I used to work at a dope Brooklyn restaurant. Great food, good drinks, hot staff. Anyone who's ever worked in the service industry will tell you, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Folks feel entitled to you when you work for tips. It's silly really. They will pay exorbitant amounts for well done steaks and iceberg lettuce but not you. You're there to earn your money and your respect. You are the show. You owe them jokes and smiles. You owe them your undivided attention. You owe them a response when your name becomes "hot sauce" or "butter". You are their private dancer and you must do what they want you to do.
Every American should be required to serve. I don't mean the military. I mean the masses. No one will give you their seat and very few will thank you for your service. It shatters all the falsehoods about humanity. It kicks through those curtains put up by your mama or your preacher or your television. I've worked with visual artists, poets, comics, composers and more than one clown. I've worked with folks who never graduated high school and folks who spoke six languages. Restaurants are pleasure planets in a galaxy of pain. You never know who you might meet and what they might mean to you. Which brings us to The Pitcher.
The Pitcher loved the restaurant but he loved whining more. I loved him and he loved me more. We shared fun flirts and drunken tales. He was on my "if I have one drink too many" list. He was one of the only men in a sea of serving women, so we found his complaints both annoying and adorable. We would lend him a bosom or an ear while solving his problems as well as our own. We were women, we were the clean up crew.
Obviously, The Pitcher was quickly promoted to General Manager. Our little project was now the big boss. He'd gotten what he wanted. So, he began to tuck his sensitivity into his sadness and drop it into glasses of whiskey. The whiskey heats the sadness and gives it the courage to step into rage. An angry white boy emerged. We were still madly in love, but that love had morphed. I could no longer show him my underbelly and I'd seen enough of his. He was cut from the fun flirt squad and promoted to captain of the hate fuck crew. I wanted to make him cry and cum. I knew both would do him some good.
The Pitcher and I have always had a bizarre relationship. We are magnets who never touch. He the north and I the south. He is sweet and gentle with a side of sexy surprise. He has an overseer's face and a bellman's smile. But his most striking feature is his inability to pronounce my name. Yes, really. It's fascinating. Its close but it's not quite right. He coos this name like a lover. He takes his time and he relishes it and I wonder who it belongs to. I wonder who and what he sees when he looks at me. Perhaps, he doesn't see me at all.
Anyone who has ever worked brunch will tell you, it ain't no crystal stair. Folks are rude, cheap and needy as fuck. Y'all need all the beverages and all the ketchup and you need it right now. I understand. I've met tequila. You has my sympathy. So I'm working Saturday brunch and I'm slanging my eggs, coffee and hips, when a gesticulating hipster knocks a tray of coffee all over me. Allow me to set the scene.
The Tramp walks by minding her black ass business. The Busser walks by minding his white ass business. The Hipster throws his hands out clearly caught up with impressing himself with how impressive he is. The coffee flies off The Busser's tray and travels all the way down my shirt and pants burning and staining me at the same time. I'm a professional, so I bottle the scream and focus on helping clean up the mess.
The Hipster: I'm sorry man.
The Busser: It's ok.
The Hipster's Pixie Dream Girl: *blinks erratically but says nothing*
The Tramp:........................................................ *touches herself to see if she's become invisible*
After the shift, I'm in the office, chilling with The Pitcher and The Artist(one of my favorite boys) and I recant the story. I tell them that these are the microaggressions that make serving while black so problematic. These are the moments that make my neck hot and my hands shake. These are the reasons we wrap ourselves in blunt leaves and coat ourselves in cognac. They both begin talking at once. They were tripping over themselves to make excuses for this man that neither of them knew. An angry black girl emerges. The wound widens. I tuck my disappointment into a folder and file it under Nothing New. I revoke his Captain status and throw him in the bucket with the rest of the n*ggas who wish they could. I walk out of the office and pinch myself to see if I've become invincible.
A couple of months ago, I got a text from The Pitcher. We haven't seen each other in over a year. We had the following exchange:
There are many things to unpack here. But let's take them one at a time. Shall we?
1) His boo is a woman of color. He could easily have spoken to her about this. But he wanted ME. He wanted the black girl. In the past, this would have given me deep satisfaction and even then, the corners of my mouth curled slightly. Now it just reminds me to clean out my files.
2) Even as he acknowledges his culpability, he asks not only for absolution, but also, for a lie. He wants me to tell him that it's not true. That it's exaggeration, that it's not so bad.
3) Even as I deny him the lie, I pull him toward me. I coddle him and cover him in honey so when he sees the monsters, he doesn't see himself.
4) Many folks would say that it's not my responsibility to talk him through this. To walk him through this. Many folks would say that black women spend too much of their lives assisting others to their own detriment. Those folks would be right. But to be a black woman is to be gravity itself.
The truth of gravity, is that folks think it's job is to hold them down, when it's actually to bring them together. We roam the earth picking up scraps and knitting quilts and stroking egos and drying tears. But, if a Black girl screams in a crowded room and everyone is around to ignore it, does she actually lose her mind? I would tell you, but I don't know if you can see me.