Some More Blog Housekeeping
When Bad Days Turn Good – Part 1

A TGB READER STORY: Life Lessons at the Lunch Counter

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.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

Comments

Well Barrie, you certainly haven't lost your talent when it comes to sweet treats. I very much enjoyed this look back, I just hope that lousy boss got what was coming to him!

I'm such an introvert that an incident like that would have scarred me for life!

what a beautifully written piece about the lunch counter experience! I could just 'feel' the atmosphere and taste the milk shakes!

Oh, I just know that your sweet old Mr. Pie Guy wondered, even asked what had happened to you, where did you go???? And he also knew something was rotten in Denmark, too. He probably didn't know what a good writer you were going to become, though! Thanks for this bit of your life, I could just feel the atmosphere of that lunch counter. What a horrific scene!
My grocery store boss wasn't nearly as bad when he called me at home, telling me to return, and come to his office right away. He was quite calm as he said, "Ms. Dahl, your drawer is missing five hundred dollars." I immediately remembered that we were told to put any large amount under the money tray, maybe not to incite a robbery? Anyway, he sent someone to get my drawer. Whew! There it was! Thank heavens, because somebody else could have taken it in the 3 or 4 hours that had elapsed, and I would be guilty. Then he said something like, "Well you're a nice young lady, Ms. Dahl, but I've always known your head was in the clouds. We'll have to replace you, you know."
Thanks for your story, Barrie, and the memories it induced.

Such a well-written story! You touched a nerve with this tale of being accused of something for which you were not guilty. This is a fear that has haunted me since childhood. I had dreams of that occurring and I don't know what incident , if anything, might have prompted them but the fear has lingered. Fortunately, I've only had one or two instances I know of where my fear became a reality People do sometimes arrive at erroneous conclusions when they don't have all the facts as your experience so graphically describes.

Your counter boss obviously traded a very diligent and conscientious employee for one who was not so diligent or conscientious! His loss, your gain! I, also, imagine the pie guy did ask for you and wonder what your boss told him. Hopefully, he didn't tell why he let you go, but said something like "she got another, better job!"
Thanks for this memory.
I sometimes wonder if I got dementia, if I would tell personal stories that I don't want my family to know about!

That's what those jobs were for ... to toughen our shells. (I worked at a lunch counter too). I wonder what kids these days are learning from their iPhones?

Great story! I, too, believe apple pie guy surely must have asked about you, or at least wondered. The person I really hope learned a good life lesson here was the young lady who stood by and let you take the fall.

Ha, not nearly as good as yours, but was WT Grant's in Levittown, NY. I was 16 with a part-time job (not Christmas work, school year work). Worked hard, but being a teenager, did goof off a bit. New, young manager, fired three of us for goofing off, saying we were only Christmas employees.. I was tee'd off cause he was just being a jerk. So I figured: I was hired three mos. before Christmas so reapplied three mos. before Easter and was hired again -- same part of the store. Senior Manager told me not to worry about young manager -- ended up working there til I graduated. Guess Grant's had big problems with peter's principle.

Very nice story, thanks

You triggered a memory for me. Similar story but in reverse.
As a teacher I was assigned to the month's decoration of the bulletin board next to the office along with another teacher, a man.
I had the idea, children's books in other languages. I provided the books. I cut out all the letters for the words. All he did was help put them up.
At the teacher's meeting, the principal thanked him for the wonderful display. She didn't mention me. Neither did he. At least I learned a lesson in speaking up for myself.

I love your crisp writing style.

Good one!

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