As I enter into the heart of the busy season here in Restaurant World, Martha’s Vineyard, I find myself wondering how other people I’ve admired in the arts would have fared under similar circumstances… Would Norman Mailer have been a go-to waiter on an extremely hectic night? I’m pretty sure Thoreau would have skipped right out to hide away in Walden-Pond-Solitude after his first shift. Could Hemingway and Fitzgerald have survived and thrived after years of customer/employee demands, physical labor, and the odd stress that comes with being absolutely certain a soup spoon is in place before the soup arrives?
My answer to these questions is… probably, no. John Lennon would have told off the first person who was rude to him in no uncertain terms. Woody Allen would have wilted under the physical demands. Bono from U2 would have questioned the meaning of such employment from the start, although if equipped with a bar serving good Guinness, he might well have stuck around past training.
The fact that I have been a fairly reliable and income-producing restaurant employee, off and on, since I left Vermont in 1982 (!!!), makes me sometimes wonder if I really was much of a writer to begin with. For assuredly I would have walked out several times over the injustice that can come your way at a moment’s notice had I been certain I was meant to do something else. I’ve been called upon many times to chastise fellow employees that managers felt were not performing at my level, much like I had to occasionally yell at high-school-band members who were not marching in line at the various never-ending parades we would be involved with. As if I cared on a deep level. Which, honestly, I never really did.
What I’ve always cared about, I suppose, was trying to do a good job, no matter what the task at hand was. Which is why I received good grades at school, why I was asked to mow the lawn for paying neighbors repeatedly, and why I was always the guy asked to help random friends move from apartment to apartment. I guess this type of personality is well-suited for the restaurant industry. And maybe it’s the reason why all those earlier stories I wrote, when I assumed nobody would be reading them, were worthy of going through the editing process and are now available on michaelaba.com, all these years later.
And for my particular case, in all honesty, the fact that I’ve always felt like a writer/musician is THE REASON why I’ve been a waiter/bartender, even from the beginning. I was not interested in a “real” career that would take my focus away. And by the way, restaurant work was not something I was good at on day one; in fact, on day one I crashed an entire rack of glasses as I was trying to flip it over to the dishwasher while running around like crazy as a busboy in Boston. I should have been fired, but the manager rushed up and realized it was an accident that only happened because I was obviously such a hard worker.
So I have grave doubts that most other writers would have survived the waiting/bartending life for as many years as I have. Even writers whose work was published post-mortem, like John Kennedy Toole’s wonderful “A Confederacy of Dunces”, didn’t spend the majority of their working hours making sure the New York Strip was cooked to the proper temperature while juggling ten other items at the same time. I might have to take another year off after completing this latest tour of duty. It’s probably better for me to focus my tendency to do my best on the parts of life that are more meaningful to me.
Although, then again, one does have to make a living…
And speaking of high-school-band members, by this time next month I’ll have attended the BHS 40th High School reunion! Let’s see if those disgruntled saxophone players toiling in my line at those parades years ago will seek revenge over my formerly-domineering ways…
Sounds like a short story to me! I’ll give you a full report after this busy season is over!