Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the rules have changed

Well, here I am! After living out of a suitcase for three weeks, sleeping on couches and craigslisting my ass off, I can finally say that I'm a resident of San Francisco! I made it! And all my stuff finally did too - posters, photos, and everything else that makes me feel at home arrived just a few days ago in travel-worn cardboard boxes. Yay!
I'm still getting settled in here, learning the bus lines, trying to have a good time without going broke, all while waitressing about 6 days a week. But just as I expected, even with things as chaotic as they are, I've found plenty of time to write since I got here. Everything around me teems with wild and unique beauty, delighting my eyes and inspiring new ideas around every turn. I currently have one investigative piece in the works, but for now I'd like to address an issue that has likely hit home for every modified Albert and Christina out there. How do you have to un-modify your body to accommodate your workplace's dress code? Most of my managers in the past have been totally accepting of my mods, but my most recent job at Chili's in CT had a much stricter, corporation-dictated dress code that left no room for metal or ink of any kind on the dining room floor. For this reason, I wasn't sure what to expect at the new restaurant I'm working at in San Bruno. Would they be ok with my ever-changing candy-colored coif? My 3/4" plugs? The clear vertical labret retainer I usually wear to work? The calla lilies on my arm that peek out from short-sleeved shirts?
Before my first day of work I had to go in for a number of (stupid) evaluations which, supposedly, determine if I have the right stuff to be a server. After completing an SAT-reminiscent exam that evaluated my mathematic and linguistic ability, and a personality exam to ensure that I'm not a psychopath, I was subjected to a test in which a manager read off hypothetical restaurant situations and I had to respond with potential ways to handle them. Thankfully I passed all of the tests, and was handed a schedule with my name filled in for four shifts that week. Whoo, money!! Before I left, the manager gave a me a little rundown of the rules, including dress code. "I'm supposed to tell you that tattoos can't be showing," he told me with a grin, obviously implying that they have better things to worry about, like good service and happy customers, than some harmless ink. I scanned the restaurant and noticed a tattoo on one server's elbow, and another girl whose rolled up long sleeves revealed full tat sleeves. Things were looking good.
My first day of work came, and actually went pretty smoothly. The customers tipped well, I didn't mess up any orders, and the other servers were all pretty cool. In fact, nearly all of them wore some variety of facial piercing, from monroes to labrets to eyebrows. I began asking the servers about the piercing policy, and nearly all of them referred me to a poster in the office that laid out the (arbitrary) rules for "what's hot" and "what's not" when it comes to mods in the workplace. Here are a few shots of the poster that I stealthily snagged with my phone:
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the guidelines. The "no piercing over 16 gauge" rule ensured that I wouldn't have to wear that stupid retainer in my vertical labret anymore! Also, the wearing of band-aids over piercings, an unsightly practice required by many CT food service employers, is openly discouraged by the poster. I never understood the band-aid solution - a piercing is a piercing but a lump under a band-aid could be anything! It's distracting, unsanitary, and terrible for the piercing, especially if it’s relatively new.
According to my new manager the poster had been distributed not more than a year ago. So although a bit late, I commend Chili's for actually getting with the times and realizing that piercings and tattoos are incredibly common these days and that they don't carry the same connotations they have in the past. Well, apparently some still do, such as the septum piercing, which is specifically forbidden by the poster. However, although both full sleeves and large gauge ear piercings are supposedly "not hot,” they seem to be accepted without question in practice. This made me wonder, will updated guidelines continue to be released to keep up with changing trends and levels of social acceptability? Will the surface anti-eyebrow featured in one of the poster photos soon become the new hot accessory, merely a conversation piece rather than an extreme, shocking facial adornment? Who can tell…an amalgamation of media images, cultural norms dictated by peers, and personal experience combine to form our perceptions of what is socially acceptable in any given situation. Although we can all agree on what is appropriate in some situations, others will always be grounds for disagreement. Thus guidelines like those laid out in the poster will always be only one version of what's considered "acceptable" or "mainstream" in the realm of body mods.
For now, I’m more than happy with the minimal adjustments I have to make before going into work. I actually agree with the corporate opinion that my septum piercing should be hidden, and even when I was allowed to look however I wanted at my old cafĂ© job I didn’t wear it out. I don’t even notice it on myself anymore, but I realize that it is a bit distracting for other people, especially older folks.
San Francisco is such a wonderful environment to live in - every single day I see people on the street grinning like children, dressed like children, stumbling along like children. No one cares if you have a chocolate ice cream stain on your shirt or ropelike dreads for hair or a face full of tattoos - everyone is accepted here for who they are and what they choose to look like. Of course this place isn't some fantasyland utopia where everyone gets along, but it's pretty damn close. And I feel absolutely blessed that I'm getting the opportunity to be a part of it.

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