Out of Alignment

Sunday, September 30, 2001

I’ve been feeling exhausted and spaced-out for the past couple of weeks. I don’t know what the problem is but I’m narrowing it down to poor sleeping habits, poor eating habits, and my stressing myself out over little things like finding my truck very uncomfortable to drive across town on bumpy roads against poorly-timed streetlights. I do this every time I drive to work, from work, to my parent’s house, or from my parent’s house and I can get myself really worked up when the music on the radio sucks, I accidentally screech my tires, or I hit a pothole and bounce on my seat. Especially after all three. So I’m trying to take some steps to realign myself — recenter myself — to get myself back on the happy-productive trail.

It all starts with exercise, I think — keeping the rubberbands that hold the machine itself together elastic and quick. The past several weeks on Friday I’ve gone out to Clark Field (recently shrunken to accomodate the new San Jacinto Residence Hall down by Jester and Roberts dorms) to play soccer. I don’t play soccer very well, but shit! it feels nice to just go outside and run around in circles like an idiot for a couple of hours. I found this soccer group through a friend from the House of Commons (Jason Wheatcroft) and I’m not sure how he knows about it, but he stopped showing up so I’m sort of alone out there amidst kids majoring in electrical and mechanical engineering and handfuls of foreign students from seemingly every country between Argentina and India (especially Turkey and, more recently, France). It’s a good crowd — some cute undergraduate girls even come out and play with us, which, well, makes the whole thing twice as worthwhile. I’m having difficulties getting to know people as I spend most of my time running around in circles like an idiot, and everyone sort of splits in opposite directions after we finish, but I have fun and get to shake out the physical oppression of having to sit in my truck, stand behind a counter, or sit in front of a computer for much of the day. And I get all sweaty and dirty and sometimes bloody and sweaty and dirty and sometimes bloody is a good way to be.

Then there’s stretching, a good form of refreshment I picked up from Claire.

I’ve been working at Russell’s Bakery and Coffee Shop for a couple of months, now (at the corner of Hancock and Balcones in northwest Austin, if you’d like to stop by for a scone!). While interesting at first, having never held a food-service job before and being new to the world of dealing directly with customers and maintaining a physical space, it’s become highly repetative. Let me provide a demonstration of a pattern that repeats about four-hundred times (it seems) during the day:

It starts when the door makes the distintive electronic ‘be-ep’ when a customer opens the front door to the shop. I’ve become trained to jump into action when I hear that particular ‘be-ep.’
“Hi, how are you, ma’am [or sir]?”
“Just fine. Can I get a cheddar scone, two croissants, and an apple fritter?”
“For here or to go?”
“Oh, for here.”
I start to put the pastries in our shallow black plastic baskets.
“And can I get a grande latté with skim milk and a shot of hazelnut?”
“Is a grande a large?” (I obstinantly remain unfamiliar with Starbucks-ese.)
“Um. Yes. But can I get that in a to-go cup?”
I finish with the pastries and fix the drink. This takes about three minutes. One who makes coffee drinks for money gets called a “barista,” by the way.
“Is that with skim?”
“Yes,” I reply. I go to the register and push a bunch of little buttons that go click and bink. “That’ll be $24.18.”
I get handed thirty and make change from the register.
“Enjoy the food and have a good day!”
I find a wet rag and look around to see if any tables or countertops have crumbs on them and eliminate those crumbs before going back to folding cake boxes, windexing the front doors, or stealing and eating sandtart cookies — whatever I was up to when interrupted by the customer.

I hope you enjoyed that. Right now the only way I can get through an eight-hour shift of this is with a ten-minute stretching session in the restroom about four hours in, usually either 10 AM-ish or 4 PM-ish, depending on when that day’s shift starts for me. I use the restroom simply because I know I look silly when I stretch myself out and I’d rather just not have to worry about my co-workers poking fun at me. Or interrupting me. And I get to look at myself in the mirror which I find entertaining.

My stretching, whether at work or at home or wherever usually follows this pattern: I start bending myself at the torso in different directions, twisting and folding myself over until I can feel all of those muscles that band around my stomach, chest, and back filling up with blood and life. Once I start doing this, once the juices are moving around, I realize just how much of my body feels half-dead — from my eyes to my fingers to my calves — and I just manipulate and stretch everything I can find that doesn’t feel limber and alive. I’ll reach up high to the ceiling, and fold down to touch my toes. I’ll bend my neck every way I can. I massage my forearm muscles because I find those particularly difficult to stretch. I squat to limber my hip joints and lower back. I puff my face as big as possibly and compress it back into the tightest raspberry-lipped, I-just-tasted-the-most-sour-thing-on-the-planet face. I swing my eyes side-to-side, up and down, focussing on a finger close to my nose and then to the farthest thing in the little room. I shake out my ankles. You can understand why I do this in private, I’m sure. I run my fingers over my scalp, just to get the feeling back up there. I come out of the bathroom feeling alert, excited, ready to move my body around. Alive.

Maybe my big body needs more stretching like this than some other bodies do. I really do shake myself out pretty violently. Maybe some people feel like I do after I stretch without nearly as much effort. It’s scary, otherwise, to think of how many people out there who don’t stretch their bodies or really use their bodies except for the most controlled behaviors might be living their lives half-dead without even realizing it. I do get scared sometimes when I think of how many people have behaviors and habits that totally prevent them from experiencing the fullness of their own lives. Myself included, I’m sure.

Anyway. That’s enough for now.