Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Power of the Purse

I didn't intend for this to be my "Vegan Starbucks Pre-Grad Student" blog. Of course, it’s inevitable that WOULD be what happened here. After all, I'm writing about the world around me and the things that impact what I'm doing. What blessedly small percentage of our thoughts are not based in our immediate interest and focused on ourselves and our benefit?

Even writing that, it makes me realize that I should really bear that in mind when I judge self involved customers, people on the street, students in class, etc forever. I'm as self interested as you, as self interested as them. I'm sure there is a conversation about the expression of self interest that I'd LOVE to have brewing somewhere inside me, but that’s not my post today. Although, keeping with that theme, I can almost guarantee that it’s going to be based off an entitled Starbucks patron. After all, that is where my self interest lies—or at least, where from where the rent check is born.

Instead, I wanted to talk a little about the power of the purse.

It’s a phrase to which I was most intimately introduced in AP European History, although I will be the first to admit that I do not remember many of the particulars of the course. The concept, though, is that one group can influence another group’s actions by virtue of cash flow. In that context, it involved the levying of taxes exclusively by Parliament, which limited the power of the monarchy. I'll have to get Mrs. Grosshuesch to start reading this and explain further. Perhaps a king suspended parliament in an attempt to gain leverage? Perhaps....? Mrs G, where you at?!

I started thinking about the power of the purse on the train ride home from Boston today. If you could increase the number of commuters between the cities (or surrounding areas) that used the rails, we could lower costs and decrease our dependence on cars. You know, speak with our wallets. Pipe dreams, I guess. But perhaps this is doable? I was just thinking about what it would look like for my [former] faculty adviser to take the train from Newton to Worcester on the 3 or 4 days a week that she works. How many other Elli Crockers are there out there? Maybe she and Tim Murdoch could share a cab to campus from the train station?

This all got me thinking. When I exited the train, my line of sight was straight down the street where I work. The distance between the train station and my Starbucks has been described on more than one occasion as "walkable". So there was a twinge of regret that I couldn't just walk to work from there.

I had parked overnight at the train station, and really, I could have walked to Union Station. I've done it before--its about a 10-15 minute walk. Why had I driven? I think it had been justified with running errands before I left, so that I could have more leisure time to goof off and read And so, I'd have to gas up sooner. That puts money in the pockets of the oil companies, investing in a system that I do not support in principle, but in practice. Oh, $4 gas is still buyable, damn it! 3.99?! A STEAL!

It also made me think about how Worcester is a pretty walkable city for me in the summer. Everything I need is within 3 miles, and that’s less than an hour walk. Before I had my car, that was nothing. I remember walking to my best friend's house one day, for the hell of it, who lived down the beach practically in the next town. Or, in 7th grade, walking 4 miles from school with my bass clarinet. Granted, that happened because I missed the bus. Still though, I had done it.

The simple act of riding the train made me wonder how I'm using my money, and whether I should really put it where my mouth is. So, my goal is to research alternate travel options for the next time I have to get home. How much is a train to New Haven? I know I can just jump the J bus from the Union Station in New Haven and end up on my block. The question is, will I? Will any of us?

Perhaps that is the hidden benefit of rising gas prices: they make other forms of transportation more cost effective than driving. Shelling out bigger bucks for the train, as that begins to equal the cost of a a tank of gas, will help drive down costs in general for train transit, which will (in my mind) drive up train ridership in less urban areas as a method of choice.

The alternate power of the purse, of course, is the power it has over you, and the way we make decisions based on the contents of our wallets, as though that is totally representative of our self interest. For example, the cost of a round trip ticket from Boston to New Haven is $82 on Amtrak, $63 on Peter Pan. It would still only cost me about $40 in gas to drive home. I'll have to do some soul searching next time I want to head back, and try to figure out if maybe I should just find a ride share.

The competing powers of the purse.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Night Before...

To most people, it comes as no surprise that after heavy drinking, my best friends are often my cell phone and my computer. By best friends, of course, I mean the agents of massive embarrassment.

I remember most of what happened last night, so I'm in good shape on that front. I didn't get stabbed, sleep with someone I picked up at Moynihans, or otherwise put my life in danger. I didn't sleep with my roommate or her dog, although there was a period of time where I did crawl up on her bed in a semi seductive way. Things happen. That didn't.

What did happen was that I fixed myself a vodka tonic at home, at which point Jenn says that we're going to the bar. So we head down, have a few beers and play some pool. Its a generally pleasant time. Some other friends come by, and we head over to a booth. The conversation, which I remember as hilarious, involves pornography and asking the married guy we were hanging out with about he and his wife watching porn.

After all this, Jenn and I walked home. When we got there, I fire up my computer-- obviously a good choice-- and so the night really begins.

The thing I'm most proud of is probably when I drunk emailed Hillary Clinton. I'm laughing out loud right now as I type it, because that is just so ridiculous. From what I remember, it was a very sweet note about how she made me want to run for congress. I alluded to the fact that she might run for president again, but it might have just sounded like I was drunk and uninformed. I don't remember, and she hasn't emailed me back. I guess I'm probably safe. Even still, now I know that about myself: that I'm the kind of person who drunk emails Hillary Clinton.

I also know that I texted Mark, my ex from a few years back, asking what kind of pornography we'd watch if we were still together. It was not straight porn, which made me question why we wouldn't have been more adventurous. I think he and I could have gotten into it. This is around the time when someone said "Women never look like they're having a good time in straight porn. When its two girls, they are always having fun". My apologies to Mark-- not only for always doing shit like this, but also for making it seem like I'm not over you. Oh, and for texting you saying that "I want to dutch oven you".

All in all, it wasn't too destructive an evening. I know I've done worse. Although, Hillary Clinton definitely takes the cake. Also, I can't stop typing that as "Hillary Clintron". Like she is a transformer or something.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Open Letter to Barack Obama

Dear Mr. Obama,

I did not vote for you in the Massachusetts primary. As one of the many ‘jilted Hillary supporters’ who ‘might turn towards McCain’ as our presidential candidate of choice, I feel like you owe me a favor or two. Perhaps you owe me as many as I can list below. After all, my drastically shifting political allegiances just might win you the presidency.

Pick a Damned VP

Yes, I get it. You’re ‘vetting’ your potential second in command. You’re vetting the people who are vetting. You might have even personally vetted those vetters. It has been going on for days, and I’m finding it hard to concentrate on the other things in my life. Seriously. I haven’t done a load of laundry in a month, because you might announce your candidate. Midnight seems like a perfectly feasible time for you to release your choice—it’s still in time for the 6pm news in Hawaii. MSNBC was running a bracket on potential candidates for the number 2 spot, and I would currently be watching the analysis again for this week if it weren’t for Tim Russert getting vetted from life by a cardiovascular disease. (Too soon?)

Yes, it’s a big choice, but surely you’ve had enough time. My suggestion for this round of fundraisers with Sen. Clinton should proceed as follows: You stage a vaudeville style conversation with Hillary Clinton, trading jabs and jest. It continues on, but softens. One of you starts the song and dance routine, and the other chimes in. There is a little soft shoe, about 3 minutes of song, and then a sign gets lowered from the top of the stage, announcing Obama/Clinton ’08.

If that is too cheesy, might I also suggest a puppet show with General Clark as a smart mouthed ventriloquists dummy, or tape recording the speech you meant to give, lip synched by either John Edwards or Kathleen Sebelius?

At this point in my CNN addiction though, I imagine the only thing that will satisfy me is a performance of “Seasons of Love” by your entire cabinet at the Democratic National Convention. You’re going to play Mark, so I suggest Taye Diggs for Secretary of Defense. Janet Reno can reprise her role as Attorney General—you’re gonna need an Angel.

Tough Leadership

One of the few things that really endeared me to you was that, during the massive primary debates, back when there were 8 or 9 contenders, you made a comment about social programs. You said that you wanted to increase spending for some program, but wanted the American people to have no illusions about the fact that yes, that would require raising taxes. It was so…. Real. It was like looking someone in the face and saying “yeah, we’re going to have to tighten our belts a little to get what we want. So you’re just going to have to suck it up or vote for someone else.” To me, that best summed up your manifesto of change. You addressed the American people like a community with the same ideals who might get together for a charity pot luck to save Social Security.

Something I’ve noticed is that leadership means sometimes painting with a large brush, and often it means dripping paint on the floor. The large brush, though, is What Is Best For The Country. The floor is often people’s personal interests. The paint itself is probably mauve.

Thomas Friedman wrote this article about Bush’s current oil addicted energy ‘policy’. At the bottom he outlines an intensive plan for what might be best for the nation, albeit setting gas prices at a baseline of some god forsaken amount. Is that against my personal interests? Yes. Absolutely. The less money I spend on gas, the more money I can spend on booze. However, it might just be what’s Best For The Country. So I’ll suck it up.
My point, is that you’re going to need to be tough and make some unpopular statements and choices as president. You’re going to have to talk to Ahmadinejad, set a tough energy policy, and maybe keep troops in Iraq longer than you planned. Maybe you’ll redirect a troop surge into Afghanistan and try to stabilize the region and find Osama Bin Laden. Maybe you’ll have to say “you know, the concept of educational accountability is great, but not the way it works right now. We need an overhaul that stimulates students in more than science, reading, and math. You can’t totally quantify critical and creative thinking”.


-Campaign song—Barack Obama f. Tupac: Changes, the Remix
-A solemn vow that you’ll never let your daughters get photographed if they ever look as awkward as Chelsea Clinton
-A B.J. (submitted by Jenn B.)

Now, I’m not saying that I won’t vote for you in November if the following demands are not met, but do you really want to take that chance?



Friday, June 20, 2008

Am I a Vegan Yet?

For the past few days, I've been trying to phase egg, cheese, and milk out of my life.

Until yesterday, I was pretty convinced that I couldn't do it, for a variety of reasons. Mainly, because I live off milk. America runs on Dunkins, but I run on whole milk iced caramel macchiattos. 2 or 3 a day when I'm working, actually. It is not a beverage, it is a nectar given forth from the gods. Lo, and it is delicious.

Then, there is the issue of sampling food at work. Everything is milky/eggy/has butter in the name, and its been a challenge to not just pick up a slice of that blueberry coffee cake and gulp it down like a goose: no chewing, just straight down to the gullet for digestion.

Most of the problem is the compulsiveness of my snacking at work. Any chips that I've spilled on the counter are an instant fudgy treat. I'll make cream steamers to sample new syrups without thinking. Once I get the treat into my mouth, I think "Shit, milk!" And then its already in my mouth, and I'm not about to spit chocolate chips out in front of customers. Especially because any time I try to spit anything out gracefully, I end up dribbling for a good 30 seconds. Radical.

Compounding this issue is the fact that I am deathly allergic to soy milk. I dont know what it is, but there is something in soy milk that makes my brain fizz over, my sinuses rupture, and my throat grow a thick winter coat of fur. Its not in other soy products, thank god, but just the soy milk. So, that limits my intake of lattes significantly. Significantly, here, meaning to 0.

The past two days, however, have been much different. Something clicked in my head, and I've been more aware of my snacking at work. Part of this is probably just mindfulness. Having those thoughts in my mind, that I need to be aware of food contents has helped curb the habit. Aside from that, I've also started sampling new drinks for work. My favorite so far has been the "Green Tea Americano". Basically, its a green tea latte (matcha powder, pumps of melon syrup, and hot water. Its sweet and green and tastes like a garden of delights.

I've also found stores in the area that carry rice milk, and am discovering the joys of tofutti, a soy based ice cream. By discovering the joys of tofutti, I mean gorging to the point of stomach sickness on this delicious ice creamy dessert.

So, for now, I'm eating up the rest of my milk and cheese and eggs. I'm excited for the day when I don't have animal products in my fridge, and I can start feeling superior to you in a more complete way. :-)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What Does Your Drink Say About You?

The more I work at Starbucks, the more I begin to notice trends in drinks. Certain people order certain drinks. Now, far be it from me to categorize--after all, categorizing is NOT something I'll do here. However, I've noticed that I cannot help but notice class distinctions, knowledge of cafe culture, and they way people want to present themselves based on the beverages they drink.

Some of these categories are unfair, some are extremely judgmental, and most showcase the breadth of my dissatisfaction with what I'm doing this summer. Most of this is just for fun, because obviously you cant put all people into one category. There is, however, a nugget of truth in each of these. So a short list, for your reading pleasure:

Vanilla Latte--Usually 30+ women with some extra money, but don't expect a tip. Generally polished looking, maybe a little impatient. Have kids named Jake and Madison. With non-fat, skinny, or 3 pump drinks, you can almost watch their net income rise.

Bone Dry Cappuccino-- I can tell before they come to the window that my customer is going to be a rail thin woman with loads of extra money. They tend to be really sweet though, even when they send back their drinks. I generally hate high maintainence customers, but bone dry cappuccino people are generally okay types.

Soy Chai Latte-- No one thinks you're cool because you order a drink with soy. In fact, ordering a soy chai makes you sound like a douchebag. I don't know why, and I dont know why all soy drinkers are chai drinkers, but god almighty. Like a horse and cart, they are. The pretense abounds.
--- addendum on soy: Soy happens for legitimate health reasons, choices in eating, etc. Soy doesn't automatically make you a d-bag.

Tea-- Tea drinkers generally know what they want and how they want it, in an unassuming and pleasant way. They don't have a shit ton of pretense about what they're buying, either. Often the same with iced tea drinkers, although that is completely not the case if you get milk in your sweetened iced tea YOU CRAZY SON OF A BITCH.

Black Coffee-- Generally 35+ men, generally lower class (although, its really a classless drink). Generally will tip, probably because they didn't just spend $4 on their beverage. Not a picky crowd, and they keep the lines moving fast. I like them.

Caramel Drinks (non Macchiato)-- I don't know what it is about caramel, but its the favorite of lower class customers. Maybe its the mcdonalds coffee, maybe its the dunkins push with caramel. I dont know. All I know is, caramel is a delicious treat, that most find redonkulously too sweet.

Caramel Macchiato-- This is the "in between" drink. Lots of college students like this, because its sweet without being a frappuccino. Its between a vanilla latte and a caramel drink (see above). Its espresso on the top, so you can choose how you want to drink it. If you're drinking a caramel macchiato, try to do some soul searching and find out who you are.

Monday, June 16, 2008

On Eating Meat, June 16th 2008

For about 15 months, I was a practicing vegetarian.

Let me break down what I mean first, because I think there is a lot to say about my practicing.

When I say practicing, I don't mean how a doctor practices medicine. I mean in the way that I tried. I practiced. It was a way of living, but not a way of life. I generally did not buy or eat meat. If it was served at a family meal (which I attended mainly at special occasions), then I would eat it without remorse. Partially to keep peace with my family, but also as a result of my motives for 'practicing'. Of course, practice makes perfect, and we practice because we are not perfect. I slipped up from time to time, or made conscious decisions in times of stress. After finals my junior year, I planned on and deliberately went to KFC for some breaded chicken deliciousness-- the result of which was particularly disappointing. Who would have thought that KFC tastes like spicy death?

This weekend, I was home for Father's Day. As part of the festivities, we had steak and veggies. I obliged, eating a small serving of steak. On an unrelated aside, it was very close to smaller than the 4 oz. recommended meal sized serving. I didn't feel too badly about it at the time. Reduced usage still reduces the fiscal payback to large farms. I was still mainly vegetarian, and planned on resuming the practice when I came back to Worcester.

Two events occurred over the weekend, though, that reaffirmed my need to avoid meat. They were also potentially enough to help me shake off animal products in general, lest they are certifiably cruelty free. They are, in this order:

This video is one of the many "factory farms are cruel to animals" films that are out there in the internet ether. I had seen some of the anti-foie gras sites and anti fur videos, but never had I realized the depth and scope of the cruelty involved in products that are relevant to almost everyone's daily life. Our dinners are served on bloody plates: tainted by the wanton cruelty towards animals for profit and our consumption. Even a glass of milk is suspect, and perhaps as terrible as veal. In fact, it enables veal. Pigs, which are intelligent creatures capable of the same kind of cognitive processes of three year olds (according to this site) are disemboweled alive.

I'm put in a tough moral place with this kind of knowledge. Obviously, meat is a part of a human's natural diet... but does engaging in that need at the cruel expense of the animals justify our place in the food chain?

Also, I am deathly allergic to soy milk and have heard rice milk contains known carcinogens. So my moral dilemma also encompasses the question of "what do I put in my coffee and cereal"?

2) Lobster
I was unable to make it home for Mother's day, so I decided to surprise my mother with her favorite meal: Boiled lobster.

Now, again, I try not to eat meat, but generally didn't feel guilty when I did partake. Perhaps that is because there is a distinct emotional disconnect between buying a shapeless slab of meat or piece of bacon, and actually killing your meal to eat. But, like a good son, I boiled the water, set the lobsters up, and dropped them in to their deaths. Unlike some, I did not deprive myself the responsibility of watching the result of my actions. They clearly knew that they were fucked, could feel it, and suffered. As they turned bright red, I felt so extremely guilty. So I put the cover on the top of the pot, and walked into the other room to pet my mother's cats. It struck me that what I had done was in some ways no different than stuffing my cat into the oven for dinner. The only difference was that people don't generally eat cats-- but they do eat crustaceans. Social norms made it okay to boil these bug-fish alive.

I felt terrible for the next eight minutes, then plated them up with what I thought of as a brave resolve. My mother had set the table outside, so we carried the carcasses outside with a side of mashed red potatoes (which I will serve at my wedding, when I find the guy). Rending the tail from the body, I looked inside and saw what appeared to be green sludge. My mother tells me that it meant that both of the lobsters were pregnant. It took a great emotional resolve to choke down the meal... but delicious emotional resolve smothered in real butter.

I'm still feeling a little queasy from the meal, probably from the emotions and not the lobster itself. What I have decided, though, from all this, is that I have a responsibility to reduce/remove animal products from my diet wholly and for better reasons than "it was something fun to try for 15 months".

Hillary Rodham Clinton, June 7th 2008

"So I want to say to my supporters: when you hear people saying or think to yourself 'if only' or 'what if', I say, please don't go there. Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from looking forward". -Hillary Clinton

Senator Clinton formally announced today that she is endorsing Barack Obama, after 16 months of primaries, debates, articles, mud slinging, and hard slogging campaigning. Watching her speech today was an emotional experience, even knowing precisely the kinds of words she would say, the sentiment she would express, and the message she wanted to send to the party. Still though, the emotions that I experienced watching her speech on the internet today were somehow unsuspected. I knew what she was going to say, but I didn't know that I would react to them in the ways that I did.

Personally, I'm sort of an addict when it comes to elections. I couldn't get enough discourse on the Lamont-Lieberman race in 2006, nor the Connecticut Gubenatorial Primary. I chose NPR over music on my car rides to listen to the democratic candidates speak on the radio. At age 14, I stayed up as late as I could have watching the votes roll in and out for Gore and Bush, until I had to go to bed... only to wake up to more back and forth. Oh, such extended delight and agony!

So, its an interesting position to find oneself emotionally entagled in a primary race. Yet, here I am in the sweltering heat of mid June in Worcester, made only worse by the heat of my computer in my lap, stirred by Clinton's departure from the race. The past months, the race has been my Greys Anatomy or Lost. I relished in the scandal and delighted in the plot twists. I tuned in each Tuesday night for the next installment of the drama, to see how the next episode in this great American drama might unfold. The Reverend Wright was my Isaiah Washington, the sniper fire my "who shot J.R.". Recently, I have found myself attached to the characters on the screen who make me gasp and call my mother over comments on foreign policy.

It is perhaps pathetic that I am making these connections? Maybe its symptomatic of the nature of American politics as a vehicle for pretense and pomposity. Perhaps though, its merely indicative of my place as a member of the millenial generation. We are consumers of an intense amount of visual and digital information, over achievers who want to do good, live hard, and have fun. Is it so strange that these comparisons can be drawn? So unheard of that in a generation where we codeswitch between AIM and speaking to our grandparents or talking ANTM and foreign policy that we might develop convergent connections between our politicians and Meredith Grey? Perhaps we can have it all.

Sometimes, a show like M*A*S*H can warm our hearts, make us cry when it ends, and linger with us long afterwards. And sometimes, a show like American Idol can make us call in and pledge money or simply vote. Sometimes, a show like Grey's Anatomy can make a junior in college cry in his friend's apartment because two of the patients were impaled during a train collision, and one willingly sacrifices herself to save the other.

It has been Hillary Clinton's campaign, though, that has done all three of those things.

As a white male member of the undergraduate class of 2008, perhaps it would have been expected that I should attend Barack Obama's rallies and gear up to say "Yes, I Can". Personally, I haven't been able to dissect what has made me so endeared to Hillary Clinton. Perhaps it is because our political choices end up being so dependent on our backgrounds and upbringings-- as a child of a lower middle class family, Reagan democrats in some respects, growing up surrounded by 'yes we fucking can' women-- the choice was made for me long before she announced. Something about her, though, appealed to me. Much as I prefer a McDonalds Caramel iced coffee to a venti vanilla latte, my inborn and developed tastes are predicated on the world in which I live. I vote for Clinton because I am part of that voting bloc, even though Barack Obama might better represent my ideals or opinions.

Maybe part of her appeal is that she sounds like a woman from West Haven, but with words, thoughts, and insight from the world outside those 50,000 people. That deep down, she's just a local girl done good. Much like how I try to view myself, sans the gender difference, law degree, and the elected office. We do have similar hair, though, at least when mine was growing out for Harry Potter.

The most important thing, though, is probably that there is something about Hillary Clinton's tenacity and "old fashioned" belief that one enters civil service to help others achieve their version of the American Dream that has made me feel like I have a duty to work a little harder and reach a litle farther. Or that there is possibility and hope and opportunity with hard work and determination.

So Hillary Clinton, thanks for the past few months. I'm excited for next season.

On Class, May 27th 2008

So today I went to work. When I'm working and I make a mistake, I have this terrible habit of assuming that the customer believes that I'm some dead head with no future. As though forgetting that they wanted a "two-pump-sugar-free-vanilla-latte-with-whole-milk-iced-venti... no-grande..." (which makes it hard to enter and retain in our system) rather than an iced venti 2 pump vanilla latte with whole milk* assures my inability to succeed. Knowing that I worked next to 3 other Clark students only made me feel further devaluated, as though it was reflective of my institution.

"Welcome to Clark. May I take your order?"

Now, of course I know there are so many things wrong with what I just said. I'm working there before I get my masters (potentially through my masters, but more on that below), and I work with some of the smarter and more able Clark students I have known. Furthermore, I know the intellectual rigor, mental stamina, and personal fortitude it takes to handle 300 customers having woken up at 4am. Tip your baristas, they work hard. And the whole statement above reflects my own biases and inability to change my belief that working in the service industry makes you dumb. I know firsthand that its untrue, both from myself and the saavy management I have had. Companies are made of their component parts, and they wouldn't succeed without an incredible product and the staff that provides that in a way that values the customer and keeps them coming back for more.

So perhaps this should not bring me relief. Perhaps instead, it should bring me an unrelated joy. Yet, they are not divorced entirely. When I checked my email today, there was a letter from the director of residential life and summer programs at Suffolk University. I have been hired as an Assistant Residence Director (Graduate Assistant). This means I have a room in Boston, rent free, and a $13,000 payment package for the year, part of which might be tuition remittance. I wont be swinging coffee in 11 weeks-- I'll be in downtown Boston.**

So now I have an opportunity that even my father, who has been a casual supporter of my success at best, suggests is "too good to pass up". Tomorrow I'll be calling financial aid and trying to secure some loans and grants to get my education where it needs to be-- and the rest of my life going in the direction of the starbucks patron who tips well and orders unassuming drinks.

* The difference is several hundred calories, but you cant taste the difference. Also, they'd have ordered with skim. Not soy--that is the chai crowd almost exclusively.

**If I choose to accept the deal and can get financial aid settled.

Mission Statement

I'm firing this off quickly before I go to bed. This is not the expected trend for the blog posts I expect to occur here, and therefore* this is certainly not the most fitting introduction I can make. My goals for this blog are:

*A place to verbally work out the bigger 'issues' that I'm considering on a daily/weekly basis.
*A forum to vent concerns in my daily life.
*A site that forces me to write in a manner that is more adult and well thought out than my livejournal. Though it is 7 years strong, I think its time to move onto a different platform.
*An impetus to write more frequently, and to keep my mental gears oiled up and moving slickly.
*A place to post some of my better entries from my livejournal.
*To create the kind of blog where I can write semi-intellectually, without using words like "therefore" without a little tinge of self awareness, and how douchebaggy I might sound using the word.



*twinge of douchebaggery.