September 2, 2013 by readlisaread
I’ve been lucky that I’ve never really been in a position where I had to take a demeaning or horrible job to keep the wolf from the door. Don’t get me wrong, I most certainly have had those jobs, but I didn’t have to choose between bad job and making rent. At the same time, I didn’t choose to become a teacher because I thought “Oh hai, that seems like it would be a lucrative job with good vacations!”. I teach because it’s what I do, what I was meant to do.
But there are times when I’d like to try something different, when I’d like to just show up for work and be told what to do. No thinking, planning, assessing, reporting….. just Doing. So the other night, I volunteered to help my friend at her restaurant. It, of course, becomes a story. Almost worthy of a spot on the Coincidence page… one of those stories.
I should note here that I have never, actually, worked as a server. I do have my Bartending Diploma but I’ve never worked as one other than for a few charity events. So there was a limit to the quality of help my friend could expect from me, but clearly she was desperate, for a look of grim despair greeted me when I arrived at the end of lunch service to find that not only was I going to help her get ready for the dinner event, but they hadn’t had a dishwasher all day, and the dirty dishes were piled high and wide. Slowly the pile diminished, and more slowly still I learned where dishes belonged and how to stack the cutlery and just how to store the racks of clean dishes. With no expectations, pressure to perform or fear of getting the sack, I performed any menial task I could, and when Chef barked out: “Who put this HERE!?” I happily confessed it was me, and smiled while apologising–after all, as I said to my friend, “You can’t fire me….”
Later, when there was some semblance of order in the kitchen again, I was promoted to prepping. First, I supremed a bag of grapefruit (a fancy word for fancily removing all peel and pith and producing clean, skinless segments of citrus), then I sliced some bread for the bread tower, moving on to holding Chef’s knife while she checked the lamb on the rotisserie (I did that wrong too, wielding it high over my head (after all, I’m taller than most people and figured this way everyone would see I was carrying a sharp blade. This got me barked at too, heeeee!). And finally, I helped serve. Appetizers, the Bread Tower (an enormous 3-tiered wrought iron bread organiser), delivering salads (got that wrong, too–one salad between two people, not one each– I thought they seemed kind of big), filling and refilling water glasses.
It was on one of my forays to a table that I realized one of the patrons was looking at me in a way that only a teacher knows–it’s a wistful, self-concious, dubious sort of expression, usually found on a young-adult’s face, a little embarrassed, a little excited… it’s the “Oh! I think that’s my Grade X/Y/Z teacher!”. And sure enough, as soon as I saw the look, I regarded her more carefully and realised I had taught her, near the beginning of my career, when she was attending a little rural school, in my grade 2 class. “Sam, isn’t it?” I say, and that peculiar, doubtful, nervous look is instantly replaced with a smile. As the memories of that year flood back in, I am able to pull up enough details to assure her I remember her well. “I got married here last month!” she tells me when we finish reminiscing about Grade 2. “Good grief!” I say, and then remember that as she was in grade 2 almost 20 years ago, she probably is old enough to be wed.
With back aching, feet screaming for mercy and heart warm with a day spent at honest work, the other servers thanked me for pitching in. “It was my pleasure!” I reply, “this is a fun job to do…… once a year.”
Even though my secret identity didn’t stay a secret, I enjoyed my brief career as a kitchen scivvy, probably as much for the luxury of being directed what to do and when as for the privilege of having my best efforts appreciated. How often do you see dishwashers smile like this:
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