Mary from New York Gets a Waitressing Job.

It was 1988. I had the “cool” reputation of being “Mary from New York”  before I had even arrived in Nisswa, Minnesota  to work at Grand View Lodge, a resort my grandmother had gone to in the 1970’s and which agreed to hire me, sight unseen, with no resume, as wait staff, for the summer. How hard could it be for a high school graduate to carry out food trays and take orders from a limited menu? I had always been great at bringing plates to the dinner table at home, and asking my parents if they wanted Sanka, which I prepared with the utmost of grace and flair. Plus, I’d be making money and getting access to a mini beach, motor boats and an outdoor ping pong table.

No one working at Grand View Lodge had ever been to New York and definitely not to Manhattan where I grew up, so there was a great deal of excitement among the staff about my arrival.   There was another employee there also named Mary, who just happened to be my roommate and who was an outspoken and bizarre born again Christian with enormous glasses and what appeared to be a lazy eye.  I was very pleased to be “Mary from New York”  instead of “Mary from Crazy Town” and my name tag said as such. I was told that several of the staff had taken turns wearing my name tag in the dining room before I arrived. I wasn’t exactly sure what their intentions had been, but it seemed that merely being from New York granted some kind of special status.  I had failed to achieve this in high school because everyone else there was also from New York.

One of my first assignments in the kitchen was to make toast. In preparation,  I carefully observed the toast that I saw going out to the diners.  It was cut in half and glistening with butter.  I went to work, as speedily as possible.  I was going to make my parents proud, and impress the Grand View masses by being known not only as “Mary from New York” but “Big Apple’s Toast-Maker Extraordinaire”.  I opened up the bread bag and began slicing pieces in half, just as I had seen, and tossing each one into its separate compartment of the toaster.  I felt like a toast genius.   I started piling the bread up and cutting three or four slices in half at once as they waited in the toaster queue.  We busy New Yorkers knew the value of a time saving technique.

My boss, a freckled and frazzled fellow of 23, scooted by, took one look at my toast project and then looked at me. 

“Don’t cut the bread before you put it in the toaster, Mary”. His smile was one of pity and disdain, not understanding and compassion.  I half giggled and scratched my hair net.  “Right. Sorry!” I muttered and molded my eyebrows into a grand look of deep understanding as I nodded like a soldier at attention.  I made an attempt to mash the ½ pieces into a whole again, but it was useless.  I was not the toast queen I had hoped to be and the diners were forced into patience about the whereabouts of their morning carbohydrate.

The next evening, I took drink orders for the bartender, Jim, who had been winking and smiling at me since I had arrived. Despite my skyscraper status, I couldn’t imagine that he was interested, but I was somewhat titillated by his attentiveness.  Perhaps he hadn’t heard about the toast incident. And perhaps he hadn’t noticed that although I was 18, my body was still in its infancy of pubescence, and those mini mounds on my chest were mostly, if not all the result of a well-endowed padded bra.  To complete the even less desirable package, the orthodox brown skirts and blue unisex polo shirt uniform with the Grand View Lodge Emblem on the lapel made me look like a bean pole.  

I went to take an order from a couple who had just arrived.

“We’ll take a Manhattan and a Martini, please”,

“Sure” I said, jotting it down on my order pad as if I drank both of these cocktails on a regular basis. “I’ll be back in a moment with your drinks.”

I smiled at them, feeling very grown up and sophisticated and returned to Jim, the bartender, trying to find a way to swagger my reedy body in my military-with-a-hint-of-golfer outfit.   I dropped off the slip and glanced coyly at Jim.   “Here’s an order for you.” I said, and swaggered out

10 minutes after the drinks had been delivered and I was now taking orders for “fresh” fish that we weren’t supposed to say was actually frozen, there seemed to be some extra buzz around the staff.  People smiled knowingly and nodded when they passed me by.   I smiled back, acting like I was in on the game.  Finally someone said to me, “Nice spelling job, Mary from New York!”  When I returned at some point to the bartending station Jim said “Don’t even know how to spell where you come from, eh?”  and presented me with the order slip.  I had spelled Manhattan “Manhatten”.  My smile suddenly went crooked as I felt my “Mary from New York” status melt away. First slicing bread before toasting it and then miss-spelling my own borough. This was not how I wanted to represent my East coast compatriots.   I would like to say that I didn’t have much opportunity to see or write out the word “Manhattan”, but that would be a lie. I went to an elementary school called “Manhattan Country School.”

“Oh, woops!”  I mumbled and walked out, my confident strut dissolving into an embarrassed slink. No one working at Grand View Lodge had ever been to New York but I believed they all knew how to spell Manhattan.

I returned to my employee bungalow, where my roommate was sitting quietly on her bed reading the Bible, and stayed in for the rest of the evening, deciding against attending the nightly “Dirty Dancin’ drinking fest” that had been advertised earlier in the day, by Ricki, the head chef.   I needed to study waitressing 101 so I wouldn’t pull an Amelia Bedelia when I was asked to “marry” the ketchups, as well as check my spelling of all New York boroughs in case someone ordered a “Long Aisle-land Iced Tea”.

After a fitful night, I awoke early the next day for the breakfast shift, fumbled into my waitressing uniform in the dark while Mary slept peacefully dreaming of Moses, and scurried to the dining area.  I sheepishly fitted my name tag to my shirt feeling somewhat undeserving of my title, and a tad concerned that it might be taken away.  The kitchen was already bustling and the smell of waffles, maple syrup and “freshly squeezed” orange juice that was actually one half Tropicana (Shhh!  Don’t tell the guests!) permeated the air.  I checked the board for my morning assignment: Napkin Folding.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I stationed myself in the napkin vestibule and cautiously gripped the edges of the cloths as I, one by one, pleated them into artful formations that would have made the Statue of Liberty proud.


  1. I love the reference of your roommate dreaming of Moses. I'm guessing you two weren't tight. I also love that you were called out for misspelling Manhattan.

    1. Thanks for reading! Yes, I haven't actually told many people until now about that misstep! I've been embarrassed about it for years!

  2. Manhattan doesn't look right to me. I think you were right and they (along with all of Manhatten) are to this day wrong!

  3. I love hearing stories about the Mary you were before showing up at Oberlin. You were fabulous even then. The Mary-ness just goes on and on!

    1. Thanks, Brooks! Cannot wait to catch up with YOU.

  4. Picturing those napkins that did Lady Liberty proud . . .

    1. Still thinking about re-crafting that ending with your ideas! Just wanted to send out something :)