Getting Fired from Johnny Rockets
Not everyone can say they’ve been “let go” from Johnny Rockets.
Your Nothing Special editor was in the Summer between his Sophomore and Junior years of college. I was working as an intern/indentured servant while living at home in Maryland and needed some actual money to do anything. They hired me at Johnny Rockets, Bethesda, which you may remember for its art-deco diner architecture and pull-out straw containers. My managers were 1) Dawn, maternal and tender, 2) Cora, filled with utmost loathing for my guts.
It’s not exactly clear what set her off. She would steal my tables. She would glare at me. One time, while I was mixing a malted, she yelled from the back room, “Daniel!” I turned around to reply “What?” There was silence in the restaurant. Cora beckoned.
“First of all, don’t you EVER respond ‘what’ when I call your name!”
“What should I say? I don’t understand.”
(Cora is off to take a table)
In addition to having some problems at home, Cora may have had other reasons to resent the new employee. I was sometimes slow. I was headed back to college (Yale:() in the Fall. Worst of all, I didn’t do every requirement of the Johnny Rockets handbook. I didn’t like to pour the ketchup smiley face, figuring as a client I’d rather pour my own ketchup. I didn’t like to automatically lift the circular straw dispenser for customers either. If they wanted a straw, they’d take it. I didn’t always have my white paper hat on straight. I did, for the record, willingly agree to sing the select songs when they were played on the jukebox, and all in all I was not the worst waiter in the world (though my own mother and brother were kept waiting for a LONG time when dining and have never forgotten).
One day, about a month and a half after starting the job, I came into the back hallway to see that my name was not on the schedule for the next week. Dawn was on duty. I went to her matter-of-factly.
“Excuse me, Dawn? There must be some mistake. I am available to work next week.”
“Daniel. Why don’t you come into my office.”
And the tears started. Just faintly at first–the nose twitch. Then unhideable. Dawn was very nice about it. She said it was predominantly that I was the most recent hire. But there was no way to really soften the blow. For a Special person, there’s only one thing worse than being fired. It’s being fired from Johnny Rockets.
This is not “I lost my job at J.P. Morgan during the financial downturn,” or “I got busted because of an accounting scheme I came up with as CFO but really I’m pretty smart to have even been able to even understand what it is I did.” This is not being let go from a school because of Mayor Bloomberg’s budget cuts or getting beaten out for a medical residency at Mass General. This is being let go from a burger joint where they pour ketchup smiley faces.
As a small final remark, you’ll notice that Johnny Rockets Bethesda no longer exists, whereas Barnes and Noble, Bethesda, which did not fire Daniel but which he left on his own volition, is still going strong. My dad has always said this is karma. I don’t know if firing me was the sole reason Johnny Rockets Bethesda’s had to fold, but let’s just say it didn’t help. As for Cora, wherever she may be, I thank her for teaching me the lesson that sometimes people dislike you for no clear identifiable reason. And also that you’re not that special.
I invite my Fellow Occupiers of SpecialLand (FOOS) to use this sacred space and share with us any experiences you’ve had of being fired from a place you never thought you’d want to work in the first place. Let the healing begin.
Next week in Nothing Special: Wanting at some point in your life to have an email with disclosure/privacy warnings at the bottom.