This story was published in The New Yorker on March 1, 2010.
How timely a weekend is this for thinking about immoderation.
Are you amply stuffed from Thanksgiving dinner? (And how ’bout those leftovers?) One step further — have you succumbed to this weekend’s Siren songs cajoling you to empty pocketbook and wallet in order to top off your soul? In a society where excess has become routine, you could almost be forgiven for not knowing where to draw a line between need and greed.
In this story, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh mixes together two hapless young adults, each dysfunctional in their own way. The timid, hamster-y guy is painfully sincere, but more adept at short-sightedness than as a short-order cook. There is, however, the new “anorexic waitness” who catches his eye:
The first time I saw her, she was sitting at the employees’ table before the dinner shift, clipping flowers and placing them in vases. She looked up when I passed by, and I saw that her eyes were bright blue, even though her hair was black. Her arms were thin and her shoulder blades protruded at a sharp angle. When our eyes met, she looked down quickly and then she looked back up, and when she looked up I looked away.
He has many vague dreams about making a better future for himself, but no real idea about how to accomplish this growth. His overthinking of his past experiences serve only to weigh him down; her present experiences are the converse:
She was pretty but had no breasts or ass. I caught her a few times eating the scraps from customers’ plates. She chewed and swallowed slowly, methodically, as if it took all her concentration. The waitresses said that they heard her sometimes in the bathroom coughing violently …
And yet, and yet, there is mutual attraction – could a new relationship be a step up and out of a dingy and dead-end routine?
The hair on half of my head was matted from the rain. A car approached from the opposite direction, spraying water on both sides. It steered toward me, and for a moment I thought that it might be some punks looking to drive through a puddle and splash me. But then it slowed and stopped completely, and the window came down and the anorexic waitress leaned her head out.
“Get in, silly,” she said.
How possible will it be (for them; for us) to navigate that delicate balance between hunger and excess?
“Is it really that complicated for you to make a grilled cheese sandwich? … How do you burn the bread,” [the manager] asked, “but not melt the cheese?”
Author and playwright Saïd Sayrafiezadeh has written a memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free. He is a recipient of the 2010 Whiting Award from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, for “writers of exceptional talent and promise in early career.”