Saturday, May 31, 2014

The March, Chapter 4: First Loves and First Jobs

chapter 3

Who wants an orange whip?  Orange whip?  Orange whip?  Three orange whips.
- The Blues Brothers

Somewhere at the end of this chapter, Brooke meets her first love.

Ah, first love.  I’ve said the words and you’ve gone all dewy-eyed, haven’t you?   The idea of first love resolving into rhapsodic nostalgia is universal. 

But why?  What is it about first love that turns us into such quivery globs of romantic remembrance?  Is it the blossoming of new feeling, the first flush of life’s rich offerings?  Or is it that we looked so much better then, with our flat stomachs and thick hair?  Could it simply be down to first kisses and the unanswered-as-yet promise of sex?  It’s confusing because most first loves are disasters, notable mostly for putting us on the road to internalizing life’s harshest lesson: Namely, that while Pascal was right and the heart does want what it wants, you ought not indulge your heart in all its various whims and should, as a matter of fact, tell your heart to fuck off every once in a while.  And you know this because your first love was probably a disaster.

Brooke’s was an especially spectacular disaster. It was a real road to Damascus kind of love and we all watched it exasperated, wondering when the scales would finally fall from her eyes.  It was obvious to everyone around her that it never should have happened, that Brooke and Teddy had no business being together and that their relationship was, for lack of a better word, kind of gross.

But despite knowing all that, I’m still going all dewy-eyed.  Because even though it was awful, and likely never should have happened, Brooke’s first love was good for her. So was yours, I wager.  

Love, even when it’s a disaster and leaves you with a broken heart (especially when it leaves you with a broken heart), puts a crack in the brittle shell of who you thought you should be and leaves you more who you really are.  It makes you better than you were before it.  Love is, in all its various forms, good for us.  And our first encounter with it does deserve our fondness.  More than that, if we are happy now, if we love someone the way we’re meant to, then we owe a great debt of gratitude to first love.  Disaster though it likely was.

But, enough of this.  Let’s leave our meditations on love and join Brooke on her first shift at The March.  I suspect you’ll find there’s a lot more going on at your local boozery than you were aware of.


Brooke got to work right on time at 4:30, completed W-2 in hand, price list in her back pocket (where, to be honest, it had never left).  Mary greeted her from behind the bar and gestured to the office door.

The office was a wee, tiny, ramshackle little room.  There was a beat up old desk, an even more beat up old file cabinet and boxes and boxes of booze.  Caleb crouched in front of a beat up old safe, spinning the dial.

“Brooke!” he said, amiably.  “Ready to start your first day?”

She nodded, feeling nervous and then feeling stupid for feeling nervous. 

“This is just some little waitressing job,” she thought. “Any idiot can do it.”

(The only people who think that any idiot can wait tables are idiots who’ve never waited tables.)

Caleb handed her a short apron with three horizontal pockets, and steered her out of the office as she tied it around her waist.  As they walked to the bar, Caleb delineated instruction.  “It’s important, and hard to remember, but keep your tip money separate from the bar’s money.  You have to balance out at the end of every shift, and if you’re short you might have to pay.  If you’re over, it looks like you might be stealing.  One of those pockets should be reserved for tip money. Mary is going to give you a $15 bank, five singles and a roll of quarters.  Mary?”

Mary handed Brooke the money and Caleb continued. “Keep the quarters in one pocket of your apron – but not the tip pocket.  Wrap the bills around your finger like this.”  Caleb folded the bills lengthwise and then wrapped them around his middle finger so the ends of the bills faced palmward, looking as though he had a tacky dollar bill ring around his middle finger.

He continued, “Once you’ve got enough money to make change without this, pay your bank back to Mary.  When you get an order, approach the bar from the wait station and say ‘Ordering.’  Don’t say ‘excuse me,’ or ‘hey, Mary’ or wait to be noticed.  I don’t care how busy or slow it is.  When you have an order, go to the wait station and say ‘Ordering!’  Loud.  Also, don’t say you want two or three of something.  Say ‘two times’ or ‘three times.’  Seems silly, but on a busy Friday night, you want to make sure you get heard.  There’s also a call order:  first drinks with ice, then drinks without ice, then bottled beer, and then draft beer.  So you might say something like ‘Jack coke two times, gin tonic one time, Dewars neat one time, bud bottle three times, pitcher of Old Style, three mugs.’”

Brooke started to interrupt but Caleb kept going. “I know it seems like we should say ‘mug three times’ but we don’t. Just go with it.  Continuing, you dress your own drinks.  Clear alcohol typically gets a lime, brown alcohol typical gets nothing.  Put a cocktail straw in every drink you bring out except beer.  When a customer comes in, wait until they’re seated before approaching.  Don’t poach bar customers.  That’s not cool and you don’t want to piss off your bartender.  Remember, ‘Ordering!’  If you’re on with another server, you take turns.  If she gets the table of six yuppies drinking top shelf booze and you get the single guy drinking a mug of beer, she still gets the next order.  It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s more fair than trying to negotiate fair on a busy Saturday night.  Last but definitely not least, we should have a doorman here whenever you’re here.  Do NOT serve anyone who hasn’t been carded.  I don’t care if they’re 50 years old.  If they haven’t shown an ID, don’t serve them.  You can ask your bartender to do it if you’re not comfortable.  Questions?”

Brooke, who had taken in roughly a third of what Caleb had said, thought for a minute and then shook her head.  She was instantly onto more important topics.   “Sounds simple enough. But I do have one question.  Do you guys recycle here?”

Caleb smiled.  Gio had warned him about Brooke’s single-minded focus on the environment and prepared him for the question. “Not yet,” he said.  “But if you want to institute the program and do all the work associated with it, feel free.”

Brooke nodded smugly, sure that within a week she’d have The March operating the greenest bar in Chicago.  She’d be so successful, she’d be discovered and offered a job as an environmental tavern consultant (a profession she’d just then assumed into existence).   She’d get famous before long and end up working for the mayor’s office.  From there it was just a short hop to a cabinet position in the White House.  And all because she’d started the recycling program at a little tavern on Chicago’s north side.

She stood in the wait station and turned to wait for her first customer.  A few minutes later, a couple of twenty-something guys from the bookstore around the corner sauntered in.

Brooke approached.  “What can I do for you?”  She’d learn soon enough that this was a dangerous question to pose to cocky young men, but it was early enough in the day that they were inclined towards civility and simply ordered a pitcher of Lite.  Brooke made her way back to the bar, where Mary stood chatting with one of the regulars about the Bulls’ chances for the season.  Brooke stood in the wait station, directly in Mary’s eyeline and waved.

Mary continued her conversation.

“Um, Mary?” said Brooke.

Mary chatted on.

Brooke got a little mad.  “I know you can see me, Mary!”

Mary laughed at something the regular said.

From behind her an irritated, smoke-scarred voice said, “She wants you to say ‘Ordering.’”

Mary laughed and said, “That’s the ticket, Brooke. Thanks for the assist, Teddy.”

Brooke got a little madder.  “Pitcher of Miller Lite, please,” she said coldly.

As Mary poured the pitched, she smiled at Brooke.  “Lookit, I know it seems silly. But the reason a server starts on a slow shift like this is so you can get used to it.  Dad’s going to put you on the floor with Rosie this Friday and you’re going to have to have developed some good habits, otherwise Rosie will eat you alive.”

“Rosie,” said the deep voiced man named Teddy as he settled himself onto a stool at the far end of the bar, “Is a vulture and a young woman of few ethical standards.”

“Oh, Teddy,” said Mary, setting a draft in front of him. “She’s just a good waitress and knows how to make a buck.  There’s no need to be such a judgmental fuck about it.”

Mary had a knack for calling her regulars a something fuck in a way that implied while Mary couldn’t stand most something fucks, she liked you well enough to tolerate your something fuckness.  It was a neat trick.

Brooke took the pitcher and the glasses and wandered back to the table.  One of the guys handed her $6 and told her to keep the change.  Brooke realized she had no idea how much the pitcher cost.  And who was this Rosie? And what was up with this Teddy guy?

Chapter Five