When I was a little girl all I ever wanted to be was someone who worked nights and came home… whenever.
I remember as a fourth grader at Christ the King Parochial School, Sister Katherine asked her pupils to gather in a circle. One by one we had to tell the kind woman what we wanted to be when we grew up.
With hand raised in a tiny fistful of triumph, I blurted, “I want to be a waitress at an Italian restaurant! That’s what my mother is. She doesn’t come home until one or two in the morning. Sometimes we get to have lasagna and play Parcheesi!”
All the kids laughed. One kid guffawed so hard he split a seam in his monogrammed uniform shirt. I ran away in tears not knowing what went wrong.
Finally, Sister Katherine took me aside and said, “Sandy, you’re a smart girl. You can be something more than a waitress.”
I quickly made the connection that waiting on tables wasn’t something for ambitious students. Nevertheless, after high school I spent over a decade in food service jobs. I wasn’t going to let my favorite nun make me feel bad for needing to make a living. My parents had made enough sacrifices giving me a K-12 private school education. I didn’t want to rely on them for handouts as an adult.
I recently read an article that eating an apple a day can help with memory retention. Clearly I did not eat enough apples as a server because I sure had a hard time remembering customers’ orders! So, I wasn’t the best waitress but I excelled as a banquet server. I worked for many years as a banquet server and have mostly positive memories of that type of employment.
Shift after shift of patiently seated guests being served the same chicken entrée with an automatic eighteen percent gratuity: what’s not to love?
Wanting love to manifest in other forms, like so many in the industry, I made the mistake of dating a fellow server… or two. These liaisons ended badly. While working at a particularly posh hotel I was impressed by a man I’ll refer to as Alfred. Alfred had such impeccable manners he could have walked right out of a P. G. Wodehouse novel. He was so charming and gallant, always the first one on the floor standing sentinel with linen napkin folded over his forearm.
But he had a bit of an edge. While on a smoke break I watched as two busboys held him back from getting into fisticuffs with a passerby who called him a derogatory name.
And he considered himself a ladies’ man. He even chatted up women who were married. Once when a woman in our section became overly boisterous and started flirting with a bartender Alfred said for the benefit of several onlookers, “If that were my wife I’d keep her satisfied so she wouldn’t make such a fool of herself in public.”
When I pointed out such comments might be perceived as sexist he apologized profusely. So I figured I’d give the guy a break.
I used to think waiters and waitresses had exceptionally high libidos but now I know it was the monotony that made us all a little crazy.
Listening to lubricious details about someone’s convoluted sex life makes the time go by when you’re folding that third batch of five hundred napkins. Or polishing silver. Nothing made me feel like I was on the losing end of a class war more than the times I had to polish endless caddies of silver.
Alfred and I went out for drinks one night at Julia’s on Fifth where he showed his true colors. Our cocktail waitress was hard-working but Alfred thought she was slow and inept. Just because she couldn’t remember every beer on tap (I wonder if she caught that article on apples) he tsked and asked if it was her first day on the job. She assured him it was not, with just the hint of a fake smile. The moment her back was turned he grabbed his crotch indicating what kind of tip she could expect. And he had ordered a Michelob Light so it wasn’t like the bill would be that big.
More Danielle Steele than P. G. Wodehouse.
Alfred would later get into a tussle with another server’s husband. He had been chasing around with a woman named Wendy. Wendy’s husband didn’t cotton to seeing Alfred in his own bed for some reason. I expected one of them would quit but, after a brief blowup with the husband, they just kept working together as if nothing had ever happened.
I don’t regret all the years I toiled in hotels, bars, restaurants, stadiums and catering concerns.
But to this day when someone orders a Michelob I can’t erase the image of Alfred grabbing his crotch. Now if I want to treat myself to a drink after a hard day’s work I buy it myself.