Located about a mile or so from the house where I grew up, Pierce Plaza is a boring brown strip mall in the outer suburbs of Riverside, and when I was a sophomore in high school located there was the OK Corral Steak House. A senior, Tony, who lived around the corner from me but who I had never met until we had Spanish class together was a cook there, and he got me a job doing dishes there on Friday and Saturday nights. That was my first job.
I had been to the restaurant once before to see a friend, when it was owned in a partnership by his step-father. Later on, when I told this step-father I was working there, I got an impassioned rant about the evilness of his former partner, who now ran the place on his own. Although this guy was now my boss, I never actually had any conversations with him for the entire couple months I worked there. I just dealt with Tony.
The restaurant had certainly seem better days, well, if it ever even had better days. Business was so slow they didn’t need a dishwasher during the week, the cooks (Tony or the owner) did the dishes as well. But Tony had convinced the boss to at least get one for the weekends. So there I was.
Tony and I sat around most of the time. One of the weekend nights, however, the place would get jumping. The restaurant had a stage and a bar, and the place had their one night a week that would fill up. The bands that played were all cover bands with the musical stylings and fashion sense of the early eighties, with the added ugliness of being in a sad club in the middle of hell. Men with perm mullets and pink bandanas, stuff like that.
But nobody ate anything. Sure, there would be a few steaks early in the evening, but most people were there to look for Mr. Goodbar and perhaps try to forget their existence for a few hours. I would just sit in the back by the machine. And whenever whichever band was playing would take a break, there would be a succession of band members and others that would make their way back to where I was and into the employee bathroom, a few at a time.
I was such a naïve little kid, still going to the Kingdom Hall
, that I had no idea what they were doing. They would come out of the bathroom with their wannabe rock star look and I would be staring at them. They’d give me a nod and get back on stage. When I told Tony about it, he laughed and let me know, wise senior to inexperienced sophomore. That I know of, that was my first exposure to anything like that.
The job didn’t last very long, as it was apparent they didn’t need a dishwasher even on party night. Afterward, there were three main teen career paths I could have taken, retail, restaurant, or construction. After a detour working on a neighbor’s jojoba farm, I ended up working almost exclusively in the food service industry until I graduated from college at thirty.
And by then, I’d hung out in plenty of bathrooms during my breaks.