Of the genius waitress, I now sing.
Of hidden knowledge, buried ambition, and secret sonnets scribbled on cocktail napkins; of aching arches, ranting cooks, condescending patrons, and eyes diverted from ancient Greece to ancient grease; of burns and pinches and savvy and spunk; of a uniquely American woman living a uniquely American compromise, I sing. I sing of the genius waitress.
Okay, okay, she’s probably not really a genius. But she is well-educated. She has a degree in Sanskrit, ethnoastronomy, Icelandic musicology, or something equally valued in contemporary marketplace. Even if she could find work in her chosen field, it wouldn’t pay beans—so she slings them instead. (The genius waitress is not to be confused with the aspiring-actress waitress, so prevalent in Manhattan and Los Angeles and so different from her sister in temperament and I.Q.)
As a type, the genius waitress is sweet and sassy, funny and smart; young, underestimated, fatalistic, weary, cheery (not happy, cheerful: there’s a difference and she understands it), a tad bohemian, often borderline alcoholic, frequently pretty (though her hair reeks of kitchen and bar); as independent as a cave bear (though ever hopeful of “true love”) and, above all, genuine.
Covertly sentimental, she fusses over toddlers and old folks, yet only fear of unemployment prevents her from handing an obnoxious customer his testicles with his bill.
She doesn’t mind a little good-natured flirting, and if you flirt with verve and wit, she may flirt back. Never, however, never try to impress her with your resume. Her tolerance for pretentious Yuppies ends with her shift, sometimes earlier. She reads men like a menu and always knows when she’s being offered leftovers or an artificially inflated soufflé.
Should you ever be lucky enough to be taken home by her to that studio apartment with the jerry-built bookshelves and Frida Kahlo posters, you will discover that whereas in the public dining room she is merely as proficient as she needs to be, in the private bedroom she is blue gourmet virtuoso. Five stars and counting! Afterward, you can discuss chaos theory or the triple aspects of the mother goddess in universal art forms—while you massage her swollen feet.
Eventually, she leaves food service for graduate school or marriage; but unless she wins a grant or a fair divorce settlement, chances are she’ll be back, a few years down the line, reciting the daily specials with her own special mixture of warmth and ennui.
Erudite emissary of eggs over easy, polymath purveyor of polenta and prawns, articulate angel of apple pie, the genius waitress is on duty right now in hundreds of U.S. restaurants, smile at the ready, sauce on the side. So brush up on your Schopenhauer, place your order—and tip, mister, tip. She deserves a break today.
Of her, I sing.