Every so often, when my mom was too fed up with us to cook or soft-shell crab was in season, my parents loaded us up to take us to Marnick’s, a little diner on the beach in the Connecticut town where I grew up. We snagged a table that looked out over the water, and while my parents watched the waves, I watched the wait staff. The waitresses at Marnick’s fell into two categories: lifers– no-nonsense, wisecracking, solid women who knew how to get the job done; and teenage girls, suntanned and Sun-inned, languidly fetching italian ices and twisting soft serve cones. When I was ten, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that I wanted to work at Marnick’s when I turned fifteen.
Sure enough, fifteen came around, and tired of babysitting and working the concession stand for our town’s softball team, I decided to apply for a summer job at Marnick’s. I was shocked when they told me I was hired, although I guess I shouldn’t have been since the owner was my next-door neighbor, but all of the girls who worked at Marnick’s seemed so relaxed, and friendly and cool, and I knew from the moment they handed me my apron that I wasn’t like that. I may have been a lot of things at fifteen, but relaxed and cool were not among them. Still, I hoped that the navy polo shirt and the khaki apron might be my glass slippers, imbuing me with the easygoing cachet of my fellow servers.
I was a conscientious waitress. No one on my watch got the wrong food, or cold food, or had their coffee cup go empty. I hovered, begging to refill drinks, fetch lemon slices, bring over an ageless slice of coconut cream for dessert. After the breakfast crowd died down, I took off my rings and jiggled them in my hands, tapped my feet absentmindedly, and rearranged the sugar dispensers on each table in alphabetical order (Equal, Sugar, Sweet-and-Low, of course). “Just relax,” they told me, “You need to learn to look busy without actually being busy.” I didn’t know how. I willed the clock to move so I could serve lunch, eat the free meatball grinder I earned as part of the shift, and get out of there. Unlike the girls who chatted and joked as they made milkshakes, I attacked the soft-serve and shake machines like I was doing battle. Efficiency had served me well for fifteen years, but it didn’t win me any favors at Marnick’s.
They didn’t fire me, but honestly, they didn’t have to. As much as I wanted to be one of the “Marnick’s Girls,” I wasn’t stupid, I knew it wasn’t the right job for me, without actually having the guts to articulate that fact. When fall came, I found excuses not to work on Saturdays, and eventually they stopped putting me on the schedule altogether. The next summer I found a desk job where I could hide a book under the office catalogs when things were slow. Sure, I missed my polo shirt and my meatball grinder, but the bakery next door made a mean cannoli.
What were your summer jobs? What did you learn from them? Do you look back on them with fondness or with relief that you’re not working them any longer?