Friday, January 21, 2011

Paydays Are Like Chocolate

I started working for a company a few weeks ago - after the desolate wasteland of my unemployment, I was ready to try new challenges, learn new skills, access new information and ensure all my TPS reports were filed, with cover sheets, in triplicate, on the appropriate desk. I was also ready to earn a paycheck, because girlfriends, my back account was empty. I felt like those cartoons that depict the concept of "poor" with moths coming out of my wallet.

There's nothing quite like the rush of payday, though, right? I've finally been around long enough to get some cash monies (okay, one automatic deposit), and all of the sudden, the day seems brighter. I can afford things like groceries! Granola bars, you silky bitches: I'm going to take you home and eat you. I can also afford things like new tights, and some work clothes, because I've been rotating the same five skirts for the past couple weeks and I think people are starting to notice. Maybe that's why nobody wants to eat lunch with me. Regardless, the feeling of, "hey, my time is worth actual money to other people" is very gratifying.

Back when I was a wee teenager and wore ridiculous JNCO pants along with my boss-mandated collared shirts to my job at the beachfront french fry stand, I used to get paid in fat wads of cash. It was like being a baby tycoon, especially since I was fourteen and basically a noodle when it came to income. What expenses do fourteen year olds have? I bought magazines and went to the Bulk Barn, where I bought gummi worms and disgusting lipgloss from Wal-Mart. Like, seriously. And I also saved for university: despite having a boatload of savings and a chunk of cash left over from my child modeling days, I managed to rack up twenty grand in bills from the venerable University of Toronto. But I loved getting paid in cash, since it was so immediate. There was no going to the bank, or mandatory five-day waiting periods while my cheques cleared. It was just there, ready to be spent.

After every famine there's a feast. I spent a long time in Winners last night, wandering the aisles, searching for work-appropriate garb I don't also want to burn. ( Quick questions: why is so much of that stuff made from that one cheap-feeling material? You know the one - H&M makes all their pants from it - but it feels like used plastic bags have been melted and woven together to create something that wants desperately to be considered a fabric, but is more akin to an allergic reaction.) I netted some metallic jazz-shoe flats and a vaguely nautical sweater; sadly, the sequined leopard-print hot pants weren't in the budget, even at fifteen bucks. If they're still there in a couple weeks, I might pick 'em up. I desperately hope they are, because although I fear them, I also love them.

Because that's the beauty of payday: it gives you freedom. My boyfriend likes to remind me that jobs aren't really designed to be laff riots with 100% freedom and continuous happiness - they are, he says, called "work" for a reason. Which is true. But, while jobs are designed for people to sell their time to their employers, work needs to do something for you as well - be it personal growth, or professional advancement, or even just the influx of money every so often. And money allows you to do other things: plan vacations, buy silly hotpants, go dancing, even just be free from worrying about how you're going to pay for your food and rent. In the future, when I build up a little bit of savings and am not running so much on fumes - even though I got paid, my months of unemployment have left things a little tight, and the squeeze is on for at least another six weeks - I'll be able to luxuriate in having disposable income. For now, I'm just grateful I'm not broke any more. Being broke makes a girl feel broken.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Anne Lamott does this great thing in Bird By Bird, her 100% awesome writing/life guide, where she talks about school lunches. She says that, as a writer, school lunches are like this perfect little kaleidoscope to peer through. You can tell so much about a person by examining their midday meal: is it in a brown paper bag, or do they have a fancy lunch bag? Tupperware or sandwich bags? Carrot sticks that look like they were "extruded from a machine" (Lamott's turn of phrase, which is funny and bang-on), or are they eating bread and cheese, without the benefit of niceties like mayonnaise or tomato? School lunches, she says, speak to a person's social status, their place on the economic ladder, their confidence in themselves and the world around them, and basically whether or not they're a huge loser, or they can get by, socially speaking.

When I was in elementary and high school, I was blessed with a mother who made my lunch for me - a gift I repaid by constantly losing her Tupperware, sending back uneaten sandwiches, spending my allowance on disgusting cigarettes and $3.95 BLTs from the Irish-themed diner close to the high school, and generally being a brat vis-a-vis the school lunch thing.

Ten years later, I pack my own lunch, into Tupperware my mom bought me, and put that into an insulated lunch bag she bought me too, because my mom pays attention to stuff like that. To be honest, what was a huge embarrassment in high school is a comfort now that I don't live with my parents. Making my own meals is one of those drags that I don't really mind, because I like to eat and packing a lunch saves me LOTS of money. I'm a broke-ass girl with a nice lunchbag. It's the way of the world.

Anyway, it's interesting looking around the corporate lunchroom. Nobody talks to each other during lunch - people lunge for the Toronto Star so they have something to train their eyes on during their lunch break. Eye contact is studiously avoided. Lunches are salads and leftovers; almost nobody brings, like, sandwiches or anything with a carbohydrate. No fruit. No large servings - I've seen people eat an egg roll for lunch and then go back to work. Dudes? I know offices aren't exactly known for their strenuous physical exertion, but your basal caloric needs are more than what's found in Mr. Foo's Number Three.

It's sort of weird eating with people who're ignoring you. Meals are often a friendly, communal thing. We come together and at least make some small talk - kids, spouses, weekend plans, vacation ideas. It's not like I'm expecting my co-workers to pour out their hearts and souls, but not even an acknowledgment that someone has entered the room seems a weensy bit cold.

It bears mentioning that this is one of my first real office jobs - working in the service industry means that you say hello to everyone when they come in the door, but maybe things are done differently in the office atmosphere. From what I've gleaned from The Office, the potential for office awkwardness is just astronomical, so I'm not surprised that the weird vibes extend to the lunchroom.

But it's making me feel like, regardless of how good my lunches are, I'm still a loser. Being ignored sort of does that to a gal. I make a point of saying hello to folks as I sit down (is that intrusive? I can't tell!), and I get grunts in return. I'll try harder for the next few weeks, but it might be time to invest in some reading material of my own - this book might be a great start. And if not, I'll just take comfort in knowing that at least my mom still seems to like me.