I have to be a waitress. How else can I learn about people? How else does the world come to me? I can’t go to everyone. So they have to come to me.
Everyone wants to eat, everyone has hunger. And I serve them. If they’ve had a bad day, I nurse them, cajole them. Maybe with coffee I give them a little philosophy. They have cocktails, I give them political science.
It would be very tiring if I had to say, "Would you like a cocktail." I just rephrase it enough to make it interesting for me. That makes them take interest. It becomes theatrical and I feel like Mata Hari and it intoxicates me.
People imagine a waitress couldn’t think or have any kind of aspiration other than to serve food. When somebody says to me, "You’re great, how come you’re just a waitress?"
Just a waitress. I’d say, "Why, don’t you think you deserve to be served by me?" It’s implying that he’s not worthy, not that I’m not worthy. It makes me irate. I don’t feel lowly at all. I myself feel sure. I don’t want to change the job. I love it.
Some don’t care. When the plate is down you can hear the sound. I try not to have that sound. I want my hands to be right when I serve. I pick up a glass, I want it to be just right. I get to be almost Oriental in the serving. I like it to look nice all the way. To be a waitress, it’s an art.
I feel like a ballerina, too. I have to go between those tables, between those chairs. Maybe that’s the reason I always stayed slim. It is a certain way I can go through a chair no one else can do. I do it with an air. If I drop a fork, there is a certain way I pick it up. I know they can see how delicately I do it. I’m on stage.
I tell everyone I’m a waitress and I’m proud.
From Working, by Studs Terkel, ©1972, 1974 by Studs Terkel. Reprinted by permission of Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc.