Suck It Up: I double dog dare you to tell your story, too
At 15 years of age, I quit my job as a carhop at a Dog ‘N Suds restaurant to become a “Lindy’s Chicken” girl, delivering trays of chicken parts, French fries, and root beer to car windows – all while perched on roller skates. This wouldn’t really be worth mentioning had my mother not owned the Dog ‘N Suds and despised the man who owned “that chicken hut.” Lindy’s was a converted A&W restaurant, and two root beer enterprises in one small town meant customer and employee loyalty lines were drawn in cement. I crossed that line when I defected to work for the enemy.
You might correctly surmise that Lindy jumped at the chance to get the best carhop in town, though he probably would have hired me for the irresistible chance to vex my mother even if I was a terrible waitress. But I was, in fact, adept. With three years of restaurant experience under my (then tiny) belt, I had the ribbons to prove it – yes, there actually WERE restaurant skills contests in my hometown, and I actually WAS the sandwich wrapping champ. Nobody could wrap a burger or a Coney dog faster, or likely process a busload of hungry high school students quicker than I, either. Mom had trained me well.
If Mom and I were well matched in work ethic, we were even better matched in temper. During a heated mother-daughter exchange over dating, The Queen (that’s how we both regarded her) insisted I couldn’t date until I was 16. I challenged that if I was old enough to buy all my own clothing, babysit my ungrateful siblings (for free), and do the family ironing and cooking, I was certainly responsible enough to date. She threatened to fire me for getting too big for my britches (a cardinal sin), and I countered by walking the three miles to Lindy’s Restaurant to fill out a job application.
After Lindy hired me, way bigger problems emerged. Three days a week, I now had to walk a six-mile loop because no way was Mom going to give me a ride to work. But the real challenge was that I didn’t work for Lindy directly, since the owner worked days and I worked nights. No, I reported to his underling, an odd duck assistant manager who was very much like the character Dwight in the TV series The Office. And Gene’s automatic response to every food order I brought to the kitchen was, “Hey, girlie, jack my jaw.” At the still somewhat tender age of 15, in the era of the 1960s, I had no idea what he meant – but by the way the other girls laughed, I understood it to be inappropriately crude suggestion.
Knowing I would get no sympathy at home, I realized I had to put on my big girl panties and deal with it. I also realized that far from being impressed by my agility on skates, Gene was bored with me. Though he was known to date the younger carhops, I obviously was not his type, and so the only sport he might enjoy with me was the opportunity to bring me down a peg or two in front of the other carhops. He was a duck with a gaggle of geese following him – that’s how I came to view my co-workers. And every time he issued a new inventive directive to me (most of them involving his body parts), his bad behavior was reinforced by loud giggles from that gaggle.
I have pretty thick skin, and for the most part, I shrugged off his immature taunts, but the longer a customer had to wait for a basket of chicken and fries, the smaller my tip was. Finally, exasperated by Gene’s ability to nickel and dime me out of a new outfit I was saving for, I threatened to go to Lindy himself. Not appearing overly worried, Gene nonetheless offered a compromise: “Every time you ask for an order,” he suggested, “if you can pass a little test, your order will be moved to the front of the line.”
“What kind of test?” I asked warily.
“An easy one. Just amuse me by reciting a little verse for me in one single breath, without any mistakes, and I’ll move your orders to the front.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No,” he admitted. “If you go to Lindy and badmouth me, I’ll deny everything and say you’re a liar. I’ve worked for him for five years. Which one of us do you think he’ll fire?”
He set to work scribbling the words he wanted me to say. One slip of the tongue and I’d be swearing myself; it was probably his finest work, since he had created a masterpiece tongue-twister maze from hell. That paper was well creased before I had it completely memorized, but I did eventually get it in my head and out of my mouth without mistakes.
One fat hen …
“One fat hen; a couple of ducks; three brown bears; four running hares; five fat females; six Sicilian sailors solemnly sailing the seven seas; seven – I slit a sheet, a sheet I slit, upon the slitted sheet I sit; eight – one smart fellow, he felt smart, two smart fellows, they both felt smart, three smart fellows, they all felt smart; nine nymph-like nudes, nibbling, nibbling, aunts and uncles and cigarette butts; and I am not a fig plucker, but a fig plucker’s son, but I will pluck your figs ‘til the fig plucker comes.”
I probably recited it 3,000 times (at least) between the ages of 15 and 16, when Mom finally let me date, and she also let me come back to the Dog ‘N Suds. When my own children were little, I could always get them a giggling by taking a big gulp of air and beginning: “One fat hen …”
That’s my work-related “Suck It Up” story (one of many, sorry to say). Have one of your own? Email it to me for consideration for our print magazine, since we print three to five short vignettes monthly and we’re now collecting stories for a book. Surely you have a more interesting tale than mine to share … (that’s a double dog dare).
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