The alarm screams. Jolted awake, she curses the clock and flicks the off switch. Her body is heavy. A deep yawn escapes her mouth, which stinks of eau de morning. She really dreads Mondays – the beginning of another monotonous work week. Very few people in this world love going to work. Each day, the thought of money and entertaining coworkers drives her to the restaurant. Most humans thrive on conflict and emotional turmoil. Without it, life might be boring. With recent TV shows such as “The Office,” the workplace presents itself as anything but mundane. Lauren now shares a little peak of her old work-world. Presenting…Reminiscing: “The Kitchen.”
**The following scenes are based on true happenings. Characters’ names as well as the establishment’s name have been changed (except for the author’s)**
Setting: Rafael’s, a small, Swiss Tearoom in a wealthy part of Kansas City
Customers: Rich older ladies in genuine fur coats and pearls, chic housewives, local businessmen
The bosses: Jacqueline, the owner/big boss, 50 years old, and Marcel(kitchen manager), the husband of Jacqueline and also 50
Cooks: Jayme and Lauren, both early twenties
Delivery Driver: Brody, also Jayme’s boyfriend, age 24, resembles Jerry Garcia
Waitresses: Stacy, Erica and Ally – all in early twenties
Scene 1: “Watch what comes out of your mouth.”
Lauren shuffles into work, entering through the backside of the restaurant like she usually does, still yawning. She shrugs off her coat, lays it on the shelf with her purse, grabs an apron, and takes a deep breath. Another day at Rafael’s. Suddenly the back door swings open and Jayme, her favorite coworker, arrives with her boyfriend Brody, both reeking of cigarette smoke. They all grin at each other. At least now their day will be slightly better, having one another for company and support.
“Theo the hamster died last night,” Jayme states solemnly. Lauren had seen this wondrous little creature many times, rolling around their apartment in his special ball.
“A moment of silence for Theo,” Lauren declares. They bow their heads, remembering the rodent fondly. A violent hacking sound from the kitchen brings them back to reality.
“Ready for another fun-filled day?” Lauren asks in a sickening sunshiny voice, pumping her fist in the air.
“You bet,” Jayme rolls her eyes, quickly tying on an apron. Brody snorts in agreement. They all walk down the hallway toward the kitchen. Near the kitchen entrance is a large white sign with thick black letters that reads: “At Rafael’s we do NOT wear birkenstocks. We DO wear pantyhose and appropriate clothing. Keep it classy, Rafael’s.” Brody looks down at his birkenstocks. “Technically I’m the driver, not a part of the actual restaurant staff,” he reassures himself, looking to the girls for confirmation. They nod their heads.
An icy voice interrupts his state of pondering. “Technically you’re still an employee here and you’ll abide by all of our regulations. You’ll need to change your shoes before you come back with the delivery. The pantyhose doesn’t apply to you three, of course.” Jacqueline has now appeared, stopping abruptly in front of Brody, hands on hips. She always appears and vanishes when you least expect it. You can hear Brody swallow.
“No more birkenstocks then,” he nods at her.
“That’s right, and change your pants as well, you look like a hobo.” Another nod from Brody, this one of extreme control. As soon as he turns around his face contorts into a twisted exaggeration of Jacqueline. The girls stifle their laughter.
Upon entering the kitchen, they see their boss Marcel stirring a tall pot furiously on the stove. His face appears grave. “Morning,” he nods curtly.
“Good morning,” the three of them mumble in return, waiting for instructions. It seems Marcel is in one of his usual moods.
“Somebody, I don’t know who, forgot to throw out the leftover bechemel yesterday. I shouldn’t have to remind you,” he snaps, stomping over to the dish pit with a few dirty items. Jayme and Lauren exchange squinty-eyed looks. They had asked Marcel before leaving yesterday what they should do with the leftover white sauce – “Leave it for me, I’ll decide if we should keep it,” he had said. But what was the use of telling him that, for these kind of accusations happen on a near-daily basis with Marcel, who never takes the blame for anything. After all, he is the boss, and they are the peons. If there is nothing to complain about, he isn’t content. Brody gives the girls a sympathetic look before leaving to pick up pastries from the other shop downtown.
The girls begin their usual routine – chopping, dicing, stirring, and prepping for the day’s lunch. The kitchen is silent and serious. The girls know if they joke around, talk, or even smile, Marcel will think they aren’t working as hard as they can. By 10am, every worker in the restaurant has arrived. Lunch service will begin at 11am.
At 10:30, the big boss herself whisks into the kitchen and calls for them to come to the tearoom immediately for a short meeting. Jacqueline is a plain lady with short, dark hair which curls perfectly under her chin. She never wears makeup or bold fashion choices. Extremely petite and bony, her demanding personality makes up for her weak appearance. All the employees gather around the coffee bar in the tearoom, with curious faces. Some of them have been here between two and five years and have never been to any “meeting.”
Jacqueline’s tone is sharp and cold. “We have noticed lately that not everyone is saying “Good Morning” when they first arrive. If Rafael were still alive, he would have a fit. It’s rude to not acknowledge anyone when you enter the building. You must say “Good Morning” when you walk in, loud and clear. We don’t want to hear sarcasm or mumbles, we want a friendly, enthusiastic “Good Morning.” It’s the way Rafael always did it and we’re going to keep it that way. No bad attitudes. If you’re not a morning person, then fake it.” Her eyes scan the room, searching for any sign of defiance. Marcel stands by his wife, arms crossed, ready to enforce the new rules should anyone care to disagree. She continues, “Also we are tired of hearing innapropriate language around here. Today at Rafael’s we are starting a swear jar.”
Snickers scatter around the tearoom. Ally is notorious for calling everyone a “douche-face,” and frequently terms Jayme and Lauren as the “kitchen whores.” Other favorite phrases include “ass-clown,” “you fuckers” and “this stupid old bitch who came in for lunch.”
Jacqueline glares. “Every time you use a bad word, you must place a quarter in the jar by the fax machine. The money will go to charity when the jar is full.” Jayme and Lauren chuckle. Lauren looks at Jayme and whispers, “I feel like giving to charity today, how about you?”
Later that afternoon, the restaurant is hopping with customers. The kitchen has become a little pocket of hell – steam, fire and scorching, bubbling pots of sauce that resemble magma. Jayme, Lauren and Marcel whip around the kitchen rapidly, hands flying around like that of an octopus on speed. Jayme’s face is matted with sweat, her curls plastered to her skin. Lauren’s apron looks like a tomato has thrown up on it, and Marcel’s head is hairless, but shiny from all the grease. Suddenly he shrieks, “FUCK!” and yanks his hand back from the stove. He has touched a panhandle that has been too close to a flame.
“That’ll be one quarter, Marcel!” Jayme chirps, smiling with glee. He jerks his head around at her, ready to snarl a retort, but instead frowns and stalks off to the ice machine to find some relief.
Scene 2: “Heat of the Moment”
Once again, the kitchen is ablaze with activity. Lauren and Jayme are serving out, while Marcel is prepping in the back for tomorrow’s lunch. Suddenly his wife Jacqueline whisks into the kitchen. Her “filth radar” activates as she spies some wilted lettuce leafs on the floor. In a huff, she grabs the broom nearby and starts sweeping them up.
“What are you doing?” Marcel shrieks, clearly irritated that she has trespassed his territory. She belongs to the candy case and tearoom area up front.
“What does it look like I’m doing? Cleaning up your mess.” She sweeps furiously now.
“Give me that broom!” He attempts to snatch it out of her hands. Jayme and Lauren have turned around to watch at this point, along with Stacy the waitress, who came in to take clean dishes. Marcel and Jacqueline yank the broom back and forth, tug-of-war style. Marcel finally pulls the broom free of her grip, but the handle jabs her in the eye.
“Ohhhh!” Jacqueline’s face scrunches into the nastiest of scowls, and she punches Marcel in the back. The other kitchen workers gawk at this curious scuffle.
“Get out of my kitchen, now!” Marcel screams, raising his fist at Jacqueline. She turns on her heels and stalks out. Marcel hurls the broom after her, barely missing her ankles. The broom clatters to the floor and Marcel turns to face the kitchen workers, glaring with the seriousness of a school principal. Nobody knows how to react. Lauren thinks about smiling, but that might be a death wish. Jayme pretends to be interested in the meat thermometer. Ally continues to gather clean dishes, avoiding Marcel’s gaze at all costs.
“Women.” Marcel twists his mouth into a demented grin, and makes a beeline for the office.
Yes, the workplace, although hated by many, becomes a source of entertainment for all. Of course, not all businesses are like Rafael’s, but drama exists anywhere you place more than one person together. Exhausted from cleaning and dragging heavy mats outside to be hosed off, Lauren trudges out to her car. She realizes that, even through all the bullcrap, she should be grateful she even has a job and has kept hers for nearly three years. Even though she feels like a prisoner of hell, she knows that one day she’ll write her way out of the kitchen and into her own office where freedom of speech exists, where she doesn’t have to say “Good morning” unless she means it, or witness grownups fighting over fallen lettuce leaves.
**Special Note** The author has now escaped that hideous pocket of hell known as Rafael’s – her writing took her to another better place, where she has been working for over 6 months now.