Devin Dearing Preston: NYC writer, playwright, and storyteller

Control… Not on the Menu

March 30, 2015

“Can I get your pulled pork sandwhich, but with no bread? Hold the slaw, hold the pickle. Maybe sub spinach or something like that. I’m not picky. Oh, and a diet coke. But no ice and extra lime. Thanks. And, one more thing, can I give you this?” handing the bread basket back to me, “We’d don’t need the temptation.”

If I’m in the right head space, I return a knowing smile, take the bread basket back to the kitchen and set about following the rest of their ridiculous requests. You see, I understand, I suffer with control issues, too. I am not embarrassed to tell you this because in my long and illustrious waitress career, I’ve encountered every type and brand of controling. Even some off lables. Wait tables long enough and you’ll begin to realize that all of us are barely holding it together. The good news is we aren’t alone in the struggle. I feel that restaurants are great place to practice letting go of that control, if only just a tiny bit.

For me, controling behavior is so deeply embedded in what I once considered my own personality, that I was oblivious to it until fairly recently. I know, I know. Although, when I revealed my new discovery to close friends and loved ones, many found it hard not to burst out in laughter. Which is to say, they were more surprised it took me so long to realize that almost all of my actions are tailored to the end of affecting complete control over all people, places and things, almost 100 percent of the time. Just because I think I do it in a nice way, doesn’t mean I am not doing it. Or that I am not liable to become unhinged if things don’t go exactly the way I think they should.

It’s been known to happen. A lot. In fact, it’s almost always happeneing. So often in fact, that one has to ask…How could I not know?

Look, I’m not proud of it. But now I know how to recognize it and see it for what it is. This hysterical state is rooted in my unwillingness to accept that the world doesn’t always go my way. Or more accurately, it very rarely goes according to the way I think it aught. Congratualtions to those of you who learned this lesson at the more appropriate age of 9 or 10. My sympathy for those of you aren’t aware that is a lesson worth learning. Your reckoning will come, no doubt, when you least expect it, too. Like it does.

It is in fact absurd to think I can do anything about some of the stuff I attempt to bend to my will. The weather, say? Or how swifty the line at Trader Joe’s is moving. The screwed up logic is, if I manage to control my environment and those people in it, then and only then, can I be held accountable for my emotional responses to it. And, if I want to waste my energy trying to change things clearly outside of my control, to further justify my feelings of frustration and bewilderment, then that’s my business, right? It is, I guess if I want to continue to be confussed as to the true nature of why I am so miserable. Or, I could, perhaps try something else. Since this behavior has never worked or made me feel any better.

So I have used control to make the environment around me seem less chaotic and scary. It felt like an active way manage my feelings, too. For most of life, I have done this. And I have failed all day long, almost everyday, to find any level of satisfactory control, escalating my need for order even further. Leaving me feeling more frightened and crazed. Launching me into a deeper to control my environment… etc. Admitedly nuts. I see that. You see that. Your kid sister sees it too. But this obsessive need has become so much a part of my normal existance that giving up on it seems even more insane.

If I’m not constanly obsessing about control, what will I do with all my free time?Plus, the alternative is what…. just to accept that the environment around me is chaotic and that it often scares me? Well… now you see the full scope of it. My impulse to control things knows no bounds.

This post, in and of itself, is an exstention of this struggle. It’s an effort to control the people, similarly inflicted, that I have to wait on, who remind me of how hard it is not to try to control other people’s behavior. I shouldn’t even continue, now that I see what my intentions are, but I will. Because seeing the pattern is the first step in seeing if you want to hang on to it or not. Perhaps you don’t.

I am on to you, control freaks. I am you. I want to extend a little empathy to you(myself) for the behavior of which we have all been guilty. It’s less of a public service anouncement or shaming and more of a helpful reminder that these behaviors aren’t giving any of us the releif we would like to believe they are. Maybe, some of you might even realize, like I did, that your need for control is controling you.

So, acceptance challenged friends, I purpose a mini laboratory for working out wether exacting less control might be for you. The next time you dine out, see if you can’t repress the desire to do these three things?

1. Ordering off the Menu-

This is a hard one, but an invaluable first step. If your diet is so restrictive that your personal dietary needs could shut down the efficency of a New York restaurant, then you propably should try prepairing your own food in the comforts of your own home. Trusting the chef to make yummy things is part of the dining experience. He’s put together a list of all the things he’s confident in serving. Order one of those things, as is. Face the fear, eat what they have, and accept that having it your way is not a given when you aren’t directly involved in the cooking process.

And that’s okay. It could even be fun. If it’s not fun for you, then don’t put yourself through the torture of worrying about wether strangers can figure out how to prepare something just the way you like it. Especially if that means endless restrictions and substitutions.

2. Ordering around the Service Staff

Again, this is about trust and beleiving that the staff knows how to do their job. The people who are employed at a restaurant have been hired for their understanding of people’s dining needs and their experience meeting those needs, routinely. They know you want water and bread. You don’t need to remind them. Nor do you need to make clear that you are in hurry at lunch. Or ask what the specials are before they have a chance to tell you. Nor ask about where your food might be? Or double check that we remembered that you wanted the dressing on the side.

If your need to control every element of the service is so fever pitched, that you grow hostile or impatient in the process, you are gaurenteeing yourself a bad time. Your need for having things now, on your time, will throw off the flow of service, and potentially deminish the experience of other diners. Allow us take care of you. Feel how uncomfortable that makes you, and talk to your therapist about it on Tuesday.

3. Clearing your own dishes.

This one drives me the most crazy. It is also the offense of which I am most likely to be guilty. I’m speaking mostly about stacking dirty dishes in a pile on your table. This act communicates your need for order and control so clearly that it can be heard loudly over a bustling restaurant in the middle of service. This can also look like handing your dish up to the staff before they have a free hand to take it from you, or flagging someone down to take an empty dish immediately. If you do this, you know what I am talking about.

We all like to think we are to making it easy for the staff, when really we are being our control crazed selves. Getting those dirty dishes off the table faster isn’t going to make life any more bearable, guys. Trust me. Let people take care of you, willingly, in this small way, and see if you survive. Sit on your hands if you have to the first few times. See how liberating it is to let other people be in charge for once. If the experiement goes a miss, at least you tried. Maybe you learned how oblivious you have been to this conditon. Awareness ain’t nothing.

I forgive us all these things. The impulse to “do it ourselves” is strong in most. Resisting the temptation can be very difficult at first. But, witnessing the experience as manageble when we don’t jump in and muck it up can be the most freeing. When the tables are turned and I’m the guest, I’ve noticed that I get a lot more honest care, when I am not trying to make the server be the way I want them to be. (It’s crazy that I think I have any power to make people be the way I want them to be) (even crazier that I thought I might could for so long).

Honestly, stakes shouldn’t ever be so high at a resaurant, that the outcome of a single meal changes the trajectory of our lives. Thus, they are a great place to practice letting go of control, if only the slightest bit. If only to see if it doesn’t actually make things more pleasant. I know some of you need to hold on to these behaviors, because it feels like letting them go would lead to the end of the world as you’ve always experienced it. Your right, it would. But, you might find that the world is not quiet as scary as you feared, either. Plus, it’s the shortest distance between where you are now and a lovelier dining experience.

I know it’s not going to be easy, first hand. I understand if you aren’t ready to yeild just yet. I clearly am not either… hence my advising you to relinquish your control at restaurants to me or my fellow servers. But, I do know that we can open up our hearts to each other in mutal understanding and forgive these tiny transgressions. Know that we all are doing our best to get by, even if it comes out as strange and annoying behaviors at times. You have a witness to the insanity, and a friend. Controling her life a little less…one meal at a time.

Categories: Waiting is the Hardest Part

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