Cuts, Scars, Tats and Other Things That Make Me Look Like A Badass
Part 2: Waitress
I’m in New York today and I’ve just had lunch at the Dumpling Man. The taste and odor of garlic and pork is just sitting in my mouth and I’m feeling the need for a lemon tart to suppress it. My friend Ella and I have just started to get comfortable in a couple of chairs at The Adore on 13th.
The Adore is what Ella so perfectly regards as “adorable” – it is the type of café that is uncompromisingly not New York and so New York packaged in a little dining room. It is Je Ne Sais Qua and it is what Ella likes to idealize her own self image as: a complex woman you are both meant to love and appreciate, but fear and hate all in one wonderful package. I find that restaurants or bars that people frequent or love are very telling of their personalities - more that they would care to acknowledge.
After 30 minutes of Genmaicha and pastry, we get off topic from food and start talking about one of the more unsavory dating periods in my life: 3 not too long and not too short term relationships in 6 months. Whether I choose to recognize it or not, personal relationships also pertain to the subject of cuts and scars of a kitchen life. They are demons often conjured mentally rather than physically (for most chefs). Ambition, love, lust and habit are part of all industries (including office life), but gossip in the restaurant industry has a reputation for travelling between kitchens and ears rather quickly. It's a golden kitchen rule: everyone talks shit, deal with it.
Ella is radiant today in her soft summer dress and she is calmly enjoying her tea until the following words leak out of her mouth, just as I expected they would when I boarded the plane out here two days ago…
“So what happened with Karen?”
I expected this because I boarded the plane without Karen.
Any explanation in the subject of Karen needed to be delicate because she was one of the few women I dated that Ella had seemingly approved and genuinely liked. It didn’t help that she and Ella spent some time together when she was visiting San Francisco during one of my busier weeks. I shrugged Ella off and told her simply, “It didn’t work out.”
Ella now seemed intent to lecture me about issues with restaurant workers, instability and relationship commitment, but she didn’t know I intended to cut her off well before it happens. It would not be her first rant regarding my part in the unsavory liaisons of my industry. I start with a soft defense and begin mumbling in a professional and impersonal tone, as if I was in front of a college class:
“Sometimes I get the feeling that there is an immense disconnection between the romanticized depiction and the actual reality of a restaurant worker’s life. I think one of the more regrettable stereotypes - if you want to call it that - happens to be the generalization that people who work in this industry have unstable lives. There’s probably some truth to the basic idea of instability, but I feel this is more of a direct result of inadequate representation from the front of house.”
She thinks she’s hearing bullshit, but I don’t care, so I’m laying it on as thick, chunky and serious as I can.
“What I am trying to explain is that most chefs and cooks I’ve worked with or for, live very stable lives. In fact, a high percentage of these chefs are often married at a very young age for some reason. Someone once told me the theory that chefs marry or engage into serious relationships at a young age because they want someone who would be committed to them in spite of the crazy instability of their positions in the kitchen whereas a bartender or waiter is normally not as willing to do so because most front of house positions are strictly transitional jobs during a transitional period in their lives.”
Ella sits there quietly and nods in a partially surprised and totally unsurprised, judgmental grin. God, I love this woman, but I hate the bitch that she can be sometimes. She slowly comes around and says, “well, I’m sure you had more of a hand fucking it up than you did keeping it together.”
To that, I respond indignantly, “I’m only 29, but it’s not quite that.”
At this point in our little catch-up session at The Adore, my head started spinning. I had to explain to Ella that I don’t particularly think I fucked up a good thing with Karen. I told Ella I liked Karen a lot, despite the fact that she was somewhat neurotic, brought all her shit home with her after work, and always felt overburdened with doing something with her life, but not knowing what the hell that was. It didn’t help that we worked at the same place in an industry where the chef-waitress hookups were regarded more as basic common occurrences than a professional faux pas. Call it the kiss of death if you will.
“So how did it end?” Ella finally asks as if she had been waiting all afternoon.
“Well, she didn’t want to commit to what or where we were going, I got upset because she was so apprehensive about the idea of commitment and we had an argument. She started ignoring me, stopped calling or returning my calls for a good week and a half. So one night I went to dinner at Conduit and then proceeded to Nopa to have a nightcap and a partial make-out session with a hostess from a different restaurant. And that’s pretty much the book on how to end relationships.”
I can tell Ella is now back on my side regarding this matter, but of course, she’s still partially disgusted at the thought of my unsubtle and seemingly capricious approach. She can’t help but say, “wow, that’s pretty fucked up.”
“Yep, but they were really good about getting my martini right that night.”