Diner Talk

My mom used to tell me stories of her diner-waitressing days. She started working at 15, a young, “apple-cheeked” smiler who (of course) began her first shift by spilling all over a policeman. She worked there all through high school and even into college. She talks about the man who came in every day, three meals a day, ever since his wife died.

“He used to make his tattoo dance for us,” she says, and I picture a wrinkly old arm tattoo shaking and jiving on the diner counter.

I thought, growing up, that I would work at a diner, too. I guess I thought I’d do most things my mother had done, and in the same order. But the little diner in my town would have none of it. [“Do you have experience waitressing?” “No, but I’m a fast learner.” “Sorry, no thanks.” And I was out on the streets.]

A second chance came, however, after college graduation. [I know! You’re not supposed to work at diners when you have a college degree! Well, guess what? Life doesn’t always end up the way you expect it to.]

I walked in on a rainy day in October looking for a part-time job to supplement my wonderful job at the tea shop. It was spur-of-the-moment, prompted by my love of this particular diner’s grilled cheese on homemade bread.

I sat down with Nick, the owner, and he asked me about three questions:

“Do you have experience waitressing?”

“No, but I’m a fast learner.”

“Are you good with people?”

“Yes!”

“Can you start Monday?”

“Definitely.”

You know what landed me that job, the one that no college-grad is supposed to want, but the one that I couldn’t wait to start?

I smiled.

No joke.

Nick leaned back in his chair and said, “I really like that smile.”

And I laughed awkwardly because what do you say to something like that?

“No, seriously,” he said. “I just fired a girl yesterday because she walked around like a dead person. None of the customers liked her. It was terrible. Keep that up and you’ll be great.”

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What is it about smiles that gets people?

I am totally victim to a good smile. After height (over six feet? thank you very much!), smiles are the first thing I notice about men. But women, too, really. Think right now about the people you know – which ones do you picture smiling? They’re probably the same ones you enjoy spending time with.

Babies mimic faces, but they’re not the only ones: look at a person smiling, and you’ll find it hard not to smile, too. It’s contagious. And beautiful. And who doesn’t want to be with someone who’s joyful?

Did I smile every day I was at the diner?

Yeah, but I didn’t always feel like it.

That’s another thing, though – the act of smiling produces the feeling of happiness.

And as I start this month of September, my second year teaching, I remind myself of this. Happiness and joy can be contagious things, and smiling is a way to spread them. I’ve been growing out of my melancholy stage, and the light at the end of it is beautiful.

Try it on. It looks good.

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