Thursday, December 30, 2004

You see, there's this guy...

The last time I let myself flutter:
pregnant hope billowed out big as a sail,
rocked playfully on the waves of possibility and flirting,
swoopingly, swoopingly.

But it ended with a SPLAT:
glistening raw redness of a watermelon
cruelly lurched from the back of a truck.

Again?

Monday, December 27, 2004

The closest I get to a miracle

At my new restaurant job, I've been hampered by my lack of confidence as a server and my lack of experience. I'm hoping that as I get better at it, the money will flow, but for now I get lots and lots of two-person tables. The experienced people get the big parties, but I need to improve fast and get in on those big parties because right now I can't live on what I'm earning (about $1000/mo, but for eg. my rent is $615/mo!). Things have got to change.

Fortunately I had a Christmas breakthrough. After work on Christmas night, I went out with some co-workers and talked to them about the job, had some drinks, and then had a MUCH better shift tonight. In fact, it was the first shift I truly enjoyed because I did not freak out or become frightened at any point. Usually I make at least one mistake per shift that causes me to panic and start thinking, "That's it. They're going to fire me. That's it. They're going to fire me."

Tonight, incredibly, I stayed calm throughout, rode the waves of hectic-ness, kept smiling and truly stayed relaxed. It felt so good! I don't know what caused the shift, but now there's hope for this job work out. Only by staying calm will I truly improve and get those big parties. I really want this job to work out because I do enjoy it (plus I have lots of flirting opportunities, which is always good for this spinster). Either the comaraderie of my co-workers helped or I need to start drinking regularly (I rarely drink, but had three shots on Christmas night). I don't care, I'm just grateful for the new level of confidence and ease. Let's just call it the closest I can get to a Christmas miracle.

And let the money flow!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Today Is the Last Day of Your Life So Far

I apologize in advance if this post is disjointed and confusing. It's time for my annual Christmas free association.

Merry Christmas, 2004. My favorite Christmas movie is Bad Santa with Billy Bob Thornton. It was in the theaters last year at this time and it's great. While wearing the Santa outfit, Thornton picks up a character played by Lauren Graham ("Gilmore Girls" mom). She has a Santa fantasy and when they are shown having sex, she's chanting, "F--k me, Santa! F--k me, Santa!" It recalled my personal fantasy which is similar, only replace the name "Santa" with "Jesus." I actually saw this movie with a Lutheran minister who could have gotten lucky that night, I guess, but somehow it didn't happen.

This really is free association. Speaking of Jesus, one curse I say when I'm really angry (but never out loud) is "Jesus f--king Christ on a stick!" I've been using that one for a couple of years, and I was hugely gratified to hear it uttered by Cartman on the latest South Park episode. Kyle is chiding Cartman for not caring about Christmas, and Cartman sputters, "Christ on a stick!" Maybe it'll become mainstream, but probably not.

Today was my day off from the restaurant and I'm about to go to bed out of sheer boredom. This has got to be the last Christmas season I spend like this: nowhere to go, no one to hang out with. I'm considering cheap meaningless sex just for something to do. Shall I hit a bar? Pick up some lonely guy? Call it charity work?

What is the magic of Christmas I imagine used to be there? Some illusion of childhood materialism or part of the delusion nurtured by society to get us all to settle down and get married and have children and be miserable? Is there some spirit I'm supposed to "discover," some healing that will take place as soon as I stop insisting that I don't believe? That's the catch. They say Jesus saves or that miracles happen or whatever, but only if you believe. We have to plug into the Matrix willingly, otherwise we get nothing but the same Bing Crosby song played over and over and over like a ululation emptied of emotion.

I know there's a restart button. There are all kinds of ways to end your life and dying is only one of them. Some of us won't change until we are finally, mind-numbingly pierced through with an agony so complete that it blocks out everything we have managed to accomplish. An ecstasy of fumbling towards the life I want, I want, I need, I thought I wanted, I tried to have, maybe not, maybe this isn't where I belong at all.

I've lost all trust in my hunches. The truth of my reactions is so corrupted with the terror of intimacy that I no longer know if a gut aversion is a good call or the binding fear paralyzing me again. How does one re-learn instinct? Maybe it's time to let the shell break. Maybe the soft, vulnerable goo within has alchemized into the rubbery hardness that won't break when it hits the ground. I'm tired of trying not to let the cracks get bigger.

Monday, December 20, 2004

1914 Christmas Truce of World War I

Have you ever heard of what happened on the front of World War I on Christmas Day 1914? The Americans and Germans stopped killing each other just long enough to spontaneously celebrate Christmas together, right on the battlefield between their trenches. I’d never heard about this event before my pastor drew it to my attention a week ago. It happened in spite of the superior officers who wanted them to keep fighting. It happened even though the two enemies didn’t speak the same language. From my pastor’s notes, “[I]t still stands as the only time in history that peace spontaneously arose from the ranks in a major conflict, bubbling up to the officers and temporarily turning sworn enemies into friends.” How could we let this piece of history go untaught and ignored? That’s a crime in and of itself.

Please look up this event for yourselves. It’s fascinating. I feel like crying just thinking of how differently we do war now. Could this ever happen again? Maybe not.

I’ll transcribe as much as I can here over the next couple of days. Check back for more. Weintraub often refers to the German soldiers as “Saxons” and the English ones as “Tommies.” I don’t know who Frank Richards is that he keeps referring to, but I’m sure it’s made clear in his book (which I don’t have).

Taken from Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub, The Free Press, 2001

At the “earliest crack of dawn” Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch of the 134th Saxons wished “a good morning” to the English opposite. The next section in his battalion had heard of his “incredible adventure” by field phone and began making “friendly overtures.” Zehmisch had “delightful conversation in English, French and German” with enemy officers who had joined him. Contagion had set in. On Christmas morning at Houplines, near Armentieres, Frank Richards and his friends in the second Royal Welch Fusiliers “stuck up his board” on which they had lettered “A MERRY CHRISTMAS’ and waited to see what would happen. (He was used to evading orders. In the ranks since 1901, with duty in Burma and India, he had “risen,” he wrote in memoir “to primate.”) When their message was not riddled by fire, two men in his company jumped onto the parapet of their trench and raised their hands above their heads to show that they had no weapons. Two Germans opposite did the same, and began walking toward them, up from the Lys riverbank. As they met and shook hands, the trenches emptied and men on both sides began running toward each other. “Buffalo Bill” Stockwell, Richards’ company commander, had seen it too late to matter, rushing into the forwrd trench only when his men were gone. His nickname had come from his habit of pulling out his revolver and threatening to blow a man’s “ruddy brains out” for some trifling thing - and what he saw then was no trifle.

Since no choice existed but to accept reality “company officers climbed out, too. Their officers were also now out...We mucked in all day with one another.” One English-speaking Saxon confided that he was fed up with the war and Richards and his friends readily agreed.

Other unit commanders attempted at the start to put limits on fraternization, but were usually no more effective than Buffalo Bill. A belligerent Welch captain hoped to limit the cease-fire, but a sergeant with different views hoisted a large screen lettered “A MERRY CHRISTMAS.” At first, in the thick ground fog that accompanied the overnight frost, the Germans failed to see it. Yet, with no shots to fear, men ate their breakfasts openly. As the mist began lifting, soldiers on both sides “got a bit venturous and looked over the top,” normally unsafe in daylight. “A German started to walk down the tow-path [of the Lys] toward our lines and,” Richard wrote, “Ike Sawyer went to meet him. The German handed over a box of cigars. Later the Germans came boldly out of their trenches, but our men, still forbidden to leave theirs, threw out tins of bully [beef] and plum-and-apple jam.” And they shouted “Here you are, you poor hungry bastards!”

Exchanges of food were driven by the vast differential between supply and demand that the holiday had created. Germans would have given much for the legendary coarse English marmalade, but the only jam that reached the troops in 1914 was cheap plum-and-apple. From the German standpoint the surfeit was a boon. In exchange - in Richard’s sector - they promised to roll toward the British lines two barrels of beer. In Captian Stockwell’s account, the Saxons opposite “had been shouting across in English” all Christmas morning but only when the fog had lifted did his troops see half a dozen of the enemy standing on their parapets without arms, shouting, “Don’t shoot. We don’t want to fight today. We will send you some beer.” Three of them began to roll a barrel that had been hoisted onto a parapet “into the middle of No Man’s Land.” More Saxons emerged between the lines and things were getting a bit thick. My men were getting a bit excited. We did not like to fire as they were all unarmed, but we had strict orders and someone might have fired, so I climbed over the parapet and shouted, in my best German, for the opposting Captain to appear. We met and formally saluted. He introduced himself as Count Something-or-other, and seemed to be a very decent fellow. He could not speak a word of English. he then called out his subalterns and formally introduced them with much clicking of heels and saluting. They were all very well turned out, while I was in a goatskin coat. One of the subalterns could talk a few words of English. I said, “My orders are to keep my men in the trenches and allow no armistice. Don’t you think it is dangerous, all your men running about in the open like this? Someone may open fire.”

He called out an order, and all his men went back to their parapet, leaving me and the five German officers and a barrel of beer in the middle of No Man’s Land. He said, “You had better take the beer; we have lots.” So I called up two men to bring the barrel to our side. I did not like to take their beer without giving something in exchange, and I suddenly had a brainwave. We had lots of plum puddings, so I sent for one and formally presented it to him in exchange for the beer. He then called out, “Waiter,” and a German private whipped out six glasses and two bottles of beer, and with much bowing and saluting we solemnly drank it, amid cheers from the both sides. We then all formally saluted and returned to our lines. Our men had sing-songs, ditto the enemy.


From Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. Isn’t it amazing? If only it could happen now.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

My Christmas Offering to You

Click here to go to my music website, and then click on the icon of a Christmas gift for my version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." It's for all of us who are single for the holidays, don't have children and might not even have family in the area. Here's to those of us who forge our own traditions!

It's (still not) a Wonderful Life

Every time I see that movie I think, "Why don't they just let the poor guy jump?"

But I do like the original, animated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." I bawl every time.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

"¿Por qué no eres casada?"

At my new job, there are many Mexicans. Many of them are in their 20's and 30's and a couple of the ones that might be interested in me ask some very pointed questions. I've noticed this about Mexicanos (from Mexico). They'll come right out and ask me if I'm married, even if we don't know each other, like my first day at this job. American-born Mexicanos don't do this. I once had a Mexicano call out to me in an el station, "¿Eres casada?" He was a complete stranger and he had been standing and talking with a friend when I bustled by, in a hurry to catch the train. Can you believe it? Why do they do that? I understand nothing about Mexicans (Mexicanos born in Mexico). I'm from California and have only a limited understanding of Mexican Americans (Mexicanos born in the U.S.).

Anyway, I've been struggling with these questions ever since I began this restaurant job. They ask me if I'm married, why I'm not married, if I've ever been married, why I've never been married, if I have a boyfriend, if I want a boyfriend and why I don't have a boyfriend. The interrogation is made all the more difficult by being in Spanish. After decades of shame and silence about my poor gringo-level Spanish ability, after decades of carefully NEVER mentioning Spanish on job applications or resumes, after decades of explaining to people with common expectations and assumptions that no, I don't speak Spanish, yeah, I know, but I don't. After all that, here I am at my first job ever where I actually have to speak Spanish. If I want the salad guy to understand that the customer wants both French AND Thousand Island dressing on her salad, I have to say it in Spanish. If I want to ask the dishwasher for more silverware, I have to say it in Spanish. Oh, the irony. The irony is thicker than my American accent.

Anyway, the questions don't stop: why aren't I married, why don't I have a boyfriend, why haven't I ever been married? I ask you, blog readers: what should I say to this?

Today I finally came up with the answer I'm going to use for now. One of the food runners (that is, one of the ones who hadn't asked me yet) asked me why I'm not married. I said, "Because I'm an axe murderer."

Does anyone know how to say that in Spanish?

Friday, December 17, 2004

New Life

Oh my god -- now I remember what life is like when you have a real job at which you can't just sit and blog all day long. Look at how many days go by in between postings! I feel terrible about this, but doubt there's any remedy. I started this blog last June when I was still at my comfortable corporate job doing nothing all day. I'd get to work at 8:00 a.m. every morning, check my email, work on a writing draft, surf aimlessly, etc. Then my boss would hand me a stack of family medical bills and ask me to call and pay them over the phone with his credit card. After I did that, I'd go back to emailing or working on a new flyer for an upcoming performance, etc. Then lunch. In the afternoon my boss might need me to book a flight or research the best way to get from the Vail Eagle Airport to his condo in Beaver Creek, CO. Then more blogging, etc. You get the picture. If my boss was out of the office for the day, I woudn't have to interrupt my personal online time at all except to go to lunch.

But now I'm a server at a downtown Chicago restaurant and even when I'm not busy, there isn't a computer in sight. I like this job MUCH better than my old one because sitting in a solitary corner of the 30th floor of the Prudential building for two years, I just about died of loneliness and boredom. I never saw anyone and I'm a very social person. It was horribly lonely and isolated and gave me way too much time to obsess over my problems. At the restaurant I'm surrounded by people constantly interacting: servers and cooks and bussers and dishwashers and bartenders and managers. It's great. There are cute guys to flirt with and customers to chat with and Christmas decorations and happy music. I love it.

But I hardly have any time to blog anymore! I don't know what to do. I guess I'll just write when I can. Like right now. Oops, that's it, time to go to bed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Spending That Feels GOOD

Last Sunday I attended a little Christmas art fair at Old St. Pat's Church. I handled a shimmery-golden woodcut of a nativity scene from Bangledesh, marvelled at eggshells with miniature nativity scenes set inside them from Peru, ran my palm across bright green and red tablecloths from Indonesia and caressed religious figurines carved from the smoothest olive tree wood of the West Bank. They were items from Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit program that links Third World artisans with North American buyers like me who eat too much, take our warm beds for granted and act like the world is ending when we experience loneliness on a Saturday night. Ten Thousand Villages was created by the Mennonite Central Committee, which is a relief and development agency of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in North America since 1946 and that's all I know about it (from their website).

What I'm trying to say is that this is a good organization that does good work, so check them out. They have all kinds of items; the religious stuff I saw was picked especially for the church market. They help disadvantaged artisans who live under difficult economic circumstances such as cut-metal craftsmen in Haiti, traditional dollmakers in Vietnam and jewelry-making women in Ethiopia. Ten Thousand Villages promotes fair trade, pays its sellers promptly and buys items that reflect and reinforce the cultures they come from. You can visit their website or the Ten Thousand Villages store at 719 Main Street in Evanston (tel. 847-733-8258, email: villages-evanston@juno.com).

I bought a small, soft-sculpture representation of the "three wise men" done in rich colors. It was an impulse buy partly motivated by my recent posting about how all the wonderful gifts are gone from my Christmases, but knowing my purchase was helping women earn a living in the Philipines also made the action easier. I brought it home and wrapped it that night while watching Alistair Sims in "A Christmas Carol." I made a point of not looking at the gift as I handled it: I just placed it in a box, covered it with tissue, and wrapped it in my favorite red foil paper. I will now anticipate it until Christmas Day. And just like that, a little bit of the old magic is back.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Give a Hoot, #&!-Damn It

I reached my limit months ago: I was sick of seeing people litter, specifically on the Red Line el train. This is what I did:

I saw a woman unwrap a package of gum and let the paper fall to the el platform. It particularly bothered me because she had a child with her and this is a terrible thing to model for your children. I walked over to her, picked up the wrapper, stood before her, looked her in the eye with a generous smile and said in my warmest voice, "Please don't litter." She muttered something as I turned away and threw her garbage in the trash can. I then resumed my post, waiting for a northbound train.

Soon after that I saw a couple of teenagers sitting on an el platform bench. She sat in his lap and they seemed very happy and giggly. They had ice cream bars and the girl let her wrapper fall to the ground. I walked over and knelt right in front of them, which clearly startled them because they went silent and stared at me. I picked up the wrapper, stood before them with it and said, "Please don't litter." Again, I did it in the nicest tone of voice, as if I were asking them for a personal favor because littering personally hurt my feelings. Again, I didn't wait for an answer as I turned away. I dropped the ice cream wrapper into the garbage as I heard their giggling resume.

I've now done this several times and it has become a personal mission. I HATE LITTERING. It's rude and lazy and rude and lazy. Whenever I see anyone litter, I now walk over to them, pick it up and hold it in front of me as I say, very nicely and usually with a smile, "Please don't litter." I am beseeching them, appealing to the wonderfully good person I know is inside them, or at least that's what I want it to look like. It's really the most passive-aggressive behavior I've ever indulged in. I'm seething inside and sick of the garbage these idiots leave, but my current strategy is to "kill them with kindness." Join me.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Lipstick

When I bought my usual lipstick at the Prescriptives counter at Marshall Fields, they gave me a free sample. I tried "Emperor" on and realized it was a shade I had been looking for. I had been wearing a lighter version of it that had never looked quite right on me. After I bought a tube of it, I wore nothing but "Emperor" for days. It looked great on me.

Then one day, after about a week, it hit me: this was the lipstick color my mother wore when I was growing up! Oh, NO.

There really is no way to prevent turning into our parents.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Christmas for Grown Ups

Last week at my Christmas performance at Uncommon Ground, my theme was the experience of the holidays when you are single, have no children and have no family in the area. Many of my friends in the audience are in this situation and they appreciated my version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (I'll try to get that loaded onto my website soon). I mentioned that when I was a little girl Christmas was the best thing ever, but as a grown up I can't figure out how I fit into it anymore. I'm bewildered by how completely different the holiday season now feels. How could my most favoritest time of year turn into my most dreaded, loneliest time of year?

The obvious answer is about me feeling pressured and judged by a society that believes I "should" have a husband and family by now. We all know such feelings of lack and loneliness lead people to severe depression and attempted suicide at this time of year, but I'd rather look more deeply than that. Let's start with some of the memories I cherish: my sister and I trying to guess what was in the slowly growing pile of gifts under our tree (my parents didn't wait until Christmas eve, but put the presents out as they wrapped them), the colorful glow of tree lights against our tv screen, the smell of incense at midnight mass, the taste of Aunt Marty's tamales, the excitement of receiving my most desired items and playing with them all day (a stuffed cat, a tape recorder, a magic 8-ball). This is what I suspect made my childhood holidays so great:

1) Someone else was in control and all I had to do was be there, without doing any work or planning.
2) The presents!

When I was too young to help cook, shop or clean, my whole Christmas experience focused on deciding what I wanted for Christmas and then waiting for it. I had a few obligations such as singing in the school Christmas pageant and staying awake through Christmas mass (and trying to choke down one of Aunt Marty's tamales), but for the most part my sister and I had only one thing on our minds for the whole of December: presents. It was the delicious process of deciding what toys from the limitless universe of toys I wanted the most and then waiting for them to appear, which they always did. And that was it. That was Christmas for me as a little girl.

Well, no wonder Christmas used to be so great, but now sucks so completely. Choosing what I want with the exquisite certainty that I will get it is gone from my life. It has been replaced with careful planning and strategizing for what I want (eg. saving for a new computer or learning how to be a good girlfriend) with the all-too-common experience of not getting what I want regardless of how much I want it, how hard I try to get it or how many times I ask for it. That's true all year round. At the holidays the few bona fide Christmas gifts I do receive from well-meaning people (and I do greatly appreciate them), are consistently not items I particularly want: bath sets, candles, scarf-and-glove combinations. No wonder it feels like the colorful lights have gone out of Christmas. As a single person who lives on her own, I'm also responsible for filling my holiday calendar with Christmas-y activities, or creating my own events. No longer can I just climb into the back seat. Now I decorate my own living space, buy my own dresses and seek out the activities I hope will fill me with the Christmas spirit.

But what do I mean by "Christmas spirit?" As a grown up consumer and tv-watcher, I think of "Christmas spirit" as the excitement of parties, the thrill of spending time with my favorite people, Gratitude For Everything, some vague globe-spanning sense of appreciation for all people, and a sterile, never-fully-manifested feeling of dull anticipation for "the birth of the baby Jesus." Yet none of that even begins to approach my childhood excitement about presents. I was raised Catholic but have never felt anything about "the birth of the baby Jesus" except a general gladness that it leads to receiving presents. Presents, presents, presents. That's what Christmas was about for me as a child and I suspect that's what Christmas is about to me as a grown up. For me "Christmas spirit" is made up of my feelings of anticipation and joy at receiving the things I most want, but the problem is that the Christmas gift machine shut down for me long ago. No wonder Christmas has felt empty and hollow for decades.

I believe having children shifts one's participation from gift-receiver to gift-giver and I can only hope parents get to re-experience some childhood magic through the joy of their children, but for those of us who are single and not parents, it's the lifelong withdrawal symptoms of no longer having a steady source of presents, unconditional love and caretaking at the holidays. Having realized that my main source of Christmas joy is a gift-receiving tradition I outgrew years ago, how do I develop a new tradition of "Christmas spirit?" I begin by asking myself, "Well, what do I want more than anything else today?"

I want excitement, I want love, I want connection with others. I want to feel that my stark experience of world-without-answers is shared by many others with whom I can whistle in the dark. I want to be inspired, I want to feel divinity up close, I want to know that I am all right, I am fantastic, I am an incredible gifted beautiful person surrounded by other incredible gifted beautiful people. I want community and laughter and tiny children getting under everyone's feet. I want the whole world to sparkle and I want to sparkle with it and I want it every day.

Were my childhood holidays characterized less by materialistic greed than by the feeling of being loved and taken care of that those gifts gave me? I remember never doubting that what I asked for was on the way, not once, and I was never disappointed. Not as a little girl. But now the secure feeling of being loved that those presents symbolized is gone and I want it back.

Now it is my grown up task, Herculean and Sisyphusian, to provide for myself the sense of love and community I need. I will never again be completely taken care of by another and part of my maturity is stepping in to fill the role of being my own caretaker. Unfortunately, I'm a much more complicated person now so what I want for Christmas might not be easy to find. Maybe knowing what it is I'm looking for will help me recognize it when I see it; maybe not. There's no Christmas certainty for grown ups.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

New Job Doubts

I worked a seven-hour shift tonight. I enjoyed it. I'm becoming more a part of the team and the work is more familiar. The restaurant was busy and I had several tables and served lots of people and never even had a chance to sit down and eat my one-free-employee-meal-per-shift. I thought, finally tonight I'll make some money.

Well, after "tipping out" the bussers, the foodrunner and the bartender, I'm bringing home $67. Does that sound typical? How am I doing here? I'm afraid of one indicator: one couple didn't tip me at all. They simply drew a line through the place on the charge receipt where you'd write the tip amount. They must have been unhappy with my service although I don't remember doing that badly with anyone and I thought the evening went very well.

I continue to wonder how people make a living waiting tables?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

NC-17 Rated Job Performance

Somehow I made it through college, graduate school and 11 years in Chicago as a musician, without ever once waiting tables. Sick of corporate America, I have recently taken a job at one of Chicago's fine restaurants. I'm grateful they hired me with no serving experience and I plan to show them they can hire an Ivy League graduate with confidence. So far I've been having a great time. I really like my co-workers and managers, and it feels so good to be part of a team again. (I’m refraining from railing about my former job using lots of italicized words, so imagine you've already read a paragraph on my awkward boredom and loneliness of sitting in a quiet corner for two years, interacting with no one but my boss who I never liked.)

I was trained as a server last week and Tuesday night was my first shift with my own tables to cover. It went very well. I’ve memorized most of the menu and my co-workers are great about helping me when I have questions. The bussers are cute, the other servers are fun, the managers are nice and the customers are friendly. I also really like the work. I love interacting with and hosting people. And serving is very physical with lots of lifting, walking and carrying. Not being chained to a desk for eight hours at a time is so great I don’t mind the sore feet . My new job feels like a perfect fit.

Wednesday I was excited to work on a busier night and was hoping to start bringing home some money. Now I understand why it's so important to tip well in restaurants. Restaurant servers earn some below-minimum hourly wage and really do live on their tips. I always doubted that was true, but it is. In fact, sometimes the official paycheck is zero. So when anyone suggests that 20% is the decent percentage to tip in a restaurant, please believe them and do it. Your tip really is all the money the server takes home, and that's after she splits her tips with the bartender, bussers, hostess, and/or whoever else gets a cut. Imagine all those people being paid from that relatively small amount you leave for the server at the end of your meal. I'm serious: imagine that and then act accordingly because I'm still having a hard time imagining it. At first I thought being a server might earn me just enough to starve slowly, but this week I'm thinking it might earn me enough to starve quickly.

My second shift as a server started out slow and I waited for an hour and a half before I got my first table. My customers were a couple with two sons, maybe 8 and 9 years old. They ordered sodas and the dad ordered a Samuel Adams. I'll never forget what kind of beer he wanted because when I returned to the table, I dumped it on him. I was horrified, I apologized, I used napkins to help dry him (and the booth and the table and the menus). The bussers came and helped clear the table so they could put down a dry tablecloth. The family was just getting settled again and I was recovering by bringing the man a second bottle of Samuel Adams -- when I dumped the second bottle of beer as well! It spilled more on the table (and menu and basket of bread) than on him, but at that point I didn't know what to do. How many times could I apologize, how many times could I offer to bring another beer, how many times COULD I SPILL IT?

Both the shift manager and the general manager were now at the table, along with the bussers and one of the servers (with 35 years of experience) who had trained me. Jesus Christ. And speaking of Jesus Christ, I can only hope that's not what came out of my mouth in front of this family with their two young boys. When the second bottle tipped over, I think I remember saying, "Oh my gosh," but I might have said, "Oh my God" and I can only hope I didn't say "God fucking damn it." (And exaggeration -- I'm sure I didn't.)

Anyway, the guy was very nice about it and no one in the family gave me so much as a raised eyebrow throughout the exercise. I told them it was my second week on the job. They were great and I was a mess. The shift manager served the third bottle of beer while the general manager took me aside, but he didn't proceed to criticize me. He gave me some very useful tips on how to hold a tray of drinks and serve them without spilling them on customers (better on myself or the next table.) (Just kidding about the next table). And my fellow servers, the managers and the bussers all took turns for the next ten minutes telling me (in English and Spanish) not to worry, it happens to everyone, it happens to everyone, don't worry.

And hey, I didn't fall apart. I actually managed to keep breathing and keep my internal panic mechanism down to medium. Incredibly, a couple of minutes in the women's room was all I needed to go back out there and face my nightmare. I did finish serving that table, but I couldn't tell you how big their tip was because I was afraid to look and then later I forgot about it and their tip got mixed in with everyone else's. By the end of the shift my attention was back on the earnings. After I split my tips with the bussers and the bartender, I didn’t bring home very much. How do waiters and waitresses ever economically survive? I have my doubts about this, but I'm more than willing to hang in there because I really like this job. The answer had just better come clear soon, and preferably before the next beer shower.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

To the Girls

I had a great gig on Sunday night. It was my biggest audience yet, and included people who were neither my friends nor friends of friends, but bona fide FANS who just came out because they like my music. That was very significant to me. I called it my "Christmas Show" since I did three holiday songs in addition to my usual originals. My approach focused on Christmas when you're single and don't have children and don't have any family in the area (like me). No one ever talks or sings about the loneliness of the holiday season, but I think it's important to recognize and address. I ended the set with my version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," again tailored to those of us that live alone. My next performance will be Wednesday, December 15th at Gunther Murphy's where I'll be the featured artist of their open mic night.

I have no segue into this next bit. Rey Flores is a columnist for the Spanish publication Hoy. He contacted me a couple of months ago and asked me to write a piece that would inspire schoolage girls to develop their musical skills. He translated it into Spanish and it ran in Hoy a month ago, but it was the middle of the election and my blog was devoted to that. Here it is. The original English version that I wrote is below.

Let's Talk About Music

Last week I was the only woman who performed at an open mic night I attended. Where are the woman musicians? Many fields are male-dominated, but how can we yield music to men? Music is the expression of emotions, moods, thoughts and feelings. In other words, it is ours. Music is rhythm as complicated as how we feel about our parents, melodies that soar like your heart after an incredible kiss, and percussion that slams like the moment you realize your ex is dating someone else.

Girls, it’s time to take music back. If you sing, keep singing no matter what. When you feel something no song can match, make up a song to fill the need. Others need it, too. If you love singing or playing an instrument, don’t ever believe it’s impractical. The need for music is as real as physical hunger and it cannot be satisfied with regular paychecks, beans-made-from-scratch or clean, ironed clothes. If you love making music, that desire will never leave you, so you’d better just make room for it and train those around you to expect it.

The world always needs more music. There’s an audience for every new fusion of sounds and very sentiment expressed, even if that audience is just you. If we all poured out our hearts in whatever style, rhythm and volume felt right, the world would still have room for more music.

Girls, music is ours, so grab that hairbrush/microphone and practice stage presence because when you walk into a rehearsal you’re going to have to hold your own against guys who don’t always believe you belong there. But don’t ever doubt that we do belong there. Where are the women musicians? We’re everywhere, we just haven’t all stepped forward yet.