替傑夫洗盤子

一份速食店的工作,讓我遇到人生最初、也是最好的導師
Danial Adkison◎撰 from the New York Times

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Illustration by Joe McKendry (Adkison)

改變我們人生的人可說形形色色:有的在講台上寫黑板;有的一身運動服;有的穿西裝打領帶。而我的那位,也打領帶,上頭還有「必勝客」商標。

我進入必勝客工作是一九八九年十二月的事。當時我剛上高中,家住科羅拉多州西部一個小鎮,鎮上家長多鼓勵青少年利用課餘和週末的時間到服務業打工,好避免我們惹事生非。打工對我還有一個好處,就是可以不必回家。我幾乎由母親一手撫養長大,從沒見過父親,我和弟弟、妹妹經歷過一個又一個的繼父,而我和那些男人總是關係緊張,我也老是找理由不回家。

那家必勝客是間老店,後頭擺着的不是洗碗機,而是三座巨大水槽,一個用來盛肥皂水,一個用來清洗,另一個用來消毒。每次我把消毒藥片投入熱水中,都會被嗆得直咳嗽。所有新進員工都得從洗盤子、清理餐桌開始做起;如果夠認真,就能學習做披薩、切披薩、用木鏟子上菜,和接受顧客點餐。

我上工的頭一晚,用餐時間一開始,碗盤便堆積如山:盤子、金屬餐具、杯子,和烏黑油膩的厚片披薩烤鍋都得放在滾燙的熱水裏,用大量清潔劑拚命刷洗才會乾淨。我的動作跟不上,碗盤從四面八方湧來,每回我才剛清掉一些,就被叫到前場去幫忙清理餐桌,然後又帶着一盆盆更多的髒碗盤回來。

在家裏我最討厭的家事就是洗碗。這股厭惡感從幾年前就開始累積,全拜我媽當時的男友所賜。他會一邊坐在沙發上抽菸,一邊要我把烤盤上的鐵氟龍刷掉,只因他以為那是油垢。那個男友後來走掉了,但接替他位置的另有一堆不同的毛病。

那天,我在披薩店的班應該上到晚上九點,可是當我要求下班時,店長傑夫卻搖頭說:「工作做完才能走。走之前,工作區要收拾乾淨。」我很火大,想不幹了,但還是繼續刷拭、沖洗、消毒,一直忙到十點過後。

我一連洗了好幾個星期的碗。每回一到班,看到班表上自己的名字被寫在洗碗那欄,心就往下一沉。上班時,我一直站在水槽後方,油膩的水濺得渾身都是;下班後,身上紅白格子繫扣襯衫和灰色聚酯纖維長褲散發出洋蔥、橄欖和油脂的味道;有時候,我還會在襪子裏發現青椒。我痛恨負責洗碗盤的每分每秒,也不怕讓身邊的每一個人都知道。

有一個漫長的夜晚,我好不容易及時洗完碗盤,還早早把水槽清理乾淨,於是問傑夫我可不可以做別的工作。他反問我:「知道你為什麼還在洗碗盤嗎?因為你一直抱怨。」他告訴我,沒有人喜歡和愛抱怨的人一起幹活。但他也承諾,只要我能持續在下班前把工作區收拾好,而且不再抱怨,下個星期開始,他就會把我轉到「製作檯」去開始做披薩。

幾天過後,我到班時,看到班表上我的名字用鉛筆寫在不是洗碗的那欄,而是製作檯的那欄,我欣喜若狂。

傑夫管理餐廳很有一套。他把一羣青少年集合起來,組成一支既在乎個人分內工作、又在乎彼此關係的團隊。我中學時期的一些好友大多也在必勝客工作;在那個紅色屋頂下,我留下許多最美好的回憶。

必勝客不僅是我逃避回家的去處,就許多方面來看,也是我的第二個家。在我真正的家裏,我總是情緒不穩,控制不住自己,但是一來上工,前方的路就變得清晰起來:人只要努力工作、行事正派,就會成功。從前的我,這樣的觀念根本是天方夜譚。

這也是我生平第一次感覺到自己擁有力量。高二的時候,傑夫拔擢我擔任值班店長。升高三之前,我已經成為副店長,負責一大部分記帳、盤點和排班的工作。傑夫不在的時候,就是我管事。

同事就像是我的第二個家庭。我們會舉辦一整天的活動,以泛舟開場,吃晚餐和看電影作收。我們組成壘球隊,大多數同事都參加了。我們一起去露營。我們在停車場打水仗,等到所有的客人都離開後,用點唱機播音樂,放得震天價響。

傑夫是這個非典型家庭的大家長。他大約比我大上十五歲,不久前才剛離婚。當時他似乎和大夥一樣樂在其中,因此我並沒有想到如果我是藉由工作來創造自己嚮往的家庭,那麼他可能也是如此。

升上高中最後一年,雖然我熱愛這份工作,但也知道自己明年秋天就要上大學了。我在班上是優等生,但就申請學校這件事來看,大概算得上是劣等生。我媽沒讀過大學,家裏不會給我多少支援或是金錢上的資助。我拿了一堆大學簡介手冊,卻茫然沒有頭緒。況且,每申請一所學校就得花上四十美元,相當於我半天的工資。

入學顧問勸我申請波士頓大學,我覺得似乎是個好主意,主要原因是離科羅拉多州很遠。我必須在十一月底之前提出獎學金申請,沒有大筆的獎學金,就不可能成行。然而,可能是申請費用太高,又或許是自己毫無章法,我遲遲未寄出申請表。

收件即將截止的前一天,我還是沒寄。上班的時候,我無意間對傑夫提及此事。他打開抽屜,拿出一個限時信封,叫我停下手邊工作,立刻去寄。我嚷嚷着限時郵費太貴,但他說會幫我出錢。

後來我申請到波士頓大學,還有獎學金,但直到那時,我都還沒去過波士頓呢。儘管我媽努力工作養育我和弟妹,但實在挪不出多餘的錢來讓我赴學校一探究竟。我心想,恐怕要等到八月報到時才能見着自己的學校了。

結果傑夫又有驚人之舉:他招待我一趟波士頓行,作為高中的畢業禮物。我們參觀了校園;造訪芬威球場;欣賞新英格蘭地區風光。我們還吃了好多家當地的必勝客,並和自家的店比較,結論是:好像每一家都沒啥意思。

去上大學前,我告訴傑夫寒假會回來上班。我離開後,他升任地區經理,那家必勝客也換人主事。我還是回去工作了,但魔法已經消失。我和同事組成的家庭曲終人散,我也可以停止留戀過去,專心經營自己的大學生活和未來人生。

多年來,我一直和傑夫保持聯繫。回老家的時候,我們常一塊兒吃午餐,有時甚至一道吃披薩。

在傑夫的店裏洗碗盤,是既磨人又油膩的苦差事。但是話說回來,做披薩、開卡車、烤蛋糕和其他數不清的工作,也未必都是好差事。從那位繫着必勝客領帶的店長身上,我學到許多事,其中最要緊的或許就是:只要遇到好上司,任何差事都會是最好的差事。


Washing Dishes For Jeff

The people who make a difference in your life come in all types. Some write on a chalkboard. Some wear a sports uniform. Some wear a suit and tie. For me, that person wore a tie with a Pizza Hut logo on it.

I started working at Pizza Hut in December 1989, when I was a freshman in high school. Parents in my small western Colorado town encouraged teenagers to work in the service industry after school and on weekends. It kept us out of trouble. Having a job also kept me out of the house. I grew up mostly with my mother, and I never knew my father. My younger sister, my younger brother, and I went through a series of stepfathers. My relationships with those men were almost always fraught, and I was always looking for reasons to be away from home.

The Pizza Hut was old, and in the back it had three giant sinks instead of a dishwasher. One basin was for soapy water, one for rinsing, and the other for sanitizing, using a tablet that made me cough whenever I dropped it into the hot water. All new employees started by washing dishes and busing tables. If they proved their mettle, they learned to make pizzas, to cut and serve them on wooden paddles, and to take orders.

On my first night, the dishes piled up after dinner: plates; silverware; cups; and oily, black, deep-dish pans, which came clean only with a lot of soap and scrubbing in steaming-hot water. I couldn’t keep up, and stacks of dishes formed on all sides of me. Every time I made a dent, the call came back for help clearing tables out front, and I returned with tubs full of more dirty dishes.

At home, the chore that I hated most was dishes. A few years earlier, my mother’s then-boyfriend had instilled a loathing of that task by making me scrub the Teflon off a cookie sheet because he believed that it was grease, while he sat on the couch and smoked cigarettes. That boyfriend was gone, but another with a different set of problems had taken his place.

My shift was supposed to end at 9 p.m., but when I asked to leave, the manager, Jeff, shook his head. “Not until the work is done,” he said. “You leave a clean station.” I was angry and thought about quitting, but I scrubbed, rinsed, and sanitized until after 10 that night.

I stayed on dish duty for weeks. My heart sank every time I arrived at work and saw my name written next to dishes on the chart. I spent my shifts behind the sinks, being splashed with greasy water. After work, my red-and-white-checked button-up shirt and gray polyester pants smelled like onions, olives, and oil. I sometimes found green peppers in my socks. I hated every minute I spent on dish duty, and I wasn’t afraid to let everyone around me know it.

One slow night, when I managed to catch up on dishes and clean out the sinks early, I asked Jeff when I could do something different. “Do you know why you’re still doing dishes?” he asked. “Because you keep complaining about it.” Nobody likes to work with a complainer, he said. But, he promised, if I continued to leave a clean station and not complain, next week he would put me on the “make table,” where pizzas were assembled.

A few days later, when I reported for my shift, I saw my name penciled not next to dishes but next to make table. I was ecstatic.

Jeff had a special way of running his restaurant. From a crop of teenagers, he’d assembled a team of employees who cared about their work—and one another. Most of my closest friends from high school also worked at Pizza Hut, and some of my best memories were made under that red roof.

Pizza Hut became not only my escape from home but also, in many ways, an alternate home. In my real home, I felt unstable and out of control. At work, the path seemed clear: Work hard and do things right, and you will succeed. This model had not seemed possible before.

For one of the first times in my life, I felt empowered. When I was in 11th grade, Jeff had promoted me to shift manager. By my senior year, I was an assistant manager, responsible for much of the bookkeeping, inventory, and scheduling. I was in charge when Jeff was away.

Our staff was like a second family to me. We had all-day parties that started with rafting trips and ended with dinner and movies. Most of us played together on a softball team. We went camping. We had water fights in the parking lot and played music on the jukebox, full blast, after the customers had left.

Jeff was the leader of this unlikely family. He was about 15 years older than me and had recently gone through a divorce. I never considered it at the time, because he seemed to be having as much fun as everyone else, but if I was using my job to create the family I wished I’d had, it was possible that he was too.

Senior year arrived, and though I loved that job, I knew I would go to college the next fall. I was an A student in class but probably about a C-minus in applying to schools. My mom hadn’t gone to college, and I didn’t have a lot of logistical or financial support at home. I had a pile of college brochures, but I didn’t know where to start—and, at $40, every application fee would cost me half a day’s pay.

A guidance counselor persuaded me to apply to Boston University, which seemed great, primarily because of its distance from Colorado. The scholarship application had to be in by the end of November—and I could not go there without a big scholarship. But maybe because of the fee or because of my cluelessness, I kept putting off sending in the form.

I still had not mailed it the day before it was due. At work, I offhandedly mentioned this to Jeff. He opened a drawer and took out an overnight envelope. He told me to stop what I was doing, leave work, and send the application immediately. I protested about the cost of overnight postage, but he said he would cover it.

I ended up getting into Boston University with a scholarship, but I had never visited Boston. Though my mom worked hard to take care of my siblings and me, there was no room in our budget to send me on a college visit. I figured I’d see the school when I got there in August.

Jeff surprised me with a graduation present: a trip to Boston. We toured campus, visited Fenway Park, and did some sightseeing around New England. We ate at a lot of Pizza Huts, and we judged all of them against ours. The verdict: None of them seemed to be very much fun.

Before I headed to college, I told Jeff that I would come back to work over winter break. While I was away, he was promoted to regional manager, and
a different person was put in charge of our store. I went back anyway, but the magic was gone. The family had dispersed, and I felt free to shift my mind-set to college and the future.

Over the years, I’ve kept in touch with Jeff. We usually meet for lunch when I’m in town. Sometimes, we even have pizza.

Washing dishes for Jeff was grueling, greasy work. But then again, making a pizza, driving a truck, baking a cake, and any of countless other jobs are not always enjoyable in themselves either. Out of all the lessons I learned from that guy in the Pizza Hut tie, maybe the biggest is that any job can be the best if you have the right boss.

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