Friday, October 28, 2011

Home Front

The day I stepped into a puddle of water in the hallway coming from the toilet was the day I decided to move home. Two days later I moved my stuff out and was on my way back to Ma'ale Adumim. I find it very depressing to live with my parents at the ripe old age of 24 but at least their running water is not all over the floor. And anyway, there's no way I'll be able to afford an apartment while I'm in school. I haven't yet been able to enter the Israeli mindset of “I'll move out maybe when I'm 30. Or married. But definitely by the time I have grandchildren.” To me it seems unnatural. Children go away to college at the age of 18, move back afterward for a few months until they find a job and then they leave the nest. They either fall out or fly out but anyone who stays is a loser who sleeps in his parents' basement and smokes pot all day. It's hard to change one's perspective on such matters even if they are no longer applicable.
Moving back home is however, not even in the same ball field of frustration as trying to get money out of the government. As a new immigrant, I am lucky enough to get my higher education paid for. If the student authority can get it together enough to actually give it to me.
The first time I went was fairly simple. I opened up a file with them, gave them my documents (except the inevitable one I was missing), they gave me a password for their website so I could fill out an online form and sent me on my way. All I had to do was bring them the missing document and go to their website. Easy right? Never! I realized that I didn't have that document in my apartment (it was in Ma'ale Adumim and I wasn't yet) and that was the day my internet crashed. Ok. I took my computer to a coffee shop in the mall to at least fill out the form and then realized that I had to scan and upload all the forms that I had already copied and brought in to the student authority. The documents which I of course hadn't brought with me to the mall. So I filled out the rest of the questionnaire, and sent it in intending to go back and send them the other documents afterward.
As for the missing document, I just figured I'd wait until I went back for Shabbat, root around my room, and bring it back with me. I promptly forgot to do this and returned to Jerusalem without it. I then sent my father to root around my room and scan it. Unfortunately, it seems that our scanner is no longer connected to our operating system ever since we switched to Linux. I then gave my mother the task of meeting me in Jerusalem with the document which she succeeded in doing. I then took it to the student authority and asked them what else I needed to do. They asked me if I had a letter of commitment and I just looked at them blankly and went, “whaaa?” I honestly still don't know what they were talking about. But they told me I had to go to the bank to get them to set up a payment system where the university would take money out of my account every month. Then the student authority could put money in beforehand so that there would actually be something in there to go out. Plus I still had to upload the documents to their website.
I went to the bank and they signed the forms I needed to take back to the university. The next day I went to the gym on the Har Hatzofim campus and then took a bus to the Givat Ram campus (the one where I'll be studying) to hand them my forms. I wandered around a bit (I always get lost there) looking for the office of student finances. I finally found someone to ask and he told me I was on the wrong campus and that the student finance office was on Har Hatzofim. Well I felt like an idiot but I certainly wasn't going back there. I had to go to work in a few hours and traveling around Jerusalem is like trying to get through the Mexican border with suspicious looking suitcases in your beat-up van. It cannot be done in a time efficient manner. So I went home instead and tried to upload the documents. This was problematic for two reasons- one, it turns out my scanner is also not hooked up correctly, and two- the website wouldn't let me log back in citing that there was already a form filled out by someone of my name and ID number. Yes, me.
The next day I went back to Har Hatzofim. I got up early to take the 9:00 bus so that I hopefully wouldn't have to wait too long and so I'd have enough time just in case it didn't go smoothly. The woman at security asked me where I was going and when I told her, she looked at her watch and said, “they open in another hour and twenty minutes.” I was like, “what?! What kind of office opens at 11:00 in the morning?! This is madness!” So I went into the campus (the office of student finances is outside the campus), read a newspaper, got some coffee, and checked my watch every few minutes until I'd wasted enough to time to go back there. By the time I got there, there was already a line of people waiting for them to open. Luckily it didn't take too long for me to give them the bank forms and then be told that the security fee (No, not security deposit, the fee. Israel may be the only place where you have to pay an additional fee for security.) that I'd been trying to pay for two weeks had to be paid at the post office. Yes, the post office. Another Israeli quirk is that you pay your bills at the post office. Which is also incidentally a bank. And a place where you can change money. All this time I could have just walked into any post office, paid, and been done with it. So I figure the closest post office is on campus, so I go back through security, walk back up the hill, walk into the post office and try to pay. Foiled again! Apparently they only take cash or checks. Not credit cards. Well, I didn't happen to have 417 shekels in my wallet that day. If I have more than 20 shekels in my wallet it's a good day. And I certainly don't walk around with a check book. So I went home to regroup. I then took the dog for a walk down the street to the post office with a wad of cash in my back pocket and successfully closed the matter of the security fee.
With that done, the only thing left to do was drag myself back to the student authority and try to get some answers and possibly some money. I still hadn't paid the first payment of 3,800 shekels which was supposed to have been paid by September 12. The student authority expected me to pay this money and would pay me back afterwards. Well if I had 4,000 shekels, I wouldn't need their assistance now would I.
So I came in at about 10:00 or so and sat down to wait. There were only two people ahead of me and one person already inside. What I didn't realize is that there was only one worker taking care of everyone and each person took about half an hour. It seems they're having “manpower problems” which explains why my phone calls were never answered and why I still haven't received an answer to my first email which I sent over a month ago. I'm tempted to volunteer to work for them just because it's actually physically painful for me to see such a state of inefficiency. It makes Bituach Leumi (national insurance which your employer usually pays for you or you yourself pay if you're unemployed) look like a walk in the park. Sure they kept sending me letters that I owed them 700 shekels or 400 shekels or whatever amount they pulled out of a hat, but all I had to do was go to the center of town, wait a few minutes to get through security, take a number, and sit in a room with another hundred people. But everyone was sorted according to what they needed and if there were a lot of people waiting, they opened up more stations and the whole thing took no more than half an hour. Sure, after I proved to them that my employer had in fact paid and they realized that it was all in their computers anyway, I still got more letters but I've been ignoring them in the hopes that they'll go away by themselves.
So I waited, and waited. I met a bunch of people from the mechina who were all equally as frustrated. It was like a party, the kind where everyone is miserable and wants to go home. Basically like me at every party I've ever been to. I finally got them to upload my documents from their computer to whatever system it was that they keep all the uploaded documents, begging the question- why couldn't they just do that in the first place? It only took about a minute and considering the amount of grief they put me through to do what they could have done in 60 seconds, I was pretty aggravated. They also told me I had to bring them proof that the university had my bank information which I could do by printing it out from the university's website. So basically, I still wasn't done and they still hadn't given me the money for the first payment. By the time I got out of there, there was a line of people down the hallway who were probably going to end up camping out overnight since the place was supposed to close in an hour. And I was ready for a vodka tonic. I don't even know what tonic is, but it doesn't really matter as long as it comes with vodka. I always thought tonic was a medicine so I'm not sure vodka tonic is such a good idea since you're not supposed to mix most medications with alcohol especially if you're using heavy machinery. And who doesn't use heavy machinery in their everyday life? Your car is heavy machinery. The washing machine is heavy machinery. Pianos are heavy even if they're not really machinery. But all this is beside the point. The point is that I needed a drink. Although I'm rethinking the vodka tonic.
They called me during Sukkot to tell me that I had to bring in the statement from the university that they had my bank information but didn't pick up the phone when I tried to call them back to see if they were even open. So I had to wait until after Sukkot even though I knew it was going to be even more of a madhouse than usual since everyone else was getting as frantic as I was.
I went back Sunday and found a hallway full of people twitching and randomly seizing on the floor. Just kidding, most people seemed to be resigned to their fates and were probably counting the money they were going to get to keep from slowly losing their minds. All I wanted to do was give them the paper they'd asked for and like a real Israeli I had no intention of waiting hours to leave a piece of paper on the desk. So I ambushed someone coming out of her office and asked her if I could please just give it to her. The person who was next in line (and incidentally the person who had moved into my apartment on French Hill when I moved out) graciously let me go in. The woman disappeared for a while and when she came back, asked me if I had signed the letter of commitment. I still don't know what that is or even if I've signed it considering the amount of paperwork whipping past my head, so I just looked at her blankly. She told me that she couldn't find this elusive letter and perhaps it was wherever it is they send these things but that it would somehow come back and I could sign it then, whenever “then” is. Or I could wait (probably for the next four hours) and somehow something would happen (I don't know what since they supposedly didn't have the letter and obviously couldn't just print out a new one). I chose to go home since I wasn't going to wait for the next few hours if I didn't even know what I was waiting for. What, I was going to sit down when they finally admitted me and when they asked me what I needed I was going to say, “Oh, I have no idea?” Noooo. So now I guess I wait for them to call me again and in the meantime, resist the urge to repeatedly bash my own head into the wall.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Bad Run

After the fridge went to wherever it is fridges go when they die, the internet joined it there. We didn't know what was going on with it (we'd been turning the modem on and off in hopes that we could resuscitate it but to no avail) until we saw a notice in our building that HOT, our internet provider, was having problems in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. We kept waiting for it to go back up but after a week and half we decided that it probably wasn't going to spontaneously recover. I called them up and told them that we still didn't have internet service, and no wonder- according to them, we don't exist. They couldn't find us by name, phone number or address. They had obviously missed us when they put the network back up seeing as we're ghost customers. I told my roommate about this and she went, “oh yeah, we had this problem before where they couldn't find us in their system.” To make a long story short, I don't know what she did but the internet came back after she spoke to them. Two weeks after it had gone down. She may have had to “explain” to them using very physical and graphic terms. I don't know what she did but it worked.
A few days after we lost the internet, I did laundry and realized that the bathroom was about to float away. There was a large pool of water on the floor and some ducks had taken to roosting in it. And the water wasn't coming from the washing machine- it was bubbling up from the hole in the floor. All bathrooms in Israel have a drainage pipe from the floor down to the sewage system but while most of them are covered, ours is covered in a piece of plastic with large holes. Thereby letting in things that don't belong in a pipe and are not beneficial to its health. Like hairs, gravel (from when they “fixed” our bathroom) and probably little pieces of plastic that Pilpel had generously contributed to the cache of treasure down there. I immediately called the landlady while searching for the life raft I'm sure we have around somewhere and to my astonishment she actually answered the phone and called the insurance company who then sent someone over within the next few hours. Who says Israelis aren't efficient?
According to the insurance company, unclogging pipes isn't covered by them. If the plumber could unclog it by hand then it would be 50 shekels. If he had to use a machine to do it, it would cost 400 shekels. Luckily the landlady had kindly agreed to pay for it. After deigning to glance down into the pipe for 2 seconds, he decided he couldn't unclog it by hand. He had to go back for the machine because for whatever reason, he hadn't brought it with him (considering there were two options, unclog by hand or use the machine). If he had decided that he could do it by hand he probably would have had to go back for his hands. At some point while checking the water, he realized that our toilet runs. And I don't mean in a sweatsuit and jogging shoes. He told us that we'd have to completely replace the toilet but he tried to fix it a bit so that it wouldn't be as bad.
A few days after the flood in the bathroom, my roommate realized that now our toilet was leaking. And I don't mean that someone was taking a leak in the toilet. The back overflowed a bit every time we flushed it and water was pooling in the bucket she had placed there. Some of it made it into the bucket anyway. I don't know what the plumber did but it seems he's made himself some more work.
We did manage to find a fridge. Someone was moving into an apartment that already had a fridge so she had to do something with her fridge for a year. We're storing it for a year in our kitchen as opposed to a storage facility which she'd have to pay for. I just hope we don't kill it. We don't have a very good track record with fridges and it'd be a shame if we did in a fridge that wasn't even ours.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

… And Another One Bites the Dust

I guess it's no longer important that our microwave blew up because fridge number 2 is being eulogized and mourned over in a cemetery plot next to fridge number 1. I have nothing to put in the microwave since all of my food has walked off on newly sprouted legs (leaving only an unpleasant smell and a trail of green goo behind it). Even if I did have some kind of sustenance, I woke up this morning and realized that I am yet again teething. I may steal some of the dog's chew toys. Maybe her squeaky chicken. It's not very lifelike but I'm desperate enough that it just might taste like schnitzel.
In other news, after the disaster that was the 60's party I knew I had to quit the bar. I worked one more shift and then quit afterwards. Suddenly dressing up like an escaped Bais Yaakov girl didn't seem so bad anymore. At least I wouldn't have to wear peace signs. I decided to ease back into working at the restaurant without them even noticing. I told the manager that I could work any time the rest of the week if he needed me. Which he of course did. The owner's parents came in to eat (gratis of course) and his mother commented that “she was so glad to see me and was so upset to hear that I'd quit.” I'm like, I uh... thanks I guess. She seemed as upset at my leaving as I was on returning to the restaurant.
So I'm pretty much where I started except down some money for the month of August for the few weeks I didn't work at all. Not only that, but when the owner finally noticed that I was working full time again he “renegotiated” my wage back down to minimum. So he's a jerk and I work at a job that I hate to pay for an apartment that's falling down around me. Such is life I suppose.
It's not only my life that sucks. My mother got back from the States last week from helping her mother move to assisted living after becoming essentially immobile and wheelchair bound. My family all met up on Thursday for a sushi dinner in Tel Aviv to celebrate my birthday. Not the happiest of occasions. I was forced to sit through my mother telling us about my miserable, sick grandmother and my sister and her husband telling us about how their apartment caught fire, almost burnt down and how all their stuff is ruined. Great. What an uplifting conversation. At this point I just kind of wanted to go home. Does someone else maybe want to get mugged or come down with E. Coli? Or maybe go through an earthquake, hurricane, subsequent power outage and phone company strike? Oh no wait, we're back to my grandmother. My sister called my parents in the middle of the night and my father picked up. In her state of half-consciousness, when my mother heard “fire” she of course immediately thought there was a fire in my apartment. If my apartment ever burns down, it will be because I burnt it down. Or because the wall next to the bathroom with faulty wiring is still wet. If my landlady's apartment burns down (she refuses to replace the fridge because she wants no responsibility for anything in the apartment), I will proclaim my innocence and take an extended vacation in Baja.
Obviously I was in quite a mood after a.) reading my fridge its last rites and b.) receiving my paycheck for August. I know I demanded 27 shekels an hour but after working at the restaurant during that time, I saw how incredibly busy it was and how much money we collected in tips. For those of you just tuning in or who may have forgotten, the salary is paid in a very unusual manner especially for a restaurant. The customers are charged a 15% service fee directly onto their bill which is counted and split up at the end of the month. We are then paid by check with all the taxes and other various government fees already taken off. If we don't make an average of at least minimum wage an hour in tips for that month, the restaurant makes up the difference.
When I got my paycheck I was a bit taken aback to realize that I'd gotten what I'd asked for but no more. I knew that we'd made an average of maybe 800-1000 shekels in tips a night. Where was all that money going? I couldn't figure it out and I was getting more and more upset as I thought about it.
I sat and stewed some more on the bus and by the time I got to work I was so angry that I demanded that the manager tell me where all that money was going and why my paycheck was so low. I told him if I didn't get a satisfactory answer I was going to turn around and walk out the door. He said he didn't know how the owner paid everyone, he also wasn't sure why my paycheck was so low, bla bla bla, more excuses, and you can't leave because we have a table of 10 coming soon. I was like, not my problem. Call him up and tell him I want to talk to him. He didn't want to call him (he dislikes confrontation and conflict even more than I do) but said he'd let me talk to him when he called in a few minutes. The owner finally appeared (late to a meeting, as usual) and said he'd talk to me after said “meeting” (i.e. shady looking business deal) and then the 10 people came in and I had to take their orders (not as patiently as usual) and then he left again. He did eventually come back and I cornered him and asked him to explain to me how he paid us. After sending me off again to do a few things (go check on the table in the corner, bring that table ketchup, etc.) he finally couldn't put it off any longer. He explained his incredibly complicated method of hour keeping and tip accounting and I finally understood that he's an even cheaper jerk than I'd thought. It seems he also pays the manager from tips (instead of just paying him a normal salary) even though he's not a waiter plus if the tips come out to more than 30 shekels an hour for the night, he counts the kitchen as one person (for 7 or 8 hours) and shares the tips with them too (not that the kitchen staff has noticed any kind of change in their salary). He also pays himself tips if he works in the dining area for a few hours even though he owns the whole place. So essentially, he's paying his entire staff on the tips that the waiters are earning. And that's where all that money is going. Cheap bastard.
After explaining all this to me, he said to me “there were a few nights that you didn't make 27 shekels an hour so I added a few shekels to make it 27 an hour for that night. I thought you'd be happy instead of complaining that it's not enough but I guess no one ever is.” I didn't have anything else to say to him so I just got up and left. I was pissed off and not feeling fantastic (physically and emotionally) so I informed the manager that I was leaving when the other waitress showed up. I don't know what's going to happen with this job but all I can say is if the place burns down, I'll be in Mexico.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pugnacious Bartenders & Peace Signs

You know what I dislike more than drunk people? Parties. Which is why I was very happy not to be scheduled to work on Thursday night which is when the bar was having their highly anticipated (by them if by no one else) '60's party.' In fact, I was quite relieved because the one thing I hate more than parties is dressing up. The other staff seemed to be excited, chattering over what they were going to wear and how much fun it was going to be, etc. I did not partake of this chatter; I rarely partake in any chatter especially if it revolves around clothes, parties, or any kind of fun whatsoever.
It had been a long week and I was looking forward to a relaxing Thursday of coffee and lunch at the mall in Ma'ale Adumim with my father and then making dessert (in a clean and fully stocked kitchen) for the family we were staying at for Shabbat.
I had worked Sunday, filled in for someone on Monday, worked as scheduled on Tuesday, and answered the summons to help out at the restaurant on Wednesday (explanation to follow). Frankly, I was exhausted. As for working at the restaurant, the manager had been calling me every day asking me if I could work that night. Obviously I had told him no, I had a job, I was working that night, whatever would make him stop calling me. I finally told him that there was no reason for me to work at the restaurant because I was getting paid 25 shekels at the bar and I wouldn't work for less. He called me back the next day and told me that he'd relayed my message to the owner but had told him that I would only work for 27 or 28 shekels an hour. The owner actually agreed to guarantee me at least 27 shekels an hour (which just shows how desperate he must have been). So I agreed to work on Wednesday. I needed the money and the pay and hours were better than at the bar so I figured I may as well work there a few times if they needed me.
First however, I was expected at the bar for “arts & crafts” time. They had asked all the waitresses to come in to decorate for the 60's party. They offered us free food and drinks (including cocktails) as an incentive because obviously they weren't paying us for our time. I guess they thought we'd come in due to our clearly feminine love for cutting out hearts and peace signs and for the chance to chat about our love lives and gossip about the customers. I passed kindergarten despite being the kid who glued her fingers together and I have no great love of arts & crafts. I also wasn't going to be drinking any cocktails seeing as I had to work at the restaurant afterward. So I wandered in an hour late trying to hide my annoyance at this irritating obligation and trying even harder to ignore the idle chitchat which is considered to be interesting to the other waitresses. They didn’t even end up having free food or drinks (which didn't altogether surprise me). All I could do was look forward to my day off on Thursday.
Thursday came around, and I was happily carrying out my plans of coffee and cooking. I had just finished making the dessert and had moved on to making peas when I decided I should probably check my phone. I'd left it in my bag and forgotten about it for the past few hours so I was not surprised to find a missed call and a text message. They were both from the head waitress at the bar. I was not anxious to read the message knowing that it was probably something that would ruin my day. And it did. She wanted me to come in at 8:00, dressed up. After wailing and cursing for about 5 minutes while mournfully stirring my peas I looked at my watch and realized that it was already 6:30. There was no way I was going to make it on time if I had to go back to my apartment first. Plus I didn't happen to have a 60's costume lying around. Really, who has random costumes sitting in their closet? Do they think I live in the backstage of a theater? So I pulled something marginally retro together and told them I could be there by 9:30.
It would not be an overstatement to say that I was dreading it. And justifiably. When I got in the computer they use for ordering was down so the other waitress asked me to give the bartender the order while she was busy elsewhere. I took a step into the bar area in order to catch the bartender's attention and he went nuts on me. He said, “I don't know if anyone told you but you may NEVER come behind the bar. This area is bartenders only and waitresses aren't allowed back here. If you need something you have to call me or put in an order, not come back here. Bla bla bla, you're bad, what were you thinking, I'm a territorial caveman with prehistoric instincts, etc.” At some point I think he regressed a few million years back to grunting and making threatening movements at me. When he was finally done proving his superiority over me, the lowly waitress, I just kind of stared at him for a few seconds and said, “I forgot what I wanted.” I finally remembered and asked him for ½ a liter of Heineken and a Coke and he responded that I should put it in the computer and then he'd make it. I was starting to get quite exasperated so I told him none too gently that the computer wasn't working and that I'd put the order in afterward. All this and the order wasn't even for me. Last time I do anyone any favors.
The night didn't get much better from there. We had a special drink, a “dirty hippy” that they wanted me to push. Evidently their marketing for the party hadn't been particularly effective because everyone I told about the drink just looked at me blankly. I'm like, you know, in honor of the 60's party. More blank looks. Did you not notice the cut-out peace signs taped to the mirrors and the cliched 60's slogans adorning the walls? Do you think the staff dresses like a bunch of burnt-out hippies all the time? I had two big tables that night of barely legal teens who kept ordering more and more and by the end of the night had ordered so much that they had no money left for a tip. One table even stiffed me 15 shekels.
At about a quarter to 4 in the morning I was getting worried that I'd miss the last late bus back to Talpiyot. I went up to the manager to tell him that the last bus was at 4:10. He then asked me when the first bus was. I couldn't understand what he was asking me. I was like, well I missed the first bus long ago. He's like, no, the first bus in the morning. I was like, are you serious? The first bus is at 6:00 or so. What, I'm supposed to wait here until then? He was not very sympathetic.
So I went back to cleaning stuff and waited for him to come down and organize the money I had on me. First he had to take out the cash that people had used to pay for their meals and then count the tips (which was whatever was left). Somehow though, I was missing 200 shekels from the computer account of how much I'd sold. This was not good. We looked everywhere, did the accounting again, but still couldn't figure out what had happened to that 200 shekels. In the end the manager said, “we'll figure it out” and let me leave without taking it out of my paycheck.
I started walking home even though I was pretty exhausted because I didn't feel like waiting around for 45 minutes for a bus. This was a mistake. There are many creepy people out in the early morning even if it's fully light out. I shall not go into detail so as not to worry anyone, but suffice it to say that if you're going out that early in the morning, take a dog with you. A big dog with lots of teeth.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Terrorism is No Good for Tips

It's official; I passed the training sessions and have been hired at the bar. The training sessions went fairly well. I basically just waitressed which I already know how to do. Bring this plate to that table without dropping it on your feet, spilling beer on the customers, or falling down the stairs. Bring table number 5 the check. Give recommendations on food you've never tasted while sounding like you know what you're talking about. I am particularly good at this. For some reason people often listen to me, I suppose because I sound like I know what I'm talking about. I've convinced some people of some crazy things. Usually by accident. I give directions and then 2 minutes after the people have driven off I realize that I just sent them to Metula. Oops. I remember giving a car full of soldiers directions and sending them in circles. My Hebrew was not very good at this point and I didn't quite understand what they wanted. I worked it out a few minutes later and then realized that there was a very good chance that they'd pass me again in a minute. I had an escape plan all ready; I knew which bush I was going to dive into if I saw them approaching. Not because I thought they'd shoot me or anything. Mostly because I was embarrassed. Call it karma for all the bad directions I've gotten from Israelis. “The dumpster is at the end of the hall.” Yeah, I found it after twenty minutes at the end of the hall, out the door on the left, down the path, down the stairs on the right, to the left through the parking lot, and on the left at the corner past the construction zone.
In any case, I get there a few minutes early for my first “real” shift (the kind you get paid for) to get a worker number and a shirt. The shirt they rustled up for me was not quite large enough (apparently they don't have fat waitresses) but it was all they had so I took it. I'm sure it will stretch out anyway when I inhale. At 7:00 I clocked in and started setting up. I didn't really know what I was doing but no one said anything so I just continued wiping stuff down (that seems to be a big part of waitressing). Then I stood around waiting. And waiting. Not a single table came in during that first hour. The second waitress clocked in then but it seems that having two waitresses stand around staring at their nails was too much for them to handle so they sent us outside to “flyer.” They already had two younger guys outside handing out flyers and doing a hell of a better job at getting customers to come in than I would have. I'm like, wait a second, I didn't sign up for this. This was not in the job description. If it had been I would have thought twice about accepting the job. This is not the ideal situation for a person who dislikes talking to strangers and has a fear of rejection. So I wandered down the street a bit so the flyerers wouldn't all be standing in the same place. The other waitress came to bring me back so the management wouldn't get mad that I was wandering off. I'm like, what am I, five? I can't even do my job because they don't trust me not to run off to eat a felafel? So then I pretty much just stood around wishing I could go back inside and wondering when this torture would end. At some point the manager decided I could come back in and made me wash the glass panels on the stairs (I'm convinced that it was in punishment for my less than stellar flyering). How was he to know that I would prefer to clean anything than stand outside being studiously ignored by people who are tired of being inundated by flyers and besieged by street people.
I assume that it was due to the threat of terrorist activities that I ended up with only one table the whole night. The bar was practically empty as were the neighboring restaurants and even the street. They clocked me out at midnight and sent me home (I'm obviously the most expendable waitress). It's incredible; the terrorists don't have to actually carry out any of their threats. The threat itself is enough to scare people enough to stay home and damage the economy and injure Israeli society through more subtle methods. I'm convinced that the only place safe from rockets and bombs is Tel Aviv. However you're more likely to get stabbed in a club or run over by a moped there. Plus I don't like the weather. So I'll just stay in Jerusalem and worry instead about getting hit by the new light rail (or having it fall off the tracks and crush me as I innocently walk down the sidewalk).
My second shift was slightly more successful than the first. I ended up filling in for the other new waitress who wasn't feeling well. It started off as quiet as the previous day but luckily the manager asked me to re-organize the cupboard in the waitress station instead of handing out flyers. I'm like, you asked the right person. It was completely organized within 5 minutes. I now actually know what's down there. Why we need so many small sauce/dressing containers I don't know and where the pair of women's shoes and men's socks came from is beyond me but some things are not worth puzzling over. People kept walking by while I was standing around and going, “smile!” What kind of weirdo stands around smiling for no reason? Only people with mental handicaps and the waitresses at this particular bar are happy and smile without any stimulus. I'm like, either leave me alone or entertain me. I'm not going to walk around smiling like an idiot for no reason.
It did at some point start getting busy. Apparently there was a soccer game on at 10:00 and quite a few people came out to see it. There were a bunch of obnoxious Israelis who complained about everything (the 16 chicken wings were really 8 cut into two, they didn't finish the olives so they should only have to pay half, they wanted to watch the Maccabi-Haifa game instead of the Tottenham-whoever game that everyone else had come to watch, etc.). There were a couple of religious guys, probably yeshiva bochers who were obviously not aware of accepted tipping practice because they didn't leave a shekel even though they got good service. A British guy and his daughter were quite pleasant until he asked me to add the tip to the credit card and became convinced that I had swiped it twice since I had to print out an extra copy to give to the manager. Then there were a bunch of people who just sat there forever and wouldn't leave.
I ended up working with one of the managers (the easy going one, not the one who made clean and organize stuff so as to earn my wages) because one of the waitresses left early. I don't know why or where she went but the manager was obviously not used to serving people which I gathered because he kept forgetting stuff and asking me questions. I had to tell him a few times what to do, and I'm like, wait a second, there's something wrong with this picture. I just learned to do this yesterday and now I'm explaining to the manager how the tables are set up and how to put in orders? He complimented me on my waitressing skills and I'm like, well they're certainly good in comparison.
At the end of the night, I had to square away the money with the less pleasant manager. Sitting there in the office while he counts the money and goes over the receipts makes you feel like you're in the hot seat. After he counted the tips, he said to me, “this isn't so great.” Which of course made me feel inadequate and like he was going to criticize me at the end of every night. He started to tell me what I should be doing but thankfully was interrupted by his cell phone and lost his train of thought. Unfortunately, my wages are made up of tips but I am assured 25 shekels an hour which means that if I don't make 25 shekels an hour in tips, then the bar must pay me out of their own pockets. This does not make management happy. They are cheap and don't want to have to actually pay their staff. And yes, in case you're wondering, that is the norm in this country. I don't know of one restaurant that pays its staff fair and/or legal wages. No one complains and the government doesn't take this kind of thing seriously. There's also no good reason why I should work harder to make 150 shekels in tips as opposed to 50 if my wages come out to 175 shekels that night. Either way, I get 175 shekels. And if I do miraculously make over 25 shekels an hour in tips then why should I clean the floors at 3:00 in the morning when I just want to go home? They aren't paying me squat. Obviously, management did not think this through all the way, and have convinced themselves that they're doing us a favor by letting us work for them. How generous. I fantasize that one day I'll be rich, and I'll buy them out. I will then turn the place into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting hall.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Homeful & Hopefully Employed

The good news is that my roommate's wedding got pushed off so I can stay in the apartment until the end of the year. Well maybe this isn't such good news for her (or maybe it is, I don't really know). I may even be able to pay my rent.
I got called back to come train at the bar so I guess I must be more fun than I thought. Or maybe they think they can make me more fun. I don't know how effective they'll be considering I've been called a grandma. By my friends. Although honestly, my grandmother is probably more fun than I am. And more popular.
In any case, it's unpaid training and there's no guarantee that I'm actually hired (though if they decide not to keep me they will pay me for the training). So I have to pretend to be fun for the next couple weeks so that they decide to keep me. Maybe I will make balloon animals or wear a funny hat. I've got the waitressing part down (it's basically the same everywhere) but they pride themselves on making everyone feel welcome and at home. In addition to not being particularly fun, I am also not exactly known for being personable. This may be my greatest challenge yet. Army? Piece of cake. Psychometric? No problem. Not only do I have to pretend to like the human race in general, I must now pretend that I care about every random drunk, loser, and yeshiva student still awed by the fact that he can drink at the age of 18 in Israel, that comes in. The fact is, I do not. I do not see regulars as my friends. I see them as people who hang out way too often in bars. Perhaps this will change when I get to know them as people, but until then I will just have to pretend that I am a happy, joyous person who does not despise the world and most people in it. Luckily I got pretty good at hiding my apathy or outright annoyance (reference the chicken wing man) while working at the restaurant. All I can say is, this had better be worth the money.
During the first training session, the head waitress (the one who hired me) kept telling me to smile and be myself. Go crazy she said. Be fun. She must be under the impression that everyone is fun on the inside and that they only have to let it out. And I have a feeling that my brand of crazy is not what she really intended. There's dance on the bars, sing drunken karaoke, leave at 5 in the morning crazy and then there's lock yourself in your room with your imaginary dragon, wear foil on your head to block out the radio transmissions, leap out the window convinced that the radiation from the microwave has given you the power to fly, kind of crazy. She should really be more specific when she says go crazy. It's not understood what kind of crazy she means.
The second training session was a Friday day shift. I don't know why they call this training (although I did learn a few things about alcohol) because I was pretty much just working normally. I took most of the people sitting in the area outside and did it almost alone (except for the occasional help when it got too hectic). They bartender did split the tips with me at the end though. After taking out the money for this person, for that person and so on, I was left with 10 shekels for my trouble (it was still unpaid training). After the shift the owner had a talk with me about being fun bla bla bla. He said I've got the technical stuff down but that people come to the bar because we talk to them and befriend them etc. And more of the same. Honestly, although the bartender was a nice guy, he didn't seem like a fun, crazy person per se. He just happens to have rubber bands in his beard.
I am considering getting a green mohawk or a tattoo (fake, don't have a heart attack daddy) on my nose so that they will think that I'm fun and leave me alone. Can't I just give good service and make tips that way? That's already better than you'll get in most places. I guess for now I'll just have to practice making balloon animals and making funny squeaky noises with my mouth.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On the Hunt...for a Job

I'm now on the hunt for a job. Equipped with a resume (which no one has even bothered to look at yet), I skulk around popular commercial centers, trying not to look too creepy as I scope out their windows for help wanted signs. I've been to quite a few restaurants and coffee shops (one day I will learn to use the cappuccino machine) and it's usually the same procedure. I ask them if they're looking for waiters and they rustle up a scrap of paper (usually from the register, sometimes a napkin or something from off the floor) and ask me to write down my details and someone will get back to me. Immediately and with the utmost urgency I'm sure. In one place I went to, the manager walked in after I gave the waitress my cash register paper. She pulled out a stack of these little pieces of paper and handed them over to him (I'm sure at least some fell on the floor or were blown out the door so there's maybe a 70% chance that my details even made it to him). My face fell and I walked out feeling somewhat hopeless. What if every place gets that many applicants?
I've only gotten 3 responses so far. It sounds promising, but trust me it isn't. One was from a bakery/coffee place in the center of town. It just opened about a month or so which means that they're still looking for staff but also means that they're nuts. I've been to the branch in Tel Aviv a few times with my sister and it seems like a very nice place. Good food, relaxed atmosphere, cappuccino machine. What's not to like? So I figured I'd apply there and they could probably use my English skills. I went in and asked if they were still looking and they told me yes and to sit down and someone would be with me shortly. I wasn't really expecting such a quick response but I sat down to wait. The manager came out to interview me and told me how it worked. Each potential waiter must memorize the menu and the first training session is a test. You must remember over 80% of the menu in order to be called back for more training. I'm like, ok, I can probably do this. I have a pretty good memory for stuff like this. I once read the Sunday comic section of the Bergen Record and had my mother and sister test me on it afterward. I remembered every single comic that I'd read. My short term memory is excellent. He said he'd send me the menu either that night or the next morning. Which of course, being Israeli, he didn't.
I went to the website to take a look out of curiosity and my jaw dropped. Four pages! Four pages of practically identical items. I'm good, but I'm not that good. 7.5 large breakfast options, 10 kinds of sandwiches, 9 different salads, 10 pasta sauces, 32 drinks plus the other items I'm not bothering to mention. All with long descriptions made up of every ingredient that ever even went near the food plus shapes and cooking methods. I basically gave up at this point on even attempting to memorize all this. In any case they still hadn't sent me the menu so I figured they'd either forgotten about me or decided they didn't want me in the end, and I was fine with this.
About a week or so after I'd totally forgotten them (only my short term memory is good, my long term memory is non-existent), they finally got around to sending out menus to all the applicants. They'd added another 2 pages of desserts to the original 4 page menu they also sent. I was like, nope, never gonna happen. I have this fear that if I try to memorize 6 pages of useless information something important is going to fall out. Like where I live, where I keep the laundry detergent or where I left my house keys. Which means I'll end up wandering around the neighborhood in dirty clothes. They called me the next day to ask if I'd gotten the menu and I told them straight out that there was no way in hell I'd be able to remember all that. The woman on the phone was like, “but that's our menu.” I'm like, “yeah, but it's 6 pages.” Maybe she was some kind of idiot savant because she couldn't seem to understand why memorizing 6 pages of food with lengthy descriptions might be difficult. So I told her if I was interested I'd get back to them. Which is about as likely as me learning Greek.
The next interview was at a popular bar among Americans. The restaurant's old chef had defected to their kitchen so I figured if anything I had a good reference. The interviewer asked me questions like, do I know Hebrew (well enough), can I balance a tray of drinks (got enough practice at the restaurant), and all manner of questions to which I think I answered fine. However, she also stressed that they were looking for someone fun and energetic, bla bla bla. I know I don't exactly give off an impression of funness and energy. But that doesn't mean that I'm not fun or a hard worker. At the end I told her if she wanted another reference she could call the manager at the restaurant. She told me that she doesn't ask other people, but decides based on how fun the person seems withing the first few minutes of the interview. Really? You're not going to ask someone I've already worked with who could give me a good reference, you're going to hire the most fun person who applies? Because fun people are known to be hardworking folk with good work ethic. Excellent hiring method. Really. And good luck with that.
The last interview was at a coffee shop about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. The deal was though, that they have most of the waiters working on Fridays until an hour before Shabbat starts. Hmm. Kind of problematic for someone who keeps Shabbat.
So that's that I guess. Still looking without too many prospects. I'm waiting for something to drop out of the sky I guess. Or for a miracle.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Homeless & Unemployed

I hadn't scheduled another time to go in to training at the bagel shop so I called them up and they said they'd get back to me. A few hours later the owner/manager (still don't know which he was) called back and told me that they didn't want to continue with me but that they would of course pay me for the hours in which I'd worked. I was too surprised to even ask why so I just agreed and hung up. I couldn't stop thinking about it for the next few days. I couldn't figure out what I'd done to warrant such an early dismissal. I couldn't imagine that I'd done anything so wrong during training that they had no choice but to fire me. All things considered, my only job had been to watch them. It's hard to go wrong doing that unless perhaps I'd fallen asleep on the salad bar. Which I hadn't. Plus if they were going to fire anyone for incompetence it would have been the other trainee who got confused and almost put the whole basket of bagels on the floor, not to mention taking 5 minutes to cut a piece of cheese into slices. He didn't even speak any Hebrew. It couldn't have been a professional reason. What else was there? I'd been getting along with everyone just fine and had certainly never been rude to a customer. For a while there I was convinced that they had found my blog somehow and were horrified by how I rag on everyone from the restaurant. But then I realized that my Facebook account is only open to “friends,” which the bagel guy certainly was not. I even googled myself to see if anyone by my name had been arrested recently for pedophilia or something. Nothing. So I was back to feeling rejected and confused.
I finally went in to pick up money on Sunday and when the boss came out to give it to me I asked him why he didn't want me to work there. He said that after doing the calculations he realized that it made more sense for him to keep looking for a worker with no other obligations, like school, who could commit to a whole year at least. Out of all the crazy reasons that had been running through my head this was one I hadn't even thought of. He had known before he hired me that I was going to be a student and had hired me anyway. I would rather have had him not hire me in the first place than hire me and 3 days later fire me. That's just not nice. But at least the mystery was solved and I could get on with my life.
Now on to the homeless part. Roommate number two has decided to get married. Roommate number one is leaving at the end of August to get married and number two is aiming for Thanksgiving. She asked me if it was ok if she could take over the lease in October and she and her soon-to-be husband would stay in the apartment. I thought about it for about two seconds and realized she was offering me a way out without having to break my lease or find a replacement. This apartment has given me nothing but trouble (a week without water, a month without electricity, two weeks without a fridge) and the landlady is largely unreachable. Hopefully I'll be gone before the washer explodes and floods the entire building, the roof collapses, or the apartment gets infested by a horde of ravaging locust. So yes I may be temporarily homeless but at least I'll be happily homeless.
If the students are still hanging out in tents in the center of town protesting the lack of affordable housing, I can always join them. I slept in a tent once. In the army. My tent mate and I built it on top of an anthill. But luckily she put her sleeping bag on top of it, not me. This was our “field night” where we were supposed to fend for ourselves in nature. We hiked for maybe half an hour, made camp in a cow field, turned around and realized we were about half a mile from the base. Dinner was schnitzel and salads driven over from the cafeteria. They made us go to the bathroom in the bushes. I was like, but I can see our building from here. They didn't care. I woke up in the middle of the night convinced that the tent had collapsed on us. Then I realized that I was just tangled up in my sleeping bag. Ok, so maybe sleeping in a tent isn't for me.
Honestly though, after dealing with the arnona office (even renters here have to pay property tax) I wouldn't mind so much not having an actual place of residence. I went yesterday but didn't have all the right documents. I had to come back today (turns out I still didn't have all the necessary documents). After yelling and crying out of frustration for half an hour, the computer system went down in the middle of my application and I got in a few pages of my book before it came back up and the guy could start all over again. He seemed more upset about it than I was. I was not particularly surprised. If the fire alarm had gone off and we'd all been evacuated I wouldn't have been surprised. The previous day I had arrived there at exactly opening time and it took them 7 minutes and 4 people to get the ticketing machine working. If everything had gone smoothly, then I would have been surprised.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Transitions pt. 2

I got to the bagel shop a little before 8 on Monday (obviously no one had informed the counter guy that I'd be coming and that he'd be training me because when I got there he told me we were closed and wouldn't let me in). Aforementioned counter guy sent me in the back to get a shirt but didn't expand on that and of course I picked the wrong color and was informed a few times that day that I was supposed to wear the white shirt. The black shirts are for managers only.
My only job that day was to watch everything. Which was difficult when the twice aforementioned counter guy was moving at light speed without explaining anything. Obviously he had never trained a person before and didn't realize that to me it looked like he was deciphering algorithmic codes in Greek.
Luckily the manager (easily identifiable by her black shirt) arrived a bit later and pitched in. Mostly what I learned that day was how to organize the bagels in the display baskets and that the salad bar area must always be clean. At some point I realized that the now well-known-to-all-of-us counter guy wasn't using the cream cheese from the bar but was taking out scoops from the drawers underneath. I asked him about this and he said, “there's no point messing up the cream cheese on top.” Does that mean that the salad bar is for display purposes only? Does that cream cheese ever actually get used? What is its purpose? Why not have a plastic display which looks real but never has to be cleaned up? Honestly, if I were a customer I'd be a little concerned if the salad bar looked like it was never touched. Does no one else order cream cheese? Do the other customers know something I don't know?
The job posting had explicitly stated that it was 99% American clientele and that no Hebrew was needed but it seemed like quite a few Israelis wandered in. You could tell who was who by what they ordered without even listening to them speak. The Americans ordered complicated ice blends and lattes with skim milk (which doesn't actually exist in Israel. There's only 1% and 3%). One guy ordered a bagel with the dough inside scooped out. The Israelis ordered their coffees hafuch (my personal favorite) and got salads with Bulgarian or yellow cheeses.
I was thinking that they had a much more normal crowd than the restaurant until an Israeli woman walked in, came up to me and asked me where her carrots were. I think I just stared at her for a few moments until the manager gave her a bag with what I presume was more than just carrots in it. Then she asked the counter guy for zucchini. He stared at her for a few moments than handed her a piece. She popped it into her mouth and then told us that if her children would have seen this zucchini they would have thrown it on the floor. She proceeds to tell us that zucchini is an Ashkenazi food and Sephardi people don't eat it. Really? Because I've seen an awful lot of Sephardi looking people buying and eating zucchini. At this point I'm pretty sure she's somewhat unhinged. Then she asks me for a cup of water with ice. I don't want to make a fool of myself trying to remember where I saw the plastic cups and trying to use the ice machine (which will probably end up with me standing in a pool of ice) so I point to the counter guy and say, “One second and he'll help you.” Instead of waiting patiently she decides that she must explain slowly to the mentally challenged bagel shop worker (i.e. me) what a cup of ice water is. With hand motions. “A cup (picture the appropriate gesture here)... with water (more gestures)... and then you put ice in it (you get the picture). I repeated more firmly this time, “one second and he'll help you.” I guess they have nutters everywhere.
The next training session was much of the same. This time there was another trainee (I figured this out after about 30 seconds of him bumbling around). This was his third training session. They were slowly letting him start doing things like making a salad and arranging the bagels. Lucky bastard. I eagerly await the day when the honor of bagel arranging and vegetable gathering will be bestowed upon me. And praise shall be heaped on me for successful ice blends and omelet sandwiches. Yes, that is what I was thinking to myself. Because I have no ambition outside of one day getting to wear... the black shirt.
I think by now we all now that I'm slightly neurotic. If not then you haven't been paying attention. This was the first time I had encountered neurosis that makes me look like a normal, functioning member of society. Every five minutes they were cleaning up the bar, re-piling the corn or refilling the lettuce container. I think they spent more time organizing the bar than they did serving customers. This is coming from the person who went down to the kitchen of the restaurant to bring up some ketchup and ending up spending the next ten minutes reorganizing the paper goods closet instead. The closet does look good though. But they were actually starting to drive me nuts. They're like, must refill the tomatoes! I'm like, but we haven't even used any yet. Doesn't matter! Refill! Refill!
In any case, they sent me home about an hour and fifty minutes after I started. It didn't seem like a very long training session but I just shrugged and went home. With a free cup of bagel shop coffee.
Meanwhile, I've still been working my last two weeks at the restaurant. It's been as ridiculous as usual. We've been trying to get used to the new kashrut supervisors who actually do their jobs. It's kind of annoying though because they hover. Our previous mashgiach (supervisor) didn't do a whole lot. Actually I had no idea who he was for a week after I started working there. He was just the guy who sat eating oranges and chatting with the manager all afternoon about where they bought socks and the price of vegetables at the shuk. No one introduced me and he didn't introduce himself. Someone finally told me who he was and I was like, ohhhhhh that's who he is. He never actually went down to the kitchen except to make the liver (still haven't figured that one out) and when he did, he went down reluctantly (probably since the kitchen is like the pit of hell temperature-wise). The thing is, he's still there. At the restaurant. Doing whatever it is he does. Or doesn't do. It seems like the owner is keeping him on just in case this new hashgacha doesn't work out. Which it obviously is considering that the number of tables a night has quadrupled and is now too much for the two waiters on staff. So he's basically paying for window dressing. Window dressing with nine kids, but still fairly useless.
As for the customers themselves, they're just as clueless as ever only with more small children. Who run around screaming, making huge messes and demanding their hot dogs immediately. I don't understand why first of all anyone would want to eat steak at 10:30 at night, and second of all why they would bring young kids with them. They always ask us to bring up the kids' food as soon as possible, and I'm like, yeah, sure, I'll just stick it directly inside the grill to cook it faster, don't mind the burnt bits. Or perhaps I'll just microwave it. Plus they bring their huge strollers which I have to weave my way through. Sometimes I feel I'm trying to balance huge trays of food in a mine field. It's only a matter of time til some poor sucker ends up with a plate of spaghetti on his black hat.
I can usually keep my cool with people, no matter how bizarre or annoying their order. But, one table just got to me and I think I may have been a bit terse and impatient. The first thing the guy asks me is, “do the sandwiches come with bread?” I repeated, “the sandwiches?” just to make sure we're on the same page. So he repeats it in Hebrew. I'm like, no, I'm sorry that doesn't make anymore sense in Hebrew. So I go, yeeees, while most likely making my you're-an-idiot face. He asks me what kind of bread and I tell him they're served on baguettes. He then asks me if the sandwiches are appetizers or if they're a main course. I'm like, yes the steak sandwiches served on baguettes are an appetizer. For the main course we serve you the entire cow on a platter with an apple in its mouth. Luckily I had enough self control not to actually say that out loud. I'm thinking to myself, I hope his wife has a bit more sense than he does. Alas, my hopes were dashed when she asked me what the difference was between the chicken vegetable dish and the stroganoff. I'm like, well besides the fact that they're both edible, there's nothing even remotely similar between the two, which you would have known if you had read the descriptions on the menu. Or would you like me to read you the whole menu out loud? I also did not say this although I very much wanted to. She then asks me which one is a more typical dish. Lady, I don't even know what that means. So I just snap, “I don't know” and wait for the inevitable next question. The guy then asks me what the most ordered dish on the menu is. Which is a ridiculous question because that doesn't take into account his personal taste. I could go to a place where the most popular dish is chopped liver and I would be horrified and appalled if someone served it to me. I tell him that that would probably be the steaks seeing as we're a steak house and pray for the love of G-d that they'll just order already and stop wasting my time.
The other waiter had a table where the woman looked at the list of salads and somehow missed and tried to order the list of dressings.
I will miss the stories but hopefully my faith in man's ability to progress scientifically and socially will return when not presented with people who make me think they should be eating peanuts and picking bugs off each other.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Now that I knew I had to find a job, I took to the job postings with renewed vigor. By this I mean I was desperate and decided to respond to a post advertising for a bagel shop. The ad had been run a few times in the past so I figured maybe they were as desperate as me. The ad went something like this: For a kosher bagel shop in Jerusalem. Mostly English speaking clientele. Great atmosphere, good salary!
They had me at good salary. Now I'm not foolish, I know that “good salary” is relative. However at this point anything over minimum wage is acceptable. My last paycheck from the restaurant averaged out to about 19 shekels an hour after taxes. Minimum wage is a little over 21 shekels an hour and I figure “good” salary is between 24 and 26 shekels an hour for a food related business.
I called the phone number at the bottom and no one answered so I shrugged and was about to go back about my business. Within about 30 seconds, someone called me back. After the usual “who is this?” “You just called me, who is this?” Q&A, I told him I was interested in the job posting. He asked me some questions, I answered them in my best I-swear-I'm-not-an-escaped-lunatic voice, and he invited me to come check out the shop and talk to him and the other employees. It sounded good so I agreed. Then he said to me, “I just need to ask, do you have any facial piercings?” I told him I had a nose ring (which it seems are as common in Israel as Starbucks ™ are in NY) and I could hear him hesitate. He told me that because his clientele was pretty religious he didn't want anyone who looked like he just came off the street. I was like, “ooooook.” I didn't know what to say if he equated nose rings with homeless punks. He added, “From what you've told me about yourself, it doesn't sound like you would compromise on that.” I said, “not really.” At this point I didn't really want to get mixed up in any more of this religious insanity, so we said our goodbyes and good lucks and I was once more ready to go back about my business. A few minutes later, I get a call back from him. He had thought about it a bit more and decided that he would still like to meet me. The job entailed wearing a skirt but he didn't care what kind and they would provide me with a uniform shirt every day. I figured, whatever, can't hurt and went down there a few hours later. It seemed like a nice place- clean, nice staff, good food and... a coffee machine. One of my goals in life is to learn how to make cappuccino. It's always seemed like this magical procedure- a whir of motion, a loud mechanical humming noise followed by the sound of frothing and then... voila- cafe hafuch with shapes made in the milk. Incredible. How do they make the hearts on top?
I asked for the guy I'd spoken to on the phone and they said he'd be back shortly. So I parked myself on a stool at the bar to wait. Which was probably a bad idea as it was directly in front of a tray of fresh cookies with chocolate chunks in it. So to distract myself I ordered a coffee which the manager ended up treating me to when he got back. We sat outside in the back on some cartons which I fell off of in the middle of the interview and then pretended that I needed to stretch my legs and stood the rest of the time. In any case I guess he decided that I didn't look like a homeless junkie alcoholic punk off the street because he offered me the job. We agreed that I would come to start training the next Monday at 8:00. For a week or two I'd be working two jobs but neither of them were full time and it worked out perfectly since my fridge had died the previous week. I could get lunch there and dinner at the restaurant. I was starting to get tired of rice cakes and peanut butter twice a day. I never thought that would ever happen, but alas even I have my limits.
I would like for a moment to take this moment to eulogize my fridge. It didn't exactly die, more like it was put out of its misery. It was fine the previous week except for a funny smell I couldn't get rid of even after cleaning it. Then all of the sudden we realized that nothing that was supposed to be frozen was in fact frozen. The smell in the fridge got worse, like rotten food and that's when we realized that although the motor was running, it was not cooling anything. It was effectively in a coma. My roommate found an Israeli repairman to call who said the service charge was 200 shekels and then 200 shekels for every piece he had to replace. This did not really make sense. What if the piece cost 5 shekels? What if it cost 1000? After the Israeli plumber and the Israel electrician I really didn't want to deal with anymore Israeli fix-it people. So I called a guy from Ma'ale Adumim who came over and in short said it was a motor problem. Apparently the motor is the most expensive part of the fridge and probably worth more the fridge itself. We'd been trying to get in touch with the landlady who was not returning our calls, sms's, or telepathic pleas for help. It seems she's out of the country for the summer (in France with her elderly parents), hadn't even told us she was leaving or given us anyway of reaching her or anyone else to contact in case of emergency. The apartment could have burned down, been looted, or hit by a flying elephant and she'd have no way of knowing. At this point it was up to us to decide what to do. I figured the cheapest thing would be to buy a used fridge that had a few years left in it. So we said a prayer over the comatose fridge and regretfully pulled the plug.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The End of a Steak Chapter, the Beginning of a Bagel Story?

Well that's that I guess. The end of an era. Or at least the end of me working at the steakhouse. I knew for a while I was going to have to leave, seeing as I can barely pay my bills on the peanuts they were paying me. As my new boss says, “Only monkeys work for peanuts.” This is correct. Also elephants from what I understand. But the point is, I don't understand why the owner of the restaurant would be surprised that anyone would want to quit. He likes to think of the restaurant as a classy, many star kind of joint but it will never be that kind of place unless the staff is experienced and knows what they're doing. Also it helps to have actual equipment (cups, forks, food etc.), a paint job that isn't peeling onto your Filet Mignon, air conditioning that works, and tablecloths devoid of ketchup stains. His turnover rate could be compared to that of a pancake or a revolving door. I had already started looking for a new job but didn't want to quit until I'd found one.
The restaurant has been going through many changes over the last month or so. They lost a waitress, the dishwasher, and most importantly the chef. Aside from the staff changes, the owner also decided that upgrading the kashrut supervision would dramatically improve business. Whether or not this will prove to be true remains to be seen but it will certainly attract a different crowd. The black hat, bearded, black and white suit wearing crowd.
This might not bother me so much if not for an incident that happened a few months ago. The owner of the restaurant called up the restaurant to check up on everything and told me as an aside that one of the customers had complained to him that my sleeves were too short and asked me if I could please wear slightly longer sleeves. I basically lost it and was pissed off for the next week or so that someone had the chutzpah to come into a restaurant in the center of Jerusalem (what I consider neutral territory for all factions) and tell a person that she's not dressed properly. Sure I may be judgmental, but at least I don't bother anyone about how dressing like 19th century Polish aristocracy is stupid if they don't bother me. What was even worse was that the owner had listened to this nutter and wanted me to change my manner of dress because of some guy who got lost on the way home to Mea Shearim and thought he was the modesty police.
The last stage of the switch was completed a few Sundays ago. I get into work and run into the owner outside. He tells me we're not in fact opening the restaurant; instead they're cleaning and re-kashering everything. I'm now wondering to myself what exactly I'm doing there and why he couldn't have given me any advance warning. I know he knows how to use the phone because he calls the restaurant every 5 seconds to ask if the lights are on outside, if the music is playing and for updates on exactly how many reservations we have, how many customers there are, what those customers ordered, if I offered them bread, laughed at their jokes, polished their shoes, groveled at their feet, etc.
In any case I ended up helping them carry down the not kosher enough wine, wiping down the tables and chairs, refilling the salt shakers and just in general waiting for my paycheck which the owner kept telling me was in his pocket and then not actually giving me. If in actuality it was in his pocket then I don't understand why he couldn't just take it out and hand it to me. Why is this a difficult thing? And why must I chase you around for the next day? At some point he left “for a minute” but did not in fact come back after that minute or 20 was up. So I got tired of sitting around watching the pepper shakers dry and went home. The good news is that he gave it to me the next night 5 seconds before I had to leave after being reminded more than once to take the check out of his damn pocket.
The next evening was a rough one for everyone. For the kitchen because they didn't have half the menu or the pieces for the grill, for the waitstaff because many customers did not seem to be familiar with the axiom “hey, I'm just the messenger,” for the manager because he too had to keep apologizing to customers on behalf of the owner and for the owner himself because he lost out on quite a bit of business. We had a reservation for 8 people at 5 o'clock which he had to have known because it had been made a few days previously. I get the news at about a quarter to 5 that we don't have a grill and I have no idea what I'm supposed to do about this party of 8. One person's already waiting outside (she walked inside, declared it was like a furnace, and decided it was cooler outside in the Middle Eastern summer heat, which of course it was). It turns out that the owner's got the grill pieces with him which he'd taken to Rechovot (don't ask me why) and says he'll be back around 5:30. So I have to stall for the 30 minutes or so while he gets back, assuming of course that he actually gets back when he says he will (which he never does). I explain to them that we're changing the supervision, it's a bit crazy, everything should be fine soon, bla bla bla. They seem to be buying it too until the manager comes up to them after speaking with the owner and says it will be a while before we're ready. Of course they get up and leave after hearing this and I have to wonder which part of the owner's brain isn't working, his memory or his planning ability. In the end I decided that it was his ability to connect cause and effect. Cause: no grill. Effect: no customers. Cause: no customers. Effect: no money. Cause: no money. Effect: dumpster diving. We did eventually get the pieces back so we could at least prepare half the menu. We were still missing maybe a quarter of the food and some items had been permanently removed from the menu but at least we could pretend it was a commercial establishment.
As I mentioned, I'd been planning on quitting in the near future but just hadn't gotten around to it yet. The last straw came a few days after the switch when the owner came up to me and told me that from now on I'd need to wear long sleeves and a long skirt. So I told him I quit. He tried to soften the blow by explaining that it was just what the new supervisors require so that the customers don't complain to them, and he's not trying to be mean but they asked him to do it etc. I'm like, “I'm not trying to be mean by quitting but I'm just not going to do that.” The last thing I need is to get myself caught up in this madness (which I have denominated “Jerusalem insanity”). He tried to convince me to stay by telling me the salary would go up because we'd get more customers, therefore more tips but you couldn't pay me enough to dress like a Bais Yaakov girl in an un-airconditioned building that becomes an oven behind the bar. Even better would be me trying not to trip on the skirt going up and down the steps from the kitchen. I already did that wearing pants and the customers are smart enough not to trust a waiter dripping chicken soup from his head and torso. Me wearing a long skirt would be a DISASTER. It would just be me rolling down the stairs a few times a day bowling people over as I go. But mostly, I just hate being told what to wear. If he had told me when he offered me the job that this is how I'd have to dress I would not have taken it. I would have turned him down without blinking. So really, why would I stay now when I know the salary is crap anyway? Answer: What would you like on your bagel?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Calculus & Carousels

The school year has finally ended, my two courses completed (with more success than I had anticipated, particularly in calculus). I can't say I was especially looking forward to my calculus final, considering my two previous midterms did not go very well for me (I know, having two midterms makes the word midterm kind of a misnomer. I'm not sure what that says about our math department: 1 semester divided by 3 tests = ½?). I knew the concepts behind the math but when a math problem takes two pages to solve there's a very good chance that you'll make a mistake somewhere. And once you make that mistake- forgetting to put in a negative sign, confusing your 2 for a 3, or relying on the divisional principles that the fourth floor administrators set out that 1 divided by 3 equals ½, you're done for. That mistake turns into an avalanche and the further you go the more your math problem starts to look like an internal Hebrew U administrative memo. I decided I would have to actually study for the test. So I did. Sort of. In bouts alternating with watching Dr. Who. Great show by the way.
The day of the dreaded math final came. I left my apartment at 7:50 to leave no chance of being late for the test at 9. This will probably not surprise anyone familiar with a certain Mr. Murphy, but the bus I was waiting for, the one that comes twice an hour and goes straight to the Har Hatzofim campus, didn't come and I ended up taking whatever bus next pulled in to the bus stop, then waiting 20 minutes for the number 19 bus which I have since pronounced my mortal enemy. I got there at 9:05, spent 5 minutes getting to the Rothberg building, and then another 5 minutes hunting down the room I was supposed to take the test in. Instead of having a central list of people and classrooms, every classroom had a list on the door of people who were taking the test in that room. This is not helpful when you have 5 rooms on 3 different floors. I finally found the room I was supposed to be in on my 5th attempt. And of course the only seat left was a lefty desk. After 2 excruciatingly uncomfortable minutes which my chiropractor will have to sort out for me, I asked to move. I managed to finish the test and check it over within an hour and a half. Then I was free! Incidentally I recently had a dream that I was unsuccessfully taking my math final in a burning building.

In other news, my father gets a congratulations for another successful theater run, this time in “Carousel.” He was very convincing as a cotton candy seller, less so as a “young lad.” The real congratulations are due to him for singing and dancing without his glasses on while not tripping anyone, falling off the stage, causing anyone else of fall off the stage or accidentally eating his cotton candy. Bravo. At least we have one semi successful thespian in the family. I myself have never gotten any respectable roles when forced to perform in school and camp plays. I still remember my line, well, word would be more accurate, as “Jewish street person number 3” in our 8th grade Holocaust play. I ran onstage after Jewish street people numbers 1 & 2, shouted “Dead!” and ran off again. I remember being jealous of Jewish street person number 1 because he got a whole line. Ok, two words, but it was a pronoun and an adjective and therefore a complete sentence. Whereas all I had was a fragment. That part was however still more respectable than the part they shoved me into in camp. Do you know what playing a wall of garbage can do to an 11 year old's self esteem? Nothing good, that's for sure. Although this does answer the question of why I'm always neurotically cleaning something.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bureaucracy, Integrals & a Mysterious Couch

Last week was a somewhat frustrating week. Bureaucracy, integrals and a mysterious couch all converged into one big irritation. There's only one thing to do in situations such as these. I called my dad and ranted for about 20 minutes about “the system,” Boris my math professor, and my penniless existence. Not that being broke is new for me; it's just my go-to rant. It's a subject that never gets old.
Applying to college is a frustrating experience in any country. But when all of your records and documents are across the ocean, and the country in which you're trying to apply to college is Israel, you'd better have a strong stomach because you're going to be running around in circles; perhaps even figure eights.
I seem to have applied successfully to Hebrew University. That being after two failed attempts and an angry adviser. And let me tell you, Russian women are scary when they're angry. If you encounter an angry Russian woman, word of advice: curl up into a ball and play dead.
What's left is my application to Michlelet Hadassah. The only thing that they need is verification from the Education Ministry that I have a high school diploma from outside the country. What does this mean exactly? I have no idea. I go to their website, no useful information, no phone number, nothing. Only one of those 'if you'd like to get into contact with us' type boxes with a send button. No one ever answers those things. I'm pretty sure pressing the send button is like pressing the garbage disposal button in your sink or the on button of your paper shredder. So I was not very hopeful that I would get a reply. But in fact, two days later an email arrived with a name and a phone number to call. It was 12:02 when I called. I got an automated answer saying that a) the office is open from 8:30-12:00 and that b) they don't have office visiting hours. Fantastic. I tried again the next day at 10:00. No answer. I tried a few minutes later. No answer. I tried at 11:00. Still no answer. Great. I called them up again the next day. Still no answer. At this point I gave up. I have only so much patience for ghost offices which exist in theory but in practice have neither an address nor actual human staff.
On to my next frustration. Actually I probably don't have to explain why derivatives and integrals would be frustrating. Moving on.
Every time I open the front door it hits the mysterious couch that appeared there and rebounds off it hitting me in the face. Basically, my roommate had an engagement party a few Thursday nights ago (he got engaged a few months ago and is probably moving out at the end of June). I got home from work a bit after midnight and there were ridiculous amounts of food and alcohol lying around (it seems it's not a Polish party without lots of alcohol). There were people passed out on the couch (including my roommate) and there was a mysterious couch where there had never been one before. It's still here. I want it to go away. Everyone was pretty much gone by about 1:00 though so I was able to go to sleep. I went to the bathroom in the morning and there were bottles of alcohol floating in the bathtub. I was puzzled as to what there were doing there (Taking a bath? Drowning? Should I save them? Give them rubber duckies?). I came out and said hi to a guy standing outside the door. It took me a second to realize that he doesn't live here and that I don't actually know who he is. I decided to ignore it and go back to my room.
As for how it's going at the restaurant, same old same old. And by that I mean that strange and frustrating people keep coming in. I did however learn something new about Australian culture. I was serving an Australian couple and the woman asked for either a soda or sparkling water. She told me to surprise her and bring her whichever. So I brought her a Coke. She looks at me like she's a bit uncomfortable and says, “Sorry, I asked for soda.” I look at the Coke, I look at her, then back at the Coke. I go, “Ok, when you say soda, what exactly do you mean?” It turns out that in Australia, soda means carbonated water. I'm like, “Ok, then what's sparkling water?” Apparently there are places on this earth where the streams run with naturally bubbling water. Sometimes I really feel like an uncultured and uneducated Yankee.
Unfortunately the next guy who walked in did not do much for our cause. He asked for an appetizer that was spicy so I told him that the chicken wings were good. He then asked me what a chicken wing is. How do you answer a self apparent question? I didn't know what to say without giving him an anatomy lesson on chickens. I just kind of stuttered, “It's the wing of a chicken” while unconsciously flapping my arms. He goes “Oh, is it that round thing?” I'm like, what? Just... what?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Restaurant Etiquette

People go to restaurants for different reasons. Some people go to celebrate a special occasion; some people go because they have the money and enjoy being waited on and not having to go through the work of preparing a meal and then cleaning up afterwards; some people go because they can't cook and whatever they order will be infinitely better than anything they could have mangled, burnt, and served themselves.
In this age of ever expanding informality, people feel at home no matter where they are. On the bus, at work, and yes, even at fancy restaurants. Have you ever been stuck on a bus next to a person having a personal conversation on the phone and learned things about him or her that you REALLY didn't want to know? Lady, I want to know absolutely nothing about your intestinal functioning or what the doctor said about your recurrent gout. The worst is young mothers talking to their babies. “Who's mommy's good little boy? Who does mommy just want to gobble up? Did mommy's favorite little boy just poo in his pants?” etc. Not that this is a breach of etiquette; it's just annoying.
But back to my point. When you are at a restaurant, you are not at home. And there are other customers (although only occasionally at my restaurant) that deserve the same attention and respect as you do. Therefore, I have compiled a list of rules of restaurant etiquette.

  1. If there is a host/ess, wait to be seated. Don't waltz in and sit wherever you feel like. (For some reason, people always go to the largest table there is. A couple will often go to a table for 6 without considering that a group of 6 might come in and not be able to sit at a table for 2.)
  2. If your phone rings, don't pick up and start having a loud conversation. (It's annoying for other diners and it's rude to the person you're sitting with.)
  3. Do not put dirty dishes on other tables or personal affects on the chairs at other tables. (You get one table. If no one can or wants to sit there, the restaurant loses potential customers. It's like putting your groceries on the seat next to you on a crowded bus. Did your potatoes pay for a seat?)
  4. When the waiter comes to take your order and you say you're ready, don't start having an unrelated conversation while he stands there waiting for you. By the same token, don't start discussing with the other people at your table what you should order and argue over what side dishes you're going to get. (The waiter has other tables to take care of and does not have the time to stand there and wait for you while you quibble over the merits of french fries vs. mashed potatoes. If you don't know what you want, tell him to come back in a few minutes.)
  5. If you're not sure what something is, ask before you order it. (The waiter does not want to have to take it back because you thought that the beef stroganoff was a salad and don't like it.)
  6. Tell the waiter if you're allergic to something before you order. (A lady once finished her meal and then asked me if there was soy sauce in it because she can't eat soy sauce. Again- not etiquette, just common sense. It is however disruptive to other diners if you have to be carried out on a stretcher.)
  7. Don't get into a long conversation with the waiter if there are a lot of other customers. (He doesn't have time to chat. Other people are waiting and he will probably be too polite to tell you that he has no interest in your cat and that the kitchen staff is going to yell at him if he doesn't get over there pronto.)
  8. If you are the only one left at the restaurant and it's 11:00 at night, take a hint. (The staff wants to go home too. No one wants to have to wait for the two people who have been talking for the last half hour over empty plates.)
However, one thing that I can say about Jews is that they will always help you clear the table. I come to clear the dishes and they'll start passing me their plates like I've invited them for Shabbat lunch. It's totally natural to them. One guy felt so bad about coming in at 10:00 that he cleared his own plates. I was like, does this mean I have to give you a tip?