Saturday, January 29, 2011

Think Harder

I worked for about ten years, off and on, at a grocery store chain, as a professional cake decorator.

For the most part, I liked it. I got to use my creativity, and I was usually stationed back in my own little corner, avoiding the hustle, bustle, and politics of the bakery folk. Every now and then I'd help them out when they were short-handed, but for the majority of the time, I could keep to myself and create works of art back in my own little part of the bakery.

But some of the ooze of bureaucracy still seeped over at times. They (who we all called the Big Wigs...or, the Big Bosses) were freaks about name tags. You had to have one on at all times. If not, there was some sort of punishment. They wanted to know what employee did this or that evil deed. Or, if you were rude to a customer,(even if they just THOUGHT you were rude, regardless if you actually were or not) they needed to make sure to have your name larger than life on your lapel, so they could give it to the manager.

Some days I forgot my tag; just plain left it at home. No excuse. Not to worry, Glenda, the other decorator, always left hers at the decorator's table on her days off. Some days I was me, some days I was 'Glenda'. A few times I've even been 'Robert', when he left his tag lying around. If they asked, I'd tell them the 'a' at the end dropped off. Or, I could say I was going through a 'change'...

I felt somewhat of an immunity in that job; I did not really need the money at that time. It was just play money that I was earning. So my attitude was different than that of my fellow employees. It made all the difference on whether or not I feared the 'bosses'....I didn't. One time the Big Wigs came in and one of them dared to ask me where my name tag was. (I'd forgotten to put one on that day, either mine or anyone else's). I just stopped and stared for a couple of uncomfortable seconds, and asked him where HIS was. He said nothing further. Not long after that, the bosses all began wearing these fancy golden name tags, wit their names and titles engraved on them. Clever.

I have to say, some of the dumbest ideas anyone ever came up with must have happened at their meeting tables. I could just picture them, the Big Wigs, sitting around in their fancy suits, drinking coffee and saying, "Hey! I KNOW! Let's make a rule that they have to have French Bread out every day by four p.m. at the stores, or they'll be in big trouble!" or, "Lets make them dress up like the Easter Bunny for Easter and sell personalized easter cakes out in the lobby!" or, "Lets pit them against each other and have a donut selling contest! On a Monday evening! Yeah!" see what I mean.

But the one that 'takes the cake' was the brilliant executive who came up with the bright idea for all of us to wear the tall, paper chef's hats. That's right. Now, just how dignified would you feel (granted that you're not a real chef) to A) have to wear a polyester uniform with the logo of the store emblazoned all over your chest, paired with polyester pants that are flaired to oblivion, and B) having to don an apron that has bakery goo all over it, because when you work with chocolate icing, that's unavoidable, and C) to be eight months pregnant, and D) to be wearing a 50 cent, paper chef's hat that was two feet tall?

Well, you wouldn't have a shred of dignity left, that's how you'd feel. All of us rebelled, begging the manager not to make us do it. But rules were rules, and he'd been threatened to comply...or 'else'.

Every time I went around the corner, off came the hat. When I decorated, I had to look DOWN at the cakes, and it went against the laws of gravity for that hat to stay put. It fell onto my smoothly iced surfaces. It fell onto my "Happy Birthday Bertha". It fell. All the time. So, every chance I got, I yanked it off. And every time the manager caught me, he made me put it back on. He was a really good boss, he left me to myself most of the time, and I liked him....and this was the only thing we ever butted heads on. Because it was stupid. I knew it and he knew it.

When the boss went home for the day, I still had a couple of hours left. It was just me in the back, and the bakery clerk out front. Who knew that the Big Wigs would make their appearance that day? When they did, my hat was off.

Two of them stood in their pretty suits, staring at me in disapproval. My hat was OFF, after all....and they'd commanded for all hats to be ON.

"Where is your hat?" one of them said, in a controlled voice. Ah, I got it...they were both showing off their 'power' each other.

"Oh, it's right over there," I said lightly, pointing my icing-laden spatula in that direction.

Long silence. Then they dove back in.

"....and why aren't you wearing it?"

I put my spatula down, and put my hands on my widening hips, displaying my eight-month pregnant belly.

"Because I am thirty years old. Because I am eight months pregnant. Because wearing a hat gives me a headache. Because when I tip my head downward, it falls off, and I've picked that thing out of the icing more than once today. And because whoever thought up this brilliant idea of these paper hats needed to think a little harder."

I expected another long silence. But what happened was even better than that. Acting like he'd seen something repugnant, the man's head quickly turned away, as if he were suddenly deciding to ignore me. He walked away, and the other man followed! Like it never happened!

I never had any fallout from that run-in with the infamous Big Wigs. But I hoped they'd remember my one little moment of input. I hoped the next time they thought it would be cute to dress their employees up as elves and approach people in the parking lot about buying our 'Christmas Donuts', or thinking it might be fun to attach bells to our hands or some such thing, that they would think again. Perhaps they would even think of the short, red-faced, hormonal pregnant woman telling them off in that dark corner of that one bakery they'd visited.....and then maybe they'd think again.'s almost four o'clock....could I interest you in some 'freshly baked' French Bread?

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