I’ve worn many hats in my professional career. I dropped out of law school and sold timeshares in San Diego. I processed contracts. I worked for event planners and wrote emails about custom toupees (or, “hair systems” as we were forced to call them). I was a barista who happened to be certified to sell real estate in California.
I say this all because the one professional bullet I have seemed to avoid as a poetry major during the Great Recession is that of a waiter. No, I never did don an apron and a fake smile. This surprises me, even now, especially considering my love for being phony and wearing a uniform. But somehow I dodged it entirely.
So now that we’re nearly two years into this pandemic, I have become something of a waiter around the house. It is, of course, an unpaid gig. The boss (my husband) is quite exacting. My customers (our three dogs) might be even worse. I have to say, though, I have learned a lot during these last few months in this new domestic role. I’m here to share some thoughts with you.
First is that we sit at the dining room table nearly every night. The habit began for two reasons. The first is that we had not been to any restaurants and wanted to start looking forward to something at the height of lockdown. Sunday dinners flowed into Monday, then to Tuesday and so on. It helped that I was unemployed for periods of time over the last year. I had a lot of time to clean the linens and plan my menu, if nothing else.
I felt a bit slovenly sitting on the couch to eat dinner in front of a television. A plate of homemade gnocchi, balanced on my knee and my body tilted away from the dogs, was somehow diminished in the harsh blue light of the TV. All that work to wolf everything down during the opening credits of ‘The Walking Dead’? How pitiful, I thought. So, dining room table it is for the foreseeable future. A habit that we’re sticking to as the light of the COVID tunnel drawers ever nearer.
And what has been on the table has become just as important during these little rituals of ours. There are taper candles in brass holders from a flea market. I found the simple candles at a dollar store—how can one resist when elegance is so cheap? We light these with matches from the hotels we used to stay at. I sometimes light a cigarette as a digestif off the candle. It’s as good a reason as any to avoid tea lights, which are small and I tend to have to bend my head down too far to light my Marlboro.
We turn on some music and use proper cotton napkins. Nothing fancy. In fact, they’re stained with coffee and someone’s lipstick from a past dinner party. But they feel good. Like the antique silver from my great-aunt. We made a trivet out of an old piece of tile so I can set a hot pot directly on the table. And still, there was a small burn mark on the tablecloth when I went to wash it the next day. Oh well. A small price to pay to turn the entire downstairs of my house into a four-star restaurant, I think.
The beauty of these rituals is that they are attainable. Nothing I am doing is particularly special. Sometimes dinner is frozen ravioli but I’ll serve it on a platter with mint from our herb garden. Sometimes it’s Chinese takeout, which we eat under candlelight with those cheap, splintery chopsticks. What I am saying is this: the rituals matter now. They have gravity now. If we aren’t making these moments special … well, who will do it for us?
If nothing else, the pandemic has taught me just that. That these little moments of relaxation and indulgence are the respite we need. I was forced to make this house a little of everything: a hotel, an office, a movie theater, a restaurant. And while I may have failed a good bit, it was, as the old adage goes, the thought that counts.