I owe much to the restaurants I have worked. It is due to this debt, that I write this ode. Though, even in the best of times, I find the onus to have been odious, a loathsome labor, and wearying-work. Yet these restaurants have always been there for me; since I left home, un-ripened, and tender, at the age of fifteen. My sojourn has not toughened me, but rather softened me; like a prime-cut, of well-marbled, aged beef.
In the restaurants where I have toiled; dish-washed with hands in a chemical brine; cooked-dishes with fingers in the open flame; dishes-served, humbly with knees bent at table, replacing forks and knives. I have cut and sliced and butchered meat; chopping vegetables, pouring beer, decanting wine, mixing drinks at the bar; where now, grown older; I manage like a juggler, the many little things that other servers toss up in the air.
Managing a restaurant is a feat; a floor show, a dance. It involves no small amount of tumbling; twisting-acrobatics, mental, and physical contortions, it calls for emotional endurance, extremes of poise, of patience; of balancing your needs with your desires, for yourself, and all comers; every guest; each, on the high-wire, the tightrope, fraught with expectations, the frayed line, taut with tension and timing.
Restaurants have lined my pockets; thinly, filled my belly, generously; I run just to keep my fat from jellying me. A restaurant is a laboratory; of inspiration, flashing fire in the pan; transformation, where calories become cash. The restaurant is vigorous, vital, convivial; sharing time with one’s friends, co-workers, talking about bits, and bites, the bitter and sweet, the tastes that delight.
Restaurant life is a life of industry. We often hear it referred to as thus; the restaurant industry, where I serve, in an industry where hospes means guest; the hospitality industry… has
An emphasis on rest. The word itself; restaurant, is derived from; to refresh, restore; industry from; diligence, Zeal. All for the pleasure of others; we give our ergs, our time for T.I.P.S.; the small gratuity.
Hospitality, is an industry and the best word for the work that I do. Hospitality, where work becomes quest. In it, I am not servus, meaning slave; I am Hospitaliter-knight, on a Crusade. Hospitality links my work to an ancient world, and a way of life that gives the guest; repose, and respite, a remove from the vicissitudes of life; and a plate of victuals to ease their plight.
Laws of hospitality are ancient; sacred, and universal. They are binding to all; and common before all other codes; written in our hearts before Manu, before Pharoe, before Hammurabi set his law in stone. Before Abraham, and Moses these laws governed the conduct of kings, of emperors, of gods. Great Hercules was sentenced to his labors for a breach of these, and he found redemption in their fulfillment.
Am I grandiose to think of my work in these terms? Perhaps; I wonder, and yet laboring in restaurants, more often than not, is a great production, a grand play, staged in a theatre of the absurd. All of these restaurants have taught me much about life; about living, about how to endure the painful hits, the jibes; to smile, through hours of servitude, at the delights that delimit, and even surprise.
At fifteen years old I took on this role. When asked what I was learning through serving;
“Humility,” I replied, with small pride, a quality, which I had theretofore been lacking. And though I had yet to become humbled, a process called deference was working in me; like chemistry: a drop of acid, a base note, serving the guest was changing me; slowly, making me into something new, the magic of cooking with low heat.
I have aspired to do more than serve; to be on the quest, and yet, looking back this work has allowed me to do so much; the schedules are always as flexible as the duties call the server to be. I have run distances, like the Marathon, earned a Masters degrees; fueling my endeavors with pastas, with coffee, espresso, and chocolate…with wine to unwind; all equivalent…earning bread for my time.
I owe much to these restaurants that have broadened my palate; and my horizons as well; acquainting me with more people than most can meet in their lives, serving all types, from all walks of life; both the kind, and the mean, the gracious good tippers, the uptight penny pinchers, the sordid the spoiled, the clean and upright. Serving in restaurants, while often a woe; year after year has me coming for more.