It’s the most wonderful time of the year: the Hamptons International Film Festival.
I think it was a rainy Saturday, either last year or the year before, and I was on a double. I’d been at the restaurant for eight hours already and the hostess sat a party of five, dressed in the requisite black, in my section. When I asked them what they would like to drink, instead of responding to my question one of the women mentioned how she’d been standing in line for hours to see a movie and she was exhausted and starving.
She put a British-sounding emphasis on each horrifying word, and looked at me expectantly. It took me a minute to realize she wanted me to commiserate with her — I, who had been on my feet since 10 a.m., and it was now 6 in the evening.
I stared at her with an open mouth, and I remember very clearly I said, “That sounds awful. I can truly think of nothing worse.” I remember she smiled, pleased I’d agreed with her.
But this year I get to be one of those people dressed in black standing on line to see a truly life-changing film, after which I’ll say to anyone who asks (and even people who don’t), “You really must see it. It was divine. The cinematography was amazing. It brought me to tears. Definite influences of Godard,” and pretend I know what I’m talking about. Alas, I don’t drink tea, so my HIFF experience will not include terrorizing the poor servers with a small check and a long table occupation.
I get to be one of those people dressed in black standing on line because I don’t have to work, I don’t have to waitress, I don’t have to run around like a chicken with my head cut off smiling sweetly, pacifying six tables that sit down at once, cringing at the small tips left by the hipster kids that HIFF hires to stand around with clipboards and lanyards looking very young and important. I don’t have to do any of that because I was fired.
Actually, they called it “terminated.” They said, “We’ve decided on termination.” I feel that’s fairly aggressive language to use if you’re basically telling someone, “Hey, we don’t want you working for us anymore.”
They told me what I was doing was bad for business, that if people found out who the columnist was or where she worked, they would stop coming to the restaurant. That I have an obligation to think of my fellow servers and not do something that could potentially damage their livelihoods.
It was inevitable, fate, my destiny. If they refer to it as a termination, then I’m going to use equally epic language. From the moment I accepted the offer to write this column, I knew it was a matter of time. What would you do if you discovered one of your employees was exposing the behavior of your customers, albeit anonymously, in a local paper?
People said I should get a lawyer, I was wrongfully fired, I should call Page Six. Maybe? I didn’t, though. I like the people I used to work for. I’m going to run into them at the I.G.A. and the bank and the post office. I don’t feel like creating undue animosity. Anyway, I’m just a small-town waitress who was fired for saying too much in too public of a space. No hard feelings.
This is my last column for now. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback, some very interesting criticism, and I can say with certainty that it’s been an experience.
I want to thank you for reading, and I am so grateful for the people who wrote letters to the editor in support of or against me. If nothing else, what I wanted to accomplish with this column was to spark a conversation about how servers are treated, what our responsibilities to ourselves and the customers are, the ritual of tipping and how that affects the worker-consumer relationship, and the bizarre and sometimes unfair influence of wealth on the entire dynamic of working in the Hamptons in the summer.
It’s safe to dine out now. You no longer have to wonder if your server is Rebecca DeWinter, the one who writes all those nasty things. You don’t have to be afraid an anecdote about you will show up in the paper. However, I’m currently working toward an M.F.A. in creative writing, so there’s a chance you’ll feature in my fiction. But don’t worry, I promise I’ll keep your identity a secret. You can trust me — I’m a waitress.