What would a Minoan goddess do–vague thoughts on gratuities and peon empires

Juli Kearns Everyday Stories 4 Comments

Not doing the Hooters jiggle

This is a long post. As long as it is because it’s a subject I didn’t want to occasion any sense of trivialization, which I felt was happening in an initial shorter version.

The Maidenform dream and the election train

Alicublog makes the post Guy Thing in response to Sex, Women and Conservatism by Dallas Claymore at the Citizen Journal.

In the meanwhile, that Internet philosopher, “Free online casino” attempted to comment on this website,

When women forge their own ‘gender identity’, in the way the feminists recommend, they become unattractive to men – or attractive only as sex objects, not as individual persons. And when men cease to be gentlemen, they become unattractive to women. Sexual companionship then goes from the world. by free online casino game

The Free Online Casino philosopher is exceedingly prolific. It’s also got an unnerving bit of oracle bot to it that at the crankiest of times anticipates where the brain is wandering and plunges right through the looking glass dragging along PKD, John Cage and Timothy Leary into electric lands of internet potshot I Ching where Satan as opposer says “J’accuse” pointing at yon mountain which is you of course, all being you, you being god is all, and Satan having a high old time crashing every righteous brain party it predicts in your future. Up conjuring down, left conjuring right, in conjuring out, the bases are covered and what’s frustrating is Anti doesn’t believe a word of it, Anti’s just there for sake of making sure there’s a position to be established. If Anti believes in anything it’s making maps.

I’ve been working on this sorry post several days only to have it twice destroyed by my not saving and my DSL going down and taking my work with it. I thought maybe I should drop the post entirely but I kept going back and looking at the graphic of Ms. Snake Minoan I’d made and thinking what would your typical Hooters customers do if this woman walked in the door, and what would she do if handed a Hooters t-shirt and shorts and told to sing “I wish I was an Oscar Meier Wiener” for her supper. I’ve no idea what her response would be as little is known about the Minoans, but she doesn’t look the cheery and reassuring Malibu Barbie performing a snake goddess dance.

How did she come to mind? A how’d we get from here to here kind of thing, from her to Maidenform to Hooters. She came to mind because of all the “I dreamt I was” Maidenform ads that are popular for blog headings, and which do beg reflection as to their meaning, suggesting a secret almost mystical strength via the magic cups or what’s contained, while also back-slapping with the contorted gender politics of the time, such as if there’d been a Maleform man he would never have dreamt adventures in his jockstrap, he would have declared them done. Ida Rosenthal’s “I dreamt” was not only a great ad campaign that made every woman a potential star in her own life, one could argue or suppose it was pretty future feminist, the ads acting upon the notion women wanted other roles than what post WWII suburban America had been offering them after the soldiers came home and they were retired from the work force. The WWII posters showed Rosie the Riveter with her hair bound to keep it out of the production line machinary. The women may not now have been adventuring, but they were dreaming, maybe they would get past the production line and not only would the bra not get in the way, hey, Maidenform will make sure you’re comfortable enough to be a contender (comfort was a selling point and can’t be overlooked).

But the campaign got it wrong,wrong, wrong in the way the boob wars are going to go wrong when you drape a dreamy Maidenform mannekin FDR style over the caboose rail of a campaign train declaring that her bra won her the dream election.

When women burned their bras

I’m obviously not real bright. Because I gotta tell you, when I was ten years of age and saw, in the World Book Encyclopedia, under “fashion”, Ms. Minoan without a bra, I was surprised. She was an illustration and held no snakes and the only thing on her head was hair. No poppies, no owls, no lion cubs, or whatever is supposed to be perched up there or not (though the poppies I believe are part of the package). Being a child of the 60s I had the idea that bras in their then present form were probably as old as civilization. No one had ever told me otherwise and as I was not yet of age to wear a bra I honestly hadn’t given them much thought. Then when I was eleven or twelve, my then best friend Danielle and I were watching our favorite show, “That Girl”, which was our favorite show because it was about a woman living in New York trying hard to land a real job as an actress. What can I tell you, television didn’t have much to offer and this was a pass at a “liberated” female who was always getting in trouble and breaking down in tears kinda but not like Lucy Ricardo. Danielle’s parents owned a clothing boutique that they stocked via frequent trips to New York (may as well have lived there), so this show was something with which we could quasi connect because the focus of the show was on New York and on clothes, which I didn’t have but I appreciated how they were central to Danielle’s life, being how her parents stocked the refrigerator, though “That Girl’s” focus on clothing didn’t sink in until I was older and caught a rerun and saw how Marlo had a new and completely detailed outfit on in nearly every scene, shoes and hat and gloves.

Anyway, we were watching the season opener on Danielle’s very own television in her room and Danielle shrieked and covered her eyes and I stared hard at the television screen wondering what had her so grossed out. Whatever it was, it was one of the most horrifying things Danielle had ever seen in her life because she said she couldn’t watch, that’s how horrible it was. “It” being, I realized, Marlo’s untethered breasts bouncing under a tight sweater as she ran toward the camera. I’d observed but hadn’t appropriately grasped how horrid this was, how udderly depraved Marlo was, how she had sunk to the lowest of get me my Neilson ratings lows unsheathing herself in that manner. Danielle said she couldn’t watch. I’d never observed a woman bouncing around like that and was curious to see more. Observing how breasts behaved unsheathed, when you’d never seen it before, was quite a revelation. You bounced down and they vigorously bounced up. Indeed, they were like monster twin children who are determined to have their own say. At least, that’s what I realized Danielle and some other saw it as. Breasts without controlled management be sea monsters grappling with the maiden ship. Danielle burrowing under the blanket in response to Marlo’s breasts, I thought, Gads, that’s powerful in the way of the repercussion it generates.

I also thought “Marlo has surprisingly large breasts” and knew “That Girl” was going down the tubes. Marlo looked chock-full-o’-proud in a way Marilyn Monroe never had. For it was one thing to be appreciative of the sway of your assets. Another thing to say they were yours. Because I have to say this, at least to an eleven or twelve-year-old, the flags Marlo was joyfully waving had “Don’t tread on me” stamped on them in the way Ms. Minoan looks like she’s unlikely to be pinched without delivering a mean return bite that atrophies the offending hand. “That Girl” had grown up and was bound for the dust bin.

Plus, it wasn’t a very good show. Not to me, at least, when I was older (or maybe it was and I caught a couple particularly bad episodes in rerun). When I was eleven, I loved it. But even I knew the breasts meant “That Girl” was a goner.

Marlo took off her bra (and her hat and gloves and car coat) when I was putting my bra on. You don’t grow up with a bra dangled in front of your face daily and have it not become an initiation rite. Danielle and I didn’t compare progress daily, and I assumed it was because she was Danielle and not because she was Jewish (maybe, I wasn’t sure), but a breast fanatical Roman Catholic friend of mine who didn’t believe in god as much as she believed in the pope had no such reservations and we did measure. Religiously (indeed) we took our measurements for at least a week, which is a long time when you’re that age, long enough to mark a stage. The bra meant you were on your way to womanhood because it was time to cover it up. Menstruation meant that too but it was a shameful, bloody business you did your extra best to hide–though I was over that by the time I was fourteen and some girls pulled me aside to tell me not to go to my fringed leather bag because some boys had been through it looking for gum and found gasp y’know the artifacts of bloody business, so of course I wouldn’t want them to know it was my bag, and I thought screw the baby shit they’re the ones who ought to be embarrassed for invading my privacy and I picked up my bag and walked off and instead of the guys guffawing there was dead silence.

Really, it was one of those long walk moments. My bag was all the way across the room. There was this side of the room where everyone had rushed to upon the opening of the bag while I was somewhere where school policy had it you couldn’t take your bag along. The girls didn’t want anyone thinking it was theirs. The guys were embarrassed but also ha-ha and waiting to lacerate with barbs the girl who claimed the bag. As I began to enter the room I was pulled out by peers hoping to protect me. I instead walked all……that…….long……way…….across……the……floor……to my bag and its tampons and took ownership of it.

The Sacred Wisdom

I submitted to the bra until I was sixteen and then shed its pinching ways. No matter how comfortable the then new “natural” bras were supposed to be, which were supposed to look like no bra, they weren’t like no bra. I thought surely all other girls my age would be shedding theirs too as it seemed the most sensible thing to do. But culture still wanted bras, still identified girls who didn’t wear them as possibly loose as the bra they’d shed. And, even worse, there was the specter of sagging.

Yes, I remember a teacher, who read every issue of Ms. magazine, who had a Gloria Stienem hairdo, having an earnest Episcopalian talk with a friend of mine and telling her one thing she greatly regretted was ever removing her bra for a moment because her breasts now sagged, and so would my friend’s breasts if she took her bra off for a weekend. “Don’t do it!” There was nothing worse in the world than sagging, a condition which bras prevented. Once you sagged you could never get the unsag back. Which was sinful. How was it sinful? The same way tattoos were sinful back then. God had given you plain old skin and if it was meant to be tattooed he would have tattooed it. It was blasphemy against god’s creation to stick holes in it and alter it. If you didn’t wear the bra you weren’t doing your part in preventing god’s creation going awry and sagging.

That was the fundamental rationale. It was the dividing line between xtians and heathen savages who played with their bodies in all kinds of undoable ways, piercing and tattooing. My thesis is that it was sinful to pierce and paint because piercing and painting are largely clan identifiers historically, and xtianity’s business was to kill clan-ways which had often enough what xtianity identified as ancestral “gods” attached to them. Piercing and painting got in the way of xtianity’s homogenization of “god”, promoting clan over the body of christ.

Eventually, the secret wisdom was passed along that if you could put a pencil under your breast and it dropped then you could go braless if you were the type to do it. I passed the test in what many would consider the wrong direction. What can I say but I never had to worry about a bra, which was good because I hated them, plus they were just another clothing expense and who had the money to waste.

It’s a sad state of affairs when womanly wisdom amounts to a pencil test.

I was not a feminist. Though I came of age in the 70s, Feminism seemed old, out-of-step and irrelevant to me. Issues did not. Feminism did. Where I was, Feminism was Gloria Steinem in a particular pair of cool glasses and a particular cool hair style. The librarian at the high school was feminist. She loaned me her feminism magazines thinking I’d enjoy them. I have a way of losing books, but I lost those magazines in a legitimate way that should have had her more concerned about the how of my losing them than my having lost them. What she cared about was that I couldn’t give her back her Ms. magazines. She yelled at me. “Fuck you,” I thought. And the hair and the glasses and Feminist babes telling teens we too could be all that if we had, once again, the just right assets. Fuck feminism. I had the idea it was just plain abuse of power that was the primary problem and feminism seemed to me environmentalists worrying about the water quality of a pool a step away from a problematic polluted fountain head. I failed to credit what feminism had done, but I was one of those teens who didn’t like a group-id and had honestly no idols that weren’t ideas. I didn’t like the cult of personality. Academia and publishing and the arts seemed to me all about the cult of personality and selling yours over someone else’s. I didn’t want a contest. I didn’t want to put on anyone’s buttons or wear anyone’s slogans.

I was a really pissed off, cocky teen who didn’t trust anyone. (Husband–who knew me then–peeks over my shoulder and says I’m exaggerating, that I wanted to trust people but didn’t and that I was cocky because I had to be to survive. Never-the-less, I was still a cocky teen who didn’t trust anyone.)

But I had my line of reasoning. Thank you, yes, I could have an abortion if I ever needed/wanted one but I saw everything in terms of individual, personal rights rather than feminist issues.

I didn’t see it in terms of sex rights, of academic rights, just another people power drama

When one of my college professors called me into her office to tell me she thought I ought to be aware that she’d heard another professor of mine telling my other professors that I’d had it too easy and it was time to come down hard on me, she said she didn’t know what had happened but she was prepared to go to the Dean for me, though she wasn’t sure if that would do anything to help as she was being pushed out of the school because of a divide as to what they believed constituted an education and what she believed was an education.

I didn’t tell her what had happened, which was my saying, “No” to professor in question, and his saying, “Let’s forget this ever happened”. It had been an intense event emotionally and had taken me two months to be able to hear his voice without becoming nauseated, without stopping breathing, without breaking into a cold sweat. It was an intense event because I’d known him for years and two weeks before when his shod foot had brushed against my shod foot under a desk I had thought, “Is he coming on to me?” and then thought, no, couldn’t possibly be, I moved my foot back and his foot didn’t pursue and I decided it was my imagination. It had been tough enough finishing up an independent study under him (which is when Main Event happened, when he went from being on the other side of the room one moment to suddenly on top of me, which I avoided by turning, was petrified and stared at the door for fifteen minutes until he quit trying to convince, until he realized I was not going to be convinced and said “Let’s forget this ever happened”, and I nodded my head yes that I would forget this had happened and made my break for it when he stood and let go my legs which he’d not been feeling up but had been holding while trying to talk me into things), and I’d been thinking well I’m home clear because he didn’t go outrageous on me and give me a low mark (which would have been, I realize now, a sure sign something had gone wrong as I made only top marks in English Lit), thinking well I was home clear because I didn’t have any more studies under him. In the meanwhile I’d quit my editor position on the college lit mag as he didn’t forget and he was the advisor and had started playing rough in a sneaky underhanded way. Index fingers and thumbs forming a triangle, the apex of which he tapped against his you’re-eating-shit-now grin, that’s how I remember him and his smile when I stood and walked out of the staff meeting where I felt I’d two choices, either walk or uncover the game he was playing, that he was speaking in double entendres that no one else understood, that he was playing a mental footsie with the repeated, hammered tag-line of “You may have said no but I’ve got other ways of getting my jollies off of you until you decide you’ve had enough of it and leave”. It’s no kudos for me that I walked. Then I noticed attitudes of teachers shifting on me and wondered if it was my imagination until my French professor called me in to speak with her. I thought A event happened a couple of months prior and if I went to the Dean how could I prove B event had anything to do with it all. I knew the man’s wife, knew his kids, and was concerned about their being hurt. This was back in the late 70s and teachers and students and ethics concerning woudn’t be hot news for another few years. I didn’t think of it in terms of sexism, feminism, student’s rights. I thought of it in terms of power brokering, of an individual determined to beat me down and out. I thought too if he was willing to play such hard ball he must not be worried about what the Dean would say if I went to him.

I was an idiot for not going to the Dean.

I was an idiot because he had said “Let’s forget this ever happened,” and I had promised him I would. And because I had promised him I would forget I stupidly had the idea that I had made that promise and couldn’t break it, that I’d agreed to blot it out of my mind. My lung capacity must have been significant in those days because when I’d made the promise I’d gone without taking a full breath for five minutes, knew if I’d taken a full breath I would gasp as my body desperately wanted air, and I didn’t want him feeling or seeing or hearing me gasp, I wanted to be as physically invisible as possible, I was just struggling to maintain as much physical non-presence as I could until he let me loose and I could get out the door and breathe again. The stress of the moment certainly nullified that agreement. A thousand things nullified that agreement.

It was the late 70s and I had the idea that since he’d backed off nothing had happened and didn’t understand why I was as physically frightened as I was, that afterwards I was unable to breathe when around him, that his voice made me feel violently ill. I still had a bit of that “You’re not a complete person as long as you’re a student” thing going, which I’d fought all the way since elementary school, which had kept me in such trouble in school. It was still there.

Two days after my French Professor spoke to me I quit college. I thought maybe one day I’ll go back but knew I had no intention of ever doing so, that I was done with it. I decided I never wanted to be in the position of being student to teacher again. I thought in terms of power over and that the language and set-up was ripe for abuse of power.

Before he’d let me go, by then kneeling at my feet Mr. Professor had said I was strong, “what made you so strong”, which I didn’t take as a compliment. He cried. Some may think, “Poor guy” as if this was an honest moment, except it was my legs he was holding, I have no doubt I wasn’t the first or last this happened to, and this was no swing moment of revelation as in “Holy Smoke” where P. J. Waters puts on a dress and goes screaming into the desert, is released of his demons, becomes whole and no longer a servant to his cowboy boots. I thought about this for years, authoritarianism and its cousins, and the way the authoritarian Nurse Ratchet in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” never gives the sense that her personal integrity had ever been violated, when there was simply very little left but Dogma having long-since trumped any shred of the spontaneous individual. What I walked out of college with was a conviction that at the root of all power over politics, of all negative, separationist -isms, was a desire to debase. Rape had nothing to do with sex. Abuse had nothing to do with sex. Instead it was power. You are mine, I control you, was expressed in many ways. The broken horse syndrome. Dominate, make it yours, own it and eat its magic. When the deed is done the magic is never entirely gone. However degraded, a breath of heat of the moment adrenaline remains, possession and repudiation, a peculiar hormonal dinner to be hashed and rehashed.

Initiations are grueling, but initiations into self-power and knowledge are not the same as initiations into group power. Rush Limbaugh was able to say of Abu Ghraib, “”I’m talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You heard of need to blow some steam off?…This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we’re going to ruin people’s lives over it and we’re going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time.” He was not just saying, “It doesn’t look that bad to me,” he was admitting that this is, indeed, the status quo, acceptable American authority, its construct and maintenance.

Then they went out and got boob jobs

When I was about 25 I was driving down the highway and I saw my first Hooters sign which was between the Atlanta airport and downtown. “This has to be a joke,” I thought. “This can’t be for real. Are women really going to waitress in a restaurant where men go just to ogle their boobs? Won’t they feel slimed? Won’t they feel debased? Won’t women say no I’m not going to serve my breasts up in order to earn a living?”

I’m an idiot.

Hooters was born in Clearwater Florida but Atlanta was its corporate base. Atlanta jumpstarted Hooters into the mainstream. Eventually, Hooters’ waitresses would be making a stellar $13 an hour (I read) as flight attendants, entertaining business class with rousing renditions of “I’m a little tea pot…when I get all steamed up…. pour me out” and “I wish I was an Oscar Meier Weiner”. Tease tease. The Hooters girls would pose in PlayBoy. Be perky for calendars. Tease tease. Walk en masse in Washington for their exclusive rights to be Hooters Girls. I wondered how many Hooter’s girls were told “You do as part of your job or you out of here.” I wondered what kind of contracts they were having to sign. If they got pregnant, what happened to them?

Around that time, a friend of mine went to work for a plastic surgeon. She got a boob job that boosted her to a D cup. Her mother got a boob job. Her sister-in-law got a boob job. My friend later got another boob job that boosted her to a DD. She was in agony, cracking her breasts all the time to make sure they didn’t torn into cement, she described it as torture, but she still went in for the DD. This was somehow empowering. She felt better about herself.

I didn’t get it. Something was going wrong. I’d never once felt inferior because of my breast size. I never once felt deprived because I didn’t have cleavage. I had my own problems with self-image but I knew they were my problems. I suspected if I had been a person with cleavage problems then getting myself some might help short term but not long term or in the way I might need to readjust my attitude about self. I realized I could be wrong but it was disturbing, all these women going under the knife so they could fill out a t-shirt in a way that would make men go “Wow”. I was told they were doing it for themselves, and I understood how that could be true, so they could go “Wow”–but wasn’t it so they could go “Wow” anticipating the men who would go “Wow”? If you didn’t want someone valuing you for your breasts why enhance them? Did being “powerful” mean becoming the play girl in the magazine next to someone’s toilet? Did “They want to have sex with me” mean you’d made your day? Your life?

What had happened since the bra burnings that was driving all these demi-cup women in for breast augmentation? I know I am now being labeled a prude. But for a woman to be somebody it seemed to wind back around to being some body.

A wife of one of the Hooters pioneers created the Hooters logo. In other words, isn’t that grand, they’re all in on it, the women and the men, each want it as much as the other. And perhaps some of them do. And perhaps some of them don’t. The “We enjoy sexism” Hooters creed.

Sex sells, no doubt about it. And people sell sex.

But I haven’t been talking about sex here. I’ve been talking about power and abuse of power.

Sexist jerks or jerks?

When I was 29 I got one of those first-class jobs as a waitron (we called it) in a night club/neighborhood bar. It was not a jiggle job. It was in an art/music/alternative lifestyle area. One of the bartenders was lesbian, as was the hostess. Another bartender was an artist. Almost all the bartenders and waitrons were artists, musicians or writers and the majority had degrees and bitter complaints over not finding work in their field or just needed the extra money. You could wear what you wanted. It was ferociously hard work, as waitressing is but it was much better than when I was 15 and worked for two weeks one summer at Shoneys until I got whipped cream from some med student’s strawberry pie on my elbow and he made a raunchy crack that had everyone at the table laughing about what they might do with a fifteen-year-old.

The job had its demeaning moments despite my being 29 and better equipped to deal with the patrons. There were a few twenty-three year olds who had some serious cute factor going and made better tips but so did the lesbians who styled no cute factor and what can I say but I’m not a talk-it-up type. I’ve always been the one that men (and women) would say to, who died and why wasn’t I smiling, then get my smile and back off and say, “Oh, sorry, ok.” But I did all right there and became head waitron. I was well-covered, as was a friend of mine who was taking a break between trips abroad to play in symphonies in countries that supported the arts and were eager for musicians. The hassling I did get was still from hell and it seemed to me that these were men and women who probably got off their up-and-coming tech job and took pride in how fast they could verbally hack up a grocery clerk or waitron, anyone in a position of “serving” them, who was thus an inferior and merited no respect. Give a customer their small change and they’d say you obviously didn’t want a cash tip, what did they want with pennies. Neglect to give back a penny and that too was going to cost you your tip. We all hated the kids who went to the really expensive university who would come in and eat and make a game of running for it the minute your back was turned. With both men and women there was a lot of, “You’re only a waitress” prejudice and seemed they were going to rub your nose hard in it that you were a service worker and subhuman.

It was an unspectacular career. There was the regular who got really drunk and sized me up as not having the kind of long legs he liked but I reminded him of his exwife and he wanted to tip me $50 and I said no and he never came back. There was the guy who wanted to pay me $50 to pour hot gumbo in his hands but things like that were rare. The place had usually a good feel to it, customers just enjoying the music. It had a congenial all knew each other feel as we all lived in the area and if we hadn’t known each other we knew some of the same people. Up until 8 pm when the night crowds started coming in, it was neighborhood people, some of whom were yes asses but that’s the way things are. I do have to confess I was probably the least liked waitron there. The owners liked me because I was responsible. When I was head waitron and the place was expanding and I was hiring for the expansion, the people I hired all complained when I quit because they said they’d taken the job in order to work with me. I thought as head waitron it was my business to make things run smoothly for them and be an intercessor between them and the owners and make sure they were taken care of and crazy things not demanded of them. But, no, I don’t think I was at all the most liked waitron with the customers. Some customers who were jerks and had been coming in for months I managed to immediately send packing. All I had to do was wait on them a couple of times and they’d be yelling, as they drunkenly stalked out the door, that they’d never had worse service, that they’d never met anyone as stupid as me, that either I was gone or they were never coming back. The bartenders would shrug and say well, they were jerks but they’d never had that much of a problem with them before, they were yeah jerks but, sigh, well, whatever, good riddance they guessed.

Here’s a tip, I own you now

Working for tips is not like a wage job, a salary job. A wage job you know what you’re going to make for what service usually. Same with salary. With tips you’re entirely vulnerable to the whim of the customer. Their peon empire is the tip jar where the customer gets to praise or flog for whatever reason. A fair number of people look at tips as wages and that they’re responsible for paying a certain amount, like a co-op agreement with the establishment to pitch in their share. (Never mind why the restaurants or clubs don’t do it. They don’t. That’s the way it is.)

Some want a show, and one day the resident owner did at a waitron meeting give a talk about the “show” we should put on, and to a degree I understood because my husband’s a musician and you do your “show” and there were theater people working there and I was writing for theater at the time. When you’re in entertainment you’re surrounded by “show”, you are “show”. But, to make it clear, we’re not talking Hooters show. “Show” meant something different. There was still some good heated discussion on the idea of “show” and the owner deflated a bit and the meeting stalled out, he flapped his hands some in bewilderment realizing he’d gotten in over his head and that was that.

There are those who think no waitron is deserving of a tip. In their peon power empire, when they pay, you don’t earn a living.

There are the people who penalize and praise with tips in ways that have nothing to do with expected labor. In their peon empire, money is especially fickle and inseparable from power. Transacting A for B service is not what it’s about. Making you feel their money is, which is teaching you their power.

While on the job I had met some people who had become friends and I’d sit and talk with them when things were slow. My husband was/is a musician and I was used to fuzzy lines as far as waitress and customer went because often times a people who follow bands consider themselves as friends with both band and night club staff. Sometimes if some drunk guys said hey sit with us a minute, if they were jovial enough and I knew they were just having fun, I’d sit a minute then get back to work and no hard feelings.

Then there was the one guy didn’t look at all the type to cause trouble. He also didn’t look drunk. He was already seated at a table with friends when I came on my shift. The waitron before me had just closed them out and said they seemed about ready to leave but they were waiting on some coffee that was brewing. I went over when it was brewed and refilled cups and said did they need anything and he said yeah, sit and talk, and I said no I’m busy. He said no wait I mean it, sit and talk, and it was an order, it was a battle of wills from the first moment he caught my eyes and I said no thanks I’m busy. He said I didn’t look so busy, he’d seen me talking. I said I’d just come on shift. He said they’d wait. I said it’s my job to get you your drinks and I didn’t sit and talk unless I knew you. You’re not going to know me unless you talk with me, he said, sit and have a drink. I don’t drink, I said and I’m busy. I was in a good mood and trying my best to defuse without antagonizing. Plus it was perplexing because he looked ok but he was staring me down, and perplexing because he was with people who frequently came in, though I’d never seen him, they were obviously friends and I’d overheard a bit of conversation and seemed he had something to do with one of the other businesses nearby, which surprised me as I’d never before seen him. He just didn’t look the type to pull this kind of shit. Have coffee, he said. All I want you to do is have some coffee with us. Nope. I’ll give you $5 to sit and talk for a minute, he said. I said no. I’ll give you $10, he said. I said no. I bet I can make you sit and he pulled out a $20 bill and said if I didn’t sit he was going to leave this tip for me. I said I was getting someone else to wait on him. He wouldn’t let it drop. Wouldn’t let the other waitrons wait on him. Someone like this is unavoidable when you’re running drinks back and forth by their table. He said he wouldn’t leave until I sat. I was trying to keep things as even keel as possible since his friends were friends of the owner. They looked embarrassed. The waitron who had been waiting on the table said he’s not normally like this, he’d always been fine with her, she didn’t know what was up. Great, I thought, I’ve somehow created an issue if he was usually ok. I promise, all I want you to do is sit and have a cup of coffee, he said. His friends said come on, sit, just for a minute, he won’t stop until you do. And I finally thought hell, sit, it’s not worth it, sit at the booth for a minute. It was a tense couple of minutes. I’ll buy you a beer. I don’t drink, I reminded him. When do you get off work, I’ll come back and we’ll go out. I’m married, I said. What did that have to do with anything, he said. Did he say he wanted to be anything but friends, he said. I reminded him he’d promised he only wanted me to have a bit of coffee and he’d stop this game. He said it wasn’t a game. I don’t remember what else he said or what I said but I finally raised my voice and had my finger pointed at his face, not realizing it, while I said whatever it was I was saying and he took my finger, which took me off guard, and he pointed it to the side and said hadn’t I ever been told not to point my finger in someone’s face.

Damn.

I thought you ass you’re right for all the wrong reasons–I shouldn’t have let the situation get to me, I shouldn’t have pointed my finger in his face. He wouldn’t stop staring and I was finally flustered. His chastising me for pointing my finger in his face, did it. I felt like it was a decided, “I’ve succeeded, you’re out of control” maneuver. And he was right. I got up to leave. He said he was going leave the $20 anyway and that there was nothing I could do about it. He left. He left the $20 on the table. He had me pegged as someone who did not want that twenty dollars, had me pegged as someone he knew it would offend if he left that $20. And he was going to leave that $20 no matter what. He was going to make some kind of hell of a point with it. Weeks later, someone mentioned he’d been drunk and was embarrassed. He never did come back in while I was there.

It was a little incident. A minor incident. Rates 0.1 on a 1 to 10 scale of Life Sux. But it’s many many years later and I still remember it and it surpasses most other incidents in memory on that job. When he said he was going to leave the $20 I should have said, great, wonderful, which would probably have closed the matter right then but it didn’t occur to me.

When I left, a refugee from some small town even further south had been working in the kitchen as the cook and we’d play cards on slow afternoons and he started drinking way too much. His pregnant punkette girlfriend one day came in adorned in a punkette wig and make-up and new punkette clothes and flashy nails. A side of her I’d not seen. She’d always been rather quiet. Now she was working as a lingerie model at one of those rather frightening looking lingerie model houses that look like a residence and had money to burn on new clothes. She was making enough that the boyfriend quit his job as a cook. It’s not a job that I could have done.

It isn’t that waitressing is “bad”. Though, indeed, the waitron is absolutely lower than you if their earnings depend on your gratuity and money is how you establish worth, and then yeah being a waitron is “bad”. Outside of that, being a waitron dependent on tips just puts one in a position of getting a true read on how many people feel about money and about power.

It is an odd job where power comes wrapped in $20 someone insists they will leave for you, that you can’t stop them. Later, for some reason, when reviewing the situation, I wanted to go, “It’s all about damn sex. Sexism. I’m female, he was male. Sexism.” But he could have done it to a male waitron. He could have been a she and done it to a female or male waitron. Pushing power is pushing power.

And, so?

People aren’t property. The older one gets the more one hopefully comes to comprehend how one’s endowment is of nature, as nature takes back little by little those things one imagined one possessed, a governance which should have been evident from birth and with which xtianity is at odds, viewing nature as in a fallen state, a thing to be subdued, dominated, controlled, improvements being one’s stamp upon it. If money is as wrapped up in power as it is, it’s mistaking nature as one’s own property, produce as personal wealth, and transmuting controlled substance into status. Law is war’s camp follower, legitimizing spoils.

After I finish writing the above, a friend of mine emails me tonight of her experience this week at the Carlos Museum at Emory, where she works, and watching Tibetan monks construct the Compassion mandala. Watching it assume form and depth with the additions of sands. Watching it swept into a pile of gray at the end, impermanence, sand taken to the nearby creek and pouring it in, returning it to the flowing water, representing a gift of the compassion contained within the days of the drawing meditation. The sand returns to the ocean.

My friend’s a gentler soul than I am. She writes of events such as this, her thoughts on them, reflections on what she views in nature on frequent walks in her semi-suburban neighborhood where there is a creek and hints of wildlife. She meditates and doesn’t go around making judgments. She writes some beautiful things.

I was thinking of dysfunctional property rights today and wealth and controlled substance as status as people as property and people working hard in different ways to make themselves desirable properties of power brokers, things that suffocate compassion and fruitlessly but tirelessly battle impermanence. She was meditating on impermanence and mandalas in her life and participating in a ritualized act of compassion.

If we both ended up at a stream today, she will feel better about the meditation sands poured into hers than I do about mine.

Comments 4

  1. Let’s say you meet someone socially, maybe with lawyer or doctor friends (this is a thought-experiment, at least with me), and you are friendly, enjoy the person’s company, and they seem to enjoy yours, and then 2 weeks later you are eating in a nice restaurant and he or she is the waiter at your table. Awkward, is the word most people would use, I think.
    Why is that?
    We all know why, but it’s difficult to verbalize without lapsing into sociological jargon.
    I once had a girlfriend who had a job waiting tables. We were both overeducated, and I had a shit job and she had a shit job, so it was fair, and besides we were hippies during the time of the hippies, and we were living together and were young and poor and happy, except she hated being a waitress.
    She worked in an upscale penthouse restaurant a hundred yards from the Texas capitol building, and her customers were lobbyists and lawyers, rich loud gladhanders, and she got good tips.
    She said it made her feel like a whore.
    The owner of the penthouse restaurant once gave a Christmas party I guess on xmas eve when he woulda otherwise been closed, and to make it seem like a party he insisted that all the hired help come with significant others, so I went.
    He was trying to be a nice guy, and had spent a lot of money, but he related to the restaurant staff like a benevolent master to the servants, and naturally enough he behaved the same way to the other invitees. I mean we weren’t his actual friends, to be fair, so how else could he behave?
    I didn’t like it.
    “You see?” Sara said, when we went home.
    Long after she quit that job she didn’t like to eat out, unless maybe it was the kind of ethnic restaurant where the whole family worked there and your waiter was presumptively part of the ownership. I don’t know why that made it different, that the kid who takes your order for the number 7 plate is a nephew in high school with his homework spread out in one of the booths and whose real overseer is the old Chinese grandmother sitting watchful behind the cash register, not you.

  2. The older one gets the more one hopefully comes to comprehend how one’s endowment is of nature, as nature takes back little by little those things one imagined one possessed,

    Such wisdom, hard earned, unpossessed, is a gift. One you have in abundance.

    On the job thing: been there, done that too. At least as a tron, you took the indignities with some grace rather than inflicting them with relish as a lawyer might.

    Oy. Oyus dei. Opus dei. Well done.

  3. Jim,

    I don’t equate any job with person. No matter what their work I don’t know what they may have wanted to be, may not have envisioned themselves as doing, don’t know what they were doing a year before or will being doing a year later– especially being familiar with so many people in the arts who do a lot of temp pick-up work I don’t equate job with person. Though I do also know people who intended to be just where they are, doing what they’re doing, teachers or physicians or techs or bartenders or waitrons. Still, job doesn’t equal person.

    That said, I’m uncomfortable eating out, the dynamic set up by the industry. We do pick-up and have for years when at home. On the road it’s unavoidable.

    The family restaurant you describe is a different dynamic from other restaurants. It is more comfortable. It may have its own heirarchy but it’s a different one from a regular restaurant of master and serfs. It’s the rare restaurant that can pull off the latter and usually the owners have themselves worked at different levels in the industry and don’t have built-in prejudices and wait staff or family members of are as likely to be friends as customers, or more so. In a regular restaurant the grandmother wouldn’t be sitting behind the cash register, the kid wouldn’t be studying–because regular restaurants are set up to have the customer feel socially privileged rather than just dining.

    The same master/serf dynamic is pervasive throughout entertainment so we’ve been around it for years with my husband being a musician. Musicians have the same experiences as waitrons. Over the past couple of decades we’ve watched how musicians playing corporate and society jobs are treated worse and worse. I think if one feels like a whore it’s probably because one is being treated as such and even if the customers are easy-going and give good tips that doesn’t make up for it. The same happens in music. Everyone will think the Botanical Garden or some such are great but behind the scenes they treat musicans for party gigs etc. with contempt and any more you’re lucky to be able to get a glass of water without going through hoops, like they treat you like you’re stealing and exceeding social boundaries if you yourself have any needs that must be met. You’re basically expected to not be human. It didn’t used to be as extreme as it is now where a diabetic can get into real trouble on a job as the contract is explicit on people not eating or taking any nourishment of any type. If you don’t have a band leader or agent fighting for the interests of the band rather than completely bending over then there’s trouble. Upper echelon hotel chains have gotten really bad about this.

    There are oases in the muck.

    The idea of being waited on by an acquaintance being an uncomfortable experience I think is because of the social dynamic restaurants set up. Isn’t the same as going to the restaurant run by a family you know where wait staff is family as well as people hired. They’re not catering to some social fantasy. You’re there to eat and have some good food. You’re not a superior human because you’re a customer.

  4. Heretik,

    Yeah, being a waitron is difficult usually even in the best of circumstances. The situation with the club was usually the staff had the support of the owner and that made a difference. He had been a musician, his brother was a musician who had a band that played there weekends that had a huge, huge draw for a long time. It wasn’t corporate. It was a community club, employed from the community, and generally respected the members of the community above the clientele that came in to experience that community. Which was what it was about. Clientele coming in from outside to get the feel.

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