My non-career this summer landed me a job as a waffle house waitress in my hometown of Hamilton, Ohio, a position only slightly more wholesome than last summer’s minimum-wage work selling “water pipes.” Luckily this year’s employment was longer-lasting than my previous serving job, at which I got fired within two hours. That’s right. Two. It was a busy lunch rush, okay? Fortunately for me, at my new job I worked the second shift – the slowest at most Waffle Houses – and moments working six tables at once were fewer and farther between. My most frequent customer was what is known in small-town diner mythology as “The Regular,” or when there was more than one at once, “The Coffee Drinkers.”
The Regulars are a strange species, but not without many predictable and easily discernible behavior patterns. The Regular often exhibits an unabashed sense of entitlement and is prone to nasty scenes such as banging their empty mug on the table, coupled with such brutish chants as, “Can I Get Some Service Around Here?” or in extreme cases, “More Coffee, Wench!”
As you can imagine, I was appalled by these displays from what might otherwise be mistaken as full-grown, mature adults. Little did I know, the plight of the waitress is fraught with such degradation. At my own Waffle House, it hung clearly in the breakroom. Notes to the cooks were free of diminutives, whereas all those addressed to servers were headed with a bold red “GIRLS,” much to my feminist chagrin. Most disturbingly, a large poster of the Equal Rights Act loomed above of it all. I reeled in horror. Never did I think there would be a time I longed to hear the “Strong Women, Proud Women” Mills chant, but there it was.
Alas, a mantra consisting of Rascal Flatts albums mixed with the boom of orders being called (“Waffle on Two, Make One Pecan”) was the only one sounding off thte yellow tile walls. I knew I could count on this familiar soundtrack, the appearance and unruliness of The Regular, and finally, the most dreaded component of any good serving job when you are but a young “Girl”: The Lecherous Remark. In the case of younger suitors, we can refer to similar behavior as: The (Completely Uncalled For) Assumption of Dating Availability.The underlying plot of both is more or less Presumptuous Imposition.
These two things frequently deterred me from showing friendly behavior or engaging in prolonged conversation with my customers. Thus I began to implement a strict policy of The Two Smile Rule. Breaking the Two Smile Rule can quickly result in The Boyfriend Question, so it is crucial to keep it even, especially if, as in the following example, a customer is inciting you to break it by repeatedly and pointedly smiling.
After serving a father-and-son duo their matching cheese-steak melts, I noticed the son smiling so earnestly at me each time I glanced over that I couldn’t help but smile back. Maybe he is a nice person, I thought. Maybe he just likes smiling. I was wrong. “You have pretty eyes,” he whispered creepily to me as I passed with a mountain of filthy dishes.
“Why thank you sir!” I exclaimed in an insane falsetto, preparing myself for my approaching refusal as I already knew the outcome of this non-conversation. I looked at the greasy cheese-steak remains on his plate with a special scorn only similarly harassed vegans can muster.
The duo approached the register, the son now unable to wipe the increasingly-confident grin from his face. Just as I predicted, he proceeded to engage in the telltale signs of a lingerer. Now I was grinning back geniunely—truth be told, emasculating these men with a loud, firm “No Way” gave me quite the sensation of vigor.
“So, do you have a boyfriend?” he queried eagerly, unaware of his already failed Getting-Laid Mission.
“Nope,” I replied, grinning right back still. If you knew how gay I was it would make your tiny head spin, my internal monologue chirped. This is the same monologue that begs me to respond to such comments as, “Twenty? But you look so young!” with a swift, “Lesbians age well.” I have only said this once.
His face seemed ready to burst with ecstasy, completely sure now that he had won me. I had no boyfriend! I must be just waiting for him, my Waffle House Prince Charming, to come along and ask me on a cheap date. “Well, uh, do you want my number then?”
“Nope.” My grin remained but his face immediately fell flat. My internal monologue snickered.
“Uh. Wait, but you said you don’t have a boyfriend right?” Confusion clouded his face. If I didn’t have a boyfriend, how could I reject his number?
“Yes. That’s right. Definitely no boyfriend!” Desperate for the world to make sense again, his malfunctioning gears shifted into System Override.
“Well the thing is I don’t have a job right now. So my dad had to pay. Or else I would have left you a better tip.”
I stared at the two dollars on the table. “That’s okay. Have a good day!” The close encounter of the predictable kind finally ended as he trudged, completely puzzled, out the door.
Not all Presumptuous Exchanges will go this smoothly. Sometimes a Presumptuous Exchange will occur even if you follow the Two Smile Rule. In my humble opinion, the best course of action to take is one in which he feels unconsidered, looked-through and dispensible – the kind of presumptuous logic that paves the way for these disrespectful, invasive conversations in the first place. Of course, I would like to explain my disdain to these unsavory customers, crushing their entitlement forever but, being just a “Girl,” that might not work. Maybe next year I will just crack down and enact the Zero Smile Policy.