“Mama, what was your toughest job?” Cole asked one day.
He’s heard his dad talk about construction work, hard physical labor where there were not many funny stories or warm experiences other than the time his pants caught fire.
Out of my myriad of jobs – and there’s been plenty – one in particular stood out.
It was not the time I sold cemetery plots, although that was not much fun. It’s kind of depressing to talk about death and dying all day.
The hardest wasn’t even when I was a telemarketer even though “dialing and smiling” is not as easy as it sounds. And that was during the time you could really hang up on someone and not just quietly push a button.
Probably the most difficult job I ever had was being a waitress.
Somehow, I heard that the Chinese restaurant was needing a waitress and they must have been desperate because they hired me.
Or maybe I didn’t seem like a disaster walking at the time I spoke to the owner; whatever it was, she hired me on the spot and told me to be there that Friday night.
I was excited.
I just knew I was going to make so much in tips that I was going to be able to buy a real radio for my car – instead of driving around with a boom box in the passenger seat.
I had never been a waitress before, but how hard could it be taking a tray to a table loaded with Cokes?
Or balancing said tray while you dumped the rice in the soup for Sizzlin’ Rice Soup?
It was just taking food and drinks to a table.
After the first night, I was never so thankful to see Granny’s Chevette sitting outside when I walked out.
I crawled in the back and I think I cried.
“What’s the matter?” she asked. “Did you get fired on your first night?”
“No,” I whimpered. “People wanted me to bring them stuff!”
My grandfather snorted.
“Yeah, well, that’s what a waitress does – you take them stuff.”
“But they were mean and rude and not one said thank you!”
Not that thanks was in order; remember the soup?
Yeah…I spilled sizzlin’ hot soup on some folks.
I am pretty sure Ms. Judy gave them their meal free.
“Did you make any tips?” Pop asked.
I think it was mostly people were in such a hurry to get out of there, they just threw whatever was in their wallet on the table.
I was too tired and upset to eat my egg rolls.
Somehow, I managed to keep that job for a brief while, even though I actually had people come in and request any table but mine. One evening, I was the only one waiting tables, so the couple ordered their food to go.
Another evening, a couple wanted a Pu Pu Platter.
I talked them out of it when I explained me bringing them something that was actually on fire was far too risky for everyone in the restaurant.
I also cautioned them about soup – the lady really did have on a pretty blouse and I didn’t want to ruin it with Egg Drop.
I think they settled on something safe like fried rice and a side of wontons.
Eventually, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I was a klutz and a horrible waitress.
Seeing people watch me in horror was not my idea of how to spend my weekends.
No matter how lame it was to ride around, cruising the Piggly Wiggly without a real stereo, I had to quit.
I didn’t want to let Ms. Judy down.
I was the only waitress she had besides her two teen sons who weren’t always able to help.
Ms. Judy needed me.
I was going to give her a proper two weeks’ notice to find someone.
Ms. Judy took it a lot better than I thought.
“Thank God, I don’t have to fire you!” she exclaimed.
When I told her I would work a notice, she opened the register and handed me a twenty.
“It’s what you would have made in tips tonight,” she explained, insisting – make that pleaded – I not work a notice.
I am sure she actually came out ahead, given the fact she didn’t have to give customers free meals.
It was one of the hardest, most physically demanding jobs I have ever had.
I was terrible at it and knew it.
Dealing with the public is tough, too.
Anyone that deals with the public on any service level probably can attest to that – some folks are impossible to make happy, no matter what.
Some people just have a sour attitude and no amount of Kung Pao Chicken is going to change it.
And keep in mind, this isn’t just the regular public – it’s the hungry public. Even worse.
Even though it was tough, I am glad I did it.
I learned you can tell a lot about a person based on how they treat someone that is waiting on them.
“Do you think that is the hardest job you will ever have?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure. Our perceptions of what’s hard or difficult often depends on our level of aptitude and if we enjoy it.
There may be things in my future that are more difficult or maybe they’d be easier, I wasn’t sure.
But as long as it didn’t involve soup or setting food on fire, I should be fine.