Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 158

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

A lady flicked me off in my office. Well, she wasn’t flicking me off, exactly, but it still sort of felt like it. We were trying to get her accounts straight. Unexpected expenses, overdraws, that sort of thing. So I try to get to know her and she’s in some kind of uniform so I ask about her job. She tells me she’s doing hotel work. She tells me that the work never stops.

“They’ve gone through three general managers in the last year.”

There’s a rough patch of skin on her neck. It looks like a series of cigarette burns. My eyes keep going for it, but I try to pull them back.

As we’re getting down to business, I go through her information – confirming correct phone numbers, addresses, that sort of thing. We come back around to talking about her job, and about her salary, and she tells me it should be five thousand higher, but her bosses keep denying her a raise. That’s when she gets angry.

“So I tell them, ‘I know what I’m doing, I don’t deserve this,’ I’m looking for another job. But I need the money so I don’t let them fire me. I just need them to get off my nut-sack.”

What I WANT to tell her is: “I’m on your side, you deserve something better, fuck a world that treats people this way,” but instead I say “Sounds real awful. Hope you find something better soon.”

Devil’s in the details, and she knows it too, because that sets her off.

“Yeah, yeah,” she says, “we’ll see.” She pulls out her fingers. She’s flicking off her third GM, the hotel, this whole horrible system that pays people less and less for their labor, doubly so if they’re a woman, and of course – rightfully – she’s flicking off the part I play in all that. Because to her, I’m just the banker who left her with ‘better wishes,’ not the soldier standing beside her on the frontlines of social change.

I hope I gave her useful advice, at least. Some help with her finances, a better outlook down the road. I want and need to believe in that possiblity, to let the belief that I can be something positive set my pillow to it’s cooler side at night. But in the end, I’m not the one to judge that.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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Butter was plastered on to the roll with no regard for the hard labor of the cow.

Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

Coffee Log, Day 276

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

I vacuumed the apartment. I started at 4:30pm. I turned all the lights on. I turned the fans on, opened the windows, opened the deck but kept the screen closed. It took about an hour. No-one else was home.

Growing up, my mother did all the cleaning. We were a house of hippies but that didn’t stop the creep of gender norms. I had few chores aside from mowing the lawn and even that I didn’t start until 8 or 9. I kept my toys put away and my bed more or less made. I was responsible for my space but no-one else’s.

Our vacuum is an upright. It’s got a re-usable canister that needs frequent dumping. It stinks when you run it and gets hot as a tea kettle. The cord is long and slippery and there’s no good method of keeping it out of the way. An awkward job. Bad as our footwork was, me and the cleaner made do.

I had a conversation a a couple years ago that changed me. I was sitting in a diner with M. We were coming back from a weekend trip. I don’t remember how the conversation came up, but we were talking feminism and gender roles. We talked about that a lot so maybe the words had just waylaid us. Anyway, I was asking her to tell me if I ever slipped up – if I was dipping into the patriarchal culture that raised me. She got quiet. Then she got upset. And she told me that was the worst trick of all: asking to be lead to justice by a woman’s hand; abjugating your own responsibility; doing the chores when you’re asked, but never taking the initiative; placing the mental burden for equality squarely on a woman’s shoulders.

There’s no framework for a good life. It’s a tremendous privilege to expect someone else to determine what needs doing.

After an hour, the apartment was clean. A few years ago, I would have been at a loss. I would have waited for a woman in my life to ask it of me. Or, barring that, I would have been slobbering for praise when it was done. That’s how you’re raised as an American boy: pampered, on a velvet pillow, with all the world revolving you like the sun.

That’s still in me. It always will be. It’s surely in many of you. But in the end the world believed Copernicus, and you saw yourself as just another planet, one with a blind arrogance to atone for.

Novel Count: 12,212 words

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

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I like upright vacuums. I think canisters are like dragging a dead pig through the house on the end of a rope.

Don Aslett, People Magazine, 1990 interview