Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
November 12, 2009
Well, I got fired from another job.
It’s not like this is unfamiliar territory. I’ve been fired from a lot of jobs. In fact, I’ve probably been fired from almost every job I’ve ever had.
It’s like when I get pulled over for a speeding ticket. It’s happened to me so many times, I don’t argue with the cop or make excuses. I just stick my arm out the window with my driver’s license and registration in hand before he gets to the window. Believe it or not, that’s actually gotten me out of more tickets than anything.
So you could say I’ve gotten away with my fair share of rule breaking, but I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been a bad seed right from the start.
It was the same story all through grade school. I was continuously labeled as “disruptive” and regularly sent to the principal’s office for talking out of turn. I especially had a tough time with the whole “don’t talk when the lights are turned off” thing. I was always way too absorbed in the sound of my own voice to stop talking with such a subtle cue as that one. So the whole cafeteria would be in silence for the daily announcements and I’d be yapping away, confused by what all the hysteria was about.
“Alison BER-kleeeeee! Go to the principal’s office! NOW!” the monitor would say.
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Things only got worse as I got older. Come third grade, I began to develop a little problem with giggling. The more I tried to stop, the worse it was. It got to the point where every time the teacher tried to ask me a question, or to read out loud, or to do just about anything, I would burst out laughing. I learned how to laugh without making any noise, constricting my vocal cords so the laugh came out like a wheeze, my bouncing shoulders the only indication that anything was amiss. That enraged my teachers even further. As their anger toward me grew, I only became more bewildered and (truth be told) amused by them. I just couldn’t understand why they were so angry. Was it because I was happy?
One day in third grade, my teacher Mrs. Stump got so furious she grabbed my desk, dragged it across the room and slammed it against the wall, her face red with the effort, sweat forming at her brow and staining the pits of her blouse. She literally looked like she might explode, and the only word she could muster was, “SIT.”
I couldn’t hold back any more. I had to know.
“Why are you so mad at me for laughing?” I asked as my classmates looked on in stunned silence, eyes wide and jaws flopped open. “Would you rather have me cry?”
“PRINCIPAL. GO. NOW!!!!” she yelled, her eyeballs rolling back in her head like those little pictures on a slot machine.
I never understood why going to the principal was such a big deal. To me, it was a break from the monotony of home room.
Things didn’t change much in my adult life. It’s just that employers replaced teachers.
My first foray into the work force was as a waitress, and I was horrible at it. I’d walk around for 45 minutes before I realized the order ticket was still in my apron, or I’d forget the dinner salad before the entree was ready. I’d go back to the table and say something clever like, “Well, you can just have your salad after dinner, like they do in Europe. Cleanses the palate.”
One summer, I worked as a landscaper up at Keystone for this little militant Swiss lady named Ina who could have been 150 years old for all we knew. Her weathered face looked like a napkin after Thanksgiving dinner, all crumpled and stained with age and years spent in the sun and wind. An all-female crew, we were armed with what Ina called “D-D Diggers” and relegated to spending most of our time sitting in flowerbeds pulling weeds.
Ina was clear about the rules: three strikes and you’re out. I thought I had her charmed enough to overlook that time I was late, or the time I lost my D-D Digger, but that day I took a roll of toilet paper from the Ranch Pool House was the last straw.
When I came proudly trotting back to the locker with it, happy that it would end days of wiping with paper towels and ripped up newspapers, she got all Mrs. Stump on my ass and that was that.
I didn’t try to argue, or get upset. I just gave her what my good friend Stevie calls “the high shoulders,” which is always the best route when someone is psychotically angry with you. I shrugged and walked away.
Seems I’ve done it again. I infuriated another boss without trying, equally oblivious and confused as to why and how they got so riled up. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the greatest employee in the world, especially when it comes to little things like mirror cleaning or remembering to take money from paying customers, but still.
So I’ve been separated from the other kids once again, and that proverbial desk has been dragged across the room and slammed against the wall. I wouldn’t say I’m laughing, but I’m still sitting here with the high shoulders going, “huh?”
The good news is the wall my desk is against has a window. When I look out of it I can see Aspen Mountain and friends who live in my neighborhood passing by. That little girl inside of me is still there giggling, wondering what everyone else is so mad about. I’m just so grateful, and lucky, and so blessed that I’ve managed to turn that into my livelihood. And for that, I give Mrs. Stump my deepest thanks.