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Minimum Wage and the Limonette Mystique

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Previously ……… The starting point: The Unemployment Chronicles, Vol. 1

—  Vol. 6  —

How would you make a lemon drop if you weren’t using fresh juice?

I started bartending part-time and I’m using Absolut Citron, the only lemon vodka we have. Plus triple sec and sour mix. I haven’t made one professionally, came close but the customer changed their mind. Pissed me off, was hoping that was my moment.

Add simple syrup. Yes? No?

I’ve been having nightmares — asked to make drinks that don’t exist. Had one a few nights ago where a drink ticket printed, I grabbed it and read: “LIMONETTE MYSTIQUE.”

Woke up in a sweat.


My first thought is this is something you might enjoy at a Cirque du Soleil show. The mystique is I have no fucking idea what it is and the overdone French only punctuated the panic. This is my brain.

Ever since, I’ve forgotten how to make a lemon drop. Under oath, I couldn’t tell you what goes in it. My mind quizzes ingredients: lemon vodka, something else and I don’t know, maybe fear? Some portion of my mind is unable to name the parts, can’t make the connection with any drink. Gin and tonic? I’m stumped.

Lemon Drop: sugar that rim and all else works out. Citron, triple and sour (shot of regular lemonade from the restaurant if you can) then squeeze a lemon wedge in there.

From my experience, ladies like it sweeter. If a guy orders one, he’s gay. Whether or not he knows it, he’s gay — but don’t tell him that … lay heavy on the citron and get ready for a better tip than those other fine bitches you’ve spent the whole night trying to please.

Life is cruel that way.

A man orders an appletini, sorry but I’m more offended if he asks for Woodford Reserve with Diet Coke. I’ve learned to smile and nod, even though orders like that silently kill me.

BTW, the other bartending job never materialized after the first shift. I called back the next week, nothing. Called the bartender who suggested I come in (turns out he’s the bar manager) the following week, nothing. Stopped in a week later, the GM wasn’t there so I left a note for him to call me, nothing.

I knew the GM was an idiot from the start, what type of moron takes on a new bartender and has him shadow a waitress all night? He wants me to learn the menu, I get that. Have me shadow him as he expedites food. Let me observe plates as they exit the kitchen.

lemon-drop-martiniR (2)Instead, I follow a waitress on half-price burger night take burger order after burger order. I learned NOTHING. Going in, I had a rich knowledge and understanding of what burgers look like. Total waste of everyone’s time.

So I called this week and spoke with the guy, he says he never got any of my messages. THAT is the problem, I told him. Professionalism starts at the top. If he felt, as he said, I wasn’t a good fit (because I insisted on not being a waiter — Seriously? THAT’S BECAUSE YOU HIRED ME TO TEND BAR, FUCK FACE), then tell me that night. Nip this shit in the bud.

He said he told the bar manager to call me so it was his fault, and I reminded him that’s STILL his responsibility. At that point, I let a laundry list of grievances fly. I told him his waitstaff was the laziest and most inattentive I’ve ever witnessed and he took it personally, asked if I was digging at him. I was, then elaborated.

I’ve talked with too many people who were hired in the hopes of bartending and were still waiting tables two years later. I wasn’t doing it and am glad I stood up for myself. I truthfully never wanted the gig but don’t return my calls for four weeks and I get spirited.

I tell him, just put a check in the mail for the hours I worked and we’ll be done with it. He says they normally don’t pay for shadow shifts. Um … what??

HIM: It’s a time when both parties get a feel for each other and only after that do they start salary.

ME: I can call Raleigh and they’ll say you’re in violation of the law.

HIM: I never said I didn’t intend to pay you.

ME: That’s exactly what you said.

HIM: Come in and fill out the tax forms.

He was really put off that I’d want to be paid for the 3+ hours I worked. Sorry, that’s federal minimum wage law. I’m sure he was just being vindictive but fuck him — I’m reporting him to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Jules thinks it’s a mistake, I should let it go. Truth is I’m not the asshole, he‘s the asshole. I know I’ll get my $20 but apparently he’s not paying other people, so he said in those exact words. That’s bullshit. Any reputable employer should be thrilled that I kept this guy legit.

Whether he’s paying minimum wage or not — something he needs to discuss with people who’s job is to keep employers honest. I’ve NEVER worked a training shift and not gotten paid. Whatever this doofus is thinking, it’s flawed. Maybe that’s why his Yelp reviews reveal horrible service and tons of reasons to choose another restaurant.

These restaurants use “bartending” as the carrot to get perspectives in the door.

Last place I worked did that to me and I took the bait, then realized there was no fucking way I could be on the floor. The problem I’m finding here is that you can’t get a bartending job without waiting tables first. A place like The Yard House has 45 servers lined up for that next opening. They’d be happy to train me to manage but it’s literally a 60-hour a week job at $45,000.

I did some serious research on the highest paying top 10 jobs with an associates degree thinking I may give that a try. Air traffic controller was the top, with starting pay at $115,000 a year. Unfortunately, FAA won’t train anyone under 30. The other top 10 had starting pay between 60-80 grand. I was enthusiastic and started looking up schools for various programs that interested me, but they were far and few between and some were vague offering a “similar degree” or a “certificate” while other schools were offering the actual degree for $20,000 a year.

Still I continued to research and then it dawned on me, why not see how many jobs in these perspective fields are listed and available. Answer? I found TWO in the entire state of California. Not good enough odds. Deflated, I stopped wasting time and shut that idea down.

I inquired about personal training at some of these larger establishments: “LA Fitness,” “24-Hour Fitness,” and they pay … get this … $12.50 an hour. I was making $45 an hour in NYC in 1995. Even when I moved to LA and was training for the Sports Club I was making $20. I quit that because restaurant hours were more consistent and I didn’t have to drive to Santa Monica at 4 AM and then wait half the day for another session in the afternoon.

I looked into teaching acting at several community colleges. They put you in a pool and if you’re hired they pay $20 an hour for 2-3 hour long classes a week. Sixty bucks a week isn’t going to cut it … given I’d even make it out of the “pool.”

Three weeks later …

Finally crossed my lemon drop hurdle and now I can conquer the world. This drink has been my Kryptonite. The ticket came up last night and I blank AGAIN, lemon vodka, sour mix and … hmm, could be just about anything. Not sure what else goes in — oh yeah, triple sec. Made it, squeezed a lemon and dropped it in, then tried it. Not bad. Sweet enough with the sour mix. The monkey’s off my back.

Felt good about it and moved forward. I didn’t immediately see who ordered it, someone somewhere in the restaurant. Hoped they enjoyed my struggle.

checkAbout five minutes later, happened to glance across the floor and saw a clean-cut guy with the arms of his sweater wrapped around his neck. Sitting directly in front of him, a lemon drop martini. Good call.

Went back to the other restaurant today and it pisses me off that this douchebag GM dragged this out, total asshole. The place is out of my way but when I’m in the area I stop in — three times so far. Need to go back a fourth to finally get the check.

It so happened that on visit #3, the manager on duty is VP of the company. I told him the situation and how his GM threatened to not pay me for the shift. He wasn’t impressed, promised he’d look into it immediately and stressed that it’s a non-issue to him. “Me too,” I said, “don’t know why it turned out to be one. But eight weeks later, I’m still waiting.”

I made sure to mention that someone at the U.S. Dept of Labor gave me her direct number, if I needed to escalate my claim. What he doesn’t know, the direct number leads to another answering machine she never responds to either. The lack of enthusiasm from a government caseworker, almost as if I was doing them a favor by not involving them.

All that for $25.17, but it was never about the money. I just worry who else this guy isn’t paying.

To be continued (link below) …

  • Restaurant jobs make up just under a tenth of total US non-farm jobs, but they accounted for more than a fifth of the jobs created in May 2013. The headline numbers for the May jobs report are about what you’d expect for an economy stuck in 2% growth mode: 175,000 net new jobs, unemployment rate ticking up to 7.6%. Job growth was again narrowly concentrated with restaurant, retail and temporary employment accounting for more than half of the new jobs created. “Job growth reported in these sectors is more an indication of the weakness of the labor market than the type of jobs being generated by the economy.” — Waiter and waitress nation: The May payrolls report shows the US creating jobs, just not many good ones

ARCHIVES: Follow The Unemployment Chronicles.

Next chapter: Vol. 7 — [coming soon]

© 2013, Soapy Johnson. All rights reserved.

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