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Five O'Clock World
For Fun Friday, share your shitty work stories!
Hey, here’s a good one for Fun Friday: What’s an extraordinarily lousy job experience you had?
I stress “extraordinarily” because I assume most of us have had lousy jobs — jobs where the work sucked, the people sucked, the pay sucked, etc. But if you’re the kind of person who has had lousy jobs — that is, if you’re not the kind of golden child who was shovel-passed from a good school to a good job and on to a steady skyward climb on the success express — you have probably had the usual kind of shit jobs and, then, you’ve had the really shit jobs.
Or a particularly bad experience on a shit job, or related to the life of a shit-job holder. Like this:
I worked in restaurants in my early New York days. Some of these jobs weren’t half bad — my two years bussing tables at the Crystal Fountain at the Grand Hyatt on 42nd Street (Donald Trump, proprietor!), for example, was definitely very hard physical labor — we really spun those fucking tables — but also a union job and therefore relatively well-compensated. My other gigs weren’t so hot but I was too young and dumb to know or care much; I’ll have to tell you sometime about my tenure as a waiter at Daly’s Daffodil, a slowly dying Upper East Side joint owned by Skitch Henderson and managed by some of his less talented cronies, or as a busboy at a Soho dump where one night mobsters wrecked the joint and hit me with a chair. I didn’t make a lot on these jobs (and I didn’t deserve to!) but they were, let us say, colorful.
I was often between engagements — another way to put it was that I just couldn’t hold a job — and when funds got low, since I had restaurant experience, I would scan the want ads for another restaurant gig. These usually sucked, financially and just as a general proposition, and I didn’t stick with them long, and often I didn’t give notice. But it was a high-churn business and I figured the coked-up assholes who usually managed these enterprises weren’t going to call up to get references for a busboy who probably wouldn’t be around long anyway, so I could slide in and out. In some ways life’s easier when you don’t give a shit.
One of these places was called the Beanstalk — the Rockefeller Center outlet of a Long Island restaurant that served low-impact vegetarian food to health-conscious diners. I have found a New York Times review, which bestowed faint praise on their Woodbury branch’s “pasta made from spinach and artichokes... yogurt and Tofutti (a nondairy frozen dessert made from tofu) are served in place of ice cream and on the back of the menu diners are assured that the food contains no preservatives...”
So it was basically mass-market Moosewood, cooked in vats and served on nice plates in a classy but completely antiseptic room to the kind of people who could pay more than McDonald’s prices for lunch — you know, snooty business drags who thought they were hip. (One time I actually saw a “if the service had been better the tip would have been bigger” card left on a table.) Here’s the menu. Yes, they actually had a section called “Quiche and Tell.”
Anyway, I got a lunchtime busboy gig there. It was rapid-fire and there was a lot of sidework, including cleaning the frozen yogurt machine — in fact it seemed like I spent as much time doing chores as I spent on the floor, which mean half my time was straight “tipped minimum wage,” around a buck fifteen if I recall aright. And the tips from the waiters, they were not generous.
So as soon as I paid that month’s rent, I quit. I don’t remember what kind of notice, if any, I gave. Soon enough I got some other job — now let’s see, what was it — maybe as a messenger? Or temp work as a “light typist”? Eventually I was jobless again, and this time another position wasn’t so easy to find. Don’t recall whether it was a business cycle thing or the first stirrings of the new way of life where even busboys and messengers had to tighten up their shit. Whatever it was, I soon ran short of funds — and I mean hide-from-the-landlord short.
One day I saw that the Beanstalk was hiring — not for floor staff (which, I really think, I wouldn’t have gone for, broke as I was) but for people to stand outside the restaurant dressed as vegetables — in foam suits representing tomatoes and celery stalks — and hand out flyers at the lunchtime. The pay was dismal but I was strapped. So I shaved and put on clean clothes and waited in line while some fancy lady speed-interviewed other losers. You didn’t take CVs to interviews like these — I didn’t anyway — but I knew enough to leave my previous Beanstalk tenure off the experience section of the application.
But about thirty seconds into the interview the lady squinted at me and said, “Wait a minute. Have you worked here before?” This caught me so flat-footed that, rather than brass it out, I admitted I had.
“No,” she told me. “We’re not going to hire you. You were a terrible busboy.”
I don’t know what I said. I may not have said anything. Perhaps I mentioned that I had once worked at the Grand Hyatt, for Donald Trump. I walked out of the restaurant and onto the sidewalk and sat on a low wall and stared vacantly at passers-by. I had tried, and failed, to get a job handing out flyers in a tomato suit. Not for the last time in my life, I knew I had hit rock bottom.
How about you?