Psst. Hey kid! Let me tell you something:
You don’t have to feel bad for me.
You don’t have to feel sorry for me. You don’t have to comment on social media that you feel either way for me because your pity is misplaced. I’m not sure why Zoomers think their pity is the sting they think it is, but don’t tell me you feel bad for me.
Feel bad for you.
You need that pity, not me.
I have a way better projected outcome for the rest of my life than you do in pretty much every single aspect of it, from economics, to health, to relationships, to job satisfaction, than you do.
For example, I’m part of a generation that was actually able to pay off their undergraduate loans in their lifetime with entry level jobs that paid a decent wage. I’m actually part of a generation in which it’s still predicted that at any age, I will be healthier than my predecessors AND I still have a higher life expectancy than my predecessors. I got to have a childhood and adolescence that was completely offline. No one can dig up all the dumb shit I did as a teenager and make it appear as if it exists in real time. No one (probably) has the photographic evidence anymore. I have a freedom and peace of mind that you will never, ever experience. You will never know what this is like to experience in real time. We got to have this interesting time called “the teen years” in which you weren’t expected to be entirely grown up lest you draw the ire of the entire world upon you. Even if you were not white or not wealthy, you still had more of a chance to just be a kid.
We didn’t have to be so serious about things.
We never had to go to school online all year round on Zoom of all things.
We didn’t desire to wear our grandmother’s jeans or her eyeglasses.
We didn’t have to perform responsibility as much as you to the point where we tried to shame adults as if we were the adults, not the actual adults.
And you’re never going to get these years back, by the way. There’s going to be a point in your later adulthood when you’re going to realize that as a generation, you missed out on crucial aspects of childhood, but now you can’t go back and just spend your time on social media posting stupid pictures of you and your friends as you are just for the joy of it because you’re working 60 hours a week for starvation wages because Boomers are somehow still alive in their 90s and voting for those fucking 90-year-old Boomers in Congress who will. not. retire.
So calm down when you have the opportunity, because you’re only going to have fewer and fewer carefree moments the older you get.
It’s okay if we don’t agree on stuff.
Not everything needs to be uniform, and things still have nuance, and it’s not bad to talk about nuance or the way things are not neatly put in boxes. I don’t think I’m sexist if I don’t like the form of blackface, brownface, and yellowface that influencers and MUAs sell their followers in order to hawk various cosmetics products (also, your contour and highlighter just makes your face look dirty in real life, by the way) even if creating almond-shaped eyes for yourself or creating much bigger lips for yourself through the power of makeup makes you feel good about yourself, and I don’t have to apologize for that or stop and consider if there is someone, somewhere who is hurting right now but has very poor boundaries and would take my words poorly. You don’t have to feel sorry for me because I’m too old to reshape my brain into yours in which I take into consideration some strange responsibility to whip out my tit and wetnurse the entire world with every move I make and every word I utter. Feel sorry for yourself for having to be the generation that has to do that now.
You don’t have to feel sorry for me because I think pets are ruled by the 6th house and not the 5th, or because I’m still actively trying to keep myself unaware of pop culture as much as possible. There’s a million ways to live — just ask Cat Stevens — and I know that Gen X stupidly taught you that your opinion matters no matter how ill-informed or unformed, and that Millennials stupidly taught you that being offended is a whole personality, and it’s great that you’re woke and aware to the extent that you are, and that you are hyperfocused on equality, but I’m still alive at the same time you are, and I get to experience the world changing in real time, too, so the only thing you might have over me is that the relative youth of your bodies – and I say that with hesitation, because I actually didn’t grow up in the childhood obesity epidemic, can afford to buy fresh food after paying my bills, and have nice health and dental insurance that I can and do take advantage of – and bodies are diminishing returns.
And I’m actually still relatively young. I’m really only at the cusp of my half-life – I’m at the border of the first half and the second half – and I got here without much permanent damage. Some scars, some stretch marks, some questionable tattoos I’m removing, but not much that isn’t reversible. I was born before the allergy epidemic was really a thing. I don’t have asthma by some miracle even though I was raised in a cigarette cloud. I got all my standard vaccines as a kid because conspiracy theories were conspiracy theories back then. There wasn’t a pandemic to interfere with my youth, although 9/11 was a big fuck-it-up moment, I will say.
The rest of us are relatively doing better than you are.
So when you “feel bad” for me, it’s a waste of time. Feel bad for you.
Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should.
So here’s a controversial topic:
Should you pre-bus your own table? I mean this:
Do not do this. This is gross. You don’t need to do this.
I personally hate it when people do this, and I hate it when I’m with somebody who does this because it’s embarrassing to be sharing a table with someone who insists on doing this.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and it’s:
Miriam I feel so bad for youuuu they’re just trying to be helpful this is common courtesy!
No, it isn’t. That’s not what “common courtesy” means.
Common courtesy is the thing you’re expected to do in any place, in any situation.
For example, whether you’re at Denny’s or Buckingham Palace, it’s common courtesy to hold the door open for the person behind you and not let the door slam in their face as you walk in. It’s common courtesy to cover your mouth when you cough.
However, going out to eat is the same as eating at home, as if stacking your dishes on the table like you would in your kitchen sink is a good thing.
No one can see anything wrong with the dishes being where they’re supposed to be when it’s just you at the table finished eating, but when you pre-bus your table, you’re making an aesthetically unpleasing spectacle for everyone else.
Well, here’s a thing you’re best off learning sooner rather than later:
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, and just because you think something is helpful doesn’t actually mean it’s helpful to the person you’re trying to help.
This is not a good idea.
First, I hate this because I used to work in a restaurant, and I always used to hate having to pick through somebody’s dirty dishes to rearrange them so I could carry them away. I hated having to do that while they beamed up at me pretending that they actually helped me while I’m getting their food remnants on my hands, which I wouldn’t have had to do if they had just left the dishes on the table like a civilized person who knows how to eat in a restaurant.
And I had no choice but to rush over, because when you stack your dishes up, it signals to the management to hurry up and bring you your check; you’re ready to go. Don’t think it does? Try working in any restaurant.
While this is a behavior you might be able to look over if you’re at IHOP, and I know that teenagers think this is helpful because they really haven’t had demanding and demeaning jobs yet, if you were anywhere nicer than the places teenagers go to eat, it’s really awkward when you’re with somebody who pre-buses the table, especially when you tell them not to touch your dishes. They usually do this by explaining something like “I used to work in a restaurant” as if no one else has done that in college, and as if anybody gives a shit. Everyone used to work in food service at some point, and by the time you’re a lawyer and you’re on a date or you’re out having dinner with someone, having once had the same low level job everyone else did shouldn’t be a bragging point. I mean, lots of people used to work in grocery stores; do you try to scan the items for the cashier, do you loudly declare that you used to bag groceries for money when you’re at the grocery store, bagging your groceries? Do you go to the bookstore and start rearranging the shelves when you see something out of order, proudly declaring that you used to work at the college bookstore?
No? Because that’s weird? Because it’s only something a child would think is okay to do?
So why the fuck do you think the same behavior is okay in a restaurant then?
And I used to bus tables and then wait tables at a Perkins in my first year of college, and there is nothing worse than on a busy night passing all of these tables with these stacks of dishes that I would have to stand there and undo while the people sitting there and stared at me. Because there was never a time where I could just take the stacks and put them in the bus pan and just go bring them to the dishwasher. I had to dismantle each one and get food on me, or I could only bus one table at a time, leaving only one clean table at a time, which meant groups of people standing in the waiting area as the hostess stood there waiting for a clean table. And if your server picks up the pile of dishes like that and then drops them off in the bus station, the dishwasher now has to pick through your gross ass pile of dishes in order to properly stack the dishwasher and throw out your food and your half-eaten cheese and all that other shit they wouldn’t have to do if you just let them do their jobs.
None of this would have happened if you didn’t insist on doing the waitstaff’s job for them.
It’s actually faster for them to clear a table that doesn’t have a strange stack of dishes than one that does.
And by the way, stacking cups in the number one reason they break, especially if you put cutlery in them. Instead of simply sweeping dry cutlery into a bus pan, now someone has to reach into your germ-ridden cup and pull out the wet cutlery.
No one wants to handle all those bowls that now have food on the inside AND the outside thanks to your help.
And interestingly enough, these guys who “felt my pain,” never left good tips. Ever. As if camaraderie was going to pay my bills instead of you know, money.
And really guys: that’s what you should be doing if you actually want to help: tipping for good service.
America is not a classless society.
But this is really what I love about this argument, because where you are on whether or not you should pre-bus your table shows where you are on the class divides we insist don’t exist. It’s not that I don’t want to help my server, but I think the best way to actually help a server in a tip-based job is to leave a good tip. I suppose if you can’t do that, then you stack up your dishes, which to me would make sense:
I can’t actually pay you for good service, so I’m going to do part of your job instead, so that way I don’t feel bad.
Then maybe you should stay home and eat at home?
This basically admitting that the job sucks and we ALL know it sucks, it’s demeaning, it doesn’t pay enough, it requires groveling and leaves servers at the mercy of the diner, but you’re not going to stop eating out at shit restaurants or do something actually helpful, like demand that servers make a living wage, or at least something better than $2.10 an hour, through activism.
We know your job sucks ass, but we’re not going to vote or do anything material to help with that, but we will do a very small portion of your job and pat ourselves on the back for it as if that means a fucking thing, and then call it “common courtesy.”
But I assure you: pre-bussing your own table is not “common courtesy,” because it’s very much not wanted in some places, especially places where servers actually make a decent wage.
When I lived in Korea, there was a woman I worked with who insisted on doing this in every single restaurant we went to, despite the fact that it was well known that in Korea, if you do it, you’re telling the rest of the establishment that the waitstaff is lazy. We tried to tell her these things; she would insist “oh but I’m helping because I used to be a waitress blah blah blah…” even though every time she did this, it embarrassed the server, who literally had to run over to the table to undo her stack at the table so the boss and the other patrons wouldn’t see because if this idiot kept stacking up dishes, the server would get in trouble.
Sometimes, they would run over in the middle of her doing this to take all the dishes away so she couldn’t continue this, and they would nod as she tried to explain, in English, how she used to be a waitress and was trying to help, and blah blah blah.
“but I used to be a waitress, so I understand how hard it is blah blah blah…”
By the way, so was I, briefly, and so was like, pretty much anyone else we went to dinner with.
Interestingly, a lot of restaurants in Korea would recycle any of the fermented banchan, since the fermentation killed the germs, which is why banchan didn’t cost anything, but they always had to throw it out because she would stack all the banchan dishes on each other, scraping the banchan from one dish into a big gross pile that she assumed they were going to throw out.
And the restaurant usually were pissed off at us because she did this because she created more work for them and made the dishes more messy than they were if she had just left them alone.
And the thing is, if you really don’t want your plates in front of you, you can simply ask your server to clear them, and they will.
Why am I harping on this? This seems like a personal problem, right? It actually is. This is a particular act that seems to trigger my imposter syndrome, which, with Saturn transiting Aquarius in my 12th house, is operating at full blast. Do I count? Have I made it yet? Am I…self-made? And what have I made, and is there room for more, and what is holding me back?
I have to admit that this gives me a particular type of anxiety, because I feel like when I’m out with someone who insists on doing this, our origins are showing, and I might as well start having a very loud conversation about the way government cheese tastes, or how you’re lucky to still have all your teeth at 40 years old let alone be a shade of white, or what it’s like to have your parent’s clunker break down in the middle of the road on a hot summer day en route to the county fair on the only day with free admission.
Stacking up your dishes at a restaurant is a class distinctive behavior, and when I’m with someone who insists on doing this, my imposter syndrome intensifies, and I feel like I’m with Navin Johnson at the restaurant demanding fresh wine and aghast that it doesn’t have an umbrella in it. No matter how much you work and sweat to do the things that pull you up, there will always be the feeling that you don’t belong, because you will always, always, let slip something that lets people know where you came from and in ways you don’t realize until you’ve lost control of it.
And it’s very difficult to control another person who thinks it’s a source of pride to identify with an exploitative job such as serving food in a restaurant.
And don’t tell me it’s not exploitative, because if it wasn’t, there would be no shortage of people willing to go back to work in the food service industry.
But I can’t control what other people will do, and I don’t always stop and question my behavior before I do it to make sure it’s appropriate to the person I’ve become.
For example, I can avoid telling people about my mother serving Ramen noodles for dinner regularly (cooked, dry, with the season packet sprinkled on top), and I know that nice watches don’t have batteries in them, and that the best way to handle a conflict is not with a confrontation where you run your mouth and try to intimidate the other person. I know that the way to solve a financial crisis isn’t with having yet ANOTHER baby you can’t afford to take care of, and that smoking three packs a day, and getting drunk after work every day isn’t normal adult behavior.
But in the past, I have ordered steaks well done because I was raised to think anything less was raw food (because we didn’t good cuts of beef growing up, and I never had a decent steak until I was in my twenties), and I have served guests pasta with Parmesan cheese that is already grated and comes in a green container, and I tend to write small and use up as much space as possible so I can use up fewer legal pads even though they’re free and it would probably make my notes easier to read. When I lived in a nice high rise in Jersey City, I put out a rag rug that I got at the dollar store because we had one at home and Boho wasn’t in style yet, and someone had to tell me not to use or save the wire hangers from the dry cleaner or the clothing store because they’ll mess up your clothes. I remember being in college when I learned that I was lied to, that WIC wasn’t just free money from the government given to all women with little kids, and I was in first grade when I found out that big punch card I had to carry in the lunch line was because my parents didn’t make enough money for pay money for my food.
I was I think nine or ten when someone finally taught me that you’re supposed to brush your hair from root to end or that it’s not normal for people to get their clothes from random garbage bags left on their porch by people from church or from school, or sometimes just from absolute strangers who heard from someone else that they can leave their old clothes on this porch and the family will take them. Sometimes people would drive up unannounced or unexpected and just call from their car window that they’re here to leave clothes, like we’re the Salvation Army.
I would playing outside with my siblings and a person I may have seen once or twice from church or somewhere else drives up, and with their car idling, expects my siblings and I to stop playing and retrieve black garbage bags from their car as if we’re a concierge service, so they don’t have to come to the house and do something like, speak to my mother.
But my mother would take anything, and we’d rummage through the bags, and if it sort of fit, and it was clean enough, it was yours, and hopefully it wasn’t from a classmate who will recognize it and demand it back later in the week, not knowing their mother gave it away, and demanding it back, or just quietly telling everyone how their mother made them give up their clothes because so-and-so is too poor to buy their own.
That’s a very specific sort of humiliation.
And they would beam at us, with their bags of clothes that often weren’t even washed first, that had rings around the color and makeup and perfume and stains, as if to say “look at me stacking up this junk for you to take away! I’m helping!” wanting a hearty thank-you! for this generosity, this garbage that was now ours whether we liked it or not, this pile they made that we have no choice but to take from them and play along with the conceit that they were doing us a favor.
My mother was like 60 and working full-time with no children to take care of and she was still taking dowdy old dress suits from old ladies at church who insisted on seeing her wear their old clothes each Sunday. Perhaps that was the most embarrassing — not having it simply pointed out that you’re wearing a specific person’s cast offs, but rather that it was a point of pride for them to “help you” by insisting that you make them feel like a real mensch by acknowledging how nice they were by giving you a pile of junk, because it was their junk.
And then I see someone piling up the junk on their table in a restaurant, insisting that they’re “helping” the worker and that to criticize this is to criticize the pure spirit of charity, and I just want to push the whole mess off the table and see it crash and hear it shatter, then ask the people at the table if they’re willing to get on their hands and knees and pile it all up now: on the floor, on their hands and knees, where no one can see how they’re “helping.”
And I know that a lot of people who think this are really just kids; I’m annoyed when it’s a full-grown adult (30+) who does this kind of thing.
And I’m just doing okay now, and I know Rick will never pay me back everything he stole and swindled from me, but I kind of assumed that when he was alive, too, though I didn’t have access to enough stuff to know the extent of it, but eventually it’ll all be paid back, and I’m of a certain age where I still have the luxury of thinking this is true.
And if I really, truly feel it’s necessary, I can cash out my 401k and pay back my law school loans, so I have that going for me.
I’m a lawyer who is also an essential worker, so I have that going for me.
And I have a pretty decent side gig that I like (want a reading?), and Chicago’s housing market isn’t that bad (yet).
No need to feel bad for me. I’m just being a weird old Xennial who has lived to 41 with all the richness and complexity that any accumulation of years will bring, stacking up the dishes in my kitchen sink that I really need to wash before I go to bed.
It could always be worse.
I could have to be young right now, nothing in my pocket except my sense of moral superiority, as if there was no wakers to rouse the woken already up before the dawn’s light…
…and that trades for zero dollars, which just about the same value as a young person’s pity for me.