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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Column: A new form of art

Yes, summer was great and all, but remember that horrible summer job that made you curse your luck and question your place in this world? Weren’t there times when you felt like the gods were smiting you, forcing you to go to work when instead you could be painting or writing stories or petting your dog?

I spent most of my summer with my hands, arms, uniform T-shirt and dorky walking shoes caked in ketchup and grease. Between pouring hot coffee on my hands and mopping at the end of the shift, I’d stop and ask myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” I’d think to myself, “You’re better than this! You’re in college! Some professors actually like you!” I cursed the lowly occupation I was engaged in.

Despite working as a restaurant busser, or as some may or may not have called me at one point or another, the waitress’s little helper (am I an elf?), I freaking basked in the glory of the job — that is, once I figured out how. I somehow managed to discover the secret art we must all grow to learn and appreciate.

I’m talking about the art of people-pleasing, or ass-kissing, an art that in this day and age we all desperately need to master, especially in college. I might have saved myself a lot of pain if I had just learned how to do this correctly last school year.

But I’m also talking about finding the little joys of the job, like sneaking yourself a chunk of cake when no one’s watching and finding some pleasure from dealing with your situation creatively. Once you have that creative lens and once you’ve mastered the art of ass-kissing, you’re set.

I gained this wisdom on the job. I found myself flirting with the customers. I found myself throwing extra scoops of ice cream into the root beer floats — anything to make a little more in tips. I said yes and only yes. I’d come back to a table like a magical fairy and grant their every wish, forcing a smile. What sort of educated, maturing young adult, almost-college-graduate had I become?

But suddenly, between bringing out hot plates of food and decorating the desserts with lumps of whipped cream, I began to see the beauty in everything that was going on. In my quest for finding how my day-to-day life could be an art, I came to realize that this little summer job had more artistic value than met the eye.

The desserts I prepared (by which I mean put in the microwave and doused with whipped cream and chocolate sauce) can be an art: in their presentation, the creativity involved in formulating the perfect combination of ingredients and the dexterity of the preparation of the meal. But so can serving a customer.

What do you do when a customer wants something? You give them more, people — because if I’ve learned anything, it’s that people always want more. Chocolate cake? The bigger, the better. What’s that? You’re in a rush? If it wasn’t completely obnoxious and slightly dangerous, I’d have thrown desserts across the room at customers as soon as they’d pop out of the microwave if that would have meant they’d tip me better.

Now, something I’ve learned in the past three years of taking most of my classes in the humanities is that money should never be the object of your academic or professional focus. I’ve taken drawing classes full of students who do it for the sake of creating something beautiful out of nothing — a satisfaction that cannot be measured with dollar signs. I proudly carry my English major badge with the fervor of a Shakespearean love sonnet. Like all artists or those interested in working in the arts, I’m not doing this for the money.

But with this summer job, I’ve found that art can actually help you make a little dough. With all the tips I was getting from my adoring customers, I could have probably flown to Europe and back before my friends working at startups could have gotten their first paychecks. Ass-kissing, a true art form, can and will help you succeed.

What I can take away most from this strange little art called bussing is not the money, but the idea that if you figure out how to do something right, perhaps with help from a creative lens to keep your morale high, then you will be happy. Taking it with levity and finding the few little pleasures of the experience (like flirting or eating cake) will make whatever you’re doing less miserable, maybe even fulfilling in some strange way.

Now that school is starting and I’ve put most of my money into my savings, except for a few hundred I blew on Outside Lands tickets and snacks, I can start being that responsible college student who kisses everyone’s ass in order to get the grades. At least now I know how to do this artfully and with tact. In addition to sending restless e-mails and spending sleepless nights writing the papers I believe my professors will adore, I’ll throw in some delicious desserts and hope for the best. Maybe wink at the TA. I say you do the same.

 

If you have any recommendations on how to kiss a professor’s ass, or if you’d like CRISTINA FRIES to kiss yours, contact her at arts@theaggie.org.

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