Monday, October 10, 2011

"We Laughed, We Cried, We Got 10%"

            When you don’t go to college, or if you get strange ideas in your head like living a life outside of office corporate culture, you will eventually find yourself scouring want ads for service work on Craigslist and trolling your local restaurant, appealing to small minded fools who also didn’t go to college and have zero interest in anything but fucking hostesses and drinking whiskey sodas until they pass out bathed in the light of cable television.
            I once had dreams of escaping what I thought was ‘slave corporate culture,' only to find myself entering into a lifelong blood pack with the Service Industry, a thoroughly different brand of hell. I, like many others, thought the allure of cash that day, night hours and flexible schedules would bring more freedom, creativity and autonomy to my life.
            The result was exactly the opposite.
            No one understands slavery more than those who serve people.
            I’m sure it was something to serve a King or Queen in opulent castles and beautiful riches of the Manor. But here in America where the only royalty is the dollar, anyone with a couple twenties or a credit card can have a perfectly healthy human serve them in some demeaning costume and hand tray, and thoroughly abuse them as if they too were Marseilles Royals.
            And those that live by doing this little dirty work are with me on this.
            There is a reason the phrase ‘everyone should have to wait tables for a year’ is so prevalent in the Service Industry.
            Only when you serve people can you learn the true nature of human beings.
            Let me make one thing clear. THERE ARE KIND AND WONDERFUL PEOPLE IN THE WORLD. Not everyone is a total self-gratifying, obnoxious bastard. That being said the average person -- particularly tourists for some unknown reason -- possesses the worst condescending attitudes when you serve them. Something changes in the human dynamic when you approach a table of four, all sitting comfortably and staring at their menus. 
            The waiter bravely approaches, order pad in hand.
            “Good evening, everyone.”
            No one looks up. They stare coldly at the menus. Your palms begin to sweat. Another table lifts a hand, angry eyes wanting another drink. Your boss from across the floor signals that you have another table, pointing to four frat boys loudly charging in. Another customer snaps his fingers: “More water, waiter.”
            “What are your specials?” asks the big pink-faced man at your waist level. They never care about the specials. They just like the waiter to repeat a shaky and rehearsed list of leftovers that didn’t sell over the weekend.
            “Well, tonight we have a baked skate, fresh from New England water, touched with a butter and onion puree. The sides are garlic mashed potatoes and organically grown baby vegetables. The next is a pork roast,…” and you see his eyes glaze over. One of the kids at the table throws a baguette on the ground. Another snaps his fingers behind you:
            "Excuse me,” the other patron calls. “We want our check!”
            You calm them, turning quick. “No problem sir,” you say. You turn back, the whole table is angry that you even dared take your attention from them.
            The order is taken brutally and your boss comes over to you with heated breath on the way to the kitchen.
            “You’ve got that four-top waiting and Clarice doesn’t understand your drink order! Come on, this is the dinner rush!”
            You go over to the restaurant bartender Clarice’s service bar. She is an angry ex-dancer who now has to work service bar and hates every server she sees.
            “What the fuck is this? This order doesn’t make sense.”
            You argue with the bartender that you need a Cuba Libre instead of a Cucumber Martini. Clarice huffs and glares at you like you are an idiot, even though the order was clearly marked. The other servers impatiently grunt over your shoulder trying to get in line to receive their drinks.     
            The drinks spill over your tray as you rush back to the floor. The sweat builds under your arms in the over starched white-collar shirt you have to wear to work.
            The kids are screaming. The boss watches you like a hawk.
            “This is not what I ordered!” The old lady with badly rouged lips says over aging yellow teeth.  
            “I’m sorry, Miss,” you say.
            “Well, make it right. I’m not paying for this! Let me talk to your manager! And don’t call me Miss!”
            You go over to your irritated, sweating manager.
            “The lady at table 5 wants to talk to you.”
            He grunts: “What did you do this time?”
            You race back to the kitchen. The Chef, who demands to be called “Chef” though he has no degree, culinary fame or Michelin rating, berates a Brazilian prep cook.
            “Fucking wrong, you son of a bitch. You touch my knives again, I’ll stab you with them.”
            He turns, bald and agitated.
            “What do you want?”
            “Order 13, Chef. She claims it’s not what she ordered.”
             He grabs the ticket, smoke from the skillet rising behind him.
            “The hell she didn’t. Who took this out?” He yells at his food runners. “Which one of you motherfuckers took this out?” They all shrug simultaneously. “It’s the fucking dinner rush! You must have fucked up,” he threatens you.
            “Chef…” you say before:
            “Chef, I need a rush on table 8! Salmon, medium on the fly,” another sweating waiter yells in your ear. You move quickly out and every table in your section is looking right at you, all raising their hands with demands.  
            Friendly tables are even worse. The nicer the people are the more you open up, telling them about what you are studying, making jokes about your life. They finally treat you like a human, nodding with big smiles. You know there's is some kind of unspoken bond. You entertain their children and comp the wife's drink and grab the check with expectant glee. Your stomach drops. You walk with a lousy 10%. As if their smile alone paid the rent. Someone behind you snaps his fingers for refill of Coke.
            And don’t get me started about Europeans.  
            So as you separate the soaked one dollar bills from your pocket at night to tip the bus boy and bartender out, you stare down at the $75 you've earned in a 10-hour shift and start contemplating states with looser gun laws.
            This little ditty is my raised fist out there to the waiters of the world and anyone who has served. Like time in the military, the only ones who know the war are those in the fight.

            Next time, the drinks are on me. 









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