Saturday, December 29, 2007
The Christmas season is over now, which for me means an end to two months of anxiety. In my case this seasonal anxiety isn't born out of hurrying from store to store to buy Christmas presents, spending long hours trying to address Christmas cards to relatives I haven't seen in years while attempting to make them personal, or from the stress of realizing that all the magic of the holidays I once experienced as a child has long since dulled. While these all these add to my agitation in small ways, the main cause of my holiday madness is due to the fact away from my job as a professor I wait tables on the side, and the holiday season is our busiest time of year.
For two months I don't know what day of the week it is. I am only aware of what time I have to work. On an average day I might attend to the needs of anywhere from one to five hundred people. Seconds are spent juggling the needs and concerns of people who measure the time they spent waiting for their salads with nervous forkplay and looks of annoyance. It weighs on you. You become a smiling pinball. Your nerves go first.
I noticed that after a month into the season I began to experience a phenomena I had only seen in long-term servers, grandmothers and middle-aged men who still come in everyday to carry plates to secretaries and warm bottles in the coffee cups. My hands began to shake. It started as a tremor, but as the weeks passed I suffered the same fate as the long-timers. At the end of the night I would wait for a manager to appear with my check-out slip and cash shaking in my hand. My nerves had gone.
The holiday season at a restaurant has the effect on the staff that combat or other stressful situations might in that it brings out the worst in you. Every personality flaw is amplified. If someone is a racist they stop hiding it. Sweet single mothers become spiteful and suspicious. Closet alcoholics rush out to down margaritas between the lunch and dinner shift. For my part, I spent the last two weeks punching walls and staring at knives.
But its over now. My hands are steady as a tattoo artist. Wrapping paper lines the dumpsters, and the crowds have thinned. My Christmas shakes have passed, and now at my part-time job we are much kinder to our fellow man.