Monday, June 12, 2006

MILK

DSCN1506
Waitresses in Sunglasses

The other night around one in the morning, I came in from a waitressing shift, poured myself a glass of milk, and turned on the computer. I read several of the blogs on my sidebar, and tapped out comments when I felt moved to do so. Then I came to Mole where Dale had written about the grace of saying thank you. Just in from my service job, I nodded to myself as I read that people are much more likely to complain about what went wrong than to offer thanks for what went right.

Of course, it doesn't apply only to customers. Just that night, three people had earned this server's gratitude. I thanked all of them at the time, but thought I might add a little public appreciation.

1. First was the dishwasher, whose own job is hard enough, but who came out of the kitchen when he saw me carrying a heavy bag of dirty linen at the end of the night. Though he doesn't speak much English, he intuited that my back hurt and carried the bag outside for me. Then he followed me into the tent and asked, No mas? I wanted to tell him that his kindness was more than enough. But since my Spanish is rudimentary at best, all I managed was an inadequate gracias".

2. Then there was the slightly, okay, very inebriated guest who rudely accused me of stealing his jacket and camera. (There's at least one of these at every function and the server is never the one who misplaced the errant belongings, so the next time you're tempted to--no, never mind, none of you would ever....)

And why do I want to thank an unruly drunk? you might ask. Because unlike all the ones before him, this one came back when he'd sobered up and said he was sorry. I was sweeping the floor of the tent when he returned, and offered a sincere apology. "I had too much to drink earlier," he admitted, looking chagrined. "I was acting like a jerk." It meant a lot, so thank you. And I'm glad you found your camera.

3. Then there was the old man who spent most of the night sitting in a quiet corner, looking slightly forlorn. When I asked him if he wanted to dance, he said he was waiting for them to play "Shine on Harvest Moon". I told him I hadn't heard that song once in ten years of weddings, and he laughed. "Now you're beginning to understand how I feel."

I brought him cake and coffee in his forlorn corner, and we spoke every time I passed. At the end of the night, he sought me out, and reached for my hand. I thought he was just saying good-bye until I realized he'd pressed a ten dollar bill into my palm.

Thank you, lonely stranger. It wasn't the money I most appreciated, but what it represented. The shared humanity that passed between us. The fleeting image of that harvest moon.

Whenever I get a cash tip, I stop on the way home and spend it. It's my way of reminding myself that generosity isn't just a vague intangible. It's something you can use and trade, something that can actually make you stronger.

On this particular night, I bought three cartons of milk. Lactaid for my son who's lactose intolerant, 2% for the rest of the family, and the fat-free kind I always drink. But when I got home, I decided to live it up. I poured myself a glass of 2% and drank it as I thought of everything I'd experienced that night. The milk was so rich and good, it tasted like cream.

31 comments:

Cate said...

What a beautifully written, thoughtful post. I esp. enjoyed your number three--as my Irish mother might say, "It warmed me heart!"

Thank YOU, Patry, for this reminder.

Lorna said...

Being a server is a job that 's capable of bringing many experiences and emotions into play. My daughter Emily has been a server most of her adult life, and like you, often has the most interesting stories of the human condition, cloaked in the day-to-day.

Patry Francis said...

cate: Thanks. Means a lot coming from such a fine writer.

lorna: At this point, I'm only doing it one day a week, but I can't seem to give it up entirely. The stories are there; I'm sure your daughter has accumulated a treasury.

Amishlaw said...

Patry, you are always able to pull such profound insights from the simplest events. This was another masterpiece.

chiefbiscuit said...

I agree with all of above! And some! Great reading - you write it about your night so well. This is the kind of news I like to read - not the newspaper kind. :)

Diana said...

Love this post, Patry. Love it.

Patricia said...

you lovely lovely woman, I have been stopping by every so often and am so thrilled and excited by your success. You're such an inspiration to me Patry...xoxo...lots of love sweetie...P xo

This is amazing, you are amazing..xoxo

Tamar said...

Patry,
This post moved me very much. I don't know why I have not seen your site before as we frequent one or two similar places. But thanks to your generous comment on my blog I found you! and shall be visiting you more often.

Thank you.

leslee said...

Nice post, Patry. There really are a lot of people around who are well-meaning and kind. Thanks for pointing out a few examples, including yourself for taking the time to make an old man happy.

Mary said...

Posts like this are so helpful, Patry. They inspire me to look for these instances in my day too ..

Kitty said...

Love the post!

I, too am "not really a waitress" and had a few similar experiences this weekend, including a shitty cash tip from a table that was really nice and fun and loved me (they left me a "verbal tip," a.k.a. a note on the credit card slip thanking me for making their night) and I didn't even mind! The god of patient waitresses must have been smiling down this weekend!

That experience got me thinking about how I tell everyone I wait tables "for the money", but secretly, I adore the humanness of it and the connection you make while doing it. I'm glad to see someone else out there feels the same way!

Fred Garber said...

Thanking and then saying you are welcome....this completes the cycle...but always creates something new....

Sky said...

I sometimes take the "job well done" for granted while voicing comments about that which is lacking, so thanks very much for the reminder that sharing appreciation can be of significant consequence to others. It is not that I don't feel grateful, I just don't think to mention it as often as I could. :(

I love posts like this which highlight important moments in our everyday lives. :) thanks, patry!

Living Part Deux said...

This is a wonderful, wonderful recounting of real situations that meant more to you than the other participants could imagine. I love situations like that. I'm inspired - truly. Thank you!

MB said...

Patry, this is so lovely, the writing and the message. Thank you for shining your light.

Dale said...

(o)

robin andrea said...

I waitressed for a year in a California seaside tourist town when I was in my mid-twenties. That job, like no other, taught me the value of gratitude. It is amazing to me how people forget the simplest rules of behavior when they are in a restaurant. I am glad that you were thanked graciously and thoughtfully. You so beautifully convey how those two words can be priceless.

Patry Francis said...

amishlaw: Your words are balm. Thank you.

chiefbiscuit: Whether you're on Cape Cod or in New Zealand, there's a dearth of good news in the newspaper. I wonder why?

diana: I'm smiling at my computer now, but the feeling is directed at you. Thank you.

patricia: thank you for the enthusiasm and love you clearly bring to everything you write and everything you do.

tamar: Welcome and thank you.

(I will respond more later; right now I've got to eat my pasta and beans.)

Patry Francis said...

Thanks, leslee. I've been enjoying the view over at your place, too.

mary: you are beginning to feel like a dear friend.

kitty: oh, the deadly verbal grat! Yes, the god of patient waitresses was definitely with you that night. Thanks for coming by to share your stories. I always thought I just did it for the money; and there were plenty of times, I would have slammed out the door in a heartbeat if I could have. But now when I think of leaving, I find there's so much I'll miss.

fred: Thank you for completing the cycle--and reminding me that it is one.

sky: We all do it. That's why I particularly appreciated Dale's post.

Rebekah: You're right; those people probably never realized that they'd made my night.

mb: Thank you for your presence here and your lovely comment.

Dale: And (O) in return.

Robin Andrea:I read a recent article in the New York Times that said the way a person treats service personnel reveals more about their character than any other test. I'd have to agree.

Natalie said...

Patry, another touching ( literally touching) post revealing your humanity and your awareness of others humanity. Little gestures like these can change people's lives, sometimes far more deeply than any big dramatic event. Your example is inspiring.
Are you going to join the self portrait marathon? Please do.

rdl said...

really nice post! hey don't i know that waitress in sunglasses?

Patry Francis said...

natalie: I've been enjoying the evolution of your self-portraits, and noticed the fascinating sketch on Jean's blog. Would love to join in, but do I actually have to DRAW something?

rdl: pretty cute, isn't she? And Shevonnne, too. (practically my second daughter.)

Jennifer (she said) said...

As I'm working on being more mindful it's nice to read this post and see mindfulness in practice - in daily living - and how much you and the people you met gained through your interactions together (and thankfulness). Thank you for this.

colleen said...

And thank you for this! It's a wonderful little slice of insight that covers so much of what life is.

Theo said...

this is fairly wonderful

andrea said...

That was so fun to read and brought me back to the days as a Denny's waitress. Of course I have never had a drunk come back and apologize! What a difference that would of made.
Of course I am not as nice as you. I would of 86'd his butt outta there, lol.
Beautifully written!
a.

Sustenance Scout said...

Patry, I'm so glad I discovered your blog and will remain a constant reader! This story especially will stay with me always. You write from the heart and it shows. I'm looking forward to reading The Liar's Diary when it's published next year; when you come to Denver for a signing, I'll be in line! Best wishes always!

Simply Coll said...

"Every time we remember to say "thank you", we experience nothing less than heaven on earth."
~ Sarah Ban Breathnach ~

kate said...

. . . this was such a lovely post, Patry. . . I was a waitress for a long, long time . . . thank you for reminding me that it wasn't just about the aching feet and dollar bills, but about the gratefulness that came from being on the receiving end of the many kindnesses that came along . . .

kasturi said...

i just loved this, patry.

and yes, i know the cream-like flavor of even 1% milk when you're used to drinking fat-free.

thanks for your 'agent tips' and i must say, i can see why you're being published - your writing - style and content - is just so very good!

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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