Saturday, December 6, 2008

Steve Dublanica (The Waiter) - Waiter Rant

Having read in its entirety, I was very interested to finally read the book. However, I soon discovered that unlike the blog, which was primarily focused around the food service industry itself, the book tends to reflect quite a bit on the author's life. Perhaps it just seems this way because a blog is expected to be personal and heavily biographical, but in any case, I was disappointed to discover that the content of the book wasn't proportional to that of the blog. For instance, rather than creating a balanced perspective of fellow waitstaff, management and customers along with a picture of his own life and foray into the world of writing, this seemed to follow the waiter himself through his travels at the expense of the amusing and informative stories that attracted me to the blog in the first place (for example, a lot of attention was paid to the development of the book, although I noticed a distinct and somewhat surprising absence of fantasies about red-headed women with belly-button rings). A lot of the material in the book is fairly general, and I find that a lot of it was transmitted just as effectively (and more interestingly) through specific stories and restaurant interactions. Furthermore, the characters and relationships portrayed were some of the more dysfunctional ones, which gave the book a rather pessimistic feel rather than the philosophical and quixotic perspective I noticed online. Simply, I think I would have preferred more condensed reference to the staff and more in-depth attention to the varied array of customers and how you as a server interact with them.
It was quite good- don't get me wrong- but I can't help noticing the ways in which it could have been even better.
Having said that, I have some particular comments about the book.
"The world's a big place. You can't do or be everything, nor should you. Life is bigger than any one man. But when you read about other people's lives, when you read their stories, you catch a glimpse of a world bigger than your own. You may never travel a hundred miles from where you were born, but if you read stories, you'll get to see the entire world. You'll enter into the Great Mystery" (189).
Alternately, "'People say you have to travel to see the world. Sometimes I think that if you just stay in one place and keep your eyes open, you're going to see just about all that you can handle'" - Auggie Wren from Smoke (191).
I was a little surprised to read that The Waiter comments that "doctors say one or two drinks a day are actually good for you" (213), which is apparently true of protection against heart disease, ischemic stroke or dementia, but is also being increasingly contrasted with studies that indicate that it's a fine line and that even marginally exceeding the limit may even endanger your health in general. Besides an increased risk of "cancers of the mouth, esophagus, liver, bladder, pancreas, and colon" from even moderate consumption- and this data about breast cancer- there are the obvious concerns about "liver disease, damage to the brain and pancreas, and hemorrhagic stroke", damaging heart muscle, and the obvious and immediate results of drinking that can have terrible consequences of their own. (
Furtermore I was very surprised to notice that according to this site: , Canadian recommendations for alcohol consumption appear to be half of what is suggested in the United States (for men). I find the notion of two drinks a day to be quite excessive- perhaps I'm overly-uptight, but it does add up quite quickly to a large number of units.
In any case-particularly considering recent evidence that links alcohol consumption to high rates of breast cancer in women with certain genetics- I would be conservative rather than liberal about safe alcohol consumption limits. The highest recommended level I've found (from American authorities) is 2 drinks/day for a male (1/day for females) - but note that this is referring a specific number of alcoholic units and can increase significantly (and inobtrusively) with even a few drinks being turned into doubles or a couple of nights a week becoming binge nights. So beware, everyone out there- there is some evidence that alcohol can help you, but there is a lot of evidence that too much can hurt you. So be careful!
I was also a little surprised to discover that The Waiter himself commits many of these sins himself. Lateness, abusing his power to monopolize the POS computer (particularly my least favorite- logging out other workers while they were placing an order) and other things can only foster a sense of resentment. For all his bluster about poor management, these things go beyond just annoying personality quirks or habits- these are the kind of things that bump you from the category of "annoying coworker" to, well.. something I won't type here. Furthermore, I don't care HOW big an emergency it is- bumping other servers (especially physically) can only destroy the flow of the restaurant and inevitably disrupt the harmony of the servers. Even the Waiter's admitting to intentional flatulence didn't really bother me THAT much- since repressed resentment has to come out somehow, and it's better than spitting in someone's food- but this has effectively worsened my opinion of him personally. The worst part, however? After acknowledging these things, he excuses having lied about a dropped tampon by declaring that it's her fault because she didn't keep her "bodily functions private" (236). I assure you that if the Waiter were a female, he would be complaining about menstruation as vociferously as anyone else (judging by the myriad of other things he openly admits to complaining about), but mostly, it's so petty to justify his actions by blaming women for carrying tampons. If it weren't tampons, I'm sure he would tell her she had toilet paper stuck to her shoe- which would conveniently work any time of month.
In any case, I was a little saddened to discover that the inherent dignity I thought I had detected in his blog was either intermittent or gives way under pressure- either way, it's sad to hear that even The Waiter subscribes to the same levels of petty and unkind behavior he so harshly judges others for. And I don't care if "not doing something you're not supposed to be doing isn't a sign of virtue. But in the restaurant business it almost is" (236), because this isn't about business, and it isn't about compensating on the job for what you've suffered. It's about treating fellow human beings with some respect, and every time you bump another server- physically or otherwise- doesn't help to fix whatever suffering you've endured. It simply denigrates you to the level of those you feel you're superior to.
Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that when you promised Russell Crowe that you'd never write about him again (239), he didn't care whether or not your fingers were crossed- mentally or otherwise- and I'm guessing that he wasn't just talking about your blog. You may have waited for the book, but I'm guessing that putting something into the indelibility of print impresses him even less than a blog. Just a thought.
As painful as it must be to hunt all over the restaurant for printer ribbon- at least you should be glad to find some, even if it is beside the dried pasta (244). It sure beats running frantically to the closest store to buy basic supplies because your boss is incapable of ordering proper amounts and refuses to let you control the ordering. Or even worse, as you demonstrated, the AC and the computer could simultaneously fail. So just remember that as bad as it gets, it could always be worse.
(By the way, you seem to internalize everything into your sphincter. Interesting anatomical response to stress.)
"That's like finding out someone paid a hit man $39.95 to bump you off. It's insulting" (258). I love it. And I sympathize completely... all you can hope for is that after you leave, they'll realize bitterly just how valuable you were. Sometimes that's all you can expect.
"Restaurant owners don't have any friends. This marks you as a clueless poseur the moment you walk in the door" (290). Particularly if you call them "The Owner". I would expect them to at least request the owner by name. If they don't call him by his first name, they're obviously not friends. As the Waiter has mentioned, it's sad when people assume that just because the owner has chatted with you and appreciates the vast amount of money you spend at his establishment, they're your friend. Money can buy a lot of things, but it doesn't buy friendship. Usually.
Also- I have to disagree with the issue of men placing their cell phones on the table when they sit down (291). The only reason you wouldn't do this is if you keep the cell phone in your pocket while sitting down (which hopefully means that it's tiny enough not to leave an awkward bunch in your pants), you're not waiting for a call on silent, or- heaven forbid- you have a hideous belt-clip on your phone. I would rather see every single diner keep their cell phone on the table than have to look at cell phones dangling from people's belts, a la 1992. Furthermore, if someone wants to put their cell phone on the table, it prevents them taking 20 minutes rooting around trying to answer the phone while that "stupid Godfather ring tone" dazzles everyone within hearing range. So as long as people conscientiously move their cell phones when you're trying to set down plates and don't let them get in your way otherwise, I think having them on the table is definitely the lesser of many evils.
Additionally, I can't help but recognize the patriarchal slant of much of this book. Comments like "recovering on the couch while watching Nigella Lawson's breasts bounce" (151) doesn't offend me as much as it makes me think of you, The Waiter, as adolescent, immature and ultimately interested in appealing to only male readers. While that's not a crime, it does reduce my enjoyment of the book somewhat. Just imagine how you would feel reading a presumably gender-neutral book and finding a passage like "having time to sit on the beach and gazing at curvaceous penises". It doesn't ruin it, but it sure makes you feel like the book isn't meant for you- and I assume that alienating your target audience (which is presumably people like me, since I purchased your book) isn't your goal. You might want to keep that in mind for your next work!
Finally, I believe you used the phrase "retarded" in this book. Although I can't remember where- and I'm resisting the urge to re-read the entire thing just to find this phrase- the context is irrelevant because in my opinion, that is something that is never appropriate. Being mentally challenged isn't a voluntary state. Therefore using it as derogatory slang (or even to legitimately address someone who is mentally challenged as you do in your July 6, 2005 blog post) demonstrates that you don't grasp just how fully insulting this phrasing is. Can you imagine if someone used "Steve" or "Stevish" as a general insult? If everytime someone got drunk, tripped and broke something you said, "Man, you're Steve today" or something similar? It's not about political correctness - and I'm aware that you've worked with various types of people in need and presumably have your own considered opinions about these things- but the word "retarded" should never be uttered by anyone under any circumstances. Furthermore, how do you think it makes people feel if they have a mentally challenged child, sibling or spouse and hear you use the word as a slur? It's something nobody should ever have to endure, and hearing it used as a general insult can only be distressing to everyone aware of what that word truly entails. Imagine how a "retarded" person would feel reading this book? I can only imagine how much it would hurt to see this kind of comment used for amusement with no regard of what it actually means. At this point, "man's inhumanity to man becomes that much easier to ignore" (201)... or, unfortunately, as you have shown, perpetuate.
After reading this, it doesn't surprise me that much that other servers like Saroya aren't jumping over backwards to help you when you're in trouble (273). Sometimes karma happens pretty quickly.

Ultimately though, what distresses me most is the phrase "two-dollar Bankok whore" (187). I can only assume- from having read some of your fiction on your blog- that the insensitive 1920's detective novels have altered your sense of what is ultimately acceptable in modern prose. I can assure you with complete certainty that if you had ever actually seen a two-dollar Bangkok whore, you would never even think such a terrible thing again, much less print it. It is bad enough that young women are pressured into selling their bodies, youth, health and safety to survive (you think being a waiter is tough? Try pleasuring drunk tourists for insanely low wages when you've barely reached puberty because you have no other way to support your family), but having you so lightly refer to their plight is saddening and destroys whatever point you were making. Furthermore, as I indicated above, it makes me significantly less sympathetic to your plight of working in a relatively safe, clean environment in a restaurant in the United States when you bring up the Asian sex trade industry, no matter how flippantly. Just picture that "two-dollar Bangkok whore"- or go get a picture or watch a video if you don't know what I'm referring to- and then think about the fact that this:  

is what I think of when you say it.

Finally, if you want to be "'The best man in his world and a good enough man for any world'" (268), "Who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.'" (268), you need to do more than get rid of fear. You need to put yourself into the place of others and recognize that your comments do impact this world, and even justified cruelty perpetuates the cycle of unhappiness.

Despite these criticisms, I did enjoy this book. Through it I also got to vicariously experience some things I've never personally encountered. For example, I've obviously seen many people specifically request a certain table because it's close to the fireplace or has better lighting, but I've never seen people freak out over getting a "better" table (198). Perhaps there is some social hierarchy that applies to New York that doesn't really work in my ~1 million-population prairie town, but in any case I've never witnessed that- even in some of the more expensive restaurants in the city. Don't get me wrong- people go insane for a myriad of reasons. But table placement isn't generally one of them (perhaps we're naturally gifted at reserving our tables in advance and we're not too picky about what we end up with?)
Although I liked the book, but it didn't have the same light feeling as the blog. While there was still a lot of serious contemplation in the online posts, I appreciated their concise and interesting format. I suppose it's inevitable that a book will be formatted in such a manner that the pleasantly-fragmented style of the blog is lost, but I still can't help thinking that some of the charm of the online version was lost when it was converted to print. Ideally, I would simply have taken selective posts and printed them in conjunction with appropriate alterations rather than compressing the material into traditional chapters.
Overall, I enjoyed the book- but I would advise reading the blog as well. Together they provide a much more comprehensive view of The Waiter's opinions, and it's interesting to see the changes between a relatively quickly-developed piece of prose and the polished format of the book. It's the first blog I've ever seen converted to book form, and it's interesting to see how the transition is accomplished. Despite the issues I have with the book, I have to say "Well done, Waiter". I look forward to "At Your Service!"

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