One summer of high school, I worked, briefly, in a waffle shop on the Ocean City boardwalk. Blanche Kurtz was a waitress there.
It was well into June, but I had not yet found a summer job. Dave Hall was already working as a busboy at the Chatterbox in downtown Ocean City (where a black cook, actually named Twenty Six, threatened to cut him four ways: long, wide, deep, and often), and he encouraged me to come to the shore. He had heard about an opening at the waffle shop from Blanche and the rooming house where he was living was almost empty. It would be great fun. Within a week, I started the job.
Dave had already moved from the rooming house to be closer to the Chatterbox, but his recommendation was a good one. It was one of those large, two story houses with a deep porch on both floors, a central hallway, individual rooms on both sides, and a common bathroom at the back. It was run by Mrs. Mills, a pleasant, fifty-ish woman, totally unsuited for running any sort of business. She was partners with another woman, who, she said, recently ran off with most of the furniture. We were the only ones living there, she in an apartment in the back, and me in Dave’s old room. This, at the peak of the season.
I had moved in at night with a small suitcase. Early the next morning, I crawled out of bed and raised the shade on the back window. It took a few seconds to register, but I was looking into Mrs. Mills’ eyes only a few feet away. I was looking into her kitchen over the back of her stove where she was frying bacon. She cheerfully waved as I realized her apartment was an addition onto the house and the existing windows were left as they were.
We were both lonely and often spent evenings sitting on the porch together. As soon as I got settled, she would join me with her homemade Scrabble set. She had made the board and tiles from cardboard and marked them in crayon. Actually, it was not even a copy of Scrabble, but a copy of one of the rip-offs of Scrabble. But she was an avid player and a killer. If bar fights were settled with Scrabble, I would want Mrs. Mills on my side every time. Our games were no contest. When I lamely made “cats” out of “cat,” she would make noises of astonishment at the depth of my wit, then drop a word like “zygospore.” She assured me I would do much better in the next game that always followed.
My job on the boardwalk was to run the donut machine that was set up in front, behind glass. It squeezed out a skinny ring of dough that fell into a circular container of hot oil where it cooked as it was pushed around the circumference and then out onto a long track to cool before dropping into a box of powdered sugar. It was a magnet for people of all ages, but especially for children who would press their faces against the glass. It was like being on stage, but the hard part came at closing. The apparatus that squeezed out the dough had to be thoroughly cleaned or the plunger would jam for the run the following day.
When we had enough donuts, I cooked the waffles, also facing the boardwalk. I was in the center of a square area with twelve waffle irons on two sides. The menu listed about twenty varieties of waffles, but they were all made from the same batter with different toppings. I just dropped on a handful of raisins, coconut, pecans, or whatever, before closing the lid. A chocolate waffle was on the menu, and a popular request, but was impossible to make. I was to stir chocolate syrup into the batter, but this caused the waffle to weld onto the iron and could only be scraped off in crumbs. The waitresses learned to recommend other varieties, but some customers still wanted the crumbs.
I stayed less than a month. I was paid by the week, but I found it was a six-day work week. When I complained, the boss pointed out I had the normal two days off. Maybe that week I was off at 4:00 on Sunday, then came on again at 4:00 on Tuesday. That’s 48 hours difference and 48 hours is two days, so why am I complaining?
That was insulting my intelligence. Then, on my first check about 20% was deducted for “insurance.” What insurance? I never saw any policy. The paycheck was just barely enough to live on and left me with no time or energy even for the beach. The waitress were supposed to share their tips, but even they were cheating me (except Blanche, I assume).
It was easier to leave than fight. Leon Evans was working at Pepper’s Pharmacy on Plumbstead Avenue and he told me they were looking for someone. So, I left Ocean City and Mrs. Mills for Pepper’s, but that is another story.