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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

LitUp Writers Share Their Labor Pains -- Related to Work (or Lack of It), That Is

Posted By on Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Substitute teacher Stacy Marie Lyons outwits the class clown.
  • Substitute teacher Stacy Marie Lyons outwits the class clown.
What do a barista, a substitute teacher, and a nude model have in common? If you could hear what they were really thinking, you'd either cry or laugh your ass off. Probably both. Laughing, you'd marvel at their ability to tell a good story. That is, if you caught them all in the same room. Crying, you'd wonder why you don't think this more often: My crazy messed-up story is worth listening to -- and would be listened to -- if I just found the humor in it, kept it to five to eight minutes, and submitted it to LitUp Writers. Of course, you'd have to be accepted. Competition to perform in front of easy-to-please crowds is always tough.

The crowd last night at Space Gallery was as eclectic as the readers. The theme of this quarterly series was "Labor Pains: Stories of Work and Woe." With so many of us going through really difficult times and doing things we'd rather not do just to keep eating, this theme really hit home. As the readers succeeded each other at the microphone, it became clear: America might be breeding the smartest (or best-educated) stratum of impoverished working stiffs in the history of the planet. No wonder we're emotional.

Substitute teacher Stacy Marie Lyons offered little at first to get the gears of my intellect cranking. It wasn't happening. But halfway through I realized that wasn't quite the point.

I simply use my wit as ammunition, and immediately the whole class accepts that I'm funnier than the class clown, and we form an alliance. Then, the obnoxious student will decide, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and we're all on the same team and we all wait to be set free from the chains of the classroom.

I relate to and endorse this use of intelligence.

Cocurator Graham Gremore detailed the many frustrations of barista life, which, though being "the sort of job anyone with a pulse and an index finger could do," he had no good reason to quit -- it would only force him to find another crappy job.

But this resignation ends with a personal triumph: looking an impossible customer in the face and saying, quite sincerely, "Fuck you and have a great day!" Watch his essay, "The True Confessions of a Corporate Coffee Shop Barista," below:

Nina Tamburello, bouncing from one temp job to another, typifies the old-fashioned damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't attitude in her essay "Faking It."

I get a rejection from the hazardous waste office. I didn't even want the job; still, there's something disheartening about getting rejected from the hazardous waste facility. The only thing more depressing would be getting hired. Then, I'd have to act enthusiastic about hazardous waste on a full-time basis.

Liz Farsaci started the second set with a ridiculous situation that somehow seemed to represent our collective state of affairs:

As I lay there [in a public park, naked], feeling totally vulnerable on so many levels, I start to visualize insects crawling into my vagina. I didn't have health insurance, so I wouldn't be able to go to the hospital to get the bugs out.

Kevin Wofsy was an ad writer in the early 2000s who inspired a famous series of commercials by taking his bowl of Cheerios into "the layoff room." "To quit [then] would be the height of irresponsibility. To be fired, however, well ... then it would be out of your hands, and more important, you would be eligible for unemployment and severance -- those were the brass rings for which we had all been reaching."

Founder and cocurator Jennifer Lou finished the night with a remarkable story about her stint as a Google employee, referring to "holiday bonuses of thousands of dollars in cash" and "weekly Google massages." She considered the job her "golden handcuffs." It's a position most of us would never even dream of. "Google received more than a million applications last year," she informed us. But she quit ... twice. Watch below:

I truly believe that when you choose to live your life in fuller alignment with your own values, opportunities unfold for you in ways you cannot ever imagine. You just have to take that leap and trust yourself.

Usually, that type of statement, though deeply ingrained in who I am, would make me nauseated in public. But all these tales consisted of real people struggling to maintain their integrity, and no matter how they did or did not do this, it was clear that if we followed Lou's advice, then we might eventually land that waste management job after all, and if we kept at it long enough, we might be able to get rid of the waste altogether.

The next show will highlight past readings. It's scheduled for Saturday, June 4. But you don't have to wait quite that long. Graham Gremore has a solo show called Private Parts at SF Playhouse that begins May 1.

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Evan Karp

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