The Fear of Losing a Crummy Waitressing Job
In a dream I’m lifting bus buckets,
arms brimming liquid sludge
while the credit machine shuts down
and the party of seventeen walks out
without tipping, and I don’t wake
until the fourth alarm.
I’m still in my underwear,
dressed in my finest hangover
after last night’s post-shift, shooting
shit with the cooks who all have girlfriends
that secretly despise me
for hanging around so late, and I search
for a pair of black pants in a pile
of black shirts caked
in day old mustard, search
for lipstick in yesterday’s pockets
when I know all customers
and the job is tedium.
I’m clawing through apron piles
of rolled dollar bills for my eyeliner
because really there is no light
in the job other than that glance you get
from behind a kitchen window
from a cook you’ve already slept with
on a drunken occasion, or a wife
watching her husband while he watches you
walk away, your back pockets stained
with mysterious condiments.
There really is no other point
in rushing there.
The Dunkin Donuts behind my Apartment Building
has my black iced dark roast ready
before I fully enter the door.
The cashier with acne scars
who always looks on edge quivers
his wrists and says “how’s it going”
and I say “not bad,” and it goes
nowhere from there
because that’s conditioning: nobody
is conditioned to speak at Dunkin Donuts,
nobody is expected to know names.
That’s a local coffee-shop thing where they ask
about your kids if you have them
or your job if you’ve ever mentioned it.
I don’t have kids
and don’t particularly love waiting
tables, especially today when I’m hung
-over with contact lenses still glued
in place and a cigarette waiting to be lit
but the small Puerto Rican girl with the beautiful
freckles doesn’t ask questions
and today the manager with the graying orange
hair and blue eye-shadow is yelling
at a new girl for ringing in two coffees instead of one,
and I wish it wasn’t so entertaining
to watch the heat rise
to the girl’s cheeks
while the manager’s eyes bulge
in that way that says “I’m in control now”
because I’ve been there before
in so many jobs
where I hated heavy female
managers because they were always
the most volatile towards girls
who wore eyeliner and small jeans,
but there was a comfort
in the top-20 playlist
on loop, and the anonymity of ticket
numbers, and that one spot to fixate
on in the distance beyond
the coiled line of construction workers
and antsy children, especially on mornings
like today where there’s a fight
between two teenage girls in the parking lot,
and a Coolata just flew from
a parked car window.
Servers walking Home at Night
To the cat-calls erupting
from the slowed SUV,
we deal with slobs all night
and know how to walk away
from a shattered pint-glass,
a baby’s persistent howl,
a man who wants something
we don’t sell. We carry keys
bunched like knives,
Travel-sized hairspray cans.
Desperate weapons, but we make a living
darting between trashcans.
We make a killing
on our feet. We clock in
knowing certain things will happen,
like large parties
who don’t tip. Five babies
in one booth. So to the bodies
swaying in the gas station
glow, we’ve clocked out.
To the crowd emptying
from the strip of bars,
we reek corn oil
and drugstore makeup.
Let us have this one.
Mary Benson currently lives in Somerville, MA. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University with a focus in poetry in 2013. Her writing often stems from experiences in various service industry jobs, a working class upbringing in rural New Hampshire, and strange fragments of childhood memory.