[Originally posted on Mar 28, 2012. This is the last entry of my most popular/favorite posts. Everything after this point is in actual posting chronology.]
[Note: * indicates a name change]
Upbeat Piano Music faded as the Friendly’s logo proudly remained, its image flickering oh-so-slightly due to VHS over-usage. Do I just sit here and wait? The screen went to snow. I looked around at the break area where I was placed. My first job. Well, my first real job after being the world’s worst papergirl…up until this point, I was forbidden from working. Due to a change of events and a change of heart by my parents, I was allowed to get a job and I desperately needed to save up money for college fast. Friendly’s was the only place in walking distance from my house that would take a chance on an inexperienced teenager, and I gladly accepted the job. Eventually, this is going to be a familiar place. I pictured myself sitting in the back room during breaks, drinking a cup of coffee and chatting with a co-worker. I pictured reading the memos and notes on the bulletin board, nodding knowingly at their message. I was going to be The Best. I was going to be the Tom Cruise Top Gun/Days of Thunder of waitressing.
As I looked at the bulletin board, one memo stood out. It talked about a per store statistic on the amount of food and supplies brought in versus the money the store brought in. Apparently our store was listed as the worst of all Friendly’s stores. Using indirect corporate-speak, the memo basically accused our store of stealing a bunch of shit. I looked around suspiciously. Thieves! Not on my watch, Mr. Friendly President.
“Ah, the video is all done!”
I turned around. My boss, John Thirkus* had a warm smile that balanced that fine line between James Stewart and To Catch a Predator. He was a man no younger than 50, balding, and he lived alone with his mother. I liked him.
He handed me a menu. “I’d like you to shadow Pete tonight. He’s really great with the customers and he’s been with us for a long time.”
“Great!” I was a little nervous. As I shadowed Pete and learned the ropes of Friendly’s waitressing, I was surprised at how much the waitress had to make for her customers: salads, Belgian fucking waffles (Wafflefest was a long month, dude), drinks (including milkshakes and Fribbles), and every single ice cream concoction on the menu. Making thier sundaes as designed was usually not so bad, but there are people on this earth who love to over-customize. For example, the Friendly’s Reeses Pieces Sunday consisted of 5 scoops of vanilla ice cream, ladles of chocolate, marshmallow, and uber-addictive peanut butter sauces, whipped cream, and a handful of Reeses for garnish. And yes, I believe I still know how to make all of the sundaes after all these years. Despite the perfect harmony achieved by the flavors carefully selected for this sundae, customers would often order like this: “can I get a Reeses Pieces Sundae with chocolate, cookie dough…um…peanut butter fudge…butter pecan…and…let’s see; I haven’t had black raspberry in a while, let’s go for that! Oh! And for the sauces, can I do peanut butter, pineapple and caramel?”
“And don’t cheap me out on Reeses Pieces like that waitress over there.”
“You got it.”
One of the first things I learned from Friendly’s was you must learn how to answer to multiple bosses and cater to their idiosyncrasies. For example, take cash handling. Thirkus instructed me to merely ring up, take the money, and give the customer their change. Frau Margaret*, the assistant manager, took issue with that. Frau Margaret was a German immigrant who had been in her 60s for the past 23 years. She was demanding and spoke in a thick German accent, so naturally, many of our culturally-sensitive customers and line staff referred to her as a nazi. Frau Margaret was a good person, she just was a royal pain in the keister. When she saw me handling a customer’s money at the register, she walked up and took the money from my hands. “No, no, no. Ven a customer geeves you ten, you leave it out on top of the cash box like thees, and geeve his change. If you don’t do thees, they vill lie and say they gave you a tventy. So you can say, ‘no, no! You gave me a ten! I have eet right here! Don’t try to pull a vast one, sir!'”
“Oh, okay!” I smiled as I gave the change to the fellow who was just told he was likely a con artist.
He grabbed the money from me and huffed. “Nazi…”
Of course, five minutes later, our other assistant manager, Josef*, watched my cash handling and shook his head. “What are you doing?”
I explained Frau Margaret’s con-busting technique. He sighed. “Don’t do that; it’s stupid and insulting. Besides, the money could blow away.” ?? We weren’t near a window.
About twenty minutes later, Frau Margaret saw me employing Josef’s technique. She took the cash out of my hands again. “What deed I tell you? Put the ten here.”
For sanity’s sake, future transactions were handled whatever way the nearest manager wanted. Of course, in less than a week, I discovered I had one less manager telling me what to do.
I came in to work on a Sunday to find the entire restaurant in shambles. Our ice cream window guy, a young man every Friendly’s patron in 90s-era Stamford accurately nicknamed “Urkel,” pulled me aside to explain. “Did you hear what happened to Mr. Thirkus?”
“His mom died, right?”
“No! Well, yeah, that happened too, but you won’t believe this! Apparently, the Friendly’s truck driver made his delivery early this morning, Mr. Thirkus signed off on it, and he – and all of our food – are nowhere to be found!”
I raised an eyebrow. Well, everyone grieves in their own way, I guess… “He stole an entire truck of food? How did that even fit in his car?”
Urkel raised his gangly arms above his head, as if a puppeteer tightened the strings. “I don’t know! But we are almost out of everything. No cookie dough!”
Oh, shit. No cookie dough ice cream? That’s like the scene in Airplane! where they say there’s no coffee. What a long damn day that was. We each fought each other to get the last scraps of everything for our tables and received extra-crappy tips. That night, I imagined Thirkus speeding down I-95 in his Caprice Classic, digging into a giant tub of half-melted cookie dough buckled into the passenger seat, blasting Cat Stevens while honking and screaming at passing semis, hamburger patties and hot dogs flying out of his windows at 68 miles per hour. Really, my day wasn’t all that bad…
Friendly’s corporate briefly sent in an emergency manager named Tina to help us. Tina was awesome and didn’t put up with anyone’s shit. It figures she was temporary. Our next manager was a beady-eyed go-getter squirrel named Phil Goldblum*. For Phil’s first week, he preferred to assist the line cook. He pulled a ticket off the carousel and groaned. “WHO is employee 742?”
My muscles tensed. “That’s me.”
He looked at my ticket. “Can you tell me what ‘K-HD’ is?”
A quick lesson in Friendly’s shorthand – each menu item had a designated shorthand we were expected to memorize, and if you have ever been in a Friendly’s, you’ll know that means we had about 845 menu items to learn. The “K” indicates a kid’s menu option. Thankfully, we only had four – Mac N Cheese (K-MAC), Hamburger (K-HAM), Grilled Cheese (K-CHEESE), and…
“Hot.Dog.” I made sure to emphasize each word so he got it.
He tossed the ticket on the counter. “It’s FRANK. Get it right next time.”
What an asshole.
In addition to constantly riding my ass for my Captain Obvious shorthand that everyone behind the counter understood except for him, Phil was a bit of a creeper. One day I was assigned hostessing duties for my shift. He smiled at me. “Why do you have your hair up?”
“Because Frau Margaret told me it’s unsanitary to wear your hair down in a dining establishment.” Really, dude?
He flipped my ponytail. “Forget her. Wear it down, it looks really pretty.”
Ugh. But, money. “Okay.”
Of course, five minutes later: “Fraulein! Vy is your hair down? Vee don’t vant blond locks een our patty melts!”
Jesus. Needless to say, I agreed with Frau and held my ground on any future ponytail debate.
Keep in mind, I was a very plain-looking high school senior. Yet, any eating establishment has its share of sex-crazed sleazers. I was known by several names: Babe, Honey, Cutie, Sexy, That Stupid White Girl…it was my first experience with that sort of thing, but I knew that’s how it was in the food industry. And, money. I’d usually just blow it off and act like a naive bumpkin. It worked sometimes. Other times?
Enter Sean Mulligan*. Unlike the other guys, who just liked referring to me with cutesy misogynist nicknames, Sean wanted a date. I was 18 and had no interest in a guy in his late 20s. I was really bad at saying “no” to people, and I’ll admit, it was wrong of me to not be direct. I wound up making a couple of high-octane bitch moves in my life because of this problem, but those stories are for another day.
On this day, Sean came up to me while I was making Happy Ending Sundaes for a table. “So, we should go to a movie together some time. It would be fun. What do you say?”
I smiled at him. “No, thank you; I don’t watch movies.”
He laughed. “You don’t? Everyone watches movies!”
“I like reading. Alone.”
We went about our sundae-making although he later cornered me near the kitchen. “Hey, since you don’t like movies, how about I pick you up and make dinner for you at my apartment. A couple of candles, some soft music…”
As sure as the sun is hot, my asshole brain inserted a mental image. Tiny apartment using cinder blocks for makeshift shelves and bookcases…two candles lit on a tiny table…food that’s a cross between marsala and Hungry-Man…a boom box, quietly playing “Is this Love” from Whitesnake…Sean in a button-down shirt, half unbuttoned to show a mildly hairless chest (hurrff!)…I panicked. “I…I don’t eat.”
Yes, I really said that. And no, he didn’t take the hint. I think I ultimately told him I just wasn’t into dating and it’s not you it’s me, and blah blah blah you’re 10 fucking years older than me, and please kindly leave me alone and let me talk to Urkel in peace, thanksmuch. But more giggly and evasive.
This was happening around the same time I realized Phil wasn’t paying me my credit card tips, and good ol’ Mark the Sunday Waiter was grabbing my lower hips every time he “brushed” by me. When you think Friendly’s you just don’t think Sausagefest, do you? Unless Sausagefest was a monthly promotion that came with a Happy Ending Sundae for just .99! What a deal!
After just a few months, I knew that I wanted a Happy Ending for myself. Not that kind, you sicko. And not the ice cream sundae kind (although I do love a Happy Ending with chocolate ice cream and that peanut butter sauce – yummers!). For one thing, I was leaving for college in a short amount of time. For another thing, I didn’t want to be like some of the good people I met there, who were so beaten down by the hard work and disrespect they encountered they forgot what it was like to expect more out of life. Sure, some people enjoyed it there. All of Sausagefest did, I’m pretty sure. A few waitresses liked it, too. But some people belonged in a better place, and I’m not sure they realized they deserved better. That’s what happens when you settle for too long – you give up a little bit each day. I didn’t want that for me – at least not at that point in my life.
I found a job paying less doing data entry and I put my two week notice in, although Phil wouldn’t accept the resignation. By that time, I stopped hating him (a few experiences where he was forced to work the floor miraculously made him tolerable), but he was still a little bit of a creeper. I agreed to stay on, and did my thing.
What was my “thing,” exactly?
I grabbed two gallons of peanut butter fudge ice cream on my way out and never stepped in that Friendly’s ever again. It was no Thirkus-style exit, but it was my little way of saying, “so long, you frank-eating, sausage-festing, Whitesnake-playing mother fuckers!” That? Was an acceptable happy ending for me.