During the summer before leaving for college, I was hired at a small bar and grill in Farmington, Minnesota named “The Ugly Mugg”. It was a family-owned, family-oriented type of place, where the kids could order french fries, and every workin' man could order a nice tall Budweiser. It was a picturesque image of American small business: An older couple quietly maintaining financial order from a small office, lower-middle class employees frantically preparing and delivering orders, and jovial 'regulars' who, upon entering, were greeted with a unanimous, elongated, "hey-oh!" It was as American as it could get.
As incredibly Midwestern as this place sounds, it was no Applebee's. After a few weeks of punching in and out, 9am to 9pm, something about the aura of the place - the vibes - began to pester me. Maybe it was the stacks upon stacks of bills and papers cluttered around the restaurant; maybe the insurmountably passive aggressive tendencies of the "mom n' pop" owners; or maybe it was the unpaid overtime, bounced checks, and the inconsistency of the cleanliness of the kitchen. The assimilation of all these things, coupled with a less than motivated teenage angst I couldn't seem to outgrow, is what led me to deem this job as my worst. The place gave me a sort of "after Christmas blues" kind of feeling only amplified; it was enough to cause dry heaves and grey hair. I vividly recall a Friday night at work which I cannot forget - a type of lingering, 'shoo fly don't bother me' memory that evokes uneasiness and nail biting.
I arrived at work around 9am, just like any other day. Three weeks had passed since I began working, so I had finally gotten past the "new guy" phase - the temporary title that somehow justifies unexpected and miniature instances of on-the-job hazing. This included the old, "jump out from behind a wall and scream, rubber band around the sink sprayer hose, 'you're shoe is untied' nose-flicking'" pranks and jokes that were commonly used as initiation for new employees. I walked to the back of the restaurant to clock in, braced myself for a sack-tap from my co-worker Lauren, and began preparing breakfast orders. It was just like any other day.
Around noon, my boss finally rolled in, toting his tattered leather briefcase and a bulk order of toilet paper rolls under one arm. He was a heavy set guy, about six feet tall, a small bald patch on his head, and a hint of southern draw in his voice. Most days he remained at this desk, quietly tending to his Farmville crops and flipping through pages of bills and order forms. On this day however, the boss man wasn't in the best of moods.
"Mornin', Jeff!" I shouted from behind the register.
"Mornin', Wy" he sighed. I could tell something was wrong.
He disappeared for a while, only to return to the kitchen, his cell phone six inches from his ear while he squinted with discomfort from the fuzzy, blaring racket protruding from the speaker. He closed his phone, placed both hands on the prep table, and took a deep breath. I could see his face begin to flush, and imagined steam coming out of his ears.
"GOD DAMN IT! DAMN IT, DAMN IT, DAMN IT!" he yelled.
I was unsure whether or not he was serious, so I asked, "are they after your Lucky Charms there, Jeff?" My night didn't end well.
Before I knew it, I was sent home for the day for, "being an idiot smart ass." Apparently, the phone call Jeff had received was from the IRS, or a credit card company, and had informed him that at this point in time, filing for bankruptcy was his best option. This sent him into a sort of psychotic tailspin of anger, which led him to close the restaurant for the day. As I closed the kitchen door behind me, I could hear Jeff begin to destroy the kitchen; as I walked towards my car, I looked back expecting to see a large blender struggling to chop up metal utensils. At that moment - a moment which I tend to laugh at now that it's over - I heard a large BANG, and an office chair fly from out of the kitchen and into the back alley. I took off from the parking lot, and never looked back.
After that day at work, it wasn't the same. Jeff decided to file bankruptcy, and each day that passed he became more and more disturbed and angry. The sunny, joyful climate, which once existed, became toxic and stale. Coming to work each day became a battle with the knots in my stomach, and the fear of another violent outburst from my boss. I never mustered up the courage to have a man-on-man with Jeff because I was frightened of him. In fact, I'm not even sure what happened to the restaurant or Jeff. Working there was worse than what I imagine being trapped in an elevator with Dennis Leary, Chris Tucker, or Ben Stiller would be like; it was the type of job that made you cringe with awkward, chilling jitters, and change the channel. I was happy to leave and finally go to college.
One might ask, "was it worth it, working there? Did you learn something at least?" My answer is, and will always be: For minimum wage, incompetent co-workers, and an irate manager, hell no.