The Palace Bouffant

The tide in him was tortuous. He felt as if an inner force was pulling with its fingers from the inside of his face, down and in. The weight of the yanking and stretching made him feel dehydrated, which he probably was, having run after he got to work. The pull went from the top of his head, grabbing his brain, and trying to push it down his neck, it grabbed the rest of him at the top of his shoulders in a vortex of flesh and energy through in the insides of his back, to his waist, and then to the back of his spine. He felt like he was collapsing and his legs were nearly paralyzed.

He walked as if he was carrying a huge sack that was as wide and longer than he was. He kept saying to himself that he wished, just once, that he could come to work and work was not the crap shoot it was. It was an obstacle course of surprises and repairs such that at one point his parched mouth could make no smile, his eyes sagged for the stress was constant, the compromise of self exacting and diminishing seemingly forever as he prayed again for rest, even though he had just returned from vacation. Even as he had so few days at work, it was constantly on his mind, a plethora of menial tasks loaded into one. He had fewer fingers and toes than what he felt he needed to accomplish every second of every day. He wondered why he was being sacrificed and why no one joined him, except that when he involved them it was mostly in private or else they were in shock, speechless, and that amounted to a “hush, please” diatribe.

He felt hollow. He had no real anger, he whined at this point. He spoke from his neck, not his diaphragm. He must have sounded weak and bothersome when Peter asked to be tipped for carrying a few glasses to their settings. He can’t remember Peter helping much, except for an appearance in the room with a cluster in one hand and then with every glass Peter put, Peter required instruction, and then to have his settings repaired since Peter covered the spots where his glasses should go. He was training Peter at the same time as he was running to get the Hors D’oeuvres, the utensils, the glassware, the napkins, the wine, all in a few moments, knowing it would be impossible. There were other mouths to feed: Tim from Room Service, and the other waiters: Sensial and Max, who were the only ones on the floor on a Friday night, and they already had things to do.

Their time at The Palace Bouffant was compacted and had to be perfect or else they’d be written up. He is not one to complain for himself, but it seemed like they were trying to fire him. The capitalistic ploy of shortened hours and increasing workload was evident. Knowing this, he was made angrier. Success at the job meant financial security and yet the threats were both veiled and open. He felt like the rat that was held underwater and went limp. This was even though the rat had been brought out of the water before it had drowned. It simply gave up. The psychological damage had been done.

Everyday seemed helpless, unknown. It affected his sleep, his free time, and the loss of spring and summer sun. His job only got harder. It never subsided. It asked everything and yet the work was so dumb.

Still, as the tasks grew voluminous, he grew automatic, impersonal if he was to survive. He tried to take nothing personally, but the emotions of strangers washed over him, like electric storms, and they messed with his concentration. Then there were questions to ask about allergies, bottled water, cocktails, plate sizes, cutlery, napkins, spoons, timing, and the customers’ names, and often just waiting. Every airplane wanted to land at the same time on the same strip and every patron inside made special requests.

He was sinking, never to come up.


    • Thank you for your compliment. I noted you’ve been editing for 20 years. I am flattered you took the time. I gladly made the change you suggested. Thank you again.

  1. To me this story seems to depict an allegory of a fancy hotel or restaurant being written in an especially beautiful manner that captures the reader immediately. The title itself suggests a double meaning: on the one hand a majestic place but, on the other, a place where the he persona feels hollow. It would be like a sort of bouffant hairstyle that has a puffed-out appearance looking full from the outside but having really nothing underneath. The he persona describes his own situation and feelings with such great detail and observation that it all becomes emotionally touching. As we keep on reading we are made aware of the effects of work stress on someone who appears as the prototype victim in a kind of new work slavery to be found in our modern capitalist society:

    “The capitalistic ploy of shortened hours and increasing workload was evident.”

    Although he is very well aware of this situation he feels trapped in the system because “success at the job meant financial security”. He becomes so diminished like “the rat that was held underwater and went limp…”

    From the very beginning of the narration there is a very detailed description of how the he persona feels, the effects of work stress, lack of sleep and alienation, all leading to helplessness as the job gets harder every day making the person sink.

    As a reader the feelings one gets are RAGE, ANGER and REBELLION because of the injustice being done to this person that becomes a prototype of many other people.

  2. Hello! I’m Marta Pombo’s colleague at school, my name is Teresa. She told me about your poems (I read one called ‘Because my heard lives’) and stories and I would like to leave a comment:

    About The Palace Bouffant:

    It was interesting how you described the physical sensations of the body of the man that goes to work. This is what is must feel like when you have a depression. I don’t know if you wanted to address this illness, but certainly it is one of the biggest diseases in our present society. I actually believe that many people suffer from it and they are not visible in our current life, in which nobody has time for anything. We are living in some kind of rat race.

    So I can understand how the character in the story feels and I can also relate to the “strategy” he chooses, not to let him feel anything, just to get through his job.I found the image of the “rat that was held underwater and went limp” especially powerful and cruel, to me, it sounded like some kind of torture practice.

    The name of the hotel is also interesting; it seems like a really expensive hotel, such as the Ritz. It makes me think that his job must be very demanding and stressful; in these types of places everything has to work perfectly and there is no time for personal relations. Also, even though the man’s job is probably well-paid and he might be in a good position, nobody recognizes his real value as a person, he is just a tiny piece in the big machine that is the hotel, hence the emptiness he feels inside.

    On a more personal note, sometimes, when I go to a restaurant or a WC in a disco or places where people are doing really bad jobs and they look sad to me, I often wonder what their life is like and if they have at least something that makes them happy, and sometimes I even talk to them and ask them if they are ok. It didi it once, when I went to a concert and there was a young girl next to a stand that was advertising a soft drink. She must have been standing there for 2 hours and nobody said anything to her. So I went up to her and I asked her if she was bored. And she said: Yes. And then I asked her if she did this for a living and she said that she was studying at university to be an illustrator and that she did this to earn some extra money. And I thought: Thank God! After that we had a very nice conversation and I left it thinking I was glad she had a goal in life and that she only did this as a temporary thing.

    However, there are millions of people who have to do bad jobs because they don’t have any other choice. It’s really sad, if you think about it…I don’t know if you are in the position of being forced to do a job you dislike, but I sincerely wish that it’s not the case.


    • Thank you for reading my stories. I am glad in The Palace Bouffant that you found believable description. I like that you can see what I have written. I loved your story about the soft drink saleswoman and how with your inquiry you found that she was only working part-time and that she was moving forward. There was hope in that. I think my stories are about this waiting for something to happen and that I hope the reader, like myself, eventually moves to places where they have no regret. Life doesn’t wait for us. We feel things we need to do and if we don’t do them the opportunities pass. I also realize that people settle because they may not have the answers to questions about what to do. They are clearly held back. Thank you again for taking the time to read things I have written!

      • Wow! That was a quick answer! I agree with you: life doesn’t wait for us and that people often times are clearly held back and I would like to add that they are told that they can’t do anything to turn things around. Also it can be some kind of fear to succeed, as crazy as it sounds… but that discussion goes beyond the scope of this form 😉
        Thank you very much!! Teresa

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