After many interviews at large chains like Houston's, I landed a waitressing job at a new sports bar that was "opening soon". As much as I despise sports themed dining establishments, I was trying to move away from the catering/indie coffee shop scene and into something more consistent-"normal", if you will. The sports bar was called American Pie, and it was the antithesis of everywhere I had ever worked: I was "Party Down" and it was Hooter's without the cleavage. (If you haven't seen the show-"Party Down" is a brilliant show about being a cater-waiter. I say brilliant because the creators captured that strange world perfectly, but the show was cancelled after two seasons, while the practically unwatchable "According to Jim" -aptly referred to by a reviewer as a "television cockroach"-which exemplifies the demise of Western civilization, ran for eight seasons).
The first training day at my new job, we all convened in the large spacious restaurant/bar with televisions covering every square inch of wall space. I can't really describe its banality, but the vibe was pretty much "generic chain restaurant", with a bar on one side and a row of booths and ten or twelve tables scattered on the main floor. Every seat had a view of at least six televisions or more if you were willing to turn your head in any direction. Our new employer-I'll call him John-hailed from Utica, New York. He was in his late twenties and wore a collared shirt and plaid shorts. He was attractive in a wimpy frat boy sort of way, and his behavior was generally sullen disguised as cool. He was a reluctant and slightly punishing boss. For example, there had been a "tell me something about yourself that makes you unique" section on the initial application, the contents of which, one would assume, was between the applicant and the employer. However, he had decided, with no notice or permission, to read the answers aloud in front of everyone- an "ice breaker". Other people wrote stuff like "I can stand on my head" or "I make really good pancakes". I had written that I had been raised in a log cabin that my father had built by hand, which was true. It does make me unique, but I might as well have told them that my favorite movie was "Deliverance" and that I played a mean banjo because there was this huge uncomfortable silence after he read mine. He even smirked a little as he said "log cabin". Evidently people who actually built things with their hands were not American Pie material. It had running water for fuck's sake, and Glen Frey was our goddamn neighbor. My red hair and freckles did not help my cause, but my angst at acceptance in the "normal" world was short lived as we soon moved on to the next person and their amazing ability to burp the alphabet.
After the "get to know you" session, we broke into teams and oriented ourselves with the kitchen, learned the stations and the basic system of the restaurant. I also learned that the "cook",who was an Australian youth hostel dweller named Nick, could have been a trained monkey, as not one fresh item was ever going to be served. All of the menu items were frozen or prepackaged, all the way down to the lettuce for the salads. It all got unwrapped and put on a plate or deep fried/grilled and put on a plate. I like jalapeno poppers as much as the next gal, but I swear that working there gave me contact diabetes.
Often the manager wasn't standing near the register, so it could take a few minutes and quite a bit of yelling over the loud music to track them down,get the correction made, and get the order in-all while people waved and gestured with their empty water glasses like a bunch of Somali refugees.
It is hard for me to not care about my job, but it is even harder for me to feel bad because some morbidly obese person who is eating for a dollar isn't getting their onion rings in the tower formation that the menu promised. Several customers requested to have the music turned down so we could hear each other. When I brought this to John's attention, he demanded to know who asked the question and went over to the table to condescendingly explain that "this is a bar and bars have loud music". People were baffled, some even left without getting their spongy chicken sandwich or their dry, tasteless burger. The other issue was that some diners were trying to use their leverage with the survey the get more stuff. Free refills, extra helpings, my phone number.
It suffices to say that the opening was a monumental disaster. The next day we all got an earful. No one mentioned the fact that the lack of the void button was the main culprit. Their catch phrase was " I am tired of hearing 'I'm sorry'", so not only did we have to work in impossible conditions, but we were not even allowed to apologize for our mistakes in a normal manner. Were we supposed to say "Regrets, but I've chosen fish instead of chicken" or " It's lamentable, but they wanted a cheese burger"? Seriously, sometimes "I'm sorry" is all a person has. John must have tired of our untrained ineptness because by the end of the week they had installed a delete button. Conditions improved significantly despite the fact that they were watching us like hawks, as if we couldn't wait to give away a bunch of inedible food to our friends disguised as customers. My attempts to make the place a little nicer, like putting a slice of lemon in the bleach scented tap water, were scoffed at (" I don't put fruit in my water"-as if I had shoved an entire pineapple in his stupid asshole glass). I am certain he sensed my disdain for his mediocre aspirations as a restauranteur, but I couldn't help it, and neither could he.
Three weeks flew by in a haze of squinting, venomous rage. I was Dirty Harry on his worst day, I was out for vengeance as my 1986 Subaru carried me down the Long Beach Freeway in the slow lane, a childhood jingle inexplicably running through my head "Pete Ellis Dodge, Long Beach Freeway, Firestone Exit South Gate".
I hated that asshole. My only salvation would be to get my thirty bucks back, to make him pay. I arrived at the court house in Long Beach, paid ten dollars to park and went to the third floor as instructed and waited. My name was called. I followed a fiftyish African American woman into a cubicle. She went over the file and asked me some questions,which I answered passionately. She listened, wrote some stuff in the file and declared John a "no show", which means that I won by default. I found myself overcome with joy and sweet vindication. I was doing the happy dance in the elevator on the way down and singing like Jerry Maguire to the radio as I drove home in bumper to bumper traffic. Nothing could rain on my parade. I actually sang a few bars of "American Pie", emphasizing the "bye bye" part for effect.
I got the check for thirty dollars and eight cents a few weeks later and gazed at it for a spell before depositing it. His feeble signature was scrawled like a "personally signed" Thomas Kinkade- as if he had somewhere else to be that was so much more important, like tending to his hideously lame establishment was kind of a hassle, like treating people with respect was a big drag. Well, I got him to write the check- no, no, pardon me- the state of California got him to write the check, which cleared I might add, or I might have added arson to my list of talents on my outdated resume.