Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Wonder Waitress

When reading Studs Terkel’s Working, I found myself most drawn to the oral history of the waitress, Dolores Dante. I’m not entirely sure if her story is the one that best fits a linear narrative, because she didn’t exactly tell it in a chronological format that would be most conducive to sequential storytelling. However, it was certainly the story that I most enjoyed reading, and her character was by far the most fascinating one for me personally. I was first interested by the fact that she worked in the same restaurant for twenty-three years, which to me seems incomprehensible (most likely because I’m only twenty-one and can’t imagine doing one thing for a full twenty-three years). But even more amazing to me (at least initially) was that she loved her job! I think it’s common for people to consider waitressing a temporary job, not something that you’d want to do for an extended period of time. But Dolores was a waitress for (at least) twenty-three years, and she was really enjoying herself. I thought that was incredible and really fantastic. She explained that she loves talking to people, at which point I partially understood why she would enjoy waitressing so much. If she’s a really social, outgoing person, then being able to interact with so many people every night must be really fun and exciting for her. I was quite surprised when she then said that she always spoke her mind to the customers, in spite of the fact that her bosses didn’t like it. It seems most logical to keep your mouth shut about certain things if that will help your job, but Dolores clearly doesn’t see it this way. I appreciated her fearlessness and her refusal to keep quiet because she has “an opinion on every single subject there is.” She seems like she has a very strong personality and a determination to express herself whenever she is given the chance. I love it!

One thing that I really appreciated about Dolores’s story, which I didn’t find in most of the other narratives, was a certain character progression and a development in terms of the information that she reveals to the reader. Initially, she talks extensively about how much she loves her job and why she takes such pride in her work, but then she tells us that it’s really exhausting to be a waitress and that at the end of the night, she feels completely drained. Dolores then explains that there are so many things that happen every night of her job that make her angry or frustrated, but that she can’t express her anger because she has to please the customers and her boss. She also describes her dread that something will go wrong and her sense that her work is like a performance, and at the end of the night the curtains close and the act is finished. I really liked this comparison and I found it very relevant to her other descriptions of her job. I was also interested by the fact that she reveals these tiring aspects of her job later in her narration, after talking about how much she enjoys her work. It seems like she initially felt the need to defend her job as a waitress, and then after expressing how much she likes her work, she explains that it’s exhausting and very difficult. Ultimately, I appreciated her story more because she had shown these two sides to her job. I’m impressed by the fact that she loves waitressing in spite of all of the difficulties that she faces every day. She clearly likes to challenge herself.

Separate from Dolores’s actual story, I really liked Lance Tooks’s rendition of her oral history into a graphic narrative. I loved the parallels that he drew between her job as a waitress and fine art pieces. In the first panel, he drew Dolores in a pose similar to that of an ancient sculpture, and in a later panel (on page 85), he posed her identically to a sculpture by Edgar Degas called The Little Dancer. Tooks also included photographs of each of these sculptures to show the similarity of pose and to emphasize his comparison between Dolores and a work of art. I really appreciated his artistic decisions here, and I thought that it showed a lot of respect on his part to depict a waitress as a famous artwork. It really added to her level of dignity, which she firmly asserts in her story. Dolores says that people often tell her, “You’re great, how come you’re just a waitress?” To which she replies, “Why, don’t you think you deserve to be served by me?” She explains, “I don’t feel lowly at all. I myself feel sure. I don’t want to change the job. I love it.” I think that Tooks’s representation of her emphasizes her pride in her job and her dignified attitude toward being a waitress. She feels that she has nothing to be ashamed of by working as a waitress, and he demonstrates this confidence in his drawings of her and in his comparison of her to an artwork. Dolores herself says, “To be a waitress, it’s an art,” and that is made very clear in this graphic version of her narrative.

I also thought it was great that Tooks made some amusing editorial decisions about representing the customers. On page 78 he depicts a particularly annoying customer as George W. Bush, and on page 84 he represents a table of wealthy customers as the Monopoly man surrounded by other rich-looking capitalists in a formation similar to that of the Last Supper. I liked that Tooks chose to draw random customers in this specific way, creating certain associations in the reader’s mind, and I found Tooks’s comparisons hilarious. It’s also a great way to make a story about ordinary people (who would otherwise be anonymous) much more interesting for the reader.

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