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.