I applied to work as a country club waitress in college not because I was unemployed but because I grew up poor. That means that until I was way too old and way too educated (so, now), I would see a “hiring” sign and think, Oh, a job. I should have more of those because jobs = money = security, even though sometimes more jobs =/= happiness.
Also, when a local restaurant has a “servers wanted” ad in the campus newspaper every single day, it might be a clue that it’s a horrible place to work.
I was called in for an interview the same day I dropped off my resume, and then I was hired on the spot. The stern, white-haired Austrian who ran the place, Mr. Mauk (pronounced, no joke, MOCK), came up to my boobs but refrained from staring at them. Instead of ridiculing my obsessive overachieving, he agreed to work around my other part-time jobs and overloaded class schedule. So far, so good.
Then he handed me my uniform, a humiliating pilgrim-meets-French maid costume I’d have to wear along with sensible black shoes and hosiery. The only woman I knew who wore hose was my mother, control top nylons that come in those weird plastic eggs inside what look like single-serving cardboard milk cartons.
Warning bells yet? Nah. I was 20, and it was another paycheck.
My second day on the job, while eating the “employee meal” of non-menu food like couscous and steak fries that the kitchen prepared for staff, I caught one of the tenured waitresses smirking at me as I chewed some wilted iceberg salad.
“So he hasn’t yelled at you yet?” she asked rhetorically.
Mr. Mauk, I’d quickly discovered, had a reputation for being batshit crazy and full on screaming at his staff in front of the small town golfing enthusiast crowd. I’d seen his tirades, but strangely, I wasn’t perturbed. So far, he’d left me alone.
“Hell no,” I shot back, probably sounding a little bit too much like Napoleon Dynamite. Her smug smile grew wider. “He will,” she said as if it was a threat. “Most people don’t last two weeks.” I wondered how deranged she had to be to have kept the job so long.
“I don’t go along with being yelled at,” I rambled on defiantly to my possibly insane co-worker. “He can yell at me, and then I’ll walk out.”
Since I didn’t need the gig, I thought I could be all I don’t care about this stupid job, which was true but also made me sort of an asshole. Just because I had three other jobs didn’t mean everyone else there could just leave. Anyway, all the assembled servers thought the whole exchange was pretty amusing. And at that point, I thought I had more than two days before my time was up.
During my third shift the next afternoon, I was running around picking up after some banking professionals’ buffet when I did the unthinkable. (Did you know banqueting bankers are messy? Christ, they’re the worst.) Desperately trying to buss the crap left in their wake, I crammed some cloth napkins into wine glasses and started stacking them precariously on one of those giant brown plastic trays. That’s when I heard him behind me.
It’s happening, I thought before I fully registered what he was saying. I’d never been screamed at in front of a room of people before. I looked around as if I was underwater, not fully hearing his melodramatic shrieks, people seemingly moving in slow motion around me as they stepped aside to let the drama unfold.
“WHAT the FUCK are you DOING?!” he bellowed. Now fully in the moment, I looked at Mr. Mauk, then glanced around the room again. In reality, the sloppy-ass bankers weren’t even looking up. Hell, they weren’t even averting their eyes. They just didn’t seem to register that their host had become unhinged over some cocktail napkins and dirty dishes.
“HOW COULD YOU BE SO STUPID?!?!”
He hurled epithets as tears welled up in my eyes. I just stood there, completely frozen. Why is he doing this? I kept asking myself. Not unlike being catcalled by some filthy-minded creeps and being temporarily stunned into silence, I like to think that if I’d been aware enough of what was happening, I’d have just thrown the tray and its contents at him or smacked him over the head with it.
But no. It never works like that.
After being called an idiot a handful of times, I finally figured out that he was screaming because used cloth napkins should never be put inside wine glasses for transport. Huh.
And then, as quickly as he’d launched into his rampage, he stopped shouting and walked away. Horrified that I’d just stood there, I stumbled into the kitchen, tears dangerously blurring my vision. A cook glanced up and nodded as if he’d been waiting for that evening’s humiliated young woman walk of shame.
How is this normal and legal? I thought. Is there something wrong with this man, with these people? Why is everyone acting like screeching at someone for no reason is totally fucking cool?
Somehow I finished my shift. I drove home in a fury that night and vowed I wouldn’t return. When I called in before the next shift, Mr. Mauk’s secretary answered.
“I won’t be coming back,” I blurted out.
She seemed nonplussed. “You have to return your uniform to collect your paycheck,” she recited as if she had this conversation daily.
The check in question was probably worth $42, but at the time, I lived in a Midwestern college town and had a roommate. That was something like 1/6 of my rent. Also, I should at least get paid for being screamed at by a diminutive sociopath.
“Dan, what the fuck do I do?” I whined to my BFF/roommate. “I don’t want to go back there.”
Dan looked up from his cross-stitching thoughtfully. “Hang on,” he said, grabbing the dress and running into his bedroom.
“Don’t ruin it!” I pleaded. “What are you dooooing in there?! I need to take it back! You owe me $42!”
A minute later, my 6’2” newly bleach-blond pal emerged wearing the hideous smock. (It should be noted that I’d seen Dan in a skirt at Pride before. Still, nothing like this.)
“Take a photo!” he enthused. “Leave it in the apron when you return it!”
The next day, after a run to Walgreen’s for a photo print, I picked up my check the picture stealthily tucked inside the uniform apron pocket. I’m not sure who eventually found it -- my intemperate former employer or my hapless replacement -- but I like to think it was seen as a cautionary sign to either or both of them, discovered long after I’d cashed my $42 check.
*As always, excellent pranks involve my friend Dan.