Just Enough to Barely Work

[Trying to accurately portray restaurant work.  Caution: Profanity ahead]


Gary’s been working at Murphey’s Restaurant since he was sixteen years old. He’s forty now. He’s moved from the dishwasher, the fryer, the grill, prep, sauté, and the salad side of the restaurant. He’s done it all, except work the floor. He has no interest in serving the food he cooks. He secretly loves his job. He no longer flinches when the oil splashes on his forearms, scarring his tattooed arms. He still swears when he cuts his knuckles on knives he sharpens himself. His neck is dirty, also covered in tattoos. One gold tooth flashes as he yells at the servers. The positions of authority are skewed. No one knows who gets to boss who, so they all boss each other equally.

“This New York’s been sitting in the window for fifteen-fuckin’-minutes, Charlene!” he yells as he slaps his spatula on the counter like a judge.

His skin is always dark, almost burned. He wears a five o’clock shadow every day. Interestingly, he’s clean-shaven on days off. His work clothes are always clean. He smokes heavily and carries a cigarette case and a custom lighter. The lighter has some symbol engraved into it. Some military unit. Not his unit. One of his friend’s. One of his dead friends.

Gary works at a breakneck pace so he can clear several five minute windows throughout the night. Each five minute break is spent sucking down a cigarette. He lights each one just as he approaches the back door of the kitchen. He hasn’t been allowed to smoke indoors in over ten years, thanks to what he still calls new laws, but he likes to get his cigarettes lit just a split second before technically smoking outside. He tells people that he’s been at Murphey’s for so long that he can almost do whatever he wants. Everyone, and no one, believes him. It also makes it easier to light the cigarette indoors if it’s windy outside or raining.

After working at the restaurant for more than ten years, the GM put him on salary. This happened after Gary spent a month working mostly overtime. Management put an end to that fast. The harder Gary worked on salary, the less he got paid. That’s how it felt to him. Punished for working too hard, too often. That’s how a lot of restaurants work. Murphey’s was no exception, though most employees think it is. Every time someone brings a broken piece of equipment to management’s attention, a resounding “Welcome to Murphey’s!” is heard, as if Murphey’s is the only restaurant in the South Puget Sound with some pieces out of place, or broken, or fixed just enough to barely work.

Gary comes back in after smoking to find the same New York Steak sitting in the window.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Charlene!” he is almost screaming. “I bet if I put a goddamn tip on that plate you’d have counted it twice by now! Do I have to start garnishing each dish with a goddamn dollar? You realize you’re going to have to comp that shit, right?”

“Thanks, Gary!” Charlene grabs the plate, quickly turning around. She lets Gary’s insults roll right off of her. She didn’t used to. It used to make her cry nearly every night, to the point where she requested to never be put on the schedule on nights he worked. But she’s used to him now. It’s gotten better since she’s been filing complaints about him. If he calls her one of two words ever again, he’ll be fired on-the-spot. Random expletives are fine, so long as he is not actually calling her something, or anyone for that matter. It drives Gary insane.

A person would think he would refrain from swearing altogether. But it’s only made him swear more often. Except for now he directs the majority of his profanity at inanimate objects. A dull knife is now a cocksucker. The stove is consistently referred to as a piece of goddamn-fucking-shit, so much so that everyone in the restaurant now refers to it as such. “Has anyone taken the roast out of the piece of goddamn-fucking-shit yet?” they’ll joke. Of course, no one says these things when Gary’s around.

“You forgot the horseradish, Charlene!” he yells as she walks away. “Are you out of your damn-ass mind or something?!”

“No, Gary,” Charlene smiles. “I am not out of my damn-ass mind.”

A hostess overhears and laughs to herself, holding her phone. She’s texting “Good job, u face butt :) haha dam-ass lol!!! Srsly! tht was a good one” to Charlene.

Gary shakes his head, staring into a sauté pan. He knows that Charlene is going to come back any second telling him something about the steak. He swears to himself before flinging the pan in no particular direction. No planned destination. It falls to the ground, splashing burning oil up onto the fingers of his left hand. He’s not wincing from pain so much as he’s simply wincing in general. His ring finger is tattooed with some illegible name, faded. His cursing is louder than the clashing pan as he walks towards the back door. Guests and servers pay no attention. Even the guests are used to him.

“Gary,” Charlene chases behind him. Gary is outside smoking by the time she catches up to him.

“What, Charlene?” he asks sitting down on a wooden pallet. “What do you want?”

“The steak, Gary,” Charlene says calmly. “I’m sure you didn’t mess up or anything, but they’re saying that the steak is not only cold, but too well done.”

Gary presses his tongue against the front of his top teeth.

“What do you think I’m going to say? What the goddamn shit do you think is going to be the next shitfuck thing that comes out of my goddamn-fucking-ass-piss-co—” his speech is rising to an intense volume. He’s screaming incoherently with no logical order to his profanity.

“Never mind, Gary,” Charlene says, checking her cell phone. A text. “You know what I think I’ll do? I bet I can comp it, no problem. I got this. I’ll just comp it.” She heads back inside.

Gary redirects his tirade.

“I fucking, piss, shit told you that god shit damn steak was gonna end up a fucking comp! I told you that when you left the fucking shit in my damn window for five fucking damn hours! Did I not goddamn fucking tell you that th—”

Charlene is halfway to her guests inside the restaurant now. Gary can’t tell that she’s left. He’s still cussing up a storm outside. He kicks a cardboard box before returning to work.

He’s been doing this for years, nearly every day.

1 Comment

Filed under Fiction

One response to “Just Enough to Barely Work

  1. This is really, really good. I KNEW this guy when I was in the industry.

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