Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Checked Out: The Day Job Chronicles, Part 1

As I type this, I have been officially unemployed from the Pima County Public Library for exactly one month. Before that, I was an employee of the library for nearly seven years. The way I left wasn't how I thought I'd leave that job. The reasons I left were both bizarre and substantial. For some reason, I just want to get it all out in words. Seeing as this is my only platform to do so (the Weekly wont publish my struggles of being day-jobless), food and drink is taking a break to make way for a jaunt down a scurried memory lane of a full time job life now lost.

It was an easy gig, the library, but it was far more difficult than I had ever imagined.

Let's go back to early summer of 2012. At the time, I was the kitchen manager for a burger place out on Irvington and the I-10, in an industrial section of potholed roads and RV centers. Before that, I was working in the kitchen of a popular "boutique hotel" under the thumb of a newly appointed Tucson Iron Chef winning executive chef. He was younger then, had a bit of an ego, but my decision to flee came when one morning another cook and I discovered that he had rolled out a whole new menu...without training us or, get this, even telling us. Yeah. When tickets started to buzz out of the machines, we just stared at the orders, looking at one another, puzzling: The fxxk is this? That's when the servers handed over the 'new' menu and told us that, well, a new menu was introduced.

Uh huh. Okay then.

We looked at the ingredients then surveyed the line and tried to get by as best as possible. It went passable, as it wasn't really busy, but not really. Same went for lunch. Whole new sandwiches and pasta dishes were listed. We had no idea. We improvised. Then after lunch when the head sous chef and dinner crew meandered in we told them about the day service to which they looked both curious and indifferent. They obviously knew what was in store for them, because most likely got trained and, yes, informed, so when we cleaned up and left we went out for beers and decided that it was time to ditch that place.

The next day when we approached the executive chef about what had happened, he literally cowered and hid in his office saying it was the responsibility of the daytime sous chef. Blame was thrown and when I heard that this burger place, that was owned and operated by very casual contacts, was having staff issues I offered my services, got hired on the spot and put in my weeks notice, to which the hotshot executive chef told me "Well...you can't use me as a reference you know."

That's fine.

So off to sling burgers and train recently released inmates how to do so.

Now, the title of 'kitchen manager' is one wrought with some boast along with a shrug of some 'yeah, so' tones from industry professionals when you mention that you are one. Honestly, kitchen managers, in fact, service or restaurant managers in any capacity, are a dine a dozen. And this is coming from my wife, who is, thats right....a restaurant manager.

Why you ask? Well, because locking yourself in an office, collecting a paycheck and telling young dumb servers/cooks what to do and somehow feel superior is the mindset of the shallow and generally misguided. But when I took the helm as KM for that burger joint, I did so with an air of approach mixed with fair professionalism. What I learned early on with the job was that I was hired to basically fire surly meatnobs the owners hired at far below minimum wage once they showed promise of discourse or, better yet, tried to hit on the usual miasma of "hot" servers and bartenders, most of which were daughter age to those flipping frozen meat patties or frying stringed potatoes dumped into oil out of a large brown bag. The owners were that bizarre with their hiring and firing. I had no say in the hires but when it came down to drop the hatchet, I was called in early to be informed that "Well, (your name here) was late again and was upset that we couldn't give him more hours. We just have to move on. Can you tell him after his shift this Friday?"

Yeah. They had me fire dudes that have been lifting cinder blocks in "the yard" for years that, well, because there was a mild infraction and, sure, you're trying to get your life back together / feed and take care of your (insert large amount of offspring from various women/hookups/2nd cousins). I, some dorky ex-skate punk with Earring Magic Ken-esque arms who saw maybe one episode of "OZ" before saying 'Jeeze, this sure is gritty!' before switching to reruns of 'Silver Spoons', had to do their dirty work. One guy actually stayed in the parking lot one night watching me until I left way past midnight and followed me halfway home before I turned off into some bar marked with a line of Harley Davidson biker type bikes, mainly because the whole god awful "white power" threat might throw him off. The (ex) line cook was a 7ft black guy, one who could easily crush me into honky dust if he sneezed on me hard enough. It sucked, and I hated to do what I did, but at least I am still here to write about what really goes on in the kitchens, and soon to be exposed library, of your neighborhood hangouts.

Plus it turned out that the motorcycles belonged to a group called The Gray Hair-ly Davidson Riders, a bunch of elderly men and women who like to "ride" on occasion and drink lite beer in supposed biker bars (to gain some remnant of motorcycle club respect I suppose) and not tip the so over it bartenders. I had one drink and left.

That job really started to get to me. A slow descending paycheck crawl into cramped kitchen madness. The money was acceptable but the work and the responsibilities were under mad duress. One night, my wife caught me punching my head because I was so frustrated. I just couldn't bear another day, or night, there. That's when she took it upon herself to do job hunting on my behalf. One day I came home early, as I had to be at the restaurant at 5am to make dough because the dough guy they hired, yep, didn't work out and, that is correct, had me fire him...over the phone. Which I did a few times. It's actually better than confronting them in person, usually after a shift, but it always felt underhanded and lazy to me. If I could leave a voicemail and say "Thank you but it just didn't work out", all the better. Still, in a very strange way, I preferred to say "Yeah, no", face to face. I don't know why. Probably because it felt less cowardly. I'll take my lumps if need be. Lumps that ached in a more emotional then physical manner. If you catch my drift.

Anyway, when I came home, my wife said four words that would change events in my immediate future: 'The library is hiring'.

As I took off my stinky chefs coat and crusty kitchen shoes, my first response was "Well, I don't have a degree in library science." Actually I have absolutely NO college degree....of any kind. After dabbling in city colleges taking random theater and English classes, after leaving high school a year early, I just grew sick of being a student. So I stopped, moved to San Francisco and started writing about heavy metal bands.

She then stated that the open position in question did not require a college degree. Just a bunch of experience. If you wanted to be a librarian, then yes, you would need a masters degree, but for the listed job, program instructor, a part time gig where you oversee classes such as job and computer help, you needed a lot of skills in teaching, computers, customer service, stuff like that. Which I did. Which I can get into later if you want. So I applied, sent in a resume and then waited.

And waited.

During the time to hear back from Pima County human resources, I got a few warnings from people that had previous government jobs. Mostly they stated that a guy like me, whatever that means, would not do too well in the confines of a strict government job.

"Working for county is crazy," a casual acquaintance, who happens to be a bartender, told me. "I did it for like ten years. I remember the breaking point being that an order we put in for some flashlights, just in case the lights went out, which they always did, took like over a year. Just for some flashlights! But we couldn't just go to the hardware shop and buy some flashlights. They had to be 'county approved' flashlights. My idea was to have some that would plug into an outlet, so they'd always be charged. What they sent, after a lot of red tape and a lot of waiting, were some dirty old battery operated types from the 80s. So I quit and started bartending."

Eventually I got an interview, two in fact and then....more waiting. The burger place was going in its usual state of crap circles: there'd be a pop at lunch, some bar crowds after 5pm, maybe some hits right before we closed along with the normal hiring and firing of dudes willing to work below minimum wage until they show some dissent and then I'd have to fire them. So dumb. And numbing.

I had actually forgotten about the library job, or at least given up on it, since it had been so long post application and interview. Then one day, as I was doing my taxes, I received an email which read:

'Welcome to the Pima County Public Library. Your training and orientation begins on Monday at 9am.' Or something like that.

Oh. Okay. Cool.

It was a Tuesday or Wednesday that I got the job at the library via email and my training was to begin the upcoming Monday. Pretty short notice but...whatever. So after finishing my taxes, I walked up to my wife's work, told her the good news, got in the car and drove out to the burger place. When I walked in, the co-owner and general manager looked at me with some distress. She didn't say hello or ask what I was doing there, instead she just belted "You're not on the schedule today."

That was perfect. That made what I did next all the easier.

I reached into my pocket, grabbed the collection of restaurants keys, removed them before dropping them onto the bar creating a distinct 'Khh-chank' noise. That made some leather vested and flannel shirt wearing customers perk up from their frozen patties and Bud Lights to see what the commotion was about.

"I know," I said. "I quit."

Before leaving I went into the kitchen to say goodbye to the guys, some of which seemed to not care or even appear surprised while some had just been hired and had no idea who I was. Then I walked out into the warm springtime sun with a wishful smile on my face. My time in kitchens had finally come to an end.

But my time at the library had yet to begin...

Part 2 coming soon...

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