It’s a new year and a time for change. Myself included, many argue, “Why wait?” Why should January 1st of the Gregorian, Christian Calendar be the day we all unanimously decide to start sucking at life a little less? Well for my part I know I’m a phenomenal procrastinator. Unfortunately I can argue my way in or out of anything, so I have little difficulty arguing my way out of exercise, writing, job applications and even quitting a job.
The truth is, it takes a quite a lot for me to leave a job. That is, for the sake of actually running away from that job, rather than to a better offer. If you read the Types of Cooks entry, I view myself as a Mercenary and won’t hesitate to leave my colleagues behind if it means a step up for me. Any balanced individual in the industry would support this, if not act similarly. However, there have to be very particular circumstances for me to leave for the sake of leaving; that is, because I’m not happy. They have to remain so for a good bit of time, as well.
I try to go along considering myself fortunate just to be employed, and to take things in stride. The restaurant handles things in a way I deem unsanitary? Hey, let it go. You don’t own the place. If anything they won’t end up suing you. The boss is a douche? Bosses can be that way, just keep your distance and do a good job. Your coworkers are slacking? Hell, this can be a good thing. Make yourself shine. You’re not happy about the food you’re handling? Well, bills must be paid. Leave pride at the door. Endure, persevere, outlast, outdo and take it all in stride. It’s just a job.
Now, are all of these things are happening at once? Ok, time to GTFO! My list of grievances is kind of like a Connect-Four of misery. Suffering’s Sudoku. And things must fit just right to merit my departure. I have a high threshold for annoyances, but sometimes one just has to recognize the signs of a restaurant/business that is just plain bad. Experience teaches us what people, places, romances and jobs will be good, or bad fits for us. I know, for example, that you can’t pay me enough or give me good enough benefits to flip burgers or serve brunch for months on end. I’m not above such food, mind you, but I am above such mindless repetition. If I can do it in my sleep, I’d rather just be asleep.
So all the pieces fell together just right to form a nice, obvious EXIT sign for me to follow out the door of my last job and, thanks to a tip from an old, trusted friend, I landed where I am now. Now I’m the F.N.G. The F.N.G.is a ubiquitous and unanimously agreed upon term in this industry –and I’m sure others. I’m now the Fuckin’ New Guy. A friend once offered me a job by saying, “We need a new fry bitch, you interested?” I loved his no-nonsense, honest and up-front delivery. That’s what the F.N.G. is, first and foremost. I’m the new bitch, fresh meat, the bottom of the totem pole and by all accounts a burden to everyone else around who has officially been there longer than me, if even by a minute. That minute matters. In this meritocracy, seniority goes a long way. Now, I have none.
Being the F.N.G. is a tried and true test of one’s character. It tests one’s pride, threshold, knowledge, work ethic and above all else, one’s ability to take shit; “Humility” to put it politely. I’ve said before that this testosterone-steeped, fast-paced environment of dog-eat-dog and survival of the fittest can ultimately be about how one handles him/herself under pressure. Everyone working at my new job knows this and they, like any self-respecting restaurant crew, want to see what I can take. If I can’t handle a few innocent jabs at my race, resume, family lineage, height or skill, I for damn sure am going to break down like toddler with a freshly skinned knee cap when Chef start screaming about why my food is wrong, taking too long or, by his standards, fuck-ugly as hell. There’s always a nice, brief period of hazing with jokes about the F.N.G. No matter where I am, what I’m doing or even if I have the day off, everything is my fault. Blame it on the new guy. I could be scrubbing a pot in the back dish pit and the pasta guy still has every right to blame his broken sauce on me. “The fuckin’ new guy re-heated it when we opened, I don’t know what he did.” I, of course, have no clue what he’s talking about because I haven’t touched a sauce all day, but no matter. It’s still my fault.
Almost everyone is not serious about this. It’s an understood joke. No one will act like it, though, until they see and, more importantly, gauge my reaction. If I come running up to the line in a panic, worried about my reputation as a decent cook and my all-around job security franticly screaming, “Chef, I haven’t re-heated sauce for anyone all day, do you want me to redo it, though?” I will be laughed at (albeit silently) and they will all know that I am weak, and easily shaken. I probably won’t be put on the line on Saturday nights. Maybe garde manger is safer for a weakling of my nervous caliber.
If I take offense and vocalize my paranoid delusions about how the pasta guy has had it out for me from the get-go, they’ll all think I’m a too-serious nut job and be generally wary of me. Such a reaction is suicide, as they’ve all seen such psychosis in coworkers before and know how to handle/avoid it.
If I smile, say nothing and shrug it off, they’ll all know I can take a good hit, that I get it, and that this is really no concern. I will be viewed pretty normally, and they’ll wait to see what actual cooking skills I have. Now, if I walk casually up to the line and say, “Sorry, Chef I thought that can of Chef Boyardee I snuck in here was gonna cut it,” I’ll get a good laugh and everyone will know that not only can I take a joke, but I can give a tasteful one back, hence my current job security as a busy night heavy hitter.
While in the phase of haze I’m given the beautiful opportunity to observe and judge the people around me. The nice ones and the not-so-nice ones. The calm surgeons and the nervous wrecks. The skilled veterans and the jaded lifers. This environment of newness is the time for epitomizing the concept of willed perception. When I see a thirty-something fry guy who sighs a lot, never opens his eyes all the way and comments about his job like Eeyore, I don’t view him as the shining example of how I should set up my station or prepare my dishes. I try to learn quickly which sous chef is the every-man the line cooks love, and which one is the Nazi about hot plates and clean rims. I keep the former smiling with banter, and the latter from frowning, well, by any means necessary.
The main issue when being F.N.G. is humility. Leave your pride at the door. Leave your experience at the door. As a matter of fact, leave your damn mouth at the door. Just shut up and nod at everything anyone says. No one likes a know-it-all, especially a new one. A fun observation I’ve made in my first couple of weeks here is one surrounding the ideas and mechanisms of judgment. At my last couple of jobs I was deeply and sincerely bothered when I noticed people cutting corners or doing anything in a way that seemed wasteful of time, product or common sense. But really, who was I to judge what was wasteful? I’ve noticed that ignorance, whatever its source, removes the entitlement that fuels judgment. Right now I know nothing. Even if I do, it doesn’t matter. I’m the new guy. I have no room to judge anyone because even if they’re doing it differently than I would, that’s just how it’s done here. For the first time in at least three jobs, I once again feel refreshingly under qualified and have been forced to be blissfully open to and accepting of all I see.
I’m fortunate to be employed, but I’m very fortunate to be where I am now. It’s a good fit, and I feel good about it. The cooks here are refreshingly professional in their work and delightfully tasteless in their humor. They’re the perfect balance of pro and pirate. Pleasantly unique, they’re some of the nicest people I’ve worked with. I’m often cautious of how much of myself to reveal to a new crew and at what intervals, but this crew gave me no choice. I spent as much time drinking with them (against my will) as I did working with them. They all greeted me by name every shift and said how happy they were to have me aboard.
The chefs (that is, bosses) are the right balance of silly and terrifying. Some are more conversational than others, but all of them are meticulously attentive to detail and don’t hesitate to tell me when I do a good job, and when I’m ruining everything. Like any job or any situation, it is what you make of it. The grass is green where you water it. I think I’ll be tending this garden for a while.
If you ever get tired of calling a new guy F.N.G. you can go with something a seaman on a Navy submarine told me. My favorite: F.U.N.G.U.S. Fuck U New Guy U Suck. Happy hazing!