Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Sunday, November 9, 2008


"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."
-Ernest Hemingway

Anyone familiar with the chronicles of various jobs I have held will also know that most came to a sorry end, culminating in hair-raising escape.
It was by chance that some endeavours of mine turned out to be simply hideous, and I was motivated to engage in them for reasons other than money- lured, I was, by the prospect of meeting interesting people and adding curiosity to my life.
I embarked, one Christmas, on what would turn out to be the most short-lived of experiences. I accepted a job in a nightclub just as the festivities and the local office party season were getting underway. I had been promised the title of waitress, but within moments of stepping onto the floor for work, I was faced with my mistake and somebody else's pretext.
There was not a bite of food involved: I was immediately assigned to collect empty beer and wine glasses from each corner of the nightclub, stack them, and deposit them in the kitchen.
Had I been able to actually see anything, I might have fared a little better. I could not even find the corners of the nightclub, much less the glasses that were lurking in them.
As I stood and attempted to determine my surroundings and my next step, I was pummelled and pushed on all sides by dancing, oblivious individuals.
We were sardines in a tin, all of us, and I was the only sardine that needed to get anywhere.
I lost my way several times in the first two minutes, spun around by the flailing arms and legs of exuberant patrons, smothered by the sheer force of the flock.
Even if I had been lucky enough to locate a wayward wine glass, I doubted I could hold onto it long enough to carry it to the kitchen, and anyhow, I was expected to return each time with no less than twenty used glasses in a wobbling tower- so my triumphant cries of "I got one! I got a glass!" would go largely unheeded.
After twenty minutes, when I could not breathe, I could not move and I could not do any work, I decided to terminate my employment and go home.
My belongings were in another section of the nightclub, beyond a door which one needed a code to enter. I had been told the combination, but it had slipped my mind in the panic, and I soon understood that I could not leave without asking again for the code, and that nobody would let me leave easily. As I was not really contributing to the evening's progress, I assumed that my absence would go unnoticed.
I swam over to my supervisor as soon as I caught sight of her head bobbing through the waves of dancers. She had a precarious, enviable pyramid of wine glasses clasped in her arms.
"I need the security code," said I, with what I hoped was an air of nonchalance.
"I want to see the boss for a moment," I knew the owner of the nightclub was in an office beyond that door, and using him as an excuse just might get me in there long enough to gather my jacket and purse.
"Why do you want to see him?"
"Oh, I just want to ask him something."
"You can ask me." She was truculent, her face like a thundercloud, hands on hips.
"I'd rather ask him."
"You can ask me."
We carried on like that for a time, until she at last halted the circular dialogue, changed tone and asked, "is there something wrong?"
Cornered, I confessed that I was having difficulty turning around without being hit in the face by an elbow, and was therefore regretfully unable to carry out the task I was entrusted with.
To her credit and to my surprise, she asked me to stay; in fact she begged me to give my decision a little more thought. As a last resort, she offered to place me in the kitchen- doing anything so long as I helped out in some way at such a hectic time.
I spent the next six hours scrubbing glasses, grateful to be away from the throngs of people, working in silence. Not only did I complete the entire shift, but I returned the following evening as well, gladly taking up position in the kitchen.
Since I was determined to retreat a mere twenty minutes after starting work, I had to hand it to my supervisor: I disliked her character, but she carried out her management role superbly, listening to my complaints, persuading me to stay when I wanted to go home, and finding another project to occupy my time. Much as I was glad in the end to escape, her loyalty to the job was commendable and it is what I remembered best long after I left the venue behind.


Delena said...

Your story sure brings back memories of my waitress days. I think I worked a week, dropped glassed, was verbally abused by customers, flooded out the front counter when I forgot to turn off a tap etc. etc. I was not fired but I soon quit and even at 16 years old I did gain respect for people who serve the public.

julochka said...

it must have been a total nightmare, trying to navigate around in that club and i have to admit i have a really hard time picturing you doing it. how on earth did you come to apply for such a position? very glad you made it out of there intact!


Pappy said...

Some folks motivation exceeds the agravation. Pappy

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Del, working at different jobs from 16 was one of the best things I ever did for myself, and to gain a bit of confidence. I would have been lost without those experiences, even the bad ones.

Julie, Well- picture me standing still, and being paid to move, and getting upset that I couldn't work... and trying to push my way through and people either not seeing me or giving me horrible looks that I'm in their way while they're trying to be drunk ;)
I wanted a job in the restaurant section of the premises, but the interviewer didn't tell me it was closed during the evenings, so that the only work I could do was in the nightclub from 6 pm onward. I would never have taken that job if I'd known it was on the dance floor because I know that's not a place I'd be comfortable working in, much less at Christmas time!
But I did get out of there by the end of the week so it all turned out okay. An experience, at least.

Texican, -a good thing too that she got over her annoyance- I'm sure she didn't like me any more than I liked her, but she did what she had to do.

Pauline said...

there is a lot to be said for good management skills!

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Pauline, there is- and it's a rare thing, which is why I remembered it. She didn't have to be nice, just do her job properly.

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