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.