words of wisdom

Amy Poehler Resented When You Lied and Said It Was Your Birthday

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Amy Poehler is overtaking older sisters worldwide as the go-to source for kind, funny, thoughtful, un-judge-y advice: She is the awesome camp counselor who taught you how to braid your hair in a fishtail braid, but in this case, that braid is your life. She aims her advice at a thoughtful and searching sort of young woman, sprinkling her pearls of wisdom into interviews when they aren’t presented as part of her “Ask Amy” web series.

This week The New Yorker publishes an essay by Poehler titled “Take Your Licks”; it serves less as straightforward advice than as an instructive fable of personal growth and figuring out what you want to do with your life. It’s a consummate end-of-summer essay and a perfect slice of being 17 — it takes place in 1989, just before Poehler starts college. She’s working at Chadwick’s, “one of those fake old-timey restaurants” scored by jangly music from a player piano. “Summer jobs are often romantic; the time frame creates a perfect parenthesis. Chadwick’s was not,” she writes. According to Poehler, it involved a fair amount of physical labor of the ice-cream-scooping and vinyl-booth-scrubbing varieties.

In fact, the trials of restaurant work even caused Poehler to question her love of performing. It seems some people, mainly teenage males, would lie about their birthdays to induce the special Chadwick’s birthday ritual: An employee had to bang a drum, play a kazoo, and lead a restaurantwide sing-along to celebrate the birthday.

They would file in, Adam’s apples bouncing, and announce 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. Some of them would order their sundaes while asking me to “hold their nuts.” Was this the life of an actor?

There should be a certain circle of shaming perdition for the people that torture restaurant staff into regaling them when it’s not truly their birthday and everyone knows it. Poehler writes that she soon descended into waitress ineptitude. She forgot to charge for extra sundae toppings, failed to use the ice-cream scoop, and aired her annoyances with customers in the form of side-eye glances with the rest of the staff.

If there is clear advice in this piece, it’s to know when to quit, turn in your kazoo, and look to the future: “I felt my whole life stretched out before me like an invisible buffet. I turned toward my future, mouth watering.”

Amy Poehler Writes a Lovely Thing About Being 17