Letters in the Spirit of the Age

1. G’s letter to the editor

This is in response to the “Have You Seen My Server? Good Service, Not in This Town” letter to the editor published last week. First of all, I am appalled that your paper would publish such an outright attack on a whole group of hard working citizens who are making an honest living. I might add this group of hard working citizens includes a lot of single mothers struggling to make ends meet. Are you above reproach?

Secondly, are there not more vital issues to tackle? Such as snarled traffic jams on the business loop, education of our youth, the numerous scandals of which our county commissioners seem driven to pursue. But no. The paper has decided it far more important to degrade and belittle the working class. It is obvious that the writer of that letter has never had to work in the restaurant business. Even more: it is obvious the writer is employed by one of the giant corporate money machines in town, which I shall not name because everybody knows what companies I refer to (and you’d probably edit the names out anyway).

How do I know the writer works for one of those unnamed giants? Well, I am a server, one of those so called “dull, rude, boxes of rocks” that “can’t even spell service.” Never mind that I am like a lot of servers in this town who are working their way through college because we can’t qualify for federal loans. And I personally know how employees of those corporate giants tip: lousy. I run into people like them all the time.

Here’s a scenario: after delivering “impeccable service”(their words) to a table of four, one of them asks if we take Visa. I say yes, of course we do (who’s the box of rocks here?). Then he asks if we take green cards. His clever line has stunned me. I politely say, excuse me. Then the man’s wife says, “Dear, stop that. She probably doesn’t know what a green card is.” We all really roar now at such display of wit. What can I do? Clobber her with my cocktail tray? I can do nothing but be civil to the idiots I’ve been serving because they are my paycheck. And, oh look. The clown quartet has left a 10% tip! Where else can one have so much fun being the butt of a mundane joke and make so much money to boot?

Which leads me to the real point of this letter: Obviously a large portion of this city’s population are living twenty years behind the times. That is, they think 5–10% is a wonderful tip to leave a server.

Let me make it clear: the starting wage for a server is $3.09 per hour. The server with a kid must work 6 to 7 hours to buy that kid one pair of new shoes. The server going to college must work the same amount of hours for a tattered, used, paperback textbook. Obviously servers hope to keep the utilities turned on by earning tips. So let me also make this clear: the industry standard gratuity rate is 15–20%. In larger metropolitan areas this rate is 20–25%.

Maybe if the diners in this town tipped as they ought, thought about whether what they are about to say to their server is really funny or just plain mean and humiliating, they would find servers to be “more cordial” and less apt to “give them looks like they could clobber them with cocktail trays.”


Normal, Illinois

2. catalyst

One might have thought that G’s letter to the editor served as a catalyst to a revolution sweeping the servers in town forward, onward, and upward to new undreamed of heights in economic prosperity. And perhaps this was part of G’s intention: to educate the public on the economic plight of servers, thus appealing to the public’s sense of good citizenship and in turn, causing better tips for all servers. Certainly her statements of the facts regarding the wages of servers and industry standard gratuity rates point to this intention. And in some respects, one could say that her letter was revolutionary in that it started skirmishes in various sociopolitical arenas.

3. the spirit of his age

Many would consider Stravinsky’s work to have caused a revolution in the history of music. To be sure, the riots which spilled into the streets after opening productions of Sacred du Printemps (Rite of Spring) were most certainly a shocking event following a shocking important event in music: the performed composition itself. But the place of compositional excellence ala difference that Stravinsky’s occupies in the history of music does not necessarily prove his music was revolutionary. Defining, challenging, innovative, rupturing, the spirit of his age, certainly. But revolutionary?

4. in the letters to the editor conversational parlor

A reader of the paper, possibly one member of “the clown quartet” or an employee of one of those unnamed giants who was a frequent diner and notorious under tipper, fired off a response letter indicating that G’s letter was proof of the hostility diners had to face when attempting to have a nice quiet evening out on the town. Let us call this response letter 1, or RL1. RL1, in less than 500 words, also made a correlation between G’s hostility and the general overall moral decline in the country, evidenced by shrinking church congregations, crumbling family values, and the teaching of evolution in public schools and universities.

RL1 provoked RLs 1A, 1B, 1C, & 1D: all of which spun away from G’s letter to the editor toward other issues of import. RL1A disputed the shrinking church congregations claim by providing statistical data on the increasing concern college students and other young people had for matters of religion and the increasing numbers in new members under the age of 25 joining churches. The RL1A letter was quite impressive overall, considering the inclusion of statistical data, biblical proverbs such as “turn the other cheek” and “the meek shall inherit the earth,” and the open invitation to G and “all despondent servers out there” to attend a sunrise service. RL1B took up the general overall moral decline in the country claim and connected this to the scandalous county officials G referred to and proceeded to blow the whistle on a suspected parking meter scam conducted by meter maids in cahoots with one of the commissioners. And we are most happy to report that RLs 1C & 1D led to yet more letters to the editor on those familiar dead horses worth beating some more: evolution versus creation and guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

The paper published a second response to G’s letter, which we shall refer to as RL2. The writer of RL2 was a member of the class action suit that G’s letter metaphorically represented: this writer was a server. The purpose of RL2 was quite clear: not all servers are the passive-aggressive personalities that G clearly was: not all servers detested their job as G clearly did: not all servers who are mothers are single mothers: “all diners looking for professional service with a smile should come to Kessler’s and ask for Shirley”: and had G ever considered taking Prozac. RL2 was a powerful blow against G’s letter claiming “economic and psychic oppression of servers city-wide” even with the hard sell on Kessler’s and personal rewards Shirley stood to gain from it. G hoped “the clown quartet” would visit Kessler’s soon. RL2 also touched off another string of letters one is always pleased to see on the opinion page: psychological and therapeutic advice from a whole range of professors and practitioners. A somewhat strange but not entirely surprising letter was RL2K which called for the installation of metal detectors at the doors of all public places, restaurants and barbershops included, as well as espousing the benefits of healing vis-a-vis inhaling potpourri.

5. revolution according to Stravinsky

Stravinsky was once asked if he considered himself a revolutionary composer, his work, a revolution in the history of music. He replied by telling a story of a farmer he knew in France. He and the farmer were discussing revolution. The farmer said that he had lived through four revolutions in France, all of which were fought for the purpose of revolutionary social change. But the farmer said after each revolution, his life remained essentially the same as before: he worked the same fields, lived in the same house, ate the same food, and wore the same clothes. After four revolutions, the farmer found himself essentially living the same life he’d always had: in other words he had remained in the same place.

From this, Stravinsky derives his idea of revolution: that which circles back to the same beginning place. Needless to say, Stravinsky was quite reluctant to call his work revolutionary. Instead he liked to refer to his work as inventive as he certainly viewed his music as not that which circled back or returned to the same beginning place, but rather as music that went some place other than its beginnings.

6. the search for G

I know two servers named G whose only connection, as far as I know, is that they are both servers named G: G, the letter writer and G, a server at B — — , who did not write the letter. After G’s letter to the editor was published, G from B — — ’s average tip % rose dramatically. It seemed that G from B — — ’s coworkers started a rumor throughout the local restaurant workers’ grapevine that she was the writer of the letter to the editor. Contrary to Shirley from Kessler’s interpretation of G’s letter, it seemed there were plenty of servers throughout town pleased by G’s letter to the editor. At least that is what G from B — — reported. Local restaurant workers made it even more of a point to generously over tip G from B — — ’s such that for two weeks she earned well over 25% every shift she worked. She was thrilled and in no time, found herself lying and telling anyone who would listen that she was indeed the author of the letter. After the two week period of prosperity, G from B — — ’s tips declined back to and leveled off at her usual, respectable 16–17%.

G, the letter writer, enjoyed some minor celebrity at her place of employment, especially among her fellow servers and the fringe element of high school bussers who successfully concealed tattoos, pierced tongues, and smoking habits from parents. But G’s coworkers soon forgot about the letter and returned to their lone gunslinger attitudes that the best servers always seem to possess (“bring em on, I’ll take that table if she doesn’t want it, another 10 top — no problem”). So G enjoyed some tangible benefits from her actions: for a short hiatus, the best table-rustlers respected her section.

Then just when G felt certain they wouldn’t, management got wind of it. After a thorough twenty minute investigation that conflated police interrogation, religious confession, and counseling techniques, G’s manager decided to transfer her back to Banquets where it was hoped she would be less of a risk to the company’s reputation for providing excellent guest service. Besides, G had been one of his best employees and he was fairly certain G wasn’t about to clobber anyone with a cocktail tray. One might even say that he agreed with G’s position in that he laughed about it and genuinely wished his servers would make more money (good servers stay where the money is). But he did not let G know that he basically agreed with her position: this would constitute fraternization with subordinates, a grave ethical misdemeanor which as a policy, he avoided at all costs (a carry-over from his stint as a Navy Seal that he found perfectly applicable to business). A small victory for G (and possibly servers everywhere): G’s coworkers managed, without even trying, to avoid mentioning G’s identity as the letter writer to any management personnel for a solid two months.

For three months, the restaurant reviewer for the paper asked for a table in G’s section at every restaurant he visited. Of course this led to confusions on several occasions for the local editorial page was not as well read as the reviewer would liked to have believed, nor did all the restaurants employ a server named G. There were, in fact, several hosts and hostesses who had no idea, and never would, of the existence of G’s letter to the editor. The hosts and hostesses who had read or heard of the letter quite simply probably forgot of its existence in the midst of doing their jobs dealing with: seating plot graphs, reservations that didn’t exist, customers being placed on a wait and who were snarling about it, toddlers pinching their calves and snagging their nylons, apologizing for butchering names of customers, and scores of no shows (both employees and customers): while always, at all times, smiling. The reviewer eventually forgot all about G and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the G’s I know eventually waited on him and provided outstanding service.

One can only hope that all other servers named G throughout the city had the luck of both G’s I know. That is, we hope no servers named G got fired over the letter to the editor.

7. Sacrificial Dance

Carl Sagan chaired the committee that literally sent Stravinsky soaring into space. The Sacrificial Dance movement from Rite of Spring is one of the twenty-seven pieces of music launched in 1977 from its beginning point, earth. Stravinsky’s destination: to travel via the Voyager spacecraft beyond our solar system to the remotest regions of the universe. Imagine — Stravinsky is truly among those celestial bodies, the stars. One of twenty-seven pieces of music hurling across the universe — approaching infinity.

8. the impact on servers working for progressive companies

Interestingly, servers working for three of the largest franchise and chain restaurants throughout the city were exposed to G’s potentially revolutionary letter to the editor by their employers. That is, G’s letter made the break room bulletin boards: no small achievement. Of course her letter was posted with bold motivational comments along the margins: DON’T LET THIS BE YOU, WINNING I$ ALL ABOUT PO$ITIVE ATTITUDE, and DO YOU THINK G IS EARNING HER POTENTIAL? One of the companies even implemented a new phase in their training program: a grueling three hour employee empowerment session where server trainees role-played difficult customer situations. This new training phase also emphasized team-building between the front and back of the house: the server trainees played the servers and back line cooks, dishwashers, and the bookkeeper, the difficult customers.

9. a revolutionary letter in the spirit of the age

Based on the farmer who taught Stravinsky a meaning of the word revolution, one might conclude that G’s Letter to the Editor was indeed a revolutionary letter in spirit (the attempt to educate and through education, cause social change) and perhaps revolutionary in effect — given the ineffective results of this letter whereby all persons concerned essentially remained in the same beginning place from where they had all began.