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Remember When “School’s Out!” Meant “Get A Summer Job?”


aybe you were the block’s best babysitter or a tanned, whistle-blowing lifeguard. As a teenager, my first foray into the working world was at a mom-and-pop dry cleaning shop. I worked the front counter, but the scary-looking equipment in the back spewed steam all day long, and that made the tiny space, sans air-conditioning, hotter than Hades. I soon traded that tropical setting for a string of jobs at icy cold ice cream shops including one where I sold softserve in waffle cones at an amusement park. Shortly after I started my job, one of the machines started to leak vanilla ice cream. I told the manager that the gasket appeared to be wearing out. He insisted that I’d simply not put the machine together properly after I’d cleaned it. Reader’s Digest Condensed Version: The leaking continued as did my attempts to convince the manager to replace the gasket until one afternoon when he pulled the handle to make a cone and the gasket gave way. The stainless steel machine erupted like Mt. St. Helens. Vanilla ice cream drops rained down like volcanic ash all over the heads of (screaming) customers. As always, there are lessons to be learned and this one is: Even when you are in charge, sometimes it’s simply best to shut-up and listen. My stint as a server at a restaurant is no less memorable. One night, a couple in my section was celebrating their wedding anniversary. It was a rare night without the kids. The woman wore a beautiful, amethyst-colored dress. I remember exactly what she had on because five minutes after she sat down, I lost my balance and dumped a tray of filled-tothe-brim iced tea and water glasses on her silk-draped lap. I watched in horror as the tumblers and ice cubes and

liquid cascaded down onto her. Resisting the urge to run out of the restaurant, I waited for her to shout. To my surprise she never did. She just grabbed a pile of napkins and started dabbing. Over my apologies and offers to dry clean her dress, she made jokes about how she usually ended up with something spilled on her every night at dinner thanks to her children. She stayed and ate dinner with her husband—wet lap and all—and once they were gone, I discovered the biggest tip I received all summer long. Lesson learned: Even if you can’t control a situation, you can control your response to it. Always try to choose to react with kindness and grace. A sprinkle of good humor goes a long way, too. Then there was the time I helped cater a wedding reception at a lovely winery. After I set up the buffet line, I walked out on the deck to admire the multi-tiered wedding cake. My boss had painstakingly handmade and decorated it with a meticulous lattice-work design. But instead of the cake I expected, I discovered the pastry equivalent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa! I tiptoed over to the tilted cake, afraid that any vibrations would send it in a nosedive off the table. As I got closer, I saw the culprit - tiny claw marks from the resident cat. Luckily, this Girl Scout-trained baker had extra icing. She cleverly covered the swipes, secretly marking where they were, so we wouldn’t serve those sections to the guests, and gently elevated the side so it wasn’t obviously tilted. Crisis averted. Lesson learned: Stick with freelance writing. It’s not as tasty, but it’s much less messy—especially for my customers. — Lisa Ferreira Candice Carver Illustration


Virginia Neighbors  

July August 2010Issue