A Waitress' Tale
It never happened at Isaly’s ice cream joint, the first place I waitressed.
Well, waitressing is probably not the right word for what I did. It was more like order-taking, burger-flipping, shake-making, and plopping-on-the-counter-for-the-customer work. That demanding all-in-one food industry post that so many have as their first or second or forever job.
Interactions with customers at Isaly’s ice cream were brief and direct, an absolute necessity as I juggled the buns and burgers and scoops and sodas in one never-ending coordinated motion.
I must’ve had a uniform, but I only remember the apron, with pockets for the order pad and any coins customers might leave me. There was no pretense of socializing. I spent as much time scrubbing the grill at the end of the shift, getting it as close to glistening as the scores of hamburger patties allowed, as I did making small talk with those bent over malts or root beer floats.
So I wasn’t prepared for the socializing required in my first real waitressing job in a French restaurant in Boston. I was a newly minted college grad whose academic credentials, combined with her gender, meant that waitressing was inevitable.
There was some kind of required attire at that toney place, but the details are seared from my memory. What I do recall was the requisite mask, essential every moment on duty, but not provided by the employer: a wide, unfailing, and one hundred percent-approving smile. A smile that did not move, no matter how impatient, rude, or inappropriate the customer’s behavior.
It started with the verbal. Familiarity from male customers, whose repeated names for me were deemed flattering, playful, and-above all-innocent.
“Honey,” “Sweetie,” “Good-lookin’, ” “Cutie pie.”
This was blizzard-bound, baked-bean, Redsocks Boston. Boston, where redlining insured racial segregation, and Catholic cultural mores taught men to see women as handmaids. A far cry from the welcoming South I would later embrace, where New Orleans greetings include terms of endearment, no matter the ages or genders.
When the French restaurant customers began the stream of what were, in essence, three-piece-suit catcalls, I was startled. I did a quick check to make sure my mask was on straight. That was no small challenge, as I felt like someone had just grabbed my heart and given it a hard pinch.
I went back to the kitchen to place orders, breathing deeply to calm myself down.
It’s not a big deal. I should ignore itwere the mantras my mind repeated.
One night a large party’s orders included several rounds of drinks, and as the evening went on, it was not only lips that were loosened. By the time the menu got to dessert, one customer decided that rather than pick from the cart of delicacies I parked at his side, he would have me.
Suddenly an inordinately large and fleshy hand was making its way in slow motion down my rump.
It was one of those moments where the combined response of body and soul is to freeze in disbelief, as the mind attempts to make sense of an action that is unexpected, unwanted, and violent all at once.
My mask fell to the floor.
“What the! Get off me!” I yelled and ran to kitchen.
“That man… assaulted me!” I cried as I grabbed my things. “I quit!”
I marched out of the French restaurant enraged.
As I marched, I tossed my head high and voiced a new mantra.
May we never meet again.
Mariana Mcdonald is a bicultural poet, fiction writer, journalist and editor. Her work has appeared widely, including poetry in Crab Orchard Review, Lunch Ticket,and Poesía en Vuelo,fictioninSo to SpeakandCobalt ,creative nonfiction in Longridge Review, and nonfiction in In Motion.She edited the 2017 International Latino Book Award-winning bilingual memoir Cartas a Karinaby Oscar López Rivera. Sheisactive in social justice movements and the writing community.