On the Job

September 15, 2011

Up The Valley: On the job

America is neck-deep in a Jobs Crisis, as everyone who has recently graduated, relocated to a new town or found themselves unexpectedly without employment knows only too well.

Our leaders and the news media, however, appear surprised, scrambling to address the problem as if it were an unseasonable hurricane or train derailment, with passionate speeches and round-table debriefings, backed by logos and theme music. It’s not as if they hadn’t mentioned unemployment previously, but it was like a small crack in the ceiling that gradually grew larger and larger until the whole thing suddenly came down around their ears.

So I am surprised to be facing a jobs crisis of my own: an inability to hire someone for my shop. I need a salesperson to work Saturdays and alternate Sundays, and because my body is starting to make loud creaking noises when I lift heavy artwork and furniture, I decided that a male applicant, or a strapping female, would be best. So I placed a sign in the window and a pithy ad on Craigslist, and waited for the throngs of would-be shopkeepers to pile their belongings into their cars and venture west.

The response was, in a word: disappointing. Resumes arrived from foreign engineers, non–English speakers seeking wine industry employment, and candidates who were conspicuously unavailable Saturdays and every other Sunday. A couple of possibilities surfaced, but none suggested that elusive candidate with the soul of huckster P.T. Barnum in the body of hunkster Brad Pitt (or Mrs. Pitt; I’m flexible).

It reminded me of the time, early in my retail career, when I decided to hire “some nice young kid from the neighborhood to help in the stockroom.” I had no idea that today’s youth are too fully booked for afterschool employment, juggling grueling academic, social and volunteer schedules requiring two full-time personal assistants (aka their parents).

Meanwhile, all this heavy lifting at the shop creates a psychological mine field for me. Alone at 10 p.m., dragging some hulking cabinet from Point A to Point B, I seize the opportunity to berate myself for a long list of questionable life choices: “If I were married, my husband would be doing this,” or “if I were still in theater, I’d have stagehands doing this,” or “if I were practicing law, I’d be using my brain, not my brawn.”

Never mind that my mythical husband would be busy working the hospital late shift saving lives or have a bad back from all our acrobatic sex; that union stage hands get time and a half and can’t work past 11; and that the only thing requiring lifting at law firms are giant mounds of paperwork and the bodies of senior partners found unconscious at their desks.

No, my internal monologuist insists: “I’ll probably die alone when this giant object falls and crushes me, and no one will find my body until some late-night patron of Ana’s Cantina notices my bloody carcass through the window and calls the cops.”

1. If the opening is for a salesperson, don’t send a resume saying you are seeking employment as an engineer, mechanic or anything other than a salesperson. Employers will assume you either suffer from ADD or simply send resumes to every job posting on Craigslist that doesn’t have the word “massage” in the job title.

2. If the job is for Saturdays and Sundays, don’t send a resume saying you are perfect for the position, and by the way you are busy on Saturdays and Sundays. And now is not a good time to mention that you need two weeks off next August for your cousin’s wedding.

3. Don’t spell “their” as “there” and visa versa. Most of the resumes I received had typos or misused words, and some appeared to have been translated from English into Hungarian and then back again by someone speaking neither language fluently.

In fact, instead of overblown tax holidays and stimulus programs, maybe our government leaders seeking to promote employment should simply hand out dictionaries, teach basic reading comprehension, and provide free gym memberships so I can finally get that 80-pound license plate map up on the wall without further psychological and physical trauma.

And that’s what I would call getting the job done.

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of Pennaluna on Main Street, a resident of St. Helena, a former attorney and Broadway theatrical producer and an author and columnist.)


Let’s Get Physical

September 1, 2011

Up The Valley: Let’s get physical

Whenever I confront former Adams Street customers who haven’t visited my new store, I get the usual excuses: they thought we’d closed, they’re saving money for luxuries like drinking water, or they’ve entered the Witness Protection Program.

But the most frequent reason confessed to me by these slippery shoppers is that they tend to avoid shopping on Main Street. It’s too much of a hassle, they explain, to drive around the block looking for a parking place. Many of these customers live within a six-block radius of the store, so I can’t help but wonder why they don’t simply walk to the shops. With all of the improvements in joint-replacement surgery, not to mention the cosmetic nips and tucks, they appear to be very fit.

But to make sure, I’d like to introduce a radical new regimen to benefit would-be downtown customers. It’s called the Walking Wallet Workout, and it will help shoppers shed unwanted pounds and maintain cardio health while enabling local shopkeepers to afford the fine wine and gourmet food we’ve learned to crave.

As with any exercise program, you should first check with your doctor and with your credit bureau. Also, start with the proper footwear. The Walking Wallet Workout can be performed in flip-flops from Vasconi’s or in heels from Amelia Claire, although if you start out barefoot then that’s one more thing you get to buy.

Let’s begin with some serious carb loading. Might I suggest a Model Bakery bagel followed by mac ’n’ cheese at Market? A dieter’s tip: Giugni’s Juice apparently contains a secret ingredient enabling you to eat an entire meatball sandwich without gaining belly fat. Just don’t ask what’s in it, because the last person who inquired mysteriously disappeared.

Next, limber up. Ana’s Cantina is a great place to get loose, and a little tequila for medicinal purposes never hurt anyone. My favorite stretching routine is called the Muffin-Top-Mambo, performed while trying to squeeze thick thighs into skinny jeans while tucking the pant legs into Ugg boots from Footcandy.

Or boost your balance by walking briskly around the block in stiletto Jimmy Choos (men, please be careful, as the ability to wear high heels requires the counterbalancing effect of having ample breasts. If you are already sporting a nice pair, no worries).

Now dash down the Main Street sidewalk’s obstacle course, jumping over the postman’s mailbag, leaping over dogs and strollers, and pausing to admire the exquisitely labeled garbage/recycling bins. Stop and say “hi” to Jeff Feeney, who conducts business on the park bench outside his Coldwell Banker office, presumably because his unflaggingly positive attitude is too disturbing to his coworkers in a down market.

Next it’s the 3-P 3-Way Relay: run briskly between Palladium, Patina and Pennyweight. Repeat. Wearing your credit card on a lanyard around your neck will allow you to swipe and dash simultaneously.

For a more challenging workout, try the Christopher Hill Gallery Stairway to Slimness, sprinting up and down the steep front staircase three times. Warning: Stopping to ogle the nudes may interfere with your workout and raise your heart rate to dangerous levels.

Now for some resistance training: Attempting to hijack a Safeway Smart-Cart from the parking lot will beef up your biceps and tone your abs. At Sunshine, try some weightlifting, hoisting one case of gourmet breadsticks, one giant wheel of Parmesan, and a 12-pack of imported beer simultaneously. Don’t forget to bend your knees and breathe.

I personally enjoy the Tubby Tug-o-War at Sportago. Locate the last size-large Patagonia vest on clearance (not the purple one), point it out to the other big-boned patrons on the premises, and let the core-strengthening begin.

While you’re on that end of town, why not explore some healthy eating, stopping for red wine at Tamber Bey and for dark chocolate at Woodhouse. Both are good for the heart, as is the olive oil at Olivier.

At this point, you’re ready for your cool-down. Head over to Vintage Home, where the unceasing good taste, dim lighting and lavender aromatherapy will have an immediate chilling effect. You might pick up a bar of scented soap at my store, Pennaluna; you’ve been sweating and may be a little gamey.

To complete your cool-down, take the long, leisurely stroll the entire two blocks back to your car, or even the five or six blocks back to your house, knowing that you’ve stimulated your heart as well as the local economy. And that’s what I call a healthy bottom line.

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of Pennaluna on Main Street, a resident of St. Helena, a former attorney and Broadway theatrical producer and an author and columnist.)