t’s sunny today. Water floods the streets as the snow melts into rivers cascading down Lake Street and what doesn’t pool into mud puddles on my front lawn, empty’s out into Little Traverse bay. I slip off the sunny street and into the ally that leads into the basement door of the bistro where I work. Steve our dishwasher is standing in front of the door smoking. As I open the door I pound his fist and ask him how he is, only to shut the door in his face before I have to listen to the whole story of his life and why his P.O. is such a pain in the ass. As I unwrap my scarf from around my face I am greeted by Erin, our pastry Chef, not with a hello but an “open up”. I open my mouth wide so as not to touch my lips on the pastry bag and allow her to dose me with a heaping load of chocolate mousse. I change my shoes, tie my apron tightly around my waist, fill the ice buckets, and head upstairs. Next is a long line of various greetings. We have the line cooks who are wrapping up prep before the shakes set in. They can sneak a shot before dinner rush (makes for much smoother service, trust me). Then I have the bartenders who I have only known a few months but know every intimate detail of their divorces, and sexual partners since then, sometimes including pictures that I did not ask to see and now can never forget. As I walk towards the front of the house, Chef tosses a copy of “Full Metal Jacket” to me without even a word. The previous week I mentioned to the kitchen that I hadn’t seen it and they all got so upset I was asked to find someone to run my food for me the rest of the night. The other early shift server that is on today is Joe. Joe doesn’t have a bank account, has a fake last name, spends his winters in Colombia, and lives with girlfriend, Sara in the winter. Sara is a pretty, middle-aged nurse with a nice house and drives a 2008 Subaru Outback. She looks like someone he would wait-on. She pays for everything which Joe routinely brags about. He also constantly whines about not having a baby and feels that he and I would make a beautiful child together and that I should “think about it.” It’s a large amount of repulsion to swallow night after night, but I manage. Its 3:30 dinner service starts in an hour, but the rest of the freaks won’t be here till 6:00.
I do, I work among freaks, and don’t get me wrong I’m a part of the show. However, on the floor from 6:30 to 9:00 you have to look carefully to see that show. Sure we might slip with a B-list swear word, or a barely racy sexually innuendo, but most of us have perfected the façade. We are your gracious hosts and hostesses for the evening and even on our worst day, servers remain warm, understanding, and accommodating. Words and phrases such as “excellent”, “most certainly”, “wonderful”, “earthy”, “barnyard”,” well-balanced”, “well-done? Of course!” have become easy to swallow under most circumstances. However, once behind that swinging door, under the fluorescent lighting, and safely muffled by pots, pans, the expeditor and bar crowd…a paradigm shift occurs. Now sarcasm is dominant and welcomed. My melodic phrasing and elegant demeanor is replaced with “hey this guy hates delicious food, kill that filet”, “where is my food for 301?” “It’s working!!!!!””Oh shit, fire 312!”, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, I forgot to mark 305…”. It’s kind of scary actually, however perfectly acceptable.
Before having worked in a restaurant I would never, ever, swear, tell a dirty joke, drink on the job, or discuss sexual episodes at work. Now I just call that Wednesday. This makes me unique in this world, because restaurants to do not cultivate freaks, they attract them. Ex-convicts, drug addicts, the sexually depraved, writers, musicians, actors and all who are lost in life will at one point, work in a restaurant. When and if they ever come out of the industry, they will come out more tolerant, cultured individuals. But you always know when you’re waiting on someone who has moved on, that freak flag fly’s too high. I am speaking the truth, next time someone tries to proposition you for a four-some, sell you a prescription pill, or DJ at your next party, just ask them what restaurant they work in.