Wage Slavery 8: Turning tables in New York

When last we left the WildeRix, his plans in Arkansas had gone awry, and he set his sights for Manhattan. Let’s see what happens next…

Watching the way that New York City pulled together after 9/11 really gave us faith in the City.  The people rallied to each other’s aid.  They exhibited so much pride in their community.  And New York, believe it or not, really works on a community level.  The 5 boroughs each have myriad neighborhoods within them that maintain as distinct of a flavor as individual towns.

In our neighborhood of Morningside Heights, I knew almost everyone that lived in my building.  I knew most of the people that worked in the shops and stores along my block.  A bunch of the Dominican kids from the neighborhood helped us move our stuff into the apartment.  With my small town mentality, I feared at first that they might only want to help us in order to find out if we had anything good to steal.  One of them kept asking about our electronic equipment.  But I eventually realized that this kid merely had a genuine kindness and interest in technology.  Anytime he got a new video game, he would always come by to tell me about it.

Outside of the neighborhood, though, New York had the rough and disconnected feel that you would assume based on watching TV and movies.  Nobody made eye contact on the streets.  They didn’t smile or say “hi” to folks they don’t know like they still sometimes do here in the South.  Well, one time somebody did, but it turned out that the friendly tranny hooker smiled and said “hi” to every dude that walked down her sidewalk.  For the most part, though, New Yorkers earned their rude reputation because they realized that if they don’t walk on everybody else, then they would simply get walked on themselves in the immense bustle that you have to navigate every day.

The New York attitude extended into my job hunting as well.  For some reason, it didn’t matter that I had almost a decade of food service work experience because I hadn’t earned any of it in New York.  I felt like an out of work actor, pounding the pavement every day, scanning the free Village Voice classifieds and digging the Times out of the trash in order to check its classifieds.

Eventually, I caught a break.  Right around Halloween, the TGI Fridays franchise owner that manages all the Midtown locations started the annual “get ready for the Christmas season” hiring spree.  With locations in Times Square, right next to Rockefeller Plaza and on 5th Avenue, they knew from experience that they would need to more than double their staff in order to handle “The Season.”  Yes you could refer to anything of importance in New York by simply referring to it with the direct article: “The Park” for Central Park, “The Island” for Long Island, and “The Season” for the time of year when tourists flood the streets far beyond their carrying capacity.

So I started working at the TGI Fridays on 51st Street right next to Rockefeller Plaza.  Don’t go looking for it nowadays, though.  The place shut down (thank the gods) in the continuing recession that not even The Season could overcome.  Fortunately, though, Hollywood memorialized my first place of employment in New York in the movie Mr. Deeds, which I think they filmed during that same Season.  In the scene where the dude pretends to mug Winona Ryder’s character so that Mr. Deeds will rescue her — which takes place in Rockefeller Plaza — you can briefly see the TGI Fridays in the background.

This job marked my first time ever waiting tables.  I had done lots of food service work in the past, from my college cafeteria dish room to serving at banquets to working a multitude of fast food jobs, but never had I relied solely on tips before.  Well, not solely, as they do pay you half of minimum wage.  And since The Season had come, the tourist customers should just pour through the doors, right?

Yeah, not so much.  We did have a few moments where we actually needed the abundance of staff.  But for the most part, we stood around waiting for nothing to happen.  The management kept telling us to expect the throngs once Rockefeller’s Christmas Spectacular started up.  Even then, though, it didn’t make too much difference.

We actually got the most customers due to the funerals for firemen that took place at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral right over on 5th Avenue.  Boy, could those firemen drink.  So much sadness and pride filled the tables on funeral days.  You could see it etched in the lines around their eyes.

But generally the lulls provided a lot of time to get to know the other wait staff — like this little Dominican dude named Frank.  He didn’t talk much, at least not in the small sense, and when he did speak, he spoke softly.  He thought a lot, though, and enjoyed philosophizing on topics like religion.  Having a degree in the subject myself, Frank and I fell to speaking softly together whenever we worked the same section.

And then Frank introduced me to Ishmael.  He kept talking about this book that he swore I would love.  So one day, between shifts, he took me around the corner to the Donnell library on 53rd Street.  He walked right to the section where Daniel Quinn’s works sat on the shelf and showed me the books where the telepathic gorilla explained the doomed situation we call Civilization.

If you have ever read Quinn, then you probably know exactly what I mean when I say that it opened my eyes up to things I had never considered before while validating feelings that I had about the nature of life at the same time.  It gave me a million things to think about as I did my side work between the dinner and lunch rush — or lack there of.  It definitely set me in earnest up on the course I now follow.

And it all started for me wiping down tables in a chain restaurant that has since taken down its marquee.

Next: Wage Slavery 9: Sadly temporary
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One response to this post.

  1. […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

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