Thursday, July 27, 2006

more toro blondes

Last night I worked the door at Toro again for my friend Alyssa. (They're hiring, by the way. She needs a host bad. If you're cool & competent, you should check it out.) After the dinner rush died but before I was free to go home, I had a considerable amount of time during which my job was to stand there and do nothing, look pretty, and say "hello, how are you?" to customers as they came and "thank you, goodnight!" as they went. I was tired and my feet hurt and I wanted nothing more than to go home. However, when you work as a host, they pay you by the hour, so it was truly in my best interest to stay on the clock til the bitter end of my shift. So, in the interest of making myself look a) busy (Toro wants to be getting their money's worth) and b) in charge (people always mistake hosts for managers--I allow them to do this until they have a complaint or a problem, at which point I simply explain that I'm nothing more than a hostess), I decided to count the number of blondes in the restaurant at that moment.

DATE: July 26, 2006
TIME: Approx 9:23

Of the 39 women in the restaurant at that point, 19 of them were blonde. So, fifty percent of the total female population, or, 1 in 2.

As I counted, I wanted my mission to remain truly undercover--I was in no mood to explain my research or my methodology. I made my way through the restaurant, circling thru the room slowly like a blonde-seeking shark. I made my face into the blankest canvas possible, a clean yet appraising mask, and took the room in as though I were on some sort of very managerial, very important mission. In reality, I was scoping out all the other women in the room.

There were young blondes: a girl who looked maybe 23 on a date with her handsome, muscular boyfriend. They were generally a handsome couple. She had a sweet, innocent face, a stylish haircut, and seemed flattered that I was being so welcoming to them. She wore designer jeans and looked demureand cute.

There were blondes in their mid-30s: a woman on a date with her boyfriend or husband or what have you. They both wore white pants, not in a clueless European way, but in a "we're a cute, in love couple who looks hot in everything we do" way. And also in a "her boyfriend might be gay but he kinda looks like Clive Owen, so can you really blame her for trying?" kinda way. She was cool, poised, had bare, tan shoulders and was kind.

There was a bitchy blonde, a girl/woman who was most likely 28 or 29, who was so snotty to the manager Adam when he told her that we don't have a valet, I thought he just might tackle her ("Well, where am I supposed to park???" I suggested he direct her to the closest project, three blocks away.) She kept her sunglasses on well after dusk, and waved her stupid Louis Vuitton bag around as though it gave her carte blanche to be a bitch. I have no doubt in my mind that Adam couldn't have picked a Louis Vuitton bag out of a line up if his life depended on it. They weren't speaking the same language: he doesn't speak bags and she only speaks bitch. She was a bit heavier, which I think also made her act competitive towards me. (Who doesn't hate it when "the help" looks better than they do?)

There were middle aged blondes: two thin women in their 40s, looked like they might be from the South Shore, both wearing white pants and black tops, looking a little too tan, even in the low, forgiving light. Their hair was super, super light, and one of them looked like her hair had been damaged, it was so frizzy and friend looking: borderline..dare I say it...trashy. They both looked to be a 10 or 11 on the lightness scale. Too light for them. (Too light for me?)

There were older blondes: a blonde in her later 40s, whose cheeks turned pink with her first sip of alchohol, who was short and nicely dressed like a work appropriate soccer mom, but whose outfit still involved somewhat awkward looking shorts. She looked vulnerable as she sat down at the bar alone to wait for her three friends, but who lit up like a firefly as soon as the first friend arrived.

I watched these women, calculating their age, studying their blondeness: are they really naturally blonde? I studied their roots, their layers, their highlights and lowlights. And I'm almost 100% positive that not one of the 19 goldilocks were naturally so. And as I looked them all over it occured to me: they all looked as though they were trying. Trying to be something, making effort to appear a certain way. In that moment I realized that they all all undercover blondes.

When I woke up this morning I realized that I calculated wrong last night. There were 20 blondes in the restaurant, making it 51% of total blondes in Toro at 9:23 on Wednesday, July 28th. I forgot to include myself: a 20-something blonde, perched at the door in a tasteful but sexy dress, trying to look nonchalant as she ignores the imploring gaze of the 2 men who've been staring at her all night long, shifting her weight from left foot to right foot, back and forth from left hip to right hip, in a what appears to be a sexually charged gesture, but is actually an attempt to soothe her aching feet, in her stupid high heeled shoes. She tryies very hard to be something she thinks she's not. She wonders if anyone will notice.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

the comments

Today was a day for reblonding. It was my second to last a blonde, that is. After swearing up and down that it couldn't be done, that it wouldn't be done, that my color could not go a shade lighter...Jason brought me up yet another notch. I'm now a certifiable 11 on the blondie scale. Who knows if you can tell, but here's a picture.

I had lots of thoughts on my impending brunette-ness during this visit, much witty banter with stylist Jason, and of course, loads to report on the entire process of banishing the brown from my roots. Yet all of that is trumped for the moment by what happened to me once I left the salon:

They don't let you use credit card payments to tip the stylists at Liquid (to anyone who wants to make a pilgrimage to see Jason the great, please note), so I had to make a quick run to the ATM at Kosmos before getting on with my day. Standing in the crosswalk, I step gingerly out into oncoming traffic, prepared to wait, as there appears no end to the traffic in sight. But the cars on both sides of me screech to a halt, ceasing their good clip to let me pass by. Perhaps they were blinded by the sun as it glinted off my hair--in any case, crossing the street is never easier than when I leave Liquid. I see several heads turn out of the corner of my eyes as I walk, but pretend not to notice, as if it's always this way, as if I was born looking this polished and trimmed and "gorgeous" and blonde.

You see, that's how I feel today. "Gorgeous" in quotes, as though allegedly pretty, as though theoretically so. Like a different person on the inside than the one you see on the outside.

Two teenage boys are walk out of Kosmos as I walk in. Young, black, hip-hop gear, from the neighborhood. "Oh, you look so cute today," one of them says, and I'm taken off guard and I blush. "How are you today?" says the other as he holds the door open for me. I smile politely but don't say a word, and think about how unusual it is for boys this young to be so forward with me. Guys talk to me on the street all the time, especially in this neighborhood, but rarely boys as young as these two: tall, lanky, baggy clothes, cool as hell, and goofy. They can't be more than 17 or 18. The big tongues of their Nikes poke out from under the hems of their jeans.

"Oh miss, excuse me miss," the Kosmos guy says, as I try unsuccessfully to shove my debit card in the machine. "That machine is out. It's broken today." I turn my head to look at him: "Oh, thank you," I say, laughing at my efforts to suck water from a bone dry well. His tone softens, brightens, and his face breaks out into an interested smile, "I'm very sorry, miss. Closest machine is across the street," he says, with meaning and feeling, as though we're having a real conversation. He crosses the room to wear I stand, and makes a big show of showing me the Aguadilla Market, pointing earnestly at the bodega across the street. My hero. "You are looking very nice today, miss," he says. "You have a very nice day."

I shake my head to myself as I cross the threshold of the door into the fading afternoon sunlight. It's one of those days--I feel bewildered by all the comments, and though I'm mentally chalking it up to research, I can't quite get my head around it. All of this fuss...for what? Some blonde hair? And suddenly it occurs to me: this is my life.

The two teenage boys are still there as I walk out of Kosmos. I am hectic, shuffling around in my purse, trying to get my debit card back into my wallet and my wallet back into my bag, then remembering that I'm going to need both in just a moment, and make a desperate attempt to fish it back out...I'm barely paying attention, but out of the corner of my eye I see the boys looking at me and, somewhere under the sound of keys and change jangling in my purse and the litany of my own thoughts I hear them half-heartedly try to get my attention. Then, somewhere between all of these sounds slips:"Yeah, that's right, that bitch can suck on my dick any time..."

Suddenly, I don't want to be blonde any more. But I don't want to be anything else, besides blonde either. I shuffle my wallet into my purse, drop my enormous sunglasses onto my nose, and look half-heartedly to my left then to my right before stepping out into the street. I do not mind the oncoming traffic--the law of blondeness dictates that it always stops. I try my hardest to pretend I've heard nothing. I don't want to be blonde, and I don't want to be anything. I want to to bury that comment, that moment, that series of events in the rustle of receipts in my bag, in the jostle of keys and pens and iPod and notes scribbled on sticky yellow paper and lipstick and lip gloss and lip balm and while I fish out my phone, glance sightlessly at the face, and drop it right back where I found it, in the black hole of my bag.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

the kat came back

An addendum to an open letter to katherine kelly

If you read Friday morning's post, about the hellish, mercury retrograde-tastic disaster of an evening I had at the restaurant last Thursday, you'd most likely assume that we lost a lot of business that night. As anyone who's worked in a restaurant knows, word of mouth is a poweful thing when it comes to the food business: if people have a good time at your restaurant, they tend to tell 3 people; if they have a bad time, they will definitely tell 8. Suffice to say, if just half of the party of 15 that I waited on told 8 of their nearest and dearest about the multitude of snafus that happened during their dinner...well, I'll leave the math on that one up to the Mathematician, but that's a lot of people receiving negative messages about the restaurant that I depend upon to pay my bills.

When I got to work the next day, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the chef/owner's thoughts at our pre-shift meeting: "If it hadn't been for the great personalities of the servers, and their ability to do their jobs so well, I think we'd really have been in trouble last night--so thanks you guys."

I was even more pleasantly surprised to hear the following report from our Assistant General Manager, Emma, who ran into a customer I'd waited on on Thursday while out on the town a few nights later. I remembered him well--he was the English guy who sat at table 12, who was dining alone--I figured he was here on business or something. He was so sweet, and very patient, and miraculously didn't seem perterbed that his food was taking forever and the restaurant was in a state of disarray. I usually like to chat with solo diners, to make them feel welcome in case they are lonely, and kill time with them if their food is taking too long. That night, however, we were all too busy to talk, so the English guy was left to fend for himself, waiting...and waiting...and waiting for his dinner.

I assumed that Mr. England would simply go back to England and forget about us. Boy, was I wrong: as it turns out, Mr. England recently relocated from the mainland to join a local, very famous Boston-based seafood chain as their Very-Important-General-Manager-of-Managers (or something.) He's spent the past month dining out at various places in our fair city, researching food & service, and he was at 647 on Thursday to see how we stacked up. Total nightmare, right? But to my surprise, his report was overwhelmingly positive: Mr.England has apparently been very disappointed in his experience at Boston restaurants thus far, most especially in the quality of service he's received from front-of-the-house staff at restaurants throughout the city. His experience at 647, however, was "wonderful, the best he'd had in Boston to date." He could of course see that we were slammed, and he agreed that the food had taken a bit too long to arrive, but felt the waitstaff were amazing. He said we made him feel very well taken care of, and was very impressed by how we handled ourselves and our customers under such busy circumstances.

Gosh, I wonder what he'd have thought if he came on a reasonable evening?

But my weekend was truly made complete when I saw the one and only katherine kelly of katherine kelly party of 15 stroll into the restaurant for brunch yesterday morning. I had a feeling she'd be back, despite all the problems with her table, but I didn't realize how soon.

When I stopped by her table to say hello, she was as polite as she'd been on Thursday evening, and acted like all of the weirdness of her dining experience on Thursday had never even happened. She also seemed surprised that I was so worried, which kinda made me feel like we were all making a big deal out of something that actually isn't. And so, I was reminded of something that can be very easily forgotten when you're on the other side of the table, when you work as a waitress, and you actually take pride in what you do: At the end of the day, it's just food. It's not rocket science, it's not brain surgery, it's dinner. And no matter what, if the people you are waiting on are nice people, who have souls and good intentions and are actually worthy of your time and energy, they will appreciate your efforts to make them feel taken care of.

"you look like barbie!"

Last night B-lo, the General Manager at the restaurant where I work introduced me to his roommate, Tony, for the first time. We were outside on the patio, winding down with a cocktail and enjoying the gorgeous summer midnight after an otherwise slow evening, because our core clientele were all in P-town for the weekend.

"Kitty, this is Tony, Tony this is Kitty," B-lo said. "Kitty's fabulous, Tony's fabulous, you guys are both fabulous, it's about time you made friends...
"You look like Barbie!!!" Tony interjected.
"Pleased to meet you, too," I said.

Undercover Blonde reports: there were a lot of blondes in the restaurant last night, and I noticed myself feeling competitive with each and every one of them. There was a model thin blonde who looked like a poor man's Cameron Diaz, a big breasted blonde with tan skin, lots of blondes on dates, older blondes with rich-seeming husbands. After meeting Tony, however, all of those feelings of competitiveness melted away. After being likened to Barbie, I somehow felt like I'd topped them all.

I'd like to point out here that, before I started this project, I could never have imagined myself as even remotely comparable to Barbie. And though I loved to play with my Barbies when I was little, I'm not sure that I believe in Barbie as an adult. Her boobs are so big and her waist is so small, I'm quite certain she promotes an unrealistic body image ideal for young girls. And that is just so uncool.

Yet for some reason, I took Tony's proclaimation as the highest compliment.

Friday, July 07, 2006

an open letter to katherine kelly in boston, ma

Dear Katherine,

Thank you for coming into my restaurant last night with a very large party of what I presume were your co-workers.

Thank you for being patient with me as the restaurant filled up around you, and sucked up the attention I'd planned on lavishing on your table, like quicksand. We were short staffed, but that's not your problem.

Thank you for always smiling and saying thank you, and for speaking up about what you and the other members of your party needed without being bitchy. It's so much easier to be bitchy, but you weren't.

Thanks to your entire group for being young, well-dressed, attractive, and still nice. I know it sounds weird, but as all waitresses know, young, well-dressed, attractive people are often patronizing and bitchy. They can be a total nightmare, but you guys were a dream.

Thank you for your understanding when your appetizer came out of the kitchen in the wrong order. This left you full and entree-less when everyone else's dinner came. But miraculously, you didn't seem to care.

Thank you for your graciousness when two of the entrees on your ticket took extra long to cook, so long in fact that everyone was at least half-way done with their dinner by the time they went down on the table. You had every right to feel upset, and angry, and be 100% bitchy by that point, because so many things just kept going wrong with your dinner. Special thanks to the two members of your party who waited for their enchiladas and their steak, because they just drank and chatted and hung out, and seemed happy despite the fact that we effectively blew it on all counts with your food.

Thank you for acting surprised and delighted when I told you that the chef had comped your check, that he wanted to buy you those two entrees, and a few other items, to make up for the mess. Another table sent their check back angrily, you know, and demanded that their food be taken off the check because "it just took too long." They shook their heads at the waitstaff, like disappointed fathers. But you seemed so surprised, I felt surprised that you were so surprised. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to delight & surprise you, depite the fact that so many things kept going awry with your dinner.

And if you or any of the other members of "Katherine Kelly party of 15" are ever back in the South End, be sure to stop by 647 & ask for Kitty, so I can thank you in person for making an otherwise hellish night so much more pleasant.