Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Service Industry Hell (Part 3): Rats in the kitchen and drunk girls on the floor

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Service Industry Hell (Part 3): Rats in the kitchen and drunk girls on the floor

A lot of the inspiration for my new book, Congratulations On Everything, came from the things I saw while working in bars, restaurants, and hotels, and from the experiences of friends who did the same. Recently, I asked people* on Facebook and Twitter to send me their wildest stories of working in the service industry trenches - in part to show that, however cringey things get in the book, the reality is worse. But also because I find these inherently fun to read.

*to whom I promised anonymity, in order to protect the relatively innocent

The first tale is from “CD”:

An Amelio's story, which is now closed, so they won't sue. The restaurant had two single-use washrooms, so one was used as storage and the other one served as a unisex washroom. The storage room wasn't really converted though, and the plumbing and fixtures were intact. A stack of light boxes usually sitting on the toilet. One night, after closing when the restaurant was almost empty (but not quite), a big wet rat ran out of the storage room (presumably having just swum through sewage pipes and exited the toilet), and ran down the long hall into the dining room, appeared shocked and surprised, turned, and ran through the kitchen and out the back door that was propped open to give the dishwasher a bit of fresh breeze. The cook and I couldn't believe our luck that none of the customers noticed.

When I lived in Montreal in the 90s, I had a good friend who worked at Amelio’s, a pizzeria in the McGill student ghetto. Reading this, I can only say that that wasn’t the only rat in the place. Some collected paycheques. BOOM. (They’re closed, so they won’t sue.)

From “J,” also on the unwanted critter theme:

One time when I was working at Mill St in the Distillery in 2009 we were SLAMMED, and I was working on the back patio, and fucking raccoons were walking around like they owned the place. I had to chuck roll-ups at them.

And from “K”:

When I was a bouncer, I watched a dreadlocked hipster come tearing down the middle of the road, against traffic, on a girl’s razor scooter. He jumped off and let it crash into the curb in front of my bar, then came towards me drunk and barefoot. I asked him if he thought he was going to be let into the bar after making an entrance like that. He looked confused for a moment, then said, ‘Why, cause it’s a girl’s bike?’ I told him no, but he called me a homophobe anyway. When he left he made no effort to retrieve the scooter, because he had probably stolen it from a little girl.

There is no more powerful form of jiujitsu than drunken jiujitsu. By the way, if I saw a barefoot, dreadlocked hipster riding a child’s razor scooter, my first response would not be “stolen!” but rather “of course….”

Some random memories from “B”:

Busboy got naked and “bathed” in ice trough after hours.

You know how in some Disney movies there are anthropomorphized weasels or hyenas who don’t do anything constructive, but mostly just scheme and snicker and mess things up for the heroes?

Those are the busboys.

(Full disclosure: I was a busboy, and even worked alongside “B.” The naked busboy was not me.)

Worst brunch in the city yet, a packed house. Hairy, hellish non-stop shift. Only me serving and doing dishes and a cook. Spilled bowl of yoghurt in customer’s lap.  A dad irritated with our shitty menu demanded I steam eggs for his son in the espresso machine milk steamer. Dinner relief staff arrived LATE. Perfectly nice older couple sat down and merely asked me what the specials were. I broke down in tears and hid in the bathroom.

I still sometimes smile when one or more of my work colleagues complain about how busy or stressful things are in the office. For anyone who has worked a slammed, understaffed bar or restaurant, even the most frantic office is like a quiet, leafy grove in the middle of a forest. Being a naturally lazy person, there was never a more distressing sight for me than the appearance of a table of 10+ in the middle of a busy night.

We all over-served a bunch of young women (and ourselves). Scraped two off the bathroom floor, pulled up nylons and did up zippers, wiped blood off foreheads.  Got one in a cab, she puked. Cabbie kicked her out, I cleaned cab. So patrons wouldn’t be associated with our bar (genius plan), we dragged them over to a bench a few bars over and called their friends from their cell phones. Can’t remember if we waited for them to be picked up or if we just left them there.

Guaranteed: for those young women, that particular night is remembered as the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Nathan Whitlock

Nathan Whitlock’s award-winning fiction and non-fiction has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, Toronto Life, Report on Business, Flare, Fashion, Geist, Maisonneuve, and Best Canadian Essays, and he has appeared on radio and television discussing books and culture. He is a contributing editor for Quill & Quire. He lives in Toronto with his wife and children.

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