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Tuesday, May 09, 2006


When I was 16 I worked at Friendly Ice Cream for a summer. I was a waiter. My friends Arthur Lee and Rob "Twy-guy" Twyman worked there, too. As waiters, Arthur and I had to move a lot, keep track of the needs and desires of the customers and stay out of Twy-guy's way. Twy-guy was one of the nicest kids I knew, but once that grill was heated up and the orders started lining up on the board, look out. I don't want to say he was an idiot savant, but Twy-guy's proficiency at managing that grill far outshined any of his other skills, including his ability to maneuver his 1970 Chevy Impala (approximately 682 feet long, 12.5 tons) despite his occasional habit of seeing pedestrians that may or may not have existed. The friction of rubber against asphalt would force a deep screech pulsating in waves across a desolate Route 9.

"Jesus Christ, Twy-guy! What the fuck?"

"Did you see that? I could have sworn there was someone crossing the road!"

We were required to wear name tags, small white pieces of hard plastic about 1 inch high x 3 inches wide with a safety pin attached to one side and the swirly blue Friendly logo in on the other. Below the logo there was a space designated for a strip of label maker tape to bear the employee's name. I remember reluctantly stamping mine out on my first day of work, turning the Dymo label maker's dial to "T" before squeezing the plastic trigger. Inside, a teeny-tiny "T" pressed little creases into the tape forming a white impression roughly in the shape of itself. Then "O," then "M." Like a lot of 16 year olds I fought a war every day for my independence, to be taken seriously, to dismiss those who strive to classify everything and everybody into tidy, discernable categories, to apply meaningless labels to things, thereby limiting the potential of all. No, the irony of having to label myself did not go unnoticed.

Nevertheless, I was glad to be working with friends and welcomed the income – I needed funds to buy an amplifier to go with my bitchin' Univox electric guitar – but I also had tremendous fear of dealing with the general public. It wasn't just normal teenage insecurity that worried me. It was playing the role of waiter. I doubted I was up to it. It was the implicit subservience of the waiter to the patron that REALLY bugged me. The job title says it all: waiter. I'm here to wait on you. If you have a need or desire, tell me what it is and I will do as you wish. I'm here to serve you. You come first. At the time, my mindset was all about serving no one and that made this more of an acting job than a waiting job.

I only lasted through the summer. Falsely accused, then acquitted along with Arthur of pilfering $13.43, I ultimately ditched my blue name tag for the brown one I got next door at Roche Brothers where I bagged groceries and carried them out to a fleet of waiting Sevilles, Delta 88s and Cutlass Supremes. My first day I cut a small slip of paper on which I printed in stiff, harsh capital letters with a red Flair pen, "T-O-M" and slipped it in the name tag's slot. It was much easier work than being a waiter and the people treated me less like servant. I really didn't hate it. My tasks were mindless yet helpful. Were it not for me and my bagging brethren, how would these housewives and single dads get their foodstuffs from the checkout lane to the back seat?

The store was managed by two Joe's, Joe Walsh (no, not to the one from the Eagles) and Joe Curtain who years later appeared on a local talk show entitled "Boston's Most Eligible Bachelors." By the end of the following summer I had saved up enough money for the amplifier (a bitchin' Music Man HD130 head with a 2x12 Fender cab with tilt back legs), so now, properly armed with the all the equipment I would need to achieve happiness, my work for Mr. Walsh and Mr. Eligible Bachelor was clearly done.

Remarkably, I still have the name tags from both Friendly and Roche Brothers.

Years, decades later I work at a job requiring no contact with the general public whatsoever, a triumph of sorts, I suppose. Yet, I look down at the magnetic access card clipped to my shirt and see those same familiar letters created this time not by a label maker, not by a red Flair pen, but by a laser printer somewhere. "T-O-M."

flair penunivox


At 5/13/2006 1:10 PM, Anonymous said...

IIRC, both the French and the Italian words for waiter translate as "boy".

"Boy! What's this fly doing in my soup?"

"I'd say the backstroke, sir."

"Boy! What's your thumb doing in my soup?"

"Well sir, I hurt my thumb and the Doctor told me to keep it warm and moist."

"Well, why don't you stick it up your ass?"

"Oh, I DO sir, when I'm back in the kitchen"

Richard In Port Orchard

At 5/13/2006 1:31 PM, Anonymous said...

Yes, it looks like badges will be with us for the rest of our lives. I've been "with badge" most of my working career. Autonetics/Anaheim, Litton/Van Nuys, Teledyne/Northridge.

Never had a lanyard. IMHO the best badge setup is the clip-on kind. Can be clipped to a shirt placket, pocket or collar. Can be clipped to a nipple if you are into pain.

If there's a little strip of plastic attached to the clip though, it frequently doesn't rotate far enough and the badge sticks out like Dilberts necktie or an unwanted erection.

The clip makes a dandy, uh, "roach clip" for very large roaches. Or just use a corner for the smaller variety. So I've heard...

Richard In Port Orchard

At 5/13/2006 2:28 PM, Anonymous said...

Friendly's? Yes!

I couldn't get enough chocolate FRIBBLES when I was growing up in MA.

Yeah baby!

The Hollywood Podcast


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