Friday, November 09, 2007

beyond the grease-traps of everyday life

when i got to work last night my boss was there. this was unusual considering that he normally just rushes in and out once or twice a day to count the money like a capitalist tornado briefly passing through a small village. without even saying hello he commanded, "matt, the grease-trap needs to be cleaned out." for those unfamiliar with this term, the grease-trap is a contraption found in food establishments that collects solids dumped down industrial sink drains. in traditional restaurants and cafes the stench can be so overbearing and putrid that private companies are hired to do the deed. luckily for me, the collected refuse at my workplace is 100% vegan and basically just resembles a digested version of our spicy peanut noodles. this is not to suggest that the act of cleaning it is somehow not disgusting and degrading. it is both of those things. regardless, i sucked it up and filled two and half empty tofu buckets with the slimy, greasy waste that had been festering in the metal box for over a month. i thoroughly washed my hands and approached the rest of my shift with a certain sense of uncharacteristic righteousness. at that point my boss had long sped off in an SUV (one of the two he owns) which dons an "impeach bush" bumper sticker.

one week earlier we nearly ran out of bread at the cafe. right before my boss came in to (unknowingly) deal with this problem two men and a woman sat down. one of the men was eric drooker, one of my favorite political artists who's work we used for countless political campaigns at bard college. one of his prints even made its way to the cover of my senior project. eric, i learned about a month before i started this job, is also my boss' brother--a fact that i was clearly surprised and confused to learn. visiting from california with a lady friend named emma, they sat there with his (and my boss') father. i had met eric at an anarchist bookfair in montreal in may of 2003 just before i graduated, and then again at a similar gathering in san francisco two years later where he gave a brilliant slideshow presentation on a recent trip to the occupied territories of palestine. he smuggled in massive amounts of acrylic paint to create murals with palestinian kids on the apartheid wall built by the state of israel. he sang a poem at the end by his friend allen ginsberg.

so there i was working my low-wage job, thinking about all of these things, the significance of this man's work, the dysfunctional power relations of the cafe, and before i could say hello as they were getting ready to leave my boss asks me, "matt, can you sweep the floor over here?" luckily, eric and emma were sitting by the exit near where i was ordered to sweep and so i brought the broom over there, started sweeping and said hello. i met emma and we all reminisced about these anarchist bookfairs, figured out people that we knew in common and generally connected in a way that transcended the $8 an hour i was being paid. after they left i revisited the larger questions of what i'm doing with my life, and the importance of being around radical people doing inspiring, challenging projects. in that moment i was torn in half, my body remaining inside the cafe while my heart and brain migrated beyond this space of hierarchy, brooms, and grease-traps.