Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday Morning Stories With Mookie - Episode 72

The Time Mookie Worked As A Busboy

Yep, it’s time for yet another tale from my employment history.  The employer:  Royal Fork Buffet.

When I first started working for the hell-hole that is Wal-Mart, they gave me pretty much all the hours I wanted to work.  Even though I was technically a part-time employee, I was easily working around 36 hours a week.  This was awesome because it allowed me to pay my bills, and pay rent at the (formerly) mighty Funke Apartments.  Then right after the Christmas holiday, Wal-Mart tightened up the purse strings and cut hours across the board.  My hours went from a healthy 32-36 a week to TEN.  I saw the schedule and about crapped my pants.  There was no way I could pay my rent, eat, or continue my social night-life on ten hours a week.  I wasn’t sure what to do. 

In looking back, I can honestly say it was probably my first real financial set-back after moving out of my parent’s house and living on my own.  

Not long after seeing what the future schedules at Wal-Mart were going to be, I called home one afternoon and talked to my Dad.  I shared with him that Wal-Mart had slashed my hours and my general uncertainty about things.  Predictably he had a tone of empathy, but I could also tell by his voice that he sensed I was going to ask him for money.  Asking my parents for money is something I have always hated to do. I had been out on “my own” barely five months, and asking my parents for money at this point would have seemed like an utter failure on my part.  So with what felt like my pride on the line, I vowed to try to make the best of my situation and DID NOT ask them for money.

As luck would have it (if you want to call it that), a new restaurant was just opening up on the far side of the Wal-Mart parking lot - The sign said “Royal Fork Buffet.”  With great trepidation, I entered the eatery and filled out an application for any position they had open.  The manager promptly hired me as a Busboy, and said that it paid minimum wage.  I was not thrilled as it was significantly less than what I made per hour at Wal-Mart, but at least it was some sort of income.  As I had to provide my own “uniform,” I went to Wal-Mart and bought a cheap pair of black slacks, and a white dress shirt that I would not care about if I stained it with pudding.

I showed up for my first shift, and received my on-the-job training in about 4 minutes:  Carry a tub around, pick up dishes people are done with, if they were completely done with their meals-clear and wipe down the table for the next patron, and use a little sweeper to clean up crumbs.  When my tub was full of dishes I would take it back into the kitchen, dump any uneaten food or refuse into the garbage, and then slide the tub through a window to the dishwasher who took it from there.  I would then pick up a new tub and do it all over again.  I quickly learned the job was f*cking gross.  We didn’t get to wear gloves of any kind, so I had to touch half-eaten food and garbage with my bare hands.  I shudder just thinking about it now. I'm surprised I didn't get hepatitis or something.  To this day I still don’t like touching half-eaten food.  Even when I do my own kids’ dishes now -  I cringe.

Along with handling gross partially-eaten food (and seeing gross people eat), there was the smell.  
Due to my previous tenure at Hardee's, and because my roommate "Russ*" worked at Red Lobster - I was quite aware of the odors that may arise from food preparation.  I was always grossed out when Russ would come home after his nightly shift in the kitchen at Red Lobster, reeking of greasy seafood. Even after he would change his clothes and get cleaned up, the smell never entirely went away.  This was mainly due to the boots he wore to work having God-Knows-What embedded in the tread.  I thought nothing would ever smell as bad as this.  I was wrong.  The Royal Fork kitchen had the most HORRIBLE smell and was something I will never ever forget.  It was a mix of grease, fried chicken, seafood, vegetables, and humid body odor.  When you already have a dislike of each one of these items by themselves – which I do,  the smell of all of these things compounded together was truly UNBEARABLE.  The only reprieve to it was going back out into the dining room and pick up dirty dishes.

Each time I went to work I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad, and that the alternative (asking for money/moving home) was worse.  So I sucked it up and went about my business.  Thankfully, the shifts during the week were only a tolerable four hours, but unfortunately the ones on the weekends were eight.  An eight-hour shift of cleaning up after gross people eating gross mass-
She was mad butter wasn't an entree
produced food was exhausting and unappetizing.  With the exception of a small dish of soft-serve ice cream on a break one time, I NEVER ate there.

Not long after I started, the manager thought it was necessary to place a list in the back room of the various positions the restaurant had, and list each employee under their respective position.  It was quickly determined that this was not just a list – it was a “ranking.” In other words:  It was visual display of how well the manager thought you did your job.  I was surprised to see that I was ranked #2 out of the 15 or so names under the busboy heading.  Obviously the “competitor" in me wanted to figure out who was #1, and soon I learned it was a guy I had previously seen hustling all over the place.  He was a full-time busboy and a real go-getter.  I did not aspire to have that much pride about my busboy role, so I was OK not being #1.  I also thought it was funny that even though I was only a part-time employee,  I was #2 out of all the busboys (full and part-time).  These guys were idiots.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse - Not long after the list came out, one of the managers told me I was doing a good job and was thinking about promoting me to dishwasher. A dishwasher works - IN THE KITCHEN.  WHERE IT SMELLS.  I didn’t know if I should be happy about a possible raise in pay, or if I should buy a bullet and rent a gun.  
Thankfully I would never find out if I were subject to any progression within the Royal Fork franchise (or as my friends lovingly referred to as: “The Royal F*ck”), as not long after this I found out that my hours at Wal-Mart were going to be restored.  Upon hearing this wonderful news, I promptly went into the back office of The Royal Fork and left the manager a note saying that "due to outside conflicts, effective immediately - I would no longer be working at the Royal Fork."  I left the building and never went back ever again.

So, in the end - while I do thank the Royal F*ck for employing me for what turned out to be one whole month, I have to say that it was the grossest place I ever worked, or hopefully will ever work.

Having said that, I did take away two valuable lessons from that situation that I am going to pass on to you:
  1. When I told my Dad about how I picked up a second job to make up for my cut hours at Wal-Mart, I remember the words and tone of his voice sort of told me he was proud of me.  Like he was proud that I took stock in my situation, and took responsibility to do what I had to do to get out of it.  Or he was just happy he didn’t have to give me any money.  Either way - I felt good about myself knowing that I made my Dad proud, and that I was able to get stuff done on my own;  and
  2. I learned pretty quick while clearing tables that it was in my best interest to keep any tips I found on the tables when I cleared them.  I was told at the beginning that if I found any tips before the servers did, I should give it to the servers.  I naively assumed that they would pool the tips and share them with everyone at the end of the shift.  Ha ha…yeah not so much.  After my first few nights of working and giving the servers probably $15 in tips – and getting nothing in return – I said “F*ck that” and kept EVERY tip I found.  While it wasn’t a lot of money (most people don’t tip at a buffet), the situation definitely showed me that the little guy on the totem pole has to look out for themselves or they are going to get screwed.  Finders-keepers bitch.
In a funny epilogue to my Royal Fork situation: Even though the manager saw my “resignation” note, he apparently still scheduled me to work on the coming week for some reason.  How do I know this?  I received a call one afternoon from the manager-on-duty, asking why I had not arrived for my shift.  I explained to him that I had quit the previous week, and had left a note for the general manager explaining this.

He said: “Well you are on the schedule.  You should be here.”  
I replied:  “Well, I’m not.” 
He then said “Mmm Hmm.  You’re on the schedule.  Are you coming in?” 

I laughed and hung up. 

(*) Names changed to protect the guilty/innocent

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