Serving Tacos to a Serial Killer in Training
I understand the idea of Extreme Service when it comes to dealing with customers and patrons. It's a crucial aspect of any business to have a reputation for being helpful and courteous when dealing with the public. The problem with it is that although 95 percent of people going to a concert or attending a movie or dining out are really just looking for a good time out. Extreme Service for that 95 percent is easy — get them from the street to the seat, make sure their needs are met and smile.
It's the other 5 percent that cause the problems. Maybe they are having a lousy day, maybe they have jobs where they are subordinate to a tyrannical, micro-managing fuckwad and feel the need to subjugate someone lower on the food chain than them, maybe they're merely tired of life and, in lieu of getting a readily available firearm and shooting up the place, taking a behavioral shit on a staff person is just a better alternative.
When I think of emotional labor, it is not the mental energy required to deal with explaining to racists what white privilege is or trying to get through to a misogynist why he shouldn't masturbate in front of unwilling women. When I think of emotional labor, it is the unreasonable expectation placed upon teachers, valet drivers, house managers and waitstaff to deal with the mini-Trumps of the world as they demand to be treated as if they are somehow exempt from the simple courtesies of decent humanity because they are a customer.
I've never been very good at that.
If there was a 10th Level of Dante's Inferno, a Circle of Hell he missed because, well, he died hundreds of years before the idea of a suburban franchise restaurant existed, that Level 10 would be a Chi-Chi's in Wichita, KS in the late 1980s.
I was a college freshman, a music major and an actor. It was a legal requirement that I pay my dues by waiting tables. And I did. I waited tables at the Chi-Chi's in Wichita, KS in the late 1980s for exactly three...
I had moved from my parent's house and into what my mother called "The Pea" because it was a tiny shared house painted an awful pukey green. But it was a roof over my head and I had to get paying work in order to supply my fair share of rent. I worked several gigs along the way and, when I applied at Chi-Chi's, I was hired on the spot and asked to both train and start working the next day.
"Cool," I thought. "How bad could it be?"
I trained in the afternoon — the basics of the expediting process, the ticketing system, standard protocol. I was shown my section and given basic turnaround times required per table. That evening, I donned my uniform and leaped in. For an hour or so things went smoothly.
And then they came in.
They were benign at first glance. Dad, mom and 10-year-old son, all out for a night on the town for some microwaved retried beans and pre-made Margaritas. Once seated, I realized that this was, for this particular tribe, a Big Night Out, meaning that they were looking for Five-Star Treatment at a fucking Chi-Chi's. I could handle that.
And then I looked into the boy's eyes.
Not like a creepy thing — it wasn't as if I had to. It was as if I couldn't help it. For the boy's eyes were dead, malevolent, like an evil, lifeless doll or something. And I realized I was serving tortilla chips to a budding Jeffrey Dahmer.
I rationalized. Someone, somewhere, had to have served a glass of iced tea to John Wayne Gacy, right? Ed Gein probably was served breakfast at some diner by someone, yes?
I served them the complimentary chips, salsa and a crockery bowl of guacamole. I took their drink orders. And I went about my business. And at one point, I relaxed and absentmindedly went to scratch my ass. It was covered in guacamole. I realized that the little demon seed was waiting until my back was turned and was taking a spoon, filling it with guacamole and flinging at my ass.
I approached with a smile reserved for masking indignation and rage. I asked the parents to restrain him from flinging guacamole in the restaurant.
And they laughed.
Now, they were in on the game and because they felt that, somehow, it was a part of my $2.30 an hour job to endure their child's game, they laughed as he continued to try to launch green avocado bombs at my fucking ass.
Side note: Chi-Chi's serves its food on crock ware plates. The reason we tell you to be careful, that they're very hot, is because we microwave your food just before we bring it out to you. Makes the crock ware heat up, see?
The monster child had gone too far. His parents were assholes who thought nothing was funnier than their little goblin torturing an underpaid waiter. Retribution was demanded by the Gods of All That Is Just and Right in the World. So, I went back into the kitchen and microwaved the child's plate for a full five minutes, then put his food on and gave it another three. That fucking plate practically glowed from the molten lava heat it was carrying.
I carefully brought the food, careful not to let the little bastard's plate sear my flesh off. I gingerly set the food in front of them and, as if I were daring the child to do it, smiling admonished him not to touch the plate as it was EXTREMELY HOT.
I turned and, as if on cue, heard what sounded like a woman being thrown from a cliff. The scream was high and shocked. I spun on my heel and noticed his fingers, red and blistering and I offered, "Oh no. I told you it was hot. Maybe you could put some guacamole on it but YOU ARE ALL OUT OF GUACAMOLE, AREN'T YOU?!"
The manager fired me in the spot. I never received the $6.90 I was due but I can bet all of seven bucks that that little motherfucker never flicked food at a waiter again.
I realize in relating this tale that, in search of work that entails working with other sentient beings, it may paint a negative for me for future employ. I can say that I've not harmed anyone in this sort of capacity since, but I do not regret the choice. Would I do it again? Not on your life.
Oh, the hot plate? Yeah. Maybe. But I'd rather have that molten plate permanently stuffed in my guacamole covered pucker hole than ever wait tables again.