I got my first job when I was sixteen. I was old enough to get out there an earn some money with a real job. M-78 Grill decided to give me my first break: A summer job as a car-hop. My memory fails to recall the name of the owners, so I will call them Floyd and Mabel. Hazel was the cook. I thought I knew so much, at sixteen. I was no longer a little girl. Yet, I was still a lot younger than I thought.
Deanna already worked at the William’s Drug Store for a whole year. She made sundaes and sodas and sold people Nickle Cokes and made up special Cherry Cokes, which you couldn’t buy in a bottle back then. A squirt of cherry syrup got mixed into the coke, special at the fountain. Deanna was Cool; everybody liked Deanna. Especially Boys; they all came in and ordered Nickle Cokes, just to be close to Deanna. Half of them were afraid to even say “hi” to her. Sometimes she worked behind the counter. Once an old man about as old as Dad came in and asked for rubbers.
“What size?” Deanna said. They came by the dozen.
“Extra-large, I guess,” the man said to her. Deanna said he was super-embarrassed and flustered when she had to tell him, “I mean how many in the package?” I never knew rubbers came in more than just by the pair, the same as shoes.
“What kind of rubbers come by the dozen?” I asked her when we got into bed that night.
“Honestly, you are so dumb,” she said. “Rubbers are the same as condoms,” and she turned her back on me with a big sigh to let me know I was exasperating. I was Un- Cool. Still, I could figure out what a condom was by looking it up in the World Book Encyclopedia.
Deanna saved up her money for a Cool car of her own and Cool clothes. Once I had a job, I paid Dad 5¢ a mile to drive his car. ’cause I figured I could save money; Deanna had to pay for her own insurance and gas. Well, the car I used was really Mom’s car, but I paid Dad. Mom got a car of her own, when she started taking kids to the City to get allergy shots and to buy bread at the Day-Old bread store. With all those trips, it got to be too much trouble to drive Dad to work, just so Mom could have a car for the day. Besides, by that time, Dad worked a whole lot of overtime, to put bread on the table and shoes on everybody’s feet. It was way too much trouble for Mom to drive him 20 miles to work and back, and then go pick him up again after he finished at all hours of the night.
Mom’s car was old-old, like something from their wedding pictures. “Just one owner,” Dad said. “An old-maid, who only drove it back and forth to church on Sundays.” He puffed out his chest and looked at Mom, like he just found a pirate’s chest full of gold and silver and she was going to smother him with kisses. Come to think of it, that car was probably half the reason Deanna got one of her own. Deanna’s car was a baby-blue Dodge Dart. Cool.
That car had no get-up at all; it only knew how to go as fast as the old spinster drove. Mom fixed that. She punched the gas pedal and sped as fast as all get-out down our road, burning all the carbon off the carburetor. She taught that old Chevy how to roar. Mom knew how to make anyone and anything do what she wanted, just by sheer will-power. I suppose that’s how I got my first job. Mom kept driving me to new places, and telling me to get out and ask for work. By the time the day was over, I had a job.
“Tell them you’re a hard worker and a fast learner,” she said. I guessed that’s what Floyd and Mabel wanted, ’cause Mabel gave a snorty laugh and said I could start on Monday, after school. All summer I worked at The Grill.
Sometimes I rode my bike to work; it was only five miles. Sometimes Mom drove me, and sometimes Deanna gave me a ride in her Dodge Dart. She parked in the last stall, and kept a scarf over her head, scootching way down low, so no one could see her. She told me never to say my name out loud, or ask her if she wanted anything, because she never wanted anything from that pit, and because “hoods” hung out at The Grill. I like those guys, with crazy nicknames: Animal and Killer and Bulldog. Animal was my favorite. He had longish blond hair, swept down over one eye. Animal was cute in a hang-down sort of way, with a crooked nose and a slow smile. Sometimes his eyes seemed a little crooked, too. Still, he had kind, blue eyes that I never had to guess what was behind or underneath. Just the truth.
Mabel was a big round woman. Not round like Grandma C, with delicate fingers and little bird legs and a gentle face framed with wispy curls. Mabel was broad like a football player, with all her bigness stuffed into a hard corset, that squeezed what little softness she had out the top, making her look like she had a two buttock up front, up under her big jowls. Mabel had thick legs and arms, and a big booming voice and dark scowling eyebrows. I had a hard time even seeing Mabel’s eyes. I never met any woman like Mabel. I never even met a man that gruff.
I had my first job. I planned to work hard, prove I was as fast learner, and keep my nose clean. Someday, I would be Cool like Deanna. I did work hard and learn a lot at The Grill. Some of which I’ll tell you about another time. Still, despite my desires, my keen powers of observation, and my trusty Encyclopedia, I never did make it to Cool.