The Supplemental Income Game

For those of you who don’t know, in addition to being a writer, I am also an actor. I’d like to tell you that I chose this artsy-fartsy life voluntarily, but let’s be honest, that’s just crazy talk. No, no, no, see, ever since I was young, they’ve told me that I’ve had a flair for the dramatic; so, I prefer rather to say this artsy-fartsy, pretty much non-lucrative, exceedingly emotional lifestyle chose me. It was positively involuntary. Phew. Glad we got that out there.

Now, the thing about people like me is this: we tend to clash with good ol’ corporate America. We crazy kids are bent on making a good ol’ fashioned American livin’ off of our art. We have a message! We are bent on bettering the world! But, see, all that doesn’t pay the bills, so, in the meantime we work at coffee shops and restaurants, we substitute teach and work the express lane at Target. In other words, we find day jobs.

I, personally, have been supplementing my income since graduating from college, working as a barista. Actually, this works for me. I love coffee; I understand coffee; most days, I worship coffee. All that aside, however, most people around me don’t consider my peddling caffeine as “living up to my potential”. Alright, maybe.

But I think you need us more than you realize.

Let’s be honest, it’s those crazy whack-a-doodle artists that sing and dance while they’re making your latte; that become completely enthralled with your lengthy re-telling of the time you accidentally shot your brother in the butt with your dad’s bee-bee gun; that, at the very least, convincingly keep on a happy smile when you accidentally treat us like we’re beneath you, in place of telling you to “#*%@ off” like you perhaps (absolutely, 100%) deserve.

We’re important. We keep these places colorful, heartfelt, and civil when the goin’ gets rough (and it does get rough). Which leads me to my next point: please don’t make us cry.

A few weeks back I was working at my happy little coffee shop when I was approached by perhaps the nastiest customer I’ve had the displeasure of serving. She was vile; she was calculatingly evil; sure, she was probably in her late-80s, had a waddle slower than molasses and could barely croak at me above a whisper, but man, was she out for blood. My blood. Unhappy over some corporate mix up (because yes, I work for a corporate franchise), she could not see the difference between the young lady behind the counter and the workings of a larger system; one over which I have not an ounce of control. I tried appealing to her ego, saying how she absolutely didn’t deserve such treatment. No go. I tried explaining, logically, that I am only a little worker bee and am therefore unable to fix said problem. Only seemed to rile her up more. I tried silly jokes, hand puppets, and tap dancing. She thought I was a lunatic. My ridiculous charm was lost. The gig was up. She asked for my name, and for my manager’s, and hissed that she hoped I got fired as she started her long, waddly journey to the front door.

Before I knew it, I was tearing up. I ran to the back room and dramatically flopped into a chair and sobbed heavily into my hands. I then proceeded to talk myself down, then talk myself back up with phrases like “don’t let her get to you, champ,” “hang in there, slugger” and “she was ancient for gosh sakes!” After carefully using my apron to dry my tears, I held my head up high and waltzed back behind the counter to steam some 2% milk.

Little did I know that my boss would be laughing hysterically the following morning as he reviewed the tape of my Oscar award-winning breakdown. This is real. The tape exists. But don’t worry, I laughed too. After all, I was talking to myself.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: not only do we liven up these establishments a bit, but we care. Often times, a greater deal than you may realize. And we may be over emotional, artsy-fartsy freaks, but that doesn’t mean we’re not human. So, next time you’re in your favorite joint, coffee house or otherwise, take a moment to appreciate the colorful service, tip generously if they so deserve, and commend those little worker bees for following their dreams and still supporting themselves against all the odds.

True, it’s not the life for everyone. But who knows? One day, their art actually might just change the world.

Discovering Michigan by Summer

I am proud to be a Michigander. This is the only place, to date, that I have ever called home. My state is shaped like a snuggly piece of clothing. My state is surrounded by a fresh water collection so totally awesome that we call it the Great Lakes. My state has four rockin’ seasons; although, I must admit, winter is really only “super cool” for a month or two. Eventually, the snow gets dirty and, if you’re me, your skin gets extremely dry and crackly and your hair starts to float like you just touched one of those electricity globes.

Back on track.

Whenever I hear one of those “Pure Michigan” commercials on the radio–­you know, the ones narrated by the great Tim Allen–I think of my late cousin Erin. I’ll be honest and say that I hear these commercials when, I firmly believe, she is reaching out to me: reminding me to be calm, or just to pay attention, in general. Anyway, Mr. Allen has, on many occasions, encouraged me to explore the northern part of my state; visit anytime really, but especially by summer.

Perhaps distracted by thoughts of my cousin, I have given the content of this advertising campaign little to no thought at all. I’d been to Traverse City once or twice, and anyway, I live in Michigan. Why do I need to be convinced to vacation in my own state? Well, obviously, I didn’t fully realize what I’d find if I traveled to the tip-top of my state’s proud middle digit. Specifically if I traveled up to a little island named Mackinac.

Do you know what you’ll find if you’re lucky enough to hitch a ride up there to Mackinac Island? You’ll find out what it’s like to be dropped into one of those miniature Christmas towns that old ladies display in their living rooms around the holiday season. That’s what. Truly. It’s bright. It twinkles. It smells like fudge, mostly, and a little like horse droppings, but you forgive that almost instantly because everyone else sure has. People are laughing. Everyone seems to say hello with a kind, genuine smile. And just like that, the rest of the world melts away. And there you are, somewhere in time, with your face pressed against a candy shoppe window, thinking to yourself, “well, I did bike around the entire island today, so I think I deserve that salt water taffy.” (And you’d be right.)

It’s a pretty fantastic place to be in love, too.

There was a moment on our too short a trip that I found myself watching the beautifully crystal blue water of Lake Michigan crash around. I took a long, deep breath (which if you know me, you know that I don’t take long deep breaths often enough). And I just watched. And I just listened to the wind. And I was completely awe-struck. Have you ever been awe-struck? Nature has that effect on me sometimes; overwhelming nature, like mountains or bodies of water that you can’t see all the way across. The kind of nature that reminds you that the world could open up and swallow you whole if she really wanted to, because she’s a kick-ass living, breathing organism and she’s not to be messed with. The kind of nature that leaves you feeling small, but in a good way. You know, nature like that. It leaves you awe-struck.

My state leaves you awe-struck.

But just don’t take my word for it. Go out and take that little suggestion from the great Tim Allen, and explore the mitten. And keep exploring it. Maybe it’ll make you feel like I do: so very proud to be a Michigander, no matter where my soul might lead me, for as long as my heart still beats.