The words “this will be your last day” barely registered into my brain. It happened in an instant, it was quick -but I knew what I had to do. I didn’t stutter or misinterpret the situation. I said my goodbyes and left my job. The way my brain operated in the moment was instinctual. Working in restaurants has taught me to be adaptive and not reactive.
LIVING IN CHAOS
Sometimes I can’t hear myself think when I’m at work. I turn around and stand in the middle of the dining room –what the hell am I doing? I ask myself -followed by a chuckle from a coworker or two. We’re pulled into so many different directions. We all look like we’re losing it. There are big parties that want more drinks, a line of hangry customers out the door, and five tables that just sat down.
Post-quarantine, we’re all overworked, exhausted, and sweaty -it’s chaos. It’s hard to not be reactive when customers are yelling at you. Stress levels reach their max until we find ourselves in a mid-shift hissy fit.
In an attempt to be more adaptive instead of reactive, I found solace in our mandated masks.
HIDING BEHIND THE MASK
I like to pretend that if they can’t see you panic then there is no actual panic. Nobody can see when fear marks itself on my face. My countenance becomes masked in blackness. The veil sustains my calm demeanor. Some of my coworkers can never tell when I’m stressed -that is until I voice my frustrations.
Other’s forget what I look like under my mask. It’s still fun to see people surprised at what I look like. It’s become a game: Guess What I Look Like! No one can see the acne on my cheeks. Life is a painter and my face is it’s canvas. Blemishes and scars are speckled on my face like paint.
My mask being coupled with an all black uniform makes it look like I’m a ninja. I work so quietly and quickly that one of my coworkers deemed me one. But like a ninja, my eyes are exposed. What the mask can’t hide are the dark circles that crescent under my eyes. Lines are etched from the corner of my eye like brush strokes. Just when I thought I had the perfect disguise -I found an imperfection.
MY EYES SAY EVERYTHING
Even when I’m maskless my eyes show what I’m focused on, what I’m feeling, and when I’m trying to learn. My coworkers can see me staring at customers or the dishes in their hands. It’s how I communicate. Sometimes I’ll widen my eyes at my boss -it’s my way of saying oh shit or don’t talk to me. And if my coworker is trying to show me something, I watch them do it. I learn partly by watching.
I like to learn about people by looking at them. I could people watch for HOURS -especially in a restaurant. I’ve seen how customers and coworkers operate in this environment -and I’ve learned one thing from it.
PEOPLE ARE INTOLERABLE
Whether they’re your coworkers or customers -people can be intolerable. They’re needy and they complain about everything. I can’t remember how many times I’ve carried a pile of dishes and a customer asks me “can I order a drink?” I’ve seen coworkers being yelled at. I’ve been asked by customers to help them break into a car. I’ve been shaded by a drunk customer. I’ve been shaded by a drunk coworker.
COPING WITH CHAOS
I find myself laughing about things at work. When something (eventually) goes wrong, it’s easier to not take it personally. Go on emotional auto pilot -be a ninja. It’s easy to hide behind the mask and throw yourself into the chaos. This is how I always navigated working in restaurants. Laugh about it -despite your emotions and any pain you’re feeling. Focus on the work. That’s how you get through the shift and that’s how you’ll make money. When you punch out you can shower off the grime of the shift and go to bed.
As easy as it is for me to say “be adaptive, not reactive”, it’s hard not to be emotional. I think it’s why you can get so close with your coworkers in a restaurant. It can be a very emotional place to work. As easy as it is to laugh about stupid things that happen its just as easy to cry about them. There’s a strange sense of community. You and your coworkers endure the chaos together and we’re all forced to cope.
People respond in different ways. Some people drink or smoke about it. I prefer to acknowledge my feelings in a maudlin blog post…and then I drink and smoke about it. A lot of us complain and talk to each other. As much as I love to be an adaptive ninja -there is a balance.
GETTING FIRED SUCKED!
I’ve laughed to my coworkers about being fired -but immediately opened up to them about it. I had to think of ways to adapt. Could I still live comfortably? Should I get another job? How many more hours will I have to pick up? But I also reacted emotionally in ways where I questioned my work ethic and felt useless.
In an effort to try and balance adapting and reacting I grow exhausted. I’ve come to the conclusion that change doesn’t get easier -and neither does the way I choose to respond to it. So let change hit me, I’ll figure it out (eventually).