The Hazards of My Profession

20 08 2009

The job of table waiting brings with it certain inherent dangers. Glasses wobble precariously on uplifted trays, plates of food stray dangerously close to a table’s precipice, floors are slick from various liquids and the scene is imbued with a general frenetic chaos during peak hours.

Such physical perils I expect and do my best to avoid or mitigate the damage should an error occur. Yet, the successful earning of a large tip presents more varied challenges and I cannot anticipate all eventualities, as was the case last night.

At one table, I faced two unique threats, whose uncharted waters I found myself unprepared to navigate. In addition to the treacherous new seas, my vessel for plying such waves was full of holes created by absent-minded nature. Equipped with little knowledge of how to operate my rickety craft and surrounded by unfamiliar water, I plunged onward nonetheless in search of a calmer clime and 20 percent tip.

The table in question contained five persons, a couple in their late 30s and their brood of two kids and one infant. Husband and wife had an aura of physical vigor if not necessarily attractiveness and engaged me in seemingly innocuous small talk. Within this conversation I encountered the first of my unforeseen difficulties.

Pinned to my chest during all working hours is a name tag so that I every person I meet is automatically an acquaintance of mine whether I wish it or not. The tag also contains a piece of ancillary information, a location representing where you are from or where you were born, which in my case reads “Korea.” Most guests perceive this for the blatant lie that it is with various expressions of disbelief, wherefore I explain my recent experience teaching English in the country.

That situation had played itself out many times, but the man at this table cut short the usual string of questions and instead immediately inquired about the number and condition of Christian churches in Korea. Not an unusual question considering the number of Korean churches in Arlington Heights, I thought, and described the contingent across the Pacific as small but vocal. He then asked me if I still attended church, and I saw my tip flash before my eyes.

I fumbled my response, seeking some sort of religious middle ground and described myself as “all churched out” due to my attendance at Catholic schools and their abundance of Masses. Then, instead of ordering an appetizer or maybe asking about one of our new salads or even just lapsing into silence, he encouraged me to check out his church (surprise, he’s a pastor) so that my heathen soul might be saved. Noting my youth, he emphasized their contemporary worship and Christian “rock music.” I feared he might ask me to follow his church on Twitter.

Still, I accepted his overtures graciously and consider my financial outlook for the table bright. Yet, when I returned bearing beverages I noticed the infant of the party had been moved out of his stroller and into the arms of his mother where (under the cover of a too-small blanket) he was having a drink of his own. Or, I tried not to notice it. However, no matter where I looked, the breast-feeding baby seemed in the corner of my eye.

On my subsequent trips to the table, I kept my vision locked above the neckline of all parties at the booth with great success. As the meal winded down, I begun to relax. The honor and dignity of the minister’s wife would remain intact (and with it my tip), my eye’s not perceiving anything untoward.

I presented the family with a dessert menu and begun explaining the various options contained therein. Then, for one instant the baby pulled away from his mother, the carefully arranged blanket slide down and in-mid spiel I caught an unfortunate glimpse.

The large, round nipple of the minister’s wife filled my vision in a flash. Like the time I hit a deer driving 60 mph late at night, it appeared for a moment in freeze-frame and then vanished.

I saw it. She saw that I saw it. He saw that she saw that I saw it. Their two kids obliviously chewed on their plain cheese pizzas.

All was lost and I felt the water pooling around my legs as my brave ship floundered, rocked by two successive waves. An atheist at worst and an agnostic at best, I had now viewed a sacred sight, something ensconced by God within the bounds of holy matrimony. I had two black marks, enough to surely sink my potential earnings.

When the group finally departed the tip (and, in retrospect, the tit) made a sight I was sorry to perceive.


A Comic Con, Considered

12 08 2009

This last Saturday, I experienced a world of costumes and pageantry, celebrity and celebration, art and artists. Of course, this description is apt for only one event, the annual Wizard World Chicago Comic Convention.

A cohort of my college days has gainful employment with the magazine that hosts the event, and he provided myself and some fellow friends with free tickets to the showroom floor. A spectacle like few I have ever observed awaited us there, the nerds bedecked in costumes (some of impressive craftsmanship) from a range of comics, video games and movies served as the most fascinating visual stimulus. Big guns, giant swords and other arrays of fake weaponry dotted the convention floor like witty taunts in a “Spiderman” fight.

For the uninitiated, the events “celebrities” can induce more head-scratching than star-gazing. How excited would you be to see the original Chewbacca, for example? What about comic book writer Mark Millar? Or even Lou Ferrigno, who played The Hulk in “The Incredible Hulk” TV series?

Still nothing?

Luckily, the D-list celebrities with exhorbitant autograph fees section formed only a part of the event’s overall offerings. For comic aficionados, the so-called “artist’s alley” stood out as the prime attraction. Up-and-comers in the world of panel-sized storytelling packed this area, displaying their finest wares and exhibiting the scope of modern-day comics, which goes beyond the realms of sci-fi and superheroes into more existential territory, like the coming zombie apocalypse. Joke aside, current comics are a medium capable of covering some complex subjects, like “Unknown Soldier” a book about Uganda’s civil war written by Joshua Dysart and illustrated by Alberto Ponticelli.

The final leg in the con’s three-part stool was a large contingent of vendors, some local, selling box upon box of comics old and new. For those in the know, they represented a chance to uncover hidden gems or complete long-held collections. For those knowing not (like myself), it meant absently sifting through a box or two and then ambling away to check out the chick in a laced-up bikini-vest, mammoth battle axe, hoofed feet and a pair of devilish horns.

The con’s most lasting impact occurred after the show, many beers and two “Star Wars” movies into the night later. Present at the con where a host of psuedo-celebrities, wrestlers, thespians and good-looking women, barely famous for some act or appearance in the distant past, who currently made at least some money shelling themselves out for events such as the con. A ferocious (though friendly) debate emerged among my friends and I about the influence and presence of such figures, their overall impact on American culture and the feelings incurred by seeing such a mass of them in one place.

The issue polarized us into two camps, one side sickened and disgusted by the shameless glorification of people who had, in reality, accomplished very little and a general bemoaning of the American infatuation with celebrity.

The other maintained that, in general, most of these low-rung actors where just people trying to make it by any way they could and most likely not really making a whole lot of money from such an event. Moreover, there’s nothing wrong with being a fan of something like, say “Star Wars,” and therefore choosing to pay money to feel like a part of the film by meeting some of the people who participated in it.

I believe either case has its merits and both can present meaningful arguments. So, I ask you, dear reader, how do you see the role of these “celebrities” at an event such as the comic con? Would you pay $50 for an autograph by Edward James Olmos? In a larger sense, what do you think of the American cult of celebrity and its effects on our culture in general?