I want to preface this entry with this: When I was growing up, me, just little old Maureen Costello, the 6th of 8 kids, never imagined what I’d be like at age 23. I never imagined how high school would end or what one dreary day in the middle of October, six months after college was finally over, would be like. Or for that fact of the matter, any of those odd ages that run past you, the ones you’re never thinking about when you’re staring through a fog tinged school bus window. For the whole of my life, I’ve always imagined something a little more glamorous, and maybe there is that part of me, that tiny little bald headed girl, that is still insisting that she will grow up to be a Queen, not a princess because why not go for the big to-do, or that A-list movie star basking in the glow of the cameras that hum and click all around her. There is that small part of me that thinks I deserve a little bit better, but that part of me realized that after 5 years and a college degree, I was still standing behind the same bar, in the same restaurant, with the same customers, and for once it didn’t feel right.
I was a few months shy of turning 18 when I first started working at the Porterhouse as a bus girl. At the time, a newly minted senior in high school, I was most likely the only one in my class working two different jobs. One taking orders and making pizzas at Genaurdi’s and two, my newest occupation, clearing tables and keeping my head down. I was painfully shy, and avoided working in a restaurant for as long as I could. My older sister, who was bartending at the time, got me the job. She insisted that it would be “better pay” than what I was making behind the counters of pizza shop, and that they needed a new busser. So I obliged, because at the time I looked up to my sister Marianne, I still do, but back then I idolized her. I have two older sisters, and one younger. Growing up, I was the black sheep, not only of the family but of all the black sheep, I was the one the farmer should have just put down. I grew up with a lot of anxiety disorders. I worried, I dreaded, I counted numbers, tapped my fingers, bit my nails, and more notably, pulled my hair. I pulled so much, my mom shaved my head when I was 12, and the word around the street was that I had cancer, because that would be a more normal explanation. I didn’t correct people when they said it either, just sort of nodded once, turned and walked away. I got used to that motion.
My oldest sister Angela was a bit of perfectionist. She was smart, motivated, did well in school and was if anything the apple of my parents’ eyes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, its just that I was the opposite. Marianne, my second oldest sister, was different. She was artsy, understanding, she was cool. She was never the best student in school, and she’ll admit that, but then again none of us were. Marianne would leave to meet up with friends, wearing all the dazzling makeup and primped perfect hair, and as I watched her leave through the windows and jump in the backseat of her friend’s car, I wished that someday I could be just a little bit like that.
By the time I was 18 and starting at the Porterhouse I had my hair back. People began to forget about the little cancer girl and my life was taking on a more normal path, though deep down, I was still that shy girl, afraid that someone would find out my embarrassing secrets. That I would walk in and there would be my mom standing front of a stool with a brush in hand saying, “Come’on Maureen. It’s time to check your hair” while the rest of the restaurant, school, and my siblings would stand around and observe like some sort of medical symposium. But this isn’t a story about me feeling self conscious, its about the first time I stepped in to a restaurant and how I came to find myself there 5 years later.
There was a banquet in the upstairs dining room on my first training day. I walked in wearing my black pants and a worn out work shirt with the Porterhouse emblem stitched into the center that my sister had lent me. Brittany, the boss’ daughter and fellow busser, was training me for the day and as I walked up to meet her, arm already outstretched in order to give a sweaty nervous handshake, our brief encounter was interrupted by the heads of the party that reserved the dining room. “We’ve got hats!” I looked over and smiled at these two women, Jane and Diane, who would later become two of the most influential people I’ve met through the Porterhouse. They were holding a quarterly business meeting for their employees, and handing out hats with cash tucked in the sides to the waiters and waitresses, and now the bus staff. I think a part of me was more excited for the free hat. I put the hat on and tucked all my self consciousness away into the tight seams of that bright white hat. I followed Brittany downstairs into the kitchen, which was a lot brighter than both the upstairs and downstairs dining rooms. The kitchen, no matter what time of the day, always had this strange glow about it, and that day the first time I ever entered the back of the house, it was like walking into a spot light.
I kept my head down and followed her past the front of the line, trying to not look like the shy intimated teen I was. “Hey, I know you.” I looked up and there he was, finally a familiar face, besides my sister of course. Matt Deitch, food runner extraordinare. “You were in my math class last year.” I looked up and smiled, “Yeah I remember, you sat on the other side of the room.” He looked back at me and let out a quite laugh, “You don’t say much, do you?” Trying to find out where Brittany went, I looked around the room a couples times until I spotted her matching white hat. I looked back at Deitch and just shrugged my shoulders, “Guess not.”
After that, my first working day I came in as scheduled at 4 o’clock. I was nervous as usual, trying to remember the ins and outs of bussing that I had learned through my training days. Would I remember how to set a table? Do I know where all the plates are? How many forks go on the table and where do they go? All of these things I was instantaneously thinking to myself as I pulled my bright blue cavalier into the gravel lot. I walked in, still wearing the black pants, and worn out t-shirt, hoping to get a brand new one of my own, when I noticed my first dirty table. I clocked in and remembered my steps. I wandered over to the table and started to pick up the plates and silverware that were spread across the tan linen. And just like that I heard chaos looming from the other end of the bar. The bartender at the time Julie, at the end of a hectic shift and at the end of her own string, handed in her papers, and quit. I looked up for a second, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I didn’t really understand the situation, or why she seemed so angry. I kept my head down and continued to clear my little table in the corner. A minute later she was headed in my direction. She tossed a five on the small table and said thanks. I looked over at her standing there with her bags and jacket in hand, teary eyed and frustrated. I said, “but I didn’t do–“, and she just turned left and said “Keep it.” Five years later, and now I can see the irony in that situation.
Up next: Pt. 2, The end as we know it; My last day and going out with a bang.