I’ve always been a bit “extra”, but people assure me time and again that it’s a good thing. I regularly get what feels like a backhanded compliment; “You’re weird, but in a good way.” I’ve never really known what to make of this. I’ve been me my whole life. I don’t know any other way to be, although I do admit I can be a little weird in comparison to other people, but I’ve also met people weirder than me! On a scale of 1-10, with ten being the weirdest, I’m a solid 8. I talk to animals, and I have a curio full of gargoyles and Japanese teacups. Sometimes I opt for “passing” normal. This is when you keep your mouth shut, speak only when spoken to and only respond with the briefest of answers like “Yes” or “No.”
My first official job that required a W-2 form was at a Marie Calendars restaurant as a Hostess. I was 16, going to high school during the day and working 3-11pm at the restaurant. I quickly became the Senior Hostess, or the “Hostess with the Mostess” as people liked to joke. I was one of the first people in Spokane, WA to learn how to operate an espresso machine. I had a few customers so loyal they wouldn’t even allow anyone else to make their drinks. I had to make the bank runs every day at the start of my shift because my manager thought the bank tellers were “scary” people, so she made me do it instead.
I liked doing it because it gave me the opportunity to enjoy the fresh air while crossing the street and I didn’t have a problem with the bank tellers. There was one that was extra frosty, but I thawed her out when I discovered she liked peppermint candy. The restaurant provided free complimentary peppermint candies at the Hostess station, so why not use a few to bribe a little goodwill out of her? It worked.
One Saturday night moments before closing two big guys in jean overalls and white, ribbed tank tops and two boys around the age of nine came in and sat in the smoking section. The men were loud and crude when the waitress went over to take their order. They told her to give them hot, regular coffee in their own foul personal coffee cups and if she tried to wash the cups first, they would beat her. Several other patrons decided they were done with their meals and ready to skedaddle (leave). As the waitress came back to the main serving station to pour the coffees I went over and stood beside her. She was so nervous her hands were shaking. I was furious. She was sweet, hardworking and in her late fifties working a low wage job with no health insurance. I put my hand on hers and said I would take the coffee to them.
I walked over to the men and said, “Here’s your coffees, on the house, because you’re taking them to go.” In a slur of profanities, they asked me who I thought I was and demanded to place food orders. I calmly stood there and said, “No, you need to leave.” The boys were looking up at me in awe, they’d clearly never seen a woman, certainly not a young woman, stand up to these men before. The men stood up cussing at me, threatening to kill in a variety of ways. “I will make you leave.” I said in a low growl. The men laughed at me then said, “Oh yeah, you and what army?”
This is when the entire restaurant staff came to stand behind me, the servers, the cooks, the dishwasher, and some old guy in a Navy Veteran hat that had hung around to see what would happen. The men left. My coworkers nicknamed me “Brass balls” after that, or “Brass” for short.
This was back in 1990 when a lot of people, especially in the restaurant business, smoked cigarettes. I didn’t smoke and since I didn’t smoke, I wasn’t getting any breaks during my shift, because I didn’t *need* a smoke break. So, I stated taking non-smoking smoke breaks. Sometimes I’d hang out back by the dumpsters with the smokers and chat, but more often than not I’d just go for a quick walk around the block.
When summer came and school was out, I took a second job at the restaurant as a Prep cook and quickly became the head prep cook after the guy who had been the head prep cook spent a night in jail for drinking and driving. Being Senior Hostess was easy, but now I was seventeen and supervising men in their late 20s/early 30s. The incident with the two guys had already become legend and because turnover in the restaurant industry is high, the guys in the kitchen started to question whether it had really happened. A couple of them decided to test whether I was “worthy” of my nickname. One line cook threw a plate back into the prep area. It hit the wall and shattered barely missing me and another prep cook. We had to toss the chicken we’d been portioning into the garbage because we could risk it being contaminated with sharp ceramic bits from the plate. This same line cook then had the audacity to bark at me to get him a carafe of water. I served him a carafe of distilled white vinegar. He took one big chug of it and freaked out trying to figure out where to spit or throw up. He leaned over one of my back sinks coughing and trying to drink water from the faucet. I give him a moment to recovery, then grab him by an ear forcing him to look me eye to eye. I was two feet shorter, so it was pretty awkward for him to maintain his balance, let alone his composure.
The whole kitchen staff: line cooks, prep cooks, dishwashers and a handful of servers were all watching. I made it crystal clear to him and everyone standing there how unacceptable it was to threaten the safety of the food, the reputation of the restaurant that employs us or to harass another staff member. If anyone had a problem with me, they could take it up with me directly. I ended by saying, “You’re on notice. You mess up one more time and you’re fired! You don’t have to like me, just do your flippin’ job!” Because the restaurant had no Chef, I was the only kitchen staff in a supervisory position. We had a day and a night manager, but they were hardly ever there and loathe to do their jobs, so they left it to me. In fact, the male manager was there when I yelled at the line cook and all he did was hide in his office and lock the door. So, then they started calling me “Brass knuckles”, again “Brass” for short because they knew then, I don’t back down.
I eventually went to work a variety of hospitality and restaurant jobs and then for something completely different hired on to be a security guard.
Stay Tuned for Part II: The Nature-Led Security Guard.
Don’t back down; know your value, know your strengths.
Take the breaks you are legally owed to avoid burn out.
Take walks outside, away from the work chaos to clear your head. No one said you have to take up smoking or doom scrolling on your phone to catch a break.