Seeing old friends on the dishline
Here We Go Again
I have a confession to make. I'm not sure I'm really ready to reveal this to the entire campus, but I guess I have to say this sometime. So here goes. My niche is the dining hall. I'll explain that.
Last Monday, I read the Freshman Orientation issue of The Observer. My column was in it, so I wanted to see what else was. I ended up reading somebody else's column about how the freshmen need to find an activity or group or something that they enjoy and make that their niche. As I read this, I thought a little sadly to myself, "I'm a sophomore, and I still don't know where my niche is."
God knows I tried to find it last year. I volunteered. I was an activist. I joined musical groups. I even started writing for this paper. But none of these places were my niche, I quickly discovered. I enjoyed some of them, particularly the writing, but none of them were places where I was comfortable with everyone or where I knew all the inside jokes. None of them were my place on campus.
So I came into my sophomore year with a number of things to put on a resumé of activities and no place that I felt I really belonged. I made up my mind to wade back into the fray and find my niche if it killed me.
Along came Monday night. At 8:30, I went to the beginning of the year meeting for the dining hall workers, since I am, after all, a dining hall worker. This consisted of the student managers, about 12 of them, the returning workers, about 20, and about 8 million freshmen, all but three of whom will quit by the end of the year. (I know this from experience.) I said hi to some of the returnees and a couple of the managers, and then joined up with a couple of friends to quietly heckle the welcome speech.
It was, strangely, probably the high point of my day. My roommate wasn't here yet, and I hadn't had a chance to find many people I knew. So this was my first chance to see a bunch of people I knew and liked.
As I left the dining hall that night, I started thinking about the niche problem again. And then it dawned on me. The dining hall is my niche. It's where I am comfortable. It's where I know all the returnees and managers. It's where I know all the inside jokes. I am now one of those veterans who has funny stories about people who are gone to tell younger members. This is my niche.
This sounds strange, I know. You are probably thinking to yourself, "What kind of niche is that? You do dishes, clean up after other students and deal with food a lot. How can you enjoy that?"
I enjoy it because of the people. Not just the students workers, but the full-time workers as well. Sure, I hate doing dishes as much as the next person. But if I'd never worked back on the dish line, I would never have met Walter, who's this really warm, nice, funny guy. If I didn't work downstairs, I'd never have met Lester, who's always happy to see me, always helps me get what I need and gives me high-fives whenever he hasn't seen me for awhile. If I didn't work in the Grab'n'Go, I would never have met Bettie, who always has a hug for me and who I corresponded with over the summer.
I've met a lot of interesting people. There's one man who works in the back who is an immigrant from Vietnam. He was studying to be a lawyer when the war started and he lost his youth to that war. After the war, he immigrated to the U.S. and now he works in our dining hall. I bet you didn't know anyone so interesting worked back there!
The student workers are pretty interesting, too. About 95 percent of the people I know who are minority students, I know from the dining hall. This is also where I met Katie, originator of two famous statements 1) "I may work in the dining hall but I'm not dirt!" and 2) "Core is where you read books and talk about your childhood." It's where I met Mike, the man who invented the concept that if you are funny, you don't have to do work.
I've met a lot of other great people at the dining hall, but I can't describe them all. I guess the point of this whole article, if I could ever really be said to have a point, is that there really is a niche out there for everyone. It just might not be where you would expect.
Marlayna Soenneker's column appears every other Wednesday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Wednesday, August 30, 2000