Whenever I read Tom Robbins, I get a hankerin to hit the road…it’s a must now and again….usually alone, though often with someone I know along route or at my destinations end, and on fine occasion, with a fellow traveller, but alone is fine too. It’s what I call my ‘expanding time’ as I never return ‘home’ the same. I like that. I like change. Positive change. (You know that by now if you’ve read any of my posts).
I once had the notion to travel the country from diner to diner tasting the various coffees at each locale, experiencing the folks at each stop. I believe a television show was created with the same premise, nonetheless, I enjoy traveling to local dives rich with culture from the area, slipping in to sip my ‘cup of joe’ and listen to conversations, watch, take it all in like perfume….each location’s scent so very different.
I had a similar smaller experience in Louisiana once where I trekked to zydeco dance festivals 5 days in a row, tasting different gumbos after the dances had ended, each and every night way past midnight, feet sore from dancing, belly ready for sensational gumbo delights. (I don’t know where ANY of those people are these days, though it matters not, the moment was everything).
It was five days of veritable heaven.
It’s truly the small details and actions which make the difference in life. I’d never felt more alive!
And then, the other morning, I opened Tom Robbin’s Wild Ducks Flying Backwards and read a spell. I came across a very short story and could relate to this woman and what she sees and experiences. I’m clearly no genius, but I understand her world as I’ve been there.
OF THE GENIUS WAITRESS I NOW SING
Of hidden knowledge, buried ambition, and secret
sonnets scribbled on cocktail napkins; of aching
arches, ranting cooks, condescending patrons, and eyes
diverted from ancient Greece to ancient grease; of
burns and pinches and savvy and spunk; of a uniquely
American woman living a uniquely American compromise,
I sing. I sing of the genius waitress.
Okay, okay, she’s probably not really a genius. But
she is well-educated. She has a degree in Sanskrit,
ethnoastronomy, Icelandic musicology, or something
equally valued in contemporary marketplace. Even if
she could find work in her chosen field, it wouldn’t
pay beans–so she slings them instead. (The genius
waitress is not to be confused with the
aspiring-actress waitress, so prevalent in Manhattan
and Los Angeles and so different from her sister in
temperament and I.Q.)
As a type, the genius waitress is sweet and sassy,
funny and smart; young, underestimated, fatalistic,
weary, cheery (not happy, cheerful: there’s a
difference and she understands it), a tad bohemian,
often borderline alcoholic, frequently pretty (though
her hair reeks of kitchen and bar); as independent as
a cave bear (though ever hopeful of “true love”) and,
above all, genuine.
Covertly sentimental, she fusses over toddlers and old
folks, yet only fear of unemployment prevents her from
handing an obnoxious customer his testicles with his
She doesn’t mind a little good-natured flirting, and
if you flirt with verve and wit, she may flirt back.
Never, however, never try to impress her with your
resume. Her tolerance for pretentious Yuppies ends
with her shift, sometimes earlier. She reads men like
a menu and always knows when she’s being offered
leftovers or an artificially inflated soufflé.
Should you ever be lucky enough to be taken home by
her to that studio apartment with the jerry-built
bookshelves and Frida Kahlo posters, you will discover
that whereas in the public dining room she is merely
as proficient as she needs to be, in the private
bedroom she is blue gourmet virtuoso. Five stars and
counting! Afterward, you can discuss chaos theory or
the triple aspects of the mother goddess in universal
art forms–while you massage her swollen feet.
Eventually, she leaves food service for graduate
school or marriage; but unless she wins a grant or a
fair divorce settlement, chances are she’ll be back, a
few years down the line, reciting the daily specials
with her own special mixture of warmth and ennui.
Erudite emissary of eggs over easy, polymath purveyor
of polenta and prawns, articulate angel of apple pie,
the genius waitress is on duty right now in hundreds
of U.S. restaurants, smile at the ready, sauce on the
side. So brush up on your Schopenhauer, place your
order–and tip, mister, tip. She deserves a break
Of her, I sing.
I love how Tom Robbins sees and mostly feels things and the way he writes it up with wit, compassion and smarts.
And with that….I feel the need for a travel adventure coming on and may scour for a fellow adventurer, though maybe not. Having just come from the far east this last spring, my nose is sniffing west. It’s time to ‘expand’ a notch, and I’m not talking belly here…