By Kristianna Bertelsen

I can feel their eyes looking up at me as I set their drinks down. I know what's coming.

"Are you a student?"

I used to make up a new answer with every table. School wasn't a part of my life at all when I first started waiting tables, but each day for a few hours, I suddenly became a UC student, a private-school student, never a community college student -- that was too lowly. Especially when an explanation to justify my existence meant getting hopelessly behind.

(I always seem to have hot food sitting on the pick-up shelf getting cold, three new tables being filled simultaneously in my section, a swank couple expecting the wine bucket they asked for 10 minutes ago. Oh, and that busboy deserving a dressing-down for serving bread in a dirty napkin.)

"What year are you?"

I can answer that one now. "A fifth-year sophomore."

Not that I'm tired of fielding the same old questions. It's just that the next patron who asks me better be wearing a bullet-proof bib.

"What's your major?"

Maybe honesty is the best policy. "Liberal Studies," I say.

"Ah-HA! That's a clever way of saying you don't know!"

Wrong reply. Hungry tourists should never insult their server. I control what goes into their food.

Sometimes I change my major just to mess with them.

If they order seafood, I say my major is underwater scavenging.

Once, when I was having a particularly good week in Art History, I told a middle-aged German couple I was an art major. Their eyes lit up. They told me all about the history of art in their homeland. I was completely engrossed. But then they asked whether I'd be working later that evening so they could bring their son back to meet me. I almost said, "Leave me a huge tip and I'll think about it."

My favorite teaser is this one: "Well, that's a nice a major, but what are you going to DO with it?"

Someday I won't hold back. I'll answer, "Look what I HAVE done with it, you moron! See what I AM doing with it! I'm studying like a fiend in 500 subjects. I read and write endlessly while my friends party. And I trust that by pursuing what interests me most, I will eventually discover..."

"That's swell, honey. Could you get us some more coffee?" will be the reply, I know it. "Oh, and some more lemons, a to-go box, a side of grenadine, a newspaper, the Raiders' score..."

I gave up on explanations long before I entered school. I was a dancer rehearsing six hours a day before I came "to work." Any honest mention of the passion I slaved for invited this response:

"Oh, a dancer! Is that what you want to BE?"

Yeah, when I grow up. "No, I dance to pay the rent, but actually I'm an aspiring waitress."

So, now that I'm a community college student (and proud of it!), I still run around like a headless bat on Saturday nights. I sling hash, breathe second-hand smoke, and remain unruffled when offers of mud pie bring on, "How about I have YOU for dessert?"

But now I always meet people's expectations when they try to find out who I am.

"So, let me guess. You're a student?"

Funny they should ask.

But, after all, the customer is always right.

Copyright 1999 Moxie Magazine All Rights Reserved