Wait a Minute

I have known people who have split with a significant other over waitstaff. Specifically, how their boyfriend or girlfriend treated the waiter while they were out to eat.

The reasoning was two-fold. First of all, if their former paramour treated a stranger with a lack of respect, that was already a red flag, just shy of dropping dead squirrels into a bucket. Secondly, it showed that they’d never worked in food service. And working in food service is pretty much a prerequisite for being interesting. Honestly, how many charming people do you know who haven’t ever been prep cooks, waiters, baristas, line cooks, hosts, or busboys?

There’s a reason why Kitchen Confidential was a best-seller.

I’ve always treated my waiters as though they were my captors. In part this was because my mother was like a more sadistic version of Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. “I’d like the pie heated and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it, if not then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real, if it’s out of the can then nothing.”

Even as a child this made me uncomfortable. I’d look at the pimply, underpaid kid with the pen and the pad and hope that my eyes conveyed a look that expressed both “I’m sorry” and “Can you imagine living with her?!” Instead the waiter probably just figured that my mom was so particular as a result of having a child with a staring problem. Or that being weird was genetic.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the difficult position of having to prevent a very good friend from ripping out the spinal column out of a waiter using her tongue.

The altercation began with a waffle.

When broken down afterward, nearly every conflict can be reduced to inconsequential minutae. But, at the time, the arrival of this waffle at our table was tantamount to Archduke Franz Ferdinand arriving in Sarjevo.

The scenario was simple. On the menu, the waffle was listed as being a waffle topped with whipped cream and berries. My friend wanted her waffle and whipped cream, but with the berries on the side. This, she told me, was because there are some types of berries that she doesn’t like, and therefore she didn’t want them on top of her whipped cream and waffle. It would be easier to sort through the berries and select the ones that she liked if they weren’t all over the rest of her food. This made enough sense to me, a girl who has a checkered food past that includes strict veganism, a hatred of pizza, and an allergy to Chinese food.

“Waffle with berries on the side,” our waiter-slash-actor said. He was clear-eyed, no more than twenty-three years old, with a perfect coif and clean nails. He had a look that breezily conveyed that he was always ready for his close-up.

My breakfast burrito came…and was delicious. But the waffle was nowhere to be found. Minutes passed, first five, then ten. When my friend tried to signal our waiter, he was in The Zone, running to and fro, filling coffee, taking orders, trying to memorize his lines in his head. The patience of my friend melted like a pat of butter on a piece of hot toast.

When her waffle finally arrived, it was accompanied by a side dish of berries: straw, blue, and rasp. She looked at the fruit, looked at her waffle, and then looked up at the waiter, who by this point in the morning was practicing his acceptance speech for the Emmy’s.

“There’s no whipped cream. It said that it came with whipped cream,” my friend said.

“You said berries, no whipped cream,” the future cast member replied.

“No, I said berries on the side. I still want whipped cream,” my friend curtly responded.

“Okay,” the waiter said. “But you said no whipped cream.”

That last little quip, which was stated flippantly as he trotted off-screen to retrieve the whipped cream and probably spit in it, was what did it. My friend’s face darkened. Her New York roots began to show. Somewhere overhead a clap of thunder rumbled, even though we were indoors. Her fangs grew, her claws protracted, and her eyes began to shoot fire.

“He didn’t just say that,” she said.

I nooded meekly.

“He did?” she asked. Pause. “He did.”

I began to heap saccharine smiles and effusive thank yous on the waiter, while trying to simultaneously distract my friend from flaying him with her mouth while he gave her the stink-eye and probably insulted her choice of hair color under his breath. It was ugly. Although I’ve never seen actual cats fighting, or Project Runway, I imagine the whole situation being similar in tone. There’s a reason why I don’t watch reality TV. I find non-fictionalized conflict to be uncomfortable and disquieting, much like dialog in pornography and the band Maroon 5.

Before Sonic put high-school kids on rollerskates and told them to serve sub-par burgers, there were the precursors to the modern restaurant. In Ancient Rome, there were thermopoliae, restaurant-bar hybrids where customers (and presumably gladiators) would go to socialize and get sated. In 11th century Kaifeng, China, during the Song Dynasty, catering establishments popped up, most likely as a direct result of the booming theater, gambling, and prostitution industries nearby, further illustrating the historic link between acting, hooking, and waiting tables. Later, in the 18th century, France took the reins, creating the precursor to the modern restaurant. Snooty waiters have been on the scene ever since. But at least they have an excuse. Their service charge is included, they’re not air-kissing your ass on each cheek for change.

The term waiter originated in the late 14th century, when it was synonymous with a watchman. Then, in the 15th century, it came to reference to the servants of a household. In the 17th century the word became more broadly associated with inns and houses that serve food, with the term “waitress” first being recorded much later, in 1834. But let’s go back to that first definition, shall we? Watchman. Think about that for a second. The word for the ditzy cheerleading squad reject wearing Silly Bandz and taking your order at TGIFridays traces back to the person who would make sure that your manor wasn’t attacked and that you and your wife weren’t slaughtered, your heads left on pikes. Do not insult your watchman.

I have had friends tell me too many horror stories that include urine, phlegm, unwashed floors, and worse for me to get angry at my waiter. If I’m neglected or my order is incorrect, a sort of Stockholm syndrome occurs. “She’s probably having a bad day. She looks like a student, maybe she’s having a rough time. Isn’t it around finals?” I’ll think when I wind up with Salisbury steak instead of spaghetti. “He looks preoccupied, I don’t want to bug him,” I’ll say about the waiter after I’ve already drained all the water glasses and finished swallowing the dregs from the table’s flower display.

My waiter is my owner for the time that I’m inside of that restaurant. I want them to be happy when I leave, and not because I’ve tortured them and made their life hell for an hour and twenty minutes. From briefly trying – and failing – at working in a restaurant, I know how hard it is. I wasn’t a good enough waitress. Didn’t have the patience, the coordination, or the headshots. I love waiters. They are busting their ass and they’re usually cute. I give them credit, with pity on the side.

Think about it, have you ever heard anyone ever say that they wanted to be a waitress when they grew up? Have you ever been to a party and asked someone what they do for a living, only to have them joyfully regale you with tales from their career as a waiter, saying things like, “It’s always been my calling” or “I’m so lucky that I love what I do, I never have to work a day in my life!”? If you have, it’s because they are actually actors.

Nobody wants to be a waiter or waitress, I can almost guarantee that out of the over 2.2 million waiters and waitresses who were recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all of them would rather be doing something else. Waitressing is what you do between doing other things, or to make extra money, or because your father owns a diner. It’s a hard job and a thankless one. Perhaps this comes from a past life owning a really awesome manor, I don’t know. But, needless to say, I won’t be dining out with that particular friend any time soon, unless it’s at a buffet.

Born to Shun

Yesterday I approached the gym like a warrior. “Eye of the Tiger” was playing in my head. I was carrying a duffel bag. I had that look of determination in my eye. Or maybe it was just allergies.

I was going to run. On the treadmill. For an hour. Like a true champion. Or a drunk teenager trying to evade the cops.

I sized up my opponent: a state-of-the-art LifeFitness, equipped with many bold buttons and a prominent emergency safety switch.

For nearly ten minutes it looked to other gym-goers as though my workout routine consisted solely of walking back and forth between the treadmill and the stairclimber with my duffel bag, regarding each of them with trepidation, grasping their handles in a suggestive manner while chewing my lip.

I just couldn’t do it. I valued my future pedicure far too much. As it stood (pun intended), the toenail on the second toe of my left foot was aching, swollen with fluid, being pushed out of its happy home by a blister that came as a result of my run the other day. I would have an ET toe. It was going to be ugly once again.

I thought about Los Angeles, about how it’ll be hard to explain to the wannabe-starlets laying on neighboring lounge chairs why my feet look like I ran them through a meat grinder or like I was born with some sort of malady. I saddled up to the ‘climber and spent an hour mounting the stairway to heaven. And by heaven I mean a great ass and ten toenails.

Running has never been my thing. Or, rather, when it was my thing so was wearing a spiked collar and listening to Marilyn Manson. Bill Clinton was the president. Cellphones couldn’t give you directions unless you called a friend with a map. Britney Spears was a respectable punchline. And I was a runner. Short, white, and All-State in track during the last two years of high-school, you wouldn’t have ever thought I was a sprinter, yet there I was. Apparently I’m pretty quick if you fire a gun above my head.

After undergoing the kind of training you only see in 80s movie montages – the type that involves a grizzled coach with a plastic whistle and short-shorts yelling commands at the main character who is spraying sweat everywhere as they vomit into meticulously manicured grass, waving as their friends pass them by onto some social event while they keep training for The Big Race – I quit. I had started drinking and found that my true athletic ability was the speed with which I could pound vodka while trying to simultaneously dance and have sex with my friends’ girlfriends. Running was dead to me. I spat on it. As I gained over twelve pounds from my sedentary and spirit-soaked freshman year, I vowed never to run again. If I were to do cardio, it would be on a machine, dammit, preferably one that had a shot glass holder. One that analyzed which parts of my body were being used and that did more than simply threaten to send me careening backwards into a wall. Of course, the only activities that I partook in during college were the Zima stealing decathlon and a few rounds of the game Somebody Dismantle That Smoke Alarm, Jesus Christ, It’s Three in the Morning, Who Is Stoned And Making Macaroni & Cheese?

Once I was fired in Portland, I had nothing but time on my hands. I started blogging. I started napping. Eventually I started running. Armed with little more than my old iPod and a pair of Converse, I cut an odd figure jogging up to the reservoir in southeast every morning. I would trot around, oblivious to how fast I was going, listening to shitty hipster electronica, fighting back tears and dodging fixed gear bicyclists. Although the drastic weight loss I experienced in those first few months of 2008 could be chalked up to the trifecta of poverty, strict veganism, and newfound sobriety, I’m sure that running had something to do with it. I kind of enjoyed it. It was the only thing that made me feel good.

Until it didn’t. Again.

For some reason I stopped. Maybe it was the weight loss. Maybe it was the fact that I ran out of tunes. Maybe it was because my ex and I moved to Oklahoma and the idea of running out there made me fear being kidnapped by Leatherface or a church group. No matter, I stopped. I forgot about running. I was grateful to leave it behind me.

Sometime after I moved back to New York in 2009, people around me started reading this weirdo’s book, Born to Run. These dopey shoes that looked like toe-socks started popping up among my father’s rich friends. My cigarette-smoking ex downloaded an app called Run Keeper and suddenly started logging a mile or two at night by the Hudson River. Inspired by my natural competitiveness, I strapped on my gym sneakers (a pair of New Balances that appealed to me only because they were pink) and I hit the treadmill. At first it was only fifteen minutes after my usual elliptical workout. Then fifteen minutes became thirty. Then I started trying to go faster. I figured out how many miles a 5K was (3.16) and I began to shave off time. Thirty minutes became an hour. An hour grew into thirteen miles. I listened to every song I owned and podcasts about whales, dead bodies, sexual dysfunction. I was bored out of my mind, but shocked at the fact that I was running. And I wasn’t just running because I was afraid of getting my head shot off. I was voluntarily running long distance, almost every day.

Then things started to happen. Bad things. Bad things that quickly became Very Bad Things. First there was the weight loss, which was something that I didn’t need while recovering from an eating disorder. My appetite increased to the point that I couldn’t feel satisfied, leading to a precariously unhealthy state of existence for a lady with food issues who is already a size double-0 midget toddler in pants from the Gap. Then my hip started hurting, a flare up of an old gymnastics injury. The blisters on my feet began to bleed and stain my socks. I lost one toenail, then another, and another, until I was missing more toenails than I had. My open-toed high-heeled sandals were shelved. In fact, due to the hip pain, gone were my high-heels entirely. I was obsessed, though. I couldn’t stop. I was doing so well on Run Keeper! I was on fitness social networks where strangers applauded my progress! I did better than some people! I broke last week’s record! I got little award icons that declared me a badass! I hated it, but it felt good to be improving at something other than complaining about my feet hurting. And besides, I had an audience.

I think I stopped running when I started weight training. I wanted to find something else to do, something more sustainable, something less time consuming. There was also a tryst that involved a lot of sex and pancakes at around that time, too. Those were a few weeks that threw me off of my workout schedule and led to me returning to the gym with a satisfied smile and an, “Aw, fuck it” shrug when I walked past the treadmill and mounted the elliptical. Even though I now knew that the elliptical was for pussies, I wasn’t about to attempt running while I was still walking bowlegged. Over time, I increased my weights. I stuck to a regimen. I still do, more or less. No running.

I like things to excess. Masturbation, CSI, watermelon, The Cure, basketball games, my former love of alcohol…you name it, if I like it, I’ll eat it, drink it, listen to it, watch it, use it to the nth degree. I’m often asked why I workout so much. Sometimes I say it’s so that I can defend myself. Other times I tell people it’s because I’m an international assassin, or because I want to be able to cling to Amar’e Stoudemire’s leg for a minute or two before he can shake me off if I ever meet him in person. The truth is, I do it because I’m addicted to it. I like it, and I like the results. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’m lucky that it’s healthy, or at least healthier and more affordable than nine shots of whiskey followed by a PBR chaser. I go a tad overboard with exercise, but at least it’s something that’s good for me. Physically.

When I was in LA last week, the gyms out there are different. For one thing, there are many plasticky blond ladies who wear a drag queen’s worth of makeup on the cross-training machines. There are also fewer ellipticals available to androgynous, tattooed visitors from out of town. My best-friend who was staying with me is a runner. She’s the type of girl who won’t get up before 9AM…unless it’s for a half-marathon. It’s inspiring. Unfortunately.

In those unfamiliar gyms, I found myself approaching the treadmill yet again. First it was for four miles. Then six. After returning to New York, I sidestepped my elliptical. This past Wednesday I clocked over seven miles on the treadmill in an hour. My toenails started to ache. I thought of all the burritos and frozen yogurt I’d consumed out west, convinced myself it really wasn’t a big deal if I ran for a few weeks before heading out there again. But my bullshitting wasn’t enough. Bikini! my inner Tori Spelling shrieked, while echos of my old track coach barking Pick it up, Drew! What are you, a sissy?! punctuated my steps. I rankled, I cracked. Yesterday I went back to basics. Fuck running, I can’t handle it.

There’s a fine line for crazy people. For wackos like me, there’s an imperceptible shift when something goes from being a good thing to being dangerous or self-destructive. So I’m grateful that I have my vanity. It’s what’s going to keep me on the stairclimber, at least until I make my way to heaven, or back to LA wearing sandals. My new goal isn’t to get faster. It’s to be bowlegged every time I get to the gym.


West Laid Plans

I left Los Angeles having made-out with Blake. 

This seems like a pretty large victory for a girl who bragged about heading out west to catch the Clippers’ last home game, the last of Blake Griffin’s Rookie of the Year season. And, yeah, it’s true. I went on a date with a gentleman before I headed home and, yes, his name was Blake. Same initials. Same city. About a foot, a decade, and several key differences separate this Blake from Must See BG, but you have to give me some credit for the fact that I can say that I got to first base with a Blake in Los Angeles, even if it isn’t a twenty-two year old power forward in the NBA. No matter. Not-That-Blake took me out for one of the best vegan burritos I’ve ever had.

Yeah, a vegan burrito. His suggestion, no less. You’ve got to love California. High-fives all around. It’s amazing who you can meet at the baggage claim at Los Angles International Airport. Before I’d even picked up my rental car I’d picked up a guy.

The city did things like this to me all week, from the South African lesbian rock band in the hotel to the Alvin Ailey ballerinas on my flight home. The City of Angels was doing its best to convince me to head west, at least for a little while longer. And I have to admit, most days that I was away I thought that maybe the problem I’d been having in New York was that my life – its mojo and mania – had packed up and snuck out, catching a Jet Blue flight from JFK to LAX during the wee hours of one March evening. Everything that I’d been missing had taken root full-force in West Hollywood. Gone was the crushing feeling of failure and forboding that had been seeping into every aspect of my Manhattan existence, leaving me feeling like a loser, a has-been, a hack. I thought of deleting this bog, my Twitter page, my website. I’d get a job as a secretary or a cashier. I’d return to my life, the one where writing was relegated to scribbling in a notebook at a coffee shop, where my rants were personal, private, and often in poetic form. I’d pick up Ani DiFranco’s latest album and maybe take up knitting. I’d be nice.

Of course, even though I can place the blame on my location in some vague way, I can’t leave New York. Not yet, anyway. If there’s no lockout, if the Clippers’ web staff need another writer or intern, if my best-friend Bean doesn’t leave her current California gig entirely soured from the experience, then I’ll go. I’ll hang out in traffic and bitch about the marine layer instead of blizzards. But all of that is left to fantasy. I returned to New York having felt like I took a vacation to space.

Some examples of Los Angeles awesome include Yogurt Stop, a queer, self-serve frozen yogurt shop on the corner by our hotel. We saw a drag-queen dressed up like Diana Ross pumping flavors like Harvey Milk Chocolate, Peanut-Butter Princess, and Orange U A Bottom? into a cup. The place was open until midnight or 2AM, depending on the night, and there was little better than rolling down the hill from our resting place to get dessert at all hours of the night. My record? Two pounds of frozen yogurt in a single sitting. Beat that, bitches. I dare you. You will be constipated for days.

And the hotel itself, a cheap deal via Priceline, wound up being what Bean and I declared a “panty drop.” Le Petit Ermitage, which is French for “tap that ass,” was ridiculous in every detail, from the self-proclaimed “intimacy kit” in the mini-bar to the European pool where, when prompted by the hotel’s own so-called Liason of Happiness, I stripped off my bikini top and swam around at 1AM with strangers, one of whom was a plastic surgery procedure in the shape of a woman. I feel like I should take a pregnancy test simply from sleeping on the property.

The game that brought me to Los Angeles, a resounding 110-103 win for Clipper Nation, was jaw-droppingly outstanding. The seats which, for their price, I’d thought would leave me squinting and relying on the JumboTron, were outstanding, close enough that I could catch DeAndre Jordan’s infectious smile and the tremors that shook the backboard each time Blake Griffin dunked during his monster 31 point performance. And meeting one of the best sports writers I’ve ever read helped to ice the Clipper cake. There’s little more inspiring than having the opportunity to talk to someone you look up to, other than dancing. Which is what Bean and I did after the game.

Blake Griffin, cross-eyed on the JumboTron

“We’re having such a boy-girl date!” she declared. “You took me to the game, now I’m taking you to a club.” We found ourselves in the middle of an elite lesbian dance party, shaking our asses to mysoginistic rap and irritating techno while two-stories packed with gorgeous West Hollywood lesbians bumped-and-grinded around us. I can pretty much guarantee that we were the only two people in attendance at Staples Center that evening who wound up rubbing cooters with Los Angeles’ lesbian mafia mere hours later. In case you were wondering, I’m still completely unable to dance.

And of course there were celebrity sightings, Queen Latifa, the less annoying Hilton sister, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russel, and Kate Hudson between the two of us. (The last three were in a group.)

I also was photographed by Lou O’Bedlam. Why anyone would want to take my photograph (unless it was to steal my soul) is beyond me, but feminine self-obsession made me a happy and willing subject. Lou’s photographs are killer, and his body of work negates the need for museum visits or clicking over to Suicide Girls. Not only is he wildly talented, he’s more fun than a chinchilla blowing bubbles. Spend some time on his site, you won’t regret it.

The food, the company, the meeting, the hotel, the Blakes, all of it made this the best trip I’ve ever taken. And if Los Angeles keeps playing its cards like this, I might be there a little more often. As it stands now, I have another interview next month, and another date to go on. T0 quote Christopher Wallace, I’m going back to Cali. New York, you’ve been put on notice. It’s time to step your game up. Maybe start with a Knicks’ win tonight?