I’m not really a waitress.

“Honey, where have you been all my life?”

There are only three times in my 21 years of existence in which such a question has been posed to me, and two of them have involved overpriced medical practitioners .

First, in 8th grade. Claiming I had “a rep to protect,” I told all of my middle school teachers that I simply could not sit in the front row. In my oversized sweatshirts and baggy jean skirts, my school guidance counselor suspected that I was going through a Kurt Cobain phase, and hence should be kept under close watch– front and center in the classroom. However, this was the period of my life before I discovered the joys of caffeine. My attire was simply a reflection of my over-worked, under-caffeinated state. [Currently, I am both over-worked and over-caffeinated, but my Anthropologie inspired wardrobe is significantly more socially acceptable.]

Unfortunately for me, my eye sight was deteriorating. From the dark corner of my middle school classroom, I struggled to see the jargon on the blackboard. Consistently nudging Malkie, a dear friend who sat in front of me, I soon realized that I was either going to need to invest in a new wardrobe or a pair of glasses, and frankly the latter option was cheaper.

When I arrived in the cramped office of an elderly Jewish optician, who frankly should have retired in 1985, I was greeted with the aforementioned question. My eye sight had gone from 20/20 to 20/50 in less than a year, and if I hadn’t been such an arrogant adolescent, I would have mentioned this very conspicuous physical change 11 months earlier.

Second, junior year of college. While home for Passover and a wedding (welcome to my world!) over spring break, I made an appointment with an oral surgeon. My wisdom teeth had been a nuisance for the last few weeks, and I suspected the time had come to undo twenty years worth of learning for the sake of two days of non-stop milkshaking. Again, the doctor, after taking a set of x-rays that cost more than my laptop, asked me this unfortunate question.

My answer, of course, was England. At which point he ranted about socialized health care, gave me a prescription for penicillin, and made me vow to return to his office the minute I landed in the United States for the summer. I have yet to call him.

Third, on a recent Friday afternoon in a Tribeca nail salon. I was selecting a new color for my nails, which in their current state resembled Germany after two world wars. My varnish of choice, aptly referred to as “I’m Not Really A Waitress,” was to repair the damage that I had inflicted on my nails over the previous five weeks.

Well, my cosmetologist took one look at my color choice and– in impeccable English– exclaimed, “Honey, where have you been all  my life?” Unclear as to whether or not, like my doctors, she was referring to the pathetic state of one of my physical features, I smiled politely, but remained silent.

She, however, persisted. “Young lady, did you notice the name of the color you chose?”

“Um, no, not really.”

“You chose the feminist polish. The polish that says, ‘I refuse to play by any man’s, or woman’s– if that’s whom you prefer– rules.’ You’re not a waitress; you’re a rockstar.”

I paused, contemplating my personal safety in the hands of a woman who supposed that a routine color selection could mean anything more than just that. But, semi-flattered, I felt the need to press her on the matter.

“So you think the names of nail polishes reflect the personalities of those who select them?”

Without a second thought, she remarked, “Of course. Take that girl two rows down from you, the one in the sun dress and with the badly dyed blonde hair. What color did she choose? Well, I’ll tell you– Kiss Me Under the Eiffel Tower at Dawn. It’s a delicate pink. And how about that bitter looking recent divorcee in the corner? Midnight in Moscow, a mixture of black and blood red.”

“Oh, you’re just making that up.”

“Go look for yourself if you don’t believe me. Just like the men we date, the colors we pick directly reflect our personalities. You, young lady, are ambitious. You may start off small– like a waitress struggling to make minimum wage– but you have bigger aspirations. Promise me you’ll continue to chase them, wherever they take you.”

Slightly fearful of denying the woman with the nail file her one wish, I acquiesced.

Afterwards, I returned home to begin the US-UK Fulbright Application for  the 2011-2012 academic year. England may have had enough of me and my attempts at pseudo-intellectualism, but I have to keep a vow to a Vietnamese cosmetologist, and at least attempt to be more than the girl who asks you if you want fries with that. Wish me luck, as I go for the gold– or in my case, the black, white, and read all over fellowship.


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