Ginsberg’s ‘Waiting’

What a wonderful book — a reflective and thoughtful memoir (and part social commentary) of 20 years spent as a waitress in American restaurants.  In places as far afield as New York, Oregon and California — from luncheonettes, pizza parlours and diners to Italian bistros and fine dining rooms — this is the story of the author’s life, much of it lived, as is typical of those who wait, aspiring to be someone or somewhere else.   In time, though, Ginsberg discovers that she cannot live her life as though waiting for the real thing to begin.  Suddenly she looks back over her shoulder at 20 years; this is her life, and one she is finally able to embrace and value.

 … perhaps the most valuable lesson I’d learned was that the act of waiting itself is an active one.  That period of time between the anticipation and the beginning of life’s events is when everything really happens–the time when actual living occurs.  I’d spent so much time worrying about the outcome of my life that I’d forgotten how to live it.  I’d also come to know that not everything was fraught with a vast and complicated meaning.  Sometimes it was only about timing the order just right, recommending a particularly good dessert, or making a friend out of a stranger at my table.  I began to see not only the simplicity of these acts but their beauty.

In some ways this book is similar in style to Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, though told from the other side of the servery.  It is full of great stories, the most flawed yet endearing characters, and an insider’s perspective on the restaurant industry.  Though Ginsberg is finally able to embrace her working role as a meaningful one, she never verges into romantic or idealist language about her profession.  Every page is real.  I closed the book feeling a renewed sense of respect for waiters, but even more for the wonder of ordinary life and those who live it.

Debra Ginsberg, Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, New York: HarperCollins, 2000.


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