Colloquium to Crumbs
July 1, 2004
I shook the hand of the ‘honorable’ guest speaker of the Colloquium and thanked him for his talk. The elevator was tight with a dozen other scholars, my colleagues. We stood in our crisp black suits still talking about ‘higher things’ from the discussion inspired by the speaker. What is the nature of man? What is good and beautiful? The elevator reached the ground floor and we shuffled off. I was now in a race with my watch. As I hurried to the parking lot, I tried to maintain a ladylike demeanor in my skirt suit and high heels. Finally I reached my car. Once inside I tossed Aristotle’s Nicomachian Ethics to the passenger seat, pulled off my suit jacket, kicked off my painful heels and stomped on my white tennis shoes. I had twenty minutes to get to work. Thoughts of truth, justice and beauty were abruptly replaced by the thought of the next nine hours spent in humble service of the hungry inhabitants of Mansfield. I had a test early the next day that I had studying to do. It would be a late night. I pulled into the filling restaurant parking lot. I felt a lot like superman returning to the status of Clark Kent when I traded my blouse for a stiff uniform shirt and my skirt for dark slacks. With two minutes to clock in, I rushed through the doorway as I struggled with my apron and tugged my hair back into a ponytail. The morph from scholar to server was complete. I had exited my comfortable bubble of abstract ideas and academia to the ‘real world’ of manual labor and practical living.
The smell of steak and garlic shared the air with the sound of sizzling raw meat on the grill and clanging dishes. I clocked in and checked the list to see which responsibilities would be mine throughout the shift. I could not help but roll my eyes in annoyance when I saw it was my job to keep the kitchen floor free of food, silverware and anything dropped. I faced my co-workers who were gathered around looking at their assignments. I asked if someone would be willing to switch his earlier leave time with me so that I could study. All but one glanced at me and walked away answerless. A middle-aged lady chuckled and dryly said, “I would like someone to switch with me too. My son needs my help with his homework and my daughter has the flu.” With that she turned away and I stood there feeling ashamed. I shrugged off the embarrassment and headed to my tables.
My first new acquaintance was a white haired man sitting alone. His large hands held the wine menu. His skin was liquorice black and rough and worn as leather. His shiny eyes met mine when I introduced myself and announced that I would ‘serve and care for him’ while he dined. A smile spread across his face, revealing deep creases in his cheeks that were a moment ago hidden from me. “Good!” he responded, “I was so lonely, I wondered in here hoping for some good care and company.” I scratched down his order, which he allowed me to decide for him. When I brought his plate he asked me to sit down. He asked me what I planned on doing in the years to come. I gave him a brief and general description as he attentively watched my mouth. He replied, “So you don’t really know what you want to do.” He told me his thoughts when he was my age and how far he had deviated from his plan. His words were wise and sincere. Our conversation lasted as long as his steak and mashed potatoes. He stood up, thanked me for my company and the food and blessed me.
The kitchen was an obstacle course with hurrying and thankless people as my obstructions, as I shoveled food and silverware onto a beaten dustpan. I returned to the dining area and met my newest guests. There were newlyweds who wanted to share their Hawaiian honeymoon pictures with me: a stranger, and new friend. A table of women on a ‘girl’s night out’ sought out my youthful thoughts about men and laughed at my response. It was a chubby boy’s twelfth birthday, and for he and his family, it was the only matter in the world, and expected me to be equally enthusiastic– and I was. At times I was just a gofer living in a world where the ‘Golden Rule’ only applied to me. I chased after run-away children at the plea of tired parents, wiped spills left by people who abandoned their responsibility and assumed it mine. I refilled coffee mugs, apologized for overcooked food and other various things that were out of my control.
The night slowed down as suddenly as wheels on a racecar. By eleven o’clock I found myself crawling under tables with a flashlight searching for crumbs that tried to evade me. I blew loose strands of hair from my sweaty and tired face and reached for a forgotten coloring book. There was a pile of broccoli hidden from a mother’s eye between the pages of the book, and I laughed aloud. It was hard to think about my test that lurched just hours away as I wiped away the remainder of my night. I noticed another flashlight beam wavering my way. “Go study, I’ll finish your work.” It was a co-worker who just hours earlier had ignored my plea. I thanked my savior, ran to the kitchen and clocked out.
I slid into my car and folded the wad of singles into my purse. I looked down at my wrinkled suit and Aristole’s Nicomoccean Ethics and paused. There was no discussion of the nature of man, the good or the beautiful tonight, yet I knew that somehow I understood them just a little better.
Rebeccah Ramey is a junior from Fredericktown, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and History.