If you could choose any super power, what would it be?
Flight? Super strength? X-ray vision? Witnessing your parents murdered in front of your very eyes as a young child and channel you PTSD and billions of dollars into a barrage of various gadgets that enable you to fight crime under the cover of darkness?
Would you choose the power of invisibility?
As an emerging, aspiring, starving, struggling, artist, in order to supplement my income, I work in the service industry.
Unlike so many talented, ambitious, knowledgeable servers, bartenders, chefs, and entrepreneurs in this city, this position is not my passion. Therefore, I find myself in the category of service industry folks I will deem, “Take the Money and Run-ers”.
I wouldn’t classify myself as a great server. I’ve met them. They love what they do. They carry their own tea bags with special blends that they suggest to discerning customers, they have their own special Negroni recipes, own comfortable black shoes, call booze “spirits”, and like, do it without writing any orders down or missing a beat.
I am not one of these people.
However, I like to think I have a pretty good sense of what it means to deliver you good service. I bring drinks and food and make small talk. Sometimes I crack jokes. I try to be affable, friendly, and attentive. I’ll suggest what to eat if you ask, or accommodate that special request (No Cheese, No Butter, No Oil, No Gluten, NO FUN).
I’ll look out for you, even asking if you’re driving after you slam six Alexander Keiths during a three-hour lunch meeting. Just making sure you get home safe—no judgment, I’m actually slightly in awe that a couple of middle-aged women have decided to get turnt before two on a Monday.
I polish and uncork and pepper and cheese and refill your water and point you to the direction of the washrooms. I do all of this in the name of investing in myself, paying rent, eating food, and occasionally going out. It’s easy enough to bring you a plate of calamari and GTFO.
Some days it gets to me.
Unravel me, moment by moment, like when you point out that crème brule is supposed to be warm or, “at least room temperature” when I set it in front of you and you decide to lecture me on the preferred warmth of a custard dessert and I go back to the kitchen to relay this news to the cooks who look at me with what can only be described as: WTF Face. I try not to get too stressed out about it. But you kind of ruined my day a little. Maybe you weren’t trying to. But you did.
I don’t mean to complain about this work. Like I said, it supplements my desires: to write, to create, to travel, maybe occasionally eat fancy fried chicken. I choose not work in an office or a 9-to-5 wearing panty hose and circulating to cat memes. I don’t have the kind of steady employment that provides health benefits and vacation days. At this point as a twenty-something with no kids, mortgage, spouse, or any other weighty responsibilities, it works for me.
With the shorter hours and cash tips it grants me the opportunity to spend the rest of my time typing away madly and trying to make my shit work. But this work has yet to pay in the dollar kind of currency that supports my lifestyle.
Let’s be clear: I don’t think I’m better than my job. I don’t think I’m better than a hard days work.
However, being a server (or waiter, or waitress, or “Excuse Me”, or “Honey”, or “Hi”, or whatever you’ve decided to call me today) there is something about this position that you the customer (or patron, or table, or “Hi There”, or whatever I’m going to call you today) endow me with a very specific kind of super power: INVISIBILITY.
I notice this power when I approach your table, strategically trying to find a moment where there is a natural pause in the conversation so that I can ask you if the food is okay, knowing there is a time limit before I can remedy any kind of mishap. You’re all fucking chatty Kathys and there is no aforementioned break so I slide myself over, refilling your glasses of ice water and politely inquire whether everything is copasetic.
Then it’s happened. Unknowingly draped with a cloak of invisibility.
Your conversation goes on, surprisingly without you remarking on the fact that your water glasses seem to be refilling themselves.
I ask again. “Is everything alright?” This time struggling to not let me my frustration come through in my tone of voice. Like the Who trying to speak to Horton I try to permeate the orb of perceived silence.
You ever so slightly, slowly, shift your head up and down in a somewhat approving manner.
Perhaps you are worried that you’re the only one who can see me? Maybe you’re worried that because your companions have not responded then I might be some kind of apparition? “Just be cool” you might be telling yourself as you bob your head faintly.
I attempt to make eye contact simply to discern some semblance of a response to my question from this minuscule action. I am ultimately successful when your companions finally notice me, staring as though I have waltzed into a private living room and taken a huge shit on your carpet that was a gift from your aunt Mildred or something and your one friend finally says, “Yep.”
I think this might be why the standard costume, er, uniform for servers is black because of this fact: a preparedness to be both be seen and unseen. So this kind of acknowledgment/non acknowledgment is something I’m used to.
Restaurant. Lunch. Winter. A chime sounds as you enter. You feel the warmth on your reddened cheeks. I approach you, menu in hand and gesture towards a table. You remove you coat and jacket and pull up a chair. Music plays in the background. Most likely, “The Girl from Ipanema”
ME: How are you today?
YOU: A cranberry soda.
I leave you huddled over your Smart Phone to pour your drink. I’m just going to assume that you’re “Good.”
This power of invisibility is not one that I can control and is something that can be quickly and abruptly removed.
Like at the end of your meal when I lean ever so slightly to remove the empty dish that once held a fairly large amount of risotto and you stare at me in disgust, “That was really under seasoned, it wasn’t really very good at all.”
Oh, now you want to talk to me. NOW I am worthy of more that a monosyllabic interaction?
Bitch, you ate the WHOLE THING.
Did you consume this under duress? Is there some force I am unable to perceive that has commanded you to eat the entire fucking half-pound of rice and butter sauce? How could I possibly help you with this problem now? My heart and soul may not be dedicated to supplementing your every whim and quelling each and every one of your deepest culinary dissatisfactions, but I could have helped you.
Perhaps there was some kind of confusion because when I asked you way back, “Is everything okay?” I was talking about the FOOD.
Although my position as one who ferries dishes back and forth from the kitchen to your table is not one of great social standing, I have the power—limited as it might be—to right the culinary wrongs you find so appalling as it slides down your gullet.
Then you proceed to drink a bunch of wine and talk about how you and Greg are just “Caj” and like, you’re just trying to “Figur yourself aoght” but it’s like, “Rilly fun.” And once again you do that weird non-nod to my question, “More Pinot?”
I don’t exactly hate you. You are a stranger, after all, and this is just one glimpse of who you are as an individual. But know that I do not like you.
This hatred is solidified when you tip 6% (just to reinforce that you are completely disappointed with your service and how fucking dare I do this to you).
At this moment I am invisible once more as I stare, nonplussed, handing you your copy of your debit receipt and again you look everywhere but me. Maybe you, specifically, are an asshole, but there is something to be said about the customer who seems oblivious to the person who is there. I can’t help but hope that Greg dumps you. On your birthday. When you thought he was going to propose. While someone films the whole thing… My mind wanders in a state of rage.
Despite this, I just smile. I say thank you. I acknowledge your departure.
This invisibility doesn’t only apply to the consumer who is obviously just not nice, but also to those who while still seeming to need your assistance with procuring food and beverages, yet still has a hard time conceding the reality of your presence. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not asking for lengthy conversation, we needn’t swap life stories, I don’t want you to gaze into my eyes and lovingly relish each and every moment of our interaction. I don’t desire fanfare for bringing the bread quickly. But I would ask for some manners. Some consideration.
It’s the first week of summer. You’re wearing your new Prada sunglasses and they look FAB-U-LOUS. You haven’t seen Gladys in… too long. Once you embrace outside the restaurant you decide on the table closest to the window. After Gladys remarks on how it must be, “so great to look natural all the time”, you remember what a bitch she is. Why did you even ask her out for lunch?
ME: Can I get you something to drink to start?
YOU: What’s the soup of the day?
GLADYS: It’s too warm for soup.
YOU: I had the chowder last time, it was so good.
GLADYS: That sounds so heavy, though.
YOU: I think we’ll get some wine.
GLADYS: Did you want wine? This early?
YOU: Did you not want to drink?
GLADYS: Oh, I will if you will. It’s two o’clock… sure. Just not red.
YOU: I thought you liked red.
GLADYS: (nods head) Tannins.
ME: We’re actually out of chowder.
YOU: OH. Oh. Oh. Um. (looks at wine list) Oh no.
GLADYS: You know when Larry got his gallbladder removed. We just both decided to go clean you know. Just clear things. You know?
ME: I’ll come back.
YOU: When did Larry have his gallbladder out?!
I leave. Feeling ignored, but also I didn’t know you could live without your gallbladder. What does your gallbladder even do?
This invisibility thing has some perks: I get to be the pervy voyeur all my closest friends know me to be. It allows me to obsessively check Twitter while you talk amongst yourselves. Sometimes I sneak out for a smoke, unbeknownst to all.
On the other hand, it does leave me feeling as though there might be something about my psyche that may be affected when, on almost a daily basis, I have an interaction where I’m in a state of semi-seeness.
It hits me most on the days where my spirits are as low as my bank account. Trying to reconcile my dreams and goals with bringing you extra sauce. So just a friendly reminder from your local mediocre waitress: Act like a normal person who is able to interaction with a direct question and answer interaction. I am not a piece of furniture. I am a human. Treat me thusly.
I will say there are many folks that are great. You are courteous, direct, answer my queries, and politely get my attention. Even, as I have found, those who will say “thank-you” each and every time I come to the table. With you, I know I am there when I’m there, and my invisibility is my own which I only I only ever use for good leaving you to your meal in peace. To you, I would like to extend my appreciation.