won the battle, lost the war

if we are tired, we work anyway. if we have papers to write or schoolbooks to read, we work anyway. if we are hung over, feverish, nauseated, dizzy, deathly ill, we work anyway.

we prepare for battle as soon as we arrive, making sure everything is in place for the onslaught. when it comes, we run and throw things and yell and call each other names. we chug water as though we never will again, drink black coffee in mass quantities. we move quickly past one another with practiced efficiency, never colliding, never breaking. tactical errors are made, insults are hurled, rules are changed. liquid splattered, knives wiped, wounds bandaged.

in the end, our faces and clothing are a mess, our hair tangled, our hands sticky, lacerated, burned. we sit down together, exhausted and starving, for beer and food.

the thing that’s always fascinated me about waiting tables is how seriously everyone takes it, how emotionally and physically taxing it is, how much like an all-out war it can sometimes be, and how it’s all in the name of a temporary experience. the opponent customer will eliminate their medium-rare steak and bottle of merlot within twelve hours, will pay their credit-card bill within a month, and within a year or two, will not remember having been there at all.