Job Searching 102: Easy Come, Easy Go

My cell phone shrilled its faux phone ring and I looked at it. Father Owner was calling and I hit answer. “Hey there! I was just thinking of you. Our minds must be connected through the firmament.” I giggled my little self-conscious giggle.

Father Owner let out a small laugh and simply said, “Yes.” He went on with a wavering voice. “Listen, I have to talk to you.”

“Okay.”

“There’s a reason I couldn’t give you the schedule last night. Remember when I said Son-in-Law had a guy in mind?”

“Yes.”

“We talked about it. He won’t let this go. He wants to bring his guy in.”

My belly immediately felt chilly. Three days prior, I was hired by Father Owner as a server in his restaurant, Neighborhood Bistro, and was very excited. On and off throughout my sojourn with The Pie Shoppe, I’ve looked for another job. I kept hoping to work two jobs as I settled into my new restaurant and, assuming all went well, I would eventually and happily let The Pie Shoppe go. I had cold called Neighborhood Bistro a couple of times and loved the place. Father Owner and I chatted and got on well. He had held onto my resume, and some 8 months after my first visit he called me in to meet with Son-in-Law, a co-owner. This meeting went well and they hired me on the spot to start training that night. During the interview, we discussed The Pie Shoppe. Since Neighborhood Bistro operated with a set schedule and the Pie Shoppe had a flexible one, we determined it’d be easy for me to work the two together.

Neighborhood Bistro was set in an Old Town section of a well-to-do neighborhood in the suburbs of Los Angeles. The ambiance was light and cheerful. The entire dining room was sheltered under a large tent. Around the side and back was a tall, vine-covered brick wall, lined with flowering potted plants. The tent connected to a small, old house which had been repurposed into a kitchen, office, server aisle, and bathroom. A large front porch served as the entrance and in the very front was an open patio, nestled against the sidewalk, with large umbrellas shielding the tables from the sometimes hot Los Angeles sun. Inside, strings of lights, artisan lanterns, and candles gave a soft, beckoning glow. All the tables were painted brightly with primary colors. The booths and chairs were cushioned in secondary colors. Tall wine glasses and white folded napkins adorned the tabletops. The menu was eclectic and gourmet, changing seasonally. Father Owner and Son-in-Law co-owned the place with his wife, Father Owner’s daughter. Both Son-in-Law and his wife were trained chefs with a resume of fancy, fine dining establishments from around the country. The food was freshly prepared with an artistic touch. The music, a playlist off their iPod, was lively and upbeat. The family-owned Neighborhood Bistro charmed.

In almost every way, I was excited to replace The Pie Shoppe, a chain restaurant set inside a strip mall. Their corporate environment, where the mandates of the system treated the employee like an object to serve a purpose, was wearing on me. The menu of American comfort food standards, created out of the industrial food complex, was of dubious quality. Ingredients came into the restaurant pre-cooked, pre-chopped, pre-mixed, and frozen to be assembled onto plates by short order cooks. The ambiance was sterile, colorless, and cowardly, made to be the least offensive to the greatest number. The canned internet music was so innocuous as to be distracting.

For two days, I trained with two Neighborhood Bistro servers. The first started as busboy and, over 10 years, worked his way to being an assistant manager. The second was Father Owner’s Son, who was leaving the restaurant to go on an extended traveling adventure with his wife and new baby boy. I was to take over his shifts. From what I could discern in two days, the training went very well and the culture of the place seemed easy-going. All the employees had computer codes to comp and void what they needed off of tickets, a process usually limited to the management as a check and balance to prevent employee theft. Father Owner’s Son assured me that I must’ve been hired because I was like one of them and could be trusted. Everyone was very welcoming, including Son-in-Law. The food was beautiful and my early menu sampling was a party in my mouth.

“He wants to bring him in,” I repeated. “You mean, he wants to hire us both? Try the other guy out too?” This would mean less shifts, which I was okay with since I’d be working two jobs for the short-term anyway.

“Well… no… here’s the thing,” he said, with a hesitant, stumbling voice, like he’d rather talk about anything else in the world. “Last month, my daughter and I made some changes to the restaurant that he didn’t agree with. He’s been upset about it ever since. Now that we have some hiring to do, he’s insisting on his way, even though I’m in charge of the dining room and he runs the kitchen. He just wants to feel like he’s listened to, like he’s been validated.”

He paused, but I didn’t speak, so he went on. “Listen, I’m sorry. The guys that trained you, they like you. I like you. Your experience and personality are a really great fit here. And Son-in-Law can see you’re a strong server. He doesn’t have any problems with you. It’s not about you. He just wants his guy. Personally, I don’t like the guy.”

I jumped in. “You don’t like him and Son-in-Law would still force you to work with him in the front of the house? Doesn’t he manage the kitchen and you manage the front?”

“Yes. I know how it sounds. It’s complicated. This is part of a string of decisions where Son-in-Law is feeling picked on and singled out in the family. I offered to hire both of you and split the shifts but he said no. He wants his way only. In this case, because of what went down last month, I have to give in. It’s a family dynamic thing.” His voice never lost its awkward, I-don’t-wanna-be-here tone.

“Oh, I get it. It’s political,” I said.

“No, it’s family dynamics,” he said, as if I should understand the difference. “Son-in-Law doesn’t feel like he has a voice in the restaurant cuz my daughter and I pushed through a change he didn’t like. So he’s putting his foot down on hiring his guy, with no compromises.”

I sat quietly for a bit and this time he stayed silent too. Then I said, “So, you’re letting me go?”

“Yes. I have to. I am so sorry. Of course, we’ll pay you for the two days of training.”

“Okay. But do you realize you put me in a bind? I told The Pie Shoppe that I have a second job now and I only need a limited schedule. Now I have to go back with my hat in hand and say I’ve been fired already–beg for my hours back. Next week, they only gave me one day. That schedule is set. That’s a significant bite outta my income. I can only hope they’ll give me more the following week. Am I supposed to just be a casualty in your family dynamics?”

I heard a sigh on the other end. “Yes, I know. I am so sorry.”

I believed he was sorry. He went on again. “Listen, I’ve got your number in my phone and I still hope to bring you in. I’ll call you if something happens.”

“Yeah, okay, thank you.” I said. I didn’t say what I was thinking. How would I know I’d be hired for real next time? We talked a bit further as I told him my hours worked and my address so he could mail me a check, then we hung up with an uncomfortable goodbye.

When I went to The Pie Shoppe on my next shift, Server Manager asked after my new job. I said, “Well, my second job that dropped in out of nowhere just as quickly disappeared into thin air.” I gave her the rest of the story.

Her face grew solemn and sympathetic. “It’s probably good you found out about this so quickly. You know, it’s interesting–corporate is a beast and family-owned is a beast. In a family-owned restaurant they make their own rules. In corporate…” She paused. “… well, corporate is corporate.”

“Great. No such thing as a beast-free zone in the workplace.” I laughed and went back to my tables.

My dog, Jack, says, "Let them eat steak!"

Dogfucius say, “Man looking to be beast of burden need to be careful what he wish for.”

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Decisions, Decisions

“So, how about some pie, ladies?” I said as I set down a dessert menu. They both groaned and laughed with a huffing wheeze as I organized empty plates, scraped (almost licked) clean, into a stack. This after they exclaimed with wide eyes how huge the cobb salad and blue cheese burger with coleslaw looked.

“Oh no,” said Woman On My Left. “I’m so full! I couldn’t eat another bite.”

I gestured to some indistinct place around my kidney. “Well, you know there’s a special dessert space in our stomachs waiting to be filled, no matter how full the other side gets.” I smiled. “I’ll leave you with the dessert menu just to satisfy your curiosity. Besides pie, we have a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake that’s to die for.” I picked up their dirty dishes and walked away.

When I returned, check in hand in case they were ready to leave, I asked, “Are we having something sweet?”

Woman On My Left said, as if I should stop the presses for some big news, “We decided to share a slice of pie.”

“Great!” I chirped. “Which one?”

They stared at each other briefly. “What kind of pie would you like?” she asked Woman On My Right, frowning with concentration.

The friend deferred grandly. “I like banana cream. But, I don’t care. You pick. Pick any pie.”

Woman On My Left stared at the menu for a few seconds. “Ooh! How about Pecan?”

“Oh, I love pecan,” I said, hoping to rush a decision. It was a busy lunch.

Woman On Her Right’s face scrunched towards her nose. “Oh no. Pecans give me gas. I don’t eat nuts anymore.”

“Well, what would you like?”

“Whatever you like. You pick.”

Woman on the Left furrowed her brows and tried again. “Mmm, chocolate sounds good. How about the chocolate satin pie?”

“The chocolate satin here is amazing,” I said, not caring which pie they ordered. I just needed them to order.

“Oh, I don’t like chocolate. It still gives me acne–and at my age!” Woman On My Right chuckled at herself.

“Lemon meringue?”

“It’s my very favorite pie!” I said, trying not to sound pushy.

“Oh no, citrus makes my stomach acid-y. Gave up oranges and lemons long ago.”

They stared at each other some more. I stared too.

“Razzleberry?” suggested Woman On My Left.

“People love that pie. It’s especially good with ice cream,” I said.

“No, can’t do berries either. Those tiny seeds stick in my teeth.”

Pause.

“Well, what pie do you like?”

“Something creamy would be nice. I like banana cream. But really, pick whatever you like,” said Woman On My Right with a wave of her hand.

Pause. Woman On My Left’s eyes seemed to narrow around a knife point. “Shall we get the banana cream?”

“Oh, yes, that sounds good.”

“We’ll have banana cream.”

The Collapse of a Sad Spirit

“Oh my god, Dawn!” Pixie Blonde said after she clocked into work at The Pie Shoppe. She spoke so close to my face, I could smell her minty breath. “Your voice, it’s so funny!”

“Yeah, I’m fighting a nasty cold,” I rasped in a laryngitic whisper. My cold and a long shift had exhausted my voice. I was ready to go home. It was late afternoon and Pixie Blonde was relieving me. I was the afternoon shift closer and she was opening the evening shift.

“You sound like a man!” She tittered and twirled away, as if she’d just said the most amusing thing in the world. My other co-workers watched, entertained.

I left work feeling surprised at Pixie Blonde’s familiarity and entry into my personal space. She and I weren’t friends and worked together uncomfortably. We didn’t gush, gossip, and giggle together like she did with many of the other servers.

Despite the coolness between us, I found her adorable. Her bright blonde hair was always pulled back with studied casualness, allowing willowy wisps to frame her small-eyed, perky-nosed face. Slightly built, with delicate bones holding together a tiny frame, she looked like she could sprout wings and fly off to fairyland. Her voice was high-pitched, thin, and slightly nasal, like the cry of bagpipes. She was aware of her attractiveness and flirted with the busboys and kitchen staff. Even the Bald Man wasn’t immune to her charms. It earned her small benefits, like the Kitchen Manager illicitly packaging cherry pie filling in to go containers for her to take home.

More than any of the young people working around me, I felt towards her the way a mother might towards a confused teen. Perhaps it was her fragile cuteness. Perhaps it was because her behavior made our 20-year age difference seem double. Perhaps it was the hearsay about her mysterious stomach ailments and bout with rehab. Perhaps it was her random commentary heard over the restaurant rumpus:

“… I never, ever forget any of my sidework. I’m way too OCD for that…”

“… I didn’t used to smoke cigarettes. You wouldn’t think I would since I don’t drink and I work out so much. I started after my brother committed suicide. At the wake, my aunt was smoking and I just picked up her pack and never stopped…”

“… No, I’m not married! What? Do you think I’m old?” Giggle, giggle.

She might’ve been able to sense my parental attitude. I’d once asked her to double-check my sidework, which was her job as the closing server and in her best interests. If I forgot something, she would have to pick up my slack. It’s something we all do. “Just check the sidework list, Dawn,” she said, as she stood around with only one table to wait on. “I don’t have time to teach you your job.” I was pretty sure her prickly side protected something precarious, so I let it go. It wasn’t worth an argument and it was best to maintain a professional distance.

The next day, we worked together during lunch. “Hey, Pixie-Blonde,” I said to her as I walked in.

“Oh my god! Your voice is the same!” she cackled, as boisterous as the evening before.

Pixie Blonde had opened the restaurant and would be cut from the floor after lunch rush, so the lucrative patio and front section of the restaurant was her station. It was sunny and pleasant outside, so the patio would be busy. Later, after she was cut, I would take over the whole floor during the slow afternoon until the evening crew came in. My sales would still be good, albeit accumulated at a slower pace. I was glad to see Server-Manager on duty that day. She provides terrific floor support when it’s busy–not all managers have this skill. My Favorite Busboy was busing. It was looking like my prayer for an easy shift was being answered. I was still tired and weak from my cold.

Pixie Blonde was sat with a few tables in quick succession, including The Owner, who was having a meeting with a client. I watched her bounce and giggle as she took orders, while I made myself a glass of iced tea. As I set the glass in a corner of the server aisle, I noticed she’d been snacking on a plate of cornbread. Crumbs were scattered about the plate and honey butter was smeared on the counter. Such a mess may as well have been a blinking neon sign saying, “I’m stealing food!” What was she thinking? The Owner was in the house. Snacking was strictly frowned upon and needed to be performed stealthily, even when he wasn’t around.

Within a few minutes, I was sat as well, and was entering my order when Pixie Blonde came bouncing over. She thumped at the computer touch screen with her index finger for a minute before she picked up a fork and stabbed the cornbread with enough force to shift the plate and send more crumbs flying. “I’m so hungry. I can’t stop eating!” Off she went, giggling some more.

Business was steady enough in my station to keep me absorbed, so I wasn’t paying much attention to Pixie Blonde’s station, which was quite busy. There was chatter around me about an incorrect order for a table next to The Owner. I looked over to see Pixie Blonde holding a plate of tacos and a woman looking annoyed. The Owner looked equally annoyed. My Favorite Busboy explained to me that Pixie Blonde was arguing about the correctness of the woman’s order.

“Damn. She may as well drop her apron and quit on the spot.” I shook my head, mystified. I knew Pixie Blonde knew better. Something was wrong in her head.

Later, as I was filling some glasses with water for a new table, My Favorite Busboy exclaimed, “Look at her. She’s drunk! Just like last night.”

“What?” I looked over to the fountain area where Server-Manager and Pixie Blonde were standing over a tray filled with spilled drinks. Sticky liquid dripped from the counter to the floor. Pixie Blonde was wiping the mess with a towel, giggling. Server-Manager’s eyes were dark and serious. “Are you sure she’s drunk?”

“She’s messed up.”

“I noticed she was strange today. I thought it might be a reaction to medication. But, drunk? It’s noon. How can she be drunk? She was drunk last night too?” As I spoke, I could hear how foolish I sounded. Puzzle pieces started clicking together in my brain.

He nodded as if certain. I felt butterflies swirl around my tummy.

I took the waters to my new table and approached the kitchen window to check on my food orders. Server-Manager entered at the same time and set down the dripping tray of upturned glasses in a bus tub. “Dawn, can you handle the whole floor if I cut Pixie Blonde?”

Actually, I couldn’t. I was tired and my congested head made it difficult to concentrate. The whole restaurant during a rush would’ve overwhelmed me even if I felt strong and healthy. “Yes,” I said. It was the only right answer. “I’ll need your help though.”

“Of course. I’m gonna start transferring her tables to you. There are two new tables outside. Go greet them and figure out what else you can do,” Server-Manager said, as she grabbed two dishes from the window and handed them to me. “These are for Table 14.” The tables in the patio were numbered between 10 and 21.

I went outside and delivered the food to Table 14. I looked around and saw the new tables, as well as two tables with drinks and menus indicating they hadn’t ordered their food. I greeted the new tables, then approached the other two with menus and took their food orders. I went back inside to seek out Server-Manager who was at the pie counter.

Server-Manager was talking to Counter Girl, who had been cross-training as a server. She hadn’t finished her training yet but life was handing her an opportunity before she was ready. Server-Manager looked at me. “Would you like to give Counter Girl the rest of your inside section and you take over Pixie Blonde’s?”

“Yes!” I was relieved. I had 5 tables inside, most of whom were eating or just about finished, and the patio was almost full. It would simply be a matter of fixing Pixie Blonde’s section and finishing my inside tables. Counter Girl could take any new tables inside. I’d still be slammed, but it felt doable.

After I checked on my inside tables, I entered the server aisle where there were two computers stationed together. I had five orders to process and two checks to run. Pixie Blonde was thumping frantically away at the computer screen. I asked her if she was okay. “Do I seem not okay?” she giggled, making an attempt at dismissiveness. I said nothing and abruptly she transformed and grew frantic. “I can’t find my order for table 10!” She reached into an ice bucket where we throw away our receipts and rifled through it with quick hands. “I don’t know where it is. I don’t think I closed it out. Oh! It would be just like me to do that!” Finding nothing to help her in the ice bucket, she turned to me. Her voice cracked and her eyes watered. “Can you help me? Go to table 10 and ask them what they ordered. I don’t want Server-Manager to find out.”

My chest twisted and I wanted to hug her, wipe her tears, and whisper not to worry, that everything would be all right in the world. The reassuring lie never happened. There was nothing I could do that’d make this situation right for her. Even flirting couldn’t save her now. “I’m sorry,” I said, feeling lame. I turned to the computer to process my tables, most of which were formerly hers.

At that point, I discovered that her section was entered into the computer in disarray. Tables were mislabeled with the wrong numbers and I couldn’t immediately decipher what was what. I had to run back outside to mark the food on the tables, then recheck them on the computer so I could relabel them with their correct numbers. I also had to start dummy table numbers just to get certain orders in, later to be merged with the correct tables once I figured everything out. Server-Manager had just arrived at the other computer to process a few orders and transfer more tables to me. She was followed by Counter Girl who was asking questions about the steps of service.

Pixie Blonde never questioned her transferred tables. During this chaos, she stunned me by filling a small cup with soup and standing off to one side to eat. Nobody said a word to her as she quietly ate, including Server-Manager.

Within an hour, I had caught myself up with the patio and all my inside tables were closed out. Lunch rush was waning and I felt like I could breathe again.

Eventually Pixie Blonde’s ordering problem with Table 10 must’ve come to light. Server-Manager asked if I’d done anything with it. I said no. She figured out the order and re-entered it, then Pixie Blonde closed it out when it was paid. As that was the last of her tables which hadn’t become mine, Pixie Blonde closed out her sales, and gave Server-Manager her credit card receipts and cash collected, less tips earned.

“I love you guys. Thanks for all your help!” Pixie Blonde chirped, about to walk away.

“Hold on, Pixie Blonde,” said Server-Manager, “You still owe me $6.38.”

“Oh! Oopsie!” She giggled and studied her checkout slip. “Here it is.” She fumbled some cash and change into Server-Manager’s hand. “Okay. Bye y’all. See ya tomorrow.” A dense silence filled the air.

Later, Server-Manager found the order for Table 10. It was listed on the computer as Table Zero so it couldn’t be processed. Server-Manager deleted it.

The Owner and Server-Manager whispered together after Pixie Blonde left.

The schedule for the following week came out that night. Pixie Blonde wasn’t on it. I had heard she showed up for her shift the next day and was turned away. A week later, she came in while I was working and greeted everyone with smiles and giggles. The door to the manager’s office was closed for about 15 minutes, then she left quietly out the back door.

After she left, I went outside for a quick breather. The hostess was at her stand and told me in a soft, downcast voice that she watched Pixie Blonde ride away on her bike. “… her face staring with lifeless eyes…”

We stood together for a moment as the sunshiny air seemed to darken and become heavy.

A couple ladies approached the hostess stand needing to be sat. I smiled at them. “Would you like to sit inside or outside?” the hostess asked brightly, grabbing menus.

I walked back inside to check on my tables.

Random Customer Feedback

One of my customers recently filled out a comment card for The Pie Shoppe:

Food: “Fair”

Service: “Excellent”

Suggestions? “The environment is relaxing and I like the way the light comes in the big picture windows. The food wasn’t bad, just a little bland. Someone in the kitchen needs to be a little less generous with the grease. The music isn’t too bad either, just turn up the volume a little. Dawn was very pleasant and outgoing. Very knowledgeable about food. She made a lame date bearable. I need to be done with online dating. There may be Plenty of Fish out there but so many of them swim in brackish waters. This one needed to be spiced up more than the food. I may come back, hopefully with better company.”

How to be a Tin God

The server schedule for The Pie Shoppe was taped to the wall above a trash can and a cart holding the bus tub. The noise of food dumped into the trash with a squish and plates dropped into the tub with a jangle resounded as I stared at my schedule for the following week. It’d been completely altered to my detriment. Instead of 4 shifts, I had 3, losing Sunday altogether. My lucrative Friday and Saturday shifts were replaced with the slower Monday and Tuesday.

“Shit!” I said to myself as Star Server slumped a half-eaten Cobb and clanged the bowl on the pile of dirty dishes

“What’s wrong? asked the man, who was younger than me by a few years and an excellent server.

“The Bald Man cut back my schedule. He’s punishing me.”

“Yeah, I saw that. What happened?” he asked, his voice tinged with anticipation for good gossip.

“The Bald Man and I disagreed on what’s fair in the world.”

“He’s gotta be right, you know. You can’t tell him anything.” Star Server also had impressive kissing-management-ass skills, which I lacked, and received whatever schedule he wanted.

“Yeah, well something got stuck in my face this time.”

I told him my story.

Employee rights?

About two months before, I had a family of five who paid their bill with a credit card. There was nothing suspicious about them: a mom and dad, two children and an elderly grandmother. It was a busy shift. They exited quickly. There wasn’t time to grab their bill book to make sure they signed the receipt before they left. Naturally, it wasn’t signed.

The Owner looked dimly upon unsigned receipts and assumed it’s entirely due to slapdash server lameness. Many times, people forget to sign credit card receipts. When I remind them to do so, there are awkward apologies on both sides: “I’m sorry, but I still need your signature.” “Oh! I’m sorry. Did I forget to sign? How silly of me!”

The assistant manager didn’t say anything when I closed out my sales that day, so I figured, with relief, nothing would come of it. Over a month later, as I was counting my cash at the end of a shift, the Bald Man asked to speak with me in the office. I walked back with trepidation knowing this would not be fun times.

The office was the size of a walk-in closet and it felt too small to hold the two of us. A table top, with a couple of metal filing cabinets underneath, rested against the full length of the side wall. A large safe was embedded in the back wall. The room felt cluttered and cramped.

After I turned over my sales for that shift, the Bald Man said, “The customer who paid this bill is contesting the credit charge.” He passed the unsigned receipt and a document across the table top. “We’re still talking to the credit card company, but we need you to accept responsibility for the charge should they side with the customer.”

What? I looked down at the document. It had a photocopy of the receipt for $68.60 on the top half. The bottom half said, “The Undersigned accepts responsibility for incomplete fulfilment of the Financial Transaction represented above as required by The Pie Shoppe, and therefore agrees to accept Financial Obligation for any unpaid Monies from said transaction. The Undersigned further authorizes said Company to deduct said Monies from the Pay Check of the Undersigned.” There was a line for my signature and the date, and another to print my name. I wanted to laugh, though this was no laughing matter.

I took a few seconds to think, still staring at the document. I took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry about the bill. I try very hard to make sure credit card receipts are signed. However, I don’t believe I’m responsible for the unpaid bill.”

The room was too warm and the Bald Man’s face scrunched into a frown. His dark eyes became shark-like and unpleasant to look at. He straightened his spine as he said, “Yes, you are.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You’re responsible for cash receipts. It’s the same as running a cash drawer.”

“It’s not the exactly the same as being a cashier.”

“When you collect cash and lose money on the floor, you still owe it to us.”

“I agree if I lost a twenty from my pocket during my shift, I’d still owe it to you. That’s beside the point. I’m not responsible for unsigned credit card receipts. ”

“It’s not beside the point. You walk around with your cash drawer. If you’re short, you owe us the money.”

“A cashier can’t be held liable for cash over or short. But you’re still arguing around the point. This is a credit card receipt.”

“Yes, they can and are. This is the point.”

“No, they can’t. Not legally. If a cashier is constantly over or short, you can warn them or fire them. Or train them to be better cashiers. But you can’t charge them.”

“Oh really? Who’s responsible for the cash, then?” I could tell he was mocking me.

“Who do you think is responsible? The Owner, obviously. It’s his business. He’s responsible for creating a system which minimizes mistakes. Mistakes are the cost and risk of doing business. I’m your employee, not your insurance company. If I wanted to take on risk, I’d start my own business.”

“As an employee, you’re responsible for ensuring proper payment.”

“I’m also not responsible for dine and dash. I can’t stand over my customers, watching their every move. There are other responsibilities that take me into the kitchen and away from the dining room. I’m not responsible for management of the whole system. That’s your job. Maybe you should pay the credit card bill.”

He stood up. “Don’t get smart with me.”

I stood up. “Smart? You’re trying to reach into my pocket to pay your expenses.”

“You’re responsible and that’s all there is to it.”

“I think the Labor Board might feel differently.”

His mouth twisted again. “Look, Dawn, we have lawyers to check with before doing such things.”

“I’m sure you do. I’m still gonna double-check before I sign anything.”

There was a long, charged silence. I broke it with, “Is there anything else you need from me?”

“No.”

“Alright. I’ll keep this piece of paper in case I need it. Have a nice night.” I rushed out, my stomach churning.

I finished telling my story to Star Server. “So I checked with the Labor Board, and of course I’m not liable. The Bald Man hasn’t brought it up again, but he did jerk me around on the schedule. Guess he figures I’m gonna pay one way or the other.” I rolled my eyes.

Star Server looked at me, his mouth pulled into a frown. “I think I would’ve signed the piece of paper.”

I looked at him and thought, of course you would’ve. “Yeah. Well, it’s not right.” I put on my apron and started wiping down the salad station.

My schedule remained that way until I was replaced as “bad server” by a couple of colleagues. One had lost his temper in a Bald Man confrontation. The other had called in sick and couldn’t find a cover for her shift.

At least when the Bald Man is petty, it’s with an even hand.

Charm Above Circumstance

Another boring day at the office?

The Pie Shoppe had another couple hours left before closing and I was feeling crabby. There were very few customers to wait on. Ahead on the to-do list was cleaning the server aisle, where sticky pie fillings and greasy pie crust crumbs managed to get onto everything. The unstimulating, corporately designed decor, with its drab brown tones and dreary furnishings, was weighing me down. I was bored and wanted to go home. Feeling sorry for myself, I greeted my new table.

“If your name is ‘Dawn’, how come you’re working at night?” His face was merry and the wrinkles around his eyes crinkled flirtatiously. He sat with two white-haired ladies.

“Working at night keeps me off the streets,” I quipped back, hoping my current crankiness didn’t put too much edge in my voice.

“Do you work late?” he asked.

“I’ll be closing the place.” Sadly, I wanted to add.

The older of the ladies asked, “What time do you close?”

“We close at 11 p.m. on Saturdays,” I replied.

“What if I came in at 11 p.m.?” she asked.

“I suppose if you walked in the door at 10:59, you’d get served,” I replied, still hoping my annoyance didn’t show.

“Yeah. With a bunch of spit in my food.”

“Ha!” I laughed in spite of myself. “There might be some surly spread on your burger and fries.”

The dry humor didn’t stop, especially with the gentleman. “I suppose I need to tap a spring to get more water around here.”

“It’ll be fresher and better tasting, then,” I said.

At the end of their meal, I accidentally gave them the wrong bill.

He waved me over. “There’s a problem here. I want to pay this but I don’t remember drinking a root beer.”

I apologized and gave them the correct bill. “You’ll probably like this less since it’s more.”

“I’m still waiting for my rootbeer,” he said.

“I’ll bring your rootbeer.” I smiled and winked. “And pour it over your head.” Their mirth was contagious.

“Dawn, go away, you’re no good for me!” He sang the oft-sung-to-me song charmingly off-key.

“Stop it,” said the younger lady, smiling. “You’re making her nervous!”

“It’s true,” I said. “I’ll go home and cry myself to sleep tonight.”

She said, “Well, tomorrow will be the dawn of a new day!”

They paid their bill leaving a generous gratuity. I didn’t see them come in so as they stood up to leave I was startled to see the gentleman struggle to set himself upright on two canes. His face twisted with pain as he balanced himself. Then he looked up, saw me, and instantly brightened, “You have a nice rest of your night, now.”

“Thank you. I hope you do as well.” I said.

He slowly lurched out of the restaurant with his two ladies tottering behind.

Who was I to feel sorry for myself?

Job Searching 101: Early Warning Signs Your Employer is a Jerk

The day was too warm to be pounding the streets and dropping off resumes in restaurants. The Sushi Place was my last stop and I felt wilted walking in. The sign outside offered a happy hour with $1 off sushi and half-price Asahi and Sapporo beer until 7 p.m. It was close to 5 when I walked in. Near the entrance was a bar, where a tired looking bartender stood staring at a huge, soundless, wide-screen TV located over the sushi bar. An experimental art film seemed to be playing. The images were visceral and discordant, closeups of food being chopped and chewed, raw. A Lady Gaga song played innocuously in the background. There were a few occupied tables, but it wasn’t very busy.

“Hi,” I said to Weary Bartender. “Is the manager or owner available? I’d like to apply for a server position.”

A small smile cracked his stony expression, more out of amusement than friendliness. He gestured to a seat at the far end of the bar. “The owner is in the back. You can wait here if you’d like.”

“Sure. Thank you. It’s hot out. The air conditioning feels great.” As I sat down, I noticed a half-finished pint of beer and a laptop in front of an empty seat at the other end of the bar.

“Would you like a glass of water?”

“Oh, yes, please. Are you hiring servers now?”

“We’re always looking for someone,” he said, filling my glass and placing it before me.

“Oh. Great. How long have you been here?”

“A few months.”

“Are you pretty much settled in, then?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

I gratefully drank as I took in the place. It was decorated in a lean, vaguely Asian style with oak wood paneling throughout. The sushi bar sat in front of the kitchen and next to the bar. A sushi chef was unwrapping fish and placing them in the bar display. A couple of girls were nursing beers and staring at the sushi chef expectantly. In fact, there were a lot of expectant faces and I had yet to see a server.

The TV caught my eye again. What I thought was an art film turned out to be a Japanese horror movie with subtitles. A man had just thrown a naked woman across a table. Her face was made up Kabuki style. Another man, also naked, held tongs in one hand and poured a brown sauce on her with the other. I stifled a shocked laugh.

“Have you seen our waitress?” A man from one of the tables had just approached the bar. “We’ve been waiting 30 minutes for our sushi.” I looked over at the sushi bar and there were some plates with sushi on them at the service area waiting to be delivered. The girls at the sushi bar still sat waiting to eat. The sushi chef was slicing fish laggardly, like a DMV clerk processing forms.

“She’ll be right with you,” said Weary Bartender, not moving.

Just then, the kitchen door banged open and belched forth a man. His hair was greasily combed over half his forehead, barely covering a bald patch. A couple of facelifts had given his face a wide-eyed skeletal appearance. He shambled over to the half-empty pint at the other end of the bar and drew a draught between surgically fattened lips. His colorful collared shirt was unbuttoned almost to his navel, revealing sparse hair, strange scarring, and the top half of his beer-gut. He seemed to be hanging onto a style from his heyday.

“Are you the owner?” asked the customer at the bar.

“Yes,” said Weird Owner, not even looking up from his now finished beer.

“I’ve been waiting 30 minutes for my sushi.”

“Yes, well this isn’t fast food you know.” He then pirouetted away from the bar and toddled to the back to pour another beer. Frustrated Customer went back to his table to rejoin his friend. After setting the beer down next to his laptop, Weird Owner walked over to the sushi bar, sashaying to the music of Rage Against the Machine. I thought he might deliver the still-waiting sushi plates, but he stopped at the two women. A caterpillar roll finally sat in between them, upon which they were nibbling. They looked up at him as he inquired about their food in a voice that carried over the thin din of music and guest murmuring.

The girls smiled and said something I couldn’t hear. “Pretty girls and pretty sushi go together like a handroll with spicy tuna.” He snorted at his own joke.

They smiled politely. He went on, pointing to his chest. “See these scars? I got them in ‘Nam. I got this there too.” He rolled back his sleeve to show them a tattoo on his upper arm. It continued onto his shoulder, ending who-knew-where. I was afraid for a minute he would take off his shirt to show them the whole thing. “You ladies really are pretty, and for a kiss, dinner is on me! Hell, I’ll pick up your tab even without the kiss.” He chortled.

This time the ladies didn’t smile back and I heard a reply. “That’s not necessary,” said the bolder of the two.

“No, I insist,” said the owner.

The kitchen door banged open again and a young server, looking bored, walked out. The owner jerked around and marched toward her. “Where have you been, skank? I don’t pay your lazy ass to stand around.”

She looked unsurprised by his outburst. “I took a cigarette break,” she said and went to the server station to pick up the waiting sushi. When she arrived at her table, Frustrated Customer started complaining to her.

At this point, Weird Owner finally noticed me taking everything in. He approached, his bee-stung lips parting into a grin. “What can I do for you, young lady?”

“Um. Nothing. I was just leaving.” I fished for my wallet and pulled out a dollar for Weary Bartender. Then, as he continued to stare, I picked up my résumé and handbag and scurried back out into the stifling air.

I may be broke, but I have standards.

Server for Hire