By Rebecca Davey
When people ask me what I do with my life, I never hesitate to tell them I’m a second-year journalism student at Ryerson. But when the subject turns to part-time work, I usually hum and haw. You see I don’t have a “normal” retail or restaurant job; I am a wench. In response, they usually just raise their eyebrow slightly, or glance at me quivocally, and reply “A wench?”
For three or four hours on weekend evenings, my home is Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament at Exhibition Place.
I call it home, because I feel at ease in my surroundings, with my co-workers and in serving baby dragons to thousands of people.
Transforming myself into a “lady” of Spanish medieval past isn’t as romantic as it seems, for I remain a lowly wench.
Wench: The world itself conjures up images of a lacy, low-cut, cleavage-increasing, off the shoulder top and matching slutty skirt. Wrong. On good days I look like a green smurf. Smurfette I am not. The men don’t escape wardrobe hell either. They are “slaves” sporting yellow and red tights accompanied by a whtie shirt. The material of my garb is metallic polyester, as if I’m wrapped up in the Brazilian flag, minus the pagentry. No alluring overflowing bust either, but then no one likes to look at a green smurf covered in chicken grease anyway.
Saturdays are usually our busiest night. Before the show begins, I give a “speech” letting the customers know what to expect, and reminding them to cheer for their knight. As I was originally trained as a cocktail waitress, I’m lucky that I can build a rapport with my customers during pre-show, when they are drinking and wandering the halls of the Castle. It’s nice when they remember me, they say things like “I thought you were wearing pink before?”. I have changed into the green version of the smurf costume. Rule number one in serving customers: make them happy, make them smile, chat them up. It’s what I hopefully do best.
This particular Saturday my section of 27 people is particularly rowdy, which is a good thing. A food server (the user-friendly term for wench) should be able to get their section going, cheering for their Knight. “Good evening my Lords and my Ladies, I am WENCH Rebecca, your food server for the next two hours.”
One man snickers when I say wench. “Do I get to go to the dungeon?” he asks. His girlfriend glares at me. The usual. Men love to break down barriers, even for a couple of hours.
Women often ask me how I can “degrade” myself. Quite simple, it is a role I play, a living I make, and besides, I have fun doing it. The customers are usually wonderful. Even when the tips aren’t. I don’t see myself being an actual “wench” but as a woman working hard to make money. When I leave my tip trays out in front of my customers at the end of the show, it’s insulting to see some people put pocket change on top of it. And for some reason, the guys usually make more than us. I don’t expect a lot, just a tip that recognizes the fact that I’ve served my customers well. It does upset me on some nights, but the rewards of a good night, $50 or more, always makes me feel rewarded.
I jokingly tell the man’s girlfriend that if he’s bad, I’ll send him to the dungeon, jokingly. Adding that there are no whips and chains in the dungeon, either. He pouts, then laughs with his girlfriend. The jokes continue throughout the evening, and I feel better. I serve the four course meal of bruschetta, soup, chicken, ribs and potatoes, pastry and coffee and coke. This time I’m rewarded. The man and his girlfriend give me a hefty tip. Laughter with customers is the best medicine, especially since I don’t have to think about my sore and aching muscles.
Throughout my numerous trips to the kitchen, my 50 or so co-workers insult each other, pinch behinds with our tongs, and blow off (quite literally) steam. Some might constitute this as sexual harassment on the job, but it’s all in jest. We are family after spending many weekends together. Besides, it helps that my boyfriend is a squire. I casually remind the guys at work that he uses swords and lances for a living. Works every time.
I slap Richard on the butt, a fellow Ryersonian in Hospitality, as he passes me in the kitchen. I know he is vowing revenge, he’ll probably put ice down my top or insult me while cleaning up after the show. Richard’s next move keeps me guessing during the show and keeps my mind off the coke I spilled down my top.
The night was good, almost $80 in tips. That’s about $3 a person. Not bad. The ultimate goal is to reach over a $100 which happens once in a while.
As I blow out my candles, wipe the chicken grease off my tables, and put down my chairs, a little girl runs up to me, looking for the banner she misplaced during the show. I find it underneath a chair, and hand it to her. “Thank you, you’re a nice wench,” she says with a smile. As she gallops off, I think of her adorable face and the look of surprise she had when I placed a whole chicken on her plate. For once, I’m not worrying about the money, but the fact that this wench made someone’s day.