Fight scene from Star Trek: Captain Kirk is stranded on a desert planet, sweating in his impractical uniform, and a Lizard Man is heaving boulders at him. He's been losing the fight for six or seven minutes, he's run out of rocks and karate chops, and so he just turns and runs for his life over the burning sand. You can't win 'em all.
The first time I swore off of the restaurant industry was when I quit B**nstr**ts. At the time, I was convinced I had some form of brain damage from working there, or maybe several years of my life had rotted away. The place was a mecca for perverts and aimless head-cases, staring down the barristas with their hands hidden under the tables. Most of the art was pictures of nude women, some painted by the owner himself, and the kitchen had murals of grinning sunflowers and a big happy sun, leering creepily through half closed eyes. Every time a can of whipped cream emptied, the employees would scramble for it and rush into the back, greedily sucking the nitrous oxide out, starved for a moment of merciful oblivion. I never wanted to see another snickerdoodle latte or open mike night again.
One hot day, some weeks before my own Kirk-in-the-desert-with-Lizard-Man moment, I had to shove my way past a line of people to get in the door to go to work. At the head of the line, bright and early, was William Shatner, loudly complaining about his flight to Hollywood in half an hour. Now, I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure it's impossible to fly to Hollywood from Asheville, or at least it was in 2002, and anyway there was no way he was going to get to the airport in half an hour. On top of that, did Shatner really have a pressing engagement, or did he just think he was entitled to get his omelet ahead of everybody else? I was pretty groggy still, hungover and reeling from a bad night of suppressing the rage and angst that hung like cologne around this place. If the first thing somebody said directly to you on a morning like that was “Shatner's being a dick. You should spit in his omelet,” what would you do?
Yes, I spit it the damn thing, and my breath honestly couldn't have been pretty, but I still had to cook it first. I'm not exactly proud of it now; in fact I have upset several people telling them this story, but neither am I ashamed. You don't want people to spit in your food, then don't be a dick.
I could rattle off a list off offenses I absorbed every day, but what really pushed me over the edge was when they told me I was going to have to wear a beard net – or, as we in the business call it, a snood. My plan for the last few weeks had been to quit by “accidentally” starting a small fire and panicking and running berserk with the fire extinguisher, but it ended up being pretty anticlimactic. I broke a few dishes and smoked a cigarette in the kitchen, numb and greasy, then crossed the desert and swore up and down I would never look back.
It's one of those things, though, like “I'm never gonna ride a Greyhound again” or “I'm never gonna drink again,” that you can muster all your bruised pride behind, and believe 100%, and then one day you're drunk on a bus, broke, heading back to town for no other reason than you know you can get a shitty job washing dishes for eight bucks an hour, again. You might be willing to dodge a few boulders for a while, even if they make you wear a stupid uniform.
Not that I intended to ever go back to B**nstr**ts, but by the time I traveled heavily enough and sweated out my peace with the universe, by the time I could walk through downtown Asheville without clenched fists and clammy skin, the place was boarded up anyway. Rumor on the street was that the owner had collected a sizable relief fund for Hurricane Katrina victims, promptly sucked it up his nose, and slithered away overnight, beamed aboard the Starship Asshole. Good riddance.
Since then I swore off the business one more time, and it didn't work. Then I told myself to stop trying to swear off of things like this, but that didn't exactly work either. There's probably no moral to the story, except don't piss off the people who make your food, watch out for flying boulders, and don't ever let the Lizard Men catch you.