Today I was lectured by a man about free refills, and I couldn’t do a thing about it. Standing there helplessly in my ketchup stained apron, a uniform that I tote bleakly from work to my overpriced, Los Angeles duplex and back, day after day., I listened to this man’s unsolicited (and glaringly uninformed) two cents about the extra cups of coffee he was entitled to. I stood there and nodded— much the same way I used to let hot guys in high school be mean to me— not because I’m a doormat, but because I’m far too image-conscious to let myself appear publicly flustered. I apologized several times for the inconvenience this man was experiencing at the hands of someone else’s rule, and let him know that I’d send his message up the ladder. Another treasure for our suggestion box.
It’s moments like this one, among countless others, that remind me just how crucial it is that I find a way to make money doing what I love. That’s laughable, and a little obvious at this juncture in my infant career, but it can’t be overstated just how badly I need to book a role on a goddamn TV show. Contrary to the adventure stories of cliché adolescent runaways, I didn’t road trip all the way to Hollywood for the palm trees, or any kind of upgrade in lifestyle because hey, I really want to know what yoga and kale are all about.
I moved here to be an actress. Sometimes when you’re lost, or stumbling through life, a job in food service can really build character. But when you’re a determined (albeit credit-less) artist, and wearing low-cut shirts to the auto shop because you’re not sure how much it’s going to cost to make that rumbling noise under your car stop and you desperately need to save money to get new headshots and drink heavily this weekend, a restaurant job can wear your character down. I can feel mine weakening.
The crazy thing is, I love where I work. My coworkers are my friends, many of the café regulars are endearing and complex, and the food leaves my ever-growing stomach with zero complaints. And this is exactly my problem. I feel myself melting into the comfortable routine of performing a job that requires no critical thought or ambition. I can memorize food orders from a table of four people or more, and meanwhile be thinking about the game-crushing snapchat I’m going to send later. Should I also send it to my ex? Is that too much? I can leave work at the “office” and go to bed without ever feeling like I’m behind on anything. Anything but my acting grind, that is.
There’s a reason why actors from all walks of life flock to the food industry, and that’s flexibility. If an audition comes up, we can hand our shifts over to the next zombie who performs the exact same tasks in the exact same manner. We don’t let anybody down when we disappear, we can work all night, audition all day, and sometimes even pull off working only 3-4 days a week. The caveat is that we sacrifice precious hours of our lives handing sandwiches to people who don’t give a damn how well received our production of Macbeth was in college, they just need another napkin. That hurts.
When I moved to LA to pursue acting, I envisioned a lot of challenges. I pictured greasy industry professionals who would tell me to lose weight, or try to trick me into doing porn in a dingy apartment. I even pictured turning down blockbusters because I would take a chance on an indie flick that would end up flopping. Far from my spectrum of worry was the thought that I might land a waitressing job that was both mind-numbing and addictively comfortable. I appear to be at a crossroads.
Back behind the register I fantasize about the dramatic way I might have quit, if only the coffee-refill-idiot had been so foolhardy as to pat me on the butt or call me a dirty word. In the fantasy I deliver a generous smack to his face and a rousing speech about the respect I demand as a human being. I win an Oscar in the fantasy. There’s no telling when or how I’ll leave this place, but of course I can’t serve muffins forever. I’m an actress! A storyteller! And the palm trees outside do look inviting.
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