By Suzanne Farrell
I learned the key to job satisfaction at the Ponderosa Steakhouse. I bussed tables there. It was gross, but at the time it was cool because I made money and wore a uniform. Oxford shirt, khaki pants (elastic waistband), purple pinstriped cap. Think Little Leaguer meets little old man. My uniform included constricting suspenders and a blousy bow tie, both bearing cacti and cowboy boots. Western panache at a New England steakhouse. Perhaps it’s the mixed-up uniform that led to the lie.
The manager called me efficient. Would I clean the buffet? Sure, I’d love to mop up sweet n’ sour anychunks. Six wet towels and long, tough fingernails are needed. Mac n’ cheese dries into hard grey lumps, like speed bumps for roaches.
I became known for meticulous drink production, for attacking soda droplets. You never saw ringlets left behind by sweating glasses. I was on the Steakhouse fast track.
I earned my waitress button only a few weeks in. Never took section one, though, near the buffet. That was always Kim, a short, meaty woman who dated Tim in section two, with his shaggy hair and wintertime tan, a surfer locked up in desert suspenders. I was section five, the enclosed patio overlooking our Navy town vista of gas stations and gentlemen’s clubs. Most nights I had one or two large families who liked it out there because they could drag furniture together and make lots of noise.
Waitressing deflated me. There was no glory in it. Nothing left to achieve, no satisfaction at the end of the day. I glowered at the families, multiple kids making multiple trips to the all-you-can-eat buffet, leaving me thirty dishes and a buck. I’d lost a sense of meaning.
What is it that sustains you at work? Once you reach a certain goal, how do you stay satisfied? Keep clipping your suspenders to your khakis, day after day? I considered hitting all the steakhouses in the area, masquerading each time as a newbie, starting over with bussing, clocking how long it would take me to charm the manager into handing me a wet towel.
I didn’t leave Ponderosa, though. I just waited.
And then, something happened. I can’t remember how or when. It just came out.
“Hah, mah nayme is Sue-Zayanne! Ah’m your way-triss to-naht.”
“Ooooh, where are you from?”
“Sahth Cay-ro-li-nuh. Chahl-ston.”
The accent – I can still do it – a peculiar concoction of southern and western twangs, collected from various TV shows and smashed together on the spot. It couldn’t have been believable. But sure enough, a $5 tip.
I tried it again. And again. In fact, I stuck with Sue-Zayanne until I left the House. Kim n’ Tim teased, but I lied to them, too. I said my boyfriend was southern, and that I sometimes slipped into his accent like a girl slips into a boy’s plaid flannel shirt after prom. I practiced at home. I added bits of autobiography. I looked forward to work again.
I learned a crucial lesson on that job. The old song – “Smile when your heart is aching” – I think it’s really, “Lie when your soul is withering, lie when your feet are screaming, lie when your heart feels like rubbery steak…” One big fancy lie with a southern accent. Something new, fresh, and raw as flank. Very satisfying.
Suzanne Farrell is a second year Liberal Studies student and co-editor of canon. She’ll graduate in May and continue to wear mixed-up things and find meaning in mixed-up places.