Tom Robbins – Genius Waitress

Of the genius waitress, I now sing.

Of hidden knowledge, buried ambition, and secret

sonnets scribbled on cocktail napkins; of aching

arches, ranting cooks, condescending patrons, and eyes

diverted from ancient Greece to ancient grease; of

burns and pinches and savvy and spunk; of a uniquely

American woman living a uniquely American compromise,

I sing. I sing of the genius waitress.

Okay, okay, she’s probably not really a genius. But

she is well-educated. She has a degree in Sanskrit,

ethnoastronomy, Icelandic musicology, or something

equally valued in contemporary marketplace. Even if

she could find work in her chosen field, it wouldn’t

pay beans–so she slings them instead. (The genuis

waitress is not to be confused with the

aspiring-actress waitress, so prevalent in Manhattan

and Los Angeles and so different from her sister in

temperament and I.Q.)

As a type, the genius waitress is sweet and sassy,

funny and smart; young, underestimated, fatalistic,

weary, cheery (not happy, cheerful: there’s a

difference and she understands it), a tad bohemian,

often borderline alcoholic, frequently pretty (though

her hair reeks of kitchen and bar); as independent as

a cave bear (though ever hopeful of “true love”) and,

above all, geniune.

Covertly sentimental, she fusses over toddlers and old

folks, yet only fear of unemployment prevents her from

handing an obnoxious customer his testicles with his


She doesn’t mind a little good-natured flirting, and

if you flirt with verve and wit, she may flirt back.

Never, however, never try to impress her with your

resume. Her tolerance for pretentious Yuppies ends

with her shift, sometimes earlier. She reads men like

a menu and always knows when she’s being offered

leftovers or an artificially inflated souffle.

Should you ever be lucky enough to be taken home by

her to that studio apartment with the jerry-built

bookshelves and Frida Kahlo posters, you will discover

that whereas in the public dining room she is merely

as proficient as she needs to be, in the private

bedroom she is blue gourmet virtuoso. Five stars and

counting! Afterward, you can discuss chaos theory or

the triple aspects of the mother goddess in universal

art forms–while you massage her swollen feet.

Eventually, she leaves food service for graduate

school or marriage; but unless she wins a grant or a

fair divorce settlement, chances are she’ll be back, a

few years down the line, reciting the daily specials

with her own special mixture of warmth and ennui.

Erudite emissary of eggs over easy, polymath purveyor

of polenta and prawns, articulate angel of apple pie,

the genius waitress is on duty right now in hundreds

of U.S. restaurants, smile at the ready, sauce on the

side. So brush up on your Schopenhauer, place your

order–and tip, mister, tip. She deserves a break


Of her, I sing.

Tom Robbins

Playboy, 1991


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