5 Awkward Questions to (Never) Ask Your Waitress

I’ve noticed that across my previous workplaces, superiors resorted to using education, or lack of, to wield superiority. Often it was a tactic to bolster their credibility, as questioning and input from anyone not the CEO were improper and ironically, “pretentious,” “weird,” or a telltale sign of mental instability.

Until the past several months, I grew accustomed to unsolicited comments about my “shitty” education, and questions about my interests and “where I got that from.” While I have my quirks, it struck me as odd that these two attributes coupled together would qualify me as strange and malfunctioned. For a while, the person concerned succeeded in what I think were her objectives. I often felt worthless, questioned praise, dismissing it as sneering patronization, and found myself obsessing over increasingly clogged pores.

I noticed that during my brief stint as a waitress after graduating college, my coworkers exuded comparable cynicism and a want to get out. We made good tips at the restaurant, few things were particularly wrong with the establishment itself, and managers weren’t automatons. But if you asked the girls who worked with me why they looked so mad, they’d tell you: “It’s the people.”

I walked home from work visibly upset. I guess because of “the people,” and the odd things they’d say. Same sentiments and intentions as the person I mentioned before, but nicely put, the acid was thrown from another end of society’s spectrum.

It reminded me of waitressing the summer of 2013. It reminded me of questions and remarks I found inappropriate, but were treated as usual banter. So I laughed it off, but I’ll share what I remember.

1. “Are you retarded? Well, you’re working here, so…”

My coworkers often asked me why I “wanted” to work at the restaurant. At the time, it would have been foolish to discuss the actual “why,” but I told them I “needed a job.” We can point at statistics in newspapers, or widespread conceptions about the promises of college, but I took my time explaining to them that without an additional degree, it was highly unlikely that I would find work in a major-specific area, and I was saving money until I decided continuing school was something I really wanted to do.

Late on Independence Day, a cop sat down with his rather agreeable wife and her gregarious girlfriends. The women were like parakeets, ready for a tea party. The cop eyed the way I placed silverware on the table, and immediately grabbed my hand after I placed his utensils before him.

“That’s fucking gross.”

The lull of teenagers talking in the booth nearby filled the next few minutes. The women nervously laughed, and the cop asked coldly,

“Why were your fingers close to the prongs? Are you retarded?” I was a clumsy waitress, though I wasn’t deliberately unsanitary. I didn’t grab the silverware by their exposed prongs or scoops, but I remember my thumb touching the “handle”, instead of the napkin bundled at the end and tied with a thin strip of paper.

I couldn’t really tell him, though he spoke to the manager, who told him I wasn’t retarded and actually received a scholarship to law school, but chose not to go.

I have no idea why the manager found it sound to tell me this, but the cop had asked him why law schools thought it smart to “give people with Asperger’s scholarships.”

Somehow, I better sympathized with girls at work who refused to serve local law enforcement.

2. “Plan on having kids?”

Yes, a relatable question that annoys more than a handful of people my age who haven’t accomplished this yet. Maybe the stigma to childlessness isn’t so salient in other places, but I’ve found the question established as a formality. If I tell you it’s none of your business, well, that could deem me “pretentious,” “weird,” or mentally unstable. Perhaps that makes me a lesser person by articles of convention.

I told the man I don’t have children, and he advised me to “make nice to your husband, and get fucking.” The last time I asked, I look around twelve. I look no different than I did in pictures at homecoming dances, and at the time, I cared more about iced chai lattes than saving for my future. Apparently he thought I was ready, with aggressive encouragement to offer.

3. “You ever thought of doing porn?”

A suggestion by a man who owned another restaurant within the regional chain. I admit I enjoyed the nightly pay, and giggled to myself at how many one dollar bills I’d take to the bank. The teller had already asked me where I worked, but was skeptical as he mentioned the regular clientele. I frequently served larger parties, who liked that I could take nine to twelve orders without a notepad or a visit to re-inquire about what kind of salad dressing Mallory would like, or if John said “yes” to white gravy. So I made good money. Shortly.

I don’t know why this man would suggest porn as a lucrative venture. Maybe he presumed I was desperate, or didn’t have many options. He asked me if I was doing well on tips, and I nodded, not saying much. Strangely, he brought up wages, providing me with a verbal menu of the raunchiest acts, in order of highest payout.

It so turned out he wasn’t a manager, but introduced himself as one upon my seating him. A strategy for me to pay attention, nod and smile, and act politely out of fear he’d complain to management. Many customers did. I thought the couple I served two booths down would certainly ask for a supervisor, but they chose not to tip me, having heard his inquiries, possibly thinking my agreeableness indicated shameful Jezebel-ian curiosity.

I don’t know what this man really did, but I spotted him on the bus a few nights later, laughing at a comic book not drawn for children.

4. “So you’re here in need of a no-brainer, huh?”

A classmate I remembered from high school forty-five minutes away came to dine with her family. Or her family came to dine with herself included. She knew who I was, and I knew her name, but said nothing. Of course it went awkwardly. Their meal was delayed a good forty minutes, she inquired about it, smirking at me, and I heard her father ask,

“Wasn’t that the girl you were in Key Club with? The one you said was ‘really smart’?”

As you may infer, we had a falling out. I remember the father as a dedicated community volunteer.

“I didn’t say she was street smart.” This was the last I heard from her. Which struck me as my boss advised not to stress out about social skills, that the degree will pay off, but in time. This was after another instance when I failed to sense sarcasm, and cleaned a kitchen oven that I was never instructed to scrub.

The meal eventually arrived, and as I stood at the register to check them out, the father mentioned high school, my health, and if I was “fine.”

Hospitalization at age sixteen doesn’t seem like a thing you bring up. Even out of concern. But we all lived in a once small town (made a “suburb” thanks to rapid development and a Walmart five minutes away from the other built not too long ago). I guess some things are remembered, and discussed as another formality. “Small talk.”

5. “Did you major in English? Art?”

Like the question about kids asked in my locale, this is too commonplace. It is possible to write for a living. I know freelance artists who make an ample income. There are commitments to both, but name an endeavor without commitments. Given the circumstance, perhaps serving tables is a start, to keep your lights on as you refine your craft or build your capital as you plant your seeds. Maybe you serve part-time. Maybe you need extra cash. Maybe you’re happy serving. To some people, you’re questionable.

Let’s repeat: “pretentious,” “weird,” or mentally unstable.

I didn’t major in either, but studied things I liked. But I never discussed politics, or the possibility that Scott’s roommate may suffer from an Oedipal crisis. I didn’t want to go through the process that comes with offending someone, of receiving the Talk from the boss, following directives to walk to the table, apologize, and make up for a refund offered as a “sorry” for a customer’s bad experience. Or death by salmonella. It’s a possibility when you fail to properly handle a fork.

I’m no longer a waitress, and I’m no longer told I’m a mess with wasted potential. While I heard too many “you’re not good enough”s from finer strands of society’s yarn, the questions I recall, from those not as “calibrated,” seem to serve the same purpose.

Insecurity’s a bitch. No matter what you do for a living. What matters, moreover, is your permission for its consumption.

I do presume.

Originally posted on Mighty Optical Illusions

“And where did you meet Gerald Reeves?”

We sat in a booth, on strawberry clouds with form after form and my driver’s license littering the table, speckled with dry tea. Placemats for coloring. Coloring for postgrads.

I adjusted the lining of my ruched black skirt. “You look quite nice.” “Thanks, James.” Previously I made another “last” visit to my place of study, to sign yet another form. Hopped on the bus with Jim’s last dime, waited in their marble suite with a raspberry soda in hand, and said goodbye to another prospect as a legal assistant in the antiquated convenience they call Downtown. My favorite work shirt hasn’t been ironed since.

“We met on the bus.”

Keeth chuckles in Irish mirth, motions to the Oreo Crumble and asks me how I like it. Applying for serving and barista positions certainly carries its perks. Peppermint mochas, green tea lattes, milkshakes and slices of mousse cake. On the house, as I scrambled for cash to stay in the laundry room of a friend’s.

Gerald convinced me serving was an art, that rewards follow refinement. Humanities degrees aren’t useless. They supply fodder for conversation. And this clientele, they’ll pay for fodder. Most are cops who come for the free coffee anyway.

He was only thirty-eight and claimed to work six days a week, seven if lucky. $500 a night since age seventeen at the same place. A different picture on the wall for twenty-four months straight. Two dozens’ worth of the “greatest employee we ever had.”

***

“He’s full of shit.”

I folded my hands over my apron, still boxy with tucked away tips. This was reprieve from the usual talk with disgruntled aunts at call centers. But a date would soon follow. “To be fair, you meet ’em on the bus.” “Thanks, James.” My disappointments with men aren’t worth speaking of as of today. Probably a good thing.

“You can really make good money, if you work the long hours and are fine with kissing ass. I mean, Gerald is going to retire. He put a good deal into an IRA Roth and some other stuff. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“Must be nice to live at home. What kind of parents charge rent nowadays?”

“Mine.”

“Well, that’s you.”

Presumptions flutter and stand by our doors. The easy-to-access two-by-four they say to beat intruders with if you don’t have a gun. People you don’t know.

***

It’s very much like saying only dirty kids get lice, and I’m only reminded of a bubbly cop I really enjoyed pouring sweet tea for, until he offhandedly said that people get arrested for a reason, that trials were a waste of time. Yes, if they’re prolonged. “Innocent until proven guilty?” I quipped. “The arrest indicates guilt. Nine times out of ten.” “So what about that ten percent?” “Well, they sure did something.”

Sometime in 2010, or 2011, Justin Bieber told Rolling Stone that rape was a sad thing. Something along the lines of not liking abortion, that yeah, it’s really sad when a woman has a baby by rape, but “everything happens for a reason.” Well, yes. But what are you implying about the rationale? Is every reason justified?

Three weeks ago it was asked if I had an eating disorder. Anyone who lives with me would laugh at the question. I think Ren would be pissed. And today it was asked just how much I allocate for groceries. “How do you afford to get everything from Whole Foods?”

For the past five days, I’ve brought quinoa in a Tupperware, a bag of avocados, and mangos to spare. Put these together, glaze it with salsa, and you’ve created a filling salad.

All from an inner-city grocery store for less than fifteen bucks. And there’s enough to last for the week ahead.

Not that Whole Foods is bad. I love salmon jerky and matcha green tea powder. And if I can’t get matcha online, I’ll go to Whole Foods.

***

Perhaps I am oversensitive. But after a while, comments like this are no more grating than belittling someone for moving to Austin, “where affluent students panhandle.” Bring up the beauty of Portland, OR to hear similar scoldings from neighbors and friends. “A better Austin. Richer people.”

Today we sat through a sales pitch. Another local wholesale store hosting a membership drive, wedding cake, cookies, and photo packages lined on a table, set to tempt. They praised this part of town for its spending potential, family needs, consumers aplenty. And I turned to a coworker and whispered,

“Most people can’t afford to live here!”

“And really, he hasn’t done his research. Look at the study that made the paper. Where I grew up, you’ll find the greatest disposable income. It also costs the least to live there.”

I smile.

“Sorry. Just proud of my South Side is all.”

***

Turns out I’m already a member. Welcome to Costco. Not certain if I love you.

My plastic spoon sifts through quinoa in ways Rocky Road could never allow. But mousse-filled cake is always nice, chocolate chip and oatmeal comforts waiting in a brown paper bag should I seek them during break.

Another coworker apologizes for not inviting me to lunch.

“It’s okay.” I point to my empty tupperware. “Maybe next Friday.”

“I admire your discipline.”

Less than two years from my interview with Keeth, I’m finally working Downtown. Restaurants scream with specials and an authenticity I don’t entirely doubt. But even the doors of McDonald’s and Whataburger stand ajar and aloof, as lines stretch on and I only wonder how everyone dines inside and returns in due time.

Maybe I’m not so disciplined.

Perception reflects off each of our eyes. Myopia, astigmatism, and more. Not everyone needs glasses, but no one peers through a magnifying glass impervious to the drawbacks of subjectivity.

The Top Ten Things Public Schools Are Doing Wrong Regarding Students’ Motivation

This may be an inflammatory post. I’m feeling rather opinionated, and overly reflective tonight as I chomp on crackers and listen to my newly christened teacher friend talk about how her first year on the job has been more disillusioning than ever. As she talked, I jotted down some things she mentioned. Then I backtracked to my own high school experience. I remember graduating in the top two percent of my class. More than anything, emphasis rested on class rank. While the course load was heavier than what I experienced in college, I don’t particularly remember much of the material I studied to graduate in the upper ranks. I took away practical skills, like writing and how to fill out your annual tax forms, but that was about it. I’m sure many of you would call high school a blur. But I’m also sure many of you may have differing opinions on the public school system in general. Here, I list the top ten things I personally believe public schools are doing wrong when it comes to student motivation. These are just my thoughts, with bits from my own experience that obviously deviates from yours. I am no one. Laugh.

1.Class Rank – When schools implement class rank and the awards of valedictorian and salutatorian when students are already very competitive, intrinsic motivation is threatened. Students take AP classes not out of interest, but because bonus points are added to their grade point average. They could be taking elective courses that spark their interest, such as culinary arts or painting, but choose not to because the AP classes boost their likelihood of obtaining a high class rank. Students do not read or do assignments to learn for the sake of it. Rather, they memorize information to perform well on tests, rather than develop a conceptual understanding of the class material. It does not matter that they learn, but rather, if they do “better” than other people. They fail to master the material, and instead put more effort towards racking up points to make it to the top.

2.Low Standards for Passing Grades – Some school districts have set “70” as a passing grade, while others such as ______ Independent School District have relied on the meager “60” as passing. Depending on the class and how it is taught, much may not be required to earn the 60 or 70. This puts failure-avoidant students at a disadvantage. They are motivated by not wanting to fail the class, and often, barely pass. They do not master the material, nor gain an adequate, conceptual understanding of what is taught if a modest amount of effort is required to pass. They are only concerned with obtaining the minimum grade, just as competitive students are mainly concerned with earning a top class rank without actually retaining content.

3.Material Goods Given in Exchange for Good Grades – When a school district gives students money or lavish items such as iPods and iPads in exchange for good grades, intrinsic motivation is also undermined because students no longer wish to learn, but rather, memorize and ace tests to fund trips to the mall or stifle their boredom. For the college-bound, a rude awakening awaits when they find that good grades in college do not entail luxurious rewards. Also, when the reward is given so often, it loses its “wow” factor, and students are not as gratified when receiving them. The reward loses its intended effect, and student performance may stagnate or even flounder.

4.Competition of Class Averages Between Class Periods – It isn’t uncommon for a teacher to promise a pizza party to whichever class earns the highest overall average over the six weeks’ term, semester, or simply a big exam. The students may not internalize the goal of doing well, seeing it as set by the teacher to make himself look good because his students would work harder and earn better grades. Or, like students competing for class rank, the students would do well, but not necessarily retain information. They only care about the pizza, or “beating” the other classes. They would not necessarily master the information taught.

5.“Accelerated Reader” Competitions – Elementary and intermediate schools often hold book-reading competitions in which the student with the most “Accelerated Reader” points receives a monetary reward or a gift card to a popular store or restaurant. The student is shallowly tested on comprehension skills, and points increase based on the number of pages a book contains. It isn’t uncommon to see a student skim or read through a book without absorbing its content. The student is only extrinsically driven by the reward at the end and doing better than others. Reading comprehension doesn’t exactly improve when you passively read to rack up on page numbers and points.

6.Overworked Guidance Counselors – Students with long term goals are at a disadvantage when few guidance counselors work at their high school and are often overwhelmed by a large number of students. The guidance counselors are often unable to help students compartmentalize their long term goals into several short term goals, nor discuss how they are to reach their goals, including admittance to a prestigious college or attending a vocational school after graduation. Students could even lose sight of their goals, abandoning them altogether or attempting to reach them inefficiently, with suboptimal results.

7.Paying for 100% of Students’ AP Exam Fees – It is not uncommon for school districts to pay for the entirety of students’ AP exam fees in economically disadvantaged schools. As the students’ family is not paying for the exam, its importance may be minimized in the students’ eyes and performance may be subpar.  Tests may be blown off as efforts to prepare for them become insubstantial. Passing the AP exam no longer remains a priority especially if a student receives bonus points on transcripts regardless of whether he or she makes the marks needed for college credit.

8.Teachers Required to Comply with a Failure Rate – Public school teachers are often required to have a set failure rate that they cannot surpass. This mandate often results in passing off students who may not have performed at the standard needed to advance a grade level or graduate. Older students may be aware of this, feel that they will be passed anyway because a teacher is legally required to, and not put forth an honest effort in class. The students do not even internalize the goal of passing because it is already achieved for them through the teacher’s being required by the state, school district, or school administration to pass the majority of his or her students. Yes, as a high school student, this information was relayed to me. By my own teachers.

9.Lack of Vocational Programs – Lack of vocational programs limits the variety of opportunities open to a student for goal-setting and personal success. The student may not identify with programs already existing for college-bound students and as a result, does not set goals he or she can honestly internalize and enjoy working towards. Consequently, unmotivated and uninterested students often drop out or perform poorly in school.

10.The Idea that Every Child Must Go to College – The idea that every child must go to college definitely coalesces with Problem 9 as options are limited for students who do not fit the “college-bound” mold. It is this idea that ______’s “4 by 4” plan is based on. A student with no interest in going to college should not be mandated to take advanced math classes if the desired career pathway does not require these skills. The goal of going to college is set not by the students themselves, but instead by the state of ______, and a handful of teachers. The students may resent teachers and other authority figures for hailing the importance of college, as they may not understand that some students do not have the financial backing or family support to attend, or have other obligations after high school. The students will reject this goal of going to college, and having little options and support for different types of goal-setting, they remain disadvantaged and lack perspective as to what they wish to do in the future to gain financial independence.

Again, personal observations and opinions from no one. Just a young blogger who got a high school diploma through the Texas public school system, and got triggered listening to a venting friend.

Feel free to divulge your thoughts and share your experiences.