Jana: In high school, I was lucky to be employed. First, I worked at a doctor’s office. There, I filed things, listened to office gossip, and was paid $10 an hour, under the table! But when fall came I gave up that incredibly sweet job for my true love, soccer (I hated soccer). And then when the season was over, I found myself without the hourly rate I’d grown so accustomed to. I needed something else. Something BETTER.
Luckily for me, my best friend, Nell, worked at the local bakery, Ye Olde Bake Shoppe. The Bake Shoppe was just one block away from the high school, across from the grocery store. They sold cakes and cupcakes and blueberry boats and eclairs – even cannoli. The shoppe was owned by an old Italian couple, whom I shall call Peter and Martha. Peter was generally grumpy and racist. Martha was generally sweet and apologetic. It was the classic family-owned joint!
First, let me tell you a bit about Peter, the man. Peter never learned my name. I know this because a customer once requested a cake for “Jenny”, and Peter’s response was: “Hey look, someone asked fer your name!”. I NODDED, so he of course still believes that my name is Jenny. Peter was racist, which we knew because when one of our good friends came in, an asian person, he requested that we ask him not to come around anymore. “Bad for business, those people,” he said. WE NODDED, because we knew how to stand up for what was right. And, when a vendor tried to sell Peter a new drink, something called Vitamin Water, to keep in the cold drinks case, Peter ran him out. “Mark my words,” he said to us. “That’s goin nowhere.” We, of course, nodded.
Now, when I entered into the bakery picture, Nell had already been there for a few months, and Peter was QUITE taken with her. He trained me on frosting cupcakes, saying, “Have you seen Nell frost? That girl really has somethin, I’m tellin ya”. I silently nodded and tried my hardest to make a swirl at the top of the cupcake. I could tell by the look on Peter’s face that the swirl was passable, but disappointing; this assumption was later confirmed when Nell received a 50 cent raise, while I toiled at $6/hour for the entirety of my career there.
Still, I worked there for over two years – we both did. One thing we came to learn was that the “day old” baked good table actually consisted of baked goods that were at LEAST a week old. We quickly learned to lie about this to customers on a daily basis. Lying was a major part of the job. For example:
Customer: Excuse me, is this coffee fresh?
Me (huge smile): Sure is!
Customer (pumps coffee pot): Um, it’s actually empty.
Or, sometimes customers would come in to pick up a cake when Peter and Martha were out, and Nell and I, alone, would have to take the reigns and write the message – something like “Happy Birthday Emily”. Not so hard, you’d think, except that we were actually terrible at this. Our solution was to take the cake in the back of the store, do what we had to do, and then shove it into a box and tape it shut. Usually, the customer would request to see the cake, and sometimes we could get away with saying the box was already taped up. But with persistent customers, we just fuckin opened that shit up and then endured the horrible moment when the person saw the cake: WE BOTH KNEW, them and us, that something horrible had happened. But no one said anything. They paid. We cursed ourselves. It was over.
As the years went on and Peter and Martha began to begrudgingly trust me, I spent huge amounts of my alone time in the bakery, and I passed the time by writing notes to myself (I called it my “bakery journal”). I recently came across these notes, and I will share one with you:
Catherine: Little Jana, civil rights activist. Enacting change one docile nod at a time.