This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Ties Undone by Gwen L. Williams As she looked out the window, wondering about things that she didn’t need to know, she ﬁddled with her apron. She untied and retied her apron several times. Then she inspected her necktie for stains even though she knew it was as clean as the day it came off the rack. Then she untucked and retucked and untucked the linen napkin in the back of her pants. She untucked and retucked her tail. A tail was what they called it. Every shift, prior to receiving permission to serve the community, prior to receiving permission to become for a few frantic, mind-dulling hours a server, they checked to see if the server had a tail. The store issued linen napkin tail. And that wasn’t all. There was also the check for the regulation black shoes, black socks, blacks pants creased, black belt, white crisp pressed oxford with buttoned-down collar, a tie—your choice, get creative— snugged properly in place around the neck, the store issued apron, the store issued name tag, and a smile. She turned from the window and walked to the drink station. She wiped the counter where someone had dribbled soda. She straightened the basket of straws. She checked the ice bin. She began to hum a tune, realized she wasn’t humming a tune, and sighed. She walked back to the window. She leaned her shoulder against it, folded her arms across her chest, and waited. She waited and waited. She was, after all, a waiter. But not in the sense of the waiting that she was doing at that moment. No, for she was waiting for the host to seat a table in her section. Waiting and waiting. She waited patiently there, shoulder against the window, arms crossed. Earlier, when the thirty-minute mark of waiting for a table had passed her by, she had approached the assistant manager and told him about it. She was miffed. She had arrived at work before any other servers. She had brewed the coffee and iced tea. She stocked the ice, sliced the lemons, polished the teaspoons, and hauled the glassware. She had hokeyed the ﬂoor. And yet for some unknown reason, thirty minutes had passed and she hadn’t a table. The assistant manager acted as managers are taught to act: he acted concerned. He nodded his head at appropriate times. He clasped his hands together as if praying at appropriate times. He smiled the store issued smile. As they spoke, she became increasingly annoyed with the assistant’s seemingly smooth handling of a disgruntled employee.
Ties Undone 2
He spoke of fairness. She wasn’t talking about fairness, she was talking about making money, about paying the rent, about earning a living wage. But it was about fairness, that’s what she was talking about. No, it wasn’t about fairness, it was about work, she came here to work, she wanted to work, she needed to work, she needed the money. But it was about fairness, fairness, that’s what she was talking about, fairness and meeting obligations. She knew all about obligations, he didn’t need to tell her about obligations. Obligations, ha. And she didn’t give a ﬂying fart about fairness, she wanted a table. His obligations were to his employees, he needed to make them happy. No, what made his employees happy was getting tables, she would be happy to get tables, she would be thrilled beyond belief. He understood how she felt. He didn’t know how she felt, he wasn’t making $3.09 an hour, she couldn’t live without tips, she needed tips, she wanted a table. He valued her as an employee, she was a very good server. Of course she was an excellent server, she had been in this business a long time and like all excellent servers, she wanted to serve, servers serve, she was a server, she wanted to serve a table. He stated he would take care of it and walked away to apparently do so. He had returned ﬁve minutes later with the news that the host had screwed up. The host had accidentally missed her section in the rotation. It was all taken care of. The whole time he delivered this news, she glared at the splotch of unknown origin adorning his left shoulder and said nothing. To be sure, people make mistakes. And mistakes are forgivable. So the host screwed up. So she didn’t have a table. Big deal. But that was at the thirty-minute mark. She walked over to the computer station where servers entered their orders. She touched the screen. The screen displayed the time. She had been waiting for almost an hour for the host to seat a table in her section. In other words, she had been at work waiting for an hour. And waiting patiently. She had been a patient waiter for one hour. At $3.09 an hour. She briskly walked the whole restaurant, hands behind her back and a smile on her face. The smile on her face was so courteous it bordered on hostile. She nodded to customers seated at the tables. She smiled and nodded, nodded and
Ties Undone 3
smiled as she walked and counted the tables sat. There were twenty-ﬁve tables of customers throughout the whole restaurant. Twenty-ﬁve tables. She walked to the list of servers hanging at the host stand and counted the number of servers currently working. There were ﬁfteen, including herself. She quickly made the calculations. Fourteen servers were serving twenty-ﬁve tables (fourteen because she had none), which meant damn near every other server, all the other servers, had two tables. Two tables a piece and she had none. She snorted and turned on her regulation black heel of her regulation black shoe. She walked quite full of deliberation to the drink station. She wiped the counter where someone had dribbled soda. She dumped the used coffee ﬁlter and grounds into the garbage can. She checked the ice bin. She examined her ﬁngernails. She unbuttoned her buttoned-down collar, loosened the knot of her tie, scratched a spot on her neck under the collar, resnugged the tie, and buttoned the collar back down. She tapped a little beat on the counter with her ﬁngernails. She grabbed a straw and tore the paper wrapping from one end. She brought the straw to her lips and blew the paper sheath off the end of it. It propelled through the air about six inches before sadly dropping to the ﬂoor. She looked up from the straw wrapper littering the ﬂoor and met the eyes of a woman with a paisley scarf ﬂung across her shoulders. The woman glared and then sniffed disapprovingly into her coffee. She bit her lip as she considered grabbing the coffee pot and warming the snooty woman’s coffee with the courteous smile she’d practiced with precision for years. She marched with deliberation over to the window, ignoring the straw wrapper littering the ﬂoor. She leaned her tail against the window and crossed her legs at the ankles. She slouched. And as she slouched and leaned and looked, quite frankly, unusually sloppy, she thought of several things at the same time. The get-out-of-debt plan she had systemically scheduled for herself. Her aunt’s varicose veins popping through her nylons after thirty some years of assembly work on her feet. Her mother’s humpback and banged up feet. Banged up and gnarled like the roots of an old tree. The bunion that had appeared on her own right foot. Her degree. Her college education that the majority of her relatives were more excited about than she. Her belief that all jobs were degrading in some fashion or degree. Her comments about the indignities of waiting tables being somewhat easier to suffer than the indignities of the insurance clerk. That at least everyone clearly knew by just looking at waiters that they were servants. There was no pretense to it. It was
Ties Undone 4
quite clear. Her knees and the way she cradled them practically close to tears after working doubles. The ache in her knees so deep and intense and constant that only sleep would take it away. The gray hair that sprouted from her eyebrow over night last week and her discovery of it the following morning. Being told she looked younger than thirty-ﬁve and her strange reaction of being insulted. She had survived for thirty-ﬁve years thus far and wanted credit for it. She wanted every year lived to be apparent, every day to count. The insanity of waiters earning more than composition instructors at the community college. The insanity of that but also the perfect sense it made in these days. These days when she was asked during inspection—do you have your tail? She watched the host seat two more tables, not in her section, as she slouched and leaned her tail against the window. Tables twenty-six and twentyseven. She quickly paced the same triangle several times: from the window to the drink station to the computer. Her tail and apron strings ﬂapped like little ﬂags she paced so quickly. She had the suffocating sensation of claustrophobia, of being trapped, of tottering at the edge of something drastic and full of sheer panic. She had the suffocating sensation of becoming a bear penned at a zoo, swaying and pacing a triangle over and over at the corner of its pen, under the constant vigilant scrutiny of zoo-goers. Her ears pounded. She dashed to the computer. She touched the screen. She had been waiting in excess of one hour for the host to seat a table in her section. Sixty-eight minutes, to be precise. She unbuttoned her buttoned-down collar and loosened the knot of her tie. She clutched at the knot in her tie and swallowed back a noise that would have proven embarrassing: it would have been either a laugh-shriek or a laugh-sob. It seemed she had prepared for what was to happen her whole life. The meaning of all her past experiences, her convictions, her decisions, her reactions, her actions, in other words, her whole life up to that very moment, seemed a preparation for that moment, for the act she was about to do. The decisive and ﬁnal act she was about to do. Or maybe not. Maybe the act was simply impulsive. Her ears pounded as she punched in the clock-out mode and entered her employee identiﬁcation number. Incredibly, the computer screen asked her to enter a dollar amount for tips claimed. She jerked on the knot of her tie until it slid to the center of her breastbone. She claimed $0.00.
Ties Undone 5
She ﬂipped her collar up in the manner of a hoodlum. She turned her tail on the computer screen for the last time in that restaurant and bolted toward the front door. Her tie ﬂipped over her shoulder and ﬂapped behind her like a scarf she bolted so fast. As she bolted, she tore the apron and tail from her body—her impeccably pressed oxford became somewhat disarrayed as a result. Near the front doors, she came to a stop where the general manager and assistant manager and host chatted. As usual, the general manager and assistant manager looked as ridiculous as they were. Perched on their heads: the ridiculous paper hair nets that looked like shower caps. She resisted the urge to ﬂing the store issued apron, tail, and nametag recklessly in their stupidly dull faces. She resisted the urge to slap them. Instead, with exaggerated ceremony given the situation, she tucked the nametag into an apron pocket and folded the apron and tail neatly. Then she patted the garments as if she were applauding. The general manager inquired what this was about. She declared she was leaving. He said she was joking. No, she was quite serious. She was leaving just because she got missed in the rotation, just because she didn’t have a table. Servers serve, she came here to serve, to serve tables, she needed tables, she didn’t get any tables, she was leaving. So business started kind of slow he said, she would get tables, business would pick up. It wasn’t slow, there were twenty-seven tables in the store, twenty-seven, and none of them hers, apparently too many servers were scheduled as apparently she wasn’t needed here today. Again he said she was joking. No, again, she was quite serious. She was serious. Yes, she was quite serious. She was leaving. Yes, she was leaving. She didn’t want to be here. She absolutely did not want to be here. So this was it, after a year and a half, this was it.
Ties Undone 6
Yes, quite frankly, this was it. The toastmaster ﬁnally realized the situation at hand and ended his discourse by saying with a shrug, “Well, alright.” And she walked toward the front doors, her necktie ﬂuttering over her shoulder. And she walked free of her tail, nothing riding her ass but the never ending bills to be paid and the knowledge that the choice to go or to stay wasn’t really a choice at all. Just before she stepped out the door, she turned around and squarely faced the gaping idiots in the shower caps. They knew no shame, standing there in those ridiculous caps like battery-operated dolls. In a voice tottering on the edge of something wild and utterly chaotic, she roared, “The managers are wearing clip-on ties.”