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Calisthenics for the mind

Essay

I have taken a second job at a local eatery. I thought it would be a piece of cake. I was used to being on the other side of the counter, where what the servers do make it look easy. I can serve hamburgers, right? I can answer the phone and take orders, right?

No one ever told me that writing for a magazine and working rush hour in a diner are activities that call on different parts of the brain. I found out on Day 1 how flaccid I am in the cranial region that needs to take down a two-page “delivery” order to a local business while another business looking for lunch is on the other line and a dine-in order needs four fountain drinks on the double to complete their slip—large Diet Coke with lemon, small ice tea with two Splendas, jumbo Birch Beer with not too much ice, small regular Coke with lemon on the side—while our delivery truck is idling in the parking lot.

Hey, remember this one from the early 1960s television series about the NYPD?

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“There’s a holdup in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s broken out in fights. There’s a traffic jam in Harlem that’s backed up to Jackson Heights. There’s a scout troop short a child, Khrushchev’s due at Idlewild. Car 54 where are you?” (For you kids, Idlewild is now JFK International Airport, and in the third grade we got bonus points for correctly spelling the name of the Soviet premier.)

It’s like that.

You don’t notice that you have let your brain turn to mush during years of sitting in front of a computer screen on which only a title is written because you spotted a book across the room that has a picture on the cover of a road that looks like it might be Israel and you start wondering what it would be like to go to Israel some day and why Benjamin Netanyahu spent only one year of high school at Cheltenham High where your own kids went. …

There is nobody around to challenge your pathetically undisciplined thought life.

Interestingly, being in a job where there is absolutely no time to indulge in daydreaming or even fleeting introspection or to think of anything or anyone outside this restaurant has made me suspicious of a certain kind of philosophical mind. On the positive side, I am hoping to be able to spot verbal nonsense more quickly after this season of having my feet held to the fire of the radical present moment.

This will be a good experience for me if I survive. 

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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