Most people who live in New York City can't afford to do anything. It's true, especially if you are a struggling artist, in which case you'll probably work three jobs to make rent. If you aren't an artist, then you have made good life choices. (Good for you! Teach me your ways.)
I didn't have the opportunity to go to college after I received my GED, but I never saw that as something that would necessarily hinder me as a person.
I quickly learned, though, that if you don't have that piece of paper that says you have gained some form of higher education, chances are you'll be deemed uneducated by society's standards. Therefore, getting a job I am really passionate about is difficult. People don't think I'm smart enough to do the jobs I know I can do well, college diploma or not.
At 19, when I entered the adult world and attempted to pursue a career in the arts, I was faced with the ugly truth. I could only get hired to work service jobs. I didn't lose hope, though, because this is the case for many people. Many people, college graduates included, have had the pleasure of working a job in the service industry while seeking their dream job, and it is nothing to look down upon; I do want to make that clear.
However, it is a very, very, very hard kind of work.
Despite the inherent difficulties, I think everyone should work in the service industry at some point in their lives because you're bound to learn a lot. Mainly, it really teaches you about people and the kind of people that exist in the world. It also teaches you about yourself and the kind of person that you are. Basically, it helps you figure out if you are an asshole or not.
I have always been a pretty shy person and have never really stood up for myself. I was always too busy trying to be liked. I didn't learn until recently that I didn't need to be liked, and I have my mostly thankless job in the service industry to thank for that. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning:
When I began my job search, I was excited! This abruptly changed when, while searching on Craigslist for open calls, I kept coming across phrases like "Must be Attractive" and "Bubbly Girls Only." I came to realise that how I looked meant a lot, and if I did get a job it meant that I was attractive. This troubling belief held up because I had no experience on my résumé when I went in for my first interview and the owner hired me on the spot. Before I was sent to train at the restaurant later that evening, the manager who hired me said:
"Look like you are going out. Look good."
My initial inclination was to put jeans and a T-shirt. I had gone out in public dressed exactly this way before and nobody had recoiled from my appearance. But what my manager had meant was look sexy. To be honest, looking sexy also made me reach for jeans and a T-shirt. As a result, I was frequently reprimanded about my attire at work.
I never understood that.
I was just a hostess. I was just sitting people at tables to eat food that cost way too much money. Why did the amount of makeup on my face and the amount of sparkle from my jewelry matter? The truth is, though, that it did matter. It mattered because I was hired to be eye candy. I would have found the whole thing utterly acceptable if I hadn't gotten comments like these over the next few years:
"I like my hostesses to look the way I want my restaurant to look: good."
"Always look nice, but keep your eyes on the floor."
Don't get me wrong, my hostess job was a perfect fit for my pursuit of the arts. I could get as many days off as I wanted as long as someone else was there to cover me. We also went through a few managers over the two and a half years that I worked there, and one of them actually treated me with respect. This particular manager asked me how I was every day. He didn't treat medical conditions like migraines like a joke. He made eye contact with employees, knew all of our names, and built a rapport with us. When he left, everyone, including the miserable dishwasher who made it a point to never interact with anyone, shared a moment of silence.
Working in the service industry sucks mainly because of the people whom you serve. I've had customers call me names and demean me because we no longer offered a certain dish. If anyone ever had a wait for a table, I was to blame for it. I had men who were regulars flirt with me and put their hands on my hips to slide money into my pants pockets. Once I slapped a customer's hand away, and I never got a tip again.
I was capable of handling all of it, though, until we got my last manager. He was the dumbest person I have ever met but was convinced he was brilliant. He treated staff like we were his slaves. Not once did he create a team environment, and when a shift got busy, he would retreat into his big old office and hide until the rush was over, leaving us to fend for ourselves.
One day, a few months ago, I went into work knowing that I was probably going to quit. We've all been there. I was done. At the time, I was working two jobs, seven days a week. I was tired, hungry, and longing for a day off. But I came into work that day like any other day. I clocked in and went about my daily activities (which meant lighting a thousand candles and placing them on the tables).
My manager greeted me with "You might want to fix your hair" and a cruel laugh. I laughed in response to prevent myself from saying the good ol' "go fuck yourself."
The shift continued normally, and I dealt with lots of pushy customers who thought that yelling at me would get food into their mouths faster. Around midway through my shift, I walked over to a table of four to let them know we had a reservation arriving in a few minutes and I would be more than happy to move them to another table where there would be no time constraints. They had been about 20 minutes late for their reservation, and I had let them know we would probably need to move them to another table during dessert.
I didn't think I said anything wrong, but the customers thought differently.
"You need to cook our food faster, and our servant is taking forever."
Yes, they said servant. I just walked away.
I called my manager in the office where he had been hiding and told him I needed him to come upstairs. He immediately came upstairs to scold my coworker, telling him to stop messing around and to work faster. This infuriated me. My coworker had been sweating and running around, without even a bathroom break, for over an hour. I started giving my manager attitude. I couldn't help it. He noticed and decided to tell me I wasn't doing my job. He told me I shouldn't have asked those people to move or even spoken to them at all.
He proceeded to scold me at the front of the house, in front of customers, about how I shouldn't have an attitude. I told him that I heard his concerns and that if he wanted to talk to me, he could talk to me in the office after my shift was over, which was the professional thing to do.
I proceeded to go about my job with a lot of pent-up anger boiling visibly just below the surface, but I didn't care. I was so angry that he felt he had the right to scold me. I knew something big was coming. After about 10 minutes, my manager approached me again.
"You know what? I don't need your attitude, so you should just go home."
I responded in an instant.
"OK, actually I quit, go fuck yourself." The adrenaline was insane! In that moment, I was Beyoncé! After working at this job for two and a half years, I had never been sent home or even reprimanded.
The rest is a blur, but I do remember my manager telling me that I couldn't go to office to get my belongings alone because I could "break something" and to make sure I had clocked out. I was so far ahead of him. I was free, and I had taken a roll of toilet paper! As soon I left the restaurant, I was a mess, crying hysterically and calling my boyfriend and mother at the same time. At the same time, I felt great and powerful.
I knew I had done the right thing. I didn't feel like I was invincible. What I felt was secure and grounded. I respected myself enough to leave a job that was making me miserable. I definitely have always identified as a feminist, but it wasn't until that moment that I was a feminist in practice. It felt damn good.