I walk into my gym at 9:00 AM on a cold Sunday morning. It’s an ungodly hour for a waiter to be awake, but after returning to the restaurant life I promised myself I wouldn’t backslide into bad habits like sleeping until noon, skipping breakfast, late night pizza, and drinking too many post shift libations. Besides, I don’t want to regain the twenty pounds I just lost.
“Hey there,” the lithe blonde girl manning the front desk says.
“How are you?” I reply, swiping my membership card through the reader.
“Exhausted,” she says.
“Too much partying?”
“I wish,” the blonde snorts. “I was working my other job last night. I didn’t get home until one in the morning.”
“Ouch,” I reply. “What’s your other job?”
“Man,” I say, wincing. “That brutal.”
“Tell me about it. We had a huge wedding reception the other night.”
“Where do you work?” The girl tells me. It’s a banquet hall known for grinding up and spitting out its employees.
“Been there long?” I ask.
“Six months,” the blonde sighs. “I hate it. I’m always tired.”
“I just went back to waiting tables myself,” I say. “I forgot how physical it is.”
“Your feet hurt yet?” the girl asks smiling.
“I couldn’t feel my feet when I got out of bed this morning.”
“That bad, huh?”
“You’ve got to get your waiter legs back,” the blonde says.
“They better come back soon,” I say, walking though the turnstile and onto the gym floor. “My knees are killing me.”
“Have a good workout,” the girl says, “If you can.”
“I’ll try. Thanks.”
I haven’t been to the gym in three days and I need to sweat out the badness. With the exception of two loudly grunting juice heads, the brightly lit weight room is empty. The driving techno beat coming out of the sound system makes the place feel like an empty after hours nightclub. I walk into the locker room, change, and head over to a lat pulldown machine. The moment I start my back routine, however, the exhaustion of working two double shifts in a row hits me. Iron plates I moved effortlessly the week before seem to have doubled in weight. My joints feel like they’re gummed up with sand. After ten minutes of exertion, nausea starts teasing my stomach. Dogging it, I half ass my way through the weights and head over to the cardio room to ride the stationary bike.
Ten minutes into my pedaling the blonde from the front desk walks into the cardio room and starts refilling the antibacterial lotion in the hand dispensers. As I admire her derrière I notice that’s she walking a little funny – like she’s got a mild case of waiter butt.
“Hurting from last night?” I call out from my machine.
“Oh my God,” the girl says, “My thighs are killing me.”
“I feel you pain,” I say, “Believe me I do.”
“We have to carry trays up a flight of stairs!” the blonde says. “We call it ‘Satan’s Stairmaster.’”
“Waiting tables sucks,” I say. “Doesn’t it?”
The blonde finishes up her chores and leaves. I smile to myself. The girl is half my age, in amazing shape, and she’s hurting from waiting tables. I’m nearing forty. What chance do I have? A friend of mine worked in one of Manhattan’s most vaunted eateries for years. At 38 her left foot imploded. After the orthopedic doc told her waiting tables was no longer a viable career option she went back to school to become a psychoanalyst. I always kid Lana that her body knew it was time to leave waitering before her conscious mind did. Will that happen to me?
I’m not going to lie – I’m a little ambivalent about waiting tables again. The restaurant biz might be a good home base as I plan my next book project, but taking orders from a twenty-four year old kid and starting at the bottom again is a drag. During my short stint at Café Machiavelli I’ve already had to tamp down the urge to walk out the door twice. Luckily the angels of maturity and reason have swept in and convinced me not to act like an asshole. But I wonder – will my body force me out the door like Lana’s did? Early heart attacks force traders off Wall Street before reason tells them it’s time to quit. Maybe orthopedic problems are nature’s way of telling waiters it’s time to throw in the apron.
The timer on the exercise bike hits twenty minutes. I stop. I should go for another twenty but I’m too tired. I skip my sit-ups and stretching, change back into my sweats, and head for the exit.
“Leaving so soon?” the blonde girl says, smirking.
“Stick a fork in me,” I reply. “I’m done.”
“Don’t stop coming here,” the blonde warns. “Exercise keeps waiting tables from damaging your body.”
I stop in my tracks and look at the girl. I’ve seen her lift her body weight and run like a gazelle. She probably knows what she’s talking about.
“How about a training regimen for waiters?” I say. “You could write a book and call it Waiter Buns of Steel.”
“Maybe I will,” the blonde says, laughing.
“I’d buy it.”
The girl flicks a professional eye over me. “Think about doing some yoga too,” she says “You like to lift but strength is useless without flexibility.”
I tell the blonde she’s probably right and ask for the gym’s yoga schedule. She gives me a pink colored handout with December’s classes. I thank her, walk out the door and head back to my apartment. Once inside I drink a glass of milk, take a long hot shower, and crawl back into bed. The exhaustion I’m feeling is my body asking me to conserve energy. I have to work another double tomorrow. I need my rest. Hopefully this over tiredness will disappear when my “waiter legs” return. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if I can’t bounce back like I used to? Will my body betray me? Maybe doing yoga’s a good idea. Before sleep overtakes me I look at the clock on my nightstand. It reads 10:15 AM.
Goddammit, I’m sleeping until noon again.