Friday, January 20, 2012

Panda Express Guy

Monday came and went and already it had been a rough week at the office. It's great to have a steady, paying job in this economy, but it's also increasingly clear that my work situation is a prime example of the fallout from said economy - one person doing the job of two or three. I left that evening after a hard day's toil with untouched piles of folders on my desk, coworkers who needed much more from me then I had time or energy to give them, and a magazine that surely wouldn't hit the stands on deadline. I don't think I smiled once.

I sat at Panda Express with my daughter that night waiting for my son to arrive.  I couldn't stop watching this kid working at the counter - you know, the guy who greets you as you walk in and asks you how many entrees you want and whether you want fried rice or chow mein? I never expect much from the workforce of today's youth, but here was an energetic, hispanic kid who couldn't have been more than 20 with a smile and energy level that was off the charts. "What can I get for you tonight?" he asked everyone enthusiastically. He was patient, helpful, and somehow able to establish a rapport with each person who appeared in front of him. People were smiling, laughing - many of whom no doubt had had a day like mine. When my son finally arrived and we made our way to the front of the line, the guy asked us, "Would you guys like a sample of our Beijing Beef?" He looked my son straight in the eye, "Hey why not, it's free, man."  My boy, never easy to win over, flashed his best smile and reached for the toothpick. I can't adequately explain it, but this guy made it like a party in that place. It was infectious.

How much could this kid be making? Eight-fifty an hour, tops? And how long had he been working before we arrived? Probably hours. The place was packed and the line at the counter had to work at mock speed to keep metal containers filled with orange chicken and broccoli beef. Made no matter to this guy. He was just lovin' life back there. I pictured some wealthy executive coming in for a meal, noticing this guy, and hiring him as marketing manager right there on the spot.

I decided to go into work the next day with a smile on my face. I was going to be helpful, cheerful, and make it about my coworkers instead of all about me and my impossible work situation. I was going to actually talk to them about their lives. I was going to enjoy my circumstance with these amazing people I get to work with every day. I have continued this approach each day since. You may have guessed it has turned out to be a really good week.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


“You get old and you realize there are no answers, just stories.” 
 Garrison Keillor, Pontoon: A Lake Wobegon Novel

Yesterday was my birthday and I can honestly say it was one of the less painful January tenths I've experienced in years. I can't exactly explain why. I tried being a little depressed, as is my usual birthday ritual. This date has never failed to conjure up thoughts of my own inadequecies: "I'm not near where I wanted to be in my life at this age," "Whatever good looks I once had are rapidly fading," "Why didn't (fill in the blank) remember my birthday?" and the ever popular, "Just end this day and kill me now."

True, I wouldn't have chosen many of the events that have led up to my life's current point in time. But I have accumulated great stories along the way featuring good over evil, triumph over tragedy, good comedy, and by all indications, a happy ending. I'm glad I've chosen to share them. Never mind the wrinkles around my eyes, the fact that I've never been to Paris, or that I am not a homeowner at age 48. My lofty goals have been replaced by an authentic existence right here in this place, punctuated by deep and growing friendships. Nothing to whine about. Nothing at all.

* Photo by Melissa Mathieson

Sunday, January 1, 2012

a hymn — and hope — for the new year

Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering 'it will be happier'...

January Hymn, by Colin Meloy/The Decemberists
On a winter Sunday I go
To clear away the snow
And green the ground below

April all an ocean away
Is this the better way to spend the day?
Keeping the winter at bay

What were the words I meant to say before you left?
When I could see your breath lead where you were going to

Maybe I should just let it be
and maybe it will all come back to me
Sing oh January oh!

How I lived a childhood in snow
And all my teens in tow
Stuffed in strata of glow

Hail the winter days after dark
Wandering the gray memorial park
A fleeting beating of hearts

What were the words I meant to say before she left?
When I could see her breath lead where she was going to

Maybe I should just let it be
And maybe it will all come back to me
Sing oh Janu...
Oh January oh