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In the Weeds: Smells like teen spirit

July 21, 2009
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I found this video on bitterwaitress.com, and it just made me laugh. Well done, Adelle!

Her lyrics took me back to my very first food-service job. Actually, it was my first job period. It was 1992, summer was fast approaching, and I had just been gifted my mom’s baby blue 1967 Ford Mustang convertible for my 15th birthday. My mom later found out that the legal driving age in Kansas for outings other than to school or work is actually 16 and grounded me for not telling her.

My parents were divorced, and my single mom was working long days at the hospital. I think she took one look at my friends and me wearing flannel shirts and Doc Martins in the driveway blasting “Smells Like Teen Spirit” out of my Mustang’s Best Buy stereo upgrade, and she saw trouble. A week before break started, she told me I had to find a job for the summer. When I asked why, I think she said something like, “Because I’ll be damned if I’m going to work all day while you do god-knows-what with your friends in that car.”

I made a half-hearted attempt and put my application in at a few places like The Buckle, Claire’s, Spencer’s (electric lightening ball anyone?) and all those other super cool spots at Towne West Shopping Mall. They all told me I had to be 16 to be hired. I broke the news to my mom that night. “Sorry, mom, I tried. But it seems, like, you have to be, like, 16 before you can work anywhere.” I looked bummed but my heart thumped with joy while picturing my hair flying in the wind of my new car and Cobain singing, “I’m so happy. Cuz today I found my friends.” My mom’s eyes narrowed, looked me up and down, and she delivered a barely audible, “Mmmmkay.”

A few days later my mom tells me over dinner that she’s found me a job. “Where?” I ask nervously. “I stopped by the McDonald’s down street and talked to the manager, such a nice man, and I told him you were having trouble finding a job. He says that you can work fast food as a 15-year-old, just not after 10 p.m. on school nights. But since school will be out, you can work as late as they need you! I assured him that I would make sure you got there every day. You start next week, the day after school lets out.”

Could a McDonald’s restaurant manager have a bigger dream than for a parent to promise that the worker will show up every day? I mean, there you are, trying to keep turnover and no-shows to a minimum while paying people $4.25/hour to clean out a shake machine at one o’clock in the morning. So he was over the golden arches with joy, and I was mortified. The early-nineties McDonald’s uniform was black pants, high-top black Reebok sneakers (the kind with laces on the bottom part and two Velcro straps around the ankle), a maroon and yellow striped McD’s polo, and the maroon visor. The visor was really the thing that prevented you from leaving work and going straight out. It left a tell-tale kink in your hair and a wicked red mark on your forehead that took about an hour to fade. I went from visions of a summer of freedom in my Mustang to the McDonald’s girl who worked every Friday and Saturday night at my mom’s insistence (again, cue manager euphoria). Many boys that I had hoped to finally get the nerve to talk to in my sweet car that summer were now coming through the drive-thru at midnight with girls who did not work at McDonald’s to see if I would hook them up with free burgers at closing time. I did.

The long summer was finally coming to an end and good thing. My average case of teenage acne was now raging after three months of standing within feet of several deep fryers, and my social aspirations had pretty much ended in July when someone drew a square on my Mustang’s windshield with an arrow pointing to it and the words, “McDonald’s Employee of the Month.”

My last day there was a mixture of relief and anger. But mostly anger. It could have been because I missed my whole summer while serving a daily ice cream cone to a regular customer’s dog, or because people treat McDonald’s employees pretty crappy even on good days, or it could have been because it was 1992 and anger was just a popular sentiment. Whatever the reason, I acted like I was 15 years old on my last day and was pretty snotty to several customers. When one came inside to complain to the manager, I smirked and told her it was my last day here. She said “good.”

So I suppose Adelle’s “Last Day” song gave me some kind of flash back that somehow caused me to write this story. But with no good way to wrap it up in some meaningful bow, I guess I’ll follow Kurt’s lead and say, “Oh well, whatever. Nevermind.”

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4 Responses to “ In the Weeds: Smells like teen spirit ”

  1. pancake on July 21, 2009 at 8:07 am

    Splendid, my dear!

  2. Zinmon on July 21, 2009 at 10:11 am

    I am a new reader and devotee of your blog. Way to EDGE!!!!

  3. BigCrockofGold on July 21, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Loved this one…we work in an industry that is both glam and grunge, at ends with itself just like Kurt

  4. Linh on July 24, 2009 at 1:04 am

    My favorite part? Over the golden arches with joy! Sometimes I feel like that when they bring back the McRib and it’s a buy one get one free.

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