Monday, September 03, 2007

Brown Polyester

Nemesis posted several days back about things she learned from the various jobs she held over the years. Lately, Scallywag's favorite show is Dirty Jobs. I'm sure you've all seen this. Talk about muck to money for Mike Rowe. If you haven't noticed, lately the Discovery Channel should be called AllMikeAlltheTime Network. Anyway, the Mormon People (I've always loved this term. It gets the same feeling as the "Amish" or the "Puritans" or even the "Huegonots." I picture long-faced pioneer women with eighteen kids and 6,000 jars of peaches in the cellar. Speaking of funny Mormonisms, the CES theme this year is "Anxiously Engaged." Funny theme for a demographic of mostly singles I think. And the single adults in this area are getting ready for a big conference where there will be lots of "hands-on" activities. Hm . . . I'm not really a person who looks for innuendo, but could this be misconstrued by some? But I digress . . . )

Where was I?

Oh yea, the Mormon people have always had work as a major cornerstone of our whole culture. After all, you can't take a swamp and turn it into one of the most beautiful cities in Illinois in just a few years without some serious sweat. This concept of work is so ingrained in us that I think I'm not alone in saying that I often feel guilty if I am just sitting or taking leisure time. Even my hobbies feel like they need to be justified--blogging is journaling, scrapbooking is family history, reading is self-improvment and so forth. So I have been thinking a lot about the various jobs I've had over the years. The funny, gross parts of each job as well as what I learned. So from time to time when I have nothing much else to blog about, I'll give an installment from each of my various minimum wage jobs. And if anybody has fast food stories to share, do tell, do tell. I never had to ask anybody if they wanted fries with anything.

Just before my 15th birthday, my dad came home from home teaching one night to tell me that he had found me a job. My reply, "I was looking for a job?"

Anyway, the man he home taught ran a tiny restaurant in our home town and he was switching from serving breakfast and lunch to lunch and dinner and was looking for afternoon help. It is important to note here that I was already mortally terrified of this man, not my dad, the owner of said establishment. Lets call him . . . Chef Grouchypants. I only knew CG from church, and I'd never been in his restaurant. He generally smiled at adults and wore a bland or furrowed expression in regards to every child he saw. He had a spotty past. At least, I thought he did, that was never very clear to me. Oh, and one of his arms was skinnier than the other; like all the muscle had been stripped from his forearm. Maybe that is why he was grouchy?

I went in for the "interview" which was a formality because he really liked my dad. I probably didn't realize that at the time and I wanted to wet my pants while I sat through the interview. During the interview he gave me pointers on how to interview. In fact, I think part of his mission at the cafe was to educate high school kids on the miseries of the work place. He scared me to death.

I washed dishes and bussed tables for many months at just over $4 an hour. I ruined several shirts because all of our dishes had to be double rinsed--once in a bleach solution. When mom coulnd't drop me off in the mini-van I rode my bike to work. Nobody "cool" ever came to eat there, and I was overcome with embarrassment every time I would see somebody from the ward there. Especially my parents. My job was everything that was the opposite of working at a really glamorous minimum wage job, like the GAP.

As organized and careful as I am now, I'm amazed at the number of times I looked at the schedule wrong and either came in late or not at all and had to be called. I was embarrased and apologetic every time and I know Chef Grouchypants thought I was the biggest flake he could have possibly hired. I had blonde hair then and put up with his stereotypes.

After nearly a year of this, I found out that my friend who worked at the diner was going to be trained as a waitress. This friend will figure a lot into this story, so lets call her Pocohantas. (I actually was her college roomate when Disney's Pocohantas came out and she really looks a lot like her--build and everything.) I was shocked beyond belief. She was almost exactly my age (neither of us were 16, though she looked 20) and had started work several months after me. I "screwed all my courage to the sticking place" and decided to CONFRONT MY BOSS about this. Even at 15 I was fairly assertive, if a little flaky and not very articulate. The conversation follows. What I thought during this exchange will be in paranthesis

Chef Grouchypants' reply? "You showed no interest in becoming a waitress."

"Of course I'm interested." (Of course I'm NOT interested! I just think I'll make more money that way and I'm talking about a sense of rightness and fairness . . .)

"I haven't always felt you've been very committed."

"Oh, I'm committed." (Keep the sarcasm out of your voice, keep the sarcasm out of your voice.)

"You asked for all that time off for the play. It seems that you are much more interested in other pursuits."

"I won't have anything like that come up for some time." (The play had been five months previous, I'd asked for 3-4 afternoons for practices and 3 days for performances almost a month in advance.)

It went back and forth like this for some minutes and in the end he finally agreed to train me. And he was probably right; it must be said that Pocohantas was a MUCH better waitress than I was. I don't know that she had much more common sense than I did when it came to that sort of thing, but she definitely knew how to please people. I didn't. And I didn't much care when I didn't. Oh, and her boobs were bigger. We could work the same type of people the same shift and her tips would be twice as high as mine. I never quite perfected the nervous giggle at stupid jokes that she was so great at.

Waitressing didn't pay much better, for me, than bussing, our chief demographic being old people and/or Mormons. We were also seldom that busy. I put up with it for a few more months, Pocohantas (she really was my friend despite my snarky attitude. We actually went shopping every week and spent most of our tip money on the clearance rack at the GAP and then spent half the year sharing clothes, which always looked better on her. But I degress again.)

Pocohantas ran for and made junior class office (I didn't; I ran I just didn't make it) and walked in to work in late August of that year and requested every Friday night off until December. She couldn't miss a football game. That meant, of course, that I would work every football game. I'd been 16 for four months and never been on a date. I thought working every Friday night would be tantamount to social suicide, because, of course, a social life in high school is the foundation for the rest of your life. I gave my two week notice. I thought Chef Grumpypants would kill me. And, it must be said, that he spent most of that shift banging pans in the kitchen.

I cried like a baby when I handed in my brown polyester jumper. Not for any remorse over never darkening the doors of Food For Thought Cafe again, but because I'd only managed to put about $200 dollars in the bank in two years and I had ten dollars in cash from my last two nights of tips. I also knew I'd burned a bridge. Pocohantas spent the rest of high school there, got offered a lucrative commission-job as a wedding dress fitter/salesperson by a couple that she waited on almost every time they came in to the cafe. She was able to work there weekends through college; they let her work any weekend she could because they loved her so much.

I learned some pretty lousy things there. I learned that if your boss doesn't like you, especially in the case of a personality conflict, you can just forget about having decent treatment at work, even if you bust your chops. I learned that sometimes you just aren't pretty enough to get the big tips. I learned that some adults never really grow up and even seem to take pleasure in bullying kids. I learned that some people can eat clam chowder every Saturday even in the dead heat of summer just because it is their habit to do so. Halibut and beer batter makes the best fish and chips. And nothing says "Pack in the Old People" like advertising stuffed pork chops for dinner.

However, Chef Grouchypants also taught me that if you want things done the right way, you have to work really hard and not give up too much to other people. (This can also be a bad thing, I suppose.) I made some good friends there. I went to my first concert with TWO of our dishwasher boys, whom I thought were both exceptionally cute. Unfortunately they both wanted to DATE Pocohantas, but I seemed to be better friends with them. Pocohantas became a lifelong friend and later a college roommate. Where yes, she continued to get all of dates and I'd become friends with all the leftovers. I learned that disappointment and coming in second doesn't kill you. It makes you tough.

And I learned something else from Pocohantas despite this story making it sound like she got everything I thought I wanted. One day, after payday, she and I planned to go shopping. We stopped at her house first. She had just bought her first car, a Supra from the mid-eighties that she'd saved and saved for, and we were just changing before heading to the nasty old Ogden Mall. Her mother picked up her paycheck and said, "Ooo. . . is this one mine? I need some groceries." I gritted my teeth to keep my mouth from dropping open. My friend replied, "No. This one is mine." She later confided that it was the first paycheck in several weeks that she was refusing to give up. So her family could eat.

Pocohantas now has a lot of money; she is a doctor. Whenever I feel any pang of jealousy for that big house on the hill I think of that one interaction I witnessed and I remember how hard she has always worked, and how much was handed to me that I never earned. And I don't feel jealous. I feel proud to know that she and I shared our first job together. While our lessons were obviously different, there is one person out there who shares my feelings exactly for brown and peach polyester.

Wow! If you made it through you are a real trooper. But remember, I'm justifying my blogging as journaling, so today I decided for a little life history. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment called "Are You My Mother?"

7 comments:

Kimberly Bluestocking: said...

Thanks for sharing your memories, especially the one about Pocahontas's mom. Funny how a single detail can shatter a stereotype, and we discover that the pretty, popular girl in the mansion [I must not envy; I must not envy . . .] is also a faithful, selfless daughter who worked dang hard to get where she is.

Btw, I seem to remember you mentioning that you want to be an author. What kind of books do you want to write?

Desmama said...

Wow. This was a cool post. Thanks for sharing. Interesting how things turn out, eh?

emma jo said...

PS I love Mike Rowe...you can tell my husband, he loves him too.

zippity-do-da said...

I think I worked for Grouchypants twin sister in high school. Except it was a yogurt shop. No french fries but a drive through window- yuck!

Science Teacher Mommy said...

The Conoco segment will wax poetic about the drive through window. Just wait for it. :)

on.the.run said...

First of all lol, that was very funny. Secondly you are very pretty. Thirdly, my sister looks like a supermodel and gets lousy tips. I think it is because she doesn't pretend people are her best friend to get a tip, she merely does an excellent job, and apparently that isn't enough.

I remember working at a dry cleaner as my first job; I worked there with the friend who is now on TV. I was always amazed at how she could talk to people and crack jokes; she has always had a way with people.... I never did.

so grateful to be Mormon! said...

cute post. so agree about if you have a bad boss, no matter how good you are, it will be bad. so glad i had at least one really bad experience of that (hated it at the time of course), but it sure taught a valuable life lesson. fun to read this one,