NYC Waiter Decapitates Himself with Steak Knife in front of Horrified Diners

By Cyberquill 03/15/201020 Comments

This is the opening line from an Associated Press article in the Business section of today’s New York Times:

If you don’t mind going door to door and asking strangers some personal questions, you may have a future as a Census worker.

Huh?

I used to mind very much going table to table, ragged out in a dopey apron and tie, asking strangers some personal questions about their dinner preferences, yet minding it didn’t prevent me from having a rather extensive past doing precisely that. So why should the fact that I would certainly mind shuffling door to door and interviewing strangers about the number of cohabitants they keep stashed in their closets prevent me from having a future as a census worker?

AP’s reality-impaired syllogism rests on the grotesquely flawed premise that if a person minds doing something, he or she won’t consider doing it for a living. If this were the case, most people would never apply for the very jobs they’re applying for. I certainly wouldn’t still (or again, depending on whether one divides time into units of months or decades) be e-mailing my restaurant résumé through cyberspace or dropping into any of these horrible places like an idiot in order to fill out an application form for a stupid server positon. Yet according to the AP scribe, my doing so indicates that I wouldn’t mind waiting tables again. By this peculiar definition of “not minding” I wouldn’t mind nailing myself to a utility pole or pouring molten lead into my eye sockets, either.

Last week I saw my dentist for a checkup and cleaning. As I settled into the chair and he was lining up his utensils, he asked me if I still worked at whatever restaurant I’d worked at the time of my previous visit. I told him no, I hadn’t been working in a restaurant since my most recent firing, because (a) I hated it, and (b) nobody was willing to hire me anymore, for which there were several reasons: the economy is on the ropes; my youthful good looks may have declined relative to 15 years ago when I first picked up a tray, thus lowering my odds of getting hired because I’m “cute”; plus I’m having more and more trouble feigning enthusiasm for this dreary profession as my main objective during interviews these days is simply to keep myself from throwing up. (In fact, I may file a law suit for job discrimination based on skin color. Managers seem reluctant to hire candidates who look green in the face.)

My dentist seemed puzzled and told me he always thought it would be “fun” to work in a restaurant. Well, a chacun son goût, as they say in Austria. Personally, I’m having a lot more fun in a dentist’s chair. I prefer a drill in my mouth over a wine opener in my hand any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

My attitude towards restaurant work has waxed more bizarre over the years. In late 2008, for instance, I completed a training shift at a place in Midtown, at the end of which I was asked to come back for my second and final trailing the following day, whereupon I was to be put on the schedule full-time. The uniform was a black button-down shirt, of which kind at the time I possessed exactly one presentable unit. This I wore for my training shift. Upon leaving the restaurant that night I convinced myself that my financial straits were so dire that I couldn’t possibly afford to buy another black shirt, so I did the only logical thing: on my way to the subway I tore the shirt I had on into shreds, because then I’d be off the hook as far as returning for my second training on account of not owing the requisite attire. Indeed, I stepped into the N-train with tatters hanging off my shoulders, hoping my fellow straphangers would think some estrous female had tried to rip my clothes off; a much more flattering story than that of having performed the sartorial massacre myself so as to guard against yet another wearisome waitering gig.

Back in my apartment I noticed, alas, that a spare black shirt was hanging in my closet, albeit a less pretty one that had turned dark gray over the years due to having been subjected to hundreds of cycles in various washing machines. Gripped by terror upon considering my bank balance, I resolved that accepting the job would be the “smart” thing to do after all, so I briefly managed to vanquish my demons, donned the grayish upper garment, and dutifully reported for my second training shift at the appointed hour. Yet within less than 30 seconds of entering the place I found myself back on the sidewalk again. Guided by an invisible hand and without input from the left (rational) side of my brain, I had walked up to the manager, without giving reasons informed him that I wouldn’t or couldn’t (don’t remember which) take the job, and turned tail like the proverbial bat out of hell (a mixed metaphor, I know, as bats do not have tails).

Standing on 44th Street with no concrete restaurant proscpects lined up and hence without immediate motive for shredding yet another piece of apparel, I once again chose the most logical course of action:

I ambled up to Broadway at 43rd and waltzed into the Times Square recruiting station. After all, the prospect of crawling through the mud in Afghanistan with a rocket launcher strapped to my back seemed delightful compared to waiting on any more tables. So over the next few weeks I underwent all the tests at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, was adjudged mentally and physically fit, and was cordially invited to enlist any time.

Ultimately, I hesitated, because (a) I’m more of a girly-boy, and hence wouldn’t be too happy a camper in a testosterone-laden environment (admittedly, not the happiest camper in restaurants, either, so that’s a wash), (b) I’m scared of guns, but more importantly (c) in order to qualify for any of the army positions that struck me as potentially interesting I would have been required to apply for Top Security Clearance (or whatever exactly this thing is called) which, in turn, would have required me to renounce my Austrian citizenship (which made me wonder why the current governor of California was allowed to keep it; apparently, being commander-in-chief of the California National Guard isn’t a top-security-clearance kind of gig).

In the end, I hesitated for so long that I crossed the upper age limit for enlisting, so now the army issue is moot, and I’m back looking for a stupid waitering job and tearing up my wardrobe in self-defense.

Seeing no other way out, the headline of this blog entry may soon grace the front-page of the New York Post.

On second thought, chances are I’ll chicken out of cutting off my head just as I chickened out of joining the army. More realistically, a few years hence the headline will read thus:

Dead at 98: World’s Oldest Active Waiter Collapses During Busy Brunch Shift in Midtown

Of course, I may have OD’ed on anti-depressants long before that.

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  • http://www.testazyk.com Thomas Stazyk

    I had a Rimbaud summer once when I worked in food service, so I’m sympathetic. The problem is the massive disconnect between the perspective of the diner, for whom the restaurant experience is a major part of their day (or maybe even week or month) and the server who would just as soon the diner not be there. Maybe dentists feel the same way.

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      I never had a problem with the diners being there. I always had a problem with myself being there.

  • http://www.cheriblocksabraw.com Cheri

    I can speak authoritatively about all things dental: my grandfather and father were dentists. My father hoped I would become one ( I rejected this idea ) . Finally my youngest brother took the advice. Teeth and their problems were often a topic in the Block household.

    Those were the days when advise was dispensed over the phone.

    When I was a little girl and dad was out fishing, I would tell anyone who called to “gargle with hot salt water.”

    Peter, concerning your job hunt, have you considered tutoring? Writing is a lost art and you write well.

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      I’ll remember that line. Good one. Next time American Express calls to remind me that I’m hopelessly behind on my minimum payments, I’ll tell them to go “gargle with hot salt water.”

      I taught German once. My first job in New York. In fact, I started waiting tables to get myself out of tutoring. True story.

      Me tutoring the art of writing? Interesting prospect. It certainly raises the concept of confidence, nay, presumptiousness to new heights:

      Non-native speaker with no relevant degree seeks position to tutor writing. Some blogging experience.

      And I don’t believe writing is a “lost art,” but it probably has been referred to as such ever since the dawn of writing itself, simply because at all times most contemporary writing was considered subpar by most talented writers. Given that, in general, mostly the good stuff survives through the ages, we are inevitably surrounded by lots of bad contemporary writing and lots of fantastic literature of yore, which affords us the false sense that the art of writing itself has deteriorated.

      • http://www.testazyk.com Thomas Stazyk

        Presumptuous or not, it’s all in the spin. Instead of “Non-native speaker with no relevant degree seeks position to tutor writing. Some blogging experience.” You could try something like this:

        “Having trouble with your writing? Talk to the Paragraphinator. You’ll be back!”

        • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

          Sounds great. I’ll post your suggestion on Craigslist to see how long it’ll take for it to get flagged for removal.

          Perhaps I could tutor people in how to talk like the Terminator, even though, being Viennese, I’m having trouble replicating the Steiermark accent myself. (My Schwarzenegger impression is roughly equivalent to a native Alabamian’s impression of Tony Soprano.)

  • http://andreaskluth.org/ Andreas

    Since I started reading this blog, I have looked at, interacted with, and tipped my waiters very differently.

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      That’s nice, but bloggers ought to be tipped as well. 15-20% of a post’s total word count in dollars seems fair. So if a post is 1,000 words, the reader should leave between 150 and 200 bucks. In fact, I may install a little virtual tip jar on my blog.

  • http://www.cheriblocksabraw.com Cheri

    Peter,

    You could tutor for the SAT Subject Test in German. Charge 90.00 per hour.

    You could also tutor German for medical students or for Rilke aficionados.

    If you opened a Viennese chocolate/coffee house in NYC, I would be there IN A FLASH.

    I love Vienna (just felt like saying that since I am here in my little beach house alone with my dog and a glass of wine!)

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about_us.php Cyberquill

      There’s an old joke about a guy telling his friend that he’d love to have the money to buy an elephant. The friend asks him why he wants an elephant. The guy responds that he doesn’t want the elephant, just the money to buy one.

      Likewise, I’d certainly love to have the money to open a coffee house in New York.

      The good news is that there already exists a Viennese coffee house in NYC for you to slake your exotic caffeine and chocolate cravings: Café Sabarsky, located inside the Guggenheim museum. I once went there to interview for a server position, erroneously believing I may be a good fit. Yeah, right. The next day, I received the following e-mail:

      Thanks you very much for taking your time and interviewing for Café Sabarsky. We failed decision for another applicant.

      Should I go back there and offer them English lessons for 90 bucks an hour?

      Recently, for several weeks I ran a Craigslist ad for German lessons. Instead of $90 for one hour, I listed my fee as $35 for a two-hour session. I received exactly one response. Some lady wanted to take one-hour lessons for half the price. I said sure—what else am I supposed to say if someone graciously offers me 18 dollars?—but then she cancelled her first lesson and was never heard from again.

      Tutor writing. Tutor German for 90 bucks an hour. I appreciate your suggestions, and I don’t mean to sound negative, but if I really wanted to embark on a hopeless endeavor, I figure it might be fun to board a Greyhound to Albany and apply for a position as governor of New York.

      After all, each coast should have at least one Austrian commander-in-chief, and I’d do everything in my power to ensure that New York becomes the second failed state.

      • Madame wolfe

        Darlin’ (sorry, we Southerners have a tendency for terms of endearment that have to be accepted or ignored by writers/listeners), you are a witty one so it’s hard for me to discern if you are actually unemployed or occasionally obtain “gainful employment” (whatever that buzz phrase is meant to convey) that could be perceived as ‘beneath’ you (perceived being the operative word here).

        You remind me of a long time friend who is also amazingly brilliant, witty and multi-talanted, but who prefers wailing about his mis-led life over actually being proactive in making the necessary changes that could easily make a quantum leap toward a rewarding life. Alas, he prefers ranting about his miserable life, although at times, it’s a hilarious ranting.

        The lovely and pragmatic Cheri on this blog has offered up some suggestions that seem worth considering, but you, like my brilliant/funny friend, would prefer to find a negative albeit cleaver “this-won’t-work-and-here’s-why” response.

        You have an amazing writing skill that I envy. I write daily and though I can see some skill improvement, I’ll never match your calibre of writing (and that is Okay, since I write simply because I LOVE to write). Setting up writing classes locally or via SKYPE conferences is a viable means of generating income. You have a resume that would draw those to a series of such classes.

        Expanding on this idea, there are also writers’ seminars that you could apply to and end up in cool locales all over the world, ‘teaching’ the art of writing and being paid well for it.

        That you, of all people, suffer unemployment as you contend you do, reflects a lack of creative initiative, rather than a lack of income generating skill.

        • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

          You sound like a fortune cookie. (Yes, we Northerners fancy terms of endearment as well.)

          • Madamebwolfe

            make that madame cookie and it’s a go

            • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

              Roger, MC.

  • http://andreaskluth.org/ Andreas

    If you did teach German, would this be the German you’d teach?:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTS6-lt9UBo

  • zomakay

    concerning your title announcing a pretty brutal hair-riser i can’t help but wondering if “nyc” is a variable that does play a trifle too gorily with you?

    • http://www.cyberquill.com/about.php#PG Cyberquill

      Good point. Back in Vienna, I’d probably threaten to suffocate myself in a bowl of whipped cream instead. A rather goreless procedure.

    • zomakay

      i actually didnt think necessarily about austria. it could be any german speaking or anglophone country.
      and no, that is the imperative condition: no dopey apron in no country anymore.

      its not a cracking proposal, i know, just kinda brainstorming what may be a happier end to a messy horror story. for your narration above has an open end too unsatisfying for me as your reader.

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