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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Waitress anxiety dream #4031

It's full moon time again, kiddies, and we all know what that means: June has her epic nightmares and shares them with you. You might want to keep a half a Xanax handy.
Last time I saw the podiatrist, back when my toe was still broken, he said he'd always wanted to wait tables. 
"It's hard work," I said.
"Well, that's what everybody says, but I don't see what's so hard about it," he answered, the innocent. I wonder if I should share the following with him. It's a dream . . . a nightmare, but its parts are certainly real enough. I worked through many . . . many shifts like this.

Out of clean dishes, although there are plenty of dirty ones in the stacks. The heavy coffee mugs have pieces of food stuck and dried inside them. The dishwasher water heater gave up the ghost last night and nobody on the closing crew left a note so we could call the repair person before the store opened. It'll be washing dishes by hand in the bar sink all shift.
On the floor a pile of potato peels. One of the managers sees it, says, "What the hell?" and goes off, I think, to arrange for removal. But it's busy, he never comes back, so we all just step around it over it on top of it to get done what we need to get done. 

No more pre-measured coffee packets for the Bunn coffeemaker . . . partly used bags of No-Name ground coffee here and there in the waitstation. 
"How much to put into the filter?"
"Just so it looks about right." 
And where is the coffeemaker? Oh. Up there on the shelf an arm's length above my head. A maker but no warmer, so that once the pot is made (brewing while customers grit their teeth and tap their fingertips on the tables waiting for their cups) it sits and loses heat, which it does very quickly, necessitating brewing a new pot. ...if you can find enough raw materials and the few seconds and the room, among the coworkers darting here, reaching there . . . five of us with our trays in a twenty square foot floor space. 

No conversation in the waitstation except 

"Is this still hot?"

"This empty?" 
"More coming."

"What the hell is THIS???" from a waitress staring into a coffee cup with a dried bread ball stick inside it. 
"Mm. They're all like that."

I find one of the white crockery cups with the smallest flake of dried red sauce halfway down the inside, wonder for half a second if, untouched, it might just float off in the hot coffee and go down the customer's gullet unremarked. I chip it off with my thumbnail, and pour a cup of coffee from the half-filled brewing pot. Whoever comes after me will have watery coffee, but I have MY customer's, and I'm off out of the madhouse of the back of the house into the diningroom. White cloths, barely enough space to get between tables without my butt knocking over water glasses. 
The guests have no idea what the back of the house looks like, sounds like, smells like. 
Happy guests.

And now here come some disgruntled customers into the waitstation, coming after their coffee. Young men, soft and spoiled looking. 
"What's the problem here? Why have I been waiting for ten minutes for a simple cup of coffee? I'll get my own!" 
I am furious, stern-voiced: "Get out. Get out of here."
They were going, but my hand on one's polo shirted shoulder hurried him along. Part of me wished that his heel would find a drop of water on top of the greasy quarry tile and he'd go down, the pushy arrogant prick.

People at tables outside my station start to wave at me. "Can we get our bill?"  One of my fellow waitresses has left. Her shift is over: she's gone. Never mind her coworkers or her customers. I'm in the diningroom . . . on the stage, as it were, so like a mother bird, I lift my wing and make comforting welcoming noises, gather them underneath. Finding their checks, getting them more . . . what? 
"More coffee? Sure! I'll just whip up a fresh pot for you. It'll take just a few minutes." 
Turning, scanning tables, scanning heads, to see what else I can do on this trip. Anyone close to me would have heard, despite my lips moving not at all, "Oh God. Another flocking pot of flocking coffee."

Somebody orders two entrees and there is only enough left of one of them so that I have to take it out as a side, and lie to make it sound as if the cooks chose to present it that way because of the flavors or aesthetics or something. 
You don't want to admit that you've run out of food, clean dishes, coffee. 
You don't want to say, "We can't find our coffeemaker." 
You want to preserve, for the customers, the image of peace and competence.

And at the end of the shift, you'll go out and have pitchers of beer with your coworkers and laugh and laugh about sliding on a potato peel and nearly cracking your head on the counter edge. Somebody will say, "Why didn't he just go get me a broom so I could stick it up my ass and clean 'em up while I'm pouring drinks!" Laugh so hard you can't breathe . . . about the handle of the full-of-precious-hot-coffee pot coming loose as you reached way up there for it. Laugh about June pushing the customer out of the kitchen: [PUSH]"You can't be back here. [PUSH] We don't want you to [PUSH] get hurt!"


Tom said...

Hmmm, so did you ever wait tables in real life? I don't know how your podiatrist or anyone else could imagine it's easy.

Myself, I've been dreaming lately of a very tall man. That's all I remember. Dunno what it means.

June said...

Sighting, I waited tables for fourteen years. If you click on the "restaurant" tag, I think you'll get all those posts.

Olga said...

I still have work related dreams/nightmares even though I've been retired for seven years.
I never waited tables, though--too clutsy. My one summer of restaurant experience, I was confined to the kitchen and away from all sharp knives.
Have you read Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch? It's kind of a strange nightmare in itself.

DJan said...

I worked for one summer as a waitress and hated it. It was so much work. So full moons bring your waiting-tables days back to you? Arghhh!

Rubye Jack said...

Well, my waitress days consisted of three shifts and then I was fired. It was the hardest job I ever had in my life. Boy, did I mess things up.

Linda Myers said...

It reminds me of a recurring dream of mine - that I'm on my way to take a final exam, haven't been to class, haven't done the reading.

Why do you suppose we have these dreams over and over again?

Vicki Lane said...

My son's significant other is a waitress and we hear the horror stories. And now leave much larger tips.

A Happy New Year to you, June!

Barb said...

I waited tables all through college. The first thing I learned is to never run out of coffee on the breakfast shift and fill people's cups as soon as they sit down. People are a lot less grouchy and impatient when they get their caffeine! Once, a lady was so mean to me on the lunch shift that her husband came back and gave the manager a $50 tip for me. Thanks for the memories!

georgia little pea said...

So you're one of those affected by the full moon. Interesting.

I can't imagine anyone but the most innocent (stupid) thinking that waitressing is easy. I get panicky just prepping, serving and washing up at a home dinner for a few friends. I don't know why but I always imagined you as a petite and demure silver haired lady. Now that I know you're capable of pushing and flocking, I will have to revise my mental image :)

Of course, it WAS only a full moon nightmare!

schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

S/he who has never waited tables has not truly experienced life I think. Dianne

June said...

Oh, georgia! "I always imagined you as a petite and demure silver haired lady."
I'm sixty, and I do have silver hair, although it's still more salt and pepper than pure silver. No one . . . no one . . . would ever mistake me for petite: I am 5'6" and my weight would be perfect if I were a foot and a half taller, very muscular, and male. Few who have known me for longer than a week would ever describe me as demure.
Apparently I manage to disguise my Bawdy Old Broad self by writing like a sweet little old lady. Makes me feel sort of like a big fat Betty White.
I love Betty White, so that pleases me. But this kind of misidentification makes me wonder about the accuracy of my mental images of all of you.

Tamara said...

Waitress-ing was the hardest job I ever did! It taught me a lot, but I'd never want to do it again. Real life. Real people. Horrible dreams!

Freda said...

I did some relief waiting on tables when I was young - I was so exhausted being on my feet all night. You've done very well to last as long. I'll try not to think of back of house next time I am out for a coffee or a meal. New Year Blessings to you and yours.

Lord Wellbourne said...

Some of my happiest and most amusing memories revolve around waiting tables. And many of my worst and most embarassing memories as well. The desire to make money and please the public, whether waiting tables or other service, is an oxymoronic pipe-dream.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

No , I haven't waitressed though I have spent one summer as a slave in a small catering company , which did involve placing too much food in front of far too many people for hours and hours and hours .
A talent for improvisation , an iron constitution and a convincig fake smile helped .

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I waited tables. Liked it, really. But I don't have nightmares about it. I do have the dreams of going for a final exam only to realize I haven't ever been to the class.

Friko said...

This doesn't sound much like a dram or a nightmare, this sounds real!

Trellissimo said...

That's a job I wouldn't do for all he tea in China...