We didn’t really need another reason to love Amy Poehler (Amy and Tina Fey are hosting the Golden Globes again this year! Amy and Tina Fey are hosting the Golden Globes again this year!)—but we’ve got one anyway. This week’s New Yorker features a piece penned by Amy about her first job; it’s worth a read for so very many reasons, so seriously. Go over there and read it. You will thank yourself.
But for those of you without the time to spare, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version—and why we should care about it:
In the summer of 1989 a few months before she left her hometown of Burlington, MA for Boston College (Massachusetts pride, yo), Amy got a job scooping ice cream at a place called Chadwick’s. As anyone who’s worked in such a place can tell you, restaurants are tough; the work is hard and physical, the shifts are long, and smiling all day and all night at strangers, many of whom will treat you poorly and tip worse, is exhausting. But even restaurants have their up sides—“There was a performance element to the job that I found appealing, to begin with,” she writes:
“Every time a customer was celebrating a birthday, an employee had to bang a drum that hung from the ceiling, play the kazoo, and encourage the entire restaurant to join him or her in a sing-along. Other employees would ring cowbells and blow noisemakers. I would stand on a chair and loudly announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are so happy to have you at Chadwick’s today, but we are especially happy to have Kevin! Because it’s Kevin’s birthday today! So, at the sound of the drum, please join me in singing Kevin a very happy birthday!”
At the time, the Parks and Recreation star didn’t know that she wanted to be an actor; she had planned to major in English and become a teacher like her parents. “But when I stood in the dining room and remanded attention,” Amy continues, “I was reminded of things I already secretly knew about myself. I wasn’t shy, I liked to be looked at, and making people laugh released a certain kind of hot lava into my body that made me feel like a queen.”
As is the case with most soul-crushing jobs, though, the high didn’t last long; Amy isn’t sure “when the worm turned,” as she puts it, but she knows what she started to hate. She started to hate having to bring in “the BellyBuster,” a sundae of the sort nightmare food challenges are made of. And she started to hate teenagers—especially the boys, who would come in pretending it was their birthdays. “Since Chadwick’s operated on an honor system, I would have to look into their sweaty, lying faces and smile like a flight attendant.” The worst part? “Some of them would order their sundaes while asking me to ‘hold their nuts.’ Was this the life of an actor?”
Amy quit at the end of the summer and never looked back. ‘It’s important to know when it’s time to turn in your kazoo,” she writes—and that time had come.
It’s this sort of reflection that makes Amy’s work as a writer and performer so very effective; part of me wonders if her experiences during the summer of 1989 can be at least partly credited with the path her life took later on. At the end of each night, she says, “I was aching for what came next. I felt my whole life stretched out before me like an invisibly buffet. I turned toward my future, mouth watering.” And this is one of the many things I think we can learn from her—always look toward the future, even when the present is at its most bleak, or even simply its most mundane. I don’t know about you, Bettys, but every so often I need to remind myself about that. Nothing is ever set in stone; things can always change. We just need to be strong enough to change with them.
Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s senior editor.