As soon as I turned 16 I got a job washing dishes at Abdow’s Big Boy. I wanted to prove that I was capable of being useful and that I was not the pampered, rich kid I thought everyone perceived me to be. I wanted to be useful and a contributing member of a team. They paid me $3.50 an hour. I am not even sure that was minimum wage at the time but I did not care what they paid me. I had no bills so everything I earned was disposable. After a few paychecks I had more money than I knew what to do with. Once I heard someone who was just hired was making something like $5.50 an hour. I confronted my manager. He looked like he had been caught and then raised my pay accordingly. Eventually, I moved from the dishwasher to the kitchen and even waited tables. I continued to work in restaurants until I graduated and during the summers while in college.
I was exposed to a new group of people beyond the kids I went to school with. There were some assholes. There was the one guy who washed dishes with me. We got into an argument and went out by the dumpster and he started to choke me. The manager (I forget his name but he had a mustache) came out and saved me. He told the guy choking me (who was probably twice my size) that I was tough and that he did not want to fight me.
There were also a lot of pretty waitresses. There was a pretty black girl with an amazing body who took me by the hand into the bread room and made out with me. There was the beautiful, blond Romanian girl who I almost went on a date with but she backed out at the last minute because she had a boy friend or something. There was the other blond girl who made my high school girlfriend jealous. She then came in with her friends and sat in the girl’s section and said some things to piss her off. I don’t remember exactly what it was. I remember feeling a little embarrassed that she did that. She messed with where I worked.
I remember another manager drove a car with the whole side smashed in like a train hit it on the tracks. She was a short, stocky woman with grayish curly hair. She walked with a limp and had a worn, tired face. One time she pulled me aside and said, “you know, you do a really good job washing the dishes… You are never going to win any prize for it but good job.”
The people I worked with at restaurants treated me like a normal guy because they did not know me all my life. I could re-invent myself. For the first time I did not feel like the weakest, geekiest link in a chain. But I also remember feeling embarrassed that I came from a family that was better off than the other people who worked there. When I worked summers while in college I remember feeling embarrassed that I went to college and that my parents paid for it. I remember not volunteering that information and dreading when it came up in conversation. Sometimes I lied about it.