It's full moon time again, kiddies, and we all know what that means: June has her epic nightmares and shares them with you. You might want to keep a half a Xanax handy.
Last time I saw the podiatrist, back when my toe was still broken, he said he'd always wanted to wait tables.
"It's hard work," I said.
"Well, that's what everybody says, but I don't see what's so hard about it," he answered, the innocent. I wonder if I should share the following with him. It's a dream . . . a nightmare, but its parts are certainly real enough. I worked through many . . . many shifts like this.
Out of clean dishes, although there are plenty of dirty ones in the stacks. The heavy coffee mugs have pieces of food stuck and dried inside them. The dishwasher water heater gave up the ghost last night and nobody on the closing crew left a note so we could call the repair person before the store opened. It'll be washing dishes by hand in the bar sink all shift.
On the floor a pile of potato peels. One of the managers sees it, says, "What the hell?" and goes off, I think, to arrange for removal. But it's busy, he never comes back, so we all just step around it over it on top of it to get done what we need to get done.
No more pre-measured coffee packets for the Bunn coffeemaker . . . partly used bags of No-Name ground coffee here and there in the waitstation.
"How much to put into the filter?"
"Just so it looks about right."
And where is the coffeemaker? Oh. Up there on the shelf an arm's length above my head. A maker but no warmer, so that once the pot is made (brewing while customers grit their teeth and tap their fingertips on the tables waiting for their cups) it sits and loses heat, which it does very quickly, necessitating brewing a new pot. ...if you can find enough raw materials and the few seconds and the room, among the coworkers darting here, reaching there . . . five of us with our trays in a twenty square foot floor space.
No conversation in the waitstation except
"Is this still hot?"
"What the hell is THIS???" from a waitress staring into a coffee cup with a dried bread ball stick inside it.
"Mm. They're all like that."
I find one of the white crockery cups with the smallest flake of dried red sauce halfway down the inside, wonder for half a second if, untouched, it might just float off in the hot coffee and go down the customer's gullet unremarked. I chip it off with my thumbnail, and pour a cup of coffee from the half-filled brewing pot. Whoever comes after me will have watery coffee, but I have MY customer's, and I'm off out of the madhouse of the back of the house into the diningroom. White cloths, barely enough space to get between tables without my butt knocking over water glasses.
The guests have no idea what the back of the house looks like, sounds like, smells like.
And now here come some disgruntled customers into the waitstation, coming after their coffee. Young men, soft and spoiled looking.
"What's the problem here? Why have I been waiting for ten minutes for a simple cup of coffee? I'll get my own!"
I am furious, stern-voiced: "Get out. Get out of here."
They were going, but my hand on one's polo shirted shoulder hurried him along. Part of me wished that his heel would find a drop of water on top of the greasy quarry tile and he'd go down, the pushy arrogant prick.
People at tables outside my station start to wave at me. "Can we get our bill?" One of my fellow waitresses has left. Her shift is over: she's gone. Never mind her coworkers or her customers. I'm in the diningroom . . . on the stage, as it were, so like a mother bird, I lift my wing and make comforting welcoming noises, gather them underneath. Finding their checks, getting them more . . . what?
"More coffee? Sure! I'll just whip up a fresh pot for you. It'll take just a few minutes."
Turning, scanning tables, scanning heads, to see what else I can do on this trip. Anyone close to me would have heard, despite my lips moving not at all, "Oh God. Another flocking pot of flocking coffee."
Somebody orders two entrees and there is only enough left of one of them so that I have to take it out as a side, and lie to make it sound as if the cooks chose to present it that way because of the flavors or aesthetics or something.
You don't want to admit that you've run out of food, clean dishes, coffee.
You don't want to say, "We can't find our coffeemaker."
You want to preserve, for the customers, the image of peace and competence.
And at the end of the shift, you'll go out and have pitchers of beer with your coworkers and laugh and laugh about sliding on a potato peel and nearly cracking your head on the counter edge. Somebody will say, "Why didn't he just go get me a broom so I could stick it up my ass and clean 'em up while I'm pouring drinks!" Laugh so hard you can't breathe . . . about the handle of the full-of-precious-hot-coffee pot coming loose as you reached way up there for it. Laugh about June pushing the customer out of the kitchen: [PUSH]"You can't be back here. [PUSH] We don't want you to [PUSH] get hurt!"
One of These Things Is Not Like the Other . . .
2 hours ago