“What else do you do, Dawn? Do you have another job?” asked My Favorite Busboy.
“I write,” I said, a bit reluctantly. I try to stay private at work.
“Oh, really?” he said, eyes bright. “What do you write?”
“I work on short stories and novels. I also have a blog.”
“I love to read. How can I find your stuff?”
“You need access to an ebook reader or computer.”
“Oh. I have a phone.”
“I’m afraid you can’t read my stuff then. It’s all online,” I said. Then, noticing his disappointed expression, I added, “Maybe I’ll print out a sample and bring it in.”
I said this knowing I didn’t want to bring in any of my writing. I think I opened up to My Favorite Busboy because I knew he didn’t have a computer or a smartphone and, therefore, would have difficulty finding me online. I like him and it was a low risk sharing of me.
I don’t like feeling the need to be cagey, but I keep a low profile about my writing at my day-job. It’s not just cuz many of my blog stories are inspired by my day-job and someone may take offense at my observations. I recently published my first ebook, An Encounter With Death, a short story which explores themes of sex and suicide. Those don’t exactly qualify for “office” shop-talk. Discussing the finer points of deep despair or how sex can be a loving, healing exchange between two people are not exactly fodder for snippets spoken while cutting slices of pie.
Plus, the day-job is generally not a safe place to talk about my writing or even my personal life. You just never know what random situation or misunderstanding will come to haunt you.
A perfect example of why I feel a need to be so careful at work happened recently. It was a busy Saturday night. I had a full station of 8 tables, two of which had just been sat and were wondering where their waitress was. I had two bill books in my hand with credit cards to run for tables who were anxious to leave. I was standing at Table 54 with four customers taking their order. One woman ordered a gorgonzola salad. “I have a nut allergy, so could you take out the pecans and add extra cheese.”
“Of course,” I said. I took the rest of the orders, greeted my two waiting tables, got their drink orders, and rushed to the computer. When I wrote up the order for the woman at Table 54, I clearly stated, “NO PECANS SUB EXTRA CHEESE.” After I finished the rest of the orders and ran the credit cards, I looked for one of the managers to tell them about the special order, which I knew was important. We were so slammed, I couldn’t find anyone. I looked into the kitchen window to talk to the cooks. “Hey, guys, I got a special order for Table–”
“Put it on the ticket!” one of the cooks said, waving me away. I had to get back to the floor, and hoped I would catch a manager in time.
Later, I saw the manager delivering the gorgonzola salad to Table 54. When she finished her delivery, I flagged her down. “Did you make sure the salad had no pecans?” I asked.
“The Kitchen Manager said there weren’t any. I didn’t see any.”
Satisfied, I went on with my service. Moments later, I noticed the woman was gone from her table. I dropped everything I needed to do to ask if everything was okay. A dining partner said, “There were nuts in the salad. She had a reaction.”
“I’m so sorry. The kitchen said there weren’t any nuts. Lemme get a manager over to talk to you.” I picked up the bowl, stirred it with a fork, and buried under the field greens were a few pecans blending into the colorfully tossed salad. Embarrassed, I said I’m sorry again and went to find the manager. She handled the rest of the service by writing a report and comping the entire meal.
On my next shift, the Bald Man called me into his office. “I have to write you up,” he said.
“What? Why?” I was honestly surprised.
“If a customer has an allergy, you have to write ‘allergy’ on the ticket.”
“What? Okay. That’s no problem. I didn’t know that. I did clearly state ‘no nuts’ on the ticket. Why are you writing me up? The kitchen screwed up the order.”
“They’re saying they didn’t and it’s probably cross-contamination cause some bits of pecan fell into the cheese container. They–”
“Cross-contamination is a kitchen error. They should never cross-contaminate.”
“No, but they didn’t know there was an allergy. If they did, they woulda gotten fresh gorgonzola from the back.” He looked at me with narrowed eyes. “Why didn’t you tell a manager?”
“I tried! The floor manager and the kitchen manager were nowhere to be seen. They were busy running around doing other stuff. I had to get back on the floor to my tables, cuz it was very busy and I was behind on the floor as it was. I tried to interrupt the cooks and tell them directly, but they wouldn’t stop what they were doing to listen. It was a busy night. You know that. You have the sales figures.” I paused. “And, I didn’t know to write it on the ticket!”
“You had to have known to write “allergy” on the ticket. It’s in the manual.”
“Where in the manual? I never saw it.”
“Well, I couldn’t find it this morning. But still… it’s a part of our training.”
“I was never told, or trained, to put “allergy” on the ticket or I would’ve done it. I’m sorry this happened. I take these things very seriously. I care about people. But, at the time, I thought I did everything I could.”
“Look, this went all the way to The Owner. I have to explain to him that you’re in deep shit and back it up.”
“So lemme get this straight. I’m being written up for failing to do something I didn’t and couldn’t know I had to do. And even though both managers and the cooks had their hands in this problem, I’m being thrown under the bus.”
“Just write “allergy” on the ticket.” He motioned to a piece of paper on table. “And sign here. You can write in the margin that you didn’t know.” He said that last bit as if it was supposed to mollify me.
A lot of lip service is paid to team work and team spirit, but when a mistake happens, the team disappears. Shared, and even personal responsibility, also disappears. It’s one person’s problem. Somebody has to take the fall. I work in the politics of cover-your-ass. These people aren’t my friends.
I have a job to do because I need the money. The money-making opportunity needs to be protected. It’s scary to share my private life with The Pie Shoppe. This sounds paranoid, but any knowledge they have may somehow work against me.
And so, I have a working world and a personal artistic life between which exists a wall surrounded by a moat teeming with alligators. I almost regret my lapse in silence with My Favorite Busboy, even though he is also my favorite co-worker. I would love to share my writing and especially my new ebook, An Encounter with Death, with everyone–put a sign up at work or casually mention it to all, including customers who come in. The more people who know, the better chance I have at selling books and letting go of the day-job. But, I’ll take my chances that this small population surrounding The Pie Shoppe can stay ignorant of my dreams and they will still come true.