Lunch In the Ivory Tower
by Betsy Mars

Racing in between classes
we waited, prim primrose uniforms,
soiled aprons, leaky pens in pocket.
Checking our stations with fingers crossed.
Kowtowing to the power-hungry manager
who assigned them, knowing he held our fate
in his perfidious palms. Ass-kissing: first lesson.

Serving, invisibly, the uncivil engineers,
the antisocial workers, the hyper-political scientists,
we jostled in the kitchen before the wheel of fortune
which held the ticket to our tips —
begging Gil, the grizzled Cajun,
as he slowly stirred
the pot of gumbo, dropping ashes
and ignoring our pleas — currying favor
with busboys, supporters in the cause. Second lesson.

Mixed-up orders, kitchen crookery,
we were all complicit, all forgiving in the rush
to get our esteemed professors
their daily bread — liver and onions,
Monte Cristo sandwiches, glasses of wine
or endless refills of coffee. Insatiable:
further education.

Nobel prize winners or underachievers —
we served them all the same
for quarters on the table,
the elusive free lunch, and a chance
to decompress when the deluge was done.
Sharing war stories — students of human nature
and dietary quirks. Lessons learned, we counted our change,
and, in summer, sought our gin
and tonics.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me at approximately the same age I was when I was waitressing. Taken outside a beautiful restaurant somewhere along the coast in Central California where I was NOT waiting tables.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I saw this post, I struggled to decide which “first job” to write about. I had a strange (and probably illegal) part-time job one summer during high school, my first job out of college, and this – waiting tables at the private university faculty center. It seemed such a cliché to write about being a waitress, but this job taught me several things. It led to an understanding that every interaction is important, no matter how mundane — or at least, I liked to believe that in order to comfort myself about my lowly jobs and work woes. I also made several friends who are still in my life today, either through serving with them or to them. I’ll always be grateful for that, and for those faculty members who recognized our humanity.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Betsy Mars is still trying to find ways to be of service. She is currently substitute teaching, and doing a variety of odd jobs to make ends meet while attempting to finally pursue her lifelong dream of being a writer. She loves her family, friends, and animals, gets high on travel, and has been published in a number of anthologies, as well as by Silver Birch, Cadence Collective, Gnarled Oak, and in the California Quarterly.  Find her work at

Author photo by Stephen Howarth at the Queen Mary (November 2015).