As I see it, my options for this update were either a poster for "The Waterboy" or Velazquez's "The Water Carrier of Seville", and as usual I favored the more pretentious choice.
In both of my new jobs, either as a Milkshake Technician at Carl’s or as a busboy at Bella Fresca, people keep asking me how I’m liking the work so far. And the obvious answer is, “Well, I’d prefer it if you paid me the same hourly wage to sit around at home and not work, but until that happens, this’ll do”, but that makes me seem even more jaded and antisocial than I already am, so I usually just say, “Oh, yeah, it’s a lot better than my job last summer!”
In the fine dining hierarchy, the busboy occupies what is pretty much the lowest possible position in an industry dedicated to being a complete stranger’s personal servant for a few hours. At Bella Fresca, my job is to quickly and quietly remove the customer’s empty plates once they’ve finished eating and then wipe down and reset the table after they’re gone. The only time I’m trusted with something the customers are actually going to put in their mouths is when I make the rounds with my pitcher of icewater and fill up their glasses with the cheapest thing on the menu. The cooks prepare the uniformly delicious food that Bella Fresca is known for, the waitresses make pleasant conversation and form a bond with the customer, yet the busboy’s primary purpose is to be seen and not heard, and maybe not even seen, if at all possible.
Now, this is not a bad job by any means – in fact, I think it’s what we’d call a good job. I get free meals, and there are few things classier than sitting on a folding chair in the parking lot behind a fine restaurant, eating a free bowl of garlic crusted chicken and thumbing your nose at the hobos in line for the bottle return at the market across the street. Also, unlike my coworkers at the car dealership where I worked last year, the people here are actually kind and respectful, and they don’t brag about how many women they’ve impregnated or make fun of me for going to college. Last, but by no means least, I get paid ludicrous amounts of money to do what I do. The brilliant thing about making $10, count ‘em, $10 an hour is that it’s very easy to look at the clock and calculate exactly how much money you’re making over the course of a given period of time. If I spend ten minutes eating my free dinner, then I’ve just been paid $1.40 to eat a crazy delicious meal that would ordinarily cost $17, which is what happens at every meal in Heaven.
However, there are inherent difficulties in being a busboy. For one thing, Bella Fresca is about as spacious as a German U-boat; it scarcely had room for the customers and staff (two cooks, a dishwasher, and three waiters) before I arrived and it certainly doesn’t now. During busy periods, the staff have to operate with all the clockwork and efficiency of, oh, I don’t know, the crew of a German U-boat perhaps, and the result is a graceful dance as we dip and weave around one another in a frenzied attempt to launch the torpedo of Fine Italian Dining at the RMS Lusitania of our clientele.
The other, considerably larger problem is that human beings in general just drink too damn much water, and as the person in charge of refilling water glasses I really wish you’d all slow down just a little bit. Water is my primary responsibility as a busboy – the waiters are too busy dealing with consumables that aren’t piped into the building for a nominal monthly sum, so I spend most of my time standing quietly at the back of the restaurant and scrupulously analyzing the water glasses of our customers, which is probably unimaginably creepy to the hungry thirtysomething who wants to enjoy his shrimp scampi without being leered at by a mute, poofy haired water bearer in a black apron. The rule my boss gave me to follow is that as soon as a customer’s glass is one quarter empty (or three quarters full, depending on perspective), it’s time to boogie on over (or shimmy, or shuffle, or sidle, or ollie, or whatever it takes to navigate the maze of tables and people that is Bella Fresca) and refill their glass. Once I’m at the table, though, I’m supposed to refill everyone’s water so as not to imply favoritism or negligence, and by the time that’s done somebody else has probably quaffed 25% of their water and I’m off to do the same thing again. Of course, this is far better than the alternative, which is merely standing observantly at the back of the restaurant, pitcher in hand, and willing someone to drink enough water so that I actually get to do something. This usually happens when things are slow and there are no plates to be cleared; at times my boredom has led me to neglect the three quarters rule and start refilling customers’ glasses even sooner, to the point at which it’d be a better idea to just set the pitcher down in front of them with a straw and tell them to have fun. So really, I guess I shouldn’t be griping about people drinking too much water – nevermind me, go back to drinking as much as you want.
I suppose the main reason I’m complaining about refilling people’s water is that it’s really a pretty fruitless gesture, when you think about it. How many of you honestly go into a restaurant and just dive right into that glass of icewater, drain the whole thing, and sit there thinking, “God, when’s that busboy going to come along, I am dying for some more water!”*? I’m betting you don’t, unless you’re That Guy, Mr. “I Only Drink Water, Because It’s The Best Thing For You!” Let me tell you, That Guy, you can go straight to hell – I have very few vices to make my life interesting. I avoid drugs and alcohol and women avoid me, therefore not drinking enough water is about the only really risky thing I can do for myself at this juncture. Whenever I go to a restaurant the water is, at best, a temporary diversion until the real drink arrives, and then water is really just sort of a backup drink, an ice cold respite from calories, color, and flavor. I don’t know, maybe you might take a sip every now and again, but once there’s a distraction on the table you really don’t give a flying fuck at a rolling donut about your glass of water. But then, suddenly, out of nowhere, here comes a busboy, intruding on your personal conversation to reach through your field of vision, grab your barely depleted glass of that liquid you don’t even care that much about, and clumsily fill it again, all while muttering apologies and not making eye contact! Does that bug you? It always bugged me, and now I’m the guy doing it, and let me tell you, it’s a little odd to be on the other end of the situation. Also, given the cramped nature of the restaurant and the awkward placement of some of the tables, I’ve had to more or less hug customers to grab their water glasses off the table for refilling, and have at other times risked involuntarily groping patrons in the pursuit of their continued hydration.
*Actually, Alexander did that very thing at a Sharis one night. He made a point of chugging his glass of icewater every time it was filled, mainly to spite the busboy, or his body, or maybe even water itself for all I know, and eventually drained three full pitchers before we had to rush his shivering, nauseated self home. For the record, he’s been invited to attend West Point.
I like my job as a busboy for the same reason I like my job cobbling together desserts out of lactose and sugar: I can see the direct result of my actions. When I was pressure washing unpurchased gas guzzlers at a car dealership last summer, I felt as though my hard work was essentially futile, and while I’m more than willing to get paid to do a job that ultimately has no point, I’d need to make a lot more than I was making back then. At Bella Fresca, however, I feel like a necessary part of a big Rube Goldberg machine designed to deliver tasty, carbohydrate rich foods to hungry people, even if my only function is to clear away empty plates to make room for full plates and fill the occasional glass of water. I enjoy work more when I’m working toward some sort of greater purpose; I also enjoy work more when I’m making $10 an hour.
Truman Capps not only made a reference to 19th century literature in the title of this update but also an art history reference in the accompanying picture – he now commands that you bow down before his giant brain.