Ode to the Restaurant
I owe much to the restaurants I have worked.
It is due to this debt, I write this ode.
Though, even in the best of times, I do
Find the onus to be odious, and a
Loathsome labor, a wearying-work. Yet
The restaurant has 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 my hands in a chemical
brine; Cooked-dishes, with fingers in the
Open flame; dishes-served, humble, knees bent
At table with forks and knives, cut and slice
Butchering meat, chopping vegetables,
Pouring beer, decanting wine, mixing drinks
At the bar. 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; balancing
Your needs with your desires, for yourself, and all
Comers; every guest, 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;
Inspiration, flashing fire in the pan;
Transformation, 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 of the team.
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;
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,
Remove from the vicissitudes of life;
A plate of victuals to ease their plight.
Laws of hospitality are ancient;
are sacred, universal, and binding
To all; common before all other codes;
Written in our hearts before Manu, and
Before Pharoe, before Hammurabi set his
Law in stone, before Abraham, Moses
These laws governed the conduct of kings,
Emperors, of gods. Great Hercules was
Sentenced to labor, for a breach of these,
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, and the jibes;
To smile, through the hours of servitude,
The delights that delimit, and 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 been lacking,
And though, I had yet to become humbled,
A process called deference was working
In me, a drop of acid, a base note,
Serving the guest was changing me; slowly,
Making me into something new, as with
The magic of cooking over 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 Marathon,
Earned a few Masters degrees; fueling
My endeavors with pastas, with coffee,
Espresso, chocolate…with wine to unwind
An equivalency…bread for my time.
I owe much to the restaurants that have
Broadened my palate; as my horizons;
Acquainting me with more people than most
Can meet throughout the long course of their lives,
Serving all types, from all walks of life;
Both the kind, and the mean, the gracious good
Tippers, and 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.
Given at the Troubadour
First Monday’s at the Troubadour