In 2002, after a year or so of not working after my stint at the doughnut shop, it seemed—being that I was a senior in high school—like it might be a good idea if I had some money for college in the fall. Twist worked as a cook at a pizza chain and assured me she could hook me up with a gig doing the same, which I wasn’t too excited about: I still longed for a glamorous mall job at Pacific Sunwear or to toil away in a record or video store or some other setting that was rife with teenage interpersonal drama. Instead, I was once again working with food, and I found this embarrassing: For me, it was evidence that I wasn’t good or cool enough for the kind of job I wanted.
And so, for a long time, I evaded telling people where I worked. I told Pine Cone—he himself a serf in Sears’ shoe and men departments—that I worked at “The Pasta Box,” a fictional Italian restaurant (that also clearly involves food). While he didn’t believe me (and we went on to refer to the place as such forever after, even when he did find out), a ridiculous and outright lie was still superior to the truth.
All that being said, “The Pasta Box” was the most fun place I’ve ever worked. There’s something unique to the work culture of a restaurant. Maybe it’s due to the transient nature of the job, which so rarely blossoms into a lifelong career. It’s a motley group of characters with different passions who are passing through, doing what we can until we finally scrape it together and pursue something else.
Naturally, there were truly shitty days there—I’m sure that’s not so hard to imagine. But it was difficult for me to not enjoy myself when I was working with a huge cast comprised of my friends, which included—at one point or another—Esquire, Fork, Bamboo, my brother, and a slew of other people I met there and came to know. There was frequently something weird going on, which I wholly appreciated, and maybe that explains why this post is only Part 1 of this particular Working Gal.
The cast of characters there included Whip, the manager, who was perpetually stressed. “Jesus frig,” she’d groan between cigarettes she never got to finish, the butts of which would join everyone else’s in the otherwise unused mail box beside the back door (which was really a door on the side of the building). “What the Christ...?!” was another Whipism. Her copilot, Brass, supplemented his substitute teacher gig with The Pasta Box and was far more approachable than Whip. He told me and Bikini of his knowledge of the G-spot, after all.
Bikini, a waif with a pixie cut, was a fellow cook who briefly dated my brother, and when they worked the same shift, they could be found making out in the walk-in freezer. She would do cartwheels and back flips in the dining area, as well as “The Bikini Booty Dance,” which made me screech with laughter. (“I love your laugh,” Bikini said of my may-Christ-compel-you howl. “It has so much characterization.”)
As a cook and later a waitress, I frequently worked the lunch buffet with a super conservative grandmother type who gave the busload of Christian kids free cinnamon sticks. (Would she have done that if they were all headed to Atheist Camp?) Also on duty was Almond, a shy, hopelessly awkward forty-something-year-old guy who didn’t have a car or even a license—he lived with his mother, who dropped him off and picked him up from work every day. Being a pizza cook was likely the only gig he ever had, and he’d been doing it for at least a decade. He was loyal and true to his job, however, and much of his hourly pay was reserved for buying Star Wars toys.
Whirl was a waiter who gave the impression that he had the attention span of a gnat but I sense that the hyperactivity was a facade. He had a blonde girlfriend he was constantly exasperated with. We once spent an evening joking about how he’d pay me a thousand dollars a week to be his new girlfriend. I could’ve paid off my student loans so much faster! On another occasion, we mummified him in plastic wrap. He danced with the broom to Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” on a day when I controlled the stereo, and once he poured chemical cleaner and jalapeno pepper juice in the dishwasher. How did this pizza place stay open for at least another decade?!
I always had a blast when Twist and I shared the same shift. We’d invent snacks to eat, like the Little New Yorker (think The Big New Yorker’s younger brother). (However, my jam was always either a personal pizza liberally sprinkled with bacon and green peppers or the cheesy breadsticks, which I’d eat at the make table while reading a book during post-buffet lulls.)
Somehow Hootie and the Blowfish would always be playing when we were sharing “dish bitch” duties. We invented a song to sing whenever someone ordered the really repulsive pasta entree:
♫ Yeast infection! Primavera!
Put it on your! Noo-ee-oodles!
Yeast infection! Primavera!
Gives ya herpes! Like a poodle! ♫
We also created “Do-ey,” a small lump of leftover dough that we wrapped in napkins, let “sleep” in a cavatini tin, and referred to as our son. I believe he lived in Twist’s freezer for awhile.
When it was dead, she and I would chill outside, sitting on empty crates and listening to mix CDs. We made a list of things we’d put in an adventuring kit, such as helmets with two stars on them, a flashlight, a sand shovel, a pack of gum, and “a picture of an extremely naked person.” When The President came in for a snack with one of his friends, we had no hesitations about hiding anchovies beneath the cheese layer of their pizza, giggling all the while. (We ourselves took part in the initiation process—months and months after working there—that involved eating a raw anchovy. We split one, and then immediately and dramatically downed a pitcher of water.)
It poured rain on my last day of work before I started college. Twist and I ran around the parking lot at the end of the night and completely soaked ourselves. We came back inside, announced there’d been a dish-washing accident, and ate a pizza that, for whatever reason, we deemed “boring.” Still, a fine way to sign off on the summer.
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