it’s not a good idea to think about it.
especially when you’re dumping stacks of dirty plates into the bus tub and tossing used knives and forks into the silverware presoak. but when the fuzzy pink presoak splashes back and hits you in the arm, it’s really hard not to think about it.
you have a terrible cold, and when you have to sneeze you make a dash for the waitstation so as not to spray disease all over the customers. alyssa is there, assembling cups of coffee for one of her tables as she mutters lines from the big lebowski under her breath. grabbing a napkin, you lean on the waitstation counter and sneeze into the corner. “who the fuck are the knudsens?” alyssa says to the decaf. you head for the bathroom to wash your hands again.
as you pour cabernet into glasses that have been touched by thousands of lips and tongues, you try not to think about it. when you overhear a woman at the table saying, “so it’s not like the kids are with my mother, it’s like my mother is with the kids,” you try instead to think about what it must be like to have kids, to drop them off at your mother’s house so that you can go to dinner with friends. your mother would wish you’d bring the kids over more often until you did, at which point she would wish you’d bring them over less often. you look down and notice that a few cold globs of cheese and some mysterious glistening brown lumps are stuck to the surface of the table.
you gather up the dirty dishes from one of your other tables, stacking them on your arm. one of the women at the table points at the half hamburger left on her plate along with the leftover fries and smears of ketchup. “those burgers are really good,” she says, “but way too big. listen, i didn’t touch that half, so you’re welcome to try it if you want.” you thank her politely and make sure she doesn’t see you throw it away.
back in the waitstation, the other waitresses are talking to the busgirl, marta, who speaks mostly spanish and very little english. what starts with them asking her about the spanish word for the verb to get turns into their explaining to her what it means to “get some.” giggling as they talk to her, they struggle through bang, fuck, and do before she understands. “ahh!” marta says. “sexual.” they laugh. it’s excruciating. you sneeze again. the check in your hand is covered with chocolate stains from the last melted bite of someone’s dessert, and you are now unable to avoid thinking about it.
on a busy night, there are at least a hundred people crammed into your restaurant. they’re sitting in little clusters around tables of various sizes, they’re talking amongst themselves, and they’re all eating. caesar salads. calamari. new york strip steaks. seafood enchiladas. pan-seared tuna with asparagus risotto, masticated inside a hundred different mouths, mingling with saliva and mucus and bacteria and food particles from today’s lunch. as they take bite after bite after bite, plates and forks are smeared with the sticky evidence of the fact that a sickening number of digestive systems are all in the same room, all churning simultaneously. it’s nearly audible.
on your way to the kitchen to throw away a dripping handful of used coffee creamer cartons, you pass the bus tubs again. the silverware tub is full, almost overflowing. forks and steak knives and soup spoons stick out from the filmy pink surface, amid floating ramekins half-full of tomatillo sauce. it’s a cutlery shipwreck. a gastronomical oil spill. you can almost see the microorganisms feasting on the wreckage.
sick and exhausted and sad and disgusted all at once, you’re not sure whether to cry or throw up. running for the bathroom before anyone sees you, you choose the former.