Tag Archives: bartending

In the weeds

My wonderful friend and blogger Colleen had me write a guest post over at The Family Pants.  (Go pay her a visit!!!)I was going to write about why I love Colleen and then something funny happened at the park that had me thinking about my past.  Colleen is married to a restaurant person, so maybe that is why she puts up with me.  What follows is what I wrote for Colleen.  

Robert Fulghum said he learned all he needed to know in kindergarten. He was lucky. I had to wait tables for ten god damned years. When I got a job as a waitress at nineteen years old I never imagined that I was embarking on what would be ten years of training for motherhood.

This girl was 22 years old. She worked two jobs and thought red hair dye was a good idea. She could take an order from an eight top without a pen. She thought she didn't know a thing about motherhood.

Perhaps first and foremost I learned to drink booze out of a coffee cup. And not make an “I’m drinking booze” face. How, even, to wince in a “ooh boy this coffee is hot” way instead of a “Jeez , there’s a lot of bourbon in this bourbon and ginger” way. This is a handy skill when your kids are old enough to recognize anything that vaguely resembles an indication of grown up time. Wine in a wine glass? Instantly, they need you. Wine in a coffee cup? Business as usual.

It was in the dining room of a restaurant I learned that everyone I work with will likely step right over something as if they don’t see it. And that it is a colossal waste of my time and energy to wonder if anyone else will go get the vacuum. If that something is wet and maybe gross, the length of time your coworkers might let it sit there gets exponentially longer.

It wasn’t waiting tables that taught me this next thing, but rather the  after hours activities, but it was valuable nonetheless. I learned that no matter how late I stayed up the night before I will have to drag my ass out of bed the next day. And start fucking smiling at people who want things from me.

It taught me that wearing a dirty shirt is fine. No one cares. Even if you slept in it the night before.

It taught me that there is nothing wrong  with day drinking. If you are off work you’re off work. Seize the moment. Carpe the shit out of that magnum and don’t answer your cell phone. Because that day off you think you have –  it could end abruptly with one single phone call. The only way to absolutely get the day off no matter what is to drink enough that you are a danger to yourself and all those around you.

I learned  that sometimes there is no shame in over-serving someone. And that if you don’t have any rigid expectations it can even be fun. A kid on their second bag of skittles is not too different from a  grown man knee-deep in Budweisers. Eventually they will both get extremely upset, possibly even cry and tell you that you just don’t understand them.  Just don’t let them drive or play with their favorite toy. Because it will get broken, and somehow it will be your fault.

I learned that someone always has it worse than you.  I would  count all the change in my apron only to discover I had somehow made fifty-nine dollars on a fucking Saturday night.  I’d slug back my shift beer and drop my pint glass in the dish pit on my way out the door and realize that the dishwasher was still working. And he came in before me.  And he probably works breakfast somewhere else.  And he never makes two hundred bucks in a night.  The dishwasher is the lady I see now at the grocery store with three kids under three that has not slept more than 45 minutes in years.  I smile at her kindly, and then I run the fuck away before she can ask me for any help.

I learned that when you are in the eye of the shit storm, “in the weeds” they call it in the restaurant, when everywhere you look people want something, and everything you suggest is wrong and everyone you speak to got up on the wrong side of the bed no one can save you but you.  Eventually the day will be over.  And tomorrow? All those assholes won’t be there anymore.  It might be a whole bunch of new jackasses with special requests, trying to see a movie that starts in 30 minutes and ordering a well done steak, but it will be new.  It will never be as bad as today in the same way.  It might get worse, but it won’t ever be the same.  Insanely, this is comforting.

Perhaps the most useful skill of all is the most commonly employed.
If you are a mother you practice this, I guarantee it. Waiter blinds.  Waiter blinds are a skill cultivated by seasoned wait staff allowing the waiter to walk right by a customer while they  are staring you  down, doing everything they  can to send you the “I want my 57th glass of iced tea right NOW” message with their  eyes. The seasoned waiter can ignore them  without ruining their tip.  Because they  are not convinced you can see them. Even though you are right in front of them.  You must stare intently in another direction, perhaps at the kitchen door as if to say there is hot food in the window  that could save lives if you get there in the next ten seconds.   The skilled waiter might even wave and greet a fictional customer just out of a table’s range of sight.

But whatever you do you do not make eye contact and you  do not allow yourself to stop looking in the direction you  are already looking.

Mothers have a similar skill. Only we learn not to just avoid someone looking at us. We can ignore a short person repeatedly hollering our name. “Mom. Mom.  Mom.  Mom.  Mom.”

With my oldest daughter now six years old I am like the seasoned waiter. I can ignore her without other mothers even suspecting that it is me she is hollering for. Another mother sitting on the same park bench might very well look over her shoulder thinking “where is that kid’s mother?” That is the parental equivalent of someone else refilling your table’s iced tea because you looked way too busy.

This afternoon we were at the park. I was reading and wiggling the stroller with my foot as my 7 week old slept. I was in professional mom gear. Yoga pants, vibrams and a shirt with puke on it. (In my defense I did actually exercise today, not to the point of vomiting, but you get my point.)  If you looked closely you’d have seen that the tell tale sign of breast pads (the faint appearance of gigantic nipples which are actually the result of wearing washable cloth breast pads and a sports bra) was slightly off. Instead it appeared that I had not humongous saucer sized nipples but rather nipples the size of playing cards. Rectangular nipples.

If you noticed then you’d know I really am a pro at this mom shit. Ran out of the house with no breast pads? No problem. Still in the diaper  bag are the postpartum maxi pads. Cut one of those suckers in half, cram it in your shirt and you’re in business.

Where was I??  I got distracted, forgive me, I don’t sleep. I was setting the scene.  I had my kindle in my hand.  On the park bench “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom!!” Suddenly this was the best and most important book in all the world. Nothing would divert my attention from this book. I had the good fortune of wearing sunglasses so I could see that the big kids were fine. I kept reading, jiggling the stroller with my foot. No feelings were hurt because my daughter was under the impression I could not hear her!! I read for a good three more minutes. Three minutes in uninterrupted mom time is a lifetime.

I felt renewed.

Em continued to holler.  “Mom.  Mom.  Mom.  Mom.  Mom.”

As if I had just now heard her for the first time I yelled back “whatcha need Em?”

“Nothing.”  She smiled. “I love you.”

Sucker punched by my six-year-old. Way to make me feel like an asshole. Just like that two top of women who ordered the exact same thing (a salad and a half sandwich and soup with an iced tea) and then they had me split their check in two. The pair of women that I just knew would give me 15% even though I was bringing the funny.

Emily shouting “I love you” across a soccer field. The only thing that prepared me for that moment was that two top of middle-aged women. The table I ignored after their fourth refill of iced tea and their plates had been cleared. Yeah. Sometimes that table would leave me a twenty dollar bill each on their checks of $12.54.

And I’d think “Man, I am an asshole.” And not five seconds later I’d think “nah… I am kind of awesome.  I earned it.”

The JR

Everyone has had that job.  The job that they took that was only going to last a little while.  It was an “in-between jobs” job.

I hated buying more than one uniform shirt because I wasn’t going to be there very long.  Sometimes I wore a long grey skirt instead of black pants.  And a plain black long sleeve tshirt instead of a Jolly Roger shirt when I was tending bar.  Because rebelling is not my strong suit but dammit, I hated that uniform.

I had never had sidework like that before.  Two hotel sheet trays of tiny solo cups of horseradish.  Four of coleslaw.  Make sure you are prepped to make at least 100 Bloody Marys. On Sunday.  At lunch.

Sell all the soup you can, but don’t eat it.  Eat things you see being made.  Made to order. Fried eggs.  Not scrambled.  Don’t ask about what you saw in the walk in.  It is a strawberry.  Even though it looks like a grey furry mouse.  It is a strawberry and it is someone’s idea of a science experiment.

Never, ever run out of cigarettes.  The other waiters, career waiters that have been at this since you were in elementary school and will still be at it when you are long gone, they are not likely to strike up a conversation with you unless you catch them on a smoke break. Get someone in the kitchen stoned.  Just once.  So they know you are not stuck up.

Figure out how the hostess station works.  Because that is where the money is made.  Coffee and $1.99 breakfast and a two-top of surfers.  They are cute.  But it won’t pay the bills. Suck it up and hope you get the family with the screaming kids and that they didn’t see the big sign that explains you can eat a LOT for almost free.  Write down their order.  Because it doesn’t impress anyone that you don’t have to.  And later when a customer tells you that they ordered wheat toast and sunny side up eggs even though that is total bullshit and they may have said that in their minds because what they actually said was French Toast and scrambled, you will have it written down.

Be nice to the people that everyone knows.  They have been eating here for a decade.  The man that eats breakfast at the bar all of the time, he knows where the sour mix is when you run out.  Go ahead and snicker and say “I bet you do” when the creepy guy say he likes his eggs “Over Easy.” But do not serve him a Budweiser with a Jack back at 11:57 am on a Sunday.  Drop a tray of six dinners.  But do not lose a credit card slip.

Don’t look too closely at the Christmas ornaments that hang from every surface in the entire restaurant.  You will begin to wonder when was the last time they were dusted.  And these thoughts of cleanliness will linger.  And drive you crazy. Put your tray jack back exactly where you got it from.  And never set an empty pitcher of iced tea down.

Learn to wash your own bar glasses.  Quickly.  You will run out if you send them to the dish pit.  Get your own ice.  And then get two extra buckets.  Everyone is slammed, not just you.  But it will be over soon enough.

Do not stay for late night drinks.  Do not ever sing karaoke.  Don’t ask any questions about Alan Ross’ Traveling Karaoke Road Show.  Specifically how it is that it is traveling if it is here every single night.  Do not breath an ill word to Carol Ann.  Don’t bother making a request for a specific day off.  Schedules were made this summer for Christmas.  You are working someone’s shifts that quit.  It is assumed that you will quit before the next summer.

I walked out of every shift wondering if I was going to get fired.  With more money than I thought I had made.  This is what I learned there.

I worked Christmas  at the Jolly Roger.  And all I got was this lousy ornament.