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.