2

Of Chickens and Kazoos

My husband and I started going to a new church in a small town (village actually) not far from here. It’s a stereotypical small town with a main street full of small shops and extremely nice people. The church itself is 175 years old.

Like many small towns around here, they have a street fair-type thing over the summer. Ours was this past Friday and Saturday. Being the new deacon (yes, it’s true – I’m ordained), I wanted to show I’m a team player.

Gotta be sure to research before making a commitment like that.

Friday was good. I was at the information booth handing out goodies (various noise-makers) and answering any questions people had. The section we were in was beautiful. A little valley next to the river.

Very bucolic. Until we got to the last act on the entertainment schedule. They introduced themselves as a band from a local school district. My expectations weren’t extremely high; just some very generic covers of popular music.

On the positive side, the instrumentals were very good. As was one of the male singers. Unfortunately there were four singers (two male, two female). Who were very loud. And did not enunciate. And did not hit one correct note in some of the songs.

Then they did the unforgivable. I have always been a fan of Eric Clapton. I think some of the work he did with Cream is amazing. The band tried to play Sunshine of Your Love (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwDo0JUeKqM). I don’t know how the instrumentals sounded. They couldn’t be heard over the tortured-banshee singing of the girls. You would not have had to be a fan of 60’s rock to have felt my pain.

The big event for the church came the next morning. The famous chicken barbecue. It was pretty amazing. They build a massive production grill on the front lawn and barbecue halves of 500 chickens in an assembly-line type of thing.

But first the parade. The church is known for the chicken dinner so the float had to be something chicken-esque, right? OK. It’s a flatbed trailer, covered with bales of hay. Church members sit on the hay wearing chicken hats (felt, chicken-shaped) playing kazoos.

Yes, you read that correctly. Anyone who says we take ourselves too seriously needs to come to the parade. We rode around town playing Take Me Out to the Ballgame, When the Saints Come Marching In, and other crowd favorites. We each had a three-foot chicken cut-out (very nicely decorated) that we could make dance along.

When they told me about this, I wasn’t even sure what a kazoo was. I think I may have played one on a boat that used to go up and down the Detroit River when I was little. I could not seem to get the hang of humming the tune into the thing to get the song to come out. It probably had something to do with laughing too hard to get my mouth properly around the kazoo.

I think we might have been the most popular thing in the parade if Paws hadn’t shown up. Paws is the mascot for the Detroit Tigers. Admittedly, Paws is extremely cute. He doesn’t have one of those creepy, over-sized heads. He actually looks like a friendly tiger on two feet. I may be the only chicken who can say she was hugged by a tiger.

We had to give the chickens back at the end, but got to keep the kazoos. Mine is sitting on the table right now. I certainly don’t want to play it, but it seems wasteful to throw it away after only using it once. Maybe I’ll leave it at the church for next year. It’s probably safe from theft.

The barbecue was a bit of a let-down after that. It was very successful, and the chicken was delicious. But I had to go back to being an adult.

A couple of the men told me I needed to learn how to flip the chickens on the barbecue. They have huge racks that probably hold 20 chicken halves. They put a second rack on top and flip it over to cook the other side.

I got on one side and one of the guys got on the other. When we went to flip, my side opened (of course) and I lost a chicken. They told me I had to try again next year. I need to check the budget to make sure there’s insurance to cover loss of chickens.

The next big event is the cookie walk at the beginning of December. Apparently this church is known for food. It’s a huge sale – kind of a build-your-own cookie selection. They had 8 long tables full of cookies to choose from last year.

At least they don’t dress up like elves.

4

Be Careful What You Wish For

You may recall the short story, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs. A British Army officer returning from India stops to see his friends the Whites. He has an old monkey’s paw that a friend got from a fakir which is able to grant the bearer three wishes. The officer, having had a bad experience with the paw, attempts to throw it in the fire.

Mr. White see it as a means to get the funds to pay off his house. He does receive the funds, but pays an extremely high price for the money. The moral being that we should not attempt to interfere with fate.

I have always loved that story. I was reminded of it last week at work. You may (or may not) recall that we lost our deli stocker to an unfortunate incident involving a bagel. Instead of being immediately terminated, he was placed on indefinite suspension.

My theory was that they were waiting to see if they could get someone to replace him. When dealing with the company, it’s always best to assume the most cynical, mercenary motives.

Sure enough, a few weeks later someone was hired and he was officially terminated. Hopes were high.

The new guy (NG) is very sweet and works extremely hard. He also seems to have a bit of trouble processing new information, which makes him work very slowly.

The team leader (TL) has trouble with people she perceives are not working as quickly as she thinks they should be. Or cannot learn all facets of a position immediately. She practices motivation by volume.

The intolerance is rather ironic given the number of things she still cannot do after a year in her position. Perhaps no one has yelled enough.

The NL quickly decided that NG would not work out. She wanted to hire someone else and move NG to a different position (preferably in a new department).

Moving to a new department would probably increase his productivity immensely. I had him with me for a day over in cheese and just left him alone. He did great work, and we were both happy with the arrangement. (Do not expect a happy ending here.)

Now they have found a guy to replace NG; the new new guy (NNG). Once again, he was greeted with great fanfare and high expectations.

That lasted for about half a day. The first day he was on the floor, they were teaching him the basics of stocking. He was rather slow, but that was to be expected, right? Although I’m not really sure how he explained all that time he wasn’t on the floor.

The next day, I was supposed to show him how to unload the stuff from the truck and get it into the deli. It was worse than unloading all of those stupid chickens.

After about a half hour, I told the TL that NNG was either dumber than dirt or lazier than a pet hound dog (I love the expressions I got from my grandparents). She thought it might be both. (Told you she has a low threshold for the learning curve.)

The first thing he had to do was move a few cases of chickens from one cart to another in the cooler so we could finish filling the first cart with salsas and hummus. I explained it to him. He asked me to explain it again. I did. I went to leave the cooler and he followed me. I then explained that he had to do it right then. He asked me to repeat the instructions.

In the meanwhile, NG had started to move things from the pallets to the carts.

NNG looked at the pallets and asked how often he was expected to do this. I told him it would be part of his job. Did that mean every day? No, just Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. He kept staring at the pallets.

I told him that he needed to learn how to sort the boxes to the various carts. He wanted to know how he could tell what went where. I told him that was what he needed to learn.

NG continued to move things onto the carts. Slowly buy continually.

NNG started to unload only those things that he had to stock. No meat, no dairy, no bakery, no deli salads, no specialty cheese.

I told him again that he needed to learn to sort things. He continued to unload his stock. Finally, I told him that he had to learn it because I wasn’t going to be there to help him after a few days. He looked at me then looked at the pallet. He slowly began to work through the load.

The next day he called off. NG unloaded the chickens and put them away. I don’t think NNG knows about the chickens yet.

I can hardly wait.

4

Another One Bites the Dust

Apologies to Queen. I would have preferred to use Bohemian Rhapsody, but could not find anyway to tie it in. This concert at Wembley is supposed to have been one of the best ever at that stadium.

I always miss the good stuff. I took Friday off to take my daughter to an appointment. Yesterday morning I got to work and discovered that someone had been removed from the schedule. Actually, no one ever disappears the first week they are gone. The name stays but the hours are gone so everyone knows someone left. It’s for people like me who don’t actually pay attention to who works when but will notice when there is a week of empty space next to someone’s name.

The interesting thing about this person is that not soon after she arrived, she became the “heir apparent” to be the next team leader-in-training. I think the team leader is/was anxious to get someone to help with the team, and the employee felt she should be promoted. Pretty much from the day she started, she saw the need to tell the other team members what they should be doing and report those who were not behaving as desired (by her). You may have met people like this.

It appears that her need to correct was finally her undoing when she came up against the team leader. Since the team leader is another person who is never wrong, it was probably a crisis waiting to happen at some point. They got into a huge fight in the deli. In front of the rest of the staff. In front of the customers.

It’s not really that unusual for the team leader to disagree with someone. Loudly. That’s what happens when you have all the answers, but don’t understand all of the questions. In fact, I know of a couple of instances where there have been rather unpleasant exchanges between different people and her. The difference is that this time someone complained to management.

If there’s one thing that management hates, it’s customer complaints. And people fighting rather than working. And people disrupting other people working because it’s hard to interact with customers when you can’t hear them over your co-workers yelling at each other.

So the team leader and the employee were called to the office. (Life there always seems like high school replaying on a continuous loop.) The employee walked out with no job. The team leader walked out with a job but a warning. It’s generally the rule that they don’t get rid of bad leaders, they just send them to the equivalent of Siberia at an undesirable store.

In this case, I think we are just going to have to live with her. Management already knows about her talking about her employees behind their backs. To other team members, not fellow team leaders. They know about her inability to order food correctly. And her inability to get new staff.

There’s a breakdown in logic somewhere along the line. She insists she doesn’t have time to call prospective employees for the first interview. She doesn’t want any of the other team leaders to do it for her. Then she complains about having no staff.

The last time she did interviewing, she saw four people and said she was going to hire three. One started and will probably not stay because she gives him panic attacks by yelling all the time. The second one didn’t pass the background check. I can’t imagine what that person did, but it must have been pretty awful to not make it into the deli. She was sure the third one was destined for management. Lots of deli experience and very enthusiastic about serving customers. There was a delay in his background check. Then he fell into some black hole. I believe he has found another job.

One of the day people who was also “destined to move up” did just that. But not at our store. She’s running a deli at another store. I’m sure she’ll do very well. And be a lot more relaxed.

The woman who moved from afternoons to days did it based on seniority (we do have a union after all). She’s a wonderful woman and works very hard. Unfortunately she also has a significant hearing loss and can’t work on the counter. The team leader neglected to tell her that since she couldn’t work the counter, she would be deep frying chicken parts all day. She might have been able to do dishes part of the time, but the team leader likes that job. It’s one of the few she doesn’t complain about doing.

There are two people who roast chickens. The first has Aspergers and is getting worse daily because the team leader is constantly yelling. The team leader wants to replace him because he’s too slow. The second one has significant health problems and should be out on a long-term disability. The team leader wants to replace her because she calls in sick too much.

The team leader wants to replace them with an employee from another department who has shown interest in transferring to the deli. But he’s only interested on the condition that he will stock, not wait on customers. We need stockers, but she won’t hire anybody she can’t use on the counter and with the chickens. We won’t be getting that guy.

So life goes on over there. The team leader complains about the employees. The employees complain about the team leader. The employees complain about each other. The other departments laugh about the dysfunctional deli.

It probably won’t be long before another one’s gone.

3

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Punch In

It was a pretty good week at work. They finally hired a stocker for the deli/cheese. He’s a friend of the other stocker, so he has some idea of what he’s walking in to. But it’s his first job and those are still hard to find around here. It should be good preparation in case he ever wants to work, well, I’m no exactly sure where.

The first thing the team leader was looking for in a new stocker was that it was a male. She feels that unloading the pallets is too hard for women. I wanted to thank her for bringing us back to the 1970’s when it was common knowledge that women would never be able to do certain jobs because they lacked the strength and stamina for them.

It was somewhat ironic that she would tell me these things while she was asking me to unload a pallet of chickens (46 lbs to the box, 20-25 boxes). I’m not very big: 5’2″ with weight proportional to height (as they used to say in the personals). It seems to me that if I can do it, gender should not be an issue.

Nevertheless, New Guy (NG) is great so far. Luckily for him, he is strong. And unlike the last male stocker, he isn’t too lazy to use his strength. He learns quickly and is willing to try anything.

That’s why it was so painful to have to tell him the ground rules. Not for working with me or the other stocker (OS), but being in the deli in general. Over in cheese, there are very few rules. Put the cheese where it belongs and don’t disappear for hours on end. It’s kind of depressing how many people have failed at it in the two and a half years I’ve been there.

Unfortunately, it fell to me to tell NG that the rumor about a lot of women working under stress in a very small space is true in our case. Very few of them play well with others. One woman walked out last week because someone kept telling what lousy work her shift did. (Day shift thinks night shift is lazy and worthless and the feeling is reciprocated.) Another woman kept yelling at her (co-worker, not customer).

Luckily for them, someone talked her into coming back. She’s a good worker and didn’t talk about others behind their backs.That’s probably why people were giving her a hard time; it’s like living in a tough neighborhood. One of the women apologized. The other ignores her. It’s also a lot like high school.

Then there’s the team leader (TL). Apparently it’s common knowledge in the other departments that she cannot order efficiently. We just got in five hundred and some chickens to rotisserie. Consensus was that relatively few people eat rotisseried chickens on Easter.

We can’t put the chickens in the deli cooler because it is too full of deli meat that TL has over-ordered. She insists that I can find room for all the extra chickens, meats, and salsa that she does not have room to store. I wish I had not let my magic license expire. Or could match her up with the people who think that if they complain enough I will be able to find something that is currently out of stock.

I’m never quite sure how much to share before it starts to scare people away. Generally, I like to share enough information so that the new person doesn’t think he/she has been singled out for the weirdness. Like the fact that my section is mainly an annoyance to the TL. It is not in the sight lines of the deli (thank goodness). Out of sight, out of mind.

Yesterday TL came around to ask who could work extra hours. NG and I were working together. She said that if no one volunteered, she would have to enforce mandatory overtime. She didn’t seem to understand that mandatory overtime could not be enforced at a company that tells its employees that NO overtime is allowed. Oddly enough, people schedule things for after work.

Newsflash! TL is not a good role model. She takes cigarette breaks on the clock. She parks in handicapped parking (illegally) so her car is convenient for smoke breaks (guess she doesn’t want people seeing her on her third break in four hours). Apparently all of that smoking has made walking to a different part of the lot uncomfortable.

TL doesn’t like working the counter, stocking, doing the daily inventory work or several other tasks. She does spend a lot of time complaining about being understaffed. I don’t think it has really sunk in that she wouldn’t have as many staffing issues if she picked up some of the slack herself.

No one wants to complain to management about TL. The last time someone did, she promised to track them down and file a complaint about that person creating a hostile working environment. That’s funny to everyone who didn’t have to listen to the tirade.

Once all of that was said, OS and I were able to congratulate NG on being a stocker rather than a slicer. He’ll have to spend part of his time stocking deli which is a little scary, but then he can come fall off the radar in cheese.

(Title courtesy of Dante for those of you who recognized it but couldn’t place it. For the rest of you too, I guess.)

6

I Hate Dead Chickens

Actually, I’m not too fond of the living ones either. As far as I’m concerned, the only good chicken is one that is somewhere in the process of being made into a meal.

My particular complaint at the moment is that they are taking up more than their fair share of my cheese cooler. Apparently the manager told my team leader that she should always have two extra carts of chickens in my cooler at all times. That usually translates to three overfull carts, although a couple of weeks ago there were two pallets plus two carts.

I’m hoping that whatever chicken splurge the manager is hoping for happens soon. For some reason, the very fact of us having more chickens has not translated directly into more people wanting them.

In an effort to not take up any more room than necessary, the deli stocker usually tries to put as many cases on a cart as possible. Sixteen cases at 46 pounds a case means a cart weighing over 700 pounds. If I have to unload the chickens (the team leader says it isn’t a job for women – so she lets me do it*), there are only 12 or 13 cases on the cart. Less cheese space but I can move the cart without throwing myself at it. Probably less entertaining for people walking past. *My team leader is taller and heavier than I am.

In order to give the little beasties their due, I have looked at some “Fun Facts” from Smithsonian.com. The best stuff involves male/female relations:

A rooster announces to a flock of chickens that he’s found food with a “took, took, took.” But the hens don’t pay attention if they already know that there is food around. Sorta like when I tune my husband out as he tells me for the whatever time the specs for his perfect TV.

Roosters perform a little dance called ‘tidbitting’ in which they make sounds (food calls) and move their head up and down, picking up and dropping a bit of food. Researchers have found that females prefer males that often perform tidbitting and have larger, brighter combs on top of their heads. Sounds like this might have been the prototype for disco. Makes me think of a group of guys strutting around to get the girls’ attention while the girls are giggling about how silly the guys look.

Scientists think that the rooster’s wattle–the dangly bit beneath his beak–helps him to gain a hen’s attention when he is tidbitting. It is just too disturbing for me to make any sort of analogy to a person with loose skin that looks like a wattle.

A female chicken will mate with many different males but if she decides, after the deed is done, that she doesn’t want a particular rooster’s offspring she can eject his sperm. Empowered females – I like this. Maybe this is what that politician was thinking when he said that women could prevent a pregnancy caused by a rapist. Did he come from farm country?

There are approximately 25 billion chickens in the world. More than any other species. They are found all over the world. If they weren’t known for the habit of pecking themselves to death, I would say that it’s a conspiracy to take over. Even our politicians should be able to take on something that dumb.

Chickens are not native to the Americas. It is generally agreed that they started somewhere in the vicinity of Vietnam. They were either brought by the Polynesians to Chile or the Spaniards to Central America. I’m going with the Spaniards. One of the things the indigenous people noted about them is how bad they smelled. Ever been to a chicken farm?

I did not realize that chickens are omnivores. I thought they ate seeds and grains. Turns out they also like insects, mice, and lizards. Both mice and lizards are pretty quick. Maybe male chickens give them to lady chickens when they are trying to impress them. I can picture a rooster holding a mouse by the tail as a gift. Pretty scary.

OK, now I know more about chickens. I still don’t like them. And I think they know it and are going on the offensive. Yesterday a carton of eggs attacked and spilled yolk all over me.

8

The De-Snarkification of Cat

I received some feedback that I may have been a little hard on the (lack of) thought process employed by some of our customers. While I would like to remind everyone that my thoughts are not expressed to the customer (that’s why they’re thoughts not words), I do understand that some people are concerned with the lack of civility in today’s world. Ensuring that I don’t inadvertently insult someone is a valid concern. We never know when the filter between my brain and my mouth might become clogged and not work anymore. (I have met several people with this unfortunate condition.) So I am trying to come up with some more polite ways to address some issues.

Current: Why on earth do you keep ordering chickens when we have forty cases in my cooler? It’s the cheese cooler not the “I still don’t understand how to order” cooler. Improved: I know it’s really hard to gauge how much food to order, being fairly new in the position. Maybe you should see how much was used last year and increase it by 10% rather than 200%.

Current: It’s called a cheese cooler because it’s supposed to be used for cheese, not whatever you can’t find room for. Improved: If you are going to keep getting too much stock, we should probably find someplace to hide it so your boss will quit yelling at you about it. Or maybe you could arrange to clean out your own space so it looks like you have the correct amount.

Current: Stop being so lazy and clean up the messes you make in my cooler. If you spill boxes all over the place moving a cart, pick them up. Improved: It would really make things a lot easier for me if I didn’t walk into the cooler to find it full of boxes that have fallen off one of the carts. I try very hard to load them safely and would really appreciate you helping me with this. You know you can get hurt tripping on things you don’t see.

Current: Why do you think it’s OK to step in front of me to use the time-clock? Is your time more important than mine? Improved: Excuse me. I guess you didn’t see that I was in line to punch in. Just so you know, you would have clocked in at the same time if you had waited for me.

Current: Why do you think I should come to your department and help you? It’s not like you ever do anything to help me. I’m tired of hearing about how important what you do is. I assume you have no idea how much money my area actually makes. Improved: I’m sorry. I really don’t have time to help. I’m the only one in my section and don’t have anyone I can ask to help.

Current: I know it’s a load of ‘whatever’ when you don’t put a cart in my cooler because you don’t do it as well as I do. It’s insulting how stupid you think I am. Improved: Actually, the way I got to be this good was by practicing. If you spend a little time today working on it, it will be easier the next time you try to put something in.

Current: I know you’re the one who made the mess although you’re playing innocent so I have to clean it up. I’m not working with anything that could spill. Improved: I hate the way those containers of olives sometimes spill over when you take off the top. It looks like that one got some olive oil on the floor.

Current: It’s really stupid to order extra sandwich turkey less than a week before Thanksgiving. That’s the same stuff that’s in those big birds they keep selling across the aisle. Improved: Perhaps it would have been better to wait until some of the stuffed feeling from Thanksgiving goes away before asking people to buy a less substantial version of the same meat.

Current: Yes I am using the hand-held inventory controller. That’s why it’s in my hand and I’m putting numbers into it. You can quit standing there trying to intimidate me into giving it to you. Improved: I’m probably going to need this for another few minutes. I can let you know when I’m finished so you don’t have to keep standing there letting your other work pile up. I’m sure there’s time for both of us to do what we need to do.

I could go on, but there’s really no point. I just hope the brain/mouth filter stays functional.