Lately I’ve been looking for part-time/freelance writing gigs to supplement my income while I wait to start bigger jobs and projects. I’ll be the first to admit how lazy I am when it comes to looking for a job and how low my standards are when it comes to taking one. This past summer, I took a couple weeks after graduation to do nothing: be a bridesmaid, sleep ‘til noon every day, go on bike rides, get ice cream whenever.
I woke up at noon one day and decided I needed money. Not a full time job. Nothing involving what I thought of as my ‘future.’ Just money. So I put on a black skirt that I’d normally wear out to a bar and tugged it down to a more job-getting resting place, and I drove across the bridge to Pennsylvania to the restaurant that just hired my best friend’s teenage sister.
Nice restaurants in not-so-nice areas tend to over-compensate with their front of the house staff, it almost feels like they’re trying to say that they’ve sampled the local fare and put anything worth seeing right there in front of you. That sounds horrible because it is horrible, and that philosophy was what staffed the front house of the restaurant entirely with traditionally attractive females, save one bartender and the owner himself, who tended to post up at the bar whenever possible. The chefs, dishwashers and bar back were all male. The only dude to work at the host stand ended up coming into work high on cough syrup, so girl power continued to reign.
I was a hostess and glorified bus boy. It was my job to greet people, seat people, and clean up after those people. During the day, I wrote to-do lists on little scraps of paper and hid baguettes and salted butter in the top drawer of our stand. At night, we sat guests, bussed tables, barista’d strong coffees and cleaned up broken water glasses without ever pausing. Before we left every shift, we had to polish one hundred pieces of silverware—typical restaurant stuff, nothing difficult.
One of the chefs was a kid with a baby face who everyone called by his last name. He was shameless with hitting on the girls who worked there and bumping his age up by a few years—all to up his chances. A true Shawn from ‘Boy Meets World’ type, if you will, with a little bit more common sense. He would always invite on his smoke breaks, offer me food, talk shit about anyone I didn’t like and sometimes stop to talk to me while I polished out.
“So why are you here?” he asked me once while I tried to shine a steak knife without cutting off my nose. “You’re all smart and graduated, why are you here?”
I told him I wanted to be a writer, that I didn’t want to work yet, that I was going to move to California. Some stuff about what I’d studied in college. “Yeah, work is work.” He reached for the key to the back door and took it outside to go smoke.
I kept saying that I didn’t want to work yet, kept sitting on all the things I thought I knew, leaving them untested, useless to anyone, even to me. A teenage chef working at a restaurant told a wannabe 20-something writer working at a restaurant that “work is work.” It’s not enough to think you know a bunch of shit. You have to know what you’re working for: money, a career, improvement, whatever. Work is work.