I just got back from hanging out with a co-worker from Chef’s Expressions; one who struck me as being very bubbly, energetic and funny. But she had some experience under her belt and I appreciated that. We chilled tonight at her place in Towson, and watched Pacific Rim which was as good a Guillermo del Toro film that we were willing to watch that night.
The past two months have consisted of me working the weekdays as a landscaper at Greenfields Nursery at the intersection of Northern Parkway and Falls Rd and working as a caterer for Chef’s Expressions based in Timonium. I have worked in two of the largest service industries and I have loved the work. I respect hard workers and those who are devoted to bettering oneself in a given task and learning how to truly improve. That can apply to a certain skill, discipline, mental capabilities, and physical capabilities. However, I rarely judge anyone based on wealth and perceptions of background alone and that is what has irked me for the past two months. I somehow felt that the guests whom we served and the clients whose lawns we’ve scaped always looked down upon us. It was almost as if they felt that since they were giving us green paper in exchange for our services that they were better than us. I have felt it when they would appear to be uncomfortable looking at us in the eyes or being rude and bossing us around when they felt that something was amiss.
I also hear a lot of crap talk about one of the members on the crew who is Mexican. He is over 30 years old and has a bunch of funny and mainly stereotypical idiosyncracies. Sometimes he’ll burst into a Dora the Explorer song, Shakira song, or shout out a string of random, basic spanish phrases. Despite his less than stellar English, my conversations with him have convinced me that he is very wise. He has instructed me in the ways of landscaping many times and always has this creative solution to landscaping and an eye for aesthetics and completion that not many people have. Then we have the 19 year old who already has a 6 month old baby to take care of who still acts like a stubborn kid who would rather make it big in the music industry rather than compromise for the more stable 9-5.
I work with these two and two guys from Boys’ Latin who are both the foremen and younger than me. And despite my likes and dislikes about them they hold my respect for different reasons and so much more so than the respect I feel towards most of the clients whose grandiose houses and lawns fail to impress. I mean when you think about it, is it more impressive that someone pays some money to people who will get a mis-matched crew of misfits who somehow make a yard look beautiful and professional. We’ve even been judged at the beginning with some customers referring to us as “you people” or asking if our boss would supervise us to make sure that we did a good job. The good thing is that we usually impress our clients enough from their low expectations at the beginning that we get some tips.
The worst people usually come from the high end clientele for catering. Aw man it’s really funny sometimes hearing us being looked down upon or judged simply because we are serving you food. It’s true that most of us would never be able to afford it, but we get paid to serve you food that we are able to eat for free during our meal breaks. And it works out, because the money made from one day catering would still not be enough to pay for one guest at that same event. Tonight was when it really hit me. We were packing up from a catering event at CenterStage and using the elevator to bring our heavy carts down to the first floor, and an older man walked up to me and asked if there were any stairs to get to the fifth floor because “you people” were holding up the elevators. He was an asshole and his reaction just made me laugh. I wasn’t in the least bit intimidated by him and he appeared to be very entitled. And then there was the oe of the event speakers hanging out in the catering makeshift kitchen on the second floor. One of the chef’s asked him what his speech was about and he responded with, “Social justice.” When pressed for more information he just replied with “Well it’s a talk about social justice,” as if the chef wasn’t smart enough to understand the specific bits about his speech. That infuriated me that he was acting hypocritical and not giving someone part of his time because she was a person who was curious about helping and learning more about an issue that she believed in.
And so there are those whom I respect. These are the hard, sincere workers who are true people. I like people who challenge themselves and look for growth and change when things become too stagnant. I like the challenges of thinking on one’s own feet, the smell of good tilled earth, and the taste of butler passed hors d’oeuvres on my tongue. So here’s to the people who work behind-the-scenes for not that much money but have a life much more varied, interesting, and richer than some of the ignorant clients whose vapid interests I usually serve.
P.S. – I found out tonight that this one caterer whom I had served with several times had passed away this past friday. She had always struck me as an odd caterer who always asked such weird questions with redundant answers and sometimes doing things wrong. But she was also involved with high school literature and a girl scout troup that she was involved with. I remember that the last time I saw her I told her that we should exchange emails so that I could learn more about the programs that she was involved in. She was very odd and very weird and annoying at times, but as one of my co-workers put it, “She was one of the constant personalities of the Chef’s family.” I had the pleasure of being a part of this dysfunctional family, and for that I give them my respect. Here’s to you Ellen.
~The Sound and the Fury Appendix, Dilsey’s final entry
I have a great relationship with my aunt. I get home from landscaping work around 4pm-5pm and then park in my driveway. More often than not I get home earlier than my aunt, and have the entire house and kitchen to myself. I have the ability to use the entire kitchen without her glaring at me, or can watch tv or do laundry without fear of my dried clothes being placed on top of the drying machine because I didn’t take them out right after they were done because I was still at work. I appreciate the quality time that we spend together as soon as she arrives home from work: she opens the door, sees that I’m in the kitchen, and then quickly heads upstairs. She does not leave the master bedroom until I am done cooking, cleaning, eating, and then watching tv. I sometimes say hi to her, and she graciously responds by immediately turning her body and face away from me and hurrying to whatever she was doing.
Sometimes we share jokes, like the time she ungraciously took out all of my clothes from the dryer because I left them there after already having asked if I could do laundry that day, and sure enough I had washed my Spring Awakening t-shirt with the saying “Totally Fucked” on the back. I’m sure that we both had a good laugh about that. The best part is the cleaning. She is a very clean and organized person. The stoves and counters are always sprayed, scrubbed, and wiped before, during, and after every individual meal. Now I’m a clean person too, but I suppose that I just cannot keep up with her. Sometimes I forget to put away my clean pots and pans away because they were still drying in the corner of the counter, and they are all piled up into the Lazy Susan where I am allowed to keep my dishes, utensils, spices, and non-perishable foods.
And I’m sure that she has a wonderful family. I was told by my dad that several of her relatives would be staying here at the house for a week sometime in the middle of the Fall, and asked if I could move out of my own bedroom into my brother’s empty room. I was confused as to why I should move all of my stuff from my bedroom into a room that is already the guest room, but I suppose that they would require more room. I have even heard about her sister, because their Skype conversations travel through the thin wall between my bedroom and the master bedroom. Obviously she brags about her new stepson who graduated Cum Laude from BostonUniversity in Mechanical Engineering, who paid and took out personal loans to pay his way through the last two years of college, funded his own internship in Berlin and his Eurotrip, and will be teaching other teachers in Uganda this coming Fall. I can definitely tell that she beams with pride about me when she complains to her sister how my dad does not have the money to help me pay for my student loan bills while I’m volunteering in Africa, how I show up to the house unannounced, how I need to text her to tell her when I am coming home, how I am a spoiled child who should move out and be independent, how I eat her food during mealtimes, and how I am thrifty at other people’s expenses especially my friends.
I like to think that her persona was modeled after the majority of her life living in the Philippines and her spiritual li. Her Facebook is practically covered with scripture passages and quotes concerning how God will provide and take care of us. They all seem to proclaim great wealth and blessings from God coming this way. One could definitely tell that her actions follow this posting on her Facebook wall: “A person’s most useful asset is not the head full of knowledge, but a heart full of love, an ear ready to listen, and a hand willing to help.” Goodness knows that she is a exemplary model of these traits.
Of course I can’t take all of the credit, because I’m not perfect. I enjoy going out with friends at night, I sometimes splurge and eat out with the money I earned from landscaping during the weekdays and catering during the weekends, I like to smoke every now and then, and it is true that I do depend on my dad right now for medical insurance and a roof over my head. I cannot afford living in my own apartment right now before I go to the Peace Corps in November, and I will need to store my stuff here for the 27 months while I’m away. Yes there is a lot of bills and debt to pay, and maybe I am being selfish for wanting to travel away from it all for 2+ years and fulfill one of my life goals.
However, what gives me comfort is the knowledge that I have a family who loves me. In that respect I am much luckier and more spoiled than a sizable percentage of the world. My dad still invites me to the dinner table as my stepmom physically has her body facing the other way. He still loves me whereas I may only remind her of my dad’s past failed marriage. I am growing closer with my little brother in college, and I am so happy that he is living in a dorm and not at home. And my real mom is doing just fine in her apartment in Timonium. I have a fucking awesome family, and even though my stepmom does not seem to like me, she loves my dad I can respect that. I still love her as my dad’s wife and a member of this once-broken family that endures.