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Price Checks & Ashtrays This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     “Have a nice day!” I say witha plastic smile. I’ve worked here way too long: morning to night,day after day, the same old whiny customers.

This food israncid.

Our vegetables are fresh. How long did you leave yourfood under the bed before you actually consumed it?

I came inhere two weeks ago and you screwed up my order.

Why didn’tyou call when you first realized?

There’s something in mydrink.

Yeah, your own backwash.

Then there are thoseirrationally rude phone orders:

I want this, this and this.Deliver it to 73 1-Am-Grumpy Lane.

Sir, our delivery car is inthe repair shop and ...

Well, bleep bleep. The jerk slams thereceiver down before I can explain that his food would arrive 10 minuteslater than usual because the delivery boy was walking. His loss; I hopehe chokes on a Happy Meal.

Ugh, should I even waste my breath onall those price-check calls? They name a menu item, I write it down,they ask for the price, I tell them and they hang up without anotherword. I, failing the I-Am-Telepathic test, think that they are realcustomers and pass the order to the cook. He whips it up and I wrap itfor the customer. But they weren’t customers, rather merelycurious, and soon the food is cold and dead. Another mealwasted.

And I hate, hate, HATE the phone calls from Mrs. Snotty.She wants one of those weird dinner entrees and the price. In all myhunting-for-an-unusual-price experiences, I tend to talk to myself toensure the correct total. Mrs. Snotty is in a rush and hangs up as soonas I say “dollars.” The tax! I’m two buttons away fromadding the tax! Twenty minutes later, Mrs. Snotty arrives and growls,“That’s why I asked about the price” when she isforced to dig in her tattered purse for more change.

Ifyou’d waited three seconds longer, Lady, I would have told you thefull price.

Three more people come in. After they order, they getquite comfortable, especially that big guy. He’s leaning againstthe wall, feet propped up and flabby arm dangling over the next booth.When I send the order to the cook, I catch a whiff of tobacco. Great,now they’re all lighting up. No, the Fat One is flicking hisequally fat cigar ashes onto my clean booth next to him. I pick up anashtray and place it on their table. I turn around quickly before Igag.

“Thanks, girl,” the Fat One says, chomping onthe end of his cigar. The other two look relieved as they tap theircigarette ashes into the tray.

When I bring them their orders,the skinny two immediately snuff out their cigarettes and plow into thefood with forks. The Fat One, though, pulls his plate closer and eatslike a crab, except that crabs don’t smoke, are much tidier,slobber less and never leave obscene cigar burns on chairs. I secretlywish the Fat One would turn into a crab. He could feed a family of five,but he would probably have a sick ashy taste to him.

The threefinally go away and take their noxious fumes with them. Problem is, theydidn’t take their mess. Hey, this isn’t some rich franchisewhere four people are hired to clean up nasty messes. I barely even getpaid because this is a family business.

Oh gross, one of themspat into the ashtray. Gross, gross, gross, sick, nasty, nasty, nasty, Ithink I want to -

I stop when I sense a presence behind me. Iturn and my face reddens.

“Hello,” I say, trying toregain an air of professionalism. “How are you today? What wouldyou like to order?”

Oh, man. I can’t believe I did alunatic cleaning dance while chanting the string of icky words in frontof a customer. And those slobs didn’t even leave me atip!

The new customer looks at me strangely, but it’s notpossible to stay sane while putting up with this stuff.

This manpays for his to-go meal with exact change and then pulls out a $50bill.

That’s for you.

What? You mean the whole$50?

He nods. I rub the counterfeit pen over the crisp bill andshine that baby into the light. Oh my, it is the real General Grant! Isuddenly freak out and shove the cash back at him. No way could I takethat much money; I didn’t even do anything to deserveit.

No, no, no that $50 is for you. I used to work at a smallrestaurant just like this and I know that people usually don’t tipwell because the building and the service aren't fancy enough for peopleto care. Some customers can be a real pain, but there are good ones,too. So, just take this money and spend it on something nice foryourself.

He sets General Grant in my palm and folds my fingersover the bill. He plucks the bag of food from my other hand and boltsout the door.

An old man once gave me $20 for carrying a glass ofwater to him. I also panicked, but managed to slip it back into hispocket. Call this an extra-security measure. I really want you to keepthat money.

He leaves the restaurant and I yell after him,“Hey, thanks, Mister. I really appreciate this.” It turnsout the world really isn’t full of jerks and slobs!

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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