The Second Star Diner really sucks, that’s for sure. As I stand at the server console, trying to figure out how to punch in an order for our new TripleMeat TripleCheese Slamburger, my boss wanders by and sneers at me.
“Yo Gemma, is putting in orders a little too tough for you? It doesn’t take a college degree, but wait a minute,” he said, snapping his fingers. “You don’t have one, right? In fact, you don’t even have a high school degree, right?”
I freeze as my heart starts beating hard and fast. Jimmy knows that I don’t have a high school degree because he’s seen my job application and resume. It states right there up at the top that I have nothing more than a GED, earned after a lot of time hitting the books on weekends. So this asshole is just trying to bait me. He’s trying to get a rise, all the while making me feel bad about myself.
And it’s working, to be honest. My temperature rises even as the tears begin to form hotly behind my lids. I desperately want him to get fired, but that’s nothing but a pipe dream. Jimmy is the owner’s nephew, and he only got the manager position because of nepotism. So I swallow hard before turning in his direction.
“This order console is new,” I say casually, gesturing to the iPad mounted on the counter. “It’s no big deal, I’ll figure it out.”
“You sure?” Jimmy sneers again. “Looks like you’re having some trouble adding up those figures.”
It’s true. Numbers have always bewildered me, but it’s not because I’m dumb. It’s because I have dyslexia. So yes, letters tend to blur before my eyes and jump all over the screen, with p’s turning into q’s all the time. But still, my dyslexia isn’t his business, and I wasn’t about to share information about my learning disability with this guy. It would only amp up the constant harassment and snide jokes. So I tried to smile calmly again.
“Oh please,” wheezes Jimmy while leaning over the counter. “We both know you’re not going back to school. You. Don’t. Have. A. High School. Degree. They don’t admit people like you. Get real, Gemma. College is for people with brains and money, and that’s not you. I know how much you make here. You’re poor. Besides, they’d never take you, so it’s not even money that’s the issue. It’s you.”
I freeze, stung by his words. How can someone be so mean? He must have thrown three different insults in that tirade, and besides, what he said isn’t true. People who have GEDs get into college all the time. It can be a little harder because you have to do two years at community college first, but I’m willing to put in the time.
But he’s right. How would I pay for college? There isn’t exactly a magical fund made of money labeled “Gemma’s College Stash” lying beneath the rainbow. People say that you can apply for financial aid, but everyone knows that it’s hard to get, and even if you do get some aid, it’s usually not enough. Plus, how would I pay it back? What kind of job would I get that could help me pay down tens of thousands of dollars in student loans?
But Jimmy doesn’t need to know that I’ve had many of the same thoughts myself. Instead, I shoot him what I hope is a freezing smile.
“I’m signing up for classes at Evergreen shortly,” comes my tight voice. “I’ll get an Associate’s and then try and transfer somewhere for my Bachelor’s.”
My manager doesn’t even hear the ice in my tone. He leans over the counter, smirking, and leers at me. It’s a disgusting sight. The fat man is pasty and flabby from eating too many fries, and right now his big belly is literally smooshed like giant paunchy cushion against the plastic countertop. I avert my eyes in an attempt not to be grossed out.
“Please,” he wheezes again. “Save the ‘holier than thou’ speech. You’re not going to get through Evergreen. Credits there cost a hundred bucks each, and each class is something like four credits. You can’t afford that on a waitress’s salary.”
This is the time to demand a raise, but I keep my lips sealed tight because one, it’s not like Jimmy has the authority to give me one, and two, I’m a senior waitress making ten bucks an hour. I’ve already hit the top of the pay scale, and unless I take on more shifts, there isn’t going to be more money coming my way.
But even as I stand there, fuming, my face flushes because my manager might be right. Do credits at Evergreen cost a hundred dollars each? I swear, I looked online and read that credits cost ten bucks a pop. If they’re actually charging ten times that, then I’m screwed. There’s no way I can spare four hundred dollars to take one class. Not when I’m hard-up to make rent and put food on the table some weeks.
But I don’t want to let my manager know, so blindly, I punch in some random things into the console while hoping one of them is the TripleMeat TripleCheese Slamburger. God knows, I could be ordering a chocolate ice cream sundae with whipped cream and cherries, but there’s no way I’m going to let on to Jimmy how hurt and disappointed I feel at the moment.
“Gotta get back to work,” I say breezily. “See ya, Jimmy. Thanks for checking up on me.”
His eyes trail over my form as I saunter off, giving me the creeps. But it’s just another day at the Second Star Diner, and I can’t afford to lose this job. So determinedly, I walk back to my area, stopping only to pick up an order at the kitchen.
“You okay, darlin’?” asks Mamie from behind the silver window. Mamie’s my best friend on the job. Looking at us, you wouldn’t think we have anything in common because Mamie’s about eighty, African-American, and wizened. She’s been a line cook since she was forty, which gives her forty years of experience on the job, and about thirty years of experience more than me. Many a time, I’ve cried on her shoulder after a shift, fed up with the daily indignities of my position. Many a time, she’s patted my head and made it feel alright again, even if it wasn’t really alright.
I smile bravely at her. Mamie’s the only person that I feel comfortable even being myself around here at the Silver Star.
“I’m okay,” I say taking a deep breath. “I’m fine.”
I smile again and nod, picking up a giant plate of salad. Mamie knows that something is wrong, but right now, in the middle of a shift, neither of us can afford to talk. Plus, I know Jimmy’s still watching me with his beady rat eyes, and I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me break down. So taking a deep breath, I smile at my friend once more before balancing the salad plate on one forearm and stopping to pick up a full set of utensils. Then I walk delicately towards a table in the corner with a smile plastered on my face. My customer is a blonde girl, probably in her twenties, with hair so shiny that it’s blinding, and a nose tipped up high.
Carefully, I set the salad in front of her. It’s a giant chef’s salad with lots of tomatoes, two sliced eggs, cut-up ham and crumbled blue cheese on the side. My mouth waters. When I’m flush with money (meaning when it’s payday), sometimes I treat myself to a salad like this. Most other times, it’s the tiny house salad that has one tomato at best, and some sad, wilted lettuce leaves that are going to go bad if they’re not eaten.
“Here you go ma’am,” I say with a courteous smile. “Chef’s salad with the dressing on the side.”
Her nose wrinkles like she’s smelled something bad.
“I asked for the oil and vinegar dressing, and not the ranch,” she says flatly.
Oh right. Oops.
“I’m sorry,” I apologize. “I’ll get you some oil and vinegar right away.”
“No, no, take the whole thing away,” she says. “If you got the dressing wrong, then you got this entire salad wrong. I want them to make me a new one.”
I stare at her disbelievingly. Is she joking? There’s nothing wrong with the salad itself. I know for a fact that it was lovingly assembled by hand by either Mamie or Bert in the kitchen. They’re both expert chefs, and there’s no way they messed up this salad.
“Ma’am,” I say in a gentle voice. “I’m sorry, but this salad is perfectly fine. It’s me who made the mistake with the dressing, but I assure you, that’s the only thing that went wrong. Everything about this chef’s salad is completely okay. I’ll get you some oil and vinegar dressing right away.”
“No,” she says in a flat voice. “You screwed up the dressing, and you probably screwed up the salad too. I don’t care if it was made by your friends in the back. You’re dumb and probably gave them the wrong order, and this dish is likely messed up because of that. I want a new one,” she says in a petulant voice.
My face heats to a thousand degrees as I stand there, rooted in place. Did that just happen to me? Did this complete stranger just tell me that I’m stupid, and that everything I touch turns to garbage? It’s absolutely wrong, and incredibly rude. I mean, yes, I’m a waitress, but that doesn’t mean that I’m dog poo. I’m not paid enough to take this kind of abuse.
Besides, how could she say that to me? One small mistake doesn’t mean that I’m retarded or hopeless. It doesn’t mean that I’m less of a human than she is, or that I’m second class. Unfortunately, it’s clear that the customer doesn’t see it that way at all. She’s got a diamond ring on her finger so shiny that it resembles a disco ball, and her blonde hair is the kind that screams money. The complicated mass of highlights and lowlights must have cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars at a hair salon.
But I can’t back down because that would be letting the one percent win. I can’t let someone treat me like this, even if I’m on the job. I’ve already been beaten down today by Jimmy, and I’m not going to let this woman add to the shit pile.
“Ma’am,” I say in a slow, calm voice. “This salad is completely fine. I assure you, our chefs Bert and Mamie are the best in town. They’ve been on the job for decades, and both have made hundreds, if not thousands, of chef’s salads over the years. The dressing part is totally on me, and I acknowledge that,” I say. “But I promise, this chef’s salad is fine. More than fine. It’s tasty and delectable.”
With those words, the woman jerks her head back towards me and glares with so much venom in her eyes that I’m taken aback. It’s just a salad for crying out loud! Why is she filled with such hatred? It must be something else. There’s no way that anything I did deserves such vitriol.
“Get me the manager,” she spits, wrapping her pink cashmere shawl even tighter around her skinny body. The blonde is so thin that she looks like a skeleton in a rose-colored shroud. “I need to talk with someone with two brain cells to rub together.”
My cheeks flush, and I’m unable to move for a moment at this new insult. But fine. Clearly, this woman can’t be reasoned with and it’s better to pass her off to someone else. I turn to find Jimmy, but my manager’s already on it. He’s been watching me this entire time, and seeing the unhappy look on her face, is now approaching us with slow, lumbering steps.
“Ma’am,” he pants obsequiously, huffing and puffing as he comes up to the booth. “Is there something wrong? I can see that you’re not happy with your meal here. We at the Second Star Diner take the utmost pride in our staff and food, and if either one of those isn’t up to your standards,” he says, turning on me with a nasty gleam in his eye, “I’ll be sure to take up the issue with upper management.”
“It’s her,” she says in a nasty voice. “It’s all her.”
Jimmy doesn’t slip a beat.
“Gemma?” he says. “I know, we’ve had problems with her in the past. I’ll be sure to resolve it, you can count on that. Billie, could you get this customer another salad please?” he calls out to a waitress in the next area.
But the blonde woman won’t let it drop.
“It’s herrrr,” she hisses, still looking at me with daggers. “She’s a dumb bitch who can’t get anything right. I mean, look at her,” she scoffs. “Her uniform is super slutty, and she’s overweight too. How can you let someone fat wear such skimpy clothes? It’s fucking disgusting. I wouldn’t eat anything she touches.”
I gasp, absolutely mortified. How can this woman say these things about me? She doesn’t even know me! I mean, yes, my skirt is a little shorter than the other waitresses wear theirs, but it’s only because I’m desperate for tips. If a short hem gets me ten or twenty bucks more each shift, then I’m grateful for the money even if I have to show a little leg.
Plus, I’m not fat. I’m curvy, yes, and maybe a little on the plump side, but there’s no way that I’m some disgusting Jabba the Hut who’s leaking all over the place. I have big boobs and a giant ass, but still, what happened to female solidarity? What happened to body positivity? Nowadays, women are taught to embrace their fuller forms, but I guess this skinny bitch hasn’t gotten the memo.
“I-I …” comes my stutter as my cheeks flush red.
But the woman’s on a roll, and she’s not about to stop.
“Look at her,” she entreats Jimmy. “Look at how slutty your waitress looks. Look how she’s done herself up, with all that make-up and the messy hairdo. I see a lot of other workers here, and they look fine by comparison. How can you hire someone like her?”
Again, I’m completely flummoxed. First, it’s unfair to compare me to the other servers here. Dot, Billie, and Betty are so old that they’re allowed to wear whatever they want. Most days, it’s just a plain skirt and a blouse, with an apron over it. By comparison, I’m the only one who has to wear Silver Star’s ridiculous uniform, which consists of a silver lamé low-cut top paired with a silver lamé mini-skirt. To top it off, there are stars emblazoned all over the outfit, which I would never pick for myself. Who in their right mind would go out in public wearing something like this?
I open my mouth, ready to give her a piece of my mind and to set the record straight when it comes to this ridiculous, revealing outfit. But Jimmy evidently senses an opportunity to humiliate me further because he giggles and practically bows then.
“You’re absolutely right, ma’am,” he coos. “Gemma here is no good, and I was just waiting for the right time to tell her the news. But since this has happened, I might as well lay it on now. Gemma, dear, you’re fired. Get your stuff from the locker and leave now. You can pick up your last paycheck at my office next Monday. Toodle-oo!” he says, wiggling his chubby fingers at me. “Bye now!” Without missing a beat, he turns back to the blonde lady. “We’ll take care of the salad for you, ma’am,” he says. “I know it was messed up because of her.”
I stand there, absolutely shocked. Did I just get fired because this rich bitch told me off when it was completely undeserved? Did I just lose my job because Jimmy’s a megalomaniac and wants to crush me? How did a tiny mix-up over salad dressing get me a pink slip?
I want to give them both the middle finger and storm out without a care in the world. I want to take off this ridiculous uniform and burn it, smirking while it goes up in ash. But the thing is that I can’t afford to lose this job. It’s the only one that pays me ten dollars base plus tips. Other diners around here do seven or eight, and unfortunately, the lost wage really adds up. Plus, I spent thirty bucks to buy this ridiculous silver lamé outfit, and what am I going to do with it if I no longer work at the Silver Star? I open my mouth to protest, but Jimmy’s turned back to me with ice in his stare.
“Did you hear me?” the fat man huffs. “Get your stuff from your locker and scram. Otherwise, there might not be a last paycheck for you,” he threatens. Of course, the blonde lady is looking on with satisfaction while toying with her fork.
“I knew HR here was good,” she says in a charming drawl. “But I didn’t know it was that good.”
Jimmy’s about to smile at his new best friend when suddenly the door bangs open and a couple of masked men appear in the entrance.
I gasp, all thoughts of food, weight, customer service, and Jimmy pushed out of my mind. The Silver Star is being robbed … and my life is in danger.