Being Recognized

Nature can be quite cruel to men. As we age, the hair that used to be on our heads begins emigrating to other parts of our body. In a sort of perverted second puberty, men start finding little tufts of hair sprouting where none had grown before. I myself didn’t have chest hair until I was twenty-eight.  The young woman I was dating at the time claimed that my unexpected follicular growth was activated by latent testosterone liberated by her sexual prowess. She was actually kind of turned on by it. But soon after the chest hairs grew in the nose hairs followed – and that did not turn her on. I got a nose hair trimmer for Christmas and the girl and I broke up a few months later. It was probably good we split up when we did. Any more of her “sexual prowess” and I’d have ended up looking like Cousin It.

Several years of nasal fur plucking passed before hair started growing on my ears. At first they grew in downy and soft on the very edges and were easily removed with a razor at home. As time wore on, however, the hairs grew in faster, coarser, and, what’s worse, they began accumulating where I couldn’t get them with a trimmer. My trusty barber, who’s been cutting my hair for years, tried his best but finally had to admit defeat.

“You need to get your ears waxed my friend,” Gus told me during one visit. “Shaving only makes the problem worse.”

At first I was uncomfortable with this notion. Waxing is something that women do to keep their errant hairs from making an appearance.  I’m a guy. What would my poker buddies say if they found out? The ribbing I’d get from them would be merciless. But since imagining myself as the guy with bushes growing out of his auditory canal scared me even more, I went in to the “back room” where guys get their toupees adjusted and their bald spots combed over and had my ears waxed. To my surprise, it was a cheap and nearly painless procedure that left my ears hair free for a month. Since having my ears waxed at the barber isn’t always convenient for me, I found a nail salon near my house that does it for next to nothing. Since the salon caters to a female clientele, I go around three o’clock – the time most suburban women are at work or picking up their kids at school – and get my ears shorn in relative privacy. If my nails are ratty I get a manicure too. I skip the polish, however. I’m not a metrosexual.

Fast forward to this past Wednesday afternoon.  My publisher’s invited me to attend a book launch party that evening celebrating the publication of SPAIN: A Culinary Road Trip with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s my first swanky Manhattan party so, after making sure my clothes are pressed and my shoes are shined, I take a look in the mirror. My haircut’s still good but my ear hair has made a sudden and unwelcome appearance. I’m not meeting Gwyneth Paltrow looking like a freak. I walk down to the nail salon to take care of the problem. As usual, it’s empty this time of day. When I push open the door the welcome bell tinkles and the salon owner’s eyes open wide with surprise.

“You were on Oprah!” she says, excitedly. “I saw you on TV!”

“Yes,” I reply sheepishly. “That was me.”

“I tell everyone my customer was on Oprah!”

“Ain’t that something?’

“You’re the waiter who wrote a book!”

“That’s right.”

“Good! Good! So what was Oprah like?”

I tell the ladies in the shop about my Oprah experience as I get my ears waxed and my nails done,  After the technician finishes her work, I pay my bill; tip heavy, go home, change, and head into Manhattan. To my chagrin, Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t at the party. But Mario is and I get to shake hands and say a few words. Luckily he’s not pissed at me for writing “I enjoy watching Mario Batali huff and puff while competing on Iron Chef” in my book Or is he? Hmmmm.  As the party wears on, several nice people come up to me and congratulate me on my book’s success. It’s nice to be recognized. After talking with some friendly publishing people, drinking fine Spanish wine, and eating an excellent filet of sea bass with black olive tapenade, I take a cab back to Port Authority and hop on a bus headed for home. Hey, that’s how I ride.

The next morning I’m back on that same bus heading back into the city. I’ve got to tape an interview at a television studio on Lexington Avenue.  Since I don’t want to be late, I give myself and hour and a half to reach my destination.  Traveling by bus into NYC is always a tricky proposition. Sometimes the trip from my front door to the intersection of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue takes twenty minutes. Sometimes it takes two hours. Today, of course, I make it in record time.  Since I have an hour to kill, I grab a cup of coffee and head east down 41st Street. The sky is overcast and grey. As I walk past Bryant Park, I let the sights and sounds of the city tumble into my brain.   A man dressed in an expensive green overcoat hands a bum a dollar and tells him, “You’ll be okay.” Good looking women smelling of good perfume walk past me, their high heels clicking on the sidewalk as they chatter excitedly into cell phones about boyfriends or work. Construction workers shout above the noise of their power tools as they erect an ice rink in the park while two waiters at an outdoor cafe polish wine glasses in advance of the lunch rush. A policeman, his belt hanging heavy with the tools of his trade, emerges from the park and babbles a series of code words and numbers into his radio. Two bike messengers smoking cigarettes eye the cop covertly and mumble something under their breaths. I look up at the buildings surrounding me. A man and a woman are kissing in a fourth floor window, passionately oblivious to anyone who sees them. I smile, lower my head, and press on to Lexington Avenue. When my interview’s complete I walk back the way I came.

Walking past Bryant Park the second time, I notice that the cop and the bike messengers are gone and the amorous couple has disappeared. Its lunchtime and sidewalks are thronged with people. The two waiters I saw polishing glasses earlier are now racing around trying to serve all the customers lunching al fresco in the cool October afternoon. The construction workers are buying lunch from a hotdog stand and the bum is still panhandling in the exact same spot. I give him a dollar. I consider it a toll for all the people watching I got to do today. When I reach Port Authority I get on my bus and go home.

But it turns out I wasn’t the only one watching people. Someone was watching me.

The next afternoon I find an email in my inbox that asked “Any chance you were near Bryant Park around 11 yesterday, Thurs the 24th?” When I replied that indeed I was, the sender replied, “Yeah – I had only seen a quick picture of you, but from reading the book I could definitely tell the smirk.”

Even though it’s only happened roughly a dozen times, being recognized as “The Waiter” in public always makes me feel slightly discombobulated. It’s been quite an adjustment going from years of carefully guarded anonymity to seeing videos of myself on the internet. Now I get recognized in nail salons. I’m not complaining mind you. I understood what I was getting into when I “outed” myself three months ago. But it’s still weird. For nearly all of my life I’ve known most of the people who’ve known me. Now, after being on television and in the papers, I don’t know most of the people who know about me. And when I think about it – these people I haven’t met know quite a bit about me. My therapist once told me that he considered Waiter Rant his case file.  It’s all in there. So when I encounter people on the street who’ve read my book, they already know I like redheads, have gotten lap dances in a strip club, drink dirty martinis, and that I’m a nice guy who occasionally acts like an asshole.

Despite the feeling of vulnerability these circumstances sometimes engender, I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy the attention. It’s been a thrill to meet people who’ve bought my book and read my blog over the years. During the past three months I’ve even met some of the people who’ve left comments on this blog – fleshing out digital avatars with real human faces. Giving up my anonymity was indeed a stress. I had to move out of my comfort zone, abandon my secretive ways, and engage with the world in a completely different way. I came in from the cold. I’m glad I did. My life is richer as a result.

And if you think I’m making too much of this, I’m not. I don’t think I’m Brad Pitt or some kind of literary figure. My family and friends have done a good job of keeping my ego grounded. I’m a guy who wrote about waiting tables and gets recognized on the street once a week. Besides, at the age of forty, I realize the attention I’m receiving is fleeting. I’ll enjoy it while I can because eventually it will end. I’ve got another book and a blog to write anyway. I’ll be busy.

So if you see me on the street, please feel free to say hello. But don’t bring up my ear hair problem. It’s a touchy subject!


Comments

Being Recognized — 71 Comments

  1. You’ve got such a natural style of writing that’s simultaneously completely engaging to read (I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time reading your blog when I should have been working over the years) and sound absolutely true to life. I’m not doubting it is true to live — but you have the ear and the brain to distill and repackage what you’ve gone through. Few do!

  2. Ear hair is annoying. Mine are white and seem to grow an inch overnight. Over the past year I have noticed hair growing in places I would never have suspected of growing hair. Not mentioning them here. Those small electric trimmers they sell on cable work very nicely on ear hair.

  3. Consider it this way: Nobody would recognize you if we didn’t love ya as a writer :) You’ve done well and you deserve every bit of attention!!!

  4. Of course after you say that, being the smart ass that I am, if I ran into you our here in LA I might bring it up. With a smirk of course. I have been reading close to the whole time you have been writing this. I love every entry and I always anticipate each post.

  5. Oh my ~ you wax on poetically. Sorry, couldn’t resist. I haven’t read your book. I wouldn’t know you from Oprah, as I don’t watch her. But I’m tempted now to read your book, might browse your blog a touch more though.

    Funny about the ear waxing, never heard of men doing that before!

  6. Well, of course I’ve read your book, but I have yet to lay my hands on the Oprah episode that you were on. Needless to say I missed it, ARGH!

    I guess I don’t really want to see a picture of you. Your book doesn’t have one, and, personally, after reading your book and your blog for so long I have a nice image of what you look like; I don’t want it to be ruined, you know?

    I’ll just go about blissfully unknowing what you look like.

  7. You still sound so well-grounded (and happy!) these days, Writer. It’s a pleasure for those of us who’ve been around a while to see this well-deserved chapter in your life unfolding. Enjoy every minute!

  8. You may as well enjoy your current notoriety!

    What I want to know is if you have gotten any good swag now that you are a celeb!!

  9. You got recognized on the street near Bryant Park? You have it easy.

    Some years ago, I had my 15 minutes of fame for something I did. (In a good way, and nowhere near the level you’re enjoying, though.) A few weeks after, I was recognized… while skinny dipping! At night! There is nothing that can prepare you for this experience, let me tell you.

  10. Relatively painless! Not fair :( I only get parts of my face waxed or threaded once every four to six weeks because it’s so painful I can’t stop my eyes from watering. Not teary eyed mistiness. The Ugly Cry, as Oprah would say. Hmph.

  11. I’m not sure that knowing you like redheads, have gotten lap dances, drink dirty martinis and only occasionally act like an asshole counts as intimate knowledge. Those are pretty common qualities in men. It’s sort of like a straight man confessing to fantasizing catching two women together. Every straight man I’ve ever known well enough to ask has had that fantasy.
    So I’d say you’ve done some self-disclosing but not an excessive amount. Whereas if I met Augustin Burroughs on the street….

  12. I have enjoyed your writing so much that I have yet to view a picture of you or hear your voice. There is something about the waiter that I have created in my head that I would absolutely hate to lose. So, I will not recognize you on the street, but I would like to extend my best wishes and sincere thanks for your stories. Oh, and the waiter that I imagine doesn’t have ear hair either!

    New York Restaurant Jobs

  13. The Turkish way of getting rid of hair in ear: A flame. Yes, a flame. The barber lights up a small piece of wood , then quickly flips it into the direction of the ear a few times. The flame scorches the hair. And the moisture of the skin protects the skin, if flipping is done fast enough.

    Do not try this at home!

  14. “I like redheads, have gotten lap dances in a strip club, drink dirty martinis, and that I’m a nice guy who occasionally acts like an asshole.”

    So essentially what you are saying is “I am a man”

  15. You’re forgetting about your clear fetish for belly-button piercings. I’d have to say that’s a pretty predominant one in your writing too ;)

  16. I live in Canada so there’s no chance of bumping into you in New York. But if I could… ;)

    I like you better since coming out, Waiter. You seem more…real.

  17. We had a guest minister at church one week. He asked the congregation “When did you begin to feel like an adult?”. People answered, when they had children, when their parents died, when they got their first place.

    When I was given the floor, I said “When I found grey hairs growing out of my nose, I felt like an adult.” Oddly, that ended that topic.

  18. Hey, I might get to visit NYC during summer 09. I guess we should get lap dances by red haired women and then have some dirty martinis. That way you wouldn’t just reach over the internet-reality border, but also over continents, since I am from Austria.
    Regards from Vienna,
    Phil

  19. Waiter, here’s something I’ve been wondering about: I always figured that you kept your blog anonymous so the restaurants where you worked, and your customers, wouldn’t know that you were writing about them. And then I figured the same about your book. But then you “came out” right after the book came out! If I wrote a book, I’d want my name on it. So I’m wondering – if you were going to come out anyway (which makes sense, for publicity purposes) – why not put your name on the book itself?

  20. Getting small areas waxed, generally is not painful. (Threading is another area in and of itself, and is excrutiating).
    Just don’t go for the major areas (chest, back, etc). The larger the area, the more painful (with a capital P!).
    I’ve given birth twice. Once naturally. No drugs. That was far less painful than getting my legs waxed. Never again.

  21. damn, steve. i’ve read your blog (and now your book- truly good read, took me a day-and-a-half…) for the past few years now, and i continue to be amazed at how much we have in common.

    i’m forty, fight a constant battle with my weight, waited tables out of necessity, and dammit if i didn’t spend the first 38 years of my life with no hair on my chest, but now it is all up in my nose, ears and on my back. what the hell?

    as a general rule, i don’t care much for celebrities, and given the opportunity to “hang” with one or more of them, i’d probably pass. however, if you came to chicago and wanted to go enjoy a cold one, that’d be alright. hope you like blues music.

  22. ive been reading this blog for a while now and i have noticed something very strange, there is little to no hate comments its amazing. it means, of course your doing a wonderful job and people actually like you.

    p.s. good for you finally getting noticed.(probably the 100th time hearing that)

  23. thankfully someone came out with the truth!!! you are my dream man FOH and Bourdain is my god-send BOH! Your wonderful writing talent keeps this all live for me! wow! can’t wait to read the book. be well and write more!!!! more!!

    all the best wishes for your new wonderful writing career.

    i miss the city. have a dirty Martini for me!!!

    40+ Grrrrlll Chef

  24. Waiter,
    I’ve been reading you faithfully for quite awhile, hell, I even have had you on my blogroll for almost a year. I enjoy your writings and interesting take on life. Like you, someone took an interest in my blog and a book deal came out of it. My subject area doesn’t have the broad appeal as yours, but the deal’s still done, and now all of my free time is spent on the damn book. Since I’m rather well known in my profession, I won’t have the problems that you did in becoming a public figure. I would appreciate a few words on how to juggle my career with finishing my book.

    Jeff

  25. I was slightly worried about the shift in writing from waiter material to this “new life” material. It’s interesting to see how you translate it.

    People are good at different things. I know people who are amazing artists that made horrible waiters. Some people are mechanically inclined, curious how things work and able to fix many things.

    You have an innate ability to translate the ordinary happenings of the world into an extraordinary language. It’s what keeps us reading, and I hope that’s part of what keeps you writing. Thanks a bunch, Waiter!

  26. Is there a chance this book might turn into a movie? It’d be interesting to see.

    By the way, who looks at your ears to see if you got hair there anyway?

  27. Huh, I don’t know how I’d take that guys comment, “I recognized the smirk,” well that’s not quite nice! But hey, bask in your 15 min, you’ve earned more that it. Actually, keep writing and I’m sure your popularity will continue to grow. You are a really engaging writer!

  28. Hey, Waiter:
    Don’t even think for one moment you have to explain yourself when it comes to enjoying the attention. You’ve earned it!
    And if you’re ever wandering the streets of Midtown Atlanta and I see you, I will definitely come up and say hello :-)

  29. Um, I kind of do think I know you, so if I saw you I would probably just walk right up and give you a big congratulatory hug. Hope I don’t scare you!

  30. I am currently reading your book, Pausing a chapter sixteen to give you some praise. I thoroughly enjoy your writing and look forward to anything you produce. You have managed to put many of my own thoughts and feelings of the industry and the daily trials and tribulations a waiter goes through so eloquently into words I could not. I don’t think it would matter what the subject, because you have a gift and I am captivated. And That makes you a great writer.

  31. If you have some spare green you can get the hair follicles cauterized, making it impossible, or highly improbable for hair to grow back. Had an uncle who had it done for about a grand for ears, nose and a few other places it didn’t look all that great. You can get it cheaper if you do it without anesthesia…but I think 200 bucks worth of it would be deserving in this scenario. Thought I’d add this, even though I will probably never have this problem, as my father and grandfather on both family sides were not heavy on facial hair of any real sort besides moustache and a beard to be trimmed.

  32. Well, since my last comment was filtered out, I guess you read about The Bistro being revealed? I was reading the online menu and drooling… now I want to eat there.

    Seriously now, being recognized is a consequence of being famous. I wish you never get a creepy stalker, but all the nice friendly recognition a good writer deserves.

  33. Suddenly I found myself at “The next morning….” and then I was shaken back to reality after “…I get on my bus and go home.” I thought you were finally going to write — really write — again. I want my Hammett, my Chandler, my Waiter back.

  34. WOW! I have not read this book but I’m definitely going to buy it. It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything so intriguing. The book as to be GOOD!

  35. I enjoyed this post very much and hope that you’ll keep on blogging & writing and that people will recognize you for a long time to come.
    keep up the good work

  36. I was afraid that this would happen to your blog. It’s great that your book has been published, you’re giving interviews on TV and the newspapers, etc etc. But…. talking about nose hairs???? Come on! Just some friendly criticism — the quality of the blog has gone downhill since the book came out. I hope you have plans for an encore.

  37. What’s with all the comments about tipping heavily? Is this a not-too-sublte nod to your previous existence? I don’t think you need to tell us this!

  38. Tweezers and a magnifying mirror (or a helpful spouse) work wonders on the ear-wires. It is a little weird to hear the hair coming out, however.

  39. Really, Waiter? Nature isn’t kind to MEN? Well maybe not, but not any more so than women. At least you’ve got society on your side telling you that getting older makes you more “distinguished.” We women don’t have that particular luxury.

  40. I READ THIS BLOG ALOT, I LIKE THE WRITING, AND IVE READ SOME OF THE BOOK, ID LIKE TO MAKE ONE POINT THO, THERE IS AN OVERRIDING THEME OF THIS BOOK, THE COMPLAINING ABOUT TIPPING, HOW MUCH CUSTOMERS SHOULD GIVE, I HAVE MY OWN THOUGHTS ABOUT THE SUBJECT, FIRST OF ALL, I DONT THINK A WAITERS JOB IS ALL THAT HARD, ALL THEY DO IS TAKE UR ORDER, AND THEN BRING YOUR FOOD TO YOU, FOR THAT THE WAITER WANTS A 20 PERCENT TIP, I THINK THATS BULL SHIET, I MEAN THINK OF IT, WHO IS DOING MOST OF THE WORK IN A RESTAURANT, ITS NOT THE WAITERS, ITS MOSTLY THE COOKS IN THE KITCHENS AND THE MEXICANS THAT DO ALL THE HARD WORK, IF I HAD IT MY WAY, I WOULD TIP THE COOKS AND PEOPLE IN THE KITCHEN 15 PERCENT, THE WAITER MEBBE 5 PERCENT AND WAITERS SHOULD BE HAPPY WIT THAT AMOUNT, ALSO, TO ME PEOPLE THAT SHOULD ALSO GET A TIP ARE WORKERS THAT WORK IN FAST FOOD, LIKE PEOPLE THAT WORK AT MCDONALDS, THOSE PEOPLE NEVER GET ANY TIPS, AND ARENT EVEN ALLOWED TO ACCEPT TIPS, AND THEY ARENT THE CRY BABIES THESE WAITERS ARE, I THINK FAST FOOD WORKERS WORK MUCH HARDER THEN WAITERS, AND FINALLY, IF WAITERS DONT LIKE WAT I HAVE TO SAY, GET A BETTER PAYING JOB AND STOP CRYING FOR MORE MONEY, WHEN BASICALLY U DONT DO THE REAL HARD WORK.

  41. I just saw you on the show and read your book the next day.Iv been an waitress for 7 years and always prayed someone would write about it one day.To all those ‘kalikrnguyx’ your the people we like to get the revenge on so enjoy the next time you eat out :)

  42. Hi-
    I’m new to the blog, but I just read the book and loved it. I am a former waitress (and I refuse to wax anything) so I feel your pain. I gave up table service in the restaurants to become a massage therapist–table service of another kind–but at least I only have to deal with ONE of them at a time.
    Well done, amigo!

  43. Sorry Gwyneth wasn’t there, I’ve seen Mario here (he has three restaurants in my building) and don’t think he compares. But it still sounds like you had a good time. Nice.

  44. Waxing. Igg. Apparently everyone is very anti-hair these days (I never got the memo). Hopefully you haven’t succumbed to something silly like chest-waxing.
    Sigh. The indignities of aging…

  45. I just finished reading your book and had to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Your book was one of the best restaurant insider accounts I’ve read in a very long time. Not since Tony Bourdain’s book (Kitchen Confidential), have I enjoyed reading (nay, reliving) the sordid details restaurant life. Being a writer/waiter, I can only applaud you for finding your way out through writing and blogs. Cheers!

  46. I’m actually a bakery owner- but I like to read food blogs and food inspired books besides cookbooks. Anyway I found your book totally entertatining and a good commentary on people in general. Non- service people have not idea what is like to be a service industry worker. It’s service not servant. Even counter folks and baristas everywhere could get a good laugh out of your book. It is sad thought that so many people don’t even know or care about the poor guy in the service industry and all the crap he takes from customers everyday. At the same time where would a food place be without a counter person or a waiter? Thanks for bringing this to the attention of the world of customers.

  47. I came to the site after it was mentioned on msnbc.com. The first time I see it, you’re talking about lesbian porn and nose hair. Those two posts were on the front page. Nothing about waiters, customers or food.

    I know you want to lighten it up a bit, but man, it wasn’t what *I* was looking for. Just my two cents.

  48. i dont know where to leave a comment about your book but i would like to leave one here. i think it is great! Very well written and so true about everything. Although I may work in a diner I can relate to many of your stories! Its surprising how people can act, and how many “war stories” you can have after a couple of years. Great book, thanks for writting it and keep up your dreams! your very talented:)

  49. I’m a 39 year old red head (female) who lives just “Up north” from you. I heard of your blog for the first time YESTERDAY. I ordered your book and I’m now anxiously awaiting it’s delivery.

    Congratulations on all of your success. You have a way of looking at the world that is sensitive and appealing and I just can’t stop reading your entries. I have a LOT of catching up to do.

    Come back to Canada for a visit some day!!

  50. I’ve only been reading through your archives for the past few weeks, and already you’re like a big brother to me. That’s a testement to your character. Keep on keepin’ on, Waiter! :-)

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