“When are you going to get a real job?”
This question elicits two different reactions from me: “I know. ” and “But, how about you go fuck yourself?”. Because I have a fake job. A fake job that has lasted since I was 17 years old selling sweet iced tea in mason jars and fried catfish on aluminum pie plates. A fake job that I thought I would be able to ditch after college. A fake job that has allowed me to feed myself and my cats many years past college. A fake job that has allowed me to earn money all over the country. A fake job that allowed me to make those moves without employment lined up because I knew it would only take me a few days to find a new job. A fake job that even when the economoy took a shit I still had job security. Because people gotta eat.
I was once a hostess. Then a server. Then a bartender. Now a bartender/bar manager. Very rarely have I gone to work gleeful, often resigned, sometimes with dread, and four times with absolute fear. St. Paddy’s Parade Day at an Irish pub in downtown Chicago as a cocktail server is pure hell. I was always terrified someone in oversized blinking shamrock sunglasses would throw up on me.
Every shift is more or less a gamble. There’s never a set amount of money you’ll make. I mean, I know that I’ll make more on Friday than a Monday, but sometimes that gets turned upside down by a convention in town or a drunk guy making it rain. You never know. Swapping shifts involves strategy. There’s no way I could do this work with a set hourly rate. I mean, I could, but your experience is about to shit the bed. You think I’m going to care about how fast you get your margarita or whether or not you’ll truly enjoy the salmon? You think I’m going to smile more making $15/hour? I have resting bitch face on nights when my hourly is over $40. And please stop telling me to smile. I CAN’T HELP IT. THAT’S MY FACE, YOU CONDESCENDING DICKHEAD.
I once temped in a HR position and was asked if I could handle basic office skills. I was 30. With office experience. I don’t know why people who have always worked in an office think that those of us who haven’t would be lost. If I were to put any office worker behind the bar, most of them would fall apart. Do you know how many skills are involved in bartending? Memorization, being nice to assholes, massive multi-tasking, standing for hours and hours without a lunch break or even a bathroom break, constant reprioritzing, athletecism, flexability and staying calm all while both co-workers and guests are interrupting your train of thought asking for shit, one chic is pulling another chic out of a barsttol by her hair, and you’re trying to decide if you need to cut off that guy on the end because if he gets in a car and wrecks, guess what? I get sued under a Dram Shop Law. Can you get sued at your job? Most people would say no. I’m guessing there isn’t that kind of pressure in the cubicle.
Sometimes there’s blantant aggression. I have more than once overheard people say to a co-worker,”Well, you’re 30 and you’re a bartender!” So what, bitch! Where do you work, Express? Oh, you’re a lawyer? Still not impressed! And for some reason, one out of 4 bitchy guests proclaim they’re a lawyer. Either some people are embellishing on their work histroy or you lawyers need some mindfulness apps. Chill! What’s wrong with being 30 and shaking some drinks? I slept until 10:30 today! Yesterday, I got up at 8am, accomplished some shit and then took a nap. Actually, I usually take naps. I’ll probably take one in a few minutes. You 9-5ers can’t do that shit.
I just took a nap!
Everyone working in customer service has a happy face on. And they should. We’re serving people. Guests should feel welcomed and appreciated. Some of them are. Regulars have often become friends. But some customers are assholes and that’s just reality. Are you nice? Hey, thanks for being nice! Are you funny? Ha! Sit down and make me laugh! Are you a dickhead? AWESOME. YOU’RE RUINING MY ENTIRE SHIFT. Ways of being a dickhead are numerous and we all know them, but the one way people don’t seem to know is by asking if we do anything else besides taking your food order or showing you to your table. They ask if we’re in school. Or if we work anywhere else. I mean, fucking probably, but why is this question so prevalent in the service industry? Are cashiers fielding these lame questions, too? Nurses? Receptionists? Welders? What’s going on there?
Is it guilt? If you’re hoping those people making you drinks and sliding sizzle plates in front of you like what they do, the majority of them don’t. Again, we’re serving people. It’s literally work. No one likes work. I mean, do you? Do you relish every minute that you’re at work? Is smashing yourself onto a packed train or traveling 5mph on the freeway during rush hour your passion? And why does it matter if the server legitimately enjoyed your joke of “I hated it!” as you wink and wave at your empty plate? Does thinking that someone making 12 drinks simultaneously enjoys her work make you feel less guilty about ordering an extra cold, slightly dirty vodka martini with the ice from the shaker on the side and blue cheese olives? This is their decision to work there. And work is garbage. It’s work. But work is especially garbage when you’re scraping food covered in someone else’s cold and flu germs into an overflowing trash bin next to a overflowing dish pit while remembering that your student loan payments are overdue and someone’s all, “So, you in school?” NO. I HAVE A COLLEGE DEGREE.
It’s that judgment from people who have never worked in the service industry that I can never really shake off. Years of listening to shitty comments like “What does she know? She’s a bartender” have reduced down into a vicious little voice in my subconscious so on bad days, I’m like, yeah, what do I know? I’m just a bartender. Then I have to remind myself why I’m not someone’s assistant or doing data entry. Because I know I wouldn’t like it. Because what I do pays more. Maybe they, too, are asked when they’re going to get a real job. That’s shitty. Stop asking people that. Maybe I’ll start asking doctors when they’re going to get a real job. Lawyers, investment bankers, architects.
I look for a real job all the time. I fantasize about being a screenwriter or an author. I’ve looked into the tech industry. I once spent weeks researching schools to become a therapist. Like anyone, I want an easier and more fullfilling way to make money. Because any job on your feet is tough. Any job in customer service has bad days. Working nights limits the time you can spend with family and friends. But, goddammit, they are all real jobs.