The following content is neither purely satirical nor entirely fictional, and you should not prioritize your comfort in choosing whether or not to read it.
You are the sort of person who gives of yourself generously. It’s one of the things people appreciate most about you. And people? People are nailing it.
You’re working at the dish window in Forbes College, as you are wont to do. It’s a weekday evening, as it is wont to be. Someone passes you a bowl filled to the brim with ketchup. Except they don’t pass it to you; they balance it on the edge of the counter. You stand on your tiptoes and bend in half to reach it. Your shirt dips into the dirty trough of steaming water below. The bowl, shouting “shatter!,” clatters to the ground before you can grab it. Brimming with ketchup. You leave the dish window to find someone with the resources to deal with the mess, but then you realize, in a moment of satisfying revelation, that you are exactly the person you’re searching for. You are, in many ways, the person you always dreamed you’d be, the very capstone project of yourself. The buck stops with—you. So you smile a saccharine, private smile then get down on your knees and slop it up, reflecting on how sweet giving back can be.
You are blocking the window with your perishable, ketchup-doused human body while you tend to someone else’s sloppy, ceramic-shard disaster, and while you are sacrificing your dignity on the altar of a stranger’s tomato-based fetish, people are passing plates and bowls over your head onto the counter. Things are piling up precariously. Someone stabs you in the non-dominant arm with a fork, and you think That’s where I got my flu shot, and you guess by how spicy it hurts that it is once again Taco Night. Is every night Taco Night? You haven’t eaten at Forbes in years, haven’t looked at the menu in months; you can usually rely on getting the gist of the specials from the remains, like a condor.
You wouldn’t have it any other way.
When you have the chance to stand and tidy yourself, and bandage your non-dominant arm, you return to your rightful place behind the window. You reach and grab a bowl from the far edge of the counter, where all the dirty dishes are balanced so that you can’t get at them. The bowl has the remains of strawberry ice cream in it. And paper. You can’t let paper go down the drain. You reach to grab the paper with your gloved hands out of the bowl full of melted strawberry ice cream, but upon closer inspection you realize it’s not paper, it’s a full hand of press-on nails pressed into the strawberry ice cream pressed into the bowl. It’s a bridge too far. You suppress the urge to cry. You set the bowl full of fingernails aside, quaking with an inhuman anger tempered with fear at our sheer capacity for cruelty. You look for the person who passed this particular buck to you, and they’ve almost turned the corner out of the servery! You raise your voice and shout “Don’t do this to me!” in their direction, but they return only a lewd hand gesture and then are gone. Another fork whizzes past your head. Disillusioned and thinking about changing your major, you move on to a bowl, a big silver one, except it’s three big silver ones gorilla-glued together by thin layers of crystallized vinaigrette. You can’t pry the bowls apart. Your fingernails come off in the attempt; it’s like something out of one of Eli Whitney’s nastier fantasies. You add your real fingernails to the bowl full of melted strawberry ice cream and fake fingernails. You suppress the urge to cry.
You walk out into the seating area at 8:00 PM sharp. You raise your voice and say, “Please bring your dishes in! The dining hall is closed!” You wait at the dish window expectantly, high-powered hose in hand, for all your peers to come scampering in obediently bearing gifts of dishes and cups, bowls and silverware. But no one comes. You feel, as you are wont to feel, a bit like crying; but you suppress it. You go out again at 8:15, raise your voice, and say, “Please please bring your dishes in! The dining hall has been closed!” Same result. All the leaves beating against the floor-to-ceiling windows of the dining hall are brown, and the sky is gray, and you have been for a walk, and it was on a winter’s day. At 8:28, two minutes before your shift is supposed to end, you storm back out into the seating area, look this emboldened crowd of dissenters in their collective eye, raise your voice, roll your eyes back in your head, and pipe, “Hark! Know me and be known by me! Once I have called you and you did not come. Twice I have called you and you did not come! Three times I am calling, and now you must come! There will not be a fourth call!” You just want to go home at 8:30. You want to shower, and to wash the memory of strangers’ abandoned fingernails off your mind. You want to resign yourself to silent rooms without industrial dishwashers—you want to resign. You want a great many things. If wishes were horses, you think, beggars would ride. You scamper back to the dish window as a barrage of forks whiz toward your dominant arm.
You hang up your apron and walk through the thick, drizzly night back to your dormitory in First College, forgetting the events of the evening like a feverish nightmare resurrected in tall lamplit shadows and blinks. You pass a girl with half a sticky set of press-on fingernails, pause on the overlong Whitman steps, turn to look back in the direction of Forbes, and wonder what it’s all for.
It’s all for you.