Did you build your own house on a firm foundation, or not; that is the question.
Frenchmen have told me they would never work with the French. Too rigid. Too much side work. "This place is too narrow," Marcel confides in me as we eat chicken wings before our shift. "In France, they make a big block of ice, and then you have to chip it before service… What a waste of time." He tells me of a place, run by Ashok. "He is crazy. I worked there six month. I hated every minute of it." How long have you worked here? I'm a bit embarrassed to tell him. When I do, he laughs. Not in a bad way, but to say that he knows I'm in on his joke. "Just like back in France…" We chuckle. I'd like to stay chatting with him, but I have things to get ready still, ten minutes before the door opens on wine tasting night.
I want to ask him, what should I do with my life, given my current situation, but the first customer, a nice woman, older, with stories of her Mini Cooper shows up and sits down at the bar. She likes me reading glasses, as I pull them out. "Let me see." Good. Glasses should make a bold statement. She is pleased with mine. I reflect for a moment that my best friend's wife, also a dear old friend of mine, tells me I need to find a shrink. Which is what Philip Roth did, when he was down after a torturous first marriage.
But I kind of see it, the stiff upper lip uncommunicative Gallic way, this is how we do things, even if it entails holding up a stone above your head in a gail. I know the shit-show shifts. I've been through many of them. I've been left there often enough cleaning up, reorganizing way later into the night than I should have to. I am the dumb American, gullible, ignorant of this whole thing. And maybe I see it too, how disheartening it is, how I've put aside my gut feeling with the 'well, it's work; once you get there it's not so bad.' It doesn't help to go home at night, to live alone, to not have your own little family, but feeling you couldn't support such a thing anyway. "You need a woman who is a slave," Madam Korbonska told me.
Well, well… The French were instrumental in inventing the restaurant as we know it. The bosses are lovely guys, in fact. We go hiking with one, and he tells us about his work in the business, different jobs, different bosses, sharing in a confiding way, which we are allowed to when free of the restaurant. It's still a little stifled, but that's how French males are, they don't share too much, for it would be unmanly. And the other boss, the chef, always makes his gratitude known in his visits, personally. French culture has a great politeness to it, and it is a kick to practice that genial quality of service, the quiet nod, but of course.
The gospels do talk about the greatness of those who serve the least of us, who do not claim worldly importance, the first pews in front, the proud greetings in the marketplace. And this, for better or worse, is I guess what, professionally I've become. Meekly, I serve, even as I maintain a sense of humor about the whole thing. It just doesn't always feel like godly work all the time, and it is not always, as you might gather, particularly sober, though a far cry from a frat house. Wine has a civilizing presence.
Happy people are a sort of mystery to writers, as we might gather from Tolstoy. I serve them, and obviously they have lives, but they are a mystery to me, and I'm afraid of what they might think of me.
Do your yoga, live in the present, do things one step at a time.
But it's a demon you face, always feeling like a loser, because you are in that awful business of an uncertain tomorrow, the restaurant business, compounded with a life often diametrically opposed to that of normal people and the work day, the school day… Besides the stuff in your own head: the son of college professors reduced to this; what happened back when I was an English major… etc., etc.