Damn You, Paula Deen!

My opinion of this situation is just that, my opinion. But mine comes with a double-prong tongue because I used to work in the restaurant business. Not because I had to as so many clueless people think, but because I wanted to- I actually like being a waitress- and I have seen a thousand Paula Deens in my day.

There are advantages to working in privately owned restaurants. Of them- your sections are bigger, you don’t have to tip out as much, you get to know just about every person who graces the threshold and you can get away with a lot more crap. It is very difficult to get those types of jobs because the waitstaff never leave and so when you see a job opening, it is best you jump right on it because it will be gone before day break. Yes- I have interviewed for jobs at 2am.

The downside is that very often the chef is the owner of the restaurant and if he or she isn’t, then they are the very least best friends with the owner. So, if you have a problem with the chef, owner or manager, guess what? You have a BIG problem because there is no one to go to. No open door policy. No grievance hotline to call. Which could bring me to the only advantage of working in a corporate restaurant. You do have a chain of command that won’t tell anyone you filed a complaint. But bet your ass, they will systematically destroy you. Cut your hours, give you all the crappy money making nights and reduce your section.  This will either run you broke or make you crazy but either way, they will have accomplished their goal the day you quit.

In a collective 25 years of restaurant adventures, I can honestly say that I have only had about two or three major problems. In corporately owned restaurants and privately owned. The only thing that separates Paula Deen from any of those people is that she got caught and they didn’t. Although, one of my former bosses, Sam, got into so much trouble, he left the country. Abandoned his restaurant, his home and everything he had in this country and didn’t tell a soul. Richmond had to pretty much figure it out that he wasn’t coming back. We’ll talk more about him later.

I say I have only had two or three major problems but in hindsight, I think it’s mostly the fact that I have such a good sense of humor because any number of things could have pissed someone else off to the point of a lawsuit. One time I was leaning in the food window trying to grab a towel to wipe the plate and the Sous Chef said to me ‘Jeri, be mindful of your scabs and don’t burn them’- it took less than two seconds to realize he was talking about my non-existent boobies and I busted up laughing and told him to shut that shit up and hand me a towel. If I had been anyone else, that would’ve been trouble. If he had been anyone else, that would have been trouble.  But if I or he had been anyone else, that conversation would’ve never happened because he only said it because he knew I would laugh.

Let me throw a disclaimer here, senses of humor or not, that provides no excuse for racism, bigotry and sexual harassment which is why the law is written the way it is. What offends me, might not offend you and visa versa so it is best to leave it to yourself because having fun at someone else’ expense could land you a nice long day in court.

Case in point- In a corporate restaurant, there was a fellow server who looked, walked and talked just like Alan Jackson. Only Alan Jackson was way cuter. This dude referred to me as ‘Blondie’ and it bugged the wee dilly shit right out of me because I didn’t like him. I think that was the major factor in the issue. He wasn’t saying it as a term of endearment- I have lots of nicknames for coworkers as they do me but that’s not why he was saying it. He said ‘you have blonde hair, therefore I call you Blondie’ and I would respond ‘well, you are an overweight cow punching oaf, does that mean I get to call you Oaf?’ Countless times I had to remind him that my name is Jeri, he straight ignored me. So one time, I went and got a manager, had him by his hand dragging him to the back room where I stated to Mr. Oaf, right in front of that manager ‘the next time you call me Blondie, you will be explaining to little blue people with badges why your ass just got smacked by a girl, got it?’ — Richmond City police wear blue uniforms, just so you know– and I never had another problem.

One of the first privately owned restaurants I ever worked in was an Italian Restaurant out at Innsbrook- no, not Pasta Luna. I cannot rightly explain the goings on in that place- it was always something. There were a total of 19 tables in the whole place- it is the restaurant right beside the Dairy Queen that used to be a coffee shop. Just to give you an idea of how small the joint was. The owner was mafia, actually KICKED out of NYC and he was highly paranoid so, no one was allowed to talk, not to him or our fellow coworkers. If he spoke to us, that was all fine and dandy but we had to provide the answer, he was not about to get into a conversation with you. We had a series of managers- a series of waiters/waitresses and it seemed each week, one of us was his baby who could do no wrong. The rest had to walk on eggshells. He hired a guy from India who was the most hateful human on this planet. I can’t blame that on being Indian because I know lots of people from there who are funnier than the funniest comedians and would give you the shirt right off their backs. It became a situation where it was almost impossible to work there- the stress of never knowing if you will have a job five minutes from now or if you walk out to your car and there is that manager with a kitchen knife.

You just never knew- that manager sucked up to the owner and they were really good friends. So- all of us with the problem had nowhere to go but the Labor Board. Now, let me tell you something about them, IF they write down your complaint, they will put it in the crazy people file. It is the same as people calling you up threatening to call the Better Business Bureau- go right the fuck ahead. You will get nowhere. On one of those weeks that I was the owner’s baby, he asked me what was wrong. Side note- I have horrible OCD, usually a half hour early to an hour early for work and school but when my soul and gut are finished with the situation, there is nothing I can do to be on time.- I had started being very late to work and not being able to handle my sections. A 19 table restaurant with five servers can become chaotic beyond words but an outsider looking in would just see 19 tables, 5 servers and wonder what the hold-up is about.

Anyway- so he said that I used to be able to handle that whole restaurant with ease and now I can’t handle three tables, late all the time, never smiling, genuinely not happy. Is everything okay at home? I sized that up pretty quick in my head thinking it was a set-up, if I said anything bad about his manager, that could be bad for me when he found out or he could just flat out fire me. So I told him everything was fine at home, just a lot on my mind. It wasn’t until all of us, unbeknownst to the each other, had collectively decided that we were just never going back. A Saturday night and he had no waitstaff and he was MAD. Then we told him. It is best we keep on truckin’ until you find a new manager or waitstaff, whichever comes first. When you have to come to work and be so stressed out that the thought of working makes you physically ill, it is time to go. I don’t know what happened to that manager but we never saw him again and the owner never wrote him a last paycheck so… make up your own mind on that one.

Now let’s talk about Sam. He was from Pakistan but had been in the United States a good twenty years at that point. He bought Sal Federico’s- I don’t know whatever in his bag of brilliant logic ever possessed him to do that because he had no inkling of how to run a restaurant or how to cook Italian food or how to talk to people. Some kind of way, I had a really good rapport with him. I mean, I have good rapport with most people but there was something different about him. He could ask six people the same question, all give him the very same answer and there I would be giving the very same answer yet again but explaining why and he would suddenly listen. Everyone told me all these horrible things about him- sex with underage girls, stealing money, selling produce out the back door. Now, the latter two, I saw no problem with because it was his own money and produce he was stealing and I never saw him do anything out of the ordinary with anyone. So, I really didn’t pay much attention to those stories. Although, there were times when I would catch him being very negative and I would remind him that we don’t do that in this country. There are laws and you WILL get into trouble, okay? And he would stop.

I had seen a Navy SEAL training video a while before then- no big deal- it was just something with which to while away the time. He asked me one time what my boyfriend did for a living and that video went through my head and so I said to him “you know, Sam, I don’t know but I am pretty sure you could tie him up, fold him up into a fetal position, shoot him at 60 mph into 100 feet of water and he could still kill you.” He never asked me again. Never spoke to Joe again and poor Joe thought he did something wrong so I told him that I was pretty sure Sam was terrified of him and had nothing to do with doing something wrong.

That’s when the rest of the girls would come to me with these totally random, totally bizarre stories about Sam travesties. I told them to stop being meek around him, if he even thought you could defend yourself, he wouldn’t do that. He has never come out of his face sideways to me and I am convinced it is because of that story I told him. Little did he know that I could break that man in half myself, I don’t go to Joe with my problems for the simple fact that he would try to reasonably solve the situation and when I have gotten to the point where I am asking for help, I am not looking for reasonable solutions. So, they started doing that and it didn’t seem to work. So I would tell Sam that if he kept that shit up, somebody would be in there scrutinizing his paperwork looking for wrongdoing and even if he is legal, the fact that he is not native to this country, would have them barking up trees that he hasn’t even planted yet. And he would stop.

Again with the rapport- he had a catch phrase ‘pick up your God damn food’ which came out more like ‘pick up you gut dumb foo’ and it used to crack me up. One night after a particularly long and busy shift, all of us were in the back sort of decompressing, rolling silverware, folding napkins, paying people out and what not. We were engaged in a very lively, if not extremely funny political conversation. He said to me: “Jeddy, you should become Senator so you can change the law to allow foreigners to become president.”

To which I responded “now Sam, that law is in place for a reason and it is to keep you Pakistani mother fuckers from coming over here, standing on top of the White House hollering, dis is my gut dumb country.”

The entire room exploded with laughter.

One of the other servers came in right on the cusp of that, everyone still laughing and shaking their heads, and says “I have a photo of Sam’s car” and then she pulled out a pack of Camel cigarettes, with the camel on the front of the package. She was calling him a camel jockey. I sort of froze because it pissed him off. So I explained to him that she was just messing around, having a little fun because we all were and she wanted to be in on it.

But it serves to prove some things- rapport and what might offend me might not offend you but it all boils down to who is saying it. We were all being just as racist and bigoted. And those who say they aren’t racist or bigoted are nothing but liars because we all have it in us. I’ve seen posts defending Paula Deen while slamming Muslims and swearing high and low that our President is a Muslim. Well, who gives a shit if he is? We do have the freedom to practice any religion we want and I know a lot of Muslims and truth be told, I would rather be stuck in a plane full of Muslims before I would be in a plane with ONE Mormon. But that isn’t bigoted at all is it?

It all boils down to this- just because you don’t perceive it as racist or bigoted or harassing, doesn’t mean it isn’t. But just because someone else does perceive it as such, doesn’t mean it is. A hostile work environment is just that and we do have rights in this country and that is one of them that happens to be inalienable- and no one should have to go through that stuff in pursuit of a paycheck, you might be making a ton of money but after a while, it isn’t worth it. Paula Deen and every other chef/owner corporate or otherwise, do not have the right to trample on the rights of their workers just because they think they ‘got’ them because they incorrectly assume they can’t find other jobs. Again, some of us actually like restaurant work. That ought to tell you right there that we aren’t operating with a full tank of gas because anyone who likes waiting on ruthless, rude assholes all day has got to be knee walking crazy. It is my understanding that this woman put her hands on another human being whilst telling him “screw your civil rights”– that would have been the end of it right there for me. Yeah, screw my civil rights… after I punch you in your God damn face. Don’t put your hands on me- you think I’m crazy now…

No one is trampling on your rights by saying that you can’t be a racist bigot, I guess you do have the right to be what you want but if you don’t want trouble and you think it just might be offensive, leave it to yourself. And for the love of all things holy, please stop saying “The N Word” because you are putting that thought into someone else’ head for them to think it, sort of subliminally planting your racism. That’s just a pet peeve of mine, “ohhhh, she said the N word…” well, kindly explain to me which N word because there are a lot of them. Oh, I know which one you are referring to but don’t put that shit in my head, be a man/woman and say it. Because you know, you’re not racist or bigoted and all, you have black friends. I get it.

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