I’ve got a friend who was once an undertaker. Or an undertaker’s apprentice, maybe; I can never remember. Either way, he’s got the kind of stories that can really derail the mood at a party. I used to work with a woman whose family owned a Christmas tree farm; another guy I know once made a half-day’s wage collecting chickens to be taken to slaughter. Apparently, his job was to walk through an enormous barn, the chickens crowded around his ankles so tightly that he couldn’t move without kicking one or many of them, and to grab as many as he could to throw into the bed of a waiting truck. You’d reach down, he told me, and grab as many by the legs as you could manage in each hand. Their legs would break as you picked them up. The chicken shit was thick in the treads of his boots, the stench of it all so overwhelming that he spent most of that afternoon trying not to vomit. The reason he got a half-day’s wage out of it and not a full one was because he couldn’t last long enough to finish the job—after they took lunch, he sat in the cab of his truck and wouldn’t come out.
Me, I’ve had my fair share of different jobs over the years. Nothing quite as horrific as dealing with dead people or soon-to-be-dead chickens, mind you. And nothing as quaint as farming Christmas trees, either. I’ve washed dishes, I’ve scooped ice cream, I’ve made my rent digging holes. I was a tour guide for a summer, which I loved, and I once got fired from a smoothie shop for correcting the spelling and grammar of the memos on the staff bulletin board in red pen. (I deserved it, honestly; I got paid to blend up fruit, not to be an insufferable pedant.)
The weirdest place I almost worked, though, has got to be Hooters.
This was years ago, now. I was fresh out of school, my degree still warm off the printer and the bill for my student loans sitting in my mailbox, the envelope from the NSLC as inviting as an executioner waving me up onto the gallows. I’d been working as a barista (Italian for “minimum wage job,” probably) and bringing in just enough money keep the heat on when I was in my apartment, and the bartenders paid when I wasn’t. It was time for a change.
I must have found the job listing on Craigslist or Kijiji—although I don’t have any idea why I would have applied for a job at Hooters regardless. I’ve been there two or three times at the behest of friends, and I feel confident in saying: I hate Hooters. And it’s not that I hate it because I’m a feminist or anything, although I am—I hate the food, I hate the decor, I hate the atmosphere. The fact that I also hate the relentless almost-a-strip-joint-but-not-quite pandering of boobies to idiots is just another reason I don’t like it—so sue me. Knowing me, the application was equal parts blanket desperation and irony. I sent off a resume and a polite little cover letter, then moved on to applying for every single other job I could find, I guess. Then I forgot I’d ever done it.
I should clarify: it wasn’t for a job on the floor; I don’t think I would have filled out the tank top the way they’d have wanted me to. The job was for something like “Assistant Assistant Manager”—one of those ambiguous positions so far down the totem pole from any actual importance that I don’t even know what exactly I would have been expected to do.
It was a miracle that I ever got to the hiring stage. When I’d gotten the call inviting me to come in for an interview, I hadn’t checked my call display. At the exact moment the call had come in, I had been in my apartment with my girlfriend and I had been headed upstairs to shower. We were joking that she was going to call me and delay me from hopping into the shower—it was mid-afternoon and I had been procrastinating starting my day for several hours—so when I got to the bathroom and my phone rang, I didn’t even think about it, I just picked up and answered with a goofy HeellloooOOOooooo that made me sound like a Monty Python sketch.
There was silence from the other end of the line for a second, during which I had this horrible, sphincter-tightening realization that I might not be talking to my girlfriend. When they asked for me by name, the voice stuttering just slightly with confusion, that fear was confirmed. I acted extra professional for the rest of the call, hoping that the person phoning might think I’d had a cough drop stuck in my throat when I’d picked up or something. Her name was Tiffany, and she was the General Manager of the Hooters in question. We agreed that I would come in the following week to sit down with her and her Assistant Manager. Once we’d said goodbye, I hung up the phone and slapped myself in the forehead. I was lucky that she hadn’t just ended the call right off the bat.
After I showered and towelled off, I headed back downstairs and told my girlfriend what had happened. She laughed, mostly at the fact that I was interviewing for a position at Hooters. I couldn’t blame her. I wasn’t crazy about the idea myself, but the fact was that the job would have been paying a heck of a lot more than I was making at that point, and I wasn’t in a position to argue. The student loan office didn’t take personal moral victories as currency.
Walking up to the restaurant on the day of the interview, I remember having my hands in the pockets of my jacket and just shaking my head. It was early winter, and the restaurant sat smack in the middle of a cracked and gritty parking lot in an otherwise industrial part of town. The faux-woody cabin look that Hooters has was made stranger by the fact that it was built into the side of a long, low building—one that was entirely grey. The wooden patio and overhang that served as the entrance seemed like it had grown tumorous and uninvited on the brick.
The interview had been scheduled for the middle of a weekday afternoon, so the place was deserted. I stood at the front desk for a while, staring at all the hokey Hooters merchandise they had for sale tacked up on the wall: the cheeky t-shirts, the calendars, the booty shorts—because everyone should be able to live the Hooters dream, not just employees.
One of Hooters’ trademarks is the wood-surfaced interior—the walls and the floors are covered with what seems to be the same type of wood that the tables and chairs are made out of. Cedar, maybe? It’s a light wood, varnished to the point of a shining wetness, with Christmas lights strung up along where the ceiling meets the top of the walls (again, it’s part of their schtick*). In this particular location, though, the wooden veneer only covered five-sixths of the visible surfaces—the ceiling was your run-of-the-mill industrial standard, painted an unobtrusive matte black. It gave the place the air of a movie set, somehow, or one of those open-topped mazes that they always have rats running through in science experiments. I found it eerie.
By the time someone finally sauntered over to bring me in, I was questioning every life decision that I had made up until that moment. I followed the woman who brought me in through the gleaming dining room and over to a table, where I sat down with Tiffany, the General Manager, and Barry, her Assistant GM. The interview did not go well. The job, they told me, would entail supervising the girls on the floor, some minor administrative stuff, and basically just schmoozing with the clientele whenever possible. They asked if I had any experience supervising restaurant staff (at the time, almost none), and if I had ever done scheduling (I asked a former manager about it once; he told me it was easy). Then, they asked me if I followed sports—one significant topic of conversation that I would be expected to expound on over wings was professional football/hockey/basketball/baseball/golf/etc. My ability to wax conversational on sports (or lack thereof) sounded like it was a deal-breaker.
Now, honestly: when it comes to sports, I’m absolutely brutal. I like jogging, but that’s not exactly the type of sport that provides stimulating conversation with strangers. Otherwise, my athletic history is underwhelming, in a word. To illustrate: when I was a kid, I played on a soccer team, and I had the honour of being the only person on the team to score a goal all season. It was on our own net, but we were all so happy about scoring anything that we celebrated anyway (while our coach quietly skipped town, I assume). Since then, I haven’t improved much. I played football for several years, and I spent a season on a rugby team in high school—we’ll just say, politely, that I never won any awards. My interest in professional sports reflects my aptitude for them. I don’t care about baseball, hockey holds my interest for a maximum of eleven minutes at a time, and I would rather eat a handful of dirt than watch a soccer game from start to finish. Despite the fact that I kinda enjoy watching football, I don’t even think I could name all the teams in the CFL, let alone talk about how they’re doing. (FYI: there are, like, eight team in the CFL.) And let’s not get started on the twenty thousand teams in the NFL. That’s just unnecessary.
So when I started to answer their questions about whether or not I knew sports, it would have been obvious to anyone that I knew a grand total of nothing about them. You wouldn’t even have had to speak English to understand that I was way out of my depth. My facial expression betrayed my interior feeling, which was: “okay, just cut me off when you figure out that I shouldn’t be here.”
I left the interview that day both defeated and somehow relieved. It was obvious to me—and, I assumed, everyone else—that I was not the guy who would be assistant-assistant managing that Hooters anytime soon. Back to brewing coffees, I guess.
A few days later, in the afternoon, I got a call. As I remember, I was slightly disoriented, having just woken up. It was Barry, the Assistant General Manager. He told me that they had enjoyed the interview and wanted me to come back for a final interview the next week to sit down with the Hooters Area Manager. I tried not to laugh. Still dazed from waking up, I scribbled down the interview time on a scrap of paper. Then, chuckling to myself in disbelief, I went back to bed.
When I returned to the restaurant for the next interview, I showed up five minutes early for the interview at ten-thirty in the morning. I tried the doors, they were locked. I was confused. Wasn’t I supposed to be in there now? Did someone not show up when they were supposed to? Did I have the wrong day? I stood there for a moment, trying to decide what to do, and then the door opened. It was Barry.
“Hey, man,” he said, a suspicious tone to his voice. “You’re early!”
I laughed politely. I told him I was always early—better to be an hour early than five minutes late, my grandfather had always said. He was still looking at me strangely; I didn’t quite grasp the joke he was trying to make. Then it twigged: he wasn’t making a joke at all—it was ten-thirty, but the interview time was supposed to be twelve-thirty. When I had originally written it down, I was so tired that I had screwed up and written the wrong numbers on the paper, but I suddenly clearly remembered him saying twelve-thirty over the phone. I was two hours early, which made my comment about being an hour early rather than five minutes late make me seem like a neurotic lunatic instead of a responsible job candidate. Great.
Barry found Tiffany, who explained to me, slightly perplexed as she was, that I was a little earlier than they’d anticipated. The Area Manager was there, but they’d need a minute to get their stuff together. I just nodded, trying my best to project myself as a person who could tell time and tie his own shoes. I sat around in the lobby for a while, mentally sighing deeply to myself.
The second portion of the interview went as well as I expected. I had essentially checked out at that point. I wouldn’t have hired me; I assumed they were on the same page. But the interview got weirder and weirder as it went on. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone: every question I answered seemed to light up the faces of Brittany, Barry, and Tiffany. I could do no wrong. They loved me, for some reason. Despite being extremely under-qualified and undeniably a complete dweeb, I was batting a thousand all of a sudden. The interview wrapped up, we shook hands, they told me that I should come back in two hours so that they’d have time to finalize things. As I left, I was elated: I knew I was going to get the job.
I walked to the van, put my key in the door.
I knew I was going to get the job. At Hooters. And I would be there, at the very least, until my student loan was paid. Living with my parents, working as a middle manager, at a Hooters.
I started the van.
I began having vivid flashes of how I saw my life going for the foreseeable future. Girls in booty shorts throwing temper tantrums over their schedules. Trying desperately to convince myself that hot wings were a real food. Interminable forced conversations about sports with middle-aged men over pints of cheap beer. I leaned over the steering wheel and winced. Now what?
By the time the two hours of waiting were over, I had at least talked myself back into being on the fence about the job. I imagined the figures of my student debt writ large over my head in neon—that helped immensely. Maybe they’d turn me down, save me the decision. But maybe I should take it. I couldn’t make up my mind. I needed a sign. Thankfully, I got the most viscerally poignant sign I could have asked for.
I walked down a row of wooden booths to where Barry was already sitting. Tiffany and Brittany would join us momentarily; but until they did, Barry was finishing off the last little bit of paperwork with a new hire. Whoever the new hire was—I never caught her name—she was already decked out in the orange booty shorts and regulation tank top. They’d already worked through most of the forms, I guess—when I drew up to the booth, I heard Barry say, very clearly:
“Okay, now just sign your name on the dotted line… aaaaaand now your life belongs to us.”
Barry laughed self-indulgently. She didn’t, and neither did I, but at least I had made up my mind. The girl left, I sat down, and shortly thereafter, Tiffany and Brittany joined us in the booth. Tiffany pitched me the whole nine yards: two weeks of paid vacation, full benefits, thirty grand a year, etcetera, etcetera. (I also clearly remember her saying that one of the only caveats to the job was that I “couldn’t fuck the girls,” which I thought was very motherly of her.) I waited for her to finish, then told her that I was thankful for the offer, but that I wouldn’t be able to take the job. Something had come up, I said.
Tiffany looked surprised. To her credit, she didn’t even seem upset at how much of her time I had managed to waste. We parted ways cordially, and I felt immensely better as I walked out of there.
Let’s face it, Hooters: we both dodged a bullet that day.
[*For all the shitting on Hooters that I’m doing here, you have to give them one thing: they have a great sense of humour. Don’t believe me? Go take a look at their “saga” on the Original Hooters website: http://www.originalhooters.com/saga/ (I’ll admit it, I laughed.)]