I got my first real job when I was 16, working after school as a waitress in a Greek coffee shop outside Chicago. My friends and I all went looking for jobs at the same time, and all landed similar jobs in similar little restaurants about town. We wore our polyester uniforms proudly.
I was a terrible waitress. I had the unfortunate problem of not being able to distinguish between one table of little old ladies and another. One time I gave the same two ladies the wrong drinks, followed by the wrong meal and topped off with the wrong check. My boss, a handsome but volatile Greek man, fired me on the spot and I ran sobbing to the bathroom. He then stood outside the bathroom and begged me to come out and start working again. So I did, wiping my tears on my sleeve, and carrying trays off to the wrong people once again.
Naturally, I always felt a bit tenuous in the job, never really sure if I would make it from day to day. But I tried my best, with a big smile, lots of apologies and very few tips.
One day, my boss asked me to go down to the basement and fetch some placemats. I scurried to oblige. Descending the rickety wooden steps, I saw Ricky, a greasy-haired, pimply guy maybe five years older than me, sitting across the room peeling potatoes.
"Hola!" I gaily called out.
Ricky and his coworker, Gabriel, had been teaching me little bits of Spanish, like "Hola!" "Como estas" and "Nada." That was about our only form of communication—the rest of the time the two of them just looked leeringly in the direction of the waitresses as we passed by.
Ricky looked up from his pile of potato peels and grinned. "Hola!"
"Do you know where the placemats are?" I asked.
"Placemats?" he responded, walking towards me. "Que?"
"Yes, you know, placemats." I made a square motion with my fingers. "You know. For putting dishes on."
Ricky grabbed me around the waist and started kissing my neck. "Kiss me. Kiss me," he whispered throatily.
"Oh no!" I exclaimed. "Placemats! I need the placemats!" I turned to wriggle out of his grasp and reached for the stair railing. He grabbed my breasts from behind.
"Kiss me! Kiss me!" he repeated. I was scared to death. I grabbed the railing and started trying to haul myself up the steps, but Ricky's hands on my breasts pulled me back. Luckily his hands slipped—the polyester of my uniform coming to the rescue. It's hard to keep a firm grasp on polyester. His hands slid down my uniform to my legs, fortunately encased in nylon. They slipped again and I was free. I dashed up the stairs and burst into the kitchen, where my boss and a few of the other waitresses were hanging about.
"Where are the placemats?" my boss asked, not noticing my flushed face and disheveled appearance. Polyester doesn't dishevel much, actually.
Shit. The placemats. I had forgotten to get them. I looked at my boss, opened my mouth briefly to tell him what had happened, then shut it. I thought how embarrassing it would be to explain what had happened. I didn't even think I could say the word "breast" to him. So I turned around and went back to the basement. Ricky looked up from his spot by the potato peelings, his eyes lighting up like a Christmas tree.
"Placemats!" I yelled, dashing across the room before he could even stand up.
Luckily, I had miraculously divined their location. Thank you, God. I grabbed a bunch and sprinted back to the stairs, before Ricky could even sputter "kiss me."
I made it safely back to the kitchen, handed the placemats to my boss, and went back to work.