Maita's "Japanese Waitress" is a Gutting, Quiet Little Masterpiece

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Shit jobs—we’ve all had one. They build us up. They grind us down. “Japanese Waitress,” the latest single from Portland singer-songwriter Maita is about this universal rite of passage. But the song—as much a short story as it is a piece of music—is about more than a terrible job. It’s a gutting, quiet little masterpiece about trading bits of soul with people who have no concern for the interior life of the giver. Maita’s debut EP Waterbearer was released last year, and “Japanese Waitress” is expected to appear on the singers debut full-length out some time later in 2018. 

Sung over gently finger-picked acoustic guitar, the song drops into a particularly tough night at a tea joint in Portland. Maita, the narrator, endures a male customer repeatedly breaking the boundaries of customer service. “Jesus, I thought the man would never leave,” she sings, “he looks at me when he says that his son needs a girl.”  But Maita’s boss, she continues flatly “says to evenly scatter my youth and my praise/I must love them all the most and the same.” She sucks it up and keeps going because “art isn’t free,” while her inner monologue reveals “I hate pouring tea, it’s not what I studied to do.”

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There’s someone at every shit job the more transient employees call a “lifer,” and it’s here where Maita next turns her attention, to another waitress serving tea named Yuko. “She may not look it but she’s getting too old for this,” Maita observes. Many work shit jobs in college or just out of college, a very self-absorbed time and a big comedown from the highs and lows of adolescence. A lesson of the shit job can be growing up is in many ways about growing past the self, and Yuko teaches this to Maita. “She works her shifts and goes home and feeds her kids,” Maita sings bitterly, “She’ll pour the tea ‘coz that’s what she’s trained to do/but not like this and not for you.”

It's paralyzing to stand at the crossroads of the self and self-sacrifice. To dream of art and music but also feel the creeping loneliness of the artist’s solitary path: they tell you to dream big, never warning you’ll sit hard along the way with big questions of doubt. “They say go be free, quit this place now and follow your dreams,” Maita sings after a mournful guitar interlude. You wonder if she will, or if she’ll stay with Jose who speaks of her “soft hands.” I imagine either choice feels lonely for Maita, chasing dreams alone or spending time quietly at night with the knowledge of dreams unfulfilled. In fact, it’s not a choice at all. We never figure it out, but it’s a truth that life ends up not how we planned it but better than we intended. Maybe that’s the best lesson learned from working a shit job. We’re all just looking for a place to scatter praise, even if it’s at a crappy tea place somewhere in Portland.

-William Kennedy 

Delaney Motter