Friday, November 11, 2011

Bucket List: Make Your Own Hell (Limit Three Toppings)

Note: If you're new to this particular feature (ie. my friend Big D and I's project to make a reverse bucket list of all of my past occupations so he can reverse-replicate my life) I suggest you catch up here, hereand here. Oh, and here.

Midtown Deli
* This is the actual deli where I worked. Yikes!

After my failed dalliance in the arts, I went back to my roots: food service. I saw an ad in the paper for someone who "speaks English and has flexible hours" or something to that effect. Since I could manage both of those things, I took a chance and went to the address on 46th Street. It turned out that it was an interview to work at a fast-paced Deli. For those of you not in the know, no-one eats real lunches in New York City during the week. Most people just sprint into a cavernous deli where they either pick out some pre-made panninis with names very loosely linked to their fillings (like the Wild West Santa Fe Peyote Fiesta Chicken Salad or the Lady Liberty Ellis Island Immigrant Pastrami Playground) or, if they're feeling feisty, tackle the Make Your Own Salad Bar where, if you take more than three nanoseconds to order, they will spit in your face.

We then take our $11 sandwich/salad back to work where we choke it down at our desk before resuming work. U!S!A!

Anyway, I went in and interviewed with a surly Irish woman named Mary. She asked me two questions: "Can you be here by 7am?" and "Are you illegal?" when I answered "Yes" to both of them, she offered me the job. Things were looking up! She gave me a soiled purple bow tie and told me to report back the following morning.

After my first day on the job I realized that Mary actually means "Satan" in Irish. I also realized why being an under-the-table employee was an asset: everyone there was deathly afraid of being reported. Mary ruled over her motley crew of illegals with an iron fist. She only allowed us to go the bathroom once per shift, and only with her begrudging permission. She also smoked incessantly in the kitchen, ashing in the "chili" with the "chef" who was a terrifying ogre of a man. (I apologize for the abundance of quotation marks, but until the English language gets its shit together and agrees upon punctuation for sarcasm, that's all I got. As an aside, you should probably read about my  heroes in this field Henry Denham and Alcanter de Brahm.)

As I was a native English speaker I managed to get the relatively "cushy" job of telephone delivery order taker. In other words, I was required to speak to pissed off secretaries and take hundreds of orders, each with more substitutions than a hockey match. The opportunity to make an error, and suffer a verbal keelhauling from Mary, was high considering I was fielding approximately a call a minute. Readers, this job marked the beginning of my deep seated mistrust of human beings. Oh, the things I saw! I felt like I had been sent undercover to expose the seedy side of deli work, like I was the Upton Sinclair of sandwich making. People regularly abused us with no shame. Stupid PR "darlings" in cut-price designer duds looked down on us as we scurried to fetch their spinach salads with dressing on the side. Douchebag tourists wasted our time with their inane questions, and by searching for their wallets in backpacks-worn-on-their-fronts. Sallow, portly men in suits avoided eye contact and barked orders for egg white omelets while questioning their life decisions.

All the while, the noble serfs of the deli proved themselves to be better human beings than any of these supposedly "high achievers", toiling and striving every day, our sad little bow ties wilting from the heat of the panini press. Sometimes Samir would risk Mary's ire and "accidentally" make too much of a smoothie. On these glorious days he would deliver the leftovers to us in tiny salad dressing containers so our illicit libation could be downed quickly and without a trace. Sometimes I think back to Samir and the others, their paper hats like flimsy crowns, and hope they eventually made it to a greater glory like private catering, or breakdancing in the subway.

Deli work just wasn't my thing. After I kind of peed my pants one time when Mary screamed at me I left, searching for my next travail. As the brisk city air dried Mary's spittle on my cheeks I pressed on, undaunted and unsubmitted, the memory of my deli time remaining indelibly stained on my psyche, like a picked beet dropped on a silk tie.

Next up: Nepotism and label making in Florida and the seamy underbelly of the hotel industry.

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