Getting Hammered: Introduction

 Introduction & Re-Introduction

Why this book exists

May 21, 2007.

I’m standing at the fountain station inside the Lawrence Steak n Shake. I’ve been standing there, about four hours a day, for the past year, after losing my previous job as secretary for a manufacturing company without warning. My boss had simply approached me one morning, informed me there wasn’t enough work for two people, thus I was being laid off effective that morning (although he was gracious enough to give me two weeks’ vacation pay as an apology for the lack of warning).

Dave Atchison, the boisterous store manager and Chris’s boss at the time, offered me the fountain/dish job as a way for Chris and me to continue to make ends meet while I continued to look for another job. I was still there a year later because outside my professional niche of print journalism, my clerical skill set is as common as dirt.

Working in a restaurant proved an eye-opening experience. Before, I tended to look down on fast-food[1] employees. To my arrogant eyes, many appeared dull-witted and slovenly. I, on the other hand, was a professional, with a degree and a career and everything!

Then I got burned out on journalism (just as my dad warned). Then I quit before they could fire me. Then I started working as a secretary/office manager for the manufacturing concern. Then I got laid off. In the six years since I’d graduated from college with my sparkly degree, I was unemployed and without hope of getting back into my previous field, only now I was married, had an apartment and a family to support.

So I took the job at Steak n Shake with gratitude. And I learned a few things.

One of the first things I learned is that these people are not dull; they are tired. Food service is a tiring profession. Everything that is not unclean (in the sense of having food residue on it) is in the process of becoming unclean, so there is constant impetus to scrape, spray, wash, wipe and scrub almost every surface, device and utensil, followed by yourself. Also, there’s a fairly steady stream of orders coming in both from the dining area and drive-through, and each order needs to be dealt with pretty much as soon as it arrives, even though this is usually impossible.

So there you are, trying to cook or make shakes or drinks or take orders and deal with multiple sources of information and keep your workspace clean, all at once. And to top it all off (at least during the year I worked at SnS), there’s your boss wandering around shouting “Let’s not miss this time, people!”

I learned that if you sit in drive-through at the window after you’ve gotten your food, there’s a strong chance they’ll run over on their time clock (SnS tries to get people’s orders filled so they can drive away in under two minutes fifteen seconds), which makes management and employees unhappy (because then management yells at them).

I realized my new coworkers were intelligent, hard-working people who in some cases had landed here, in other cases had come here because this was what they liked to do. (For the most part. Almost anywhere, there will be a person or three who is not a particularly hard worker.)

I learned that fast food is harder than it looks, and that it was fun! If the sky falls on me and I wind up out of a job again (heaven forbid), I’d do it again.

I learned that God will find you no matter where you find yourself.

So there I am, standing at the fountain counter, wearing my white shirt, red bow tie, black hat, pants and apron. Big heavy shoes guaranteed not to slip on anything.[2] I’m sticky with shake splatter. Tired. Wanting to go home to my daughter. I’m going through the motions of making another shake…when I feel it. The Call. Like a whisper in my mind, a tap on my shoulder. A stream of holy silver starting spontaneously and running the length of me. Like a hug.

“I want you,” the little voice that wasn’t said. “Go out, spread the Word.”

My initial feeling was elation. The Call! Ministry! What a joyous occupation, what a wonderful direction![3]

Now what?

As the initial jolt receded, I started wondering how I would go about this new path. I figured I’d go to seminary, perhaps become an ordained pastor or a hospital chaplain. Ideas on how to afford seminary did not immediately spring to mind.

I started researching seminary schools anyway, and found St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. I met with Alan Herndon (insert his job title), learned about their ordainment programs, and about social justice degrees, which sounded promising. I also talked with one of my coworkers about ministry, as he was planning on going into it (and unlike me, had a plan).

As the months wore on, I began to have doubts. Was this really my calling, public ministry? I didn’t think I was built for it. I have a low speaking voice. Other people sometimes have trouble hearing me over the phone. Also, I get nervous speaking to and in front of people, and when I get nervous, my voice gets softer and even more difficult to discern.

My coworker (the one with the plan) said a call to ministry could be anywhere, not necessarily in a church. It could be at home; it could be at work. Hmm… To me, that helped, but it didn’t fully overcome my shyness problem. I kept wondering.

At the time, I was playing in a d20 Modern game, playing a Christian evangelist elf, of whom you’ll read more about later. The irony of the juxtaposition was not lost on me: Here I am too afraid to speak to people about my faith, and I’d invented a character who couldn’t help but talk to others about God.

I’ve always loved to write. I’ve written a few very short stories, bits of fanfiction about the above-mentioned character, a volume of poetry [4], and taken several dozen stabs at writing a novel. One of the several reasons I went into journalism is my love of writing.

Two months after The Call, I got a new job as starter in the kitchen of Lawrence Memorial Hospital. This is how I described my job at the time (July 2007), copied from my then online journal –

Here’s what I do.

Starting around 6:30 a.m., I make tea, regular and decaf coffee. Then I make sure both ends of our nine-foot-long (I’m guessing) tray line (very long narrow table with rollers) are stocked with goodies like cups, lids, silverware, hot plates, lids for the plates (so the food stays hot all way around the different floors), the actual trays themselves, etc. Then I get the nourishment stickers from the diet clerk. (Nourishments are little snacks patients can have with doctor permission. So far there’s been about six per day.) Then I go hunt up the nourishments and put them in their special place in one of the refrigerators in the trayline room. Then I get my pager. Then I mill around for a moment or two, looking for other stuff I could do or running around getting even more special orders hunted up and delivered.

Then I get the count of how many people are getting breakfast and pick up the menus, take them to my end of the trayline, and box myself in via a supply table, one of our several six-foot mobile drink cart/coolers, the tray rack and a five-foot long plate warmer.

Then the fun happens.

I pick up a menu, decipher its many meanings (different colors mean different dietary restrictions, for one thing, and messing up on that sort of detail could quite possibly kill a patient), call out the correct variables of main dish, sides and whether or not same are supposed to be fat-free, sodium-free, both or something else entirely (such as ground up for people with chewing difficulties) while simultaneously putting down the correct combinations of silverware, juice, health shake, hot plate, lid, whatever, and the menu onto the tray so the people I was just yelling at a moment ago about the food can set the damn food down on the plate so the trays can be double-checked by someone at the other end before being put on a cart corresponding to what floor and department said tray goes to. Repeat anywhere from 60 to 100 times.

Guess what? By the time all that’s done, it’s maybe 8:15 a.m.

Then I am on-call, making up and delivering late trays until 9:10, which is when I pull carts (big blocky metal things that don’t roll in straight lines well) from the floors. 3rd: ICU (temporarily), Mother/Baby, Pediatrics. 4th: Rehab, Geriatrics. 2nd: Surgical.

Then it’s back downstairs to prepare the milk and juice order for Meals on Wheels, run their trayline (it’s much, much easier; all I do is put an order slip on a special tray and send it down the line, no yelling or translating), then get everything stocked back up for the LUNCH trayline at 11:30. Once that’s done and I have a sufficient number of pre-made trays set up, I fob the pager off onto someone else and go to my lunch. Going to lunch is actually on my daily list of tasks. My guess it’s because otherwise the trayline person would forget. That’s how busy we are some days.

Then I pull all the carts, including MoW, at 1:10. Then it’s back downstairs to clean everything, stock everything, line all the trays I can lay my hands on, and escape.

That’s what I do.

I liked that job. Tiring, frustrating, but fun.

Two months later, I had lunch with Carol, one of the diet clerks. During the meal I made the comment I would like to move out of starter, perhaps learn to be a diet clerk. The following morning, everyone apparently knew; the department head and the other clerks were enthusiastic, my current supervisor was despondent (I was good at the job). Two weeks of training and I became a diet clerk, which is what I am at the time of this writing (in fact, I wrote most of this paragraph at my desk on break).

I was helping to feed the sick!

A large part of my day as a diet clerk is spent in an office checking menus to make sure patient meal choices meet their individual dietary restrictions, but the rest of it is spent visiting with patients to help them choose what they want to eat. By necessity and time restraint, the conversations are work-related and short – “Hi, I’m Laura from Dietary; I’m here to pick up your menu for tomorrow. Would you like to pick out what you want to eat?” Usually, the patient either has their menu ready, in which case I pick it up and go, or they don’t, in which case I say I will come back later (assuming the patient is awake). That’s about it. But with almost every patient, the urge to chat, to inquire about their life, is there. The urge to ask about their faith, how they feel about God, is there.

Sometimes I’m lucky (blessed) and the patient is awake and they mention something about God first, and I get to chat for a little bit. I can’t bring myself to say something about God to them first, for reasons that sound hollow to myself: They might react angrily – “God? I’m in the hospital with a broken leg/cancer/etc.! Where’s God in this?” They might be upset that I’m being politically incorrect. I might get in trouble.

To get back to where I started with all this: Chicken does not indicate a career in public ministry. To me, anyway.

At the time I was playing in a role-playing game in which I had created a very outgoing Christian evangelist character. The world the character, who you’ll read more about later, lived in was fraught with danger, especially for one such as he, but he was determined to spread the Gospel no matter what danger he found himself in as a result. I find it difficult to bring up issues of faith with family and friends. At least, in person.

But I can write. So I decided I’d write a book. This one, obviously.

Incidentally, the title of this book has triple meaning. When I thought of it, the first thing that came to me was the crucifixion that the above-mentioned RPG character had undergone for his troubles. The second and third meanings – getting drunk on the Spirit and being constantly made aware of God’s presence and wonder (as though He was gently tapping me with a hammer) – came almost immediately after and are now the primary meanings. I spend most every day getting hammered now.

So here goes.

[1] My husband, Chris, informs me at Steak n Shake is not fast food. The in-house slogan mentions they are a restaurant, not a ‘workaurant.’ Bollocks. They have a drive-through and fret about speed. Fast food! On nice plates, and it’s better food, but I don’t buy into this ‘not fast food’ business. I worked there too, you know!

[2] And they don’t. Shoes For Crews shoes are excellent.

[3] Yes, there were many exclamations in my thoughts.

[4] Nightwhens and Daywheres

2 thoughts on “Getting Hammered: Introduction

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