Monday, April 9, 2012


     For some reason this weekend I was telling people how I used to work in the University of Michigan, Mary Markley dormitory cafeteria.  I had several shifts at the cafeteria.  First, the 6am to 10am breakfast shift.  That insanely early shift required setting up the milk and orange juice dispensers, which I often messed up and spilled all over the linoleum, which I then had to mop up.  Then I'd sit at the front of the cafeteria and swipe students' meal cards.
     I most often worked the lunch shift.  I'd stand in the middle of the cafeteria and help my fellow students make their sandwiches.  I'd let them choose their type of bread, meat and cheese and would place each item on their plates with my gloved hands.
     The dinner shift was the worst.  It was busy and I was a runner, which meant I had to replace empty trays of foods that were sitting in pools of scalding hot water in these huge metals tubs.  The stupid dinner shift lead me to several wrist burns, which made it look like I'd been trying to use a razor blade to slit my wrists.  I graduated college in 1998 and the scars of my wrists from those hot, metal trays have finally faded.  The best part (NOT) about all of this work in the cafeteria was that each and every shift required me to wear a hair net.  Just picture it, a curly haired curl in a hair net, talk about afro city.
     One time after my lunch shift I was in such a rush to get to class I forgot to take of my hairnet.  I walked to class and attended class wearing a hair net.  Now that's just plain embarrassing.  I only realized my fashion faux paux as I was walking back to my dorm.  The horror.
     Working in the cafeteria was a work study job and I got paid minimum wage or a little bit more.  Who can remember.  This equated to about $37 to $40 per pay check, which doesn't sound like a lot, but in 1994-95 era Ann Arbor it was.  It was my pizza money, my weekend beer money, my money for snacks at the football or basketball game, my money for the movies, my bus money to go to the mall, and sadly my laundry money.
     My college boyfriend was a junior when I was a freshman.  He had a car.  He'd drive me to the University building where I showed my student id and picked up my paycheck.  He'd wait in the car with his hazards flashing on State Street while I raced to get my check.  Then he'd drive me to the bank so I could cash it.  It was a great system.
     His dad on the other hand sent him cash money wrapped in aluminum foil and mailed via regular US mail in a plain white envelope.  It was the most fun to see how much his dad had sent that week or month as we peeled back the wrinkled foil.  I'd never met anyone who'd send that much cash in the mail, but his dad did and no checks ever went missing.  It must have been that aluminum foil--no one had any idea there were hundred dollar bills wrapped in it.
     Working in the cafeteria wasn't sexy or glamourous, but I did meet nice people.  My sophomore year I was a waitress in the all-girls dorm even though I myself didn't live there.  I had to wear a black and white uniform to serve those girls, but I did it because waitresses got to eat for free and that was a double payoff for me--getting a paycheck and free food.  By my junior year I'd given up food service jobs and worked in the foreign language lab selling Spanish and French lesson tapes to students.  The perks of that job--when it was slow I got to do my homework.  Oh and one year I was a T.A. for a freshman English class.  I'd hold office hours at night and remember falling asleep on the couch waiting for students to show up and ask questions.  They rarely came.  And that's the job I recommend most--to get paid for taking a nap.  Pure genius.

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