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Teenaged Job Blues

Updated on May 1, 2009

A Cynical Look Back at My Teenaged Years Working Bad Jobs


I’ve had many jobs over the years just like everyone else. Most involved some sort of trauma to my self esteem in one way or another and nearly all of them sucked the life right out of me. I’d recently been thinking about all the awful jobs I had during my teenage years and how this horrific pattern seems to continue thoughout my adult life.

My first real job opportunity came upon me at the age of 15, in summer 1981, when I lived on Ft. Myers Beach in south Florida. My uncle owned a beach resort a few miles from where my mother and I lived and offered me a job as a maid. I hate that word maid. When you hear the word, it makes you picture a maid uniform and a big cart with all sorts of cleaners and rags hanging off the sides. That wasn’t me at all. We didn’t have to push carts around and we were sort of lax about the whole idea of cleaning rich snowbirds’ rooms. I worked with 2 sisters from South Africa, one who was 17 and one who was in her early 20’s. It was actually a pretty fun job working on the beach even if I did have to pick up pubic hairs out of the bathrooms.

Each room had a selection of paperbacks which the resort kept for the guests. I’d often sneak one or two out to read when we had some time to goof off. Sometimes while we were doing laundry, we’d sit around and play those word games while waiting for the washer to go into its spasmodic spin cycle. Lori, the woman in her early 20’s and her sister, Erin, used to tell me tales of their wild nights hanging out at a local bar called The Reef. At the age of 15, I had absolutely no interest in sneaking into bars and getting wasted, flirting with dirty old wrinkled up beach bums. But the stories they told me were pretty funny.

There were a few perks to cleaning up after the slob tourists had left. Several times I’d find pot seeds in the drawers. I had an idea that I would plant some just to see if they’d actually grow, but never got around to it. The guests would often leave leftover food in the fridge when they left to go back up north, so we’d get the leftover food. Of course, we never ate anything that was already opened. Other times we’d find money. Never more than a few dollars but it was enough to buy some Cokes if we needed some.

Some of the tourists were real slobs and left us disgusting messes to clean up. This made me feel like I was their slave or servant. Hey, you, Florida cracker, come clean up after my slovenly ways, would ya? While no one actually came out and said that, sometimes I felt like they’d said it anyway. One time while cleaning a toilet, I found blood on it which I had to scrub off while gagging. Pubic hairs were the worst. They were everywhere and I had to make sure I cleaned all of them out of the shower. Once in awhile, we’d get a complaint from a renter that their shower had mold on the tiles or that something wasn’t right and then we’d get in trouble. So I’d vent about them in the laundry room and wish out loud they’d go back up north. I’d shoot birds at them when they weren’t looking. It made me feel better. After all, I was a teenager.

By the end of that summer, I’d earned enough money to get me a moped. I really wanted one so I could cruise up and down the beach instead of riding my bike. My mother wisely told me I couldn’t get one. Of course, at that age, I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t let me have one. There went my idea of cruising and ogling the tanned guys on the beach.

Four weeks later, I was back at high school, learning the Catholic ways and dealing with crabby nuns and getting terrible crushes on very cute boys. I unfortunately also got in a lot of trouble and often had detention after school.

I wasn’t forced to get another job until right after I graduated from high school. I’d put off finding a job until my father just couldn’t take it any more. He threatened to kick me out unless I found one. I hated looking for jobs more than anything else in my life, except living with my father. Naturally, since I had very little job experience and was fresh out of high school, I searched for a restaurant job. I learned that the main point of restaurant jobs was to kiss much ass, whether it was the boss’ ass or the customers. Oh did I come to hate some of the customers.

One of my first restaurant jobs was at The Creamery. It was supposed to be an old timey ice cream parlor but they also sold sandwiches. I was no waitress type but that’s what I had to pretend to be. I was forced to wear a green gingham checked smock and had to put my hair in a hairnet, just like those old ladies with large moles and hairs growing out of them did in our high school lunchroom. A hairnet! Feh! I felt so ugly and miserable in this pathetic outfit. I hated the customers and I hated my job. I also loathed the way I was forced to dress. For two or three weeks I endured this getup. When you served the ice cream desserts, you had to carry them on one of those round trays and I was always afraid I’d spill the whole thing and cause a great big mess. Looking back now, I think it would have been interesting to see someone get ice cream on their lap.

One time while serving a family their desserts, my smock got a little too close to one of the whipped cream toppings which landed on my uniform. The girl noticed that my smock had touched her dessert and got this open mouthed expression of disgust on her face. I ignored her and just put their desserts on the table, pretending I didn’t notice that my uniform had touched her whipped cream and other delights. I secretly hoped she wouldn’t mention that I’d accidentally gotten my blouse in her dessert. Another time, while making a dessert, I had to get a brownie out for a customer and I grabbed it with my bare hands and plopped it on the plate. The customer never saw me do this and I wouldn’t have cared anyway. I knew I wasn’t supposed to touch it with my hands but I hated my job so much I didn’t care. One of the bosses saw me and told me I was supposed to use a wax tissue. I knew this already. A day or two later I quit by making a lame excuse.

But then, I had a problem. I was supposed to find a job and I did and now I quit it. My father would kill me. So I had to go out and pound the pavement again. This time I got another bad restaurant job at a place called Cisco’s. They served “Mexican” food. They hired me at a training wage of $2.80 an hour. I worked for the next 3 months there at that same training wage.

My “training” consisted of washing dishes all night long. I washed trays, silverware, giant pots and pans, metal sour cream dispensers, ashtrays, you name it. I also had to clean the bathrooms and flip urinal cakes for $2.80 an hour. Another “fun” job I had to do was to go through the buckets of beans to make sure there were no rocks in with them.

I thought it was illegal to get paid this below minimum wage rate but they called it a training wage and got away with it. The managers said I’d only be at the training wage for 2 weeks. They lied. I was supposed to move up to making the authentic Mexican food but they rarely let me. Instead, they kept me in the back, washing dishes endlessly in a pile of greasy dishwater while being forced to listen to hilariously bad country music over a loudspeaker. Once in awhile, they’d let me up front to make a few burritos. The managers wanted the burritos made a certain way where you spread the refried beans on as you quickly turn the tortilla in a circle. I wanted to be up front more and get away from the ever increasing mound of dishes that piled up around me. I needed to practice so I could make their cremated food faster but I rarely got the chance. Nope, they kept me in the back so they could get away with paying me $2.80 an hour.

The only way I could annoy the customers in this job was to yell out their order number in the microphone as loud as I could get away with. The people up front near me would flinch as I’d yell, “NUMBER 11, NUMBER 11! YOUR ORDER IS READY.” All the while I’d pretend I didn’t notice that this was annoying all the customers in the restaurant.

One night as they were making the schedule, they told me they were giving me zero hours for the next week. I didn’t understand why so they explained that it was because I wasn’t making the food fast enough. Well of course I wasn’t because they rarely let me up there long enough to get proficient in the art of making authentic Mexican food. So, I quit Cisco’s and joined the ranks of the unemployed once again.

For some reason, I didn’t learn my lesson from the previous two crappy restaurant jobs I’d experienced, and went out plunging again into the evil world of working in the service industry. This time, a new steakhouse was opening called Bryan’s. This is where I perfected the fine art of completely hating rude, demanding people, especially those of the Christian faith. I went from making $2.80 an hour to making minimum wage, which in 1984, was $3.35 an hour. What is it about steakhouses and places with buffets that makes rude fundamentalists flock to them in droves? Little did I know how much these religious folks would take over our steakhouse!

I should have been forewarned when I found out that the owners of Bryan’s were devout Christians. The day before the store was to open, the owners had a meeting with us unsuspecting employees. They gave us the lowdown on the operations and then proceeded to bless the restaurant by praying and speaking in tongues! I was so shocked and looked wide eyed at the other employees in disbelief. They stared back at me with the same astonished look. Was I in a church or a restaurant? I grew up Catholic and had never experienced anything like this before. I wanted to laugh but figured I’d better just stay quiet. I needed this job to pay for my college.

I started off there working on the “line” which was where the customers got their trays and placed their orders. I asked repeatedly for the next 8 months, “Sour cream and butter? Baked potato or french fries? How would you like your steak cooked?” Indecisive customers would stand there for what seemed like 15 minutes before they decided what they wanted to eat and drink. Or they’d make unrealistic demands such as, “I want the T-bone steak cooked WELL done.” Once in awhile a customer would want a free salad plate for their kid and not want to pay for it, claiming, "My kid hardly eats anything at all....”

Sundays at 12 p.m. were the absolute worst. Every Christian from what seemed like every church within 5 square miles would point their Christian soldier toes onward as they waited in a line that stretched all the way outside to eat their after sermon lunch. Old grouchy men and women, Mennonites, sophisticated black ladies with the biggest hats I ever did see and unrealistically charismatic young families would trample in and for the next hour, it would be a mad rush. I found I had a talent. I could write fast and shuffle budget-minded munchers through the line while my fellow partner would get their drinks. I wouldn’t let anyone take the customers’ orders but me on Sundays because they were just too slow. I was a line worker on speed! Nobody could stop me once I launched into this trance of asking the same questions regurgitated over ad nauseam.

Unfortunately, in a brave move devoted to survival of my college education, I decided to try my hand at waitressing again. I needed more than $3.35 an hour and that was my ticket to the “big time” out on the floor. Now I’d get to serve the eaters, not just take their orders. Now I could spit in their food and drop it on the floor and step on it if I knew they were regular customers and didn’t leave tips! I could wear my Ozzy Osbourne upside down cross and satanic earrings! Or, I could just behave myself and kiss their butts which is what I actually did. As anyone who has worked as a food server knows, religious people seem to be the worst tippers. If they do leave any money, it’s usually a dollar bill wrapped up inside a religious tract.

I grew to resent them when I saw the regulars on Sundays. Oh no, here comes Mr. Johnson and his demanding old coot who always wants us to “...heat up her soup for her because it’s too cold and always wants a booth, not a table and her coffee cup must be full at all times and bring her extra sour cream and butter on her baked potato and can you go in the back and see if you have any more fresh cantaloupe--this cantaloupe is too soft.”

What gave me nightmares was when people would come try to eat 10 minutes before we closed. We’d see a vanload of them pull up and one of us would run and turn off the open light and say we were already closed, refusing to let them in. Could you blame us? One night this happened right after we had cleaned up the back room and closed it for the night. In came a vanload of people and kids and where did they demand to sit? In the back room we’d already closed and cleaned up for the night! Oh no! After they left, it looked like a food tornado had swept through the back room, so we spent the next half hour digging up food out of the carpet.

Saturday mornings were also unusual. Bryan’s became a church steakhouse of sorts when a group of older women started reserving the back room for their prayer meetings. They’d bring in an organ and sing loudly and fall down and shake and speak in tongues. We’d peek through the knot holes in the wooden walls that enclosed our waitress station at them and giggle in amazement. Some customers would complain that those women were too loud. I agreed though I couldn’t do anything about it but gawk at their strange rituals. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

At one point, we were plagued with an invasion of mice but couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. Around one booth, it smelled like something had died. We looked underneath and found a decomposed mouse. After the restaurant closed, we found a mouse’s nest under another booth. It was horrible and some of the waitresses were running around screaming, jumping on the booths trying to get away from these poor little scared mice. I was laughing so hard at the way some of them were reacting that I nearly used the restroom in my pants.

The restaurant also had an intercom system in the office and we’d go in there and sing bad songs over the intercom or say stupid things, making disgusting noises in the mic. Or I’d yell, “All right you friggin’ customers, get the hell out now!” but of course I’d wait until there were no customers in the restaurant unless they were people we knew and then they’d laugh at us. Or we'd go over to their tables and tell them to move their feet so we could sweep under them. These were our favorite customers and they knew we were teasing them. They got a big kick out of our amateur comedy night.

Although the some of the customers made me miserable, I still managed to have good times there until it closed down a year and a half later and we all lost our jobs. There were many times I laughed so much I had tears in my eyes, and other times that I just wanted to run to the cooler and cry my eyes out. That restaurant was doomed from the beginning. It was badly managed and half the time I don’t even know how we got anything done.

Those are just a few of the dozens of jobs I’ve had that have made me the misanthropic trollop that I am today.


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