Behind the Pepper Mill

I’m your server tonight. Not what you might imagine at first: a young person, struggling through a UK undergraduate degree or one whose fate does not include higher education—a working-class stiff living to serve you. No, I’m decked in dress-black, holding a pepper mill, and delicately narrating your specials, but I’m knocking at 40’s door, a veteran teacher, Ph.d candidate, and —cover your tender ears—but probably smarter than you are. How’d I wind up here? Well, life morphs us funny ways, and my way kind of woke up about 35, a departmental chair in a private high school who was tired of learning to be expert on her own. All of a sudden, I wanted to be sitting in the presence of someone brilliant who could lecture to me—instead of me scraping to learn on my own and impart wisdom to my classrooms full of young women. I wanted to know more, and the cost was putting on an apron—again—like I was 20, and working as a TA ‘til I either earned that Ph.d or figured I’d heard enough of what others had to say. But, ironically, what’s been the bigger education may have been what’s happened behind the apron in one of Lexington’s finest eateries, filled on and off with horse people, politicians, business folk, and—yes, men and women out for a leisurely meal before a message or yoga class—those folks with afternoons as open as prairies, who have no idea that I and my peers have devoted the late morning and afternoon to their crabcake lunch which cost, on average, $12 and makes us a whopping two dollars, which brings our hourly wage to $4—did I mention my two Master’s degrees? How much I love to comment on student papers—when I find the time? My point is that I’m not the person you think I am, as I grind pepper on your two-dollar salad.

And , even if I were who you assume I am, I think I might deserve to be—to earn minimum wage, to get more than a condescending nod from you. But when I realize what waiting tables does to one—inside—I think I know why you, Herr Customer, don’ quite get it.

What I mean to say is, even my peers don’t know who I am, don’t see a person in me—so why should you? Perhaps, permeated by our culture’s ideas of what a service worker is, perhaps I don’t even recognize this me, cinched into an apron and acting however you want me to act. Cinched and choking, I am a me who strangles the me who knows anything to death.

It may be that in serving you, I can’t help doing a disservice to me. Perhaps I’m thinking about it all too much. Perhaps you don’t think about it enough.

—A Lexington Server n