Tag Archives: waitressing

gone to the printers

I think this might be like arriving at base camp at the foot of Everest

I know its an awful lot like being 37 weeks pregnant.

maybe you dreamed of it

surely you worked for it

but as the time nears

you realize, increasingly

that you have absolutely no idea

what you’ve gotten yourself into

 

and the dark clouds form and disperse

as you reckon the size of the leap

you have made

peering at the place you think you’re going to land

readying the things you think you’ll need

asking for mentors, safety nets

realizing that when you need financial security more than ever you are sloughing it off

to pit yourself against the challenge

of doing this thing

and doing it well

aprons and layers falling

revealing the dream vulnerable to the raw air:

 

I,

Writer

terrified, quaking, tired and certain

there is no perfect draft, there is no truly ready time

the story is past due

 

and gone to the printers.

finally finished, and only just begun.

Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West.  November 2014

 

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Fellow Waitresses

They are part of our equipment
indispensible as our aprons,
our pens,
our expensive well-made work clogs
and our smiles (mostly real, but often feigned);

:the wrist braces
the tiger balm
the icy hot patches
the band-aids
the ankle braces
and knee braces
and the kingsized bottles of ibuprofen

we share these supplies,
and others
freely with each other whenever someone is in need
we have all been there.

Once, during a busy summer waitressing shift,
I balanced an entire table’s worth of dishes
atop a hard-shell wrist brace,
and waited for the patrons to decide on a dessert.
They insisted I not go away, they simply had to order right then
And while two debated between the sundae and the pie,
one patron asked:
“what’d you do to your wrist?”
“This,” I replied, hefting the plates
by way of indication
and it was clear
he did not quite understand.

We don’t have insurance, generally,*
so we pay the chiropractor, the accupuncturist, the emergency room
out of pocket
and we come to work sick and injured
because we can’t afford not to

We understand this is part of the job
the way my father and his highway department coworkers
understand the danger of speeding cars and distracted drivers

We do what we have to to make a living,
we accept the risks, and do our best to take care.
But when damage is done
we slip through the cracks
invisible to the rest of society
invisible, sometimes, to the very people we serve.

A few weeks ago, one of my father’s coworkers was pinned by a car
while fixing a pedestrian crossing signal.
they took his leg.
Highway workers are killed on the job as often as cops,
but the news cameras rarely show up for their funerals.

I know a woman who waitressed with a broken bone in her foot for months
I knew a woman in her fifties who’d been serving all her life,
and who smoked pot to deal with the chronic pain;
when she spoke up about unfair treatment,
her bosses made her take a random drug test
and sent her home without a job
I know of a waitress with cancer, and a five year old son
it takes a lot of 15% gratuities to cover chemo.
I have known a lot of waitresses.
I have hundreds of stories in my apron pockets
and somehow “Union” is a dirty word
people my age do not say it
people in my industry do not say it

it was not always this way,

and i’ll tell you what

Fellow Waitresses;
Fellow Workers;
I may have a bunch of college degrees,
but my collar is blue,
and i’ve got a Little Red Songbook around here somewhere.

* * * * *

*Full disclosure. I now have health care through my husband’s employer (my infant son and I are insured for the low price of 700$+/month). I also work for what is hands down the fairest, most supportive restaurant I’ve ever encountered in 12 years in the industry. That being said, my experience still leads me to conclude blue-collar workers are getting SCREWED in America. People my age (I’m 30) have little to no concept of the importance or potential power of unions. The Reagan era wrote labor history out of the textbooks, big business and corrupt union leadership gave worker organization a bad name, and right-wing politicians are dismantling the gains of the labor movement bit by bit. Time to think about what Labor Day really means. A lot more than BBQs.

Ever heard of the Seattle Waitress Union Local 240? Headquartered on 2nd Ave downtown, they were once called “the red-hottest unionists in Seattle” by the Seattle Union Record. “Formed on March 23, 1900 by Alice Lord. This all white union was one of the first women’s unions to be chartered by the American Federation of Labor. Under the direction of Alice Lord, the Seattle Waitress’ Union is accredited with establishing the 8 hour work day and 6 hour work week for all female servers. The Seattle Waitress’ Union was also successful in their fight for a state sanctioned minimum wage.” Kept people of color out, which is no good, (pretty standard for unions/suffrage movements at the time), but damn they raised some hell (and wages). And we’ve never heard of them. “Before organizing the girls were compelled to work all the way from ten to fifteen hours per day for from $3 to $6 per week, but now thanks to organization, we are never called upon to work more than ten hours and receive in compensation thereof $8.50 to $10 per week.” (From the Waitress Union newsletter in 1902)

Here’s a little more on Miz Alice Lord:

and some more good hellraising waitress stories.

Check out UNITE HERE Local 8’s website to learn about labor struggles affecting fo and beverage and hospitality workers in Seattle.

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Filed under aprons, blue collar, Change, Labor, Ordinary, poetry, waitressing

Cushion and Apron

A few weeks ago I leaned on the servers’ side of the kitchen window to let the heat from the lamp warm my face and hands. It was quiet in the restaurant, business-wise, so after glancing at each of my tables to ascertain that they had what they needed, I flipped to a fresh page in my orderpad and scribbled.

“Its hard to see the poetry in this anymore.”

Maybe it seems strange, but there have been times when observing the patterns brought me some satisfaction. The nights when every table in my section ordered an ice tea and a lemonade, when every child requested an apple juice and every woman ordered the portabella and I wondered about the possibility of some underlying stream of universal human consciousness. There have been days when I served people their fries and beers and thought about desire and satisfaction and the temporary solace of food, watching it evaporate as the crumbs went cold. There have been moments when being invisible to the people I waited on made me feel privvy to fascinating moments of human nature and tiny poems of society. Marital strife laid bare, eating disorders lurking under napkins, couples on dates that spoke nary a word, but spent all their time pushing buttons on their phones. Declarations of independence made over diet cokes and tears falling on ice cream sundaes.

All I see lately is human smallness. All I hear is demands. All I witness is monotony. There isn’t any poetry in my perspective, just tiredness. I spend the first three hours of my shift slowing my thoughts down, transitioning into worker bee mind, and the last five hours slogging. I get home and sit on the couch at 1 am and wait for a creative thought to resurge, because it is the hour when they have always visited me, but things are numb. Which is a blessing, I guess, cause I am hungry for sleep these days.

I took some time off work this past weekend. Let go of the three hundred or so I knew I’d make in cash from Friday dinner and Saturday lunch. Let go of worrying about my savings fund for my upcoming maternity leave. Folded up my apron. And went off to sit on a cushion.

There were moments at the beginning when I pettily wished I’d skipped the meditation weekend and used the time off to do something less demanding. Watching movies, perhaps. Walking to the beach with my dog and my husband. Baking something sweet. Sleeping in in the morning. Moments when I thought about the way I try to empty my mind of thoughts at work so I can be a Good Waitress, and here I was seeking to quiet my mind on a cushion, when I could have been curled on the couch, sipping tea and trying to spark creative thought with a pen and a blank journal page. There were moments sitting there on the cushion, when I remembered vividly the physical pain of my last meditation weekend, when my shoulders rebelled at the sitting and knotted into a ball of sharp ache that took over all of my attention.

But they were only moments. In between them, I found myself sitting in a new, open space. In that new, open space, my mind still ran wild. I thought about laundry, food, writing, love, and the tiny person living in my abdomen. I also paid attention to my body, and shifted my sitting position before the ache had a chance to settle in. I followed my breath. I followed the person in front of me during walking meditation, and I returned to the cushion to attend to my body, and follow my breath. I thought about thousands of things, inconsequential and pivotal, and labeled each item “Thinking.” Liberated my gerbil wheel mind from the responsibility of dealing with the pivotal things. Smiled at the democracy of Thinking, in which laundry and home-buying and croissants and parenthood and birds flying past are of equal significance. no matter how profound or inane or life-altering or petty the thought, it is only that: a thought. A construction of my habitual mind. I felt like I was following myself through a park laced with trails, and noticing the ones I favored every day, trails I stepped into without realizing I was choosing them.

The meditation instructor talked about cocoons, the way we enfold ourselves in habit to protect ourselves from being fully present. How we keep our talents and our deepest kindnesses locked away inside those cocoons, because bringing them out honestly into the sunlight makes us vulnerable in the present moment, and we would just as soon save vulnerability for some other time.

It occurred to me that waitressing is one of my cocoons. A safe place to make money without laying bare my desire to be creative professionally. There is no chance of failing at being a Writer if I forestall any chance of failure by never trying, by claiming “its impossible to make a living that way and look, I have waitressing.” It’s my smelly little refuge from the creative job market, a source of professional-level income that asks nothing of my intelligence. I claim to hate the way customers don’t see the person behind the apron, but on some level, I crave that anonymity, because its much safer than writing something and sticking my name on it.

Hmm.

During the Saturday break, Ryan and I walked through the arboretum nearby the meditation center. Held hands. Let our dog tear around the hillsides and noticed spring emerging everywhere. Marveled at the tiny green buds making their way out of bare branches, which seemed even more astounding than seeds sprouting from the earth, when I thought about it. We spent the walk back to the meditation center in silence. Returned to the cushion. Practiced walking meditation at the gong. Sat again, deluged with thoughts. Labeled them thinking, and went back to the breath.

Sunday afternoon, I left the meditation weekend early. Somewhere else, across the country, two football teams were going to duke it out for an athletic title, and I was needed at work 2 hours early to serve game-watchers massive plates of hotwings and pitchers of beer. I’d tried to get the shift covered, but no one was able, and so a week prior to the meditation workshop, I resigned myself to leaving the cushion prematurely, and picking up the order pad once more. Resigned myself to combining two activities I’d come to resent tremendously: waitressing and professional football. As the weekend neared though, I began to see the humor in my scheduling conflict. I could virtually hear long-gone Buddhist teachers chuckling at my predicament.

I talked about my early departure, and my fears connected to it, with my meditation discussion group on Sunday morning. We all acknowledged how difficult it can be to take this quieter mind back into the big world, away from the safety and structure and respectful quiet of the meditation center. When the time came, I said goodbye to friends, and Ryan and I drove back to West Seattle. I put my apron on, and I waited on a group of perfectly kind people who were there to watch the game. Yes, they shouted and cheered. Yes, they demanded beers without always making eye contact, and asked me questions while leaning out to look around my body to see the tv. When my anger surged, I noticed it. When I let it go, I noticed it going. Many people said please and thank you, and when I felt kind toward them, I noticed it. When I saw a regular and brought her the lemons she likes with her beer, she was genuinely grateful to have been remembered. I noticed her gratitude, and was grateful for it. When the game ended, they left. My section emptied, my shift ended, and I cleaned up and went home.

Nothing profound has changed in my life because I went to meditation. But I am practicing.
Mindfulness.

On the cushion, and in the apron.

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Filed under meditation, Shambhala Buddhism, waitressing

saturday night

saturday to everyone else is tuesday on my calendar. I worked a long lunch shift, and took tiny comfort from the fact that at least a couple of the waitresses wanted to be somewhere else as badly as I did. We are experts on each other’s fake smiles.

After my shift I buy toothpaste, because we are out. Walk home in a light rain, tired of being on my feet but grateful I’m walking for myself now, and not for someone’s side of ranch or glass of ice or fresh silverware. The Sound is blue-grey, the sky is blue-grey, and I’ve had the same headache for two days. Another random unexpected side effect of pregnancy. My body is producing whole pints of new blood, and all of it is taking a slow detour around my womb, made slower by my already low blood pressure. Which means, if I manage to trigger a headache, it’s aggravated every time I stand, sit, lean, or bend over. I record this as sort of an anthropological observation, but its true, I’m whining. The not-so-unpleasant side effect of the headache: I’ve begun to walk very deliberately. Gently, slowly, with intention, so as not to jar my skull or rush blood away from my head and to another part of my body. I notice more this way. More raindrops, more faces, more birdsongs.

Somewhere in Seattle, as I walk home, a family of elderly siblings is considering an offer Ryan and I made to buy their deceased mother’s house. Her name was Annie. She raised 6 children in the house and lived out her days there. It sits on a third of an acre in south Seattle, and is ringed with evergreens she planted in the 1930s. I promised her son Roger if we got the house I’d keep her birdfeeders full, something he’s been doing in her memory since the day she died. There’s a damn good chance we’ll get the house, and it won’t break us to pay the mortgage. All of this is surreal.

Walking down the alley to our house, I hold my breath to pass through the smell of the bag of cat litter one of our neighbors poured into the potholes. Our winter garden is still in the evening light, beaded with droplets of clear rainwater. The dog is giddy and overwrought when I unlock the door, and she runs in circles for a while, which seems to help.

When she’s calmed down, I profer her harness, and she walks willingly into it. We set out walking in the fading light. I leave her off leash for a while, and she bounds back and forth between smells, waiting at driveways and sidestreets on command. When we reach the busier street, she instinctively narrows the distance between us, walking in unleashed heel the rest of the way to the petstore. Inside, she greets the employees, all of whom she knows well. They lavish treats upon her in exchange for shakes and sloppy kisses. I buy her cheese hearts and peanut butter bones, and stock up on treats for a care package for my brother’s new dog, a German Shepherd rescue named Kodi.

Walking past the pizza joint on the corner, I find myself wanting pizza. We cross the street to the grocery store, where I pick out baby spinach leaves, two hothouse tomatoes, and a brick of vegan mozzarella. Also a peach and a plum, which arrived at my local grocery store courtesy of a long, fossil-fuel powered journey from Chile. I agonize over buying them for a while, then decide to get them anyway. I’m pregnant, for God’s sake. I’m allowed to do some things I wouldn’t ordinarily. This is what I tell myself in the produce aisle.

We walk home in the dark and the quickening rain. Assata takes her peanut butter bone into the livingroom, and I pour a packet of yeast into a silver mixing bowl. Feed it a cup of warm water and a tablespoon of good sugar, and sit down to wait while it “eats.” Five minutes later, add flour, then salt, then olive oil, then more flour. Easy peasy pizza crust. Knead it for a while, and let it “rest,” then roll it out on a cookie sheet. Listen to an Au Revoir Simone album, which Ryan procured for us last night. Its lovely, whimsical and sad and rambling and poignant all at once… perfect for making dough on a rainy January Saturday night.

Whisk olive oil together with dried thyme and good salt, and paint the crust with a pastry brush. scatter the fresh spinach leaves across, an inch and a half thick, then slice the tomatoes over the top. Grate on the entire brick of “follow your heart” brand mozarella, then slide the entire thing into the oven, listening for the muted clang of the cookie sheet on the hot baking rack, one of my favorite sounds.

Finish the plum, which is disappointing. A shallow imitation of what I’d really been craving, which is, to say, a plum-in-season that wasn’t picked three weeks and 8 thousand miles ago. The kitchen begins to fill with the smell of melting cheese and pizza crust and roasting tomatoes, and I start to think about baking cupcakes.

I’ve baked a lot this past week. Vegan dark chocolate oatmeal shortbread. A vegan poppyseed apple coffeecake. Then a batch of vegan peanut butter cookies. Dark chocolate vegan cupcakes seem like a logical progression. When Ryan gets home, I’m sifting cocoa powder and flour with a fork. We eat pizza and sit on the couch, looking out into the dark neighborhood and discussing the counteroffer the family made on the house. Its not bad, and we’re not sure if its good either, since we’ve never done this before. I am mostly caught up in being mad they want to take the washer and dryer, even though the cost of a new energy and water efficient set would be the tiniest fraction of what we’re talking about spending overall.

Chocolate cake smells fill the house. We rent a movie from the video store on the corner, and curl into each other to eat cupcakes and go gently braindead. Crawl into bed to fall asleep spooning each other spooning the dog, who is using a pillow. The smell of lavender suffuses the sheets. Years ago, when Ryan lived in Bellingham and I lived in Utah, I sewed him a lavender pillow to put over his eyes to help him sleep at night… now he uses a few drops of essential oil before he turns out the light, and his breathing settles out before I’ve even finished tossing and turning. His hand is tucked gently, but firmly, over my pregnant belly, and the newest Au Revoir Simone album is playing softly on the speakers. The dog falls asleep too, and I lay in the middle, hands tangled in both of their limbs, watching shadows from outside flicker on the closet doors. Thinking:

I will remember this moment when I am old.

RECIPES for those who want them:

lovely easy vegan pizza crust (from the Vegan Family Cookbook)

1 packet active dry yeast (one 1/4 oz package)
1 cup warm water
1 Tbs. sugar
whisk together and let sit for five minutes.

Add 1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup light olive oil
and another 1 1/2 cups flour.
knead for five minutes
let rest five minutes.

roll out on oiled baking surface, let rise for as long as you like (i usually get impatient after 5 minutes, but 30 is good).
sauce and top, bake at 450 for 12-15 minutes.

Dark chocolate vegan cupcakes

sift together dry ingredients:
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cup sugar

blend in:
3 Tbs. butter
2 egg substitutes (i use 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed whisked together with 6 tablespoons water)
dash vanilla
1 cup soymilk (or other milk substitute)

chop up a few squares of good dark chocolate and sprinkle the pieces over the cupcakes before putting them in the oven.

bake 15-17 minutes at 350.

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Filed under Assata, Food, Ordinary, Pregnancy, Vegan Recipes