Monday, January 12, 2009

Napkin Zen

White expanse of linen; bleached perfect square in front of me on a polished walnut bar. Folding, without too much thought required. Repetitive action draining away the minutes before the doors to the restaurant would open for business. Making my way through graduate school, I covered some measure of expenses by returning to the standby job of many artists: waiting tables. Growing up, it seemed you quickly fell into one camp or the other when it came to the (not necessarily) simple job for money—you were either "restaurant" or "retail." I dislike shopping, dislike salespeople trying to help me shop . . . I'm hardly right for retail. For me, it's always been restaurants, either front or back of house. I have worked at restaurants of varying degrees of size and finesse, from small hash-slinging diner to raw bar (shucking oysters is no mean task!), from bookstore cafĂ© and espresso bar to the most recent, a more upscale American establishment. The shifts would often be grueling, and service in this last restaurant meant a good amount of stair-climbing, as well as requisite diplomacy of State Department caliber with the finicky clientele. But no matter what lay in wait, there were always those last 15 minutes or so, when the stations were prepped, the tables set, everything done but those napkins. I would take a handful, sit on a stool at the bar, and fold. Spread, smooth, fold, stack, repeat. One pile would decrease, the other increase. Servers would talk among themselves, or to the bartender on duty; I would remain silent, focused only on folding. It was a very simple practice, pretty much for its own sake and serving no other purpose but a slightly more delicate presentation for the clients. Hardly important in any common understanding of the word. But I remember looking forward to folding (indeed, it was the only part of the experience that I enjoyed fully), and feeling that somehow, it was an important time. I paid attention to what I was doing, but as it did not require all my concentration, ideas and thoughts came to me frequently. I would observe them, then fold them away, one by one. It was my first lesson in true meditation, and I still find that my heart rate slows, my mind becomes a bit less agitated, and I am able to sit in the moment much more easily when I remember these squares of white linen, blank and cool and inviting, even though I am no longer responsible for them.

1 comment:

  1. Don't laugh, but, I think sometimes I iron for the zen of it.