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The Summer of Boiling Doom

March 24, 2011

By definition, summer jobs are supposed to be fairly awful. They cut into your beach time, force you to get up early, and occasionally, they scar you for life.

Being the (evidently pampered) suburbanite that I am, I managed to escape this rite of passage during my high school years. I had cornered the babysitting market in my hometown and made enough money hanging out with other people’s children to cover excessive ice cream runs/trips to the arts and crafts store/whatever else I did in high school. But that all changed during my first summer home from college.

That summer, I came home with a Dream. The Dream in question was twofold: buy a car, which would be financed by waitressing. I was dying to be a waitress, in the way that I wanted to be a teacher when I was eight: Chalkboards! Passing out papers covered with stickers all day! Telling people what to do and having them be required to obey me!

The version of the summer that lived in my head featured me running around in some cute outfit, making $3,000,000 in tips, giggling a lot, and occasionally carrying a perfectly balanced tray on my outstretched palm. In reality: I got a job at a low-end catering hall. I wore a cheap polyester penguin suit (complete with clip on bow-tie and orthopedic shoes), often left work covered in bits of other people’s wedding cake with the Cha Cha Slide stuck in my head (take it back now, y’all!), made roughly $0 in tips, and hated everything on a regular basis.

There were no romances or after work bonding sessions at the bar (also included in the original fantasy). Instead, there were only mandatory silverware washing quotas and cigarette breaks in the back alley with some barback named Merlin. (He smoked, I drew comic strips no one really got.) To my dismay, waitressing was hard. Things were heavy, faux-tuxedos are uncomfortable, and I wasn’t very good at any of it.

The job didn’t really become completely unbearable until Jason’s Bar Mitzvah. (This doesn’t sound nearly as ominous as it should, but just wait for it.) This Long Island staple-y sounding event was held one hot, sticky July morning. It was to be part one of a double Saturday shift (my favorite), and my ill-fitting tuxedo pants were already chafing.

Jason was impossibly blond, like the rest of his family, which consisted of his loud and overly anxious mother, tall and sullen father, and three older sisters who rarely spoke. The first thing he did when he entered the party room was kick over the “Congratulations Jason” poster board his parents and sisters had made.

“I don’t like it,” he fumed, as his father’s eyes darted from his son to the waitstaff and back again. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!

“Now Jason,” his mother said. Her voice was low and fearful, like she was trying to talk down a bank robber. “Your sisters and I worked very hard on that, and –”

“But I don’t like it!”

His mother continued her sentence as if she hadn’t been interrupted. You don’t want to do this! We can all walk out of here together! “…and all your friends can come in and sign it, and-“

“And I’m going to pee on it if you don’t take it down!” Jason yelled.

That ended all negotiations. She motioned me over.

“Can we move the sign?” she asked. She lowered her voice and continued, “put it somewhere he can’t see it. Put it with the coats.”

There were no coats, since it was already about 200 degrees, but I shoved the poster into the supply closet in the hallway anyway.

By the time I returned to the party, all hell was breaking loose. Jason and friends were running through the room, knocking over chairs, commandeering trays of food so they could throw them at the servers, and hitting each other with the large water guns they had received as party favors. I questioned why Jason’s mother would chose to include water guns as party favors for her spawn-of-satan son and his friends, but didn’t really have the chance to bring this up to anyone.

The waitstaff soon gave up. We placed our small serving trays on tables and went to seek shelter as the 12 and 13 year olds descended on them and began flinging food in every direction. I ducked beneath the Panini table to avoid a barrage of chicken nuggets as I watched one of the other waiters crawl army style out of the room. Mercifully, the party ended early after several guests were sent home for urinating on the party favors and throwing their underwear at passing cars.

It was around this time that I began plotting my escape. My last day wasn’t for another three weeks, and I figured the only way my parents would let me lay around on the beach like I wanted was if I sustained an injury of some sort. I wondered if I could throw myself down the stairs and break an ankle, and began hoping for something simpler that would keep me from being able to waitress.

I got my wish a week later.

On what turned out to be my last night, I was in charge of three tables of ten, and no one was making my job any easier. As I handed out lime-flavored intermezzo, one enormous woman with bright red hair grabbed my arm.

“Why am I gettin’ ice cream before I get my dinner?” she demanded, tightening her grip.

“It’s…it’s not ice cream. It’s intermezzo,” I said, trying to be helpful.

A blank stare.

“Intermezzo is –“

“I know what intermezzo is!” she snapped. Annoyed? Offended? Indignantly confused? “But why am I getting it now?”

By the time it came to hand out dessert, I was way behind the other servers. I figured that if I could get all three coffee pots out on one tray, something that usually took two trips, I could make up some of the lost time. I filled two large pots with freshly made coffee and one with boiling hot water for the tea no one ever drank, and put them on the tray. I walked quickly, and as I knelt to slide the tray onto the stand, the whole thing collapsed, sending the hot liquid back towards me in a flood of boiling doom.

Seconds later, I was wearing three pots of liquid awful. I was dripping. Steam was everywhere. Everything smelled like coffee. The Cha Cha Slide was still blaring through the room. Thirty people gaped at me in third-party embarrassment, and I felt like someone had lit me on fire.

Tina, one of the older waitresses, who was missing four of her teeth due to a crystal meth habit, grabbed me by the arm and led me into the bathroom.

“Strip,” she told me.

I obediently took off my vest (oh we had vests – this is a classy establishment), shirt, and the tank top I always wore under my uniform, despite the fact that there were other people in the bathroom. Tina pressed a wet paper towel to a section of skin just above my armpit. She excused herself to go get the burn cream, while I remained motionless, wondering if I had somehow willed this to happen.

I turned to face the mirror and made eye contact with one of the party guests. She looked me up and down, taking in my matted hair, coffee stained clothes, tear stained face, and my red, paper towel covered back. The entire bathroom smelled of freshly brewed coffee as she reapplied her lip gloss.

“Woohooo,” she grinned. “This is a great party. I’m going to sleep well tonight.”

With that, she turned and slipped out the door, leaving me alone. I guess I’m glad someone was having fun, but I was too busy being a total mess to be too happy for her.

Tina returned to report that we were out of burn cream. I wondered if things like this happened often, but didn’t really want to know the anwer. Since there was nothing left to be done, Tina sent me on my way with a handful of bandaids and a final parting thought.

“I hope it doesn’t scar,” she said.

As it turns out, my back did scar, even though my father rushed me to the emergency the moment I got home. (It’s pretty faded by now, though. Be careful what you wish for, kids!) I spent the rest of the summer working in a small law office. I answered phones and wore high heels, but still managed to spend an afternoon locked in the settled cases closet.

I did cruise on back to school in my very own (nine-year-old) car, so that was good. And, since then, bad days have become relative. After all, it can’t be too terrible if you escape the office without being maimed.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2011 3:42 pm

    you win! worst work story ever .

  2. Morgan permalink
    March 28, 2011 12:06 pm

    That was great. I had forgotten about Jason and the poster!

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