Every day this past year I have gotten my butt out of bed at 7 a.m. to make it to my 8 a.m. shift at a pub and grill. My shift includes making a few breakfast orders, prepping wraps for the rest of the day, and shooting the breeze with Wanda, my middle-aged, five-foot-tall manager.
Wanda is a feisty little redhead who has lived in Jersey County in Southern Illinois all her life. She wears everything on her sleeves — frequently coming into work at ten-past eight, colorfully cursing whatever is bothering her that day. The only thing Wanda doesn’t seem to find fault in are her four cats — which she speaks of with exceeding affection. On the other hand, while she clearly loves her family, almost every day there is some type of complaint about her loafing husband Spike and their seventeen-year-old daughter Jenny. If it’s not her displeasure with Jenny’s unwillingness to mow the lawn, it’s Spike’s refusal to eat pasta sauce that isn’t Prego. I could write volumes about the hilarious remarks I have heard over my years working at the pub, but I’ll simply let you in on my favorite Wanda quote:
“Jenny was whining. She wanted Dominos, and I was like, ‘Well, tough, it’s not your 20th Wedding Anniversary. It’s ours. And we’re getting Pizza Hut.”
This fall, Wanda was out sick for about a month. When she returned she seemed a little grislier, a little weaker, and a little obsessed with Facebook. First, I noticed her frequently talking about reconnecting with former workers. I understand why she was excited by this idea. She was bed-ridden for a month, and there is no better sick activity than extended facebooking. Additionally, for someone who assumed she would never hear from most of the kids she nurtured through the years (she’s been manager of the college pub for 18 years), Facebook must seem like magic. But then the weirder stuff started happening.
Wanda often references other peoples’ Facebooks. You know how it’s only slightly acceptable to mention things in conversation you have learned from someone’s Facebook profile? Wanda doesn’t. And she’s your boss. And she gossips about all of your coworkers and peers based on Facebook interests. One day Wanda told me she was upset with the closing shift, but then she said, “Well, I know So-and-So was tired. I saw on his events he was going out to a club in the middle of the week.”
Wanda also discusses personal problems between family members via Facebook. In a discussion about her sister-in-law’s marriage: “’Cos she had put up ‘Why is life so hard?’ and I knew right away it was Chip—he never treats her right. I wrote back on there ‘it’ll get better.’”
But, out of everything, the most perplexing of Wanda’s activities are her addictions to the Zynga games.
At the boom of Wanda’s Facebook discovery, Farmville became a usual topic of conversation in the mornings:
“I got home and Mike said he had milked all my cows, and I was pissed! He’s like ‘I was just tryin’ to help.’ But I’m like get your own damn cows, and stop spending all your time on Mafia! He won’t leave my farm alone. I come home, and I wanna play with it — not have him do everything for me.”
“Jenny did the stupidest thing yesterday.”
“She bought me a yellow cat.”
“On the farm there was cats for sale — three dollars! And she gave it to me as a present. Money is really hard to get there. You gotta pay for it. Not me! So, I said, ‘Jenny, what’d you do that for? You used all your money.’ And she said, ‘I dunno Mom, I just thought you’d really like it.’ ”
The cat experience was very touching to Wanda — plus, the kitten could be friends with her puppy. I kind of got her farm interest. After all, she was raised on one. But what I could never understand was her obsession with Café World, the game where you cook for and manage a restaurant. Let’s just be clear: Wanda spends her nine-hour workday cooking for and managing a real restaurant. Then she goes home and manages a fake one.
In an embarrassing moment of weakness and procrastination, I started playing Café World. I added Wanda as a “neighbor” to check out her café. It was ridiculous. Millions of café coins, points, a huge decorated space, tons of turkeys cooking away. The next morning after my two co-workers on my real cafe shift had left, she turned to me and solemnly asked under her breath, “You’re doin’ Café now?” like she had just found out I was snorting coke or something. She then proceeded to keep me fifteen minutes after my shift ended to tell me her best tricks, including taking off the door when there wasn’t enough food cooking so no one could leave the restaurant and the “rating” wouldn’t go down. I didn’t understand half of what she said. But, soon enough her words came floating back as I proceeded to time my meals more precisely, interrupt myself in conversation to worriedly exclaim, “My macaroni is going to burn!” before darting away, and, yes, even take the doors off my café.
Needless to say, I have become addicted to my stupid cyber restaurant (The Hopscotch Café). Even though I work at a real grill, there is nothing like the instant satisfaction of baking a pie in the click of a mouse. It relieves so much stress. There are virtually (haha) no problems — only money to be made, wallpaper to be redone, and new dishes to “cook.” It is absolutely numbing and adorable. Tiny little cheesecakes and pizzas! What could be cuter?
Obviously, I am not in my right mind — or world. I am currently of the world in which it is impossible to go bankrupt on crazy purchases because the game never lets you get lower than zero. A world where giving gifts to others is always free. A world where as long as your business has a product it has a booming customer base. I never thought I’d say it, but Wanda’s behavior actually makes more sense to me now. Of course she would play Café World to unwind. After a day of idiot kids screwing things up, backordered menu items, and angry managers, she has nighttime — where she gets her just desserts.