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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

The Waiter Chroncles: Mix Tapes

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In the service sector, your co-workers are everything. They can make your work miserable, or they can make it tolerable. Some may even make this otherwise demeaning work enjoyable.

Meet Pepe, the 21 year-old uber-waiter who has quickly become my favorite person in this strange place. Sarcastic, generous, and full of energy, Pepe makes even the most stressful lunch shift fun. He does this with little gestures: waving his arm in the air and proclaiming, "that's whassup!" as you precariously balance a tray full of entrees; executing short bursts of crump-dance maneuvers; answering the most distressed questions with quips like, "I don't know. All I know is that I'm handsome."

Seriously, being a waiter at the Ristorante would be much, much worse if not for Pepe.

Among other things, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music, which he uses to decorate the most basic of conversations. Which is why my restaurant vocabulary includes "Ay Bay Bay" and "Hyphy," linguistic nuggets I'm hard pressed to defend in any other setting. It's a quality I admire, even if Pepe's musical catalogue is predominately rap and hip-hop.

Out of this admiration, I suggested a mix tape project. That's right, mix tapes (cd's, really). I'm a 31 year old ordained minister, and I just traded mix tapes with another guy. And it was totally my idea.

I offered up The Decemberists, Feist, The Bobby Hughes Experience, Maximo Park, Metric . . .

Pepe produced E-40, Bow Wow, Hurricane Chris, Mike Jones, Nas, Lil' Boosie, The Federation . . .

It's fun, if nothing else.

And a little childish.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:38 AM | link | 1 comments |

"Nice Makeup Dude"

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

From Jerilyn's comment on the previous post.

Thanks. I still haven't washed it off.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:19 AM | link | 2 comments |

Windell Middlebrooks Update

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I recently had a chance to catch our favorite fictional beer vendor's spin on Entourage, the uber-popular HBO yarn about an A-list actor and his crew.

It's a good little role. Here's a link to the episode (Windell's scene begins at 19:35).

A warning to SC alum: your favorite son uses some adult language in this scene.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:15 AM | link | 2 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles Survey Winner

Monday, September 17, 2007

The winning answer to the survey question about the food handler's test came from Michael:

"Cockroaches and rodents like to feed . . .

a. while you are taking tests, so get back to work!

Nice job Michael. The next time you're in the IE, feel free to handle some food; you're honorarily certified so to do.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:40 AM | link | 0 comments |

Phone Interview

Yesterday I had a phone interview with the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee from a nearby church. For those who don't know, Presbyterian churches look for pastors and associate pastors by forming Pastor/Associate Pastor Nominating Committees (PNC's/APNC's). That committee's job is to compose the position description, circulate it, interview candidates, and, ultimately, recommend one for the congregation to vote on.

This process almost always utilizes a phone interview.

I can't think of a less effective way for a group of people to assess the merit of a candidate than a phone interview (maybe email would be worse). There is no room for complexity in a phone interview, either in your interaction with the interviewers or the composition of your responses to their questions.

For example, one person asked me what I thought about the current "struggle" in the PC (USA) over inclusion. Now, that's a very intentional way of framing that issue, and it immediately gives something away about the church's theological leaning (another church might have asked about the struggle over "homosexuality" or "Biblical authority"). So, it's a complex question about an even more complex issue. But what you're required to do in a phone interview is make your best guess as to what they're really asking, and then speak into the ether for about five minutes. You won't have the benefit of gauging their reaction. You won't be able to clarify something that comes off as confusing. You just have to fire away and hope you don't wildly miss the mark.

By the end of the interview, the moderator of the committee said they would be getting back to me "right away." That means it either went really well or very badly. I guess I'll know soon enough.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:27 AM | link | 3 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles Survey: The Test

Monday, September 10, 2007

If you live in Riverside County and work in a job where you handle food, you have to get a Food Handler's Card. Getting this card means trekking down to the local environmental health office and paying $18 to take a 50 question multiple choice test. You're only allowed to miss 15 questions if you are to pass.

And if you are troubled, dear citizen, by the thought that some of the men and women handling the food you're eating are only about 70% clear on what will make you sick and what won't, let the sheer difficulty of that test put your fears to rest.


Test takers are given a short booklet to study before they start penciling in the bubbles. Feeling confident, I flipped through the first few pages of it, then declared myself ready to be examined. I was more ready than I knew.

If this test is a measurement of the need-to-know involved in food service, then it appears that little more is needed than a basic grasp of English and a healthy appreciation for sarcasm. Because, while a few of the questions pertain to details--the temperature at which food grows bacteria, for example--most of them are mind-numbingly ridiculous.

Here's an example (and I paraphrase):

Cockroaches and rodents like to feed
a. when the manager is not around
b. when they're stressed
c. when it is dark and quiet
d. on Mondays and Thursdays

(Duh. Everybody knows the answer is "a," with a postscript, "depending on the manager.")

It got so bad at one point that I actually looked around the room to see if other test takers were as amused as I was. I also suspected I might be the unwitting subject of a hidden camera prank. Nope. My colleagues were all furrowing their brows and engaging the exam with full seriousness.

You will be relieved to know that I am now the proud possessor of a Riverside County Food Handler's Card. That's right, when it comes ot roaches, mice, flies, and rotting food, I'm bonafide.

So here's the survey: submit your best multiple choice answer option "e" for the question about mice and rodents. The actual answers will be hard to beat, I know, but give it a shot. Because the best answer wins its author an Honorary Riverside County Food Handler's Certification.

May the Food Handler's Force be with you.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:24 AM | link | 5 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles: After Work

Thursday, September 06, 2007

I'm riding shotgun in westbound bass-thumping Mustang, heading to an unknown midnight destination. I only know it's a Mexican bar and that Junior is friendly with one of the bartenders. We're 15 miles out of town now, still speeding into the valley darkness, and as we enter and exit Ontario like a knife through butter I start to wonder: "are we going into LA?"

Not LA, ultimately, but Chino. A few years ago this would have freaked me out, going out for drinks with people I don't know all that well at one of their personal hangouts. But now I don't care. It hardly even bothers me that Junior and Pepe have thoroughly out-dressed me. They're both in collared shirts, black pants, and shiny shoes; Pepe is even sporting a sleevless pullover sweater. The best I could do for this midweek after-work outing is a brown T-shirt with Pac Man on the front. My companions don't seem to care, so I don't either.

We pull up to the bar, which is actually in a strip mall. There's a Ralph's Supermarket only 100 feet from the entrance. We stride through the doors past a bouncer reclining against a walkway rail. He nods at Junior and Pepe, and I put my head down and follow them in, wondering, "Should I have nodded at that guy?" Inside, the bar is a cross between a nightclub and a bingo parlor. There's a jukebox in the corner and a well in the middle, but the rest of the place is random smattering of tables and barstools separated by uncomfortable distances. The crowd is mixed, about half Latino and half white, with the white clientèle checking in somewhere between 40 and 50 years old. Somehow, this makes me relax, which I uneasily take as a measure of my age.

Pepe and Junior scan the bar for their friend, the bartender. She's not there. I'm just standing there like a dummy while the two of them deliberate about what to do. For a minute I think we might leave, but then we choose a hightop table near the door, and Junior sets out for our drinks. I tell him to get me a Coors, and he wrinkles his nose and lets out a "bah!" But I'm sticking to my guns. Not out of some loyalty to Coors, but rather wanting to keep my dignity. They're out of Coors, though, so I go with a Corona, which registers on Junior's face as a slight improvement.

Junior brings back our drinks and lifts his Pacifico bottle with a cocked head. I look from Junior to Pepe, then elevate my Corona. The irony does not escape me that this is the first and best welcome Southern California has offered me, and that it comes from two brothers, one 21 and the other 37, who are teaching me to be a waiter.

We clink our bottles to Junior's toast: "To . . . for the Hell of it."

For the Hell of it.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:19 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles: Three-Week's New Job

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I'm working tomorrow night. I'm not supposed to work on Wednesdays at all, but Three-Week asked me to cover his shift. He can't work tomorrow night because he's in training for his new job.

That was fast.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 11:30 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles: One Man's Trash . . .

Monday, September 03, 2007

There's a waiter who started about three weeks before me, who, for the sake of anonymity, I'll call Three-Week. When I started, he was busing tables and training to be a waiter, just like me. He had the core busing skills down: he could clear and reset a table in half the time it took me, and he polished glasses like a pro. His three week head start looked like more than enough to leave me in the table-busing dust while he sped ahead to the greener grass of table-waiting.

But Three-Week had a run of bad luck. While Grandpa's vacation presented an opportunity for both of us, it also offered lots of chances to fail. I had my share of failures, but they were easily corrected and handled with grit-your-teeth humor. Three-week's mishaps, though, involved mis-charging people's credit cards and getting people's orders wrong, things that heavily tax the owner's limited patience. I call it "bad luck" for three-week because his mistakes happened when the dining room was full and when the owner was right there.

The dilemma is this: I have benefited from Three-Week's stumbling. Last week the owner gave specific instructions (in his absence) that I was to wait tables and Three-Week was to bus.

On the face of it, the upside and the downside are easy to spot: I've moved into a position where I can put the pedal to the floor and accelerate right past Three-Week to become an established waiter. It is, in short, exactly what I needed to happen. But the downside is obviously that Three-Week has quickly found himself in a position where his hours are disappearing and he's being squeezed out of table-waiting by executive order. He's already told me he's looking for another job.

There are two ways to look at it.

Life ain't fair: The survival of the fittest: kill or be killed.

Or . . .

Empathy: The un-level playing field: The big picture.

I could easily be in Three-Week's position. That I'm not has less to do with superior aptitude than it has to do with timing and the accident of birth. Three-Week speaks English as a second language, having been born in Mexico. He doesn't have a college degree. He has two kids.

That he should have to compete with a white college-educated English major for a job at a restaurant owned by a European doesn't offer him much of a chance.

I could be making too much of this. My "empathy" could be a form of arrogance. But the reality is that the ristorante is a stop-over for me en route to a salaried job not in the service sector, while for Three-Week it's where he makes his living. And I like him. He taught me this song, which I post below in his honor, hoping things get better for him. Only, not at my expense.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:39 PM | link | 1 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles: Grandpa's Return

After four weeks in his native Mexico, Grandpa returned to the ristorante last Wednesday. But even before he had re-donned his apron and checked his pen supply, Grandpa's presence was felt. My schedule for the week was light on dinners, and the ones I had were established duds: Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday (you wouldn't think it, but Saturday is the slowest night of the week). Monday and Tuesday nights produced a total of two tables between them, but Saturday saved the week with six tables.

Not that the schedule mattered all that much. Being that it was the last week of August, business was slow every night. It was so bad that the few guests we did have couldn't help but comment on the cavernous emptiness of the dining room. "Are you guys always this slow?" they would ask, with a look of suspicion. "No," you answer. "August is always slow in the restaurant business." You say this hoping that didn't notice the half-full dining room at the other ristorante around the corner.

This week's schedule is a little bit kinder, including dinner on Thursday and Friday, as well as a special event fundraiser breakfast on Saturday. Seriously, if this week would have looked like last week, Grandpa's return would quickly become a cause for irritation. As it is, I can pat him on the back and say, "Hola!" without wanting to push him right out the door.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:30 PM | link | 0 comments |