fruit flies in the vermouth

Last night was my first shift at a pizza place a few miles away and it seems manageable but, same as every job I start, it’s got a handfulla tasks that I look at and think, “There’s no fucking way I can do that,” like for instance the woman who was training me, her name’s J., and on top of having long dexterous fingers she also had these long acrylic nails on and so whenever she went to enter someone’s order on the touch-screen computer I’d see the pad of her finger touch gently on one item while the end of her nail would clack on the item above it, and my eye would gravitate toward the option that was being clacked on, which was as disorienting the tenth time as it was the first. Also: J’s been working at the restaurant so long, usually for ten hours at a stretch, that she doesn’t really seem to look at the screen anymore. Her fingers just know where to go. So she’s looking away from the screen and hitting buttons in a flash and her speech is muffled because naturally we’re all wearing face masks…

It was overwhelming and I got more stressed than I should’ve.

            Soon as our manager left me alone with J. for training she sighed and told me, “I hate fuckin’ training people. You’re gonna have to figure this stuff out yourself. Cuz I don’t do shit the way they tell us to do shit cuz the way they tell us to do things is fuckin’ stupid.”

Later on she was explaining to me the stark difference between two seemingly similar menu items and she told me that I really need to belabor the distinction with customers because “people are fuckin’ stupid.”

A while after that we went behind the bar to fix a martini because it was Tuesday and they only call the bartender in for weekends. My trainer J. starts getting ingredients together but apparently there was only a single bottle of vermouth in the whole restaurant and the last bartender on duty forgot to plug the pour spout. So the vermouth was fulla fruit flies.

She held the bottle up to the light and pointed at the dead flies lilting around in there and said, “This is what I’m talking about,” then she scoffed and slapped her thigh and tossed the bottle, “the bartenders here are fuckin’ stupid.”

J. is in her early twenties and I think has aspirations toward college and a loftier line of work so I think she’s flexing a kind of theatrical resentment about the fact that she’s here at the pizza place after so many years. She wasn’t just arguing the stupidity of everybody around her but seemed to show a kind of relish in leading me to a table, addressing guests with a high-pitched and effusive kinda welcome, and then turning away from them and plucking her facemask under her chin while we walked away and grumbling to me with a cocked lip about how the people she just pandered to are fuckin’ stupid, or cheap, or slow, or their English is shitty.

But she lives with her boyfriend in what appears to be a nice apartment (she showed me a live feed of her living room, and her one-year-old dog; she needs to check in every now and then to make sure he isn’t chewing the furniture; when he is, J. holds the phone to her mouth and scolds him from wall-mounted speakers and he stops) and I get the impression she’s making good money, or that the two of them together, incomes combined, have made something of a home. Seems like she’s got her life in order.

It’s clear that she’s unhappy, but I don’t think it has much to do with the restaurant, so I’m not discouraged.

            Meanwhile there’s a store manager who’s friendly and avuncular, seems to be about sixty years old, and beneath him in rank there’s a manager-in-training who looks to be about my age, a bubbly redhead with glasses, and even though she had to spend the evening shoveling pizzas in and out of a huge oven, stepping away every few seconds to push her glasses back up her sweaty nose with the back of her wrist, she was friendly throughout and said nothing of being tired until she kinda draped herself over a hightop at closing time with a calzone she took two bites of and said no.

Just before closing at 10 we had a guy come pick up a pizza who happened to be a representative from Patron (a brand of tequila) and he bought the whole staff a round of shots on his company card. When a shot was offered to the abovementioned manager in training, slumped beside a calzone the size of her head with two little crescent bites at the edge of it, she demurred, and revealed that her drive home is about forty miles long. What she didn’t have to mention is that she’s about 90 pounds and close to passing out. I don’t imagine a shot of tequila would’ve made her drive any easier.

            Whenever I start at a new service job and mention to my friends or relatives that I’m nervous about one thing or another they’ll try to perk me up by saying, “Oh but you’re smart enough for that,” except I think that being a bartender or server calls for a different kind of intelligence than whatever it is I’ve cultivated by reading all these Swedish whodunnits. Service jobs have a lot to do with muscle memory and just trusting your body to move swiftly and efficiently but also trusting your mind to not get flustered and despondent when you think, perhaps unhappily or perhaps not, “All I have to show for today’s efforts, and yesterday’s and tomorrow’s, is the fact that there’s food in my belly and the lights are still on.”

Although frankly, the older I get, I question how much more there oughta be.

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