For the Rest of Your Life

RIP Nana Bea

My one year old runs her fingers over the tattoo on my arm.

I remember when the tattoo artist said, “It’s still professional. A long sleeve dress shirt will cover it.” I wasn’t concerned with that back then. That was a tattoo I got at a shop on Merrick Blvd in Jamaica Queens. It was shortly after my 23rd birthday. I was excited about it because I finally knew what I wanted to honor my grandmother with.

My Nana Bea was a wedding and party coordinator. She spent a lot of time in her balloon shop. My aunt Darlene was the assistant manager. We worked closely in that business, many days a week, side by side. My grandfather would often have my cousins Jason and Tyson do push ups in the back. He would “toughen them up.” All the while Nana would groom us young women for running a business. I had so many “cousins” as young black children often do. Family wasn’t designated by blood. There were friends of family, neighbors, and extended family who all worked alongside us. We turned bare rooms into magical wonder lands. We made dreams come true. We built memories.

You see, my grandmother wanted to be successful.  She wanted to be a staple in her community.  She wanted a legacy.  She loved her children and took great pride in the accomplishments of her grandchildren.  I used to listen to her brag to her clients and suppliers about articles and poems I wrote. She kept our pictures near her cash register. This was best way for us to spend time with her. We worked to learn and earn money but we also worked to be close to her.

We ate vanilla ice cream, Pepsi or ginger ale and plain potato chips on breaks. These were big treats to me because my parents kept healthier options in the house. Those were some of her favorite things. Sharing them with her added to its sustenance. They were items she could eat quickly, on the go, so she could get back to work.

As Easter approaches I remember Easter baskets with big mylar balloons with my name on them. Inside was always chocolate, bubble bath, lollipops, and a stuffed animal. She never missed an Easter or birthday. We always knew what the business meant to her but we knew even if she showed up at 9pm, she’d be there.

She’d come over in her white minivan with my grandfather at the wheel with goodies. She was warm. She was always smiling. As an adult sometimes things get fuzzy. My Nana Bea passed when I was 19 years old. She died right before Thanksgiving. I wish I’d asked her in all the time I had with her, what it was like to be a woman of color with her own business. I wish I asked her what sacrifices she had to make. I wish I knew what she’d do differently. I would love to see how’d she react to social media and how quickly information and advertisements travel now. I remember dressing the store front windows for the next holiday. It was an honor. If she picked you to help dress the store window or put up a new display it meant she trusted you artistically to make her look good. Recently someone asked me, “Who encouraged you growing up?” It was always my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother wanted us to be reaffirmed in our beauty and she called me Princess my whole time with her. My maternal grandmother wanted me to feel intellectually confident. She helped with school assignments, establishing routines, and life skills.

Those of us who have tattoos are often reminded we are wearing veritable choices. We will have these pieces of art inscribed on our bodies for all time. I love my balloons.  Everytime I see it I see the smiling face of Beatrice. I feel myself standing in that building with confetti and broken clips (that held the latex balloons in clusters) on the floor. I remember the taste of Tiger Pops. I hear the older girls telling stories about the young men they were dating.  I hear music. I hear arguing. I feel her curly hair. I smell her lotion. I remember rummaging for the sharpest scissor to curl the ribbon with. We would decorate baby shower chairs with toole and silk flowers. I can hear her yelp when she’d burn her finger on a glue gun and then keep going until the job is done. I see my faded balloon tattoo and I see love in all of its wholeness. Imperfect. Mine.

By:Shaun Liriano

“Is There Anything Else I Can Do To Assist You?” (Shout Out to Customer Service Professionals)

Dedicated to my grandmother and my uncle who both retired from the phone company

Every writer has one article,post,paper, entry, song, etcetera that could end their relationship, terminate a friendship or land them on the unemployment line. This is that post! Oh well… *#yolo!

I am writing this as a tribute to my ex co-workers, current co-workers, and telephonic customer service representatives everywhere! Clock out personal. Take your headsets off, put the coffee/ red bull/ 5 hour energy down and read this for 3-4 minutes. Consider it your meditation for the day!

This post is a tribute to customer service representatives who work in call center environments. It is time that we shed some light on a typical workday:

Get up, bathe, throw clean clothes on (no need to dress too extravagant because our clients never see us), put your hair into a headset friendly style (my Afro doesn’t do too well in this category) , commute, grab something portable for breakfast (usually this is caffeine of some sort and a carbohydrate like a bagel and cream cheese) then clock in right on time for your shift. Usually I’m exhausted before my day even begins! I wake up tired. I dream fatigue! However, here’s the thing: When you call in to your phone company because you were charged for 12 extra minutes on your cellular bill and you’re irate and you “want to speak to a manager” or you call your cable company because it’s a hail storm outside and you can’t watch Love and Hip Hop and you’re irate and you “want to speak to manager ” or you call your auto insurance company because you had a DWI and your rate went up and you’re irate and you “want to speak to a manager” …It is my job to sound like Minnie Mouse on the phone and tell you how I live to satisfy your needs because I “appreciate your business.”

The problem with that is the fact that I am indeed…contrary to the customers and employers belief …I am a human being. That means that I more than likely have a family, some responsibilities, a partner, dreams, and a healthy dose of dysfunction. I am not allowed to deal with those basic volatile needs because my job is to cater to the customer. However, this post is an appeal to a customers better nature. When you call in to a 1800 number and you request a rep, keep a few things in mind:

1. That rep speaks to 50-80 of you a day

2. If your request is ridiculous (and I bet you 1 hours pay that it is) , that rep is going to mute the phone and talk about you to a co-worker.

3.That rep has probably been holding their urine for an hour while they wait for their scheduled 15 minute break.

4. The customer IS NOT always right. That horrible phrase should be buried right next to the tooth fairy!

5.  There are index cards that are bigger than his/her cubicle.

No child ever grows up saying ,” I want to work in customer service.” It’s not exactly a dream job. More than likely, it’s a post college graduation, post retirement, or post rehab type of job (just kidding but not really) . Don’t get me wrong, some people make careers out of it and prove to be happy and successful.  However, for many of us, it is simply a “stepping stone” to a more applicable professional lane.  The simplicity of the job should not nullify the psychological discipline it takes to complete each phone call efficiently. Whether you chose the career or the career chose you. We don’t get much respect. People assume you can’t do anything else. We’re pretty much treated like the waitress who is a struggling musician.

Long story short…We have feelings too. Feelings, dreams, ambitions, and ability.  We are treated like telephonic automatons but we are expected to have empathy and excitement over the phone lines.  We are the motivational speaker’s number one consumer, we survive with quotes of the day and cute forwarded text messages, we live for birthdays because it gives us a few minutes off of the phone to eat a slice of cake.  In order to survive a work day we have to abide by undeviating principles specific to our individual goals or we will logout of our phone, take our plant off the desk, get in the car, and blast Gospel music all the way home.  Or we would call that free hotline/Employee assistance program implemented to keep us from “going postal.”  If it wasn’t for us and our strength and those who depend on our paychecks, you would here the following phrase a lot more often:

“We do appreciate your business. Thank you for holding.  A representative will be here to assist you shortly.”

Our “offices” look like rat mazes and our bosses actually ARE…(wait! let me shut my mouth on that one)

So as a final plea…please be a little more sensible and reasonable and patient when you call us-Or you can ShutYaMouthAndCallMeUgly 🙂

[Feel free to vent about your job in the comments section.  Follow us on twitter @ShutYaMouthNow]

*Yolo=You Only Live Once