Friday, 17 May 2013

Life as a Rubbish Catering Assistant (part the second)

Can I get you some verbal abuse with your cappuccino?

We left the first half of my adventures with my metaphorically building a crockery-fort that could shelter me from the difficulties of my new job - the biggest problem, frankly, being my lack of general competence. 

The reason for the fort, you’ll remember, was the OCD that seemed only to hit me during the washing and drying of dishes. Luckily, after a few nightmare sessions of such cleaning it was gently pointed out to me that my teaspoons didn’t have to possess the sparkle of Barry Scott’s molars;they had to be clean. At first I was unconvinced, remaining terrifyingly certain I was the heroic barrier between Mononucleosis and your grandmother.
"Bang!" And, just like that, Barry was gone forever.
As the weeks flitted by, though, I began to absorb the advice and put it into practice. Dishes arrived; dishes were washed; dishes were dried; dishes were stacked. I become one with the matrix of saucers and soup bowls and was able to operate a fairly tidy work area without crying like a little child. 

My washing/drying wasn’t fast to the point of uncleanliness, yet at the same time the Lattes no longer had the aftertaste of the industrial equivalent to Fairy liquid: in this area, my slow journey towards adequacy was close enough to complete.

We will, therefore, leave the dish-side of the job and wander back out to the counter to observe my progress there.

Which is lucky for you, reader(s)- although I was past the stage where every sale would set my heart beating until it wanted to tear out my ribcage and give the customer a strong piece of its mind, I still found talking to the average customer a bit of a hassle, mostly because I'm endowed with the talent of saying the wrong thing at exactly the best time. It should be stressed I mostly come across as awkwardly charming (or maybe one of those two), but things still often fall out my mouth that should really be thrown back in and locked away.

One sleepy weekday afternoon, for example, I was quietly wiping down some trays in a fairly vacant cafe when I was nearly swept away by a barrage of middle-aged faces that had suddenly stormed the place with the intensity of a military insurgency. One of the happier faces at the helm of the group smiled at me as I hastily began serving.

“Sorry”, she said, “there’s a lot of us, I know. We’ve all just come down from a prophecy conference down at central.”

“Really?”, the words spilled out,  “I never saw that coming.”
The helms-woman tilted her head. “Sorry, son?”
“I said can I get you some tea with your muffin?”

Here we have an accidental slip of almost-wit - generally when I say something stupid I’m the last to be know it. 

To demonstrate, i’ll give you a second example. One lunchtime, a fairly heavy gentleman and a woman strolled in together and took their place in line. When the queue had shuffled forward I took the pair as a couple and asked them what I could fetch them.

“Just a quiche, please.” The hefty man replied.

“Sure." I responded, "But we’ve only got the one left. Is that okay?”

The sparkle in the man’s eyes died, quietly. 
Quiche: lowering self-esteem since 14thC

“I only wanted one.” he said, this time in a far less jolly tone.

As it transpired, man and wife were ordering separately. Very modern, perhaps, but still was the root cause of my frantic apologising. Incidentally, it was difficult to say sorry while trying to not make reference to the rather weighty reason why this customer may have taken particular offense at my mistake. 

I probably failed in finding that balance.

However, insulting the Glaswegian populace (regardless of gender and age), couldn’t last forever - firstly because  I eventually reached levels of social acceptability. The days of dish forts and wanting to duck behind the counter gave way to the age of being able to exchange a few sentences without facial spasms. 

Second: I left the job almost two weeks ago. Yes, that’s right: I hung up my dishcloth and wandered out of the cafe and into the sunset where my bus had probably just taken off. 

At the end of that final shift, then, what had I taken away? The ability to multitask, for one; the ability to weave away from numerous near-accidents and spills;  the satisfaction that I had entered an establishment and walked away with a new skill set; and, not least, a best wishes card and a cake my quiche-inclined friend might be more than a little envious of. More important is what I didn’t take away: black eyes from accidental insults; a bill for all the equipment I annihilated over the months; the ability to serve coffee to a stranger without my left eyebrow twitching like Jack the Ripper’s great-grandson.

Now there’s an idea for a cheap paperback.  

By the way, if I don’t come across as awkwardly charming, keep that knowledge to yourself and let me live that lie.

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