Her name was Shaleen. Not Sha-leen, or Shay-leen, Shhh-leen. "My name is Shaleen." The words poured coldly out of her mouth as she introduced herself during our first shift together at the flagship Sizzler steakhouse in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. "My name is Anna," I exclaimed in my friendly voice that I'd been practicing for my new Western home. I pointed to my name tag for emphasis. Not Ana. Not Hannah, Anna.

Shaleen made no effort to hide her contempt for me, the lesbian communist I imagined she believed. I went to Utah, of all places, via New York City, where I'd graduated from a fancy school uptown. I vividly remember calling my mom on the phone as I walked down Broadway, just a week before my graduation, to inform her that I was going to move there. I'd found a feminist commune on Craigslist and booked a one-way ticket. It boasted chickens, bees, farming space, and freedom—or what sounded like freedom to me at the time. I took this as a sign from the universe to move out of New York. My mom was horrified. Everyone was horrified, unwilling to accept that I'd rejected the East Coast, my Ivy League education, and my cultural Judaism, opting instead to live in Mormon country. Many Utahans, I would find, were equally confused, unable to understand why I'd come to Salt Lake of all places.

Sizzler steakhouse in Salt Lake City, Utah

I was hired on the spot at the Sizzler on 400 South and 400 East, after my best friend and I had wandered along the street in 95 degree heat, chain smoking Marlboro Red 100s, toting our 44-ouncers filled with icy Diet Coke—for hydration, of course. We'd stopped by a seedy cafe, where a strange regular informed us that Sizzler was hiring, so we carefully crossed the busy, eight-lane street, somehow managing to avoid getting hit by a series of oversized, speeding trucks. Although the glory days of a steakhouse marketed towards working-class, elderly Mormons had already come to pass, there I was, hoping they would hire me. About twenty minutes later, I landed my first job out of college.

Anna-Shaleen relations rapidly deteriorated during our first lunch shift together. I realized I'd officially gotten on her bad side when the question of gun control was raised. Being the stubborn, opinionated lady I am—reared by two communists and educated at an alternative public high school—I couldn't hold my tongue. I tried to explain why guns were dangerous and the laws needed to be changed (especially in Utah), but my wisdom fell on deaf ears. "Handguns are simply killing machines that individuals shouldn't be able to own," I could hear myself say. "The Second Amendment was established before—" I successfully cut myself off from rambling on about 18th century America and the intent of the Founding Fathers. Good job, me. Shaleen just stared in my direction through her enormous blue eyes, and I knew we'd never be friends.

After that, Shaleen made no effort to hide her contempt for me, the lesbian communist I imagined she believed. After all, I was a card-carrying liberal with short hair. I also wore weird floral-embossed, satin bellbottoms and bright red lipstick—my lame attempt at being subversive. Perhaps out of sheer boredom, Shaleen judged me for just about everything she could think of. As we stood behind the tiled counter, at our respective registers, watching the clock tick slowly away, she noted all of my bad habits and how they were killing me slowly. "Diet Coke is really bad for you. Like really, really bad. You'll probably get cancer from it," she blurted out one day, as I stole a sip from my oversized drink, a habit I'd developed in lieu of finding no decent coffee within a walkable distance from the commune.

My favorite part of the job was that each shift had a seemingly infinite number of built-in smoke breaks. The managers, all heavy smokers themselves, were extremely understanding upholders of the we-smokers-have-to-stick-together loyalty club, and I reveled in being a part of it. I asked for breaks as often as I thought they'd give them to me. I'd light up my cig on the smoking rock just outside the front entrance and contemplate how the hell I'd ended up at a Sizzler in Salt Lake City, as a smoker and a Diet Coke addict. Sometimes the thought terrified me, sometimes it thrilled me. Shaleen always fake coughed upon my return.

My least favorite Shaleen harassment came in the form of a threat. She was always threatening that the managers would fire me because I didn't know the menu top-to-bottom like she did. Indeed, she was a far better employee than I was—she knew all the lunch specials and prices, and her drink sales were much higher than mine, a point of pride for a Sizzler cashier—but unlike her, I realized that I could never get fired from the job unless I literally stopped coming to work or decided to show up naked.

One day, during a post-lunch lull, she simply handed me a menu and said, "Learn it. Love it. Live it." I think that was the moment I realized that I had to quit my first and so far only adventure in cultural voyeurism.

Although at the time, the thought of working with Shaleen felt like a real stress in my life, a year later, I remember her fondly. Sometimes I wonder if she's still a cashier, or if she's moved up to being a waitress, or maybe even gotten out of Utah entirely and actually followed her boyfriend to a gamer community college program in Wyoming as she'd hoped.

During those two months, I ate a lot of free steaks and drank the copious amounts of soda I'd always been denied as a child. I lived a life I will probably never live again, and I still managed to make more than an intern.

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