the front lines again. I was standing next to a member of the National Lawyers Guild, crammed up against an unlawful barricade  next to a police officer.

“Can I joke around with you for a bit?” The NLG guy asked the woman with weapons.

“You can say whatever you’d like.”

“You’re from Brooklyn North, right? Because it says BNPD on your uniform.”


“Do you ever give the Brooklyn South Police shit for being the BSPD?”

She laughed at first then a fellow police officer whispered something in her ear and she turned to avoid eye contact and stopped responding. There is no weapon like the weapon of free speech.


The Thoughts of a Hardened Criminal

It smells like urine and I’m sitting uncomfortably on a seat made of what seems like hell – hardened. Surrounding me are depressed souls staring down at their own individual void as they wait until they are released. I want to go back. I wish I had never gotten into this box-of-sadness. I want to scream out “All day! All week!” but I know nobody will respond because I’m on the subway.

Seven hours earlier I was sitting with the same physical uncomfort at the back of the jail cell – near the toilets. Jacob, a fellow Mainer who had been arrested with me strolled back and sat on the floor.

“I keep drifting off, but immediately wake up in order to cheer.”

This is the refrain of my time here. I’m exhausted from being arrested, from being tossed to the ground, from only eating stale bread with stale cheese and stale mustard. But the second a new prisoner/brother enters our room, I cheer. I clap. I’m excited. Because it means there’s another person who wants to talk – who is interested in changing the society that we live in.

I served time talking to a boy who had to blackmail his way into an honorable discharge from the Iraq War because he refused to fight.

I served time in a discussion of how currency as a concept could be changed.

I served time singing listening to a man sing made up love songs out the little holes in our cell to the female officer on the other side.

I served time talking about how art can grow in an activist movement.

I served time talking about what the spring held for the Occupy Movement.

I served time chanting and clapping and hugging and laughing and giving twinkle fingers and and wishing that dude would just stop rambling.

I served time.

The attitude was never despair. We felt only excited that we were in this moment in history and we were together – together with a common mission. A mission to listen and learn. Each of us has something to say and it’s important to listen to everything you can listen to before a decision is made. You cannot stop discussion by putting that discussion in a jail cell.

You stop discussion by putting people in a subway with Angry Birds and tell them to not talk to strangers.

I say “We are..” under my breath and no one responds.

Media, My favorites, Selfish

My Therapeutic Review of Childish Gambino

My dad attacked me with his hypothesis. This is a sentence that could begin many of my stories, but in this one his hypothesis had clearly evolved from our previous conversation. Yet this conversation is new and, potentially, so mind expanding that you may feel pain from the thought of it. That’s the way conversations with my dad feel: like he’s constantly teaching you a new secret form of mind exercising that he, only now, at this exact moment, feels you are ready for – that you have finally proven to be competent enough for this burden. So, conversation from last night was fodder for mind altering conversation. He approached with his idea of “Genius vs. Talent.”

Talent was what conveyed ideas and Genius was where the ideas were from.

THUS: Childish Gambino. Aka: Donald Glover.

My dislike was born out of like. His taste was so great, and he was a vehicle of such            , but it felt like nothing was behind it. There was no human element. If the truth will set you free, than he was still enslaved by the shackles of his desired self-conception. He wanted to be Tyler the Creator meets Drake meets David Cross. Those are all people I wanted to be so I respected his desires, but with success comes a new formation of desire – a self reflection and understanding that one’s wants must change with one’s current situation. Donald Gambino was obviously talented, but his genius was in question.

Genius comes from a complete and honest awareness and explanation of who you are in your art.

That’s what I thought before. That’s what I assumed was the reason that Gambino’s music resonated hollowly – that I seemed to  echo back hatred. But Childish Glover kept performing his therapeutic self-controlled-self-awareness. And, in a sense, it kept getting better. It got more pointed and controlled. He understood who he was by analyzing who he was. But it was simply therapy. For him, and people who want to be him.

I was sitting shotgun in the car parked in our driveway and my dad turned off the car which turned off the CD of Beatles-Soundtrack-Remix-Cirque-de-Soliel album. I was back in Maine with my financial, artistic, and social tail between my legs. I wanted to make comedy, but didn’t know what that meant. I attacked him with a hypothesis. Art needs an audience, without an audience it was simply therapy. Not that there was anything wrong with therapy, but the lack of public display makes writing, painting, yelling, artistically expressing purely a therapeutic act. He responded with the appropriate defensiveness of a person who has a novel he’s never shared with his only son and has been editing and re-editing for 40 years.

Gambino, Childish is a self-therapist not an artist. I understand that he has an audience. A much larger audience than I have or will ever have. And that jealousy is an important part of my motivation for writing this. Art needs that audience because both audience and artist should be going on a journey of self discovery. CG/DG hogs that journey. He selfishly refuses the audience to join him in self-analysis by covering all basis of self-analysis himself. I say this in order to selfishly self-analyze my own feelings of jealousy toward a pop-icon that was born from New York sketch comedy. He refuses vulnerability/critique by self-congratulatory defenses of his past and future actions. He asks for constant pity in his constant response to the haters when he shouldn’t be fucking bitching because he’s accomplished all of his dreams. His raps are simply cover letters to apply to be your idol, and he seems to be getting the job.

I hated Aaron Kane, but respected him. In middle school I was a crybaby who would trip and fall emotionally every day. The response from my friends was to push me back down emotionally. Aaron always threw himself down before anyone could push him back down and by doing so everyone was satisfied because young boys are only interested in making all of their friends as miserable as possible, and yet he was in control. My response was simply to flail to point out that I had been pushed down because I thought everyone needed to be acutely aware of the actions they were making and supporting. It wasn’t fair that everybody laughed with Aaron and only laughed at me.