Chronicles of trading in Corporate America for a waitress's apron during my very own quarter-life crisis.

Monday, March 24, 2014

It all started with dental fricatives

Dental fricatives, in the English language, are just known as "th."  They can be voiced or voiceless, meaning that you are either pushing air through your vocal cords or not when you pronounce them.

If you aren't following me, hold one hand up to your throat.

Just do it, come on.

Now say this word out loud:  "thy."  Pay attention to when your throat vibrates with your voice.  Now, say the word "thigh."  Your throat only starts to vibrate when the vowel passes through your mouth with this one.

More on that later.

My first job in the food industry was dumped on me when I was 14.  I worked in a university residence hall for women, delivering cereal and oatmeal in their freezing dining room on Saturday mornings and torching pots and pans with the hanging water spigot in the kitchen, my peace sign necklace dangling dangerously close to the garbage disposal.  I quit the job when my parents told me as delicately as possible that waking up at 6 a.m. on weekends to drive me onto a Big Ten campus was not worth the $5.15 an hour that I was making.

I waited tables throughout high school and college, a blur that I now refer to as my "formative years" but is really just another time that I didn't know any better.  I pushed myself far beyond what's considered healthy, taking 18-21 credit hours and maxing out at 40-50 hours of food service.  But that was relatively normal for me; to this day, I can't remember much about life without a job of some sort.

As you'll hear from many servers, there are stories.  I have some, like when I asked a woman if she wanted soup or salad, and she responded, "Yes, I'd like a Super Salad."  Or when the kid at table 53 decided to climb up a section of window treatments, and his nonchalant mother continued to eat chips and salsa until those window treatments broke and her kid (and salsa) spilled on top of her, so that was her cue to bitch for a free meal.  Or how many times I've greeted a table with, "Hi, how are you all doing tonight?" and one person in the group (it's hard to tell when their faces are buried in menus, none of them bothering to look at me) responds with, "Diet Coke."  Or even just last night, when I was waiting on a table of three teenage-looking girls, and one of them said, while fiddling with her phone, "Um, I'll have like, water?  And a side salad?  With ranch?" and then she stiffed me on the tip.

However, this blog is not all about waitressing.  Before I came back to work in a restaurant, I had a "real" job.  I called it my Big Girl Job at times.

I was a technical writer, internal auditor, and board administrator for the quality system department at a company that did research and development for an internationally respected medical device manufacturer.  Try saying that five times fast.  Hell, try saying it at all; I had to, for five years.

I can't entirely explain why I left that job to go back to waitressing.  The politics, maybe... how people refused to change even though we weren't a company of 25 employees anymore... perhaps when, a few years ago, the VP of the clinical studies team told me, "If I had your job, I'd kill myself"... or when my boss, who I absolutely adored, told me that he'd be joining forces with the one person there I couldn't stand -- a micromanager, universally hated in the building.

The biggest factor in getting that job was the little internship on my resume.  The internship was for work study when I was in college.  I was a training intern for the information technology department, which meant any time the university went live with new software (say, Office 2007 at the time, or a new purchasing system), I was on the front lines to train faculty and staff on the basics.  Part of the interview process for this internship was to deliver a presentation to my hiring managers.  My presentation was on linguistics.

I had these tough-as-nails women hold their hands to their throats, pronouncing the words "thy" and "thigh," feeling when their voices made their skin rattle, and I watched their surprised expressions when they could tell the difference between the dental fricatives.  They saw I was a good trainer and hired me.  I quit my waitressing job (at that time, I was at Outback Steakhouse) the next day.  I was officially an Office Worker, typing away in an anonymous cubicle and letting my life revolve around Outlook.  During my internship, I did manage to sneak a tiny peace sign sticker next to my cubicle nameplate.  During my Big Girl Job as a technical writer, I stuck magnetic finger puppets on the dry erase board in my cube.  I suppose that was a way to tell people, "I don't belong here.  I'm an individual.  I have a personality."

If only I could've learned to just suck it up.

At any rate, I traded in my $40K a year salary, 401(k), benefits, profit sharing, PTO, roomy cubicle, etc. for this, and damn it, I'm going to chronicle the shit out of it.  My advice is to brace yourself, because I sure didn't.

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