Sunday, February 12, 2012

Generally speaking...

I was brought up by fair-minded people who taught me that generalizations are, generally, impolite.  They instructed me that to classify an entire group of people who happen to possess a common trait is an invitation to misunderstanding and prolonged resentment.  I’m passing this and other idealistic tidbits along so that my kids will be untainted by my assumptions, and the biases and prejudices that have come with age and repeat experience.  Of course I make generalizations.  Life has a way of sneaking into your parents’ ideology and tweaking it ever so subtly to be in tune with the truth...something that is usually less rosy than they would have liked it to be.  Now I know what they knew, and it’s why I’m attempting to give my kids the same blank canvas to paint.  

But not all generalizations are unhealthy, and some can even help us understand each other a little better.

So now that I’ve established that I’m not just some dick who goes around thinking you can tell everything about a person by looking at that I’ve convinced you that I don’t think it’s fair to make superficial assumptions about someone simply because of what they do for a living (I have convinced you, right?)...I’m going to tell you some general truths about your waitress.  This is the general, 98%-of-the-time-this-is-the-truth truth about your waitress.

#1.  Your waitress does not know you personally and is entirely unaware of your personal preferences.  An exception to this is: your waitress does know you personally, i.e. you are a friend, relative or repeat customer.  I can intuit a lot about a person, I’m sensitive that way.  I can get a read on whether or not you’re enjoying your day and essentially what your expectation is from me.  I can usually tell if you’re a happy person, if your heart is heavy, if you need extra attention or would prefer less.  What I can’t tell you is if you are going to like the black bean burger better than the falafel.  I don’t know you.  I can describe things for you in exquisite detail.  By the time I’m done talking about this food you’ll probably feel like you’ve already eaten it.  But asking a waitress which thing you’re going to like the best puts an undue amount of pressure on her.  Frankly, I have more faith in you than this anyway.  You’re selling yourself short.  I believe you have the strength to dig deep inside your own psyche and root around in that muck until you come up with an answer that you have meditated on and sorted out and then pulled from your pure and bright and clear and organic connection to the divine...and you will know what you’re hungry for.  If not, then this is a question for your mother.  In this age of technology I just know your mom has a cell phone at the ready for emergencies like this one.  Text her.  She lives for this shit.  Within seconds you are going to have a reply similar to this one: u r going 2 like the hamburger but not 2 well done c u sunday at ur sis.   Don’t ask me why all moms forget the rules of grammar in text messages.  They just do.  The point is, she can help you.  I’m sorry, I really can’t.

#2.  Your waitress is hungry.  It’s dinnertime.  She meant to eat before she came to work but she was helping her kids with their homework and trying to get glue out of the cat’s tail and she wasn’t really hungry anyway because it was 4:30 in the afternoon and she had a late lunch and now, oh shit, it’s dinnertime and all this beautiful food is for someone else.  There are no vending machines in the break room.  What break room?  There’s no Nutri-Grain bar in the desk drawer.  Nothing to be done, really, but keep putting one foot in front of the other until it’s her turn to eat.  At midnight.  She’s hungry, you’re eating dinner.  Be nice to her.

#3.  Your waitress has to pee.  She has had to pee for over two hours.  She’s been trying to fill her empty stomach with water and now she’s looking for that long shot two minute window of opportunity to use the restroom.  Sure, she could ask someone else to watch her tables, but she’s thinking: just as soon as I run this food I’ll go.  Whoap, extra napkins, oh, and one more glass of wine over here, more water over by one the “one-more-things” have added up and now it’s been hours and she’s starting to go numb from the waist down while some guy is holding her as his tableside hostage because he can’t just grow a pair already and make a decision about what he wants to eat.  

#4.  Your waitress thinks you overpacked for this occasion.  That’s right.  She’s judging you, and she wonders why you needed to take up a table for four people in the middle of a rush when there are only two of you.  On closer inspection, she surmises that it’s because you each needed a chair for your respective gigantic handbags.  What exactly is in those things, anyway?  This is a restaurant.  We are prepared for any emergency here.  We have food.  We have wine.  We have trained professionals who will usher you through any unforeseen calamity that might befall you here.  You can leave your hair dryer at home next time.  Here’s what you need when you go out to eat:  car keys, some money (try the easily portable kind, like cash or a credit card, so you don’t have to haul around a bunch of dubloons or something), maybe a lipstick, and your phone in case you need to text your mom about the menu offerings.  That’s really all.  We have everything else.

I’m sure that you could make similar generalizations about the people who do whatever sort of work you do.  I like to imagine them.  I like to think that all financial planners play the lottery, that all construction workers have a thermos of strong, black coffee inside a tin lunchbox, and that all grocery store checkers have some kind of vibrating device in the insoles of their shoes to tickle their feet at random intervals, operated by remote control from a panel behind those two way mirrors at the front of the store.  But I'm only guessing about these things because I have no way of knowing what really goes on in those worlds. It would be better, and more accurate, if there was an open exchange of the general truth so we can make each other’s lives a little easier.  It’s really tough to achieve sensitivity to others’ experiences when they’re dissimilar to our own.  The only way to reach understanding, and avoid inaccurate generalizations, is to tell the truth and disclose the accurate generalizations.  I genuinely want to know how I can make someone’s day a little easier by avoiding the most common annoyances of their profession.  So please, tell me what you do, and how I can stay out of your hair today.  

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