As a shy and socially awkward fourteen-year-old who had never been employed before, I applied to be a bus-girl at a local restaurant and, to my surprise, they actually hired me. I was really nervous, so I showed up 45 minutes early to my very first day of work. Just in case.
Immediately upon entering the establishment, I was yelled at by a very angry lady who looked like a gypsy and smelled like gin-sweat and cheap cigarettes.
Terrified, bewildered and desperate to make the scary lady happy, I went looking for the kitchen. I found some plates, a tray of lettuce and some croutons. I tried to arrange those items into a salad. I didn’t really know how to make the kind of salads the restaurant made, but apparently I was supposed to know and I didn’t want to look like I was incompetent, so I just tried to improvise.
After making the best salad I possibly could, I brought it out to the gypsy lady.
The gypsy lady stared at me in disgust for a few moments and then ordered me to go chop some tomatoes for sandwiches. I scurried off to the kitchen to try to figure out how to do that in a way that wouldn’t make her any angrier at me.
It turned out that I was pretty okay at chopping tomatoes, so the lady asked me to chop up some cucumbers. And then some parsley. And then bread. A few hours passed in which I was continuously ordered back to the kitchen to chop something or prepare something or pour something. Sometimes I would do a good job and the lady wouldn’t yell, but other times she looked at me like I was the most incompetent worm-person ever to slither across the face of the earth. Then she would slowly erupt into a banshee-like scream and stare into my soul like she was trying to explode it with her eyes.
I felt like crying. I had no idea that jobs were this hard. I didn’t know that I was supposed to know how to do everything on the first day. Was there something I was supposed to read before beginning work? Was I missing some vital employee instinct? How did other people do this? What if I got fired? I felt like an abysmal failure. I couldn’t even put bread on a plate right. How was I going to survive in life if I couldn’t even put bread on a plate correctly? My future was dead to me.
At some point during the day, I was back in the kitchen chopping tomatoes (I was good at tomatoes!) and I was interrupted by a man who I would later learn was the restaurant manager.
For a moment, I felt absolutely sure that I was going to be fired on the spot. I couldn’t do a single thing right. If I tried to please one person, I ended up pissing off a different person. THERE WAS NO POSSIBLE WAY TO WIN.
..then the pieces started to fall into place.
And indeed there was a mistake. Apparently a new prep cook had been scheduled to start work the same day as me. He didn’t show up for his shift, so when I walked through the door 45 minutes early, the gypsy lady assumed that I was the prep cook who was coming in late.
The misunderstanding was cleared up and I began training for my duties as a bus-girl.
The gypsy lady did not apologize.