Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Hope you had the Time of Your Life

The knife slices through the flesh, shearing it in half, then again and again as each little chunk tumbles down with a plop into the bucket below me. I pick up another potato. Cut...cut...plop, cut...cut...plop, it is mindless work, but I’m in control. I think about the fact that today I am not a server, I am a cashier. I run over the word in my mind...Cashier. It sounds fancy, better then servant, I mean server. If no one is at the cash, I can simply stand here all day long, mutilating potato after potato for the consumption of the masses. Cut...cut...plop, cut...cut...plop. The muscles at the corners of my mouth twitch in amusement. Today I am given money. I get to take and they have to give. I have the knife, I have the power. I pick up another potato. Cut...cut...plop, cut...cut...plop.

“Hey Megs, I’m going on break so you serve the tables.”


A crazy person might imagine that the particular potato I’m holding is Jan’s face or something. Don’t worry; I’m not a crazy person. I drop the whole potato onto the counter, its fate delayed another 30 minutes.

I round the corner from the kitchen and reach into a cupboard. Grabbing a black waitressing apron, I tie it tightly around my waist. My feeling of power, wielding a knife against defenceless vegetables, taking money from strangers while I stand behind my proud cash box, slowly dissipates as I grab a pen and paper from a large stack, ready to take orders. As I straighten up, pen and paper in hand, four boys appear from behind the front wall and saunter their way to an empty table. They laugh mockingly and slap each other on the back jovially, wrestling over which chair to sit in. They are instantly recognizable; I went to high school with them.

My heart stops beating for what feels like a whole minute and then leaps back to life, erratically thumping in my chest.

“Who cares, it’s just high school, that was years ago” Says my brain.

“CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP!” say the butterflies in my stomach as they flip in the air, dropping down with a whooshing movement that makes me feel ill.

“I don’t care about what stupid high school boys think anymore” My brain strains to reiterate.

“RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN!” Says my pumping blood as it flushes embarrassingly to my face.

I am horrendously aware of the discoloured spots on my shirt, of my dirty sneakers, of my hair hurriedly tucked behind my ears, my makeup free face with red cheeks and blue-ish dark stains under my eyes...the thin glaze of sweat forming on my hands.

I whip around on the spot, pivoting on one foot, the other not even getting the chance to step forward. I march swiftly back into the kitchen without thinking. I look into the dirty reflective mirror that is the back metal wall of the kitchen. I see myself slowly transform. My face becomes rounder, less defined and speckled with red blotches. My hair lengthens in all directions becoming long, thick and frizzy, center parted. My eyebrows thicken and lose their shape; two large caterpillars perched above my eyes. The kitchen around me shifts and changes: the long counters morph into tall rusty lockers, the cooks into loitering students. I am in grade 9. I am in a crowded hallway. Boys laugh and push each other, girls giggle obnoxiously, giddy and chatting. The awkwardness, the insecurity sweeps over me as I make my way up this memory lane. I tug at my ill fitting, ill chosen clothes and stumble my way to where I am going.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath.

I open my eyes. Picking up the potato left abandoned on the counter, I rip into it with a sharp kitchen knife. I am 19 years old. I am in University, I am a grown woman. I am in control of this situation. I take another deep breath and then I laugh. It bubbles up from my throat and pours out in a few quiet giggles. I drop the potato into the bucket.

I am ridiculous.

My reflection again changes. My skin is clear, flushed with embarrassment and shame. My eyes are tired but shining from the laughter. My hair is short and tucked behind my ears, but my face is again defined and my eyebrows tamed and distinguished. I wipe my hands on my apron, grab a paper towel and mop the sweat and kitchen grime from my forehead. I walk around the counters towards the boys reading the menus and talking loudly.

“Hey man, its Meghan!”

“Hey Megs, you work here? That’s sweet! Do you guys have perogies?”

I smile brightly, confidently, over my temporary lapse of high school insecurity...immaturity, “Yeah, we do, did you guys want something to drink to start?”

Later, as I punch their orders into the electronic computer screen, my hand shakes slightly as I hold the pad up to read. I take another deep breath and will the image of the high school hallway far far away.


  1. Wow, this piece sucked me in and wouldn't let go. I definately felt the sluggish tug of the workday, i felt the panic and blood race when the boys entered. I felt the adolescent insecuties of being in high school. You writing has a talent that shames mine.

  2. Meghan, your writing is amazing. I love reading your stuff. Although I've never been a server or a chashier, I wanted to keep reading the first part of the story because it was just so funny. Your writing is so clever and witty.
    Then, during the second part (after the boys came in) I wanted to keep reading because I can totally relate. I've been out of high school for 4 years and I still get that nervous feeling when I see people from high school. Its awkward, so I could completely relate.
    Anyways, on to your writing techniques. An example of the wittiness in your writing: "It sounds fancy, better then servant, I mean server" (Although it should be 'than', not 'then'). This line was so funny, and I ttally got a sense of the tone and voice behind the words. The rest of the opening paragraph seemed so calm and happy, until: "“Hey Megs, I’m going on break so you serve the tables.”
    Damn."... that just brought the tone crashing down and it seemed stressed out and more chaotic.
    And the part where you see yourself transform into your grade 9 self was amazing. You are so imaginative and creative. Great job!

  3. I absolutely loved this piece. I work at McDonalds, so I know the embarassment of serving people you know. It's this amazing mix of panic and insecurity that you capture perfectly. Everytime I read your blog I feel like you are writing about me, which is great. You're writing is very personal but also fantastically relatable.

    The sense of power that comes from chopping the potatoes is a great image. It was violent but not threatening. That image is going to stick with me for so long.

    When you say "I am ridiculous," it's a great example of breaking the rules, and making them work for your writing. That moment of recognition needs to be blunt, and by using a very simple sentence, you accomplish this.

    Thanks again for another great story! :)

  4. This piece is excellent! I particularly liked the beginning, where we get to see some of the more ‘mundane’ details of the job. All those little details were so great; slicing the helpless potatoes, the power that comes with the title cashier, payday being when you can finally take instead of just give. It all really bespoke this sense of loving being in control, if that makes sense. Having worked in public service, I found I really related to the idea of a vaguely disgruntled/dissatisfied employee finding a (somewhat perverse) joy in the little things.

    I also really related to the action of the piece, when you had to face the kids from high school. You really conveyed the sense of irrational and insensible panic that a lot of people feel when confronted with people from what feels like previous lives. Loved it.

    I was reading some of your other entries as well, and they all have the same sort of atmosphere as this one: slice of life single scenes that the readers watch unfold. They’re all really great, and I realize you are writing on a theme, but you are such a good writer that I’d love to see you branch out a bit in terms of writing style. Like maybe something from a different POV, or you could experiment with 3rd person narratives. Just a thought. Either way, can’t wait for the next one.

  5. Meghan,
    This blog was awesome! Your choice of diction was excellent. My favourite part was the conversation/ reactions between your brain and your body. I found a lot of humor throughout the piece but between that dialog especially. Great job!
    Cassie B

  6. In regards to Sarah's comment, I would like to do more then one POV or something, but I don't know how I can justify that as non-fiction still, since i'm only in my own head and all. Any ideas?

    ps. thanks for all the comments!

  7. Hello Meghan!

    Another great post. Everyone can relate to seeing people from the past and wondering what they think of your now. Some great moments were the descriptions of your feeling of power in your new position as cashier and how you were able to seamlessly transition from the present to the past in your flashback. Keep it up, you have some talent!