“Anybody who has ever waited tables has had waiting nightmares and this was a living version of that.”
I was raised by a mother on welfare and she was around people on welfare and their work ethic was shit. As in they didn’t have one. I was never raised to believe that it was an honorable thing to complete a task or to have a good work ethic. Instead it was just really about scamming. There was a lot of complaining and whining about being a victim, so it was a very helpless feeling. I never really had a sense of causation; I never had a sense of “Oh, I can embark on a project and improve myself and finish it.” That’s pretty much an existential crisis I have to this day—that I fundamentally don’t believe at a gut level that I can change my circumstance. That there is a relationship between effort and result.
When I was finally old enough to get my own place I’d say, “I gotta make rent in three weeks, I’m going to get a job now, work for two weeks, quit, get my check and pay rent.” There was no sense of future or progress and there were no goals or anything. It was very animalistic and moment to moment. I was working in restaurants, bussing and waiting tables—kind of tragically punching below my weight—at El Torito, Appleby’s, Red Robin, every kind of weird little place. I’d think I needed a job and I’d go get one and as soon as I didn’t like it I was like “Fuck you” and left. I didn’t have any sense of loyalty and I still don’t in a way. I want to say I’ve had over a hundred jobs for just a couple of days, but that’s probably high. It would be embarrassing if it weren’t so bizarre.
Anyway, the story: I was working at Denny’s with my sister Jade, who is literally the nicest person I’ve ever known—just the sweetest natured, most mellow person. Probably she got me the job there, now that I think about it.
Usually when you wait tables five tables is a lot of tables, right? Five tables is max. Six is totally more than max—six is you’re slammed. And Denny’s, man, they would never schedule enough people. On weekend nights the bars would close at 2 A.M. and the place would fill up and there would only be three or four waiters there. So there was really no margin for error.
So it’s a Friday and all of these people load in—rednecks and ghetto kids and losers. They all want their Super Birds or turkey clubs or whatever. A couple of servers don’t show and Jade and I each have half of the restaurant and it’s filled with assholes. We each have about fifteen tables and everybody is demanding stuff. It’s a nightmare—literally, it’s the stuff of nightmares! Anybody who has ever waited tables has had waiting nightmares, and this was a living version of that. I, for one, can remember it, and it was nightmarish.
It was completely out of control. People were waiting a long time for food and being bitchy about it. I wanted to go, “Hey, there’s only two of us here!” but nobody gave a shit. You’ve been drunk in a restaurant at 2 A.M.—you don’t care. You just want your food! We were both just running and frantic and it was crazy and nightmarish and at some point I just overloaded and pulled my sister aside and said, “Jade, I’m totally sorry. I’m leaving!” And I threw my apron off and walked out the front door, leaving her with the whole restaurant!
Obviously, leaving my sister there all alone was bad. But I think my reasoning at the time was: “Well, she can quit too!” I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I made this weird discovery that, well, if I could do this, then she could do it too, so I didn’t owe her anything. There was nothing stopping her from quitting too.
But she stayed! She had to wait on the whole motherfucking Denny’s and she did it! Thirty tables, maybe? People were walking out and screaming at her and not paying, and she probably spent an extra two hours settling the checks. I mean, it sucks and I’m not proud of it. But it is funny.
I wouldn’t be surprised if I had walked in two weeks later and got my paycheck and was like, “Whatever.” It never would have occurred to me to be embarrassed about it. I was so into my own head that I was probably thinking: “They get it! They know why I quit, they’re going to quit tomorrow, everyone thinks like me, what’s the big deal?” Like I’m totally reasonable!
You know how you hate yourself at eighteen? That’s not unusual, right? Sometimes I see twenty year olds and they’re just like how I was. And I just hate them. I get that the shock of recognition and it’s appalling. It wasn’t until a couple of years later when my sister was reminiscing about this evening and said, “Wow, that was hard when you left me there, that really sucked!” But she never got mad or yelled at me. She just said, “Yeah, I get it, you had to go, but hmmm.” She probably thought her little brother was being iconoclastic or something, but really I was just a massive asshole. A completely indefensible prick.
I think at a formative level, from the ages of three to six or so, there was so much chaos in my life that I felt adrift. Without that foundational grounding I feel now like my sense of self-worth is tied up in accomplishments and it makes me really risk-averse. It’s kind of unfortunate but it is what it is. But I’m pretty happy. I’m blessed. I have a really happy marriage; I’ve been really lucky in a lot of ways and grateful for a lot of things. But when it comes to life, I just don’t have that sense of “I’ll do this and it’ll work out.” I never feel like that. It always feels like “What’s the point?” That informs a lot of my thinking, and maybe it was cute when I was younger but it becomes less cute as I get older and more abrasive. So yeah, the quitting thing—it’s a huge thing in my life and it’s really hard.
Then again, the weather in the Northwest sucks. It’s totally depressive, and I realize now that there’s a big asterisk by all of my theories of my upbringing and the makeup of my psychology, because in the end it might just have been the weather. Terrible.