I normally have a great job. I roll in around noon and I'm done by five. I'm adored by my coworkers and customers alike. I've been given a raise and more responsibility (though even at the "more" level, my responsibility is minimal).
Yesterday was the day I almost threw in the apron.
First I lugged eight cases of Pepsi around all by my sweaty self, filling the cooler inside and the soda machine outside. Then I was rather publically reprimanded for miscounting candy and giving a customer nearly twice what they'd paid for (penny candy is a pain in my ass and I'd shorted the store NEARLY A DOLLAR...).
Then I had the weirdest ice-cream-scooping "mess-up" ever. A man came into the restaurant around 4:30, just before I started wrapping things up for the day, and after the above incidents. He read the entire ice cream menu out-loud, to himself. Then he ordered, I swear to freaking Christ, a scoop of strawberry ice cream on a cone.
me: Sugar cone, or wafer cone?
him: waffle cone.
me: I'm sorry, we do not have waffle cones. Would you like sugar or wafer?
me: Pointy or flat-bottomed? (This simplification is required seventeen times a day.)
him: Uh, waffle.
So I fetch one scoop of strawberry ice cream and plop it on a wafer cone, and the man comments, "Wow, that's a big scoop!" And I think, "Great, I probably give too much ice cream away, too," while he pays, licks, and leaves.
A couple of minutes later, a woman with a cane sticks her head in the door and yells,
WHAT KIND OF ICE CREAM DID MY HUSBAND ORDER?
I reply: strawberry. She then yells,
...then withdraws her evil, wrinkly face and allows the door to slam... a personal pet peeve of mine.
Since I was already having a pretty miserable day, I decided not to chase her limping ass back out into the street and point out to her that I could make another cone for her husband and ask why, given several moments of prime opportunity, her husband hadn't pointed out to me that the PINK ice cream with GIANT CHUNKS OF STRAWBERRIES in it wasn't what he'd really, truly wanted, deep down inside. Because given the day I was having, I would have gladly dumped the first cone in the garbage and made another cone, with an EVEN BIGGER FREAKING SCOOP OF WHATEVER FLAVOR HE WANTED.
I've extended my hours at the store for these dog days, and in doing so I've annexed the back-from-the-beach crowd, the folks that carry their money, which stinks of crustacea and coconut oil, in Ziploc bags, tucked in the crevices afforded by bikini tops and half-soaked sarongs.
They stumble in, squinting at the dim light of the indoors, astounded, perhaps, by the fact that it is no cooler in here, and I give them what they need: cigarettes, candy, and above all else, ice cream.
There is a bruise on my right perimetric palm that comes from trying to start scooping from a new container of ice cream, one that has not yet reached proper excavation temperature. My technique is this: insert, press, lever. Rinse, repeat.
I have worried about my customers' sanity, the level-headedness of ordering a flavor like coconut pineapple, or peppermint. I want to tell them, "You don't really want this. Let me make you a vanilla cone. I think that is more your speed. We both know you aren't going to finish that dish of creamsicle."
Then there are the people who cannot read our menu. The novelty of a sandwich shop has blinded them to our few choices: turkey, ham, tuna, egg salad. They order "the salami," or they request provolone. We are a simple store; this is a simple town. They are too eager to leave our simplicity behind.
The worst part of the job is, undoubtedly, the penny candy. I say here, for the record, that Swedish Fish, Tootsie Rolls, and the little abominations known as Sour Patch Kids, were never meant to be sold individually. The third child of the day who requests my counting more than 10 of any of these gets an approximation. I always overshoot.
Today I discovered the greatest and most wonderful part of my job. It has nothing to do with smiling faces or tip money: it is the coffee slushee. To create this nectar: take one scoop of instant coffee, add a small amount of hot water and stir. Add milk to desired coffee-tint, and fill the remainder of the cup with the sugary frozen Slush Puppie base.
The pleasures of this job are aplenty, the sweat on my brow at the end of the day not the least of them, but there's nothing quite like caffeine, sugar, and ice all rolled into one free drink to put all kinds of things in perspective.
Cosmically speaking, after a year or so of dramatically lethargic unemployment, generally good health, miraculous financial stability, and, really, not un-decent weather, I suppose I'm due for a little upheaval.
It's ramping up again. Three kids in the water in a week of rowing should have been an omen. The return of my acid stomach and Marc's recent health-adventures might have had something cynical to say about all of this placidity. Ten straight days of rain and wool in June were yelling together: "Duck!"
I was calmly rearranging ice cream in the freezer yesterday afternoon, humming along to You Can't Always Get What You Want on the radio, considering whether to have an egg-salad sandwich when the store emptied out following Lunch, when I was jolted alert by a scream from behind me. It was not a ohmygodhowhaveyoubeen scream, either. This was a full blown, mommywhat'swrongwithyou scream. I turned around, and the woman sitting at the counter with her five-year-old daughter, the little girl who just graduated from Kindergarten and then let out an ear-piercing end-of-innocence scream, this woman, she appeared to be having a seizure.
And I was, reluctantly, in charge.
Suddenly I was transformed into feigning-confidence superwaitress. I was delegating calling 911 to the cook. I was sending a customer next-door for her brother, the EMT. I was grabbing the horrified child as her mother involuntarily stiffened against her.
After five long minutes, the police arrived, and my brush with confidence and competence came to an end.
And later, in this small town of a couple hundred, I became the town-appointed gossip, as seemingly each and every resident felt compelled to stop by or call to see what all the fuss was about. By fuss, I mean three ambulances and two police cruisers, and when the emergency vehicles outside outnumber the booths inside, you know you've got big trouble in a little town.
I set a new low for tips earned yesterday, last night I stepped in a puddle while wearing my new shoes, and I'm considering donning a helmet for today's shift.
I went to work today for the first time since March 1, 2002.
I'm not counting the nursery school as work, and I'm not counting coaching. I worked at the school to help my mother-in-law, and because I couldn't resist the smiling faces of twenty-seven three- and four-year-olds. I'm coaching for the love of rowing, or, if you prefer, in exchange for being coached myself.
I worked for three hours at minimum wage plus tips. Minimum wage is $2.20 higher than last time I worked at this rate, which still feels like it rocks, despite being paid far more in between. I don't think there's ever been summer help with my tax filing status, ever.
I made $6.77 in tips, and that includes one guy who tipped me a quarter just for getting him a cup of coffee. I sell candy to kids, lunches to ladies who lunch, tuna to just about everyone, and coffee to people who like to talk about the weather.
The floor is black and white checkered. There's a jukebox. I must always wear socks. I wipe down the counter. I make milkshakes in a metal cup on an old immersion blender. 90 percent of my customers were regulars.
Somehow, I have been hired to work in 1955. This summer is going to rule.