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when i was 15 years old i came home from school with my very first “real job”.  My teen years were spent on top of a hill , in the middle of a christmas tree farm, on a long windy rural road, so a job off that hill and in town seemed so cool.  i came home with my trainee badge and polyester uniform in hand all excited. i was going to work at a restaurant, Friendly’s, the ice cream and burger place. you know the one right?  my mom laughed and said i would last a week.  she could NOT imagine me, the teenager, serving the masses.  surely i would drop a sundae on someone, or worse, coffee! ( i have done both.) she didn’t think i would have the patience or the chutzpah to stick with it. this is what she said, but what i didn’t know at the time, was what she really meant was that SHE couldn’t do that job. (she fully admits this) waiting on others IS hard. people can be mean and rude. you have to have some thick skin, but i was determined, so i went, and i worked, and i was good at it.  really really good at it!  i got to be social, i do have the gift of gab. lots of my peers worked there, so it was like an extended after-school party every night. i came home with pockets full of cash.  seriously. i would empty out my tips on the kitchen counter and my mom was shocked.  that was it, i was HOOKED! and so i worked my high school years out at that job.

fast forward: i went to college, i left college, moved to FL, back to the restaurant business, met a boy, had a girl, moved back to PA with my girl, not that boy, single mom, back in the restaurant business again.  phew! did you get all that?  now i was 21 years old, a single mother (hello work!), enter TGIFridays. This became my home, and my second family, for most of my 20’s.  granted, it was the most dysfunctional, crazy ass, insane, derelict family, but it WAS family. we worked long hours, 14 hour shifts some days, late into the night (or technically, the wee hours of the morning). we sweated, yelled, cried, laughed, danced, got crazy, slept together, fought, ate, drank, cooked, served, cleaned up and did it all over again the next day. (soap opera? yes there was always drama. Anthony Bourdain was not lying in,”Kitchen Confidential”, it truly is a sub-culture.) we had our own language, we said words like chits, otle, dub dub, expo, in the weeds, and adding on a ho, and that all made perfect sense to us. we had our own inside jokes about the bacon stretcher and napkin press.  i got a nickname, “bubbles”. the names read like the cast of characters that we were: bubbles  and trouble, hustler, doug e fresh, smiley, crazy craig, chalmers, bergman, the perez brothers, tommy the barber, fonze aka zucchini boy, and crazy karen just to name a few. our managers were no better, and some were no older. a large group of co-workers even lived together in an apartment affectionately coined “the orphanage”. we worked HARD. we had FUN. after 6 months as a ‘dub’,  i got promoted to the bar and became something i don’t think i could have ever imagined. (ever see the movie “Cocktail?” does hippy hippy shake ring a bell?  you know, back when Tom Cruise was hot, not weird.) That movie is based on TGIFridays.  they even wear red and white stripes in part of that movie. i became the female Tom. I threw real glass bottles of alcohol all around my head. (and broke a few on the rails) i could flip an ice-cube into a glass with marksman like precision. i threw and caught full pints of beer. i played games like the whipped cream trick. i wore a vest in which i would nest a tin drink shaker, then i would flip the bottles,  pour your libations into that tin shaker and shake! (crowd.goes.wild. see photo below: that is me, “bubbles”)

LIT actioni wore ridiculous buttons (or “flair”) all over that vest. buttons that read klassy things like, “don’t talk to my breasts they’re deaf” / “you’re not as much fun as an enema” / “i majored in liberal arts. do you want fries with that?” /  “it might be looking like a am doing nothing but on a cellular level i am really quite busy” / and these little bits of crazy were required.  seriously, you had to come to work wearing a minimum of 15 “pieces of flair” or risk getting written up.
o+u flair
there were worse buttons. MUCH worse. dirty worse. but being a bartender, dirty and crass is all part of the job. the more you are, the more they come back to see you. i kept the really bad ones on the inside of my vest for special occasions.
o+u enema
people started to forget i had a real first name,  bubbles was how i was introduced and bubbles was how i was known. still am.  remember i started that gig at 21… i am 40 now.  i guess it stuck.  i still have some of my old buttons. weird right?  one day i will pull them out and tell my kids this story of younger me.  i will tell them i was not always this me in my comfy mom jeans, that i used to wear black doc martens with crazy tights, a skirt, red and white stripes, and that vest. people called me bubbles and came to watch my circus act. that their mom made a kick ass long island iced tea and margarita, and could bust out a row of “chits” with 3 blenders rocking at once.  that i shook hands, made people laugh, made lots of great friends, met interesting mix of people and paid the bills. another crazy karmic universe sort of thing,  if i had never been ‘bubbles’,  they would not exist!  see, not only did i meet my very best girlfriend there (aka hustler), i met my husband there (aka fonze /zucchini boy).  he too wore the red and white stripes and boots (motorcycle, not docs).  he had a ponytail, an earring and a foo man choo!  we flirted BAD behind that bar, eventually threw all sense to the wind, moved in together, got married (pretty fast) and there ya have it ladies and gents, restaurant love.  i made a real family out of that restaurant family.  15 years later we are still those crazy kids from behind that bar. we raised one and made 2 more beautiful kids together.
o+u wow pin
i worked that gig for years and “professionals” would ask me, “so when are you going to get a REAL JOB?”  sometimes i’d shrug, or tell them my story of single motherhood (insert their eyes glazing over), or some days i would tell it like i saw it. this IS my real job dude!  if it wasn’t, who would be pouring your 4th beer tonight while making you laugh if this is not a real job?  did they really think i enjoyed all that banter? that i was there purely for recreation? really?!?!   they were not picking gum from the bottom of the tables, refilling ketchup bottles, changing heavy kegs in a crammed tiny beer closet, squeegeeing the gross back line, or shining the brass taps at 8 am on wednesday mornings (pack-n-play and one baby in tow. she too was one of the family.) after closing the bar at 2am the night before, all while waiting on people, some of who stiffed you.  these same professionals, who deemed themselves to have “real jobs”, would be the ones to cutely ask me to ring them in a few more beers under happy hour prices, when happy hour was over.  they would drive home in their sweet cars to their big homes, while i hopped in my geo and fell through my door at 3am, dirty, tired and reeking of their beer and their cigarettes. i know they felt superior, but they never saw the inside of ‘the orphanage’ or bergman do his infamous “i sat in gum” trick, and they surely never ate craig’s dub grub of easter peeps with the heads already bitten off.  that my friends is living. they could have their fancy stuff, i had my bucket of “wow” pins and my crazy family.

i have been out of the business for the past 3 years, now enjoying life as a SAHM, but i still miss it. i still have restaurant dreams. (nightmares really. i am in the weeds and the micros is down and the beer won’t tap and my food is taking FOR-FREAKING-EVER!!!    calm down kristin, it’s only a dream…  or is it?) many say it is in your blood, i can’t disagree.  as for that crazy band of characters i worked with back in the day,  well mostly we grew up, or we most definitely grew older. we all live in different places, different states, but even after ALL these years we still laugh til we cry about some of those stories about back in the day. they were good times shared by good people. really good people. who could have guessed that fateful day at age 15 would turn into all that?

so what did you do before you became the you now?  did you have some crazy job back in the day? did you do something wacky to make a buck? did you have a funny nickname? something that when you tell people now they look at you, smile and nod, but you know in their head they are thinking, really? you? NAH! no way. 

do tell.

ps. tip your bartenders and servers well please!  bubbles thanks you.


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  1. lisamac333 #
    April 16, 2012

    you truly are my hero….even more so now. i’m sure that kellen and casey will listen, wide eyed to your stories some day!

    my life, my old life took place downtown in the fun world of advertising. we worked hard and we played hard, we came in late, we worked insane hours, we slept in fancy downtown offices so we could start again bright and early, we played pool during dinner breaks, we rolled out televisions to watch hockey playoffs which we should have been watching at home, we laughed our asses off, and we drank and drank and drank…we drank at lunch, we drank at work functions, we played golf in the office, once breaking a $20,000 piece of glass in our new elevator, we dropped a case of beer once during a client party and ignored it ony to find it had leaked to the floor below, we shot elastic bands at passing by co-workers, we secretly placed pushphins in our neighbours chairs, our drop ceiling was loaded with pencils, we had sex in our bosses offices, we got to spend evenings at swanky hotels during long stints at work…i loved that especially since i was dating the guy in the next cubicle :), some of us streaked naked through the halls in the wee hours just to shake things up, we announced over the PA that so and so had slept with so and so the night before…it was the craziest time of my life and i truly met the best people in my life during that stretch of time. mitchell thought mommy worked at the coolest place on the planet…there were plenty of nights that he slept in my office while i worked …it wasn’t ideal, but it was my life. i eventually got sober and couldn’t work in that environment anymore…everyone grew up a little…no one is at that agency anymore, everyone is scattered about, but we still meet up for one lunch a summer and tell the same silly stories, stories we’ve heard a million times…and we still laugh until we cry…damn, those were some good times!

  2. lisamac333 #
    April 16, 2012

    thanks for reminding me of those good times bubbles xo

    • April 16, 2012

      they are the best aren’t they. and we survived them! 🙂 i love your crrazy ass story! it sounds like after hours at the restaurant. all naked and crazy and HILARIOUS! XO lisa

  3. April 16, 2012

    This is so funny to read. When I was a teen I was working in fast food. It didn’t matter which restaurant it was, there were always the ridiculous rules. It was as if the “big guys” were trying to make the job more serious than it really is. I too still have nightmares that I go back, although I don’t miss it one bit. I’ll stick with pennyless freelance.

    • April 16, 2012

      yes i remember the “big wigs” from coporate would come in and “visit” aka pick apart your restaurant from head to toe and act all stuffy in their suits and ties.. and we would all know not one of them spent a moment sweating it out on grill or neck deep at service bar, yet they wanted to tell us how to do our job better. HA!

  4. heyheyitsvanessa #
    April 16, 2012

    Oh I adore you so much. I have so much respect for people who work in the restaurant service. I’ve done it twice in my life & all it made me do was hate people. But, then again, I’m not much of a people person. I spent most of college working at an answering service. It was the perfect job for me because I sat & read all day long. We definitely had our interesting calls though. Mostly at night when I’d work the graveyard shift. There was a gentleman who would call a prosthetic company who had a certain…obsession..with missing limbs. “Do you have both your feet? I bet they’re pretty.”
    Ahhh the good ol’ days.

    • April 16, 2012

      o.m.g vanessa! that is funny. and weird. i like weird. ah yes the good old days… i owuld do them over in a heart beat. and man they were hard, but i would still do it all over.

  5. April 16, 2012

    Oh Bubbles, thank you for bringing me back to my circus and friends with names like the Dish, Panda, Sunshine, Pancake and Blossom. I’ve worked a lot of places but even today the best place I ever worked was in advertising sales for a NY mag. Never having to pay for a taxi in the big apple, big lavish parties for clients, drinks, drinks and more drinks, laughter and lots of it, expense accounts that suited my addiction to sushi…was a dream. The pay was terrible (no really – it was) but the perks were great. Learning that clients like to go for spa treatments and to build relationships – you would need to suffer through as well…great perk! Small (really small) apartments where we would all meet up after happy hour and watch shows like 90210 and Melrose and take in mexican because you could live off one burrito for 2 days. Sales trips to FL to work on your sales presentations…or more importantly our tans. Good friends, good people, fun work. Soap opera – for sure. Avoiding stalkers, living through divorces, good relationships – bad relationships, jealousy, rage – all the drama that comes with large groups of women. But without that magazine gig – I would have never met my husband. I worked with his sister. I was always in awe of her. She was of the older (30’s crew) and I was of the younger (20’s). One day she came up to me and was like “I want you to meet someone” and I was all like “OH my god Lisa is talking to me!” – I went on the blind date with her CT based bro. And this year, two kids later, we will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. I guess that Lisa knew a thing or two…and yes…even all these years later I am still in awe of her.

    • April 16, 2012

      i love your story! and how you met your hubby! and that you too are on year 15 just like me and mine. it is so fun to remember the us back then.

  6. April 16, 2012

    my first job was at a local fast food burger joint. my friend and i started on the same day. the second day of work we came in and got the t-shirts we were required to wear from the owner/boss. on the back were the words “hot n juicy” in huge print. only the girls had to wear those shirts. that was the last day my friend and i worked there (the boss seemed kind of pervy. the shirts seemed to confirm that in our 16 yr old minds.).

    i hope i get to see you perform some of those bar tricks in person some day!! (now i’m the pervy one!)

    i

    • April 16, 2012

      i think you need to get a shirt printed with that and wear it now.. now it would just make you laugh, not feel all skeeved out. my tricks are probably a lot rusty, but after i break a few we should be all good. it is oddly like riding a bike, it always comes back!

    • April 16, 2012

      We have a pizza place by us where the girls have to wear shirts that say…”you can always get a hot piece at Giovanni’s” Only the girls wear them and they are about 2 sizes too small.

      • April 16, 2012

        and that is all by design. right or wrong, sexy sells… even pizza. 😉

  7. monica #
    April 16, 2012

    It is funny the lives that we create only seeing parts of someone from their flickr stream. I love this post. I started waiting tables at 18, not believing I could make that much money and have that much fun. I also flirted with a bartender, and married him. 🙂 Late nights and after hours, and those nightmares of being in the weeds. Yes, yes, yes… I don’t think people who haven’t done it will ever understand it. It does have it’s own culture and rules. I remember being told, after wasting time talking to cooks and bartenders with time-wasting words like ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ to “knock it off, we’re not here to make friends.” But I did…I made life-long friends.

    • April 16, 2012

      oh that totally reminds me of the gems that came out of management’s mouth, ” if you have time to lean you have time to clean.” HAR!!!!

  8. April 16, 2012

    I loved reading this so much.
    I’m so far away from my younger life as a newspaper reporter now. I met my husband in the newsroom in San Antonio at the Express-News. I was 23, he was 30. I was sitting in his chair. We spent our first few nights together running around the city, police scanners in hand, checking out crime and fires, car wrecks and shootings. My shift was from 3-midnight. We’d often meet after work and I remember I’d have to drink fast and furious to keep up with the others who started drinking way earlier than me. I once talked to a serial killer about the difficulties of sawing off someone’s head. I walked inside the home where a 9-year-old boy had been gunned down in a drive by while he slept. I took notes off the sides of the highway where cars had rolled over and families were killed. Lots of alcohol is consumed in newsrooms for a reason! Sadly, the whole industry is so different now and print journalism is in a really dark place. My hubby still writes for the paper, but we are so far from those grizzly old glory days. Thanks for your stories. It made me take a minute this morning to smile on the wilder, younger me.

    • April 16, 2012

      wow that is SOME crazy shit. i am not cut out for that.. no way. give me my drunks anyday over your serial killers. ACK! too scary. xo

      • April 16, 2012

        P.S. again — I decided not to talk about my college job working at a tanning salon. The smells of burning flesh mingled with orange-scented accelator cream and the pools of butt sweat I wiped off the beds hundreds of times a day are making me vurp my morning coffee… Oops, guess I just wrote about it…

    • April 16, 2012

      oh gross. i never thought about the butt sweat wipers. i spent many a dollar in those beds so long ago. i humbly apologize! yuck indeed.

  9. April 16, 2012

    P.S. I ALWAYS tip well. 😉

    • April 16, 2012

      woot! only if they deserve it. i have had my FAIR share of horrid service… some people are just not cut out for that job. not at all. i think so many people just have no idea of the “wages” servers get paid. i remember it being $2.83 an hour. my take home paychecks were always printed with the word “VOID” on them since the wage never covered the taxes and god forbid if you were lucky enough to have health insurance! so tips ARE their wages.

  10. April 16, 2012

    I worked a lot of grunt jobs and run-of-the-mill corporate jobs before snagging my wildest ever in my early 30’s, in brand management for the world’s largest liquor company. During the day, most days, we were all about very hard work, but after hours, we played every bit as hard.

    I went to Mexico as a guest of the Jose Cuervo family, and toured the Caribbean with the local owners of local rum distilleries – meetings all day, and partying all night – and everyone giving grief to anyone who showed up ragged or late for our early start the next morning.

    The work of parenting and the moderation that characterizes my day-to-day now is light years away from my existence then. I don’t really want to live those days again – and lord knows my body wouldn’t let me – but I’m glad I had them & and have them to look back on.

    • April 16, 2012

      so i flipped and broke the bottles you got to see made! i think your deal and the Caribbean sounds might sweet. all i ever got in “swag” from fridays was a key chain and a cooler once.

  11. ajbbents #
    April 16, 2012

    My during college job was at a canoe outfitter in northern Minnesota. We were all together 24/7 – living and working 25 miles off the grid and out in the woods. Saunas, drunkenness, debauchery, skinny dipping, midnight hikes, midnight paddles, moose, bears, dancing, singing, games, date-nights, the works. I wouldn’t be who I am today without those four amazing summers. They call me Jalalabad, and I call them family.

    • April 16, 2012

      LOVE that! now i want to run away and work at a canoe outfiiter…

  12. April 16, 2012

    This made me miss my high school restaurant job. It was a small diner in a beach town, it was a blast but it was crazy. (bumble bee was my nickname) I once spilled 7 cups of coffee on my lap because a customer tried to help me pass out the drinks. It was my second week of work and of course the owner came in to meet me for the first time that day. The bus boys all flirted with me like it was their job (they actually nicknamed me movie star) and the regular customers were the GREATEST! The local cops always came for breakfast and everyone thought I was the sweetest most innocent girl they’d ever met, won’t ever forget the shock on their faces when I burst out laughing at a crude joke they told before anyone else got it.

    • April 16, 2012

      oh god see i will dream about that tonight. the grabbing the tray thing!!!! WHY?!?!?!?! i had had that happen OR i have had them all balanced in my hands without a tray and people have reached over and grabbed a glass out of my hand. no no touch! lol. AIY!

      • April 17, 2012

        it is the worst! i always wanna yell at them!! lol yeah the coffee scorched my legs too. ANND i didn’t have a change of clothes so i wore one of the long kitchen aprons all day. so embarrassing lol

  13. Becky #
    April 16, 2012

    Can I just say that I’ve had 3 server dreams since I read this?! It’s insane how universal they are. I loved reading this, and reliving some of my glory days. I’ve been out 4 years now, but was in 14. I’ve gotta say I miss it some days.

    • April 16, 2012

      yes it is a love hate thing. there was plenty of bad. but if you and i were in it that long (i got ya by a few years) then that says something right?

  14. April 16, 2012

    I took a couple stabs at serving but damn, I was really bad at it. I always tip well though, because my mom waited tables in order to feed us when I was growing up.

    The most absurd thing I did, back before I was who I am now, was probably my first job out of college… I was the weekend weather girl at a tv station in a small town in western Colorado. I had no knowledge of weather at all but the boss promised they would train me. First and only lesson: “High pressure is good. Low pressure is bad.” On top of having zero weather forecasting ability, I was completely unable to pull off the illusion of being a credible adult. Viewers would call the station to complain that I needed to iron my jacket. There’s still evidence of this distant time in my life on a VHS tape somewhere in my basement, but my husband of six years has never even seen it. I might pull it out for him if he sticks around for, say, 25 years.

    • April 17, 2012

      you must play that tape for him! you must.
      so fun.

  15. April 16, 2012

    oh man still have those dreams. thought i was the only one! ever have them right when you go to sleep and all the way until you wake up for an opener the next day?totally relate to ALL of this having been a server. great, great post.

    • April 17, 2012

      they never stop. some days it makes me insane like i need an eternal sunshine of the spotless mind sort of treatment!

  16. April 17, 2012

    Aah! What a wonderfully written story Bubbles 🙂 Really enjoyed reading it.
    Cheers!

  17. kathy #
    April 20, 2012

    you ROCK! Love hearing peoples stories.

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