Employee Re-Qualification Test

Before I talk about my recent Employee Re-Qualification misadventure, I’d like to thank PurpleGirl at slightlycrankywaitress.blogspot.com for contributing so heavily to the increased traffic here. She writes a helluva funny and interesting blog, and her loyal readership shows that. Just getting onto her blog roll increased my traffic six-fold. Thanks!

So . . .

At Michael’s, there is a yearly employee test called the MSP Test, for Michael’s Spec Packets. The Spec Packets are available in the restaurant at all times, and hold the most essential information about the company, the restaurant, the food, the procedures, the programs, even the philosophies. It is a lot of data.

Previously, we were tested twice a year. Also, it was a 100 question test including ball-breakers like, ‘What are the 12 ingredients of the Cobb Salad?’ and ‘Name the 9 ingredients of the French-Italian Vinaigrette dressing.’ I have always passed this difficult test, by going back to the Packets and reading with full attention, occasionally stopping to quiz myself on something. Just like in college.

Now the test is annually. It’s been reduced to 60 questions, but they are all fill-in – no true-false or multiple choice. We were informed in advance that the new test would be a real killer, so to be prepared.

I merely did my usual – pored over the Packets for 3 hours the night before, and 2 hours the day of the test. Which was plenty. It’s not like this was the first time I was learning the material. Regardless what parts of those Packets they questioned me about, I would surely score at least 90%. I knew the stuff.

Saturday afternoon, about 30 employees gathered in the dining room. I sat at a round with four other waiters. Unlike (many) other years, there was very little opportunity to cheat, as three managers circulated about the room. Still, we were able to share an answer or two sotto voce at choice moments.

Finishing the test, I was quite confident I had basically aced it. The managers collected all tests, then redistributed them so we could correct each others’ tests then and there. The instructions were to mark a question if it was wrong or incomplete in any facet. For instance, getting 11 of 12 Cobb Salad ingredients ‘right’ was not good enough for a correct answer; or, describing a preparation as ‘grilled’ instead of ‘broiled’ would also result in a missed question. The threshold of pass/fail was missing 5 questions.

As the answers were read aloud by the manager, I felt further confidence. I noted a couple of things I had missed, yes . . .

But I was also grading another waiter’s test. That is: I was looking the other way when he got stuff wrong or was close to the right answer. I passed over at least 10 answers I could have marked wrong based on strict-adherence to the grading rules set forth. This in addition to the 3 I had to mark wrong because he hadn’t even filled in an answer. And this guy was the co-lead trainer of the restaurant.

So I figured, what with the Bro-Discount that was surely coming my way, I would easily pass.

Wrong. Which made a total of 11 that I missed, including with the 10 on the test.

The dick that graded my test either was a zealot or hated me or was totally unimaginative. He marked me wrong on two answers that were actually correct, right down to the letter – the aforementioned Cobb Salad question, and another two I had written exactly as set forth in the MSPs. It was as if his confusion was grounds to penalize me rather than cut a break.

So I give 33% blame to the unfriendly dick. I’ll take 33% of the blame myself because I missed 2 questions where I carelessly answered only the first of the two parts. One was, ‘How is ________ prepared? And what is the cooking time?’ I didn’t notice the second question and omitted that answer. Stupid. But still, that left me well-within passing range.

The last third of the blame goes to the f’n’ test makers and the managers. It’s called the goddamn MSP Test. It covers the MSPs. And it always has. Strictly.

Only this time, there were questions about Specialty Cocktails and restaurant practices that are not in the MSPs. The Specialty Cocktail thing really kills me. This is from a list that exists only in the bar and was introduced just a month ago. That counted for 3 more missed questions.

The managers figure into this because they had plenty of opportunity leading up to the test to let us know what areas to study beyond the actual MSPs. I mean, shit, just mention that we’re responsible for that 20 drink list, and I would have learned them all. Easily. Worse, the ‘tips’ we did get from management included, ‘Be prepared to know about Banquet Events. There’s like 8 questions on that.’ Actual number of Banquet Event questions: zero. Thanks, a-holes.

I was truly upset. Besides never having failed one of these, and the fact I got substantially reamed, I had wasted all those hours and effort including the 3 hour roundtrip endeavor of taking the test on a Saturday.

I’m sure I could get the erroneously graded questions reversed, but that’d still put me in fail territory. Now I have to retake the test – a different test. Arrgghh!

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The Joke Guy

Let’s see if I still remember how to do this . . .

There was a time in my life when I did a lot of writing. I have been directed since I was in high school towards a writing career. Let’s, for now, look past any questions of what rewards that career has brought me. Instead let’s talk about what I did with my time.

I wrote stories, screenplays, TV scripts, novels, poetry. I even tried my hand a couple of factual magazine articles. The remuneration was nearly non-existent. But I always kept plugging. I loved writing, and I loved my dream, and I didn’t mind working towards my goals. I wrote. I once wrote every day – every single day, without exception – for 1.5 years.

And then, at a summer party, I played ‘Pride And Joy’ (by Stevie Ray Vaughan) with my roommate’s band. I didn’t know it then, but that was it. I veered onto a course of concentrating my creative energies on music for the next 10+ years, playing guitar and singing in two different blues bands over that period.

I didn’t stop writing, but I cut back a lot (not willfully – it just happened). Like 90%. And I didn’t really miss it. Instead of smacking away at the keyboard for a couple hours every night, I instead practiced guitar. Or I rehearsed with my band. Or I played gigs. Or I listened to other guitarists to cop licks. Or I went out to blues jams (open mic events). Or I even wrote my own songs.

I’m telling you this because it explains, somewhat, why I’ve stopped blogging for around a year. I discussed this a couple posts (and about 12 months) ago.

For about two years, I posted 5-10 times a month. I was happy doing it, and I didn’t feel like I was running out of material. It was a pretty natural thing to do for two reasons:

  1. I had quit my band and decided not to join/start another.
  2. My marriage was in shambles. For some reason, emotional strife turbo-charges my creative juices. So it was a good way to spend some time while the Wife was not being a member of the marriage.

Then the marriage effectively ended (permanent separation) and I declared myself back on the market. Hence, dating.

I stopped blogging and started spewing my juices (figuratively, of course) in the endeavor of trying to find a new girlfriend/getting laid.

But this time I’m not as happy about it. Especially now that more than a year has passed and I don’t really have much to show for my efforts besides 100,000 words of emails, the reduction of my net worth by thousands of dollars, and the memories of 20-30 forgettable dates (wait, how can you remember something forgettable?).

Imagine if I’d instead written 100k words on the waiternotes.com? I’d probably have gotten a book deal like Waiter Rant!

Okay. Probably not. But I’d have something good. I reread six or seven of my -blog posts last night and was actually quite entertained. Either I have narcissistic delusions or I write pretty well. I tend to think the latter. But then, I’m narcissistic . . . ohhhh, I’m getting dizzy now.

* * * * *

I had a thought tonight at work at Carney’s ($232). What is it like to be married to the Joke Guy?

We all know him. He’s the one who makes a ‘joke’ about every phrase that comes out of your mouth. And also makes ‘jokes’ about everything that he says too.

‘Tonight the chef has Bacon-Horseradish Mashed Potatoes as the side accompaniment,’ I state.

Joke Guy: ‘So then it accompanies the side dish?’ He looks at me with a highly-satisfied glint in his eyes.

‘I guess you’re right. It is a side. It accompanies the entrée. You got me there,’ I say.

‘So the side dish comes unaccompanied? What kind of place is this?’ Twinkling again.

What does a jackass like this expect me to do? I can’t really start laughing, because he hasn’t said anything funny. But he thinks he has. Or is he expecting banter from me, so he can riff some more and impress his sad wife and the other couple?

‘What kind of place is this? It’s actually a Charter School. Are you the English teacher?’

But I don’t say that. I just match his bemused eye twinkle and move on.

At another point, he said, ‘One thing you’ll learn about me. I’m not always right on everything, but I’m always right on.’

Whew.

Usually this bonehead has a suffering wife who spends the meal staring at her food while he excretes his gems like anal beads out of a porn actress. But every guest is different. This time, his wife seemed to think he was just hilarious. And this is no joke (pun intended) – he was ‘on’ for a solid 120 minutes tonight.

So maybe this hits tangentially with my initial thoughts in this post. Getting with the right person is nothing more than finding someone on the same wavelength as yours. Even if you’re flat-lining.

Walking A Mile In The Manager’s Shoes

Even though I’m kind of an a-hole as far as criticizing/stereotyping restaurant managers and owners, I hardly get any hate mail from them. Or any mail at all.

Maybe that’s because writing a waiter blog is, ironically, like stripping down naked and walking a mile in the manager’s shoes.

Let me explain. There are so many similarities.

Bad predictions and bad solutions

Managers are notorious for overstaffing – predicting more business than materializes. Conversely, they will under-staff to save labor, and the restaurant will get buried. Managers decide Server A can handle being triple-seated, and Server B can’t take another table, with the result that A gets pounded with complaints while B pounds the manager with complaints that she’s bored and poor.

Managers also provide stupid solutions to problems. Like recently when Michael’s waiters complained that employee of the month awards weren’t fair. At the time, management nominated a handful and kicked them around during a manager’s meeting to decide as a group. The “solution” to this problem is that now the employees vote on it, with the managers getting an equal weighted vote. Stupid. Now it’s just a popularity contest. Not to mention that as a lunch server, I will never get the award again, as I am totally off the radar of the more populous dinner crew.

Another example? Michael’s instituted a Running Sidework list for dinners, wherein servers are responsible for ongoing, during-the-shift tasks, like stocking silverware on trays in service stations, making coffee, etc. Nice idea. Except the problem arose because servers were too busy during the shift to handle these things in the first place. Now, in addition to the tasks themselves, they are expected to be monitoring each other’s effectiveness on running sidework . . . like they have time to do that, in addition? So now there is a dry erase board on the wall, with the names of 3 servers assigned their running sidework . . . from a Sunday a few months back. Hasn’t been updated since.

Well, us bloggers aren’t much different. We make bold, provocative predictions – about business volume, cash flow, interoffice politics, even the direction of the nation (with regards to foodserving). And we’re constantly wrong.

Likewise, our blowhardy solutions to the problems we gleefully present are quite often stupid. Thankfully, nobody listens to us, or else we’d see our ideas backfire in the harsh world of reality, rather than blossom and flourish in the rose-tinted universe of our dreams.

No More Convenient Amnesia About Failures

Speaking of backfiring in the real world, of course us waiters are always there to remind the managers of how retarded they were when their appetizer sales contest got gamed and ended up discouraging everyone (except the cheating winner) from trying. Or that their new cover count system actually ended up making everyone more petty and self-absorbed, rather than freeing the staff from obsessing about their own money.

No, we would never allow that. No disgrace is big enough that it can’t be amplified just a bit more.

Same for waiter blog writers. People read and love to point out the folly of our ideas/solutions. When our house-of-cards “improved” systems collapse in the real world, there’s always someone out there to point out what idiots we are.

Limited Audience

Managers don’t have many people to speak to. A large restaurant will have 20 waiters. And of those, maybe only 10% will actually listen.

Waiter blogs do not have massive audiences – unless you’re willing to go public and tell all your friends and co-workers, notify on Facebook, and of course risk getting into deep shit or getting out of a job when you tell too much truth.

So it can be a little dispiriting for us both drop our pearls of wisdom (self-perceived) and have them lapped up only by the few swine who are even barely listening. Not that my readers are swine . . .

The Swine Don’t Know

As a manager you’ve got those two waiters who will actually hear you (listen, maybe not). But even those two are preoccupied with the chronic waiter affliction of not really caring beyond what it means to their tip revenue. They are more concerned with their child with the sniffles, or finals coming up, or that their other job won’t give them Sundays off. So they will gobble up your nuggets of management, swallow, and completely forget. Not important.

While I will compose a post over a couple of days – or in this case 6 or 7 months – it will be read by 30 to 50 people who respond with . . . silence. Next blog. Or next shift. Or, ‘What time does Happy Hour start in this one-bedroom apartment?’

People Are Happier When You Don’t Say Anything

For me, refer to the aforementioned silence after a laboriously-crafted post. My hits have actually climbed steadily in these months of total silence on the waiternotes.com blog. This leads me to believe readers are glad that I’m there when they need me, but are just as happy that I’m not continually bleating at them about cover counts and my arch-enemies.

Like when you need a problem smoothed out at a table – thank god for that manager! But otherwise, please, dude, just stay in your office in front of the computer monitor. Or at the end of the bar with your Johnny Walker Black on the rocks drinking friend.

Pander And You’ll Lose Their Respect

When a manager starts trying to be your friend, it’s great at first. It’s happened to all of us. It might start with your massive computer mistake that he secretly voids to protect you from a catastrophic disciplinary action (or even having to pay money for it, in the case of Mom and Pop restaurants who try to get away with that). Then there will be after hours drinks in the restaurant, followed that night or another time with drinks away from the restaurant. Then kibitzing privately about other waiters, managers, or confidential restaurant business. And later still you might play golf, or see a concert, or just more drinking together. Okay, it’s almost always just the drinking.

But the time comes when you take for granted that manager will always have your back, even when she shouldn’t. You lose respect for any of those pearls of instruction cast before your swinish self – she means everybody else, not you. And then the final domino falls when the rest of the staff susses up that the manager is toothless and their respect (what little existed in the first place) fails as well.

Writing a post that panders to my audience by taking an indefensible position regarding, say, being late to work, and it becomes immediately clear that the blogger is just a blowhard hack (in waiting and writing). Mind you, most of are anyway, but it’s not necessarily immediately clear.

I’ve read blogs like that, myself. When I read about the guy who thought the owner was an a-hole for not letting him off on Valentine’s Day because his ‘girlfriend’ of two weeks is expecting a date, I can’t help but complete the picture of this swine: wrinkled, untucked shirt, shoes that look like mud-cast fossils from Bigfoot, cell phone ringing in his pocket when standing at the table, and drinking a bar mat shot at the end of the shift.

This is the guy I’m reading for food serving enlightenment?

Number 100

No irony. Numbers can’t be ironic, can they? But this is post number 100 for waiternotes.com.

What? Four or five months since the last post?

Well it’s not easy being a human being. Stability in one’s life might be vastly underrated. Here’s my thinking:

You can be totally alone for years. You can be rich for years. You can be destitute for years. You can have the same job for years. You might be unemployed for years. You might be able to get the perfect pastrami sandwich from your favorite deli for years.

But everything ends. Even love everlasting.

Back to my impromptu list, any of these things can be positive or negative, right? But the thing is, you get used to it. Even bad stuff, is what I’m saying. Wherein, you have a limp because your ankle is gimpy, but after awhile you really don’t think much about it, and you just get around as fast as you get around.

On the other side, there’s a check that comes every month simply because your aunt liked you before she died. You get used to that too, and don’t think about it much.

Well, ol’ waiter here, the last number of months, has been getting a reminder dose of what it was like before he had a wife to count on.

Not to say I could count on her for all the important things. But certainly for one of the most important things: relieving me from worrying about getting and/or keeping a girl.

Eight years of marriage, and I had actually forgotten how intermittently miserable I was until I got married.

Make no mistake – I’m a generally happy and even-keeled person – when I was single or married. However, those stretches during the single years when I was chasing a girl who didn’t end up working out (and isn’t that all of them?), those were some troubling and frustrating times.

And here I am again. 🙂

Yes, that was a smiley face, something I would never have used before the breakup – because I was blissfully ignorant of the modern dating environment. But now, having been shock-and-awe initiated into the world of contemporary dating and phone texting, I find it second nature.

Oh, god, the smart phone! I hate it, and I love it so much I have to hate it. There’s no message I can receive besides snail mail (and who gets that anymore?) that doesn’t funnel down into my Blackberry. Email, texts, voicemails, Facebook notifications, and of course phone calls. It’s the cruelest of worlds when you can be tied in knots over a new love, pining if you will, and have the ‘ability’ to monitor her every communication to you in real time. You will get her call, text, email, Facebook comment – anything – instantaneously. And when you’re really hanging on that response to your important text – ‘Whazz up? :)’ – it can destroy your central nervous system if she for some reason doesn’t respond for a few hours.

And if that reason is that she’s not that into you, well, all of those unrewarded glances towards your bound-and-gagged cell phone are just the same as needle-like drops of H2O in the classic Chinese Water Torture.

But as usual, I digress. But then, maybe not. This is post #100 and the biggest topic probably should be why I’ve waited so long between posts?

Well, people, I’ve got to tell ya, chasing women is really time-consuming!

No One Said It Was Easy

There’s a Coldplay song, I don’t know the title, but the refrain goes, ‘. . . no one said it was easy . . .’

This is a waiter blog. Last post I went against general custom and I wrote about my personal life. And I’m gonna do it again.

On Monday (yesterday) the wife came to start the serious packing for her official permanent move-out. She’s signed a lease and had June 1st as move-in day. I’m off all day Monday, so I planned to be around to help her as much as necessary.

It was hard. It was sad. Really sad. I mostly just followed her around as she grabbed stuff and put it into boxes. You know, we were collaborating on the splitting of the assets. Waiters don’t have assets like Turbo Porsches and Silver Goblets and Renoir paintings. We were dividing up things we had accrued together.

It crossed the emotional line when she walked into the spare bedroom – which she used as pretty much her dressing room, what with appropriating that room’s closet as her main storage. We were just generally chatting about stuff. It was the usual casual banter of two people who are completely comfortable with each other.

I was in the hallway, she in the spare bedroom. She walked out and said, ‘I’m getting sad,’ and walked downstairs.

All of a sudden the grief and the loss hit me again. Downstairs, she was having trouble holding back the tears. I told her I was sorry. Sympathizing, not apologizing.

The night ended with a couple of drinks and sharing mac ‘n cheese. She left and there were boxes of stuff filling the living and dining rooms. Later I cleaned out my nightstand, as she would be taking the bedroom set the next day.

Today (I’m writing this Tuesday, June 01, 2010) was even worse. I worked a closing shift at lunch. When I got up, the wife was already at work doing more packing in anticipation of her movers being available at one p.m. We did some more talking like before. The grief was in the air like rainforest humidity. At one point she said she was very upset, that she was trying not to cry.

I left at 11:30 and waved to her as I pulled away. I felt heavy and dreadful.

I had one of my worst days, moneywise, at Michael’s. Which went hand-in-hand with desolate boredom as there were two full hours to fritter away after all tables were gone, side work completed (including the dinner opener’s side work, just to be a nice guy), and checkout cashed. I went and got my phone from the car and watched it obsessively for texts or emails that would distract me from my thoughts. I even logged into Facebook. Ouch.

When I got home, it was about an hour before she returned with her moving guys from their most recent run. As there were moving guys on the job, I again didn’t really have to do anything, despite trying and asking. They just grabbed boxes and loaded them. There were continuing discussions between the wife and I about what she could take (anything she wanted, as far as I was concerned) and what she’d leave for me. She eventually said she couldn’t stand it anymore and was just going to quit where she was. There was plenty left to decide about and move, but she didn’t have anything left in her psychic bank. ‘I’ve been crying off and on all day. I’m just totally wrung out now. I just want to go home, set up the bed, take a bath, and fall asleep.’

When they were loaded up, it was time for her to go. I came over to hug her. ‘I’m not going that far,’ she said, pointing out a hug was maybe overkill for the situation.

‘I know, but it’s just so sad,’ I said.

‘I know,’ she said as we hugged. We parted and she looked at me. ‘I love you.’

‘I love you too.’ And we both broke into tears.

She left, the door shut behind her, and I started wailing.

Two things.

  1. The splitting up of the ‘stuff,’ at least as we did it, was just as significant as the ‘regular’ splitting up. We created this house together. It was the figure of our dreams and aspirations. One of them. She took a framed print, and I recalled the day she came home with that picture after a day touring yard sales. She decided to leave me the stoneware, and I remembered us picking out the pattern at Macy’s after we got engaged. I looked at the present emptiness of the house and remembered all the talking and plotting and visualizing we put into filling it up the way we wanted. And now that was gone.

    A couple weaves a new fabric when they create their life together. When that ends, you can’t unravel the threads without a tremendous feeling of loss for that wonderful creation it once comprised.

  2. The wife’s admissions the last couple days about how upset she was, how she was sad. This is the most heartbreaking thing. It marks a sharp divergence from historical emotional posture. Anger, irritation, sullenness, resentment – these are emotions she was comfortable showing. But true vulnerability, such as I’ve seen the last few days, was not a luxury she could afford herself. To see her like this now touches me deeply, and it also stirs deep regret that we could never find that level of comfort while we were together. Not to say it’s comfortable to be sad and in pain, but comfortable enough to reveal yourself that way to your spouse. It was so fucking sad to see her that way. I just feel that this kind of emotional candor from her would have helped keep our marriage together when it was truly possible to be saved.

    It’s one of those things. People have different levels of urgency . . . I don’t know. I just really don’t know what to make of it . . .

And then, as I wrote this, my roommate got home and started talking to me about it. She’s friends with both myself and the wife. And I told her my sadness, and I had to stop because I was choked up, and I started again, and my eyes were teary, etc. And eventually, as I said things, and she heard me and chimed in, I started feeling better. The sadness is still out there, but my mind cleared somewhat.

So let’s end on that lesson, folks. If you’re upset, feeling down, confused, sad – talk to someone about it. It’s the best medicine there is. Just pick a good listener who loves you, tell the whole truth, and listen back. It works really well.

A Waiter Gets Divorced

Okay, waiternotes.com blog-ites, here’s some big non-restaurant news in my life. I am getting divorced from the Wife of 8 years.

First general thought is it’s a sad thing. I didn’t marry until the age of 40. By that point I had seen my parents and half of my good friends marry and divorce. I believed I was the one who was going to do it right. I thought I had the right partner with the right values to do it for the long haul. There might be tough times, problems to work out, but we would make it through those things and have an ultimately happy life together. You know, ‘. . . richer/poor, sickness/health,’ all that stuff.

Despite my initial and ongoing perception, our marriage bond wasn’t as strong as all that. It did not make it. Tough times were encountered, and we were not able to weather them.

The sadness I speak of is contained in that failure. But also in the remembrance of the really good times, the special bond we did once have, and to a much smaller degree the time lost in an ultimately fruitless undertaking.

That is the first general thought.

To be more specific and timely, however, I am happy and optimistic right now.

As I have told the various important and marginal people in my life the news, I’ve mostly met condolence. Virtually everyone shakes their head, says some things about how difficult it is, what a shame, etc. They say they are sorry.

It’s not their fault, but it’s the wrong tack on me at this time. If it were 1.5-2.0 years ago, they’d be dead-on. That was when I was head-over-heels, but not in love – more in complete chaos and confusion. My world was completely spun off its axis: the toilet water was swirling the wrong direction, the sun was setting on the wrong horizon, and time was a snarled mess of yarn. I was annotating cell phone records, staking out her friends’ houses, triangulating time/distance/tasks to see if things added up, cruising local watering holes where she might possibly be hanging out, etc. I was in a frenzy.

And then nothing happened. The wife and I did not get divorced. We had the sporadic blow-out yelling match; we didn’t share the affection and understanding we had before things fell apart; we spent more time separate. Essentially, there was no further deterioration, but also certainly no forward movement in repairing or rebuilding a marriage.

As months passed I had two basic modes: 1) numbed and willingly staring off in the metaphorical opposite direction to avoid confronting the situation; and 2) laborious introspection into every aspect of her behavior, trying to determine what it meant and where it was going.

As more months passed, Mode 1 came to rule. As long as the surface status quo (we still lived together, shared meals, contributed to the household, and generally kept maintaining the shell of our marriage) remained in place, I was comfortable enough with it. In fact, it was kind of a welcome relief, and something of a much-needed correction in the balance of our marriage.

That might sound confusing, so let me explain. The wife is that person who is always striving for the next thing, the next rung, the achievement. This is a good thing. Forward progress is what life is about. Through our marriage, she had many such striving projects. Buying the house I live in was a very good one. She pursued and attained her teaching credential. She took teaching jobs hoping to change her/our life. She started her own restaurant.

Meantime, I had my own set of striving goals when I met her. I wanted to become a capable musician and songwriter. I was already a writer and I wanted to bridge into professional writer territory – be it novels, short stories, screenplays. I wanted also to have a family and happy marriage.

Because of a character flaw in myself and the nature of the Wife’s personality, something else developed. Gradually, I came to espouse and support her causes and goals, to the vast detriment of my own personal goals and dreams. By the time the shit hit the fan, I no longer played in my blues band, and my writing was something I was able to get fired up for about twice a year for 3-4 week periods, essentially accomplishing nothing.

Our ghost-like occupation of what once was our marriage allowed me freedom from her demands on my time and psychic energy. And I gradually started writing regularly again (this blog is a product of that). I have not joined another band, but I’ve written and recorded more than a handful of original songs. (Update: Actually, since first drafting this a few days ago, my old drummer contacted me again. He’s got a bass player, and he’s invited me to be the guitarist/singer. Not bad.)

Then one day at the end of last summer, she said she had to move out – a trial separation. It’s hard for me to believe now, but I was surprised at the time. I urged her not to do it. For some reason, I saw our growing comfort with our bad situation as progress. Which it wasn’t. I begged and argued that I didn’t think it would solve anything, when we obviously needed to communicate more, not less. But she said she already had a place lined up and she was going to go ahead with it. Try it for a month. Maybe she’d be back in two weeks, missing me too much . . .

So she moved out. And I was surprised again. I found that my missing her was more than balanced by the relief and ‘lightness of being’ from not having her around.

She moved back home a few months later, just before Thanksgiving, in order to keep up the façade for visiting family. (The separation was a secret from everyone except one of her friends. We still worked together at Carney’s, still sometimes hung out on our off days.) Things seemed a bit better. To reiterate however, there was no forward progress. It just wasn’t being a problem.

We did the holidays. If you’ve read the blog, you know she quit Carney’s in January. Then in February, she suddenly said she had to move out again. I was again taken by surprise. I guess I’m not the smartest guy in the room, as long as there’s at least two people.

This time, things changed for me. It didn’t happen precisely right away, but a switch flipped in my head. I’d long marveled, during my dating days, how women could be in love with me one day and the next they really didn’t care if they ever talked to me again. Women have that switch they can flip. Well, apparently I have one too.

I was basically over it. I felt fantastic. My luck improved. I gained a certain mojo.

One day, a little over a month ago, a beautiful young woman came into Carney’s with 7 octogenarian women. We connected. She put one of the old women up to ask me if I was single? I said yes. This gave me the confidence to ask her out. She texted me that night, we had a drink together when I got off work, and we were quickly having a romance.

This was all I needed to make the big change in my life permanent. I had to tell this lovely new woman my exact situation. Which was, frankly, not nearly settled enough for her. I didn’t blame her.

It was this that spurred me to make an appointment for the wife to come over so I could break her the news that I was finally done and wanted a divorce. I did not finally take this step so I could be with the new girl, because who knows where that will lead? But she did provide the needed motivation. She was the catalyst.

It was not easy or fun having this sit-down with the wife. She knew something was up. She came in the front door and her eyes were already welling with tears. I made my point concisely: A long time had passed. I had observed that there was no forward progress on fixing our fucked up marriage. This led me to understand that it was time to get divorced.

I put my personal spin on it. That it would be better for both of us from this very day forward, though it might not seem like it immediately, because we have taken a deliberate action. And that was so far better than just sitting stuck in the mud as we had been. I said that we could also end the charade of lying to our friends and loved ones.

She said a very nice thing to me. ‘You’re going to be hard to replace.’

That got me, and I started crying.

In all, though she cried and was sad, she seemed to take it well.

The next couple days yielded some awfully bitter and contentious phone calls from the wife. Then by the weekend, she seemed to be in a much better place. She had already found a permanent place to live, somewhat close by, and was excited doing that.

I feel relieved. It appears this will be orderly.

Thanks for reading.

Blackie Redux – Part Two

(This is Part Two of a long post about my arch-enemy, Blackie. Part One mostly covered an incident where Blackie f’d up a big table we shared, in the process soiling my psyche because I had to deal with her. Check it out you like bloody descriptions of waiter shifts, and if you want to know what leads up to this post, which is a more general discussion of why Blackie sucks and some other smaller anecdotes that put her in a black light.)

. . . But that’s precisely the problem. Blackie sucks. She approaches food serving just as a mechanic might approach disassembling a transmission: here’s the required wrench, there’s the bolt, here’s how many turns . . . Well, that’s what the manual says, so I guess I’m fine.

Of course, a good mechanic would understand if the prescribed wrench didn’t fit he would have to try another. And if 4 turns didn’t loosen it enough, he’d try 5, 6, or whatever it took.

Blackie, being an incompetent (or worse, because I regard her as actually malignant in the restaurant), believes that if she can ‘master’ the details in the employee manual, she will be able to keep her job.

Unfortunately, in 99.9% of corporate restaurants, she’s right.

Meantime, another day about a week after the scene I just recounted, Eric the day manager pulls me aside for a private quiet sit-down. We all know this usually means you’re about to get in some sort of trouble.

‘Totally no problems with you, Waiter,’ says Eric. ‘None of this is performance-related in any way.’

That was nice to hear, but what’s up?

‘Well you know Blackie’s been drilling me about getting some closing shifts.’

(I did know this, from Eric. A few months previous I had ascended into the role of go-to lunch closer, getting 3-4 such shifts a week. After a couple months, she got jealous and started rattling his cage about why I got the shifts and not her.)

Eric continued, ‘She keeps pointing out how you and she have the exact same tenure here, and she would really like the opportunity.’

(More background: In a vacuum, fair enough. Of course, I have a different philosophical bent regarding the rewarding of superior performance – check again the great Red Lobster Blog post I’ve referred to in the past. But more important, in the full five years both Blackie and I have toiled at Michael’s, I have continuously maintained the public stance with management that I wanted to have more closing shifts. While Blackie has never voiced such a desire. In fact, she did the opposite, wielding her night job at Claim Jumper in all manner to help her avoid undesirable shifts, skip mandatory meetings, and frequently get front-loaded with covers at lunch so she could leave early to make it to Claim Jumper on time. Only now that she has seen me killing it, getting great tables and making new, high-quality call parties, does she try to horn in on that action.)

Eric went on to explain that he stalled her off as long as he could, hoping she’d give up the quest, but she finally wore him down, and he couldn’t tell her no on any logical basis . . . So she was getting my Thursday closing shift. He continued that I’d still be making the same money because of all my good call parties, etc.

It was actually a little uncomfortable. I told him that although I appreciated it, he didn’t need to make explanations to me; I respected that he had a job to do as manager, and that was enough for me. At the same time, I said I was flattered that he was making the effort.

Then, I said, regardless, I wanted to say my piece about Blackie. She was dangerous, manipulative snake. He hadn’t had the dubious benefit of 5 years history with her, but I could testify that she had been a continuously selfish, malicious person. I dropped a couple of choice Blackie anecdotes on him. I pointed out it’s not so much losing the shift, it was losing the shift to her – as her effort to steal it was obviously the result of jealousy and a destructive will towards me (of course, she’d be destructive to anyone else in her path as well . . .) It galled me that, yet again, she was gaining something based on wile and cunning, instead of simple performance and team play. Blah-blah.

And anyway, I have the attitude that she’s getting herself enough rope to hang herself. Lunch closing shifts are not an easy animal to ride. Your responsibilities are greater, as you must do the full 7-10 minute dinner menu spiel. There is virtually no team-type help around. The waiters are gone. The manager is doing office-type manager things. The bartender is doing closing sidework and handling his bank, etc. Even the day busser is gone and the night bussers don’t get in until 4:30. You’re really on an island. It’s you who has to serve and clear every plate and drink. If you’ve got a four-top, that means at least two trips to serve, two trips to clear.

Then there’s the cook situation. There’s a 90-minute stretch when there’s almost no one around to make your food. At the start of that period, you have only the lunch executive chef. His guys at the pantry and dessert stations, and his sautee guy on the line, have all gone home, and the exec chef is scurrying around trying to finish his own sidework (do cooks/chefs call it sidework?) so he can leave too. Somewhat later, you have plenty of dinner guys roaming around, doing dinner prep, but they have this attitude that their job is making dinners, not finishing up late lunches. As such, they don’t check their printers. When they do find a ticket, they ignore it, assuming it’s leftover from much earlier in the day.

What happens is you physically have to find a live body to make your food. It is definitely not enough to order and fire a ticket for a Chef Salad. You have to locate the exact person who has that responsibility and ask them if they’ll please make it for you. If you get the wrong person, he will shake his head, saying nothing, look away, and not return to the issue again. Fire the entrees, and the ticket will just sit there on the printer – even though there are a couple of guys behind the line, doing prep. Here, you grab the ticket yourself, hold it up to the dinner broiler guy, and say, ‘Hey, uh, I got a couple rib eyes here.’

So Blackie is going to run into this situation, and she’s gonna melt down. There will be complaints and comped dinners, and she will be relieved of her closing shifts permanently.

Of course, I must have forgotten who I was talking about. This is Blackie! The cockroach of the restaurant world. She will do nothing if not survive. What will actually happen is that Blackie will first run up against a milder version of this closing shift challenge, and realize she’s completely overmatched. She will at that point withdraw from the closing shifts, lest risk write-ups and possible termination.

One addendum here. Two weeks in, and Blackie hasn’t had her Chernobyl scare. My petty side has taken quite a bit of satisfaction that she has made absolutely shitty money (like $30-40) in her two Thursday closing shifts – each day I incidentally made over $100 and left at 2:30. But that’s not what I wanted to say. The other day, she was prattling on to me about her closing shift (who knows what she was saying? It’s so hard to listen to her.) and she said that Eric had asked her if she wanted to start picking up closing shifts?

What?

He asked you?’ I verified.

‘Yes. He asked me.’

‘That’s not what he told me. He said that you asked him to start doing them.’

‘Oh no. He asked me.’

‘Well then you’re saying he’s lying. Because both those things can’t be true.’

I said nothing more, and neither did Blackie.