"THE BOOMERANG EFFECT"
- A lesson in why it pays to not put up with shit -
Unlike most aspiring actors who loathe having to work a restaurant job until landing their “big break,” I was eager to serve hangry Americans overpriced, mediocre meals. To me, waitressing was all part of living the dream, and I was determined to start living it immediately.
I wanted to work somewhere fun, down to earth, and where I genuinely liked to eat, as I had a strong aversion to false advertising since I was a child battling adolescent acne. I’d felt betrayed by celebrities named Jessica who were often selling me ineffective cosmetic items they swore would end my suffering. No matter the product, no matter my job position, waitressing included, I wanted to believe in what I was selling. And the restaurant that seemed to live up to my nineteen-year-old standards was none other than Outback Steakhouse.
When I walked through the door and under the boomerang boasting the location’s proprietor one sunny afternoon, I was met by a handsome young thirty something named Nico. He had the body of a football player, a seemingly affable disposition, and beautiful blue eyes that made him appear childlike and innocent. I was immediately smitten. Due to my lack of experience - and I mean that in a multitude of ways - Nico told me that I’d have to start at the Outback as a hostess, but with a good performance, I could easily work my way up to a serving position in a matter of months. He offered me a job, and I eagerly accepted.
Almost as soon as I started, I began to see behind blue eyes. Nico wasn’t affable at all. Rather, he was a two faced, misogynistic prick, who often cheated on his wife despite her being four months pregnant with their first child, disingenuous with customers, horrible under pressure, an ineffective problem solver, and a hot head. Unless you had a penis or a nice set of knockers, he treated you like a worthless piece of shit, which brings me to my favorite Nico story!
I’d been working at Outback for nearly four months when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Having arrived at the restaurant for an opening hostess shift ten minutes early, at 3:20p, I rang the bell to be let in. After roughly five minutes with no response, I attempted to call the restaurant. No answer. Around 3:40p, I noticed one of the chefs getting out of his car in the parking lot and watched him scurry around to the side of the building. Assuming he was heading towards another entrance I was unaware of, I pocketed my cellphone, grabbed my purse, and followed him around the building to find an entrance to the kitchen in the back. I slipped inside behind him.
Already ten minutes into my shift, I ran across the kitchen to the front of the house and threw my ass into overdrive. Immediately, I started on my duties, attempting to make up for lost time. I unlocked the front door, laying down a doormat outside the entrance, then headed back inside to retrieve another. That’s when I saw Nico casually strolling out of the bathroom, walking towards me while buttoning up his pants and fiddling with his belt.
It was no secret to anyone but me at this point, that Nico took a routine mid-afternoon shit every day in the customer bathroom. In fact, I came to find it was something the employees regularly joked about and used to their advantage - like the chef I had followed in through the back door, who had arrived ten minutes into his shift, purposely. Nico’s bowel movements were like a childbirth, spanning anywhere from minutes to hours. Apparently, there was a grace period to get where we needed to be without your tardiness going noticed, so as long as you were privy and prepared, which obviously, I wasn’t.
“You’re late!” he said, looking at his watch.
“I’ve been outside ringing the bell for the last twenty minutes,” I said, too focused on the tasks at hand to look up at him. Plus, I didn’t have to time to stand around having a conversation with him when we opened in nearly ten minutes.
“How is that my problem?” he said, positioning himself behind the hostess podium.
“Well, you’re the manager,” I answered, quite literally and matter of fact. “I need you to let me in.” He was standing on the spot where another floor mat was to lay. “Excuse me,” I said, asking him to step to the side.
“Are you giving me attitude?!” he said, cocking his head and puffing out his chest. He looked like the washed up High School Football Player he likely was.
“No -" I wasn't. "I’m just doing my job,” I responded, somewhat confused. I grabbed the duster from the podium and crossed away from him to start on the blinds.
“Do you want to go home?!” he asked me.
The question, catching me off guard, stopped me in my tracks, and I turned to face him. Puzzled, I asked earnestly, “Do you want me to go home?”
“You know what? Yes, yes I do!”
“Okay,” I said, nonchalantly, trying to be compliant, though I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening.
“And don’t bother showing up for your shifts for the rest of the week, either,” he said. “I’m writing you up.” Seeing as I was seemingly unwilling to put up with his shits, he turned and made his way back towards the kitchen where he called another hostess to give her my shifts.
I grabbed my things and headed home. I had no clue what had just transpired. Nor did I know what writing someone up meant, but whatever it was, I knew it wasn’t good. As a type A personality, I had never broken the rules, gotten in trouble, disrespected authority, or, done anything wrong. Well, except for in Sixth Grade, when I called a kid a faggot after he called me an idiot for asking too many questions about a math problem I didn’t understand. At the time, I also didn’t understand what that word meant, or that it was derogatory but, my math teacher, who is gay surely did, and I got slapped with detention. Outside of that, my record was clean.
Unaware of how to navigate my way out of trouble I had never been in, and, quite frankly, trouble I didn’t feel I should have been in, I resorted to the white pages for some direction. I found the proprietor's name and number in the phone book and placed a call to his home, hoping to explain the situation to him before Nico could. Looking back, it was pretty ballsy, but ignorance is bliss and, sometimes, pretty resourceful.
“Don’t worry about Nico,” Don, the proprietor, said. “Just enjoy the day off, and I’ll see you for your next shift.” Obviously, he’d understood. Don was the father of two girls. He knew how to speak effectively to the opposite sex, which is more than I can say for Nico, who knew only how to objectify and belittle them. I can only hope, that for its sake, the baby he was expecting would be a boy.
When I arrived back at work a couple days later, both Nico and Don were waiting for me in the back office. Nico resorted to his fake self, as if to seem open and understanding. He put on a calm demeanor, nodding in agreement as Don spoke. Despite him wanting to suspend me for what was essentially following the rules and inadvertently challenging his ego, Don correctly chalked the situation up to a giant misunderstanding and let me off with a warning. As soon as he left the office, Nico dropped the act.
“You’re on thin ice, little lady,” he said, pointing his index finger in my face before exiting the office himself. “Get to work!” he called to me over his shoulder.
A few weeks after the incident, I found myself back in Nico and Don’s office. Nico was hunched over his desk working on the following week’s schedule, which made the news I had for him that much harder to deliver.
“Nico?” I said, gently leaning in to the doorway.
“What?” he replied, without looking up.
“Are you working on the schedule?” I asked, regretfully.
“Yup. So, don’t even think about asking for any days off. You can’t have them.”
“Oh, I wasn’t going to,” I assured him. Though the news I had was selfishly amazing, I genuinely felt bad for how I knew it would effect my current employer. My dad had been a manager multiple times during my childhood, and I’d witnessed the stress rearranging schedules occasionally caused him.
“Then, what?” He demanded, swiveling around to face me.
“I know you guys would have liked two weeks notice, and as much as I would have liked to have given it to you, I just booked a role on a series, and they need me to start Monday. So, this is going to be my last shift.” He just stared at me, blankly. “I’m really sorry,” I added.
I watched his furrowed brow shoot upwards, giving way to the fake personna he reserved only for people he thought might one day be of use to him (I later found out he was an aspiring actor himself). His voice raised a few octaves as he poorly feigned excitement for me.
“Oh, really? “Congratulations! We’ll really miss you here.” I could see him fighting to suppress the flurry of emotions he had towards me, for not only making his job more difficult in having to rework the puzzle that was the schedule, but in me having won a battle I never even knew how or why I was in, with the best weapon of all: success.
Nearly a month later, after I’d finished another day on the set of my new job, I was surprised to find a certain voicemail waiting for me on my cell.
“Hi, Rachel, it’s Nico… from the Outback. I was just wondering if you might be able to help us out. We’re looking for someone to pick up a few shifts for us on Mother’s Day…”
I sat in my car with the engine off listening to the rest of the message and contemplating my decision. There was nothing to contemplate, but in my eager to please youthful self I felt guilty about the way I’d left the Outback so suddenly and felt obligated to help someone I knew really needed it. It couldn’t have been easy for Nico to make that call and despite how much of a dick he had been to me, I wanted to do what I could to make his situation better. Was it really that big a deal to return to a job I’d quit, making minimum wage, to service the general public on a Holiday? Astonishingly, it wouldn’t have been for me at the time because I was a compassionate and forgiving fool. I rationalized that it was only one day, a day I had off from set anyway. But still, that Holiday was my Mother’s Day, and as hard as I tried, I simply couldn’t justify sacrificing time with her to spend with someone I knew to be a giant Mother Fucker.
I deleted the voicemail and drove home.
At nineteen, I always saw things in black and white, but my growing experiences with adults and authority, who I had always presumed knew more than I did, gradually started to introduce a grey area that caused quite a blur in my perception. Before I’d find corrective lenses and a voice loud and stable enough to demand it on my own, any justice I’d received often came by accident as a result of my ignorance. And the poetic justice, came from someplace else entirely.
I enjoy noting now how the Universe neatly packaged and delivered it’s gifts to me, for enduring the shitty people and situations I did early on. After all, God protects fools and small children and at nineteen, I was still, relatively, both. But, it was only a matter of time before the Heavens would release me into the wild, leaving it up to me to find the justice I deserved on my own, all the while adapting to adulthood.