With my main occupation on indefinite hold, I drift from place to place, wondering if any of them are enough. I don’t need money but I am hungry for work so I offer my unskilled hands to farmers. I work tomatoes, corn, white figs, wine grapes, and tourists.
My body likes to be exhausted. I abandon my weekly planner.
I find myself making tables, serving and clearing. I remember this particular pleasure. I like the opportunity to create a space. I like the series of tasks. I remember the crisp experience of success. When anyone tries to do my work for me, I bristle. I grip the experience of success like any wage.
Especially when there isn’t a financial wage, I’m more attached to the symbolic wages which include success, connection, and service.
Another pleasure of labor is teamwork. Interdependent responsibilities and tasks that require two persons impart a social elation far bigger than the task, and often far more satisfying than the relationship itself. Yet the sweetness of collaboration can be magnified (by deliberately sharing the task) or disrupted (through competition or making irrelevant someone else’s work). When my boss diverts the task and deletes my work, I feel loss, followed by rage. Knowing that I have no authority or righteousness to determine anything about someone else’s business, I submit. In that submission is alienation, detaching my sense of self from my work, which is not easy. It often takes me half a day to recover.
I am serving the espressi. I like to do this with a tray, preferably a small ornate one holding maximum three cups. With its round edge and a genuflection, I can enter the recipient’s space. I insist intimately that they receive and then, sometimes with a smile, I am gone. When there are many to be served I’m sent with a plastic tray. I can survive this indignity if I still serve each person, but the woman I have tragically approached takes charge of serving her entire table. Realizing she has the same desire as me, I incline my head, lower my eyes, and wait for her to finish caretaking.
The next morning as I gleefully prepare a certain guest’s particular cappuccino for my little tray the host seizes the milk frother from me. I grip it and struggle before yielding. She, too, wants this moment. I am furious and storm out of the kitchen, abandoning my duties.
Horrified by my dereliction, moreso by its indefensible cause, I spend the day contritely considering what is it that I’m attached to, and why? It’s not the first time my fierce attachment to service created conflict, and not the first time I was thoroughly aware that I have better things to do. I recall sneaking into his bathroom to put the new box of aspirin just behind the old, relishing my memory and wile. I was disappointed when he asked me where it was rather than trusting my intelligence and looking where it should be. I was confused when she attached the label of ‘servility’ to my doing an errand for her.
I must admit that all of last week, three of us raced for the privilege of delivering desserts to guests.
Work, apparently, is far more than labor. It is pride, generosity, connection, an act of intelligence, a courtly dance.
We use the same word for what happens in restaurants and what happens in churches.