By Barrie N. Levine who blogs at “Into the 70s – 72 is the New 72”
When mid-summer rolls around, I remember the year – 1963 - that I was summarily fired from my summer job. Not fair!
I had just completed my freshman year and needed to earn expense money for the fall semester. I was thrilled to get hired at the five-and-dime lunch counter in my New Jersey hometown.
I proudly wore my starched yellow uniform with the white apron, designating me as part of something important, in this case a variety store with a name recognized throughout the country. Not Woolworth’s, but close [W. T. Grant & Company].
I learned how to make malted milkshakes, ice cream sodas, floats, sundaes and banana splits. Now I was a grownup, privy to the mysteries of creating soda fountain drinks. I took my responsibilities seriously - when I wiped down the counter, it was spotless to welcome my next customer.
I acquired several regulars. An older man, a fatherly type with horn-rimmed glasses, ordered an apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream every day. When he situated himself on the red vinyl swivel seat, I brought over his pie and coffee without asking. He always left five cents for a tip under the cup and saucer.
I enjoyed my new community of co-workers and loyal customers, and the ebb and flow of the day - breakfast rush hour, slow mid-morning, quick turnover of office and retail employees at their thirty minute lunches, kids and their mothers ordering soda fountain treats after school, then closing down at four with the rest of the evening free to hang out with my friends.
Another girl was hired but she wasn’t as conscientious in her duties. She was a permanent hire whereas I was there temporarily, the college girl passing through on the way to her future.
I saw her insert the malted milk canister into the spinner - but apparently not far enough. It flew off the spike and hurtled into mid-air like a missile off course. Fortunately, it landed on the floor, but not before ejecting strawberry malted all over the place, including on my yellow uniform.
My boss, enraged, walked up to me and shouted, “Miss Weiner, did you do that?”
I denied it and tried to explain but he didn’t listen, much less believe me. Didn’t my reputation for perfect attendance and proficiency make a difference?
The strawberry malted dripping off my uniform convinced him of my guilt. The new girl - whose uniform was spotless because she was behind the line of fire - stood silent while I took the fall.
My boss ordered, “Turn in your uniform and don’t come back.”
I stammered, “But, but, I wore my uniform to work today...“
“Okay, then get it back here first thing tomorrow morning if you want your tips for the week.”
I held back tears. The entire incident - from disaster to dismissal - happened within all of five minutes.
I waited at the bus stop in my yellow outfit covered with pink streaks stunned at the injustice meted out to me. The stains didn’t come out in the wash and I expected my boss to dock my pay for the damage. But I kept the name tag - really, who else named Barrie would they need it for?
The public humiliation I experienced burned for weeks. By then, it was too late in the summer to find another job.
In September, I returned to college and moved on with my life armed with a tougher shell and slightly more prepared for the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” I continued my food service line of employment working in the college dining hall, learning to carry five hot meals balanced on my left arm.
But nothing - not even the life lesson at the lunch counter - prepared me for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November.
Still, I’ve always wondered if Apple Pie Guy cared enough to ask anyone why I was suddenly gone.
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