It was July of 2009. I was 21, 22 in August, and if disillusionment with Mahjong hadn't set in by a combination of previous job experience and orientation, it seemed, they were going to do their damnedest on my first day.
Jim introduced me to Mitch, Joe, and Natalie.
Mitch was 18 years old and was set to attend MIT next year. He both did not belong at Mahjong and was my salvation when drivers were not in the building.
Joe was a handsome 20-something Hispanic man, the assistant manager on shift. He was very pleasant. I had no inkling that soon enough he would be one of the people I would fear for my life around.
And then there was Natalie. The general manager of the store, Natalie was about 30, made 40 by what I can only presume was early pregnancy, a life of drinking and smoking, and her heavyset frame. She was Hispanic, and her makeup was absolutely excellent, because I never would have guessed upon meeting her that she was cloven-hoofed.
Mitch was appointed to help me learn the order-taking system. I want to take a moment to make it clear that I consider myself reasonably intelligent and have grasped most electronic registers within about 20 minutes of fiddling with them.
The Mahjong registers were a shrine to poor design. It required going through 8 screens for the simplest of orders. Buttons were often labeled in inscrutable shorthand of an eldritch tongue. You had to skip through each category (pizza, sides, drinks, extras, sandwiches) for every order to confirm that they didn't want any of those things. And this is all when it worked perfectly.
Mitch got to take one actual order with me, trying to slow down his motions learned by rote enough for me to keep up without falling behind. Customers speak in rapid fire.
After the order was taken, Mitch had to jump to the assembly line to help Joe make the pizzas, because as worthless as I would certainly be on the phone, I would be worse than worthless at making pizzas.
When the phone inevitably rang, I answered with the official corporate-approved greeting. "Thanks for calling Mahjong, where we love our customers! Can I take your order?" This whitebread, insipid bullshit is so etched into my skull that even now, 3 years out of Mahjong, I have to fight instincts to answer the phone that way.
Turns out I couldn't take their order.
At one point, while Mitch ran between the pizza line and the phone to help me take an order, Natalie cocked her head out of the office door and shouted at him, no shit, shouted at him for helping me.
Jim, eyes locked on mine with a wicked grin, said, "You made Mitch stop helping him after one order." To which she responded, exasperated, "Well he's been here an hour!"
When, in the future, I tell you stories about how Jim was constantly abused, understand that the merry grin he gave me as he took his delivery out the door, the flippant "Welcome to Mahjong, Kevin!", understand why I believe he deserved every bit of it. I still swear I saw him hop up and click his heels together as he left the building.
The remainder of my 4-hour shift was a swirl of learning a new language and interacting with my co-workers. Joe is going to be his own little post down the line.
By the time I left that day, I'd begun to understand what I'd gotten myself into. Seeing the worthiness of the job, I stole a Dr. Pepper, and waited for my ride home.
Welcome to Mahjong.