My girlfriend hit me in the face with a large handful of shaving cream last night (because our home life is much like a Marx Brothers movie) and, as I was showering off, I was struck with a sense of deja vu
so powerful I nearly invented time travel.
What I was reminded of was this:
After I finished film school in New York, I was broke. Like, scary broke. The kind of broke where spending 35 cents on a pack of gum is considered "a night on the town." Because I hadn't bothered to secure living arrangements or, you know, a job
for post-graduation, I was pretty much staring down a life of couch surfing and/or engaging in knife fights for the rights to the most comfortable park benches in the city. But, before I could find a really good pair of hobo slacks and get used to the taste of soup kitchen chow, my family intervened. Come home, they said, your old room hasn't been rented out or converted into a pilates
lounge yet, so it's all yours. For a little while. I mean, we love you but... you know... let's set a date for your departure, shall we?
So, because my options were limited, I swallowed my pride, choked on it a little, nearly spit it back up, but eventually got it all the way down and I moved back in with my folks. All things considered, it wasn't too bad of an arrangement; my parents and I got along well enough, I fell back into a relationship with an old girlfriend (the aforementioned "Sarah"
) and soon after my arrival I was gainfully employed.
My new master was that venerable Aussie-themed purveyor of meats, Outback Steakhouse. It was, in all honesty, a great place to work. Everyone was friendly, our management team were all hard-drinking, hilarious guys roughly my age, and we waiters weren't forced to be all peppy and wear obnoxious buttons on our uniforms or anything like that. Plus, the food was (and still is) fantastic, or, at least, as fantastic as you're going to find in a corporate-run restaurant chain. The only problem was my particular store's location; the hood. It was the first Outback in North Texas and, when it opened, it was snugly located in a bustling, middle-class community. The ensuing years, however, had not been kind to this particular part of Arlington, Texas and, by the time I got there, it was the kind of place where we male employees had to walk the hostesses to their cars at night because if we didn't, we probably wouldn't see them again. Because of this, business was slow. There were days when I'd work a double shift and walk away with only 40$ in tips. For those of you not familiar with the Front-Of-House lifestyle, let me assure you that that is a bad
situation. Especially for someone like me, who's working with the intent of saving his nickles, his eyes set on getting out of his parents house and out of his hometown as quickly as is financially feasible.
Eventually, after about six months in the steak-slinging trenches, I had saved enough to get gone. My destination: Los Angeles
. Why? I have no fucking idea. I guess I figured that, since I'd just graduated from film school, it was only natural that I should try my luck in the city that gave reason and purpose to the very existence of film schools in the first place. It also had a lot to do with me just wanting to get the hell out of Arlington; I'll admit fully that I wasn't thinking as clearly as I should have been. My time in LA was as short and miserable as a broken-hearted midget, but that's a story for another time.
The day before my last shift at the OB, my manager pulled me aside and said, "Hey, tomorrow, you might want to bring an extra set of clothes with you." I thought he was kidding but his eyes told me different. "Why?," I asked. He just stared at me and shook his head; "Seriously, just do it."
I had no idea what to expect. Scenes from Goodfellas
flashed through my mind. I barely slept that night. My last shift was a bone-cruncher; one of those all-too-rare nights where people showed up en masse
for our Bloomin
' Onions and "No Rules, Just Right" ethos. My section was constantly full and my mind, consequently, was doing wind sprints trying to keep up with the drink orders for table four, the request for extra ketchup for table five, the re-fire for all
the steaks on table six (BASTARDS!) and on, and on, and on
... all nervousness and trepidation
forgotten. Finally, things quieted down and a calm descended. I picked up my last check, walked back into the kitchen and my manager looked at me, dragging his thumb across his throat, signifying that I was cut; time to count up the tips and make my merry way out of this town, hopefully for good.
Just past the kitchen, there was a little, narrow table up against the wall where we waiters would stand at the end of the evening to do all the various bits of arithmetic
that were required of us before we could leave. I was the only one there, oddly enough, but I didn't really notice. I was focused on wrapping all of this up. I began to work on my credit card receipts and had just started writing down the totals when I heard footsteps running up behind me.
I turned towards the noise and had just enough time to see a friend of mine, a fellow waiter named Tyler who had a grin like Satan and a similar sense of humor, sprinting at me full bore while hoisting a large, white bucket the size of garbage can. And the bucket was sloshing over. Before I had time to react, the entire contents of the bucket was upended over my head, drenching me in the foulest, slimiest, most viscous liquid I've ever had in direct contact with my skin. Allow me to list for you the contents of said bucket:
-Salad dressing (various)
-Grease run-off from the grill
-Every soda from our taps
-A wad of spit from every single employee on shift that night
I stood there in shock, every inch of me soaked through. That's when they hit me with a large container of seasoned flour, which quickly bonded with the nasty wetness to form a kind of a paste. As the coup de
grace, I received a face-full of whipped cream from one of our cooks, who then let out a loud, "Aye-yi
!!!!" I realized then that the entire restaurant's staff had gathered in the kitchen to watch the show. They let out a huge cheer and I knew, immediately, that I was not being mocked; that I wasn't being tormented out of meanness or malice. It was a cheer of love, and if you haven't experienced one of those, dude, you're missing out on the good stuff.
A cold bottle of beer was thrust into my hand and, after I'd wiped away the crud from eyes, I became the end point for a long line of grungy
handshakes and grody
hugs. Well-wishers all, they were sad to see me leave but proud that I was headed off for ostensibly bigger and better things (that's not the way it turned out, but at the time the future looked shiny and bright). My fetid, disgusting clothes were eventually shed into a garbage bag and thrown away; really, there was no hope for a recovery from the state they were in. The dishwasher was kind enough to hose me down with the large, industrial sprayer and, after I'd changed into my extra set of clothes that I'd so mindfully been warned to bring, we partied long into the night.
For the next few days, my hair reeked of fish and it took several goes with a series of Q-tips to dislodge all the coffee grounds from within my ears, but the smell and the unearthed grit never failed to make me smile. Thinking back on it now, it still does. I know that I'll probably never get that kind of send-off again and that makes me a little sad. Sure there might be cake in the break room when I leave this office and, sure, there might be cards and whatnot from whatever jobs I leave in the future. Still...
Nothing says love quite like twenty gallons of horrid goo. Nothing ever really will.