Sunday, December 04, 2011

Genius Waitress, Indeed

I humbly reprint the following, which a bartender I work with printed and posted in our wait area. Oh, how true it sounds! And if it's not, I want it to be. I think Still Life with Woodpecker is at the top of my reading list. Thank you, Tom Robbins.

Genius Waitress

Of the genius waitress, I now sing.

Of hidden knowledge, buried ambition, and secret
sonnets scribbled on cocktail napkins; of aching
arches, ranting cooks, condescending patrons, and eyes
diverted from ancient Greece to ancient grease; of
burns and pinches and savvy and spunk; of a uniquely
American woman living a uniquely American compromise,
I sing. I sing of the genius waitress.

Okay, okay, she's probably not really a genius. But
she is well-educated. She has a degree in Sanskrit,
ethnoastronomy, Icelandic musicology, or something
equally valued in contemporary marketplace. Even if
she could find work in her chosen field, it wouldn't
pay beans--so she slings them instead. (The genuis
waitress is not to be confused with the
aspiring-actress waitress, so prevalent in Manhattan
and Los Angeles and so different from her sister in
temperament and I.Q.)

As a type, the genius waitress is sweet and sassy,
funny and smart; young, underestimated, fatalistic,
weary, cheery (not happy, cheerful: there's a
difference and she understands it), a tad bohemian,
often borderline alcoholic, frequently pretty (though
her hair reeks of kitchen and bar); as independent as
a cave bear (though ever hopeful of "true love") and,
above all, genuine.

Covertly sentimental, she fusses over toddlers and old
folks, yet only fear of unemployment prevents her from
handing an obnoxious customer his testicles with his

She doesn't mind a little good-natured flirting, and
if you flirt with verve and wit, she may flirt back.
Never, however, never try to impress her with your
resume. Her tolerance for pretentious Yuppies ends
with her shift, sometimes earlier. She reads men like
a menu and always knows when she's being offered
leftovers or an artificially inflated souffle.

Should you ever be lucky enough to be taken home by
her to that studio apartment with the jerry-built
bookshelves and Frida Kahlo posters, you will discover
that whereas in the public dining room she is merely
as proficient as she needs to be, in the private
bedroom she is blue gourmet virtuoso. Five stars and
counting! Afterward, you can discuss chaos theory or
the triple aspects of the mother goddess in universal
art forms--while you massage her swollen feet.

Eventually, she leaves food service for graduate
school or marriage; but unless she wins a grant or a
fair divorce settlement, chances are she'll be back, a
few years down the line, reciting the daily specials
with her own special mixture of warmth and ennui.

Erudite emissary of eggs over easy, polymath purveyor
of polenta and prawns, articulate angel of apple pie,
the genius waitress is on duty right now in hundreds
of U.S. restaurants, smile at the ready, sauce on the
side. So brush up on your Schopenhauer, place your
order--and tip, mister, tip. She deserves a break

Of her, I sing.

Tom Robbins
Playboy, 1991

Friday, February 04, 2011

Angels Among Us

I am one of those people who believe in things like angels, and God, and miracles. I am always astounded by those who don't believe because, as evidenced on Tuesday night, there are most definitely angels sent to help us when we need it most.

My Tuesday started with my usual cup of coffee, surfing the web, and my iTunes soothing me. I heard a train whistle blow from inside my brick-sided fortress, which was a little unusual but welcome since those train whistles are little hellos from my departed father. I always smile a little when I hear a train. Having arrived back in the town in which I belong less than a month ago, I took that train sound as nothing but glad tidings from my dad.

When I went out into the cold to brush off the new snow from my car about an hour later, another train whistle blew. This one had a foreboding echo to it. It actually stopped me mid swipe to tilt my head, look upward, and silently question my daddy about what he was trying to say to me. A small chill ran through me, and there was an honest fear in my heart. I shook it off because I had to get to my first job of the day.

I muddled through my day at the school, then got to my second job on time. I was uneasy because of the blizzard forecast, and hoped that I would get done before the roads got too bad to get home. As is usually the case when you are hoping to catch a break, I ended up being at work very late. However, I was determined that I could make it home to sleep in my own bed. I had to! I had not had a day off in two weeks, and was sure the storm would shut everything down for Wednesday, ensuring my well-earned day at home. I'd even taken a roast from the freezer Tuesday morning in preparation for my wondrous day without work!

When my work was finally done, I bundled up to face the fierce wind and snow, trudged through it to my car, and brushed the considerable build-up from my car. As I backed out of the lot, the car dragged. I made it to the exit before I was completely stuck. Ugh! This could not be happening! Giving up, I went back in to announce my defeat. A co-worker with more optimism than I popped up and nearly shouted, "Let's go get you out!"

After more than a half hour, he did get me out and facing in the right direction! The normally bustling avenue had little traffic, so he parked me with hazards flashing to let me take the wheel. His final words to me were, "Just get in that lane and stay in it all the way home!" God bless him; I had given up.

In-town was that snowy leftover slop that the plows don't quite get pushed aside. Truthfully, it sucked, and I wasn't sure I wouldn't get stuck just trying to get going at stoplights. Arriving at the interstate area, the road suddenly cleared. Snow was blowing across the road, but it was bare concrete. "Piece of cake!" I thought to myself. 35 mph was going to rock the ride home!

And then that changed. Traffic departed in the next town's exits like rats jumping a sinking ship. That chat I'd had with a co-worker earlier about the ideal situation being able to have a leader in this kind of weather seemed to be a real fantasy. "Even better if he takes your exit," I had laughed! The truck I had gotten behind survived the first few exits and I was grateful for every mile I had with his tail lights to follow. The sudden drifts were known because I saw the snow he kicked up. The minor white-outs were no problem because his tail lights were my guide. Every mile with this truck was a comfort. I drove uneasily waiting for the impending blinker. Every car we passed that was in the ditch brought back that train whistle from the morning. Was that the message my father had for me? Was he trying to let me know he knew I would be needing his comfort while I sat freezing in a ditch under five feet of drifting snow? I shrugged off the thought and concentrated on those tail lights.

When we'd passed every exit that came before mine, I realized that I would have this angel's lights to guide my way to my own exit. Thank God for sending this man to drive us through this ferocious storm. So many times in those long slow miles I had given thanks for this truck. The driver was amazing. At one point, I was sure he was drifting to the right and would end up in the ditch. I steered my own car to the left, only to hit the grooves on the left side that warns of the ditch if you don't right yourself. I could not believe it!! I followed my angel without question after that.

He guided us between cars in the ditch, complete white-outs, drifts...keeping us at the right speed without getting stuck. There were only a few times the white-outs were so bad that I lost his tail lights. In those moments, I knew how much worse his drive was than mine. I am not sure I would have been okay without this truck in front of me. Getting on the road at the peak of the blizzard was not my best decision, but I am stubborn, and I wanted to be home for my day off. Staying at a friend's house was not what I wanted to do. Silly, stupid, stubborn girl!

I slowed down to try to make my first (usual) exit, but was unsure about it even before I got to it. One of the cars we passed had taken an exit that was drifted at least six feet and was stopped dead in its tracks. That scared me. I slowed down, but chose not to take my normal exit. My angel truck got ahead of me, and was out of sight for about a mile. I caught up, and found that comfort of his tail lights once again for my last few miles. My fear of missing my exit was an impending doom as my guide drove us closer to it. That car I saw that hit the wall of drift loomed large in my mind!

When you are driving in blizzard conditions, time and space are messed up. I thought for a second that I had actually missed my exit. Dread filled me. Just as my mind was coming to grips with the possibility that I would be stuck all night driving this highway, I saw my guiding angel's blinker come on--for MY exit! I exhaled heavily while sending up yet another prayer of thanks. I watched him maneuver the off-ramp, paying careful attention to how much snow was kicking up behind him. It was plowed and passable. We both made a right turn, me quite a ways behind him due to my trepidation of the exit ramp.

Town roads of my little community were fine. I breathed almost a full inhale for the first time in over an hour. The man who miraculously got me close enough to walk home took a left two blocks from my own home. I watched him try to get through the unplowed side street as I continued straight and said a tearful prayer of thanks for his stellar driving abilities to get us to where we were.

There's a whole 'nother story about actually getting into my house, but that's for another time. I slept in my own bed the night the worst blizzard in decades hit the Midwest, after driving in the worst portion of it. I thought about putting an ad on craigslist to thank this angel. I have tried to think of a fitting thank you gift, and trying to drive down that street to find this Godsent truck that kept me so safe in the worst conditions I have faced as a driver. My mouth actually got dry during the drive. The kind of dry you get when you are scared and nervous. And more than once, there were tears of gratitude for my buddy ahead of me. If we never meet, I shall never forget him.

Thank God for keeping His eye on all of us. Thank God for this man who was out in a blizzard that nobody should have been out in, at the same time that I was. Thank God this man lives where I live.

Kind sir with the amazing driving ability? Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. You are my hero.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Last to Know

It's no secret that I've been on the mend of a herniated disk for most of the last year. In my quest to heal thyself, upon my discharge of all formal physical therapy and spine specialist appointments I asked each of my providers if the complementary medicine offering of a personalized yoga plan would be a beneficial excursion for me. Both agreed that I could benefit from a yoga program.

And so it was, with great hope, that I toddled off one early Monday morning to meet a yoga guru who would spend an hour and a half of one-on-one time personalizing a program that could cure me of my PT boredom. The concept of not having to sit in a yoga class with 20 other people, trying to keep up and understand was appealing. The idea of having someone who would evaluate my needs and create a program designed to strengthen my weaknesses was delightful. The thought of a yoga expert focusing on my needs excited me.

Upon arrival I told him what had led me to him. I explained the disk issues, the arthritis and bone spurs in my neck, the bicipital tendonitis that brought excruciating pain. I expounded on the long road back to getting the strength back in my left arm, and how work continually worked against what I was trying to mend. I admitted that I knew nothing about yoga but thought the process could be good for me. I gave credit to my neighbor who had assured me that yoga was an amazing back-strengthening exercise. Yes, this was the right path for me!

The appraisal of my body came next. I climbed onto the massage table while he palpitated my shoulders and spine. He asked about my diet, bad habits, lifestyle. We began to experiment with some breathing techniques. Apparently, I did quite well. And, the only other bit of good news came at this point in the day too. "Your feet are pretty good for a server." Nice. Good to know. Those expensive shoes and extra care I give my feet is paying off.

Servers operate in a "flight or fight" mode during work. Okay, I knew this. The bad news? My body is always in this mode. What? I never relax. Really?

We spent the next hour in a room across the hall trying out stretches, positions, breathing. I am hopelessly tense (at the core) and need to let go. I am "almost trying to get back in the fetal position" with my tense, curling body posture. I pant. I have created misalignments that my body have built calcium to support. I will need to work very hard to undo these deficiencies in my ability to relax.


I think worse than finding this out was the reaction of those around me. I called my best friend to tell her what the yoga guy told me. "You needed a yoga guru to tell you that?" I told my boyfriend what the man said. "Okay, but we already knew that." I informed my mother of this horrible news. "Yeah, but that's not news."

How come everyone else knew this? I thought I relaxed sometimes. When I told the yoga guy that I slept well (because I thought this proved I did relax), he practically yelled, "You're exhausted!" Oh. I can't believe that I did not know that I never relax.

I can tell you that having this information has not relaxed me one bit. Now that I am home from vacation, I will begin the long process of learning how to breathe, how to relax, how to stretch those tight muscles that are ready to snap. Sure....piece of cake. I just wish I wasn't the last to know.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Wear It Well

I don't know why people have cosmetic surgery. Of course, I don't know why people are so stuck on STUFF, either. But everyone should watch this video, and listen to Bob Sima's wise words about those lines on our faces. What a beautiful story a million words could never tell!

Those lines are badges. I would not trade one line, one scar, one memory of what those marks on my face represent. Wear them well. Be proud that you have made it to where you are now. Enjoy this video, and this amazing message.

Friday, January 01, 2010

I've Heard of Such Things

New Year's Eve is a server nightmare night. Trust me; it is. I have a tale of two (actually three) tables to share.

My 10-top needed separates. They ordered the cheapest entrees on our special menu for the evening. They hemmed and hawwed about simple decisions or questions for me. I wanted to scream. We have the option to auto-grat (automatically add the tip) to parties of eight or more. I never do, but I did with this group. They were just that lame. Ie: "Can you add booze to the hot chocolate?" Ummm, yeah. People have been doing that for years. Pick something for the bar to add to your hot chocolate.

When I handed out the bills, I made sure each person knew that the tip was included in the total. It went something like this on each end of the table, loud enough for all to hear, because I'm not that server who tries to trick you into tipping twice by not telling you I've added it: "I've included the gratuity so you don't need to worry about it." And yet, two people added a gratuity as though one had never been included. I guess not everyone knows that a gratuity is a tip.


But, there was a shiny bright spot to make the big bad table fade out of view! A server in a neighboring section met me at the point of sale computers and informed me, "My table right there wants to pay for your table right here." Now, this happens. Or a round is bought for a table. It's fun to be the bearer of GOOD news! My table, a young couple with an adorable little boy was just about done. After giving them a box to wrap their leftovers, they told me they were ready for their check. "Ah. Well, there's a Santa here who wants to buy your dinner," I told them gleefully. They looked confused, so I pointed at my coworker's table and said, "Them!" They still looked confused. "Which one??" I pointed again and said those three people at that table. They shook their heads, and left.

Later in the evening, I asked the server of the other table, "Did they know that couple at my table? They seemed confused by your table buying them dinner."

"Oh, no. That man just told me that they wanted to buy that family's dinner. When I asked him if they knew them, he said no, that they just picked someone out to buy dinner for."

How unbelievably cool is that? What is really funny is that I don't know what prompted me to tell them that there was a Santa in the house who wanted to buy their dinner. Normally, I would just say that the table over there wanted to buy them a drink, or had picked up their tab. But I chose to use the word Santa. How did I know? Well, I didn't, but he was like Santa to me too because the couple tipped me 20%, and so did Santa!

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The List is Growing

A few weeks ago I had to purchase a Theracane. This is not a walking stick, rather a trigger point massage device for my knotted shoulders. I highly recommend this for anyone who lives alone and needs to massage those hard-to-reach places on his back. However, in trying to find a place to keep this candy cane shaped device, I started to notice how much old people stuff I have laying around. It prompted me to make a list. Why I feel the need to share it is another question entirely, but here goes!

$500 Pronex traction unit (complete with carrying bag and 15/30 degree ramp thingy)!
Lidocaine patches
Neck pillow for travel
Elastic bands for PT exercises
Heating Pad
Makeshift Stool in the living room for my newest exercise
Ice Packs in the Freezer
Numerous Printouts for Exercise Directives

I regularly drive to PT on my days off. I indulge in a massage once a month that feels more like extra work on my shoulder than anything really relaxing. I avoid the pills I made sure I stocked up on while the prescription was still valid, remembering the first awful weeks of this injury and my doctor's unwillingness to prescribe anything for the pain. I do PT every single day unless I'm working a 12 hour double shift. I do my traction each night, happy that it relaxes my back enough to make me tired, even. Occasionally, I do use the Lidocaine patches because they are absolutely amazing for taking the pain away.

It all feels kind of "old people"-ish to me. I know my job is exacerbating the issues in my shoulders, but I don't have a big choice at this point. The insurance is so good that it almost makes the injury worth it. I feel confident that I will overcome this in time. But some of the new products on my list I will carry with me forever. I try to view the compilation of things related to my herniated disk as learning tools. I understand a lot more about my work habits now and think I can manage the job action by being smart about how I use my physical self in carrying out those tasks.

I suppose another way to look at my list of injury paraphernalia is that they are tools in my recovery. I should be glad I have gotten the greatest care available. And I am. I have a whole 'nother post working about my amazing spine doctor. Favorite doctor ever, bar none!

So here's thanks for a wonderful care team, great insurance, a superb collection of old people stuff.... and a body that is healing.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I Love My Job!

I work at a place that revolves around the Badgers. Mostly football, but we see business improve during the college semesters, then die off for the summer when school is not in session. Barry Alvarez dines with us sometimes (very snobby). Bret Bielema comes in sometimes (seems to be the womanizer they say he is). Heck, I've even seen Mark Tauscher at work. But last night topped all of those sports heroes. What made it even better is that this time I got to wait on the star. That's right; I waited on Bob Harlan.

I have always thought Harlan was a class act who furthered the storied franchise of the Green Bay Packers as much as anyone who has ever put his passion into this team. He came in with his wife and they waited for what was obviously a child and his or her spouse. They were patient in the rush that kept me from getting their drinks for a few minutes. For those who are dying to know, Brandy Manhatten-extra sweet vermouth. Hers was a regular Brandy Manhatten. They made me explain a 'fish boil' (which she did have) to the young girl who joined them with the young man. The Harlans ate Madison's Best Fish Fry because as Madeline said, "Oh, I want what everyone comes in for!" The young man had the Perch Fry.

The funny part of this encounter was that on my first approach, I saw those sparkly pale blue eyes and happy face of Bob Harlan and thought, "This is somebody famous. Who is he? I know this guy." That thought stayed with me the entire meal. It's like when you can't think of the name of the famous actor who played in that one film!?! It drove me nuts, but I was busy enough not to be whining about it to my coworkers. Only when the woman asked for the check ahead of schedule, and handed me her credit card did I get the clue I needed. Madeline Marlan? Another look gave me that "Aha!" moment I was waiting for....Madeline HARLAN. "Oh. My. God!"

"I'm waiting on Bob Harlan!" I blurted to my boss who was bartending. "Yeah, he's here," he said very calmly. "Oh my God! I AM WAITING ON HIM!!"

I was very cool and collected on the drop-off, and went about my usual protocol. "This one is for you, and please leave this one for me." It is also my practice to stop back quickly to retrieve the slip and my pen. I stood in the back gushing to anyone nearby that I had just waited on Bob Harlan. Most of the responses went something like this: "Who's Bob Harlan?" All agreed that it was very cool that I ended up with the family since I could appreciate the presence of the former Packer CEO more than anyone else there. As time ticked by, I kept thinking of my best friend, who is fighting cancer and appreciates every single moment in life. She would positively KILL me if I did not jump on the opportunity to say something (ANYTHING!) to Mr. Bob Harlan. I mustered up my courage in light of the new information I had about this table I had just spent the last hour trying to identify, and made the walk back to pick up the slip and my pen.

When I arrived at the table, the two men had their heads huddled, talking. I picked up the slip, thanked Mrs. Harlan, then stood for a moment. When Bob Harlan realized my presence and looked my way, I said in very metered emotion: "I'm sorry, but I have to tell you that I spent the entire meal trying to figure out why I recognize you. I kept thinking, 'Who is this guy? Why do I know him?' and I finally realized who you are." At this point I extended my hand to shake his, and he graciously produced what I then saw was a diamond-studded G-ringed hand to meet my handshake. "I want you to know that I really loved it when you were with the team, and I really, really, REALLY miss you up there. REEEAAAALLLLY miss you."

He was genuinely touched and thanked me for my words. He is such a man of grace and humility. If I loved him before, I'm bowled over 100x more now. This easily goes down as my best moment as a server. And I've been doing this for 25+ years. Wow. All I can say is....WOW!

And yes, they tipped well. Almost 25%.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

This is Not New!

The following article tells about "new" research that proves how very small children can learn foreign languages easily. While I give kudos to the new understanding on how we might incorporate this into teaching older students, I am disappointed that more exposure has not been given to this solid, and very old news.

You see, I learned about this method over two decades ago when I was in college learning how to be an English teacher. It's well-documented that babies can learn two languages as they learn to talk. I vividly recall my professor telling us about a family who taught their baby just this way. The mother spoke in one language; the father in another every single time they spoke to the baby. That baby had the valuable skill of speaking two languages before he could even walk. And we knew back then that learning a foreign language becomes much more difficult after the age of seven, too! Why? Why don't we teach this to first graders instead of hormone-filled teenagers?

Let this be your public service announcement for today. Parents with babies: Teach them now!

Unraveling how children become bilingual so easily

By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard, Ap Medical Writer – Tue Jul 21, 3:08 am ET

WASHINGTON – The best time to learn a foreign language: Between birth and age 7. Missed that window?

New research is showing just how children's brains can become bilingual so easily, findings that scientists hope eventually could help the rest of us learn a new language a bit easier.

"We think the magic that kids apply to this learning situation, some of the principles, can be imported into learning programs for adults," says Dr. Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington, who is part of an international team now trying to turn those lessons into more teachable technology.

Each language uses a unique set of sounds. Scientists now know babies are born with the ability to distinguish all of them, but that ability starts weakening even before they start talking, by the first birthday.

Kuhl offers an example: Japanese doesn't distinguish between the "L" and "R" sounds of English — "rake" and "lake" would sound the same. Her team proved that a 7-month-old in Tokyo and a 7-month-old in Seattle respond equally well to those different sounds. But by 11 months, the Japanese infant had lost a lot of that ability.

Time out — how do you test a baby? By tracking eye gaze. Make a fun toy appear on one side or the other whenever there's a particular sound. The baby quickly learns to look on that side whenever he or she hears a brand-new but similar sound. Noninvasive brain scans document how the brain is processing and imprinting language.

Mastering your dominant language gets in the way of learning a second, less familiar one, Kuhl's research suggests. The brain tunes out sounds that don't fit.

"You're building a brain architecture that's a perfect fit for Japanese or English or French," whatever is native, Kuhl explains — or, if you're a lucky baby, a brain with two sets of neural circuits dedicated to two languages.

It's remarkable that babies being raised bilingual — by simply speaking to them in two languages — can learn both in the time it takes most babies to learn one. On average, monolingual and bilingual babies start talking around age 1 and can say about 50 words by 18 months.

Italian researchers wondered why there wasn't a delay, and reported this month in the journal Science that being bilingual seems to make the brain more flexible.

The researchers tested 44 12-month-olds to see how they recognized three-syllable patterns — nonsense words, just to test sound learning. Sure enough, gaze-tracking showed the bilingual babies learned two kinds of patterns at the same time — like lo-ba-lo or lo-lo-ba — while the one-language babies learned only one, concluded Agnes Melinda Kovacs of Italy's International School for Advanced Studies.

While new language learning is easiest by age 7, the ability markedly declines after puberty.

"We're seeing the brain as more plastic and ready to create new circuits before than after puberty," Kuhl says. As an adult, "it's a totally different process. You won't learn it in the same way. You won't become (as good as) a native speaker."

Yet a soon-to-be-released survey from the Center for Applied Linguistics, a nonprofit organization that researches language issues, shows U.S. elementary schools cut back on foreign language instruction over the last decade. About a quarter of public elementary schools were teaching foreign languages in 1997, but just 15 percent last year, say preliminary results posted on the center's Web site.

What might help people who missed their childhood window? Baby brains need personal interaction to soak in a new language — TV or CDs alone don't work. So researchers are improving the technology that adults tend to use for language learning, to make it more social and possibly tap brain circuitry that tots would use.

Recall that Japanese "L" and "R" difficulty? Kuhl and scientists at Tokyo Denki University and the University of Minnesota helped develop a computer language program that pictures people speaking in "motherese," the slow exaggeration of sounds that parents use with babies.

Japanese college students who'd had little exposure to spoken English underwent 12 sessions listening to exaggerated "Ls" and "Rs" while watching the computerized instructor's face pronounce English words. Brain scans — a hair dryer-looking device called MEG, for magnetoencephalography — that measure millisecond-by-millisecond activity showed the students could better distinguish between those alien English sounds. And they pronounced them better, too, the team reported in the journal NeuroImage.

"It's our very first, preliminary crude attempt but the gains were phenomenal," says Kuhl.

But she'd rather see parents follow biology and expose youngsters early. If you speak a second language, speak it at home. Or find a play group or caregiver where your child can hear another language regularly.

"You'll be surprised," Kuhl says. "They do seem to pick it up like sponges."

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


When girls get together for lunch, you know it's going to be a gabfest of the highest order. It's not like a business lunch, or a lunch date, or even the quick lunch that girls who work together might share. It is an event to be anticipated, and finally enjoyed upon its arrival. Just this sort of treasure occurred today for me and one other friend.

The woman with whom I shared lunch with today has done so many kind things for me that I insisted upon buying the food today. And when the lunch is set up to catch her up on the astounding events that have made your steps lighter and your heart more hopeful, well then I think it's mandatory that you feed the poor girl.

I suggested Chinese, and she agreed. I picked it up to bring home so that we could enjoy some private time without interruption or distraction from our intended intent conversation. And so it was that we sat at the kitchen table, me starving, she saying she was not that hungry. Her blue eyes were lit with curiosity and the smile said she knew something good was going on with me. As I picked at my rice and she ate voraciously, I tried to contain my story to some kind of chronology and sense. But that's not how it went. I fluttered from one thing to the next while she grew to understand just how surprising my life had become.

She knew when to impose her thoughts, when to listen, and when to assure that the wings I have kept tucked under me are still in perfect working order. She took my compliments to her through the course of the telling graciously. She poked fun at me when I needed that. She did all of this while the weight of her own world sat heavily on her shoulders. Friends like this cannot be bought. Lunches as fabulous as that won't be happened upon. And the encouragement that is given in those precious times of friendship cannot be replaced. A friend who celebrates with you even as her own world wobbles forward is a rare gift.

As we ended our lunch with a hurried goodbye because of appointments I had to keep, we promised to catch up even more very soon. I'm thrilled to know that it thrilled her for me. And I'm happy to have friends like this to invite over for such warm sharing. Thank you, friend. Thank you.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

I'm Workin' Here

Years ago, I had a friend who had a Blue Tick Hound dog. Max was a worker dog. My friend lived on a busy street, and when he heard something in the yard, he was "on the job." He would frantically run to the window, eyes ablaze with duty to guard his home. Annie would announce with great glee what was going through Max's mind as he executed this diligent behavior: "I'm workin' here!!"

Life on the avenue is pretty lively. Keeping up with all the shenanigans of the daily grind is difficult. Snippets seem to be the most I can muster. A little laughter goes a long way when you are in the weeds as a server.

Last night, my friend "Shawn" was in the section next to me. I saw him at the peak of the crunch time balancing an ungodly amount of sundries on his arm and hands. Why everyone I work with is so against using a tray is beyond me. I use a tray all the time because my hands are small and I cannot balance even two water glasses in my palm, much less the three or four glasses I see others balancing in one palm while carrying bread plates in the other. Nope, I'll use a cocktail tray, thank you. I raise an eyebrow at Shawn as he scurries on his way with his carnival collection on his person. As I'm doing my own dance of appeasement to my diners, I hear his large table being positively gleeful. I think to myself that it's weird that they are acting so surprised about a birthday cake that they clearly ordered. Did they forget that they ordered the surprise for the birthday girl?

I continue on my mission. A few minutes later, I have to go over by our coffee station for something. That's when I see it. The small birthday cake that was thawed during the course of the diners' meal for its debut is laying upside down on the floor, smooshed out from underneath its plastic plate. I suddenly understand the shouts of delight I heard a few minutes ago. Shawn is in the back of the house, performing the tedious job of unfreezing another birthday cake with short, half power spurts in the microwave. Too long or too high of heat and he will have a melty mess. Still, those other tables he has are waiting for something while he fixes this mistake that is surely costing him in dollars. I had to laugh. In fact, it was just what I needed in the midst of the crazy night we were having. Good stuff, that.

Last week was bizarre. My best friend from the northwoods--the one who died unexpectedly--is always on my mind. I think about her daughter who I have not seen since I left the northwoods shortly after Alissa's death. I think about how my life would be different, if not for her early departure from this world. I struggle with the fact that her husband and I do not get along, and that is what prevents me from seeing her beautiful daughter. Last week, coming from the back room to the hostess station, looking to the booths that run along the front of the restaurant, I see a man who looks like Alissa's husband. I'm thinking that's pretty weird, when I hear him say my name. I go over to a lukewarm hello. The surprise of it all made him call my name, but the reality of chatting is a little tense. Add to the mix that he's on a date. Of course, I'm looking at the woman to see how many Alissa-like features she has. There are many. Todd recently moved back to the area to be near his ailing father. I knew that, but never thought I'd see him where I work.

The crazy part of the whole encounter is that I was utterly lost in trying to remember his first marriage daughters' names to ask about them! Ugh. And I was so uncomfortable at interrupting a date that I could not piece together any of the questions I really wanted to ask. Bleh. He asked about a girl who worked there. Yes, she still works here. Talking to her a few days later was wild. She knew him, knew about his wife dying, talked about their common friends. It was strange to answer her question about what happened to his wife. This is a different world, not that world. The two finding a connection felt surreal and took me back to all those empty feelings I felt when she died.

Several weeks ago, another blast from the past collided with my new life at the place on the avenue. Two women, one man, and an older couple sat in my section on a busy Friday night. They ate, drank, and were merry. When they were finished, the patriarch took the check. Coming back with his credit card and receipt, I glanced at the name. It's good customer service to address the patron by his or her name when they pay with a credit card, and I do it as often as I can. My eyes can't always pick up the name in the dim light of the restaurant, but it was serendipitous that I looked this time. The name on the card instantly clicked with the face of the man I took the card from moments before.

Arriving at the table with his card, I held it before me, looked him square in the eye, and said, "I know you. [pause] You worked with my dad. [pause] And my grandpa."

He looked astonished for only a moment before asking me, "Are you a (insert maiden name here)??" I smiled and said I was. Instant smiles all the way around. This was a family whose house I remember being at the day my father died. We caught up as much as we could in the hurried time I had to give them. Justin said something that made me sad, but somehow comforted too. He got a wistful look for a moment, then said, "I think about your dad sometimes. It's a shame what he did." For those who don't know, my dad's death certificate claims suicide. It is sad that he's not here. It's also comforting to know that Justin, a man my dad saw every work day has given thought to my dad and the family he left behind. They do keep up with my mom with Christmas letters and occasional phone calls, but I have not seen these people since I was very small.

I could not wait to tell my mom about the chance encounter. When I did relay the story, she assured me that they had to have been delighted to see me, and was sure that they would be back to see me again. When I told her what Justin said, she told me that he really thought of my dad like another son. Even though Justin is not that much older than my parents, he was the more mature type and took my dad under his wing. My mom said he took my dad's death very hard. I would love to sit down one on one with Justin to ask some hard questions that have never been answered. How amazing to see him again so by chance! It made me tingle to know that he spent so much time with the dad I have missed so much.

Yes, worlds do collide.

Two weeks ago, on a football Sunday, I wore my #4 Jets jersey under specific approval from the boss. I got a disapproving look from the manager on duty when I came through the door. I told him to lay off because this was owner-approved and if he had a problem he needed to go talk to said owner of the restaurant. I got a few snide remarks that were masked as questions of interest about my jersey. I wore it proudly. Then a drunk woman crammed into an overpopulated booth of friends stepped over my personal boundary. As I stood at the end of the table to take the order, she felt it was okay to 1) grab my shirt above my hip 2) shake it back and forth 3) give me a pathetic look, and 4) condescendingly tell me, "Oh honey, let it go." First of all, do NOT touch me. Secondly, take the attitude elsewhere--and do not tell me how to feel about Brett Favre.

I will just say that she is lucky that I am a professional, and her food was not tampered with. Others would not have been so polite. That's all on that.

Oh yeah. I'm workin' here.