I spent this past summer in Chicago. I subleted a studio apartment near the lake and figured I’d pass the time alternately reading, writing and exploring the city. I was raised in its suburbs, but because I spent most of my teen years in a roadside Denny’s memorizing “Rent” lyrics while simultaneously indulging my eating disorder over peppermint tea and bowls of kosher pickles, I never really got to know Chicago as a city. I decided it was time to change that. Nowadays I know no one there besides my parents, brother and grandmother, but I figured they’d keep me busy with endless – ENDLESS! – conversations on subjects as diverse as guilt, scotch, hair loss, and the merits of well-seasoned tuna fish. All this conversation, plus my aforementioned itinerary. I figured I’d be busy.
I arrived at O’Hare late one Saturday night. Sunday I met my family for brunch and we talked about hair loss, and then tuna fish, and then later – once my parents had driven back to the suburbs and my brother had gone off to what he called a “Bloody Mary Party” – I escorted myself to a bar, ordered a beer, and tried to feign interest in the Cubs game that was on T.V.. The day after that I went to the Shedd Aquarium, then bought a pencil skirt at H&M. The day after that, I went on an architectural boat tour on Lake Michigan, then sat on a park bench leafing through a stack of women’s magazines. The day after that, I went to Lincoln Park Zoo, then Netflixed Donnie Darko. The day after that it rained and so I didn’t leave my studio sublet except to go to Walgreens to buy a scented candle and a pumice stone. It was on this trip to Walgreens that I found myself talking to the pumice stone – “You’ve got a tough job,” I’d said, “but someone’s got to do it!” – and realized I had to take action. I had to facilitate some human/human contact.
I figured the best way to go about this was to find myself a job, and three days later I was hired as a hostess at an upscale restaurant in the Loop. After years spent waiting tables, I found hostessing rather pleasant. Sure, the pay cut was humiliating – it was humiliating to be trained by a seventeen-year-old in a toe ring en route to Ann Arbor for her freshman year of college – but considering the easy work load, and seeing as how I was in it for the friends rather than the money, the humiliation was worth it. It was worth it to get to wear my own clothing to work for once – an assortment of nautical-themed Isaac Mizrahi dresses from Target – instead of my previous waiter uniform – a “Sean-John for Boys” button-down shirt paired with orthopedic Rockport’s and white tennis socks.
The start of my first shift seemed promising enough. I would even go so far as to say that I enjoyed myself. I managed to successfully maintain this positive attitude for two hours and fifteen minutes, at which point circumstance forced me to deal with a very angry woman. She looked to be about my age and she was angry because her table was too close to the bathroom for her liking. When I told her she was welcome to wait fifteen to twenty minutes for another one to open up, she lost herself to a fit of blinding rage. Choice excerpts include: “unacceptable!” “It’s my birthday!” “Are you kidding?!” and then she asked if I was stupid. Which I am if we’re talking indie bands or electronics, but in regards to restaurant work, I’m actually quite knowledgeable.
So I told her, “I am stupid, but only if we’re talking indie bands or electronics. In regards to restaurant work, however, I’m actually quite knowledgeable. I know enough to know your business isn’t wanted. Not once you’ve called me stupid.”
“I DIDN’T CALL YOU STUPID!”
“That’s right. You just ASKED if I was stupid. Which, as we’ve already established, I am. But only in some ways. Not in others. Now let me show you to the door.”
I considered this the height of professional behavior, but my new general manager seemed to disagree. He quickly escorted me down the stairs of the main dining room amidst his own fit of blinding rage, tossing words like “loose” around. Then “canon.”
I admit: I’m annoyed I lost that job. But at least I snagged a look at the reservation book before being ushered out the door myself. And at least I copied down the contact number of the enraged young woman who cost me said job in the first place. Now I can text her every day. I can text her things like: “Waste of human flesh.” Or: “Turd.” Or: “Your hair has started thinning from the back.” Stuff like that. I mix it up. I call her sometimes, too. I’ll do a no-frills routine of breathing heavily into the mouthpiece, then hanging up. Or sometimes I’ll just say, “I’m watching you.” Or: “Your sense of entitlement both shocks and saddens me.” I like to think I’m teaching her a lesson about actions and their respective consequences. But really, it’s just nice to have someone to talk to. Someone other than my pumice stone, that is.