You may not need a recap of three previous parts of ‘Deus Ex Machina’, particularly if you are a binge-reader… I do, just because I’m struggling to balance a short attention span and a long interruption…
Back in February and March, I had gotten myself into serious trouble at Giovanni’s culminating in a ‘Step II disciplinary meeting’, which was essentially a meeting to convince management that I still wanted my job and that I could, if given another chance, ‘straighten up and fly right.’ Difficult. On one hand, even on bad days, waiting tables is both profitable and interesting. Given my A.D.D., the constant mental stimulation as a waitress may actually be more important than my tips. Although as a spendthrift with a fashion addiction, the tips are pretty damn important. On the other hand, I had been crashing rather than flying because I was completely overwhelmed as a single parent with no support net. Trying to be a good enough mom for Piper was burning me out and exacerbating my A.D.D, which only left me even more overwhelmed. So while I desperately wanted another chance, if I had possessed the slightest clue on how to regain control of my life, I already would be doing it… another chance was only another chance to make the same mistakes.
One of the ways I had tried to regain control was interviewing for the job at Thatchtower gallery, but after the interview, Cao Richards had been avoiding me. The day before my step II, she sought me out (part I) to introduce me to Conner, the man who actually got the job for which I interviewed. She also let me know (part II) that I actually had a second chance at the same job if I interviewed a second time with Carlton Thatcher. That night, (part III) I met up with Carlton at a Thai restaurant in the Oregon District, and the interview went well. I got the job!
I actually felt pretty good, possibly even sassy, as I bundled Piper with me into the Step II meeting. I still needed and wanted my job at Giovanni’s, of course. The Thatchtower job is part-time, and the base pay isn’t much more than minimum wage, although whenever Carlton makes a sale, the bonuses trickle down nicely. In addition, I have very good insurance through Giovanni’s; the restaurant even pays half of my premiums and a quarter of Piper’s. As a part-time assistant, I wouldn’t qualify for insurance through Thatchtower. What Thatchtower did have was on-site daycare that they would even let me use when I wasn’t actually on the clock. I was overwhelmed as a single parent with no support net, but Thatchtower offered me some rudimentary support. I had been frustrated because I couldn’t see a way to regain control of my life, to break the pattern of one-step-forward-two-steps-back that haunted everything I tried to do since Piper was born. I just had to tweak my Giovanni’s schedule a little bit- cut out my weekday lunches so I could work at Thatchtower, work three or four nights plus Thursday and Saturday lunch so I could keep the twenty-five hours a week to keep my insurance going, and everything would finally be working out for me.
Sitting at the party table in the corner of the restaurant with Stefano, Jonas, Joe, and Justin before the restaurant opened, I explained that. I’m sure I bubbled pretty enthusiastically, both because I was excited about the game-changing prospect of decent daycare and because poor filtering between impulses and words is an A.D.D. hallmark. So I felt a little ambushed when Stefano didn’t share my enthusiasm.
“Let me get this straight. You’re in Step II because you’re generally late, because you’ve missed shifts, because you’ve manipulated and altered the schedule without permission, and your solution is you want to rewrite the schedule for your convenience.”
The words, “You make that sound like a bad thing,” were already forming on my tongue, and probably wouldn’t have helped the situation, so it’s just as well Stefano continued on relentlessly.
“Everyone knows dinner shifts are more profitable than lunch shifts. You’ve been unreliable enough to put your job in jeopardy, and you think I should ‘punish’ you by giving you the best shifts, you think I should take night shifts away from servers who haven’t screwed up so you can have them, you think I should be grateful that you still deign to work one lunch a week when that’s just to keep me paying for your insurance… Where do you get off, Emily?!?”
I glanced quickly at Joe and Justin. Justin looked like he shared my opinion that the meeting had grown painfully awkward very quickly, but he also looked like he’d just rather be elsewhere, not like he was going to stick his neck out for me. Joe and I butt heads a lot, so Joe was actually smiling at my discomfort. Jackass. “Steve, I’ve worked here almost five years, and I thought you knew me by now. I invest a lot of ego in being good at whatever I do, and I’m competitive enough to define ‘good’ as ‘better than my coworkers’. I bust my ass to make sure that Giovanni’s is the sort of place customers want to come back to, to make sure my tables have the dining experience I would want, and to make serving look easy even when the kitchen is a train wreck and the host stand is a cluster fuck. Yeah, I do it so that customers want to tip me, but I also do it from sheer bloody-minded, arrogant pride. I know I’ve been off my A-game since Piper was born. I want to be just as good a mother as I am a waitress, and I’m not, and I’m burning myself at both ends trying to make things work. I’m in this inutile meeting- pardon my French, I meant to say fucking- because we both know I’m too valuable an employee to just fire, and you wanted to make sure I knew that if something doesn’t change, you will have do exactly that. Well, I found a way to change things, because I love my job, and I’m good at it, and I want to make it work, and I thought you’d appreciate that.”
I must have been a sight as I finished. Red-faced, eyes flashing, so angry I was trembling. Stefano drew a deep breath, ready to blast back at me with both barrels, only to be interrupted by something neither of us expected. Jonas clapped a few times, slowly, and said “Bravo, little firecracker.”
Stefano, Justin, and Joe all stared at Jonas with mixtures of stun and confusion on their faces, and I’m sure my expression matched. “Stefano, we’ve got a good crew. We’ve got a turnover rate that other restaurants should envy. Our staff is competent and comfortable and consistent and content, and those are all very good things.” The stun was clearing from everyone’s faces, but the confusion was only strengthening. “But for most of our staff, Giovanni’s is just a job. It’s a better job than most, which is why they stay, but it’s still just a job. Emily is passionate. It’s not ego or arrogance, it’s pride and that’s something we need, and something you can’t train into people.”
I’d like to claim it was my sense of maturity that kept me from sticking my tongue out. Truthfully, I didn’t think of it at the time because I was too busy being scared about what would happen next. Stefano disagreed with his father’s view of my ethic, and argued that reliability was more important than pride, and I wasn’t reliable anymore.
“Pshaw!” scoffed Jonas. I thought ‘Pshaw’ was a literary convention, an exclamation only used by writers to represent more generalized impatient disdain, but Jonas actually pshawed his son. “Machines and tools should be reliable, Stefano. People can’t be a hundred percent reliable, but proud people are more likely to rise above than to let you down.” Stefano tried to interrupt to classify me as one of the let-downs, but Jonas overrode him. “You weren’t here the day Emily went into labor, and I was. Her water broke in our restroom, she was freaking out, and she was still worrying about taking proper care of her tables.” I remember that day well, and I would say it was probably shock not dedication driving my worries about getting table 302’s order in, but this was no time to argue with Jonas. “Emily will move mountains to give customers the experience she thinks they should have. Look, Stefano, she doesn’t even realize she’s nodding agreement.” I stopped, a little self-consciously. “It would be better if she would move mountains to give customers the experience we think they should have, if she was driven by pride in Giovanni’s rather than pride in herself, if she would be a little quicker to follow instructions and a little slower to question authority. But she’s right: her pride, her initiative, makes her too valuable an employee to just fire. If Emily was like most employees in Step II, sniveling for one more chance, I’d say give her the one more chance and then fire her ass. If she tried to deny she had a problem, or claim that other servers were a bigger problem so we should let her slide, I’d be the first to throw her ass to the curb here and now.”
Ah, yes. There was the warm, fuzzy Jonas I generally expect.
“But Emily didn’t just show up today, she tried to find a solution to the problem. She just wants us to work with her so she can continue to work for us. That’s fair, Stefano.”
Another surprise. Steve didn’t argue with Jonas. He just sighed a little. “Maybe it is fair to work with her, but Emily still wants to move away from shifts I already have trouble finding people to work, particularly while college is in session, and towards shifts where I don’t have enough openings on the floor for the servers who want to work. I don’t have full time hours to offer her with that kind of availability. I can work her part-time for a while. The insurance is based on average hours per week, so it will take time for average to fall below twenty-five hours per week, and then take some more time for the paperwork to notice her average fell and to cut the insurance off. Sooner or later, though, she will lose her insurance. Maybe someone will move on or change schedules so we can up her hours again before that happens, but maybe not. I’m not going to fuck someone else over to give more shifts to Emily, particularly while her dependability is in doubt. That’s not fair, either. And two lunch-shifts, one, maybe two dinner-shifts. That’s under twenty hours, under fifteen hours a lot of weeks- it won’t take long for the insurance to go bye-bye.”
“What about that computer stuff Emily does?” asked Jonas. “You’re the one talking up why Giovanni’s needs social media, so why not hire our blogging waitress to do social media stuff for us?”
I’ll admit I briefly zoned out of the conversation. I was startled enough that Jonas knew about my blogging that I jostled Piper and she started to fuss and I had to rock her back to sleep. Plus I was growing a little sickly pale as I tried to remember exactly what I’ve written previously about Giovanni’s in general and about Jonas and Stefano in particular. ‘An asshole with some redeeming values’ no longer seemed quite the deft turn of phrase it once did. When I zoned back in, Steve was saying Giovanni’s still had a very small digital footprint, and that they wouldn’t need enough computer time from me to get me to full time status.
It was Justin who exclaimed ‘Billable hours!”
Jonas verbalized the thought everyone was thinking: “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“If you take your car to the mechanic’s, you pay both for parts and for labor. If you hire an attorney, you pay for the hours that go into working your case. But you don’t pay for how long your specific job actually took, you pay according to a list of how long general tasks will be assumed to take. For example, changing brake pads might be assumed to be an hour or an hour and half’s labor. Most of the time, an experienced mechanic with a full shop can do it in fifteen to thirty minutes. Occasionally, something is really screwed up and it might take two or three hours. Regardless, the job takes the hour as far as the bill is concerned.”
“Um. Can I refer us all back to Jonas’s previous question? I’m still not sure where you’re going, Justin.”
“No, look. We’ve talked about this is some of the marketing courses I’ve taken. A salaried, full-time social media marketeer makes fifty or sixty thousand a year. If Giovanni’s hires a free-lancer, we’ll have to pay him twenty dollars or more an hour. Emily lacks the marketing degree of the true professional marketeer, so she can’t expect to make as much. Conversely, she knows our business better than an outsider and she’s going to stay in contact if she’s coming in regularly to serve. So we have to negotiate a little on a fair rate to pay Emily to be our marketeer anyway. So why don’t we just say she will officially receive minimum wage, and instead negotiate how many hours she will bill us for. It won’t make a difference on her pay check if we pay her two and half hours at eight bucks per hour or one hour at twenty bucks, but the extra padding on hours will help her keep her insurance intact. After a few months, once we see how she’s doing, we can keep going, renegotiate, or call the experiment off. Worst case scenario, we’ve still postponed the point where Emily’s insurance expires and given us more time to rearrange the schedule.”
And that’s how I ended up gaining a second hat to wear at Giovanni’s, that of ‘social media consultant.’ I basically tweet about our specials twice a day, occasionally post pictures of meals on Instagram and Facebook, help write copy for each month’s ‘Monthly Specials’ insert in the menu, and sometimes send shout-outs to some of our regulars. If I’m nearby, I’m probably drafted for anything in the restaurant that involves the written word, so there are lots of random little chores in the job as well. I’m also the only waitress who has permission to be on my phone while I’m waiting tables, which is a cool perk. (Mind you, most of the waitresses still read and send texts and update their Facebook from the side stand when they think nobody is looking. But I’m actually supposed to find at least one thing to send out during my shifts…)
…Info about tagged vendors is in my closet…