Originally written September 24, 2002

The past two mornings, at precisely 6.53-ish in the morning, I have been awakened. Not by the pleasant beeping of my alarm clock, but by the ringing of a telephone. My telephone, as luck would have it. The first morning, I let it ring, in the bleak hopes that my roommates would pick it up or that the caller would leave a message. It stops ringing, I roll over and resume sleepage. A wee bit later, the phone rings again. The machine picks it up, no message is left.

So this evening, Rosalie has a "weird man" story to tell. A female employee of the coffee shop where my roommate works left her car unlocked. Someone broke in, and stole...her dayplanner. Inside this valuable piece of stolen property, there were the names and phone numbers of the people who work at this same coffeeshop, including my roommate. So this charming man of the morning has been calling females in this dayplanner, saying obscene things, probably while touching himself. Creepy indeed. I almost wish he'd call back tomorrow morning and try to match himself against my cruel wit, although I know I would be too freaked out to say anything to him. It would be fun, though.

Creepy Man: What are you wearing?
Sandra: A parka and some gogo boots.
Creepy Man: Do you like scary movies?
Sandra: Only ones with gerbils.
Creepy Man: I know where you live.
Sandra: Me too.

That would be fun. To out-weird the weird guy. He'll probably call tomorrow, and I'll creatively call him a pervert and hang up. It's hard to be witty at 6.53-ish.


young and crazy.

I'd forgotten what a pain apartment hunting is. Not so much the pain that job hunting is, but only because there is less paperwork.

The trouble with Boone is that it's almost purely a college town. There's really not much else besides the university. And so the apartment complexes generally cater to the school, meaning most of them only have year-long leases that start in June or August. Which wouldn't be so bad, except that they sign these leases to people months in advance. Plus, there are really only four or five renting companies in town that control all the places to live. It's not much of a buyer's market.

And I'm having trouble getting used to the fact that living alone just costs more. It's not that I think I won't be able to come up with the money whenever the rent is due, it's just that I don't really want to.

We looked at these places in the beginning, these incredibly nice and inexpensive places. It's a shame that the too-good-to-be-true thing applies here. They really were that nice and they really were that cheap, but I do not qualify to live there. Those apartments are for poor people, and while I am considered to be one of those, the apartments are not for people who still get written off of their parents' taxes. Darn me and my dependent status. Of course, Ashley and Nick, in their destitute newly-wedded bliss, do qualify. I hate them for it.

But I looked at newspaper ad after newspaper ad and floorplan after floorplan. Ashley and I have been looking together, and at this point, I think we're both just hoping for a miracle. But all we've seen is just nice places that we can't afford and depressing places that we don't want to.

I told myself when I started out on this be-independent-and-live-alone plan that I was past the age where I would want to live somewhere because it had a lot of character. I bet you all laughed, because you know that I am not past that age. It seems doubtful that I will ever be past that age, 'cause man, I love me some character. In this whole process, the only apartments that I have liked have been the ones with a little something different. I'm willing to forgive the small stove if I can get a place with interestingly shaped rooms. I can deal with the carpet stains if I'm given some funky wallpaper in exchange. And check out the apartment that I'm most interested in now: it's semi-circular. The building is a giant cylinder. My reaction was "Wow, that's so cool!" when maybe it should have been "What kind of weirdo would want to live here?"

But whatever. I'd rather have my cylinder apartment than some cookie cutter place that I could get anywhere. It's all about the character. No one remembers the apartments that were perfect. You remember the imperfections, the flaws, the things that drove you crazy then but later will make you laugh and say "Remember when we were young and we lived in this crazy place?"

Here's to being young and living in crazy places.


my irrational fear of electrical outlets.

This morning, due to my stepping through some bizarre rip in the space-time continuum, I was early for class. And so I unpeeled the layers of clothing that kept me from developing frostbite in the twenty degree weather on this second day of spring and prepared to have a seat on the floor. And that's when I saw it, right where I had been about to sit and lean against the wall.

An electrical outlet.

And so I had to move my stuff down a foot or two, so that I could lean against a part of the wall that did not lead to certain electrical peril.

It all stems from My Irrational Fear of Electrical Outlets, though I am not the one who decided to call it such. I think a much more suitable name would be My Entirely Rational Fear of Electrical Outlets, but as I seem to be in the minority on this point, we'll stick with the first.

My Fear of Electrical Outlets, irrational or otherwise, all comes from my impoverished childhood in the low mountains of Western North Carolina. And my parents, God bless them, they tried, but they could not provide all for their children. We did not have enough money to afford those little plastic covers that go on the electrical outlets after we paid the electric bill that made them necessary.

I don't remember any particular incident, just that there was one. I don't know if I stuck a knife in there or maybe just a tiny finger, but either way, after that first time, I didn't need a little plastic cover to tell me that I didn't want to be anywhere near those inviting and yet menacing little slots. Getting shocked hurts, as I could also tell you from equally terrifying and much more frequent electric fence incidents.

So I didn't even realize that there were others who would call my fear an irrational one until my late teens, when a friend came over to work on a project. She was just about to lean against the wall, against an electrical outlet, when I screamed and saved her life from a terrible fate. She thanked me by laughing at me. The same thing happened a couple of years later with Casey. He then proceded to terrorize me by holding on to my hand and putting his fingers on the outlet. I might have started crying.

From that traumatizing experience, I now understand that my fingers are probably too large to stick in far enough to get shocked. And I know that chances are highly unlikely that I would sustain an electric wound from leaning against the wall where an outlet makes its home. You hear me? I understand all that. But I still won't touch them or lean against them. That's why it's an irrational fear.

I really don't see what the big deal is. As far as irrational fears go, I think mine is pretty minor. It does not disrupt my daily life by preventing me from getting into foreign-made cars (well, maybe Korean ones) or keeping me from eating tomatoes on days that start with "T". It's just a little thing, just My Eensy Weensy Irrational Fear of Electrical Outlets.

Which is entirely rational.



Originally written March 16, 2003

I spent a great deal of my teenage years coming to the harsh reality that everyone did not grow up in a household like mine. Apparently, no one did. Some of these things were specific to my family, others to where I grew up.

This came as a big shock to me, but apparently people outside the South don't go nuts around March Madness time. Yeah, I know.

And it's that time again. Every Thursday through Sunday, televisions will be tuned to CBS. Families will watch together, and kids will fight over the right to write in the winners on the tournament bracket hanging on the fridge. Everyone will pull for the underdog when their team isn't playing.

My mom is the most nuts about it. The day the pairings came out was a family holiday. At 6:30 pm, my mom could be found poised on the couch, a pen in hand, ready to frantically write down the names of the teams as they were announced in the blank bracket that had come out in the Charlotte Observer that morning. Nevermind that the completed bracket would be in the next day's paper - we had to have one now. We counted the Atlantic Coast Conference teams together, making a mental note of our favorite teams and their positions. We pulled for Duke, UNC, State, and any other North Carolina team, and then Clemson if we had to, but never Michigan.

And the games, oh, the games. They were exciting even if you didn't have a dog in the fight. We had a listing of specific games and tourneys in years past that had been particularly memorable - the Cinderella story of 1983, the "Holy Mackerel" Georgia Tech game, but most of all, the Duke - Kentucky game. My sister and I used to recreate the winning shot on our basketball court at home. I was Grant Hill, she was Christian Laettner.

And the fever was everywhere. I remember in fourth grade learning probability with the assistance of the tournament finals. It was even brought up in church. No one prayed for game results, not aloud anyway, but I wouldn't be surprised if God received several slightly embarrassed but earnest pleadings around the beginning of April.

And here we are at the Big Dance again. The pairings were announced this evening. Always a NC State girl at heart, I was glad to see they made it. I'm starting to feel the fever myself, and am glad I grew up here, where I know the joy of rooting for a 16 seed with a bowl of popcorn at my side. It's that time.

Are you ready to dance?


86: Vintner's.

86: french dip

I gave a full speech Sunday afternoon to my tables, an extended version of my usual introduction and run-down of the specials that I never sell. This new version included a full 86 list, a list of things we couldn't give them. That was my speech Sunday afternoon, as I had to tell every customer what we had already run out of, so they didn't get their hearts set on ordering something they couldn't have. And I told them why, too, and it wasn't because our kitchen manager was too inefficient to order things before we ran out them.

Sunday was the last day Vintner's of Blowing Rock was open for business.

86: cheddar

Depressing? Lord, yes. Will the rest of Blowing Rock notice? Maybe. Will they notice after a month or two? Probably not. Fickle, fickle town. But I'll miss it, miss the people, miss the disorganization, miss the ridiculousness that was and always will be pure Vintner's.

Where else do they lock up the ketchups so it doesn't get used up too quickly? Where else do all the dressings have too much garlic? Where else can you get free tableside wine service where the server will cut himself while opening the bottle for you? Where else can you call the host a jerk and have the server agree with you?

86: reuben

"Welcome to Vintner's." It was my favorite phrase. Not to customers, but to employees who commented on something ridiculous that happened. Because that's just the way it was there. And some people couldn't handle it. The craziness of it all just got to them and they got out. But the rest of us, those who thought it was funny and wonderful, we were a special breed.

86: portobella

And then he sold the place, sold it to a garden shop down the street for a ridiculous amount. And we closed our doors after a final push to get rid of everything that wouldn't keep ($1 beers!). We had moving sale signs everywhere, and everyone kept asking me where we were moving. I hedged and said, "Well, we're moving, we just don't have a destination yet..."

86: salmon

I was the first to leave that day, after having opened for the last day. I went down a row of my coworkers, receiving hugs and good lucks nearly in tears over a silly college job. I cut the last lemon that morning, stocked the last creamer, set up the last dessert tray. And though I was entirely conscious of it all while I was doing it, I don't think it sunk in.

It still hasn't sunk in. And I don't know when it will, when it will hit me that I'll never welcome my customers to Vintner's and tell them that my name is Sandra and that I'll be taking care of them today. Maybe this Saturday when I wake up because it's midday and not because my alarm is telling me I have to get up and put on my black and whites.

86: mango brie quesadilla

I'm trying to write it all down, to put my experiences down somewhere before I lose them in the untrustworthy thing that is my head. I want to write down the kinds of characters that I worked with, the kinds of crazy that people have to be to work in a restaurant, this restaurant in particular.

86: thousand island, raspberry vinaigrette, roasted pumpkin balsalmic, swiss cheese dressing

I don't know what I'm going to do now. It's the off-season and no one is hiring. I'm in no rush to get another job. I suspect this will be the last time in a very long time that I can get away with not having a job. Besides, it's kind of like a betrayal to get another job right away. I need a little mourning period.

86: Sandra


cars, the economy, romaine lettuce, and the Lord.

The first thing Larry ever asked me was whether I had a church. Actually, the first thing Larry ever asked me was when I could start working. He asked me that on the day I put in my application at Vintner's, and it was the first indication to me that the restaurant had trouble keeping wait staff. The other question, which I suppose we have now established as being the second question Larry ever asked me, was posed on the morning of my first shift.

Larry was a well-dressed, clean-cut, and soft-spoken man in his mid-thirties who was the day manager when I started wokring. He told clean jokes, didn't drink alcohol, and took his wife out on a hot date once a week, on which they go to whatever restaurant for which they had coupons.

Larry loved the Lord, and he loved to talk about the Lord. And that would have been okay, if not for the fact that the Lord was all he talked about. It would have been just as tiring if all he talked about was cars or the economy or romaine lettuce.

Maybe it was just frustrating to me because I never had anything to say back to Larry. Sometimes I agreed with him and sometimes not, but either way, I'd rather talk about something else. Aloof, detached, afraid, whatever you want to call it, I keep myself to myself.

So Larry made me uncomfortable, because I knew I was supposed to respond, but there was nothing to say. And I think my awkward silence gave Larry the impression that I didn't respond because I wasn't right with the Lord. He interpreted my silence as guilt, maybe. Naturally, that made him want to discuss the Lord with me even more.

Larry went to a Church of God behind the mall where he preached sometimes, meaning he got to talk about the Lord to a bunch of people at once. And I think this was the kind of church where people did not stay silent when someone got up and talked about the Lord. Maybe I should've shouted "Amen!" when Larry talked to me. Or maybe I should've just explained to him that I was a Methodist, and that sort of thing just wasn't in us.

Larry once said that working at the restaurant really put his beliefs to the test. After all, it was a restaurant and wine shop, and a lot of faiths aren't so big on the alcohol issue. He said, "What would Jesus do? Would he be in here recommending the Chateau Morrisette?" Though Larry did not himself drink, he did not condemn it. He even bought of wine once - one shaped like a fish so that he could pour out the wine and make a candle with the bottle for his wife.

Larry was a very contented kind of guy, his life might have been completely stress-free if not for Lynn, the wife of the owner of the restaurant where he and I both worked. She and Larry, they just didn't get along, and it really was because of the signs. Lynn posted these signs on the telephones saying "No one is to take reservations except for Joe, Lynn, or John." Larry took these signs as being personal attacks, maybe partially because John was the night manager and supposedly had the same authority as Larry did. He wondered why Lynn didn't just tell him, rather than insult his intelligence with these ridiculous signs. Every sign that went up, always written on green post-it notes, Larry brought down the next morning. One night after several days of this, Lynn called Larry at home to confront him on the sign issue. And the usually sedate Larry lost his temper.

Larry felt bad and apologized later, and there were no more such incidents. The signs stayed up. Larry seemed defeated. He no longer cared. He listlessly seated customers and then returned to the host stand to go back to staring off into space. He didn't even talk to me about the Lord much anymore.

Finally, one day Larry announced that he was putting in his two-week's notice. He had sold his house, and he and his wife were moving to Florida. Larry was joining the seminary. Larry was going to talk about the Lord for a living. He seemed happier than he had been for a while.

I liked Larry, even if he did make me uncomfortable. And even though he may not have known it, when Larry talked about the Lord, I listened to him. And sometimes I wonder if Jesus would recommend the Chateau Morrisette, or if maybe the Son of God is more of a Cakebread Cellars kind of guy.


a study guide.

I hate to delay a good story by having to stop and make definitions. This is particularly true of waitressing stories, since as a server, I have a tendency to fall into the server lingo that is otherwise uncommon among regular people. A good story has flow, and interruptions to the flow can make or break a story, no matter how many lasagnas the midgets on Shetland ponies ordered.

So, in an effort to educate the public, and also to make it another person's fault when I use a serving term they don't know, I am going to explain the more common and less obvious words and phrases that we use. And now all you other servers with your fabulous serving stories can just refer the unknowing to this article.

* * * * * * * * * *

# - top - A table having the given number of people sitting at it. The most common is a two-top, or a deuce, obviously a table with two people sitting at it. Notice that this phrase is much quicker than "a table with five people sitting there" or even "table of seven". Many times it's used to describe a table, but can be used with blinding speed if a host needs a rundown of your tables. "I have two two-tops, a three-top, a five-top, and two one-tops." Of course, after the first use of the phrase, those tables might just be shortened to the numbers, ie "I have two two-tops, a three, a five, and two ones." Because really, if you have those tables, you don't have the kind of time to stand around and describe them.

On the fly - make it quick. This is a kitchen term, and is usually used when a server forgets to put in a food order or the customer sends something back, such as "I need a grilled chicken sandwich with fries on the fly!" I suppose it's the server equivalent of the medical term "stat" or the laymen's "ASAP", although "Sooner than possible" might be better. People don't care for waiting for food, and your tip is on the line.

All day - used for saying how many of a particular item are needed total at this point in time. It took me a few months to really pick up on the use of this phrase, being that it's a kitchen phrase. For example, if someone ordered a tuna salad sandwich, and there were already three of those ordered, then that's four tuna salad sandwiches all day. Ah, kitchen math.

Back/Front of the house - the part of the restaurant and the staff associated with it. The tables, bar area, waiting area, anything that the customers see is the front of the house, as well as the servers, hosts, and bartenders. The kitchen and dishwashing area as well as the workers that stay in that area are the back of the house.

In the weeds - so ridiculously busy that you cannot see your way out. A server term associated with the stressful and terrible feeling of having too many things to do and not enough time to do them and ensure even a moderate tip. This feeling is not just when you have a lot of tables, but also when their timing is all wrong, like when they all want something at the same time.

Wine Abbreviations - abbreviations for particular wine varieties. Obviously, this may not common in most restaurants, but seeing as I worked in a restaurant & wine shoppe, we used them quite a bit. It was hard not to use them to the customers. Those wine names are long and too much trouble.
Cab - Cabernet Sauvignon
Chard - Chardonnay
Pinot - Pinot Noir
Sav - Sauvignon Blanc
White Zin - White Zinfandel
Zin - Red Zinfandel

Notice that Reisling and Merlot do not have abbreviations. I guess they are short enough. Pinot Gris/Grigio also does not have one, I assume because Pinot was already taken with Pinot Noir. I'm not sure if these abbreviations are universal or if perhaps one or two of them are specific to my particular restaurant. Chard and Cab I feel are widely used. In any case, they are the ones I use.

Food runner / running food - the taking of food to a table or the person who does it. Generally, a server takes food to their own tables. But rather than risk the food getting cold, other servers sometimes run it for them if they are busy with some other task. At some restaurants, there are food runners whose only purpose is to run food. I prefer to run my own food, and get a bit touchy if someone else does it when I am nearly done with whatever was delaying me. But I get over it, as it just has to be done sometimes.

Tip-out - the percentage of a waiter's tip that is given to coworkers. Serving customers requires the entire staff, and there are frequently workers who mainly assist the serving side, such as bussers and food runners. The actual percentage is usually restaurant-wide, though servers can certainly give more than the required percentage if someone helped them out a lot on a given day.

Stiffed - not being left a tip at all. I cannot personally imagine receiving such rotten service that I didn't leave a tip, but I'm sure it happens. Being stiffed is usually a result of either poor service or the customer being a jerk. This term is not to be confused with being shafted, which refers to getting a bad tip. I've never been stiffed, though one table neglected to pay their entire bill, so I suppose I was stiffed there. However, if they didn't even pay for their food, I didn't really expect them to give me anything. My worst shafting was receiving a $.94 tip on a $70 ticket. I was heartbroken, but honestly think they made a mistake, as the service was quite good. Servers generally know the difference between good and bad service.

I would obviously recommend not being a jerk as a customer. I've worked with several servers who will follow a customer out to the parking lot and very nicely ask where they felt the service was lacking. So be sure and give bad tips only when they are deserved. Duh.

86 - being all out of something. We have an 86 board that lists the food items we are currently sold out of so that servers will know to tell customers and to not sell these items. For example, after the last crab cake is sold, the kitchen will tell the first server they see "86 crab cake" at which point the server will write it on the board and then go around telling everyone "86 crab cake". I knew a girl who had been working in a restaurant for over a year before she knew what the phrase meant. She somehow had the idea that we had 86 crab cake orders left, which if it had been the case, then we over-ordered.

Side-work - Work other than waiting tables that needs to be done. These are tasks generally performed either at the beginning or the end of the shift, though there is what is known as running side-work, which is performed as the shift progresses. Side-work involves cleaning, restocking, and basic preparation for the next shift.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now there will be other terms that are more specific to a particular restaurant. But these are the ones that I feel are used pretty widely, and therefore that you should know to become a more educated citizen and consumer.

Actually, I do this for purely selfish reasons. I want to be able to use these terms when I write about waiting tables here, as they've become part of my regular speech. And I don't want to have to explain them over and over. So from now on, it's your responsibility. Learn these terms. There will be a quiz.


living for the story.

Elisha had mystique.

Mystique is a concept that I try to describe but fail to do it well, but it's a very vague thing. But I find that most people know what I'm talking about because most people know someone with mystique. And knowing someone with mystique is enough to know exactly what I'm talking about.

Mystique is a strictly feminine thing, I think. I only think that because I've never met a man who had it, and though I know that a lack of evidence is not evidence in itself, I still feel deep down that it's somehow tied to that extra 'X' chromosome.

You know those girls? The girls that everyone loves, the girls that other girls wish they could be, the girls that boys wish they could be with. When you think about it, they're not exceedingly attractive, or smart, or funny, but there's just something about them that makes them all of these things.

I don't have it. I've said that to every guy that I've ever discussed mystique with, and none of them have ever had the courtesy to disagree, which means it must be true. I'm okay with not having it. Alright, so I'm not at all okay with not having it, but I'm working on it.

But anyway, Elisha. Elisha had the amazing blessing of being beautiful, smart, and funny, and so really, she didn't need the mystique at all. But she had it all the same.

Elisha was a hostess at work, and she stood at the front at the hostess stand and made up games we could all play as we walked by with our trays in our hands. We played word games, we played games where we made up songs about coworkers, we played games where we wrote plays about the restaurant. Someone always dropped a cake in these plays.

She had a particular style, a half-hippie, half-thrift store, half-crazy old lady down the street. And though three-halves would be too much for anyone else, it somehow worked for Elisha. She wore ponytails that always left those hair bumps on the top of her head, the bumps that girls spend ten minutes every morning trying to get rid of, but that always looked good on her.

Elisha was so open, so completely open with everyone about her personal life, which bewildered me. The day after she broke up with her boyfriend, she told the long sad, rather intimate story to everyone. I think I teased her about it. I think it hurt her feelings. I still feel bad about it.

Elisha wanted to be a writer, and she brought her journal to work and wrote pages and pages on the days that she worked down in the wine cellar. She had even had a story published in a Chicken Soup book, I think it was the one made especially for the sister's soul. She taught a creative writing course for senior citizens, and she told us these funny stories about these elderly people treating little old her with all this reverence because she was the teacher.

Elisha came across as a little ditzy, because she unabashedly admitted to things that everyone did, and everyone knew that everyone did, but no one ever talked about. And you laughed at her, because she was so honest about it, and you laughed at yourself because you knew you were guilty, too.

Elisha dated boys for the story. She was living in a novel, and she was trying to collect enough odd characters to make the best-seller list. She told me about all these guys she had dated, and though the relationships had never gone anywhere, they made great stories.

After Elisha left several months ago, the restaurant wasn't the same. There weren't weird word lists written on the paper that listed the tables and what server had them. There wasn't a host that wore outfits that didn't go and yet did. There wasn't someone telling a long, drawn out, funny and embarrassing story that was so completely honest, so completely unembarrassed.

We talked about her all the time, how much we missed her goofy smile. We talked about how beautiful she was, how funny she was, how glad we were whenever she came in for a shift. One of the guys there, a fellow dork actually, said that he missed the fact that a gorgeous girl like Elisha would actually talk to a guy like him about books.

And I miss her. Because you can't help but miss those girls with mystique, even if you're one of those girls who doesn't have it, who envies the ones who do have it, who stands by and listens to her guys friends pine for the girls that do have it. Because to know Elisha is to love her, and I am no different, nor would I want to be.


what the old people don't want you to know.

During this, the grand week of midterms for college students everywhere, I wish to offer my tried and true test-taking strategies. I realize that these sorts of articles are ubiquitous nowadays in this era of standardized tests, but those articles are full of tips suggested by old people who have only their eye examinations to take every year. The student of an institution of higher learning is not so lucky. It is not uncommon for such a student to have four or five exams in this very week alone. Midterms, they call them, as well as a variety of other more colorful names.

I am such a student. I have taken the standardized tests, the essay tests, the ridiculously difficult take-home exams, the multiple-choice trick question tests, the perilous true-false tests, the four-question tests, and the hand-cramping short-answer with not enough room to write tests. I have taken them all and lived to write an authoritative article about it in a snobby tone.

And I have read the articles by the other, less-qualified writers who think they know what testing is all about. I have tried their tips, have kept the ones I thought useful, threw out the ones I did not. Here is a list of the ones I keep in my repetoire for my own test-taking use, compiled from the lists of others with a couple of my own thrown in the mix.

* * * * * * * * *

Study - I'm sorry. I know that the title "Test-Taking Strategies" means to you "How You Can Magically Ace an Exam Without Actually Knowing the Material". I know, because that's why I read those sorts of articles too. This tip is never on those other lists, because those old people don't understand the college student mind. They assume you are going to do that anyway, even that you will be doing it well in advance of the test date. Silly old people.

But study what you need to study. Old people also have the misconception that every test deserves the same kind of mental attention, which is absolute crap. I've taken tests where the class was a breeze anyway, but I was allowed to bring in a cheat sheet of notes, on which I could fit all my notes from the semester if I wrote only reasonably small. Some tests don't need that much studying. And then there are some that if you studied for thirteen years before the test, you would never be ready. As a seasoned student, you can tell the difference by now. This may be a little difficult to gauge if it is the first exam you've had in a specific class or with a specific teacher, but after you get a feel for that teacher's exams, you can pretty much tell how much preparation you need.

I find that studying is an individual thing, meaning how you best do it is likely to be different from mine. There are strategy articles for that, too, and they all tell you to sit at a desk with good posture away from distractions except for maybe a small study group of focused, intelligent people from two-parent homes. I'm terrible at studying with other people, I slouch with my lap desk while listening to music I don't know the words to to keep myself from singing. So, you know, whatever floats your boat.

Look Good - Seems a little silly, I know. But if you wear something that you think makes you look studly, or at least as close as you personally get to studly, you will feel better about yourself. It's a little ego-booster trick that you play on yourself. Obviously, try to make it something you feel comfortable in as well, as a lack of blood circulation won't do much for your stress levels. Will you look so good that the teacher will swoon and give you bonus stud points? Couldn't hurt to try.

Wake up Early - And in the name of all that is holy, don't oversleep. Wake up with enough time to leisurely shower, eat, get ready, maybe look at your notes a little, do whatever it is you do. This tip will help you feel more prepared, even if you're not, because at least you had time to do your morning routine. That feeling of being rushed in the morning will only carry over to your exam, and that kind of heart-pumping, sweaty state is not what you need.

Don't Eat Breakfast - Oh, I know this is a shock to you. Every single test-taking strategy guide you have ever read screams at you from the very beginning to eat your Wheaties, to eat so much Wheaties that their stock goes up. And this is another place where old people just don't understand. Many students do not eat breakfast on a regular basis. If you are one of those students, eating a big breakfast will make you feel sick and throwing up on your exam is unlikely to yield a high grade. So the rule here is actually not to avoid breakfast, but eat no more nor less than what you usually eat. Maybe have a little something like a candy bar or a glass of orange juice to give you a little energy, but don't go provoking your stomach by going to a breakfast buffet. It can get back at you in ways you would never think of.

On a related note, I think that the good night's sleep other articles are always recommending is along this same vein. I know people that simply do not sleep all that much, and trying to make themselves sleep will only cause unnecessary stress. I say again to do what you normally do, maybe leaning a very little bit on a little extra rest. If you are generally okay on four hours of sleep, eight hours is going to screw you over. Maybe go for five or six. Me, if I can get a good 12 hours the night before, I'm in good shape.

Treat Yourself - I like this trick because it gives me a viable excuse to spend a little extra money on myself, though I haven't quite figured out a way to write it off on my taxes as an educational expense. Somewhere in your daily routine, find a way to give yourself an extra boost, to make yourself think that it's a good day. Since I generally have coffee in the morning, on test-taking mornings, I have gourmet coffee from an actual coffeeshop instead of brewing it myself. Maybe have a slice of pie at lunch for afternoon tests. Spoil yourself, reward yourself in advance for the grueling ordeal you are about to experience.

Practice Superstitions - Not because they will actually put thoughts into your head that were not there before, but for the psychological advantage. Notice that a lot of my tips are psychological, because I think that feeling good about what you're about to do is half the battle. Well, maybe just a tenth of the battle, but ten points is the difference between letter grades. So have a favorite pencil, wear lucky socks, do a lucky irish jig before class, whatever gives you the idea that not only did you study, you've got some other forces smiling down upon you as well.

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There you have it, the only guide to test-taking written by someone who has not only been there, but actually is there right now. But I've wasted enough of your time. Go now, and use this newly discovered wisdom to skip breakfast and wear sexy clothes to school to better your GPA. You're ready. Besides, I have a midterm tomorrow, and I have not done nearly enough slouching with my lap desk.


cutting the lemons.

Originally written January 26, 2003

When I first started working at Vintner's, I couldn't stand Andrea.

She's the veteran of the wait staff. She's been there longer than almost anyone in the whole restaurant, beat out only by the owners and Larry the dishwasher. Next month will be the anniversary of her having worked there a year. At Vintner's, where time is very very different, that's a long time indeed.

She's a true Boone hippie, with all the trimmings. The rare times I've seen her off-duty, she was wearing thong sandals and flowing flower skirts. She wears funky hemp jewelry and is a vegetarian. She does it for the animals and for her health. She also smokes. She is apparently very concerned about the environment.

That leads to what first bothered me so much about Andrea. She was constantly pissed off at people over very tiny matters. At least once a day, I would see Andrea reach in the trash, pull out a wine or a beer bottle, hold it up and say, "We recycle!" as loudly as possible. Man, I hated that. Or sometimes someone would put a bar glass in the regular glass rack. Again, the reaching, the lifting up high, the loud announcement, "This is a bar glass!" That wouldn't be bad if she didn't do it every single day. Other than John, the complete idiot manager, she bothered me more than anyone during my first couple of months. Her whole manner seemed to say that she felt she was surrounded by idiots.

Then one day, we were all hanging around in the back. Someone that Andrea was good friends with was picking on her and her strange ways. I got into the game, even though I didn't feel like I knew Andrea well enough to pick on her at all. Frankly, I was scared of her. I guess I got caught up in the fun, for before I knew it, I was doing a perfect imitation of Andrea's recycling routine. She looked kinda confused, but we were suddenly much better friends, through some cosmic force that I totally do not understand. Suddenly, I too, was in the tiny circle with her, with idiots closing in all around us.

Since then, I have listened to Andrea gripe about many things, but they're often legitimate complaints. Part of the reason she complains about the slackness of others so much is because she actually works there. She cuts the lemons, tears more lettuce, rolls silverware, and restocks the tea just because she sees it needs to be done. And people like that are such a big help when you're a waitress.

So I like Andrea now. We're not buddies or anything, but I know she likes me because she complains to me rather than about me to someone else. She realizes that I can tell the differences between the kinds of glasses. We have an understanding now.

And for the record, I haven't seen her hold a recyclable aloft in months.