hi, what can i get for you?

lately i’ve been thinking a lot about labor (in the sense of employment) and entitlement/ownership and bodies.  i’ve been noticing how my body travels differently to, from, and through these spaces.  it requires shifting gears, changing how i expect to be treated by the people i come in contact with, preparing myself for inevitable interactions with other bodies.  sometimes it means a costume change.

i recently started working at a bubble tea cafe near campus.  yesterday a middle-aged man with wispy hair and a balding head came in shortly after i began my shift at 2pm.  he ordered a regular cup of hot loose tea, and sat at the bar for hours–sometimes reading, sometimes chatting with other patrons, but mostly gazing unblinkingly at the employees while we made chai shakes and tea lattes.  occasionally he tried to spark up conversations with the other two women that i was working with, but thankfully we only had two direct exchanges.  the first was brief–he asked for water–and the second happened after i rang him up for another cup of tea:

“what are you doing after work?”
um, more work. (i had the closing shift at my work study)
“are you in school?”
yes.
“what’s your major?”
american studies.
“what’s that?”
it’s the study of race, culture, and ethnicity.
“why’d you decide to do that?”
because that’s what i’m interested in.
“oh.”
pause
“i like your tongue ring.”

and then i made an excuse to go into the kitchen.

having to ‘serve’ people complicates my understanding of my body.  i often forget that working in the service industry (and i use this term loosely) means that i’m just part of the scenery.  somewhere among the flavor powders, fruit concentrate syrups, and white chocolate chip cookies is me, and just because i live and breathe and have my own consciousness doesn’t mean that i am not on display.

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2 responses to “hi, what can i get for you?

  1. bare deep.

  2. Thanks for this post – Marilla sent me over here. I feel for you, in the “service” industry, being part of the scenery. I had a plastic smile as a caterwaiter last year (as I was finishing my film), and was once told by a man, “I can tell you’re too smart for this work… your mouth is smiling, but I see it in your eyes.” You know what, write a book, motherfucker, and take this scallop off my plate.

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