Monthly Archives: May 2014

My Salad Days: Confessions of a Lousy Waitress

All the kids coming home from college and starting summer jobs have brought back memories of the summer I managed to get what was considered a plum job: I was hired to be a “salad girl” (a type of waitressing job) at a famous, Colonial-era, New England inn.

As one might expect, the job involved bringing salads to tables. There were, however, many other tasks such as assembling baskets of fancy breads and delivering them to tables in my assigned area. Even at lunch there were multiple courses, a la Downton Abbey. Each course required its own place setting including ridiculously-heavy pewter plates that were for decorative purposes only. The worst part, however, was carrying tray after tray of ice water.

At 18, I was the youngest and newest salad girl. Naturally, this meant I got the worst tables. There were three locations where food was served: the dining room, a pub (only slightly less formal), and a courtyard that was a ten minute walk from the kitchen.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I grew to loathe that courtyard. It was not only far, far away from the kitchen but involved navigating various interior passageways, a long narrow porch with oversized hanging plants, and a dozen or so creaky wooden stairs that led, finally, to the outdoor seating area.

Arriving at the courtyard, however, was when the real challenge began. It meant traversing deep, crunchy, bluestone gravel. Now, I like gravel. It’s very attractive but I can assure you it is exhausting to walk on, hour after hour, despite the required sensible shoes we had to wear. Meanwhile, there was the obstacle course comprised of wrought iron tables, each with its own gigantic umbrella for shade, along with shrubbery and statuary placed in such a way that one wondered if it was intended to make the wait staff trip.
Accidents involving dropped trays meant immediate dismissal. I am proud to say that somehow I managed to escape that fate although I admit there were many close calls.

Still, I was almost constantly in trouble. On my first day I ate a piece of leftover bread, not having been told that this was forbidden. My brother had worked as a waiter at a steak restaurant and was encouraged to eat leftovers, so I had the idea (wrongly) that this was customary. Had I not been so young and inexperienced, I would have asked first.

And then there was the uniform: Prim black dresses with white starched aprons that were supposed to be tied in a perfect bow in the back. My bow either sagged or it was so stiff I looked like Sally Field in the T.V. show, “The Flying Nun.” The woman who owned the inn would spot-check the place several times a day, and on many occasions she would literally grab me, drag me aside, and re-tie my bow.

My worst offense, however, was removing a cat from the dining room. He was an enormous orange tomcat I’d seen hanging out on the front porch of the inn. No one told me that this was the owner’s cat. In fact, it turned out that the cat was the inn’s mascot and enjoyed free rein of the premises. I will never forget being yelled at for putting him outside. How was I to know?

My summer at the inn taught me many things. Chief among them is that I have a lifelong appreciation and respect for those who work in the restaurant business.

And, as my friends will tell you, I am invariably a very, very good tipper.

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All God’s Creatures, Great and Small (and Sometimes Annoying, Too!)

When we first heard the sounds back in January, the noise seemed to be coming from outside the house, under the deck. They were thrashing noises, like a sizeable critter was trying to make itself comfortable on a cold winter’s night.

My husband investigated and was confident that “it” or “they” could not get into the house. Since we were not in any actual danger, I suggested we leave the critters alone until the brutally cold weather passed. My husband reluctantly agreed.

My hope was that with the arrival of Spring the critters would simply leave; then we could repair any damage beneath the deck. But that’s not how it played out. Instead, one night in early March we awoke to a terrifying racket: Loud barking, almost like a dog. And between bouts of barking, little chirping sounds – babies. Worse, the sounds were not coming from outside under the deck as they had been, but in the chimney.

My husband was on the phone immediately, calling a certified wildlife expert who quickly arrived with traps, cages, and all manner of gear. After studying the situation, the expert announced that our guest was, as we had guessed, a raccoon. In fact she was a mother raccoon who was nursing her babies. The explosive racket was probably the father getting too close to the babies (or perhaps attempting to be amorous with the mama) so mama ran him off. This, according to the wildlife expert.

It seems that Mama raccoon had burrowed far beyond the original space under the deck. She and the kids were indeed within the chimney, hidden somewhere in the masonry directly behind our brick mantle.

My husband was, shall we say, dismayed.

But what the wildlife expert said next was music to my anxious ears: “It was nice of you to leave them alone, with this horrible winter we’re having. And it would be humane if you could leave them where they are for another month.”

So guess what we did? We left them there for another month.

And, meanwhile, listened to the raccoon symphony night after night.

Spring came at last, and we could hardly wait for our wildlife expert to take another look. The babies, he said, had taken off on their own. (This was as it should be: Baby raccoons grow quickly and become independent in record time.) Mama, however, was still residing in her little apartment in the chimney.

Have-a-heart traps were set. Days went by. One evening at dusk I saw her sniffing suspiciously at one of the traps. Every day for a week we checked the traps.

Nothing.

“You have a very smart raccoon,” the wildlife expert said solemnly. He brought in a second expert. This one advised changing the bait: Instead of apples, he placed part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich just inside the trap door.

The next morning, I dutifully checked the traps and – surprise! – I saw an enormous, round, ball of fur. I ran and got my husband. Mama raccoon woke up and looked a bit annoyed. She stared at us, and we stared at her.

Then she went back to sleep.

That same morning – a lush, warm Spring day – the wildlife expert released “our” raccoon miles away in a nature preserve. He then returned to our house and sealed up the hole under the deck that somehow led inside the chimney, “just so that no one else moves in,” as he put it. As he left he thanked us for being kindhearted and patient.

I slept well that night, and not just because of our newly-regained peace and quiet. I was content because my conscience was clear. After all, an annoying mama raccoon with a weakness for peanut butter and jelly is one of God’s creatures, too.

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