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 False Start?

How is everyone’s 2020 going? We’ve had an almost war, impeachment in the Senate starts tomorrow, and on the Martin Luther King Holiday there’s a Second Amendment rally in Virginia. Which is okay, I suppose, since the First Amendment entitles us all the right to assemble. How heavily armed to the hilt is what I am wondering. We’re riding the whirlwind that’s for sure.

In the micro, it’s time to open up a big can of whup ass. My ambitions for a new template have not yet been realized. This penning would have been under a new menu – working title – “Quick Cuts.” At the moment that new website – and menus – exist only in my imagination, while certain people are absent from the task. I hope you’re reading this! And another person of my acquaintance owes me $40. Not a big sum, but needed all the same. I hope you’re reading this!

On the lighter side, it’s a beautiful frigid day and I’ve had time to read: Dostoevsky, Mishima, social psychology and anthropology. Joy! I have also been decluttering and am appalled at the amount of nonsense I keep. Satisfying work.

Despite the madness and frustration, I shall take the wider view. My octogenarian cat wants to play, have treats and guilt me into opening another can of food. A buffet on the kitchen floor.

None of this should stop me from writing, except the fact that the latest update of this template is counter intuitive. That’s a nice way of saying I f’ing hate it.

In the words of Admiral Farragut, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” The writing will continue. I hope you’re reading this!

On your mark, get set, go!

Clare

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

Wrap Up

Welcome to 2020! I took time these last days to reflect on the year past, what I choose to leave behind, and what I hope, with a qualified expectation, for a new decade.

Personally, 2019 was a great year. New friends, reconnecting with old, love and support from my family of choice and birth – weddings, babies born, one on the way, harmony, a growing circle of love and joy, good people and kindness, expanding my work in holistic and wider ways, satisfaction and love for what I do.

Geo-politically, or outside my immediate world…it was an ugly year. The endless chatter talks about fatigue. Yes, definitely. I think this a large reason for my not writing much. I am deeply disturbed by all the rancor and vitriol that is rampant. I feel ashamed – for all of us – of images of children separated from their parents, held in unspeakable conditions, ill and dying, the world burning and drowning. The name calling, the glee in destructive action and rhetoric, the cruelty and lack of concern – it’s a leap backward from which I am not entirely certain we will be able to recover: to return to being thoughtful, intelligent, and inquisitive, questioning authority, having accountability, a thirst for knowledge, responsibility for our fellow man….etc. All the things we were taught and know.

Yet there is hope. All of us have the ability to seize the moment and call out this unattractive selfishness. It takes courage, but it is the call to adventure and action. Let’s rescue wisdom from the past. It’s not a us v. them situation – it’s You and I together time. Do the right thing – speak truth to power. Have no fear. In these situations, one grows in leaps and bounds and one discovers how much strength one has. We cannot allow cowardice and laziness to be the prevailing attitude.

Good luck. I’ll see you on the other side…

…check back for a big announcement!

Clare

The Last Time

Today marks the autumnal equinox and we’ve had a glorious September. Every ushering in of the early fall finds me in a restive state. This year I feel downright restless. I have stayed close to home and spend peaceful hours outside with my old girl, my 16-year-old cat Lizzie, watching her sunbathe. When it’s quiet – no lawnmowers, no electronic sound, we listen to nature. And Mother Earth is loud! The cacophony of crickets and cicadas and their music is mighty. How humbling to know that creatures so small make great noise.

This late summer/early fall I hear them saying to me: “Last time! Last time!” Their refrain fills me with an itchy feeling — it’s time to move on, go put down roots in a quieter cleaner place. The “last time” feeling also makes me think of Lizzie; I wonder is this the last summer we have, the last time we will sit and do nothing in the sunshine. She has days when she mostly sleeps and is low-energy, and then there are days when I find her jumping up on high window sills to watch the birds or the world pass by. It pulls at my heart – we are so fragile and so resilient at the same time. A mass of contradictions.

The clear warm sunny days with turquoise skies also remind me of the last early fall that my mother was still well enough to do things. I traveled to see my parents and we decided to go raspberry picking at a local farm. It must have been a weekday because we were the only ones in the fields, and the rows were situated to provide a wide vista of rolling hills and low mountains. I stood up from picking and looked at the view: my mother and father intent on their task. I knew that that would be our last time. The last time of normal fun activity — our remaining times revolved around sick rooms and hospitals.

I was corresponding with my friend MK who traveled by car cross country to return to college in California. He took his time and had the “experience.” His photographs are a beautiful travelogue. I shared my wanderlust feeling with him, and my science friend wrote this: “I believe everything will work out fine. I trust the universe, and its mechanisms. Ever since my move to the US it has always been by my side, bringing me one success/accomplishment/acquaintance after the other, and you are one of them. The one thing I do to make sure this rhythm stays in motion is wake up and take a few seconds to be grateful: for my feet that get me out of bed, hands that prepare my food, eyes that see, family, roof that houses me, etc.”

Well put. Here’s to a benevolent universe and to last times — and first times.

Clare

Miss Nopee Goes To Washington

I will skip over the scandalous fact that I have not written over the summer with the silence it deserves. Now that’s out of the way.

End of May, I received a call from a friend from church…which I have not attended in two years. I hear from Gail on occasion — she’s amazing — so, when she called, I was eager to oblige her request. Her ask was if I would help a girl who has been a member of the choir for the last nine years. The young lady is in high school and needs help in preparing for the arduous task of applying to colleges, essays, and the rest. Since it was Gail asking, and she told me that Ana was a “sweetheart,” I was happy to help.

The last three months working with Ana have been a delight. She’s super-smart, always prepared, passionate, committed…all good things. The antithesis of the usual characterization of a teenager. I liked her immediately and my affection for her has grown exponentially. Particularly when I discovered she has a sense of humor, and best of all, a sense of humor about herself.

Perhaps here would be a good place to explain the moniker (what dat?) of “Miss Nopee.” Of course, that isn’t Ana’s last name, I am certain she would bristle at the “Miss” for “Ms,” but this is my story and I’m sticking to it. While texting back and forth with Ana to ascertain her whereabouts – she had gone to Massachusetts to look at colleges — I asked, “Are you home?” “Nope” “Have you left MA?” “Nopee” I thought it was cute, started calling her that, and it stuck.

Ana LOVES politics, wants to go into politics, and the law. All brave ambitions at the best of times, and we aren’t in those presently. No moss grows under Ana, she’s active in her school government and clubs, in politics on the local level, state, etc. Her hero is Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez. She drafts referendums for the banishment of plastics, founded the young democrats club, is in honors classes, and works as a waitress at a local restaurant. Her parents are from South America; she is invested in her roots, and in the democracy that we are all hoping to hold onto in her country of birth. Here.

Along with all that (the short version of the list) she has a serious boyfriend who is also super-smart – more in the area of STEM, so I imagine that they complement each other well. Ana is uber feminist, definitely her own woman, independent and on her way. The boyfriend – who is handsome and dreamy – comes from a strict Hindu family. This poor kid does not enjoy the freedom of movement that Ana does, and if his parents found out that he and Ana were seeing each other – that would be terrible. It really would. His dad checks his phone, his texts, calculates how long it takes to drive to school and home, it would be easier to put an ankle monitor on the kid. Since the father works from home there is no respite from the rigid gatekeeper. This is a secret romance, secret in the sense that the parents don’t know, but the whole school, or a good part of it, does.

The lengths to which these two sweet young people in love must go in order to conduct their love affair are both baroque and ingenious. If they “happen” to meet at the dog park…and there’s code phrases (and fake guys’ names — e.g. “Shane”!), like: “Hey bro, where we meet up for the study group?” Once there, they can’t walk the lovely paths and be normal, they have to hover in the back alley — probably where the dumpsters are — to have a minute alone. Ana must have noticed my quizzical gaze, so she explained. In this white bread suburb in which we inhabit the Indian community is not in the majority and is tightly knit – everyone knows everyone. No, and I mean no, Indian person can spot them or it will be reported back to his dad in a New York second.

At the same time Ana is also in competition with her beau. They are applying to the same blue ribbon/IV League schools. We’ll see who wins. I recently made two literary references in a row in a sentence (one of them was Dante), and Ana looked at me and said, “I have no idea who/what that is.” After recovering from my near heart attack and chiding her for not knowing these references, I sent her a list. A list that used to be on Columbia’s first page – but nonetheless the list for top schools of the books one should have read before entering their ivied walls. To Ana’s credit, she admitted she hadn’t read any of them, and true to form, I received a text from her: “I’m on it!” 👍

Bismark said (who he?) …and I’m paraphrasing: “People who are fond of sausages and the law should never watch them being made.” I haven’t shared this sentiment with Ana, nor my reservations of going into a field of endeavor which in theory is noble and in reality, ignoble. Who am I to drop her dreams all over the floor? Her optimism and insouciance may very well transport her magically to the highest office in the land. I have a vision of her skipping/floating with backpack and books in hand, her beautiful mane of hair blowing in the wake of her acceleration, and settling in behind the large desk situated in the Oval Office.

Well why not? Realistically she’s more prepared than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. No experience necessary! At least Ana has read The Federalist Papers. And, she has heart, compassion, courage and brains.

I see her as a modern version of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with James Stewart giving his impassioned and moving speech to the U.S. Congress. I see her pointing her finger at those smug well-fed old white guys, who don’t give a shit about anyone or anything, and who are wondering when they can discreetly exit the building in order to get to their restricted clubs in time for the cocktail hour.

There’s more, oh so much more, to Miss Nopee, but I must tie this up for now. Let’s say regarding the further adventures of the indefatigable (huh?) Miss Nopee….to be continued.

“Esteemed” Gentleman of the Congress, start your engines, and brace yourself. The times are a-changin’…for the better, I hope. I truly do. 

Clare Irwin

*Supreme Court image courtesy of Ana. Taken during her attendance of the ACLU’s summer advocacy institute: “Best week of my life yet.”

Now You Are….Three! Happy Third Birthday to Phantom Noise In Ordinary Time!

I nearly forgot we had a birthday! I was reminded because Sunday was Bastille Day, and I recall penning (tentatively) the first entry the next day. I’m thrilled and delighted to celebrate three years of ink and toil. I’m also terribly pleased with the steady growth of readership, fans, and support. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I wish I had time to write more and often – don’t we all wish for more time? I am making a promise to myself to DO IT!!! Not merely fret about not writing.

I want to thank the many friends who have contributed in various ways to our little home here. Especially my wonderful friend, dear Blanca, who has and is getting me organized and sorted out, AND contributes her excellent artistic eye, web-mastery, and overall wisdom. Stay tuned she has more for us soon. Thank you all. And a special thanks to all who wittingly, more often unwittingly, contribute the raw material for what I write here.

So, there you have it: deep gratitude, more and better & Oh, all the places we shall go!

Love, Love, Love…everything in THREE!

Clare

Here are three favorites you may want to read: https://phantomnoiseinordinarytime.com/2017/02/12/josh-brolin-a-volvo-commerical-walt-whitman/

https://phantomnoiseinordinarytime.com/2017/04/23/the-house-on-the-hill/

https://phantomnoiseinordinarytime.com/2018/09/19/1942-the-penny-dropped-stargazing/

Deadline Alley

“City Desk? Clare Irwin speaking. Don’t bother with a rewrite, man, take it direct! Ready?”

It’s the end of June and I haven’t much to show for it, so here goes nothing…’cause I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Truthfully, I have too much and my brain can’t decide what’s next. So for the feeble sake of getting one more post in under the wire — my “writing more” self-imposed rule — here goes not much.

May and June, like last year, marked my return to people and places for rites of passage: graduations, proms, and this year weddings! A wonderful addition. Actually one wedding. The other was mysteriously, via text (a real etiquette violation in my book), cancelled due to a “family emergency” with no other information forthcoming. This wedding everyone was instructed to wear pink which was annoying until my dear friend, who has lots of gorgeous clothes, came up with this little number to borrow: 

My friend pointed out that Joan Crawford would not approved of the wire hanger!

The other wedding went off without a hitch. Unfortunately for me, it was in Miami and I could not attend. It was small, intimate, on the beach, barefoot, good food, close friends – perfect! And two of the sweetest people I know. So that was lovely.

As were the graduations of my favorite teens and early 20 somethings. And prom! This year all the rage was something called promposal. Promposal was explained to me by three different attendees and I still don’t get it. What I do get is that it’s an exhausting amount of work (and an inordinate waste of time), with the added opportunity for public humiliation. So we’re down!

Let’s see what else: You haven’t lived until you listen to an 18-year-old recount his group trip to Disney World, with minor adult supervision, which was a mix of endless discussions over EVERYTHING, heaps of drama, and peppered with who threw up on what ride. They’re planning a day excursion to the nearest Six Flags/Great adventure…a Zagat’s guide of the best rides on which to “blow chunks?”

Various: college trips, preparing to leave for college for the first time, vacations: Ireland, Wales, a cruise through Mitteleuropa, the Hamptons, Vermont, and Ohio…well why not?

“City desk? This is Clare Irwin, take it direct! I’m staying put and looking forward to hearing everyone’s excellent adventures.”

Be Magical & Love,

Clare