Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sherry Was a Waitress

When my initial plan to immediately find a full-time job in New York didn’t work out, I decided to try waiting tables. Going door-to-door I came to a Mexican restaurant in World Wide Plaza called Blockheads with a sock monkey as its mascot and $3 margaritas all day, every day. The hostesses were having what looked like a very important conversation with one another, but I eventually got one’s attention and, ignoring her glare, asked to speak to a manager. What for? She wanted to know. I told her I wanted to ask about job opportunities, and she pointed and said “Alex is in there.”

So, I walked into the restaurant looking for anyone I thought could pass for my imagined version of Alex, or, preferably, a man holding a sign saying “Alex”. In the back of the room stood an older, Hispanic looking man. Unfortunately he was not holding a sign but, taking I guess, I approached him.

“Alex?” Yes. What did I want? “Are you hiring?” Without replying he handed me an application, which I sat down to fill out.

Here’s where I should probably note that I had absolutely no previous experience waiting tables. What I had was three publishing internships and two years working at Chic-fil-a in high school, a restaurant that only exists up here in the NYU dining hall (trust me, I’ve checked). When I handed back the application I’d listed all of those things and, as with every other restaurant I’d applied for, was certain I wouldn’t get the job.

Alex sat down and took what can hardly be called a glance at my application, then asked “So, how’s your experience.”

Except that’s not what I heard. Don’t ask me how or why, but through his accent, which, in my defense, is pretty thick, what I heard was “So, how’s your Spanish?”

“Well, I’m from Texas so I guess I know a little Spanish. Como estas? Hola. You know, the basics."

He stared.

“How’s your experience,” he asked again, enunciating the last word as if he were teaching it to a two year old hearing it for the first time. I looked for a trace, a hint, of a smile to cling to like some sort of life raft. His mouth was set in a straight, straight line.

“I worked in a fast food restaurant for a couple of years.”

He wrote something down on my application and asked someone for a piece of paper. Then, to my complete and utter amazement, he wrote down an address where I could go to fill out payroll paperwork and told me to show up the next day at 4pm wearing all black.

When I did, I met him upstairs to put my name in the system and there was my application on his desk. He left me for a minute to get something and I had a chance to read what he’d written on top. It said, “Good?”

I’ve worked at Blockheads for nearly three months now and while I’ve had my hiccups (ripped my pants on a chair the first day – HIGH on the thigh--… I may or may not have spilled sangria all over a customer’s white skirt, and I’ve broken my fair share of beer bottles) with a 22% tip average, I think it’s safe to say that I passed the test. Despite what some of my coworkers say, I am not the worst waitress ever. Which, I feel, is something of an accomplishment.

Waiting tables is not an easy job. I’d never realized before how annoying people can be. A few tips for some of you restaurant frequenters out there—if you want water, ask for it with your drink, not after I’ve already brought drinks to the table, because that’s an extra trip for me and I have shit to do.

Also, I don’t mind if people order four shots of Tequila, just so long as they make sure that they can handle it because at the end of the night when I bring their bill they’d better not forget that’s how many shots they ordered. I can’t tell you the number of times I get a table saying “Oh, there’s no way we ordered that many drinks” Oh, yes there is. Because if you ordered them, I put them in the computer, and if I put them in the computer, they made them at the bar, and if they made them at the bar, I brought them out to your table, and if I brought them out to your table, you drank them. You did. Nobody else.

Ok, I’ll step down off my soap box now and admit there is one thing about my job I love—the people I work with. They’re pretty amazing. Everyone there has a dream he (or she)’s striving for so I work with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met. When we’re slow they sometimes put on mini Broadway shows or tell me about the latest screen play they’ve written or about the incredibly cool place they had their last job interview (Forbes Magazine, MTV, The Observer, etc.) I count myself as extremely lucky to have had the chance to meet these people and honestly at times they’re what keep me going.

So, parting words of advice: always tip your wait staff because even if they maybe didn’t give you your third diet coke refill, they work hard and oftentimes live entirely on shift meals, Starbucks and shots of Jameson.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Landladies and Handymen

My living situation in New York is unusual by Dallas standards. Most of my fellow graduate friends have gotten their own places or moved in with significant others. I, in the style of a college freshman, share a kitchen and bathroom with strangers.

I found my roommates on craigslist. They are both male and software engineers. They have things like health insurance and regular hours. I think I puzzle them.

But the place is great – it’s a half block from Times Square and came fully furnished with a bed, desk and a bookshelf. Granted the kitchen is missing a spatula and more than half of the dishware has some sort of chip or crack… but generally, it’s charming. And my roommates are hardly ever there. When they are, they’re very nice.

...then there’s my landlady. Let’s call her Laurie. And Laurie’s dad -- we’ll call him Laurie’s Dad the Handyman.

Laurie thinks it’s alright to drop by the apartment unannounced and pick up mail. Annoying? Yes. Unlivable? No. She usually comes by in the early afternoon. The only reason I know she’s been there is that her mail’s gone and sometimes my bedroom door is open? So I’ve started locking it. Problem solved.

Laurie’s Dad the Handyman, however, likes to drop by unannounced around 10 pm and just start fixing shit. Granted, the things he’s fixing are usually broken, but they aren’t things I’ve requested be fixed and I don’t see the need to fix them at night, when people are trying to watch trashy reality TV shows in peace.

Here’s the scene: I’m sitting in my room, watching The Bachelorette, drinking a glass of cheap Cabernet and eating a grilled cheese sandwich. So, loving life, when I hear a single knock followed immediately by the sound of someone unlocking the door.

I open my bedroom door to check, but I already know. It's Laurie’s Dad the Handyman.


“Oh. Hi. I thought you wouldn’t be home.”

He always says this, no matter what time of day it is. Then he surveys the door and says, “You guys have three locks on this door?”

That's incorrect. We have two. I tell him this and he nods and looks very concentrated.

“Got to fix the lock.”

In retrospect, I probably should have been more concerned with the fact that the man fixing my door lock couldn’t tell the number of locks in front of him, but Jillian Harris was about to divvy up roses in the other room, so I didn’t take much note.

I settle back into my room with my grilled cheese. Less than five minutes later, there’s a knock on the door that is NOT immediately followed by someone unlocking it. Realizing that Laurie’s Dad the Handyman has made the mistake of locking oneself out while trying to fix a lock, I pause my show, take a sip of wine, and head toward the door to let him in.

“One second,” I yell through the wood while I turn the lock. But it doesn’t turn.

“Can you turn the lock?”

I tell him I’m trying, but I can’t.

“You can’t?”

No, I tell him. I can’t; it’s not moving.

“Did you try turning the lock?” he asks a third time. I want to cry and laugh at the same time.

Yes. I’ve tried turning the lock. It’s not turning.

“Well,” he says, “that’s not good.”

And it dawns on me that Laurie’s Dad the Handyman has locked me in my own apartment. A feeling like panic sets in, but then quickly, and strangely, turns to curiosity. Taking away the uninteresting concluding solution to the problem – that Laurie’s Dad the Handyman calls a locksmith to let me out – what would I do if I were locked in my apartment for an indefinite amount of time? A series of questions run through my mind.

How much food do I have? About a week’s worth of grilled cheese and cereal. But only one bottle of wine.

What would I tell people at work? I could never tell them the truth. I’d have to go with something more believable, like a case of the chicken pox. Adult chicken pox would buy me at least two weeks.

Can I climb out the window? No. I’m seven stories up and not MacGyver.

Then panic sets back in and with it more questions.

How long will it take a locksmith to get here? Is that what he's doing on the other side of the door now, calling a locksmith? I don't hear him on the phone. Do locksmiths come at 10 o'clock at night or just crazy landladies' dads? What is he doing over there? Is he DOING anything?

Suddenly, Laurie's Dad the Handyman has an idea!

“Do you have any pliers?” A flash of brilliance.

Laurie keeps a tool box under the sink. I open it and on top is a shiny pair of pliers. Using the magic pliers of freedom I manhandle the lock until, yes, at last, it turns. Laurie’s Dad the Handyman enters without so much as an apology and proceeds to continue his work.

You’d think that after all that maybe Laurie’s Dad the Handyman would be discouraged, maybe call a locksmith to come fix the lock, but not him.

And you’d think that I, the near victim of house arrest, would take the opportunity to leave my apartment while I had the chance, breath in the New York night air and do something more exciting with my night than reheat my grilled cheese and finish my show. Not so.

I spent the rest of the evening in my room listening to Laurie’s Dad the Handy Man pitter around outside with the lock until he left. When I woke up the next day and tried the door, it worked perfectly. And a part of me was disappointed.

Parting question to you all:

If locked in your apartment/house/box/place of dwelling and unable to phone a locksmith, what’s your plan B?

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Economy Monster

Two and a half months ago I moved from Texas to New York with a BA in English and a pocket full of dreams. My master plan:

1) Get a job in publishing

2) Find my own place using the money made from recently acquired job in publishing

3) Write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel

4) Smile. Life is complete.

I know. Quite the cliché and more than a little naïve. But when I heard people talking about the “recession” second semester senior year, the word appeared just like that, in air quotes. It seemed as make believe as the monster under your bed or in your closet. Several interviews and no job later... I'm willing to consider the possibility of an Economy Monster.

So, in this blog I'm recording my story as a writer struggling to make it in New York (said with a fist-pump in the air!) Entries will range from laments about my continued failed efforts in this job market to crazy happenstances like my landlord locking me in my apartment. True story. Details TC.

Additionally, I’m shamelessly self-promoting in hopes of landing an online gig-- the only area in publishing not going down on a leaden ship. If for no other reason than to up my readership (no pun intended), it would be awesome if people made an effort to at least click on my new posts. Maybe a few hundred times, even. For funsies.

Oh, and if you leave a comment I will bake you a cookie. A virtual cookie, of course. Baked in a virtual stove. It will be virtually delicious :)