Where I Write

Where I Write
A room of My Own

November 19, 2014


Sometimes, instead of writing, I browse Craig's list looking for stuff like a purple couch. I've always wanted one.  Owning a purple couch, as compared to brown or black, feels like a risk I can do unlike sky diving, driving in Los Angeles or getting a tummy tuck.

When not trawling for purple couches, I read the help wanted advertisements for servers. Most servers (no matter what they tell you) are always keeping one eye open for a restaurant that offers more money, less side work and shorter hours. I like looking at the want ads for two reason. One because it makes me feel as if, even though I'm not writing, I'm doing something productive. It's  a mind game I play with myself. One of many of which I am the star justifying her actions.
The second reason I like to look is how they are written. Here is an ad for a private country club looking for servers. Servers needed who can supply Warm Welcomes, Magic Moments and Fond Farewells.

Just how warm? Luke or steamy? If not balloons and streamers, a big hug, or a smooch? Is there a server training manual on how to be warm? And what about these magic moments?
Can a server top this? Doubtful this can be created plopping a plate with a bloody rib eye and a baked potato on the table. I don't know about your life, but I've never ate in a restaurant and experienced a moment as magical as wearing an evening gown and being swept off my feet by a  man who kisses me passionately in the middle of the street. The pressure to compete with that makes my server self tired at just the thought.

And what about those fond farewells. This looks fond to me. What is better than cowboys waving and telling you happy trails. Cute. Too bad we can't fit horses into the restaurant. Besides, if people have tipped well most servers will feel very fond about the guest and be smiling as they leave. If they have not tipped, well then comes the attitude problem.

Speaking of attitude. Here is another posting on Craig's List for a server wanted.

     "Restaurant/bar/nightclub is in need of great, happy, food servers.
Please be available and ready to work. We don't deal with ATTITUDES please!We are busy NOW, so, we need you ASAP! Come on!

The person who wrote that ad seems to have a bit of an attitude.  Rather pushy, eh? At least the word please is used. I know what the ad means, but impossible. Everyone has an attitude. It's our perception that makes the decision if it is good or a bad attitude. Surely the writer of the ad has never seen this chart before:

A person without an attitude would have to be like this....
So far they haven't figured out a way to replace servers with robots. Yet.

The most warm welcomes, magic moments and fond farewells have never happened to me because a server, a stranger, created them. It was because of the people that sat at the table, my friends or family, and dined with me.

When we rely on a server to make us enjoy our meal, then we will always be disappointed. No one has ever made me happy. Oh people have kept me entertained for awhile, but in the end it was my own choice whether to smile.
A server doesn't need to become your best friend. His or her job is to be competent and kind, serve safe and tasty food, and then adios!

 If the person sitting across the table from you isn't someone you want to be sharing food with then even if the server tap dances while standing on her head and whistling your favorite tune, it won't be enough. I understand what restaurants are looking for, serving not just food but people's emotional needs as well.

I don't know about you, but I have trouble figuring out, and meeting, the  emotional needs of my loved ones much less someone
coming for a hamburger. People need to be responsible for making their own magical moments.  And perhaps they should also be required to supply the warm welcome and fond farewell to his or her server.  Its likely they will get one in return. I see so many grumpy faces every night coming into the restaurant. Why? These aren't people suffering in hospital beds, or walking into a funeral parlor,or visiting the tax man.  
Anyway, I betcha if this young man applied for the restaurant job he'd be hired even with an attitude... though perhaps he'd have to keep off the shirt.


November 6, 2014

Playing Dress Up

I used to pretend I was a horse when I was a little girl. I can still remember running home one night from my friend Gloria's house, just around the corner, but in my imagination I was in an open field galloping, my gorgeous, silky mane blowing in the wind as I headed home, to the light in the stable window waiting for me. I felt so free.

I stopped pretending I was a horse because, well, I'm not a horse. There are some people, apparently a lot of people, who still like to pretend they are animals. A large group of them came into the restaurant where I work this weekend. It was part of a convention titled Fur Con.

The people who dress up are called Furries. They wore name tags just like any other convention group, like the Shriners, or the teacher's union, except they were dressed as green coyotes or purple tigers or red dragons. These weren't kids, either, in these animal costumes. They were adults playing dress up even if they had apartments, and cars and jobs and marriages. The furries could order cocktails, but only if they took off their heads.

They were a friendly and kind group of people...animals...whatever, and most of us at the restaurant said about them "to each his own." Or her own. I started thinking how really it wasn't that odd to play dress up.  I wear a costume to my waitress job ...black apron, black shirt, and black shoes and pants. I could go to a funeral every night and fit in.

Bikers have a costume,
...black leather, a sneer, and a beer. The biker folding his arms doesn't look as much fun as the waving fox with the green bandanna in the photo above. I like the fox's fur better, too. Soft.
I've been to the Renaissance fare several times and have met up with Vikings. Slightly intimidating, but when they take off their furs and chaps they probably put on a suit and tie. Wearing clothes as if you lived in Norway a zillion years ago might help these guys keep sane in their office cubicle selling flood insurance or time shares. I used to like to clip on my mother's rhinestone earrings, dab on some rouge, and clop around in her high heels when I was a little girl. Now I do the same thing...except my feet won't let me wear the heels anymore. I still like rhinestones.

At the furry convention, participants went to seminars on such topics as how to make a dragon's tail, how to tell people you are a furry, and other fun stuff.  Then they danced and played video games. All this got me thinking about what animal I would like to be. One of my coworkers said he would be a lamb, another a cat.
Years ago, I went to a seminar once about finding ones spirit animal. The seminar was free and what the heck.I love free stuff. Anyway, I was told by the leader of the seminar, a man who looked like Crocodile Dundee, an accent, a didgeridoo,  and a raggedy hat, (his costume) that I was a deer.
 I love deer, though Bambi made me sob. However, when I looked for photos of deer, they were either hiding, running scared, or lying dead surrounded by hunters dressed in camouflage, one ugly outfit. I think I'll skip being a deer, and stay a writer. Besides, most deer don't wear rhinestones. I just wish my writer's group would want to dress up now and then. Here we are are at the book store looking very  normal. Good thing people can't see inside of our heads. Writers have some wild imaginations even if they are dressed like normal people.

We sit and make up imaginary worlds with make believe people. Maybe we could write better dressed up like donkeys and elephants. I'm thinking my idea might not go over so well so I guess it's best writers focus on make believe with pen and paper and let other people use our imaginations as a spring board to visit new lands and meet unusual people.
And so I guess we will leave the dress up to this sexy foxy guy. There's just something about a man in a fox costume. Wait. This could be a woman. It's a wild world out there full of all sorts of animals of a different color.

October 16, 2014

My inner hippie

I had the opportunity to embrace my inner hippie recently at a retreat center in Oregon. Many moons ago, before I discovered sequins, rhinestones and the color pink, I lived like a hippie in the mountains of Colorado. My Hippie 101 curriculum included living with people who drove old cars, never cut their hair, didn't having a savings account. We shared a funky house high in the mountains, rocky mountain high hippie style.

Surrounded by men and women in pony tails, I learned about tofu and chamomile tea and hanging out on some old couch and partying.  I could never embrace, though, hairy arm pits on women though I did stop dying my hair, for awhile at least, until Clairol called me back into the fold. Those days have long past. I'm older and live in the city and if my toe nails aren't painted I feel wrong, but in each of us may still remain that person we once were.  For me it was the carefree girl who wore blue jeans, had brown hair, and didn't worry about having a 401k that was performing well.

At the retreat center I visited last weekend, three friends and I stayed in cabins without Internet or cell phone access. No Facebook or texting. It was as if I was back in 1977. The cabins lacked television. Forty years ago, before HBO, we felt lucky in the mountains to get three fuzzy channels. I'd forgotten what we used to do without all the technological gadgets. How does one find out information without Google? Then I remembered in Oregon.  When we ate together at the lodge, vegetarian food of course, people had conversations. Not one person took out their phone. They were useless. At first, this was almost scary to communicate only in person.
The trees in Oregon made me feel small which made me want to slow down and think about what is really important. Living in a big city, as I do, with so much rushing around and busy busy I can get self absorbed and anxious.  Nowadays if I sit on the couch too long I feel guilty for not being more productive. I hoped to remember my hippie days where I just let life flow without worrying I was wasting time and would end up living in a trailer the rest of my life.

There were plenty of reminders of my hippie days at the retreat center. The guitar player on the left never wore shoes. I saw him wandering shoeless around the grounds with his curls bouncing not a bit worried about his feet. After we ate dinner one night, we listened to him play and he made us sing with him. Well in a nice hippie sort of way.

 I never sit around singing after dinner. I have better things to do. Don't ask me what because I really can't tell you all the great important things I do. I watch a lot of House Hunters International. Does that count?

 Anyway, he convinced us to sing and as we did old hippies with white long beards and red hankies on their heads strolled by. Well one did. Talk about a flashback. I sunk into the big couch in the lodge. So calm. So carefree. Why work? I wanted to quit my job, and stare  up at trees, and maybe even throw away my glittery purse and never ever wear mascara again. I didn't wash my hair the entire time I was at the retreat center because they won't let you use hair dryers there. Ugh. After awhile, it was freeing and I thought I could be that hippie girl again.

The hot springs was my wake up call. Actually the naked people at the hot springs. I will leave that to your imagination.  Being naked in the natural hot water was allowed. Embraced. Encouraged. I wore a bathing suit. Yes I was that prude in the bathing suit surrounded by naked men and women.

My friend Amity on the left said "do as the Romans do" and she was able to be naked.  Karen on the right bared her lovely self. Not me. I felt, gasp,  like a conservative person. I know. That is no way for a freedom loving hippie to talk. I just couldn't do it. I'm the woman  who likes to wear clothes decorated with sequins and apply the red lipstick. I need my hair color to survive.  And I think that's the secret to life. Allowing ourselves to incorporate who we once were with who we are now, remembering the good stuff, but also allowing ourselves to change maybe that's the true ticket to inner peace. And a glass of wine now and then.

Why spend a lot of time looking backwards, when there is so much beauty ahead? As a writer, if not a woman running naked in the woods, what I found the most heart warming was the library at the center.

Not that they had so many great books, a lot were self help and about achieving a healthy diet...not much juicy romance stuff  or mysteries. Yet what I loved was that when people weren't walking down the woodsy trails, or letting it all hang it out in the hot springs, or attending yoga classes, they were reading. Which was the best thing of all to see, better than seeing all the wrinkled rear ends. People reading with an actual book with paper pages in their hands. Books are still alive and are even appreciated without an IPhone nearby. I get it. Just don't take away my nail polish.

October 2, 2014

Resturant as A Second Language

    At work the other night I told the young server assistant that a coworker was "in the weeds." The server assistant looked at me with a blank expression. He's a sweet young college kid. He hasn't worked in the restaurant business for the past 40 years as I have. Gasp. Rather not admit that, and I don't to my coworkers or the might start calling me grandma.

     I explained that the term "in the weeds" meant that the server had too many tables and was going to need help. My server assistant might have thought I was referring to marijuana because when I googled the word weed I got mostly photos of that green, leafy stuff that gives you the munchies. Not that I know about such a thing first hand. I can hear my friends laughing now.

     I started to think about restaurant verbiage. I'm not sure of the origin. I just know certain ones have been around forever. Whether working in a diner or a fancy restaurant, they are used.
       To 86 an item on the menu means the restaurant has no more to sell. This means someone screwed up, and didn't order enough of that item, though you'd be hard pressed to get a chef to admit that. They never overcook a steak, or put in too much seasoning in the sauce, or forget to leave out the mushrooms in the pasta even though you explained the customer is allergic.  In case you didn't know, chefs are perfect. Now you can hear me laughing.

     Besides 86 meaning a restaurant is out of the pork chops, to 86 a person means to kick them out of the restaurant usually because they are drunk. The term "cut him/her off" also means to no longer serve that person any more alcohol because they have been "over served." Over serving is a very bad thing, but it still happens all the time. Speaking of getting drunk, another term repeated to servers by management is upsell.

     Instead of just ordering a plain old beer or glass of house wine, servers want to sell you something that will increase the price of your check. So they will push, upsell, the more expensive liquor, the better wine, and so on. I don't begrudge a business to make money, but I will tell you a secret. Don't bother to pay for the more expensive vodka or gin in a mixed drink. Ask for the house liqour...the cheaper stuff.

    You really can't tell the difference in a mixed drink.. Trust me. As I said, I've been doing this a long time. Marketing people might have convinced you differently, and if you like to spend money, well then go ahead and order Chopin Vodka with tonic. But don't say I didn't tell you. However, if you are having a drink that is just alcohol, minus a mixer, and up, without ice, or on the rocks (ice), than it's okay to splurge and buy the higher shelf (more expensive) brand of alcohol. The headache is the same in the morning, either way.

      Also, if you ask servers what is the best thing on the menu, they aren't going to direct you to the grilled cheese for $6.99, but to the steak for $26.99.  But you knew that. You are being upselled.
      When a server tells a chef, or cook, to "fire something" that means he or she may start to prepare the food. There is even a  "fire line" on the computer and when we press the button, the message to fire, to begin to cook, is sent to the kitchen. Only then should the food be prepared. In a perfect restaurant world. Sometimes the kitchen decides to start making the food any old time and then you have entrees coming out before people are done with appetizers. Let the drama begin as servers will groan and complain about their tip being messed up by their kitchen coworkers who just doesn't care and on and on and on.

     We have in the business what we call a "verbal tip". This is when the people you have been waiting on say, "you are the most amazing server in the whole wide world". Something like that. Servers cringe knowing they are getting the verbal tip. I'd rather have people not say one nice thing about me and leave a twenty percent tip. No need to shower me with empty compliments. Usually when people are effusive with their praise, they are cheap with their wallets.

Another kiss of death for a decent tip is when someone says, "I'm a great tipper." That's like when someone has told you they are great a great lover. People that are, don't talk about it.

      Finally, there has been some new verbiage introduced into the restaurant world. One is sequence of service. Corporations print thick manuals, using up our forests, outlining what is meant by sequence of service. I've read the manuals, and I can summarize sequence of service.

      Go to table. Smile and be nice. Describe menu items and answer questions while smiling and being nice. Push the more expensive stuff. Upsell nicely. Take drink and food order. Come back often to table for any needs and requests. Smile. Offer desert nicely. Smile and hand over check.

      In other words waitressing. That's the same sequence it's been for decades, whether it was a winsome wench serving a Cornish hen in a roadhouse in 1882 or a good looking man serving in a fine dining establishment in 2014. Servers provide food and drink to patrons, and the order remains the same.