Uniforms

#Workplace

Thu, Dec 31st, 1998 02:00 by Jester ARTICLE

This anecdote actually has merit even today, at my current job.

People who design uniforms for companies have a special reservation for a table in Hell. I'm starting my own fanatical hate group against them. We're going to terrorize them and their families at night, and burn crosses on their lawns. We're going to dress in white sheets with white hoods, spotted bowties, and a button that says "Ask me about gift certificates!"

Apparently, the principal qualification for a job designing uniforms is to be colour blind, have fashion sense from 1973, and have skin like a lizard, so you really don't care what kind of fabric is put against your skin.

Let's begin this by mentioning that we had to pay for our uniforms. You can always tell how bad a company is by the amount of money that it makes directly off employees. We changed uniforms on a regular basis too, sometimes every few months. If a special promotion required (required, ha ha) a new uniform, were charged for that too.

That, like nearly everything else, made us bitter.

Gretchen's had a habit of picking uniforms completely inappropriate and impractical for the job, too. If Gtretchen's were to design clothing for a space walk, the air tube would have been in the crotch, and the helmet would have this nice lace mesh instead of a faceplate.

For example, restaurant work is messy work. The messiest job is line cook, followed by bussing, and fountaineer. Cooks worked around a grille that spat grease, pot of spaghetti sauce, grease, oil...you get the idea. Bussers cleaned tables after customers had left behind half-eaten food, (the other half sometimes was a pool of vomit left on the seat), spilled drinks and ketchup...Fountainers worked around a mixing machine that frequently fired chocolate and blue berry sauce all over its operator.

For most of the time I worked at Gretchen's the uniform was white.

After a twelve hour shift of slamming together 50 orders in the space of three minutes, or speed-cleaning a dozen tables while the hostess tapped her foot with a family of five behind her, you can imagine how some of these white shirts looked. In particular, my secret of keeping the fountain clean was to get as much of the mess on the counters on my uniform instead.

It would be no big deal, really. Most restaurant managers would look at you and say, "That shirt's too stained to wear. Here, here's a fresh new one." But not ours. Ours would say "That shirt's too stained to wear. Here, here's a fresh new one. That'll be 30 dollars please."

Nice, huh? Some of us were able to stave off this charge temporarily by bleaching the hell out of our uniforms...only one problem. The collars were dyed, and the restaurant logo was embroidered on one pocket. Sometimes even the strongest bleach wouldn't get rid of a blueberry stain, but it seemed like a sudden breeze was enough to get the dye off the collars of those damn shirts.

We weren't allowed to wear shirts with faded collars either. Thirty bucks, please.

Well, the problem is that the server has to do all things at one time or another. He or she has to tend bar, bus tables, make desserts...And since the restaurant was always understaffed, they would have dive into the grease or chocolate and do things themselves--while a full section of tables waited. With this kind of pressure on, there was no time to be neat. If a full team of servers with a complete support staff was there, then it wouldn't be such a big deal to them. Their shirts would go through normal wear and tear, and maybe the occasional whoopsie. But it wasn't like that. Servers would run around like madmen, getting messed up. The company would save money from understaffing, and then collect another $30 to issue a clean shirt.

The crowning glory of it all was the name tag.

I find this whole name tag business highly suspect anyway. If I had my way, customers wouldn't know my name at all. Once, a server told me that a table thought they recognized me and wanted to know what my last name was. I told the server to tell them my last name was "The Evil Overlord" and they could go to Hell. It's bad enough I had to serve some of these people. Having them get to know me better is out of the question.

You're not going to believe the next part of this story. You're going to think I made it up. Your reaction will be "No, no company could be that oppressive, or come up with such an inherently stupid idea." Wake up, kindergarten baby.

Gretchen was a 1950s theme diner. We had jukeboxes. They played a variety of songs from the 1950 to the 1990s. Once, a dipshit motherfucker (i.e. someone from head office) came and noticed that "Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden was playing. Needless to say, that wasn't recorded in 1955. So, as part of a plan to a) return the restaurant to its original concept; an b) apparently drive away our few remaining customers, they made a whole list of sweeping changes.

First, they got rid of any song recorded from 1980 and up. Never mind that people were dropping lots of quarters into the jukebox to hear songs like "Black Hole Sun."

Second, they tried to get us to dress more like the 50s.

The name tags were large, plastic things with some kind of food item on it-a burger, a hot dog, a sundae. They also had a name on them... now here's the kicker.

It wasn't your name.

It was a name head office thought would be "from the 50s"-Arnold, Potzie, Frank, even a Fonzie. Female names included "Annie, LaVerne, Shirley..." thank God they drew the line at "Squiggy."

When asked which one I wanted, I asked if they had any that had "Jason" on them. "Jason" is the name of a Greek hero, and was popular long before "Potzie" came to prominence. We're talking about Ancient Times here, so kiss my ass, Potzie, I've got seniority.

I wasn't the only one who thought that the idea was oppressive, cynical, and degrading. Management wondered why people like me "got all uptight" about it.

It also defeated a name tag's only useful function. Customers would flag down other servers and ask if they could speak to their server.

"Well, who's your server?"

"Potzie."

Well who the fuck is Potzie? And since they apparently couldn't think of enough names to outfit the entire restaurant, they're might be several Potzies on the floor. Smart policy all around.

Before I stopped wearing my name tag altogether, I did have some fun with it. I don't remember what it said originally, but I had my printer print the label "Ragle Gumm" in a nice font, and pasted it over what ever had been there before.

"Ragle Gumm" is the protagonist of the novel Time Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick, one of my favorite authors. In the book, Ragle is harboring the paranoid delusion the idyllic small 1950s middle America town isn't real, but a mock-up designed to keep him prisoner. His paranoid delusion is correct.

Sometimes, for variety, I would put "Number 6" in tribute to The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan.

But you know, it got worse, particularly for the waitresses.

The apron is an essential part of a server's attire. It holds pens, maybe a notepad, our key, which is used to access the computer to ring in an order, credit cards, cash from sales, and maybe, just maybe, our tips.

Originally the apron was a short, three-pocket deal. Between the pockets was a seam that you could stash a pen in (usually we secured our keys to pens). Some of the aprons had velcro tabs to hold the pockets closed, but not all. It didn't really matter. You tied it to your waist and it sat securely, and you rarely lost anything. It was black and it had the Gretchen's logo embroidered in red in one corner. It was simple, tasteful as far as restaurant attire went, and one of the few things we didn't complain about.

For Fountaineers like myself, there was nothing much to keep in them. Our pants were black, so they didn't need any stain protection.

Then, the support staff and female waitresses had their aprons replaced.

For us fountain and busser types, we got this longer body apron, which covered just above the solar plexus and down to your knees. While wearing a white shirt, it helped prevent the more serious stains-for awhile. Then, as the summer days rolled around, an unfortunate unforeseen complication. We switched to summer dress, which meant shorts. My shorts ended just above the knee. The apron of course, went lower. Plus, I used to wear a sturdy pair of Mark II Combat boots on the job (I bought them at a surplus store. I figured if they could hand a tour in Vietnam, they could handle Gretchen's). With the apron down so slow, I looked like I was wearing a dress. With the boots, I looked like some crazy Goth Chick with a beard.

It wasn't long before I put on the old apron again.

Now, the female staff had it far worse. They used to use the same functional apron everyone else did. But for some reason, Head Orifice didn't think this was appropriate, and issued a frilly one.

I should qualify the statement "frilly." Don't think frilly in terms of a lingerie or a French Maid outfit. That conjures up images of frill upon frill, like those crazy baby blue tuxedoes. These had frills-four frills, to be exact. It was longer and looser than the original apron, and it hung down to their knees. They tried to roll it up, but it would always slip, and credit card slips and money would fall out.

The waitresses, understandably, were furious. It was degrading, but not nearly as degrading as it could have been-the damn thing failed on even it's pathetic terms. It was black and made of the same fabric as our pants-some synthetic fibre. With just four frills and it hanging limply, it looked about as feminine as a testicle. About the only time it looked vaguely female is when the two pockets were full of change-then it looked like an udder. Not the kind of female I think they were going for, and not the kind of female most women choose to project.

Because it was black, you couldn't really define it against the pants they wore. Many waitresses just went back to their old aprons, and would go unnoticed for weeks.

And there's the small matter of it being utterly sexist, and being a labor rights violation.

I'm not going to spout off about my politics here (though I reserve the right at a later date), but it seems to be that too many people think that prior to 1960, things really sucked for women and blacks--jokes at their expense, being corralled into rigidly defined roles, and getting paid less than everyone else. But in the 60s sometime there was a social revolution, and now everything's okay for women and blacks. So since things are equally, we can all go ahead and make jokes at their expense, corral them into rigidly defined roles, and pay them less than everyone else.

This apron showed just how insensitive and out of touch Head Orifice was with its employees, and the 20th Century. The aprons were clearly inferior to the task. They were a useful, almost essential tool for the work. If they had just recalled them all and issued the new one, then it would have been bad judgement. Because they took it from just the women, it was something else altogether.

In other worlds, not only was the thing degrading, but it was a tool that was inferior to the job. The male servers were issued a better tool, solely on the basis of gender. No, it's not as severe as deliberately paying a woman less for the same amount of work, but it is in the same vein. A vein that's part of a wrist that should be slashed.

Do I think Head Orifice was pursuing a hidden agenda as part of a greater, world campaign to rob women of empowerment? No. To do that they would have to be smart. They didn't it simply because of their idiocy.

Head Orifice was almost as ineffectual at enforcing their policies as they were creating them, so it wasn't long before most of the female servers has delegated the frilly apron to dishrag duty and got their old faithful one out again.

I was running a healthy underground market of male aprons. With the servers I was close to, such as the incomparable Miss White, I simply made a trade. And for a time, I wore a frilly apron.

I'm not a transvestite, but I did attend a public screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a genuine, Bona Fide Transvestite, once. I was dressed as a woman too, but not a very good one. This guy was actually kinda attractive. But I digress.

I wore that frilly apron for a long time without anyone noticing. Just goes to show that it just didn't work.

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