I wandered into the foyer, acting on a tip from my friend Stef, who’d gleefully informed me that “they were hiring.” It was good enough for me; providing, of course, they didn’t expect me to wriggle into one of those slinky butt-short outfits or something – I was still lugging around the 60 pounds I was sure would just MELT off me as soon as I began nursing my new son, who, of course, would love me beyond measure, as I morphed back into the 140 pound 21-year old I’d been, happily fitting into my size 4′s by the time I had his first well-baby visit.
You can stop laughing now.
Okay, I’ll wait.
Providing I didn’t have to wear Spandex, I was all over this job. I needed to do SOMETHING. I’d signed up for school, but managed to pop the kid out the very day that classes began, and I opted to stay in my hospital bed rather than waddle into college, with entrails and birthy shit hanging out of my vagina.
We’ve already discussed that I’d look like a fire hydrant if I’d tried to wear spandex, so that fantasy was out. So was the one where I’d lovingly feed my son, who’d gaze at my face and smile; making this whole single-parenthood thing okay. He was kinda…unpleasant. The kid, I mean.
So going back to work sounded like a plan and a fucking half.
Plus, it was working as a waitress, something I’d been doing in some form or another since I’d turned sixteen. I loved the hustle and bustle of working with so many opposite personalities. I loved the rush of getting five tables at once. I loved the way the glasses clanked in the dishwasher as I walked past, carrying my tray high on my shoulder.
Half of my co-workers I knew from my previous stints as a server, one of them, Nikki, was my oldest friend on the planet. Going to work was sorta like walking onto the set of Cheers, only with pizza. (I don’t think they had pizza on Cheers, but I could be wrong) We’d work our full weekend shifts (5-12PM) and then go out and drink the night away, laughing about the person who demanded 75 different drinks all with the one particular mixer we were out of, then wept once we informed her we couldn’t make it. The guy at table 42 who barely acknowledged me, except for to point out some spot on the floor he wanted me to clean. The crusty seahags who told me, over and over, as though I were not only stupid but deaf, “that’s Half-Diet and HALF-Coke.”
The job was tough, but at the very least, when people screamed at me, I could fix their problems, unlike a certain fire-hydrant-shaped baby who seemed convinced the world was out to get him, who screamed without the ability to be pacified.
We’d stay in the restaurant long after our shift ended, drinking from the bar, and swapping horror stories. It was the closest thing to a family I’d had in years. Going to work was like a salve – it was the one thing I could do, and do well, without making other people upset with me. And if they DID get upset? I could always have one of the other servers handle it.
(and by “handle it,” I mean “Walk by their table and fart”)
The politics in the restaurant, after I’d handily shed the baby weight (a full year later) and enrolled in nursing school, got to be a bit much. Restaurants are incestuous places – you can hardly go around a corner without seeing one server grinding up on another, or the bartender grabbing a quick feel on the new hostesses boobs. One of the servers, and a friend of mine (whom I later diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder - thanks, WebMD, or, as I like to call you, You’reGonnaDieMD.com) had begun dating one of the managers, another friend of mine.
She managed to get between our friendship by whining about me to him, then telling him whatever I’d replied with, and doing the same to me: “Did you know that Sergio thinks you’re too fat for XYZ?”
Soon there was a rift between Sergio and I, each of us she’d handily played against one another. While he was an honorary uncle to my son and a good friend to me, he began looking for any excuse to fire me. With whatever drivel she filled his mind with, I can’t say that I necessarily blame him.
But I watched my back – any fuck-up on my end would be immediate firing.
Things only got worse when Sergio’s girlfriend (my friend) got “pregnant.” I don’t know and don’t care to speculate upon whether or not the pregnancy was something that was in her head or not, but I do remember her showing up on Friday night, then on Saturday night, weeping openly in the tiny closet of a manager’s office. Then, she waited outside for us to close the place down.
When we did, she erupted.
She ran into the restaurant, screaming incoherent obscenities, and trying to attack Sergio, throwing plates around on the floor, shoving an entire tray of freshly-washed dishes onto the floor, where they shattered. I got an elbow to the face when I tried to grab her. Eventually, she went out the back door, leaving a trail of broken dishes in her wake.
Phew, I thought, as I iced my eye. She’s gone.
She was in the parking lot, where I could see her jumping up and down on my manager’s car, kicking and punching it as though it were a particularly annoying mosquito. It was bewildering.
The cops came.
I gave my notice the following day. On my last shift, where I may have gotten a cake and a bunch of free drinks in the past, I simply walked out the door, with that ominous-this-isn’t-quite-over feeling in the pit of my gut.
Months later, safely ensconced in nursing school, dating The Daver, I realized I had a bit of a cash crunch. Both Sergio and his former girlfriend had been fired, management had changed, and I decided that it was time to go home again.
I called the restaurant and was asked to start that very Friday – a stroke of luck if I’d seen one. I’d been prepared for things to have changed; I simply didn’t know how much. That Friday was an object lesson in why you should never, ever go home again.
The new manager (slash) waitress was a coke head, not terribly uncommon among servers, who all seem to abuse their problems away, who was up and happy one minute, and the next, she’d be stealing my tables and/or telling me that I needed to pick up an extra table, why hadn’t I done it yet? All in a very heavily accented Polish voice.
She was careful to ensure that I’d get the back station, the crappiest in the place, where I’d make, after a whopping 5 hours – thirty bucks. Considering how busy I was with school and raising my kid, it was hardly worth it.
But I waited it out. Certainly brighter days were in my future, right? We’d had so much FUN!
The end came, not with a whimper, but a bang.
I, once again, got into a fight with the manager (slash) waitress (slash) cokehead about a particular table, who was either in my section or not. She’d either stolen it from me or not: I was never clear on the details. Either way, once she began screaming at me in front of the entire dining room in Polish, I realized that it was over. Done. Finished.
I mustered whatever dignity I had left, smoothed my stained and somewhat tattered apron down, and left, never to return.
The place is still there. I have no doubt the manager (slash) waitress (slash) cokehead is still embezzling the restaurants cash to pay her gambling debts and throw the rest up her nose, although I’ll never be sure: I certainly have no desire to go in and find out.
It wouldn’t be the same.
The Guy On My Couch gleefully cackled as he boasted, “MY daughter got dysentery!” I glared over at him, jealously, and said under my breath, “ass,” which I soon followed up with, “Are you going to leave her behind or sell a wagon wheel?”
“It’s my DAUGHTER,” he replied, “Of COURSE I’m going to leave her behind.”
I glowered into my Tiny Tower, angrily naming my spa, “Facial Cum Shots,” which normally would’ve netted me at least five seconds worth of giggles, but I was too bitter to even enjoy that particular gem.
I remember the day that our class was introduced to a dull row of depressingly beige computers, their monitors a blank black, the words on the screen a delicate green flower. “This,” our librarian announced proudly, “this is what we’ll be working on next.”
We’d been doing a unit on the California Gold Rush – I’d even gone as far as to make a terrarium scene with rocks -n- shit that I’d carefully painted gold with one of those markers you can snort and get high – and we’d taken a trip to the Old West-Themed Portillo’s* in Naperhell. What, I wondered, glowering a bit at being taken away from the books I’d so treasured, was so awesome on a computer?
My classmates may have been thrilled by the usage of the row of dingy beige machines, but I’d practically teethed on computers. My father, a certified geek-a-holic had been certain to own some of the first home computers – to this day, my brother and I have an unspoken agreement that whenever either of us gets a new gadget or computer, we’re sure to show it off to my father. He, in turn, immediately goes out and one-ups us – if I have the newest, pimpest, 17-inch MacBook pro, he’ll get a video card worth 2K to put into one of his 37 home PC’s. After all, who wants to be outdone by his children?
(answer: not my father)
Anyway, I teethed on the keyboard of the computer’s we owned. My dad lovingly taught me to tell time and use a clock using various combinations of bendable floppy discs that he’d have to insert quickly, then remove, while the screen hummed a nice green color.
Computers, well, they were not exciting to me. They performed a perfectly functional task; I used them when I needed them, and I was just as happy to write it out by hand, although, I must admit that half of that has to do with my father, who insisted that we go through haz-mat decontamination procedures before we grubbed up his precious computers.
So when the librarian sat us down and had us turn on our computers, I was nonplussed. I’d just spent an hour in the book stacks working out how my 5 BFF and I were going to be JUST! LIKE! THE! BABYSITTERS! CLUB! books. I called dibs on Claudia but I’d been summarily outvoted.
While our computers took the normal fifteen minutes to boot up, I sat there, giggling with Ryan, the guy who sat next to me alphabetically, about making our calculators say “SHIT” if we turned them upside down. He was in the middle of demonstrating how he could make his calculator say “FUCK YOU” when the computer finally popped on.
There it was.
Each week, we’d get to play our game, learning that those who rode the Oregon Trail were really fucking pixelated. I was thrilled to learn that my characters could both get sick and die. I began naming my characters after particularly hated teachers and hall monitors, and being all, “Ford the river with my wagon – missing a wheel – and weighing 837229 pounds? WHY NOT?” Then they’d die, and I’d end up back at square motherfucking one.
Oregon Trail became the benchmark all other video games were measured against. It’s why I never got into games like The Sims, even though, I’ve been informed by my girl Crys, one can similarly name people after loathed enemies and make them depressed, so all that they do is wander around looking for cats to pet.
When I saw that I could download a version of Oregon Trail for my iPhone, I was nearly ecstatic. While the number of people that I’d avidly disliked had decreased since age eight, I could imagine a few people I wouldn’t mind leaving behind after a particularly vicious snake bite. Fuck selling a wagon wheel – let ‘em rot in the sun!
What I found disappointed me. While I could “fish” or “pick berries,” not a soul died on my expedition to Oregon, a place I’d actually visited (and found to be sorely lacking in bathrooms)(fucking hippies).
So when The Guy On My Couch found and downloaded the same game for Android, I was smugly superior – “You won’t like it,” I nearly sang. “No one dies.”
Except his daughter. And his wife. And several of his ox.
Apparently, the Android version of Oregon Trail was more gruesome, as he happily pointed out.
I went back to my Tiny Tower and sulked because I couldn’t change all of my pixelated people to be named “Dirk Diggler.”
By Saturday, I realized I was getting sick. No worries, I told myself, like I always do – it’s probably allergies or rheumatic fever or something similarly unglamorous. I made myself a Green Death Flavored NyQuil cocktail and passed the fuck out, certain I’d wake the following morning full of piss and vinegar.
Over night, I’d gotten up a few times and noted that there appeared to be water running. I, in my NyQuil stupor, assumed that it was someone taking a bath or doing laundry, because that’s what normal people do at 2AM, right? They bathe and/or run the sprinkler?
The following morning, I groggily dragged my ass out of bed, cursing my NyQuil hangover, and schlepped off to the couch, joining both The Guy on my Couch and The Daver who were in an avid discussion about something that did not involve coffee or donuts – the two things I was most interested in.
The sounds of running water filled the living room, and eventually, I stopped their discussion about the merits of deep fried food to ask the question: “What the fuck is that sound?”
Daver and Ben both sighed – “The water heater went out,” they replied, in the sort of creepy unison that happens when two grown men live together in an intimate environment.
“Oh,” I replied, nodding, as though I had any fucking idea what that meant.
“Already called the plumbers, they’ll be out tomorrow,” Dave replied.
“So wait – can I flush the toilet? Take a shower? Water my plants?” I asked.
“Nope,” again in unison, the replied.
“It’s like Oregon fucking Trail,” I replied, still in my NyQuil
stupid stupor. “We should trade in a wagon wheel or something.”
They just stared at me.
The following morning, I woke up and wandered downstairs, grumbling about wearing pants and coughing up what appeared to be a rainbow in phlegm form. Daver, head in the computer, looked up as I walked into the room.
“Jesus,” he said. “You sound like a whale just sat on a baby seal.”
I just nodded my head, which made my ears pop unhappily, bracing myself against the dining room wall.
“Go to the doctor,” he commanded. “We’ll have running water soon.”
Too sick to protest, I made my way to the doctor where I was diagnosed with the dazzling trio: bronchitis, sinus infection and double ear infection. One more illness (I was hoping for Pink-Eye) and I could’ve been entered into a lottery for a chance to win a bubble to live in.
I returned home to find that Dave had paid the plumber with a wagon wheel and some rattlesnake meat, and I curled up onto the couch, wheezing softly.
“Three days,” I said to no one in particular. “I’m setting us behind schedule three days.” I fell asleep, visions of fording a river dancing in my head.
*a Chicago-style hot-dog joint
Hi! Is this thing on?
It came to my attention (when Becky yelled something at me about blah, blah, blah, guest post something people need to know!) that you’ve all been asking some questions about me. Who is this Guy On The Couch? Where did he come from? Can I get one at Targhetto? So, I’m here to set the record straight(ish) and tell you all a little about me.
My name is Benjamin, I’m a Midwestern boy at heart and came to Chicago last fall because I decided that I just hadn’t had enough of gambling that the frostbite wouldn’t take my toes this winter. Some of you already know that, because you work with, read at or follow The Band and have seen me at work, or seen my writing about being the face of Bipolar Disorder. I’m glad, but for those of you who haven’t, click the almost-invisible link there, and you can read all about it.
Basics – I’m thirty-one, tall and thin, sarcastic and had a blog that I wrote at until I stopped having the time to dedicate to it, which the internet has mostly – blessedly – forgotten all about.
So, the advanced course, Benjamin 301 – taught by your favorite professor, Yours Truly goes like this: There was this one time when I was 19, living in Minneapolis and walking through downtown in the summer with my friend Evan. Evan and I had been friends for time out of mind, and we were both about equally strange people. We’d met in grade school and stayed friends on and off since then, and we liked to hang out together because it made both of us feel a little bit more normal to know there was someone else out there who was just like each other.
Walking through downtown Minneapolis, we got stopped by one particularly flamboyant member of St. Louis Park’s fairly extensive GLBT community. Tall, thin and beautiful, she stopped dead center in the middle of the sidewalk in front of us – where we’d have no choice but to stop short – to stare at Evan’s shirt. I’ve never seen another shirt like it, before or since, and it was the shirt against which all shirts are measured in my head.
Robin’s Egg Blue, with cheerful white lettering that proudly proclaimed “Nuke a Gay Baby Seal – For Christ!”
It was the most brilliant shirt I’d ever seen, cheerfully calling out dozen’s of different types of hypocrisy at once, all wrapped up in a little sarcastic package and colored pale blue so that people really weren’t apt to look at it unless it mattered to them.
Arching one haughty eyebrow at us, she slowly said, “nuke a gay baby SEAL? FOR CHRIST?!” To which we responded, almost in unison and totally unplanned, “Well, you’ve gotta nuke something, right?”
She let us pass, I think she may have been too busy having a heart attack to stop and question us further about whether it was any kind of seal, or whether we had it out for one type of seal in particular. I think the thought of religiously-motivated nuclear pinniped genocidal catastrophe was just too much for her to really think about all at the same time. Did I mention that we were both atheists?
I’d say that pretty much sums up who I am, so read on and enjoy, and now you know a little more about The Guy On Becky’s Couch.
Hope you don’t regret it!