I’ve started having restaurant dreams again after being free of them for 25 years.
Anyone who’s ever waited tables knows these dreams. Your whole section is seated at once and you’ve lost your order pad and the tables have been rearranged so you don’t know how they’re numbered. Or you walk through the dining room and someone from every table you pass asks you for something — another round of drinks, a dessert menu, the check — and you think you’ll remember them but as they accumulate you realize you’ve forgotten them all. You go in the kitchen and there are dozens of plates ready but you have no idea where they go. You run to the basement for something — what? some mustard, a bottle of wine — and you never make it back to the dining room because you’ve taken the wrong stairs or the wrong hallway and you just keep trying and trying until you wake up. Everyone you pass wants something, the cooks, the customers, the manager, the other waiters. Everyone hates you. You’re running in circles, you have no idea what you’re doing. You’re crying in the bathroom.
I waited tables for a living through the better part of my twenties, mostly hated it, was never very good at it. But it was what you did, and sometimes it could be fun, certainly much more fun than sitting in an office. It paid MUCH better than retail and even back then when rent was cheap it was a struggle to pay the bills. We’d work till midnight, then drink martini after martini at the bar around the corner, usually for free or next to it because we knew the bartenders and we were all in this together, take turns disappearing into the bathroom to snort cocaine (our pockets were STUFFED with cash!), and find ourselves at dawn in someone’s apartment who we probably didn’t even know, clammy, grinding our teeth and waiting for the drug dealer to show up because as everyone knows you don’t stop snorting cocaine until there’s no. more. cocaine. Anywhere. Or I’d end up at St. Mark’s Baths at 4 a.m. and home by sunrise feeling downright virtuous.
Sorry. That was a tangent. But sometimes I think about my early twenties and wonder, “How am I even alive?”
So, the dreams. I’ve started having them again. They continued for maybe 5 years after I left restaurant work for legal proofreading at 29, and, though I have my share of anxiety dreams they haven’t involved restaurants for a very long time. Until the last few weeks. Now I have them just about every night. Sometimes several times a night, in variations. I don’t sleep well or soundly, haven’t for years.
Life is, I don’t know, heightened lately. There’s my show headed for Broadway knock wood. My mother-in-law was recently diagnosed with cancer, and there’s no way to spin that any other way than bad. My father had a scare this week, not as serious, but he’s 85 and alone. Crazy good, crazy bad.
And now I’m having those dreams again that I’m waiting tables and failing, failing, failing.