Photo Shoot

It’s eleven o’clock in the morning and I’m walking towards the intersection of Spring Street and Sixth Avenue in SoHo. It’s a hot, humid day and sweat is already starting to soak though my polo shirt and khaki pants. Normally I wear t-shirts, shorts, and flip flops in this kind of weather, but today I’m meeting a photographer from an online magazine that’s running an article about my book. I have to look nice. I even shaved.

This is my first photo shoot as a published author. I’m excited, but I’m also ambivalent about having my picture taken. On a good day the camera makes me look like a constipated man on his way to the gallows. On a bad day? Don’t even ask. But there’s another factor that’s making me uneasy — people are finally going to see who I am.

For the past four and a half years I’ve been anonymously chronicling my exploits as a server in a white tablecloth restaurant on a website called Waiter Rant. I wrote under the nom de plume “Waiter” because I didn’t want my customers finding out I was writing about them and start leaving me bad tips. But as the website grew more popular and attracted media attention that eventually resulted in a book deal, the effort to keep my identity under wraps became more intense. Remember that scene in film Munich where the paranoid Israeli spy’s hiding in a closet with a loaded gun? Well, things weren’t that bad, but you get the picture.

I have read that many authors, especially first time writers like me, get nervous just before their work is published. While I’ll cop to checking my Amazon rankings with heroin junkie compulsivity and reading customer reviews until my internal organs start surging up my throat, I also have a source of anxiety not many authors have to deal with. I have to worry that one of my old customers is going to run up to me at a book signing screaming “You sat me next to the men’s room on purpose! Now you’re gonna get it!” I know it isn’t on the same level as the stuff Salman Rushdie has to worry about, but hey — aggravated Foodies can be just as bad as Al Qaeda.

When I reach the intersection I see a pretty young woman looking cool in a short linen dress and holding a camera that costs half as much as my car. I figure she’s the photographer so I introduce myself.

“So, you’re the mystery waiter,” she says, her face breaking into a smile.

“Yep,” I reply. “And you must be the photographer.”

“That’s me.”

“That’s some camera,” I say, admiringly. “How many megapixels?”

“Twenty-one.”

“Wow,” I reply. “That must’ve cost a bundle.”

The young woman rolls her eyes. “You have no idea.”

“If you fall you’re gonna shield the camera with your body, right?”

“You better believe it,” the photographer replies. “I keep telling myself I should insure it, but I can barely insure myself.’

“Lot of that going around,” I reply.

The photographer suggests we walk around SoHo and find a nice café to serve as backdrop for our pictures. As we walk down the busy, steaming streets I tell her what a bad photographic subject I am.

“Don’t worry,” the young woman says. “I’ll make you look good.”

“But can you Photoshop the sweat stains out of my shirt?” I ask.

“That’s easy.”

As we stroll through SoHo we stick our heads inside several restaurants but the photographer rejects them for a variety of reasons. “This place is too gaudy” she says of one garishly decorated bistro and dismisses several outdoor cafés because, “The light’s bad.” I can’t take a decent picture of my dog so I defer to the young woman’s expertise.

While we search for the perfect spot, I ruminate on what’s going to happen to me over the next couple of weeks. I’ll be doing book signings, print and radio interviews, giving a talk, and maybe even appearing on television. While I realize I’m very fortunate that my book is garnering all this attention, I’d be lying if I said the publicity doesn’t scare me. No, I’m not worried about Foodie hit teams making a run at me in Barnes & Noble. I’m worried because I put so much of myself into this book. Parts of my life will be exposed for everyone to see. While I’ve been doing this anonymously on a blog for a long time, it’s a different ballgame when people know your face and name. I guess all the pictures and interviews are concrete reminders that my anonymity’s going out the window. There’s no going back now.

“How about that place?” the photographer says, pointing to a restaurant across the street.

I shake myself out of my funk and look. The restaurant’s a French bistro straight from central casting. It’s perfect.

“Sure,” I say. “Let’s take a look.”

We walk across the street and peek inside the restaurant. The bistro’s empty except for several bus people enjoying their midday meal. The photographer’s happy with the light levels and backgrounds so we go inside and ask the manager if we can take some pictures. He graciously says yes.

As the photographer sets up her equipment, I listen to the bus people talk in a mixture of Spanish, English, and Portuguese. The clatter of silverware on china and the laughter of hardworking people getting ready for a busy shift start lulling me into a sense of security. I smile to myself. When you get down to it, restaurants are the same everywhere. And even though I’ve never been inside this place, it’s starting to feel like home.

As my perspective is cleansed by the familiar sights and sounds of an industry I know so well, I begin to realize it’s a good thing my anonymity will disappear. I’ve done everything that I can do. I wrote the best book I could. I might be venturing into unknown territory, but my agent, publisher, editor, and publicist know their stuff and are watching my back. I’m in good hands. I’m overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude that I’m even getting this chance. Besides, I’m old enough to know this little joyride won’t last forever. I might as well take my Mom’s advice. “This time will never come again,” she said. “Enjoy it.”

“Ready to get started?” the photographer asks.

“Ready,” I reply.

“Let’s try a few pictures of you sitting at this table.”

“Okay,” I say, sitting down.

“Put your elbow on the table,” the photographer says. “And lean forward.”

I follow the photographer’s directions and stare into the camera lens. “Should I smile?” I ask.

“Just try and look natural,” the young woman says, her finger moving toward the camera’s shutter button. “Relax. This is going to be fun.”

My face breaks into a smile. This is going to be fun.

The camera clicks and whirrs — capturing a moment in time that will never come again.

Man, I hope I don’t look constipated.

This entry originally appeared as a guest blog post at Powells.com. It describes events that occured before my book’s publication on July 29th.


Comments

Photo Shoot — 40 Comments

  1. Yeah, smile, you earned it. I just finished the book now. I enjoyed it – and getting to know you as a real person. Thank you.

  2. Glad to see you’re happy with the direction you’re going. I finished your book in one 24 hour period and loved it. Enjoy the fame. :)

  3. I know I said earlier that I just got the book, but…I just finished it lol. IT’S AWESOME. There were some parts I had to re-read because I was like “Wait…what?”, but most of the time the flow was really nice throughout – I enjoyed all of it!

    Rock on Waiter.

  4. Waiter! What a wonderful book! Thanks so much for sharing your life with us – May every happiness come to you! I have an overwhelming urge to ask every waiter where we go to dinner “hey, did you read Waiter’s book?” I sent the links to everyone I know, and hope you are on the NYT best seller list for months to come! Enjoy these days of reward and fame – and keep writing! All the best! Barb

  5. Roll with it, run with it and enjoy it. Where will the photos be posted? I want a looksee. I’ve been reading your blog so long I feel like you are an old friend, just now stepping into the light.

    The book is great, too!

  6. I read your whole book on a 12 hour flight, it was that interesting! It was great to learn about your life and the personalities behind the people you worked with at The Bistro… keep up the good work!

  7. Again, Waiter, amazing book and I even managed to get it set up on one of our endcaps at the bookstore I work at.

    I’ve been recommending it to anyone who will listen

  8. smile, gleam, posture, do whatever you want because you’re getting the opportunity of a life time that many of us in the service industry will kill for: a chance at accomplishing something that ensures we never have to wait on another person ever again.

    enjoy it waiter. don’t get me wrong, i like this line of work but nobody ever said as a child “i wanna grow up to be a waiter.”

    you’ve earned it. reap the benefits. just don’t stop what you’re doing as we’re all looking forward to you future works.

  9. Who says this time may never come again? Once a writer, always a writer. You could do detective fiction, but I hardly have to tell you that…

  10. I just ordered your book yesterday from a friend who works at Barnes and Nipples…kinda worried reading it will give me waiternightmares I am sure you are aware of these terrifying scenarios of forgetting someone’s app or refill…I haven’t waited in a restaurant for a full year now I can’t believe it after 22 years waiting and many more in the biz…hence the fear of waiternighmares…I am in Fla so many “guests” look at you as a server not even a waiter & worse HIRED HAND…grrrrrrr

  11. I told my father, now 80 years old, about your book. First I explained what a blog is (and how other people can read it) and the journey that led you to a book deal. He was very interested. However despite my best efforts, he plans to look at the bookstore from something called “The Blogs”.

    You had to be there, I guess. Funny.

  12. “On a good day the camera makes me look like a constipated man on his way to the gallows.”

    OMG.

    I nearly lost my shit laughing.

  13. Hey Waiter,

    I saw the article in People: “Women tip less because they eat less”. Since when? You may sell more books, but you’ve done other wait staff a disservice. Whatever the amount, women should tip the same as men, and you’ve given them an excuse not to.

  14. Dear Waiter, Sir,

    I have just spent the weekend reading your book, and I must thank you for an excellent read on a variety of fronts. In addition to being a former waitress/bartender who appreciated every page with great gusto, I also teach introductory fiction writing at my local university, and will refer my students to your book in the future. You are a wonderful, wonderful writer, as well as a very smart, funny, person.

    Hoping to get my husband to read it next –

    Thanks again,
    JAMc42

  15. Waiter (because it’s just too weird to call you Steve), I’ve only been reading your blog for a year or so, and I feel a lot of proprietary warmth and pride for you. Folks who have been with you the whole time must feel even more so. Your voice is pretty intimate; this is what’s scary now that there’s a face connected to it, but it’s what’s made a lot of us make your writing a regular part of our lives. This is just corny as hell, but I think it’s true: you have a whole lot of people who feel invested in your life and happiness*, and genuinely want to see you succeed. It’s not everyone, and it’s not even everyone who reads this blog, but it’s some folks. I hope that the feeling of showing your naked heart to the hostile masses is balanced by the feeling of showing your face to a few who think of you as a friend. (Not in a creepy stalkery way or anything. I’m not going to show up at your place for dinner, I swear.)

    *Well, moderate happiness. If you get TOO happy, you won’t have anything to write about.

  16. Waiter! I hope she’s taking pictures of your dog. I’m absurdly excited to see what Buster looks like. I guess I identify people with their pets.

  17. I’m halfway through the book and I really enjoy it!

    Having been in the restaurant business for over 20 years I can definitely relate to the book for sure!

  18. It’s probably a bad sign that I’m a big camera nerd when I read the entire post and the thing that stands out the most is that the camera is 21megapixels. Whoa.

  19. “I have to worry that one of my old customers is going to run up to me at a book signing screaming ‘You sat me next to the men’s room on purpose! Now you’re gonna get it!’”

    In the spirit of having fun on your book tour, why not hire someone to come to your signing and yell accusations and threats at you? Have event staff ready to grab him and carry him away, of course, but it could be great fun.

  20. From all waiters and waitresses everywhere-thanks for saying all the things that we’ve been dying to say but haven’t for fear of pissing off potentially return customers. Now that I think about it-why do we want the assholes to come back anyway?

  21. Hello!I’m a waiter turned photographer, and I just want to state that I think EVERYONE should be made to work in a restaurant as sort of a “initiation” into the real world straight from high school! lol. I have not yet read your book but I look forward to picking it up tomorrow! Best Wishes.

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