On the Gratitude that Comes from Working at a Crap First Job
We were not grateful at the time.
We were sullen and annoyed and bored. The $3.25 an hour was cool with us though. Too bad we had to wait on customers to earn it.
We were sixteen and running a restaurant-- the cashier and the cook, the busboys and hostesses--led by the manager, who was twenty (and ancient).
We figured out fast that people were rude and demanding and slobby. Also, they were sweet and helpful and forgiving.
We burned our arms taking trays of baked potatoes out of the oven. We sliced our fingers cutting lemons. Our hands got pruny from dragging damp dishrags over tabletops. Once we slipped and fell when we were carrying a container of French dressing and the French dressing dumped down the front of our ugly flowered polyester uniform blouse and spattered all over the floor and we landed in it and were humiliated and also thrilled that we were allowed to go home and change without having to punch out first.
We learned how to flip steaks and chop iceberg lettuce and arrange dinner plates and count change and speak nicely to strangers even though we were shy.
We understood that the customer was always right even though we knew for a fact that 99.9% of the time the customer was actually wrong. We learned to shut up about that and not argue.
We wouldn't forget for the next thirty years that the abbreviation of sour cream is scrm, that kale is a lovely garnish that will liven up any dinner plate, and that a frozen chunk of breaded fish takes 20 minutes to bake.
We hated the pathetic older couple that came in every Friday night and always ordered the baked fish and complained every damn time that it took twenty minutes. Why was it even on the menu if it was going to take fifteen minutes longer than every other meal to make? We didn't know the answer to that question, but one night we saw the couple coming through the doors and we called to the cook to put two baked fish in the oven and when the couple made it to the cashier, they were so happy when we presented them with their baked fish that we decided not to hate them anymore.
We pilfered fried clams and made out in the walk-in cooler.
We shrank back in disgust whenever the smelly homeless man wandered in off the street and dug fifty dirty pennies from his pocket to buy a cup of coffee.
When no one was looking, we gave him a slice of cake.
The summer before we went to college, the regional manager (truly ancient at age 30) urged us not to go to college but instead consider attending restaurant manager training school. We laughed and laughed and thought in our heads: No fff-ing way, but said, nicely, that we would consider it.
But when freshmen year was over, we came home for the summer and asked for our job back. Why not? If we had to have a job, we could do worse than that place. Plus, we had friends there. And enough seniority that the manager generously gave us raise.
A whole quarter an hour.