Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The things we do for love. And the things love does for us.

I was surprised to discover that I have 2 bunches of broccoli in my fridge. This is double what I need for the coming week which means I have to revamp my menu plans. This is the kind of a problem I can handle. It reminded me of a time when I was in despair because I couldn't afford any fresh broccoli.

I got a job I didn't love in a city I didn't love because I wanted to be with someone I did love. The job (volunteer coordinator for a Hospice program) was part time. With the strictest of budgets I could cover rent, car payment, student loan, and utilities. What was leftover was for groceries. On my first shopping trip I came to the realization that I could not afford fresh broccoli. I could barely afford it in the frozen version. I don't know why, but fresh broccoli became my bottom line. Without that, I was in poverty. Time for another job.

Following the wanted ads, I got myself to Les's Lounge, where they seemed to always be hiring cocktail waitresses. It was located, conveniently, across the street from the hospital, down a side street. Over the doorway was a sign that said "Les's Lounge" and showed, in neon, a picture of Les in a shirt with the top buttons undone, and gold chains gleaming on his chest.

Inside, I was led to Les's office where he sat drinking coffee and watching TV. I claimed to have 'waitressed my way through college' when really I had 'volunteer coordinated myself through college.' Les hired me. I'm pretty sure it had to do with my bra size and not my reputed waitressing experience. On my first night I showed up in the requisite white shirt and black pants. I was told that the shirt had to be tucked in and the apron was to go around my waist, not around my neck, even though that was how it was designed to be worn.

The bartender, Lisa, showed me a list of drinks and the codes I should use for ordering them at the bar. It was mid-afternoon. A group of men showed up and settled into a corner booth. Lisa nudged me and I went over to their table with my little pad of paper. They went around the table requesting drinks and laughing at me the whole time. How do I know that? All I can say is that there was some bizarre sort of mirth at that table and there was some winking going on with Lisa. When I got back to the bar I realized that, while I had listened to everything they said, I had written nothing down, having been distracted by the bizarre social undercurrents. Lisa very kindly saved my bacon, telling me that she knew what those men always ordered.

When I wasn't coordinating volunteers or brandishing my girls at Les's Lounge, I worked as a note taker. This meant that I drove onto the University of Illinois campus and sat in on large undergraduate classes and took notes. At night, I would type them up (on a typewriter--these were the old days)and the next day deliver them to an office on campus. Students subscribed to their classes rather than attending them and I'm quite sure many were not served well by my note taking. When I signed up, I said I could do humanities, English, that kind of thing. The owner of the business decided that I should do accounting. Accounting? I'm so bad with numbers it's notorious. I kept the job as long as I could. I think I got $10 per lecture. And in my free time, I ate fresh broccoli!

After a few months, the Hospice people decided that they could use me full time if I also did the job of marketing. Doing two jobs for one employer sounded better than doing three jobs for three employers (despite the fact that marketing isn't exactly in my skill set), and the overall pay would be higher. Hooray! Fresh broccoli for all and the time to actually enjoy it!

I had some interesting adventures in my nights at Les's Lounge. My waitressing skills had improved, as they would in a situation where I depended on tips. My sister (who actually did waitress her way through college) gave me the useful advice that I should keep my palm flat under the tray when I carry it, instead of holding the sides with two hands. My vision problem had not yet been diagnosed, but looking back, I can see that I was affected. Nevertheless, I navigated a room of drunken people (with steps!) whilst carrying trays of drinks without a single spill until my last day, St. Patrick's Day.

I had an afternoon shift for the first time. Because it was St. Patrick's day they knew they would be busy early and for the whole night. Was Les Irish? Don't know. But he had a whole set up with free corned beef and cabbage, other food as well. Apparently, Les's Lounge on St. Patty's was a 'destination spot.' I began my shift around 11 a.m. Surprisingly, the bar was already filling with people. A group of three women showed up having clearly spent the morning primping. Big mall bangs, red fingernails, carefully chosen, slimming outfits. They sat themselves in the lower area, just off the bar where they could see all the menfolk coming and going from the bar and food trough. They all ordered diet coke.

When I returned, carrying my tray flat on my palm, I missed the step down. I think it was because of the lighting. I wasn't used to working in the daylight and my depth perception was off. Having now lived with RP for almost twenty years, I know how to compensate, but, as I said, I hadn't been diagnosed yet. So, I missed the step. But what it looked like is that I skipped gaily down the step and launched three pint glasses full of icy diet coke onto one of the very preened women.

At least, based on the look she gave me, that is how it seemed. I apologized, offered to buy her anything she wanted. But, of course, she stalked out because now she had to go home and re-do three or four hours of personal appearance prep. Her two girlfriends actually looked rather pleased to have the competition somewhat reduced.

As I said, it was my last day, so the consequences were minimal. But what does all this have to do with broccoli?

Well, as it turns out, the person I moved for proved to be well worth any trials and tribulations. And now he buys me all the broccoli I want. Sometimes I even have the problem of what to do with too much broccoli!