Letter from a Front Line

We have our first guest contributor! This essay came to my attention this morning. It’s written by a young woman I know. I will say more about her at the end, but I will let her words speak. I hope you enjoy.

Being an Essential Worker  by Shirley N.

A job that never seemed important. That is how a cashier sometimes is seen. Like many other jobs, being a cashier does not require going to school to get a certificate, a degree, or an advanced degree. It is just simple, but overall it is essential and important. Unfortunately, it is not seen in this way all the time or by everyone. I have been working as a supermarket cashier for about two and a half years, and it is not a simple job as many would say. We have to be careful with customer’s groceries, be patient, be polite, and sometimes pretend not to feel the offenses of people. For example, one day a lady went to check out her groceries with one of my co-workers. My co-worker is in her 40s. She does not speak English well. The lady noticed that, and she started telling the cashier that she should not be working there because she does not even understand and speak English. The cashier seemed very sad, and another lady behind her started calling the manager really loud because she said that the lady was abusing the cashier. This is an everyday occurrence at a supermarket. Sometimes people just want to make us feel down because we are “supermarket cashiers.” When the pandemic (COVID-19) started, we were not simple cashiers, we started being essential workers.

When schools, restaurants, bars, and malls closed, pharmacies, hospitals, and supermarkets remained open. My health, my goals, and my life were in danger. During this time, working to serve people who do not appreciate our work did not make sense. That is how I was feeling. The week my school closed, I worked four days up to the weekend and during my spring break week. That week and a half was something I will never forget. The first day, March 4, the supermarket was incredibly crowded; it took just a day to have empty shelves and people fighting each other because of food. Everything was unreal for me. Before the pandemic, people used to complain about every single thing. They always want to have things at the cheapest price and they bought in less quantity — but not this time. They tried to get as much food as possible. They did not care about the price anymore. It felt like the end of the world. After that Wednesday of work, the only thing I wanted to do was sleep and be ready for the next day because I knew it could be worse.

The next day, March 5th, other schools, and businesses were closing. People were losing their jobs and scarcity of supplies began to happen. That day is unforgettable for me because I was not scared about the virus and everything that was going on. However, it is sad how everything can just disappear. I remember a few months before looking for a job at a bookstore in the mall because I wanted to work somewhere a little slower than a supermarket, but for some reason I did not get the job. That day, I felt grateful that I didn’t, because even though I was in danger, I had work. I would still be able to help my family in Ecuador, and that made me feel blessed. I thanked God once again for what I had.

The next day of work was also hard for me. I have to deal with a lot of people, and in my mind, there was always the question: might he or she have the virus? My co-workers seemed scared. I heard them talking to each other about what they heard in the news, what people were saying, etc. For a few, it is something that they would have to face and only God knows what would happen to them.  For me, I thought this experience was something that will make us become better people. However, this did not seem to be on everybody’s mind. For those customers who think we “the cashiers” are useless people, putting my life in danger and giving them service did not seem worthwhile. For instance, there was a guy who came to my register with a bad attitude. For some reason, he pushed one of the items of the customer in front of him and brought it closer to her. The lady did not like him touching her stuff and getting too close to her.  I told him very politely to stand where the sign indicated where the 6 feet distance was. He just looked at me and muttered to himself. When it was his turn to be checked out, he started yelling at me to put an item in a bag. I knew that was my job, but certainly, he was trying to give me a hard time. I called the manager because as I said I am a supermarket cashier, but I am not less than anyone. He also treated the manager really badly. Other customers were calling him nasty.

This kind of situation is something that I am used to facing. Being a supermarket cashier for these years has taught me customer service skills when dealing with this kind of person in a real-life situation that most of us have faced or will face. Another thing I will take from it is to not be this type of person because every single job position needs to be respected and valued. Also, advocating for myself is another thing I have learned. Even though I am young, I am able to defend my rights and not let anyone drive over me. This is one of the things that people like me have to know in order not to be put down as many people would like to do to others. Sometimes, it is not something I wish I have to do, but in real life, it is what we must face. 

In my everyday work, now there was something different. First, we started using gloves. I did not like the idea because we did not have hand sanitizers to disinfect the gloves. Second, we were obliged to wear masks. Then a second mask, the kind that is clear plastic and covers the entire face, was offered but not compulsory, yet it was an extra safety precaution for us. After the masks, they put up plastic partitions so we would not have direct contact with customers. It stood like that for a while. What did not stay the same was the freedom of buying whatever people wanted and the amount they wanted. Since the shelves were emptying and deliveries were delayed, the store had to make decisions about how they would be able to address people’s needs. Therefore, the limit on chicken, beef, rice, frozen vegetables and fruits, paper towels and bath tissue, etc. was one of those decisions. Again, this was something that made people go crazy. Every day, work is an argument with customers about the limits on food. On sunny days, people come to the store and try to get a lot of packages of meat to do BBQ. It is sad, but it seems that people still do not get what is going on.

After work, it feels like I survived another day, but at the same time, nothing is the same. I feel scared of wearing the same pair of jeans twice, my shoes can not be inside of the house without disinfecting them. Life is not the same, out there many families have lost their loved ones, and even though we are all facing a different situation related to COVID-19, it is not easy to assimilate it. At the supermarket, I continue to experience all kinds of situations. For example, a few people try to relax with a case of beer, others try to get a lot of meat to have for weeks, others buy only what they need, and others’ jobs are to shop for others. This is a really interesting time to me.

I have been experiencing a lot, and I can not stop thinking about how incredible life is. Becoming a doctor requires a lot of studying and many years of interning and residency. Other people make videos and become famous social media influencers and society sees them as important. The reality is different. I am out there making it every day providing an essential service. I never thought I would be in this position carrying this craziness on my back.

After three weeks, the supermarket provided additional protection. Now, we have a plastic curtain that protects our backs. I feel that nothing really would completely protect us, but it is worthwhile to try everything that might help. Staying motivated is also another thing I have been facing because it is sad how the world has changed, but many people’s minds have not.  For example, supermarkets went back to using plastic grocery bags so that we do not have to touch people’s bags that they bring from home. However, it is really sad how people are taking advantage of it. They try to take as many bags as they can home. I still do not see the point of this. This is not always the case. There are also people who have tried to thank us for our outstanding work. They have been making signs to make us feel how important we are to them and to the world. I am pretty sure that there are more people who thank essential workers than people who think we are just being paid to do a job, and that our work also includes hearing their insults

Overall, being part of the essential workforce is a role that today is one of the most important. My everyday job is to serve people while exposing my health and my family’s health. Not only that, but my goals, dreams, and feelings are out there with me. I am able to support myself, be a full-time student, manage two jobs, send money to my family in Ecuador, be a daughter, a sister, cook, and wash my clothes every day after work. Throughout this time I have noticed how being essential requires strength, courage, and patience. It is now about two months and a half since people’s everyday lives have changed. Being outside is not joyful anymore. Every day something different and unexpected happens. My job may not be considered important to many because we are still seen as simple supermarket cashiers even though we are the ones who help to keep this world moving forward. For others, we make the difference and that motivates me to continue.

Shirley is 20 years old. She loves mathematics, environmental science and Albert Einstein. She hopes to attend Princeton University where her idol taught. I, for one, applaud her every step of the way.

Clare

Images: WPA and Diego Rivera

M is for March and Men

Hello and Happy March! We’re on the launch pad towards spring and I for one am glad of it. I think we’ll start with beautiful men. They will help us through the gusty windy rainy days as Charles Dickens wrote: “When the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”

Back to the male of the species: beautiful men are a wonder. I think it is because they are most rare.

Not only does a young man’s fancy turn to love, so does a young woman’s. Hell, it’s biology people!

So enjoy! We have some lovely images upcoming, as well as other topics of interests which I will not reveal just yet. Stay tuned and look out for some YouTube nonexistent-production-value test drives as I figure that platform out!

Clare

“…daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty; violets dim, But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes…To make your garlands of, and my sweet friend, To strew him o’er and o’er!” The Winter’s Tale

The Month of Love

We couldn’t wait! We’re gearing up for February the month of luvvv! In the doldrums of this last leg of winter I figured we needed an upper. Stay tuned for more writing, more menus, and more artwork courtesy of my dear friend Blanca who is a superwoman! She designs all our wonderful collages, and she has done several so far for next month (I am hoping to talk her into one more), AND she’s five months pregnant with her first baby (super exciting!), she has an amazing job where she helps lots of young people, runs a house, and a million other things. She’s officially our Valentine here at Phantom.

Cupid and Psyche, Chatsworth

Check back soon! There’s more to come. We’ll be also be posting love related books, movies, fashion, etc. in our menu tabs.

Keep an eye out for Cupid’s arrow.

With love – all four: Agape (unconditional), Eros (erotic), Philios (brotherly), Storge (empathy).

Clare

Ruby Eclipse sunflowers

A New Decade – A New Look

Yeppers! Here’s hoping in the next weeks we have a new website! Praying all the planets align and the code gods cue up and we pull this off. Relying on the generous kindness of talented friends to bring their skills to the task with me. Thank you in advance & I do hope you will all enjoy what comes next!

Love,

Clare

Sunflower image: Venetia Jane’s Garden, Bedfordshire, England. Twitter: @VenetiaJane

Eros – Another Country

I will attempt to write, or find in the archives, essays that feature all of The Four Loves. We will begin with Eros:

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” so begins the opening of L.P. Hartley’s wonderful book The Go-Between. d3d75b8ed2d3b44ee2db94e86d2cd808A friend of mine often quotes this line to me when we start to dwell too long in the past. The season is gradually changing, the official end of summer was four days ago, the nights are chilly. Time is flowing and a number of friends are traveling right now: Spain, Germany, Denmark, Amsterdam, and Sicily — foreign countries. The transitory nature of summer to fall and friends traveling sends me back to my past, my foreign country. Sicily for me is a memory of a time when we did things differently, my family, and so did I. I went to Sicily as a teenager and it was the most enchanting trip of all. Everything was ripe, the season, me, the confluence of sensibilities and the beauty of the place. I fell in love with this magical island. My great-grandmother (more on her in another post) was a remarkable person and exceedingly well traveled. She urged me to go and where to stay.

I landed in Taormina which now is well known, less so then, and I stayed in a hotel that was at the foot of the ancient Greek amphitheater, and had an unobstructed view of the town below and Mount Etna in all her glory. It was a hotel that had been there a long time and had been owned by the same family for generations. It had a 19th Century quality to it — even with the mod cons — and the garden, which was all overgrown and lush and mysterious was a realized vision of a Romantic era poet. When I arrived, I was led into my hotel room which faced the garden, the sea, and Etna. I was being shown in by a sweet housemaid, an older lady, who was more than likely born and raised and lived in this impossibly beautiful place her whole life. Even so, when she opened the French doors onto the terrace and all the splendor, and she heard me gasp, she smiled knowingly and said, “Come un sogno” — it’s like a dream. Indeed. I loved that she, who probably did this many times a day for many years, still enjoyed people’s reaction and was so proud of her town.

Goethe spent time in Sicily and wrote some wonderful poems about the island — it certainly seems he was completely taken with it too. I remember the word “bewitching” was an adjective he used. And it was certainly that. Beguiling too. On my trip there, which was quite a long one, I had my official coup de foudre, the lightning bolt of love at first sight. It was wonderful. I think you have to be very young to enjoy that feeling to the bone. You get all tingling and thrilled and every nerve end seems to be vibrating like a tuning fork My young man was tall, handsome, intense, sexy and brooding — all the things that are wildly attractive to young girls. He was marvelous and funny too and I was totally enthralled. I’ve never forgotten him all these years, and I think of him more often than more serious or longer lasting relationships — maybe just because it was that brilliant flash of light.

The day I left he was angry, perhaps the only way to part. We both knew that probably we would never see each other again. Maybe not, we haven’t yet! I wonder if he married, what career he settled on, if he has children, did he stay or move on to a bigger city where there is more advancement. I’ll never know, I suppose. I like to think he stayed, it’s worth staying there. Imagine living in a place that is so beautiful it can bring you to tears? I don’t think he remembers me; I was just another girl passing through, and it doesn’t really matter. I remember him. And, I am grateful to him for being my lightning bolt, and for that foreign country where people do things differently. I can visit, briefly, as an itinerant, stopping for just a moment and then departing. For we all must leave, return to the present, and let the past rest and recede into the fine dust and ash that it is, and that we all one day shall be.

Clare Irwin

N.b., L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between was a film starring the incomparable Julie Christie, and much missed Alan Bates (pictured above), with the screenplay written by the famous playwright Harold Pinter. The supporting cast is stellar too. Hartley’s other well-known novel The Hireling is also worth reading, and it too was made into a film with Robert Shaw and Sarah Miles who are dark, sexy, neurotic and amazing. Read both, see both. You won’t be disappointed.

A Heart on the Rue de Grenelle by Jim Dine