Friday, October 15, 2010

Queen of the Cardiac Club

It's half past midnight and I'm about to fall asleep. Friday is such a special day in the workweek. TGIF, right? Wrong. First of all, I work Saturdays, so Friday is nothing more than a tease for me. My dear sweet regulars wish me a happy weekend and I think... yeah, I'll get there soon enough. But really, Fridays are full of dread for the inevitable visit by the Cardiac Club and their queen that I like to call Eliza DoNothing. You'll get the reference in a moment, although I admit this name isn't my finest.

The Cardiac Club is a group of older women who sometimes walk, sometimes jog, but always find their way to my cafe every Friday. In fact, they have been visiting our venue longer than anyone currently on staff including our GM or longest tenured prep cooks. And with their seniority (in every sense of the word) comes a sense of ownership, over the space, the menu, the staff... you name it they think they own it. And none more so than Queen Eliza DoNothing. The Queen is among our many retired guests (hence DoNothing) who distinguished herself within my first weeks as my most despised customer. Join me as I take a stroll down memory lane.

I am in my first weeks, perhaps my second Friday on the job, working behind my line, prepping and getting acclimated with the space. Lunch service begins at 11:00 AM but the doors open at 10:00 for guests who might like an early cup of coffee or one among our pastry or baked goods items. Of course, there are those unfortunate patrons who disturb my prep time, seeking lunch or, worse yet, conversation, since I must not be busy with so few people in the cafe.

Side note: prep time is equivalent to "me" time. I work hard and focused but also with a certain amount of levity with my coworkers, getting into the right mindset for the day. I don't like being disturbed by impatient patrons.

Thirty minutes before service and a stern but possibly sweet woman approaches the line. She stops, sizes me up and asks, "What happened to the Latin woman who used to be here? I liked her." Great start, didn't make me feel at all self-conscious at a time that I wanted to learn and take ownership over the line.

I responded, explaining that my predecessor was no longer with the company, pursuing alternative career options (fun with euphemisms). And then the floodgates opened. She came at me with a barrage of questions, which I foolishly answered thinking that customer service should take precedence over my prep and that there was anything I could do to curry favor with this beastly person. After several questions came the backhanded compliment that raised my ire, "You know, you are surprisingly well-spoken for someone in your position."

Gee whiz, thanks! That wasn't at all obnoxious. Of course, it should be surprising that I can speak in complete sentences because all line cooks are ruffians. There are other assumptions underlying her comment but I'll leave them be only because they are so obvious. Instead, I got a bit defensive and replied, "I'm glad my PhD level education at Research 1 universities isn't going to waste." And then this exchange took the nasty turn that still shocks me today. She glared at me, paused and asked if I ever worked with a speech therapist because she could detect the remnants of a lisp in my speech.

Seriously?! Please explain how this is remotely appropriate conversation or observation in any context other than one person trying to put another, in an obviously powerless position, in his or her place.

Again foolishly, I answered that yes, I visited a speech therapist in elementary school but ceased the visits when my diction was deemed reasonable by the counselor. Her reply, "Well, maybe you should begin again. Why be only 90% of the person you should be?" Catching on to the Eliza reference yet? Shocked and now terribly self-aware of my speech, I detached from the conversation, returned to my prep work, and made a pact with myself to never engage in extended dialogue with this person again.

So tomorrow, I will once again face the patron who managed to get into my head unlike anyone else. She doesn't make me nervous anymore. Really I just think she is sad. But I do not forgive people that expose vulnerabilities, especially when the victim of the exchange is in a lesser position of power. Every time she waddles into the cafe, I keep my interactions brief and can sense her frustration of my refusal to make her relevant. It's really the best revenge.

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