I’d like to think that by this time, everyone knows how much I value the women of the world. I live to praise them because they don’t get enough appreciation for their many efforts and accomplishments. Mothers, wives, teachers, servers, athletes, lawyers, models, doctors, administrators, engineers, factory workers etc. No matter what their roles are, in or out of the house, they just don’t get the respect they truly deserve. And too often, when we (men) look at them, we don’t see or value them for who and what they truly are (for more on that, you can read my blog post: “Woman, I Value You. I Love You.”).
I guess that’s why the following tale is so important to me. I can look back and laugh nowadays, but back then, it helped me see things in a most necessary way. I hope it does the same for you.
1991 The Kettle Restaurant, Tallahassee, Florida
It was a simple job, at least I believed it to be simple. Our server, who had been laughing at my jokes, told me that they were hiring and I’d be a good fit. I laughed because I knew that employing me around food was like putting a rat in a cheese factory (little did I know that I would one day work for both Hostess/Wonder Bread AND Kellogg Company which soon proved detrimental to my ongoing battle with gravity). She told me I should seriously consider it, as it well-suited my sense of humor and personable nature.
Made sense. I’d eaten there enough and probably knew the menu better than the people preparing the meals.
The Kettle, a 24-hour family restaurant, sat at the bottom of the hill, a 2-mile walk from our apartment on the outskirts of town. It being a 60-second drive from Tallahassee Mall, she added that I’d make great money in tips from people shopping in the area.
I didn’t really think much about it until I began to consider the easy money I could make, working 3rd shift, making people laugh and walking around. And the tips. Yeah, the tips. This was back when I was still on the slender side with a 30″ waist. I had just started working out in the gym, so I figured I was marketable (even though I was dating and OFF the market. It didn’t hurt to be watched. Right? Right?).
ONE WEEK LATER (Third night on the job)
It been a decent run by this point, despite my lack of proper training. Because of the continuous crowds and short-staffing, I didn’t have a lot of time to shadow my on-the-job trainer. In fact, that was only for about two hours on the first night. But it really wasn’t paramount. At least, they didn’t think it was. I wasn’t required to memorize the menu like a lot of today’s restaurants require of their servers. Just had to take their orders down and advise accordingly if they had a question about an item; mainly how it was prepared. Not hard to do because as I said before, I had tried a great deal of the menu items, having been a regular customer. The chef would also make a little more of each order and set that portion aside for me to sample for future reference. But more often than not, just for enjoyment.
Tips & Treats. Win-Win.
And I really enjoyed those tips.
The customers came from state offices and all three campuses: Florida State, Florida A&M and Tallahassee Community College. I told my friends to swing by and check me out, so they too made an appearance. We also got many of Tallahassee Mall’s employees who were tired of “mall food”. Then there were the customers from the nearby traffic as well as the flow from drivers on North Monroe Street. So yeah, I was getting those tips that I’d had hoped for.
So it’s Sunday morning, after midnight. Somewhere around 3 a.m. A slower night, since the bars closed at 2 a.m. and the happily inebriated were out tearing up the 24-hour Whataburger fast food restaurants closer to the middle section of town (I know that from experience. Remember that blog post?). Anything remotely close to a rush had long since ended and I was enjoying my time, putting on a show: singing my greetings to customers, Luther Vandross style (well, I didn’t quite sound like Luther, but it was soulful enough and they enjoyed it), to their apparent delight.
The tips. Gotta make the tips, baby.
On this particular night, there were only about 5 tables, inhabited by casual guests. My focus was on a table of 4 attractive women from their late 20s to early 30s, presumably state workers, being professionally, yet moderately dressed. Also, because this was the capital city of Florida, where the majority of state offices existed; with most jobs taken by recent college graduates.
Big tips here. Gotta flaunt it and make that change. Ahhhh, life is good.
I took their orders, singing to them while complimenting that they needn’t worry about hurting their beautiful figures, adding that they looked fine and would still be [fine], even if they did add a few pounds.
“Aren’t YOU the sexy one?” one of them asked flirtatiously. Although I enjoyed a playful banter with them, I had to be sure as to not cross the invisible morality borderline, established by my relationship.
Big tips here. Gotta make the tips, baby.
“Just trying to work it as well as you ladies do!” I replied slyly to the Ooouuuugh’s and Ahhhhhh’s from the group. Nothing wrong with being beguiling as long as I kept with my “stick and move” tactics.
“I’ll get these orders in immediately, ladies.” I promised, pivoting towards the kitchen.
Before I took a single step, I felt a hand on my butt cheek, followed by a firm squeeze. Startled, I jumped slightly as they all giggled.
“Oooooooh” I LOVE THAT ass.” One of them declared, to the agreement of her cohorts.
“Hurry back so I can get my feel!” Another demanded as I blushed, hurrying off (yes, black people do blush, it’s just more like burgundy than red. Wesley Snipes would be purple).
Gotta keep it decent. Can’t let it get too far. Damn, that felt good, but I gotta keep in mind that I belong to someone else. Shake my moneymaker – work the hips, get the tips.
Returning from the kitchen pickup area, I took a completed dinner order to a different table, whose guests were happy to see that it had arrived in a timely manner.
“Yoooohoooo! Kenny babyyyyyyyy!” One of the girls from the wild bunch sang with increased volume. “We miss youuuuu!”
One of the ladies at the table I was tending smiled and remarked that I appeared to have new fans. She noted that I should be careful because a lot of single women liked a young, sexy, male “waiter”.
I smiled and thanked her, not necessarily believing the compliment, but I took it. I honestly had never considered myself to be “attractive”, but it was nice to hear. Still, in recent years (beginning in 1987/88, working at Montgomery Ward and Jeans West clothing store), I saw that some women had begun to take notice and tell me. It was new to me, but it was very nice to hear.
After dropping off another order and checking on a third table, I noticed one of the ladies from my groupie section motioning for me. She was the silent member of the bunch, but never ceasing to smile. I walked back to see what all they needed, beyond drink refills. As I turned to head for the kitchen, I felt another squeeze, this time from the opposite side of the table.
“You’re right!” the silent one added, “nice and firrrrrrmmm.”
They all laughed as I told them they had to behave, unwisely neglecting to state that my many sexual dalliances were a thing of the past. Especially considering the contradictory scent I had put in the air. Yet and still, they responded to my “I’m a taken man” declaration with Awwwwww’s of disappointment.
“We’ll behave,” the third one promised. “I’ll keep them in line.”
“You’re too kind. Thank you.” I said while picking up her empty glass.
“I’m civilized,” she added. “I just wanna watch it wiggle while you walk. I like to imagine what it’s gonna look like when I see it naked in my bedroom after you get off. We’re BOTH gonna get off!”
They all exploded in laughter while viewing eyes at the other tables widened in both shock and amusement as I hurried off to the kitchen. But not before one member of the obnoxious ensemble blurted out, “Excuse me, sir. Do fries go with that shake?”
You know… …prior to taking the job, I thought about how cool it would be to get “hit on”, something that rarely happened in my youth, if ever. A dream come true.
I was wrong.
All of a sudden I found myself panting heavily off to the side as my heartbeat quickened. I began to tremble slightly as a new series of sensations took over me.
Fear. Shame. Loneliness. Helplessness.
I felt belittled. Cheap. Sexualized. Objectified.
I wasn’t even all that. But I was on the menu that night. The Chef’s Special.
I didn’t feel valued anymore. Not as a server. I felt abused. I felt humiliated. In addition, there was a sense of unprotected anonymity. These ladies didn’t know who I was, nor did they care. The quaking became noticeable as I grabbed a glass of pop and drank it in the kitchen, all to the calls of my name in the distance. Then my mind traveled to recollections of women being pinched while serving tables, walking down airplane aisles, tending to medical patients, taking their hard hats off during work breaks on the job in construction and manufacturing.
“How does it feel, Kenny?” an unrecognizable female voice in my head asked.
I struggled for words that I couldn’t find, to say to a person that didn’t exist. Or DID she? Even though my eyes only found the kitchen area around me and the cook, I could feel her presence. She was definitely there. And I did indeed know her.
“How does it feel?”
And then I recognized her.
It was my mother. My sister. The daughter I didn’t have. It was my girlfriend. My ex-girlfriends. Any and every one I ever dated or had been intimate with. My co-workers. My nurses. My teachers. Cheerleaders. And yes, it was every woman who ever took my order at a restaurant. And though I had never disrespected, belittled or embarrassed any of them, all of a sudden, I knew what it was like to BE them, in one of life’s most emotionally challenging situations.
I had become the object of affection that men think so little of. The women who get the catcalls and whistles. The people who get harassed incessantly, despite their kind replies of declination and rejection to so many unwarranted advances. In some situations, in reversed situations, some men would get the shit slapped out of them because of it. But too often, nothing happened if no one stepped in to admonish the transgressors.
I felt terrible. I felt like property. I felt voiceless. It was karma for something I had never done to others. Karma for something I had never laughed along about. Karma for something I had never spoken out against either. Karma because my failure to speak out or act against it translated to my condoning it. So yeah, the sins of many…
Regaining my composure, I resisted the urge to ask the cook to take the orders to the tables in my stead, while conjuring an excuse for my absence. I couldn’t run from them, nor could I be angry. It was clear that this was their means of enjoyment, outside of the doldrums of their 8 to 5 lifestyles. I also knew that I had encouraged their behavior, subconsciously and ignorantly craving it. And it was fun, at first…
…as long as I had some semblance of control over the situation.
But I had lost that early on and they ran with it. In fact, I had given it TO them. No, I couldn’t be angry with them or upset with myself. All I could do was empathize and sympathize with and for the many women who endure the situations they encounter, most often unsolicited, on a regular basis.
For one night, I had just a skosh of what it was like for billions of others over the years.
When I delivered their food, I created a fallacy to restore order for the remainder of their visit. I said that my manager had pulled me aside and instructed that I bring the behavior down, being more respectful to the other tables. It was a risk, sure. But she was the type of woman who, if called to the table by these people to apologize, would quickly deduce what I had done and would play along to save the day.
They left me the largest tip I’d ever received before telling me they were looking forward to seeing me again. One of them even left her phone number on the restaurant’s copy of the receipt. I paid no attention to it, turning it in without studying and committing it to memory as I would have done years prior.
I took the money home and gave it all to my girlfriend (whom I later married) the next morning, explaining everything that happened. When I first took the job, she joked (or perhaps, warned) that I was going to enjoy being the center of attention. She was cool with it because she knew I knew where home was and what I should and shouldn’t be doing. She had received compliments all the time on her job in addition to countless offers. But she always politely put them in their place, from the start, which is where I failed.
She didn’t say anything negative about the night, although I had apologized and confessed that I had gone too far, even under the guise of innocence. She said nothing about my actions or how I handled the experience. She did say that even if I had been 100% professional and behaved, I probably would still have gotten a fair share of that treatment anyway, given the girls’ descriptions and the time of night. She even understood when I said that I had told my manager that I couldn’t continue working there, to my boss’ disappointment.
All she asked was one question, which didn’t surprise me at all…
“So how did it feel?”
Men, we have to do better…
Happy National Waiters & Waitresses Day to the millions of you around the world who work your very hardest to please so many. We love you.
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Thanks for reading.