New Chapter for Tribeca Waitress

Sarkissian waits a table at Edward’s, where she has worked for nearly 10 years. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jun. 03, 2013

Julie Sarkissian has been working at Edward’s restaurant on West Broadway in Tribeca for almost 10 years. In April, her first novel, “Dear Lucy,” was published by Simon & Schuster. Below is an excerpt from her conversation with the Trib’s April Koral.

The very first time I ever worked at Edward’s was the summer in between my junior and senior years at Princeton. I was ob­sessed with waitressing because it got me out of my head. I felt like it grounded me, which is such a strange thing to say.

After graduating, I came back to New York because I had gotten into the New School M.F.A. program. I showed up at the restaurant and it was like nothing had changed. The owner, Edward Youkilis, was sitting on the bench and said, “Hi.” I was shocked that he remembered me. But he said, “Yeah, come work here again,” and I did.

While I was waitressing and working on my book, I did a lot of problem-solving. Little logical steps and structure were hard for me, and as I was waitressing that stuff would be at the very back of my mind. I would be working through it and then suddenly it would come to me and I’d think, “Oh, that would work.”

When I’m really in the thick of creativity, it’s like when you have a really intense dream you can’t shake off. It’s almost unpleasant. And after five hours in that bizarre voice of Lucy [the novel’s mentally disabled protagonist], you come here and you’re like, “Cap­puccino? What’s that?”

After graduate school, I was very lost. I was scared about really committing to the idea of a career as a writer. I always loved routine and structure. I missed grades and deadlines. Suddenly, I was all alone in my pajamas on the couch.

My heart wanted to write so badly but my mind said, “You’re setting yourself up for rejection.” I worried and fretted. I think I was afraid of the isolation and the loneliness.

I was in my parents’ home in Cal­ifornia when I got an email from my agent saying she had read 20 pages and asked that I send the first three chapters by Fedex. My parents and I all got together and got it in the best shape we could. In college, I always sent my parents my essays. Since then I’ve sent them drafts.

I grew up without a TV, and we were all huge readers. From a young age, we always talked a lot about books and literature. It was a big family activity. I deeply trust my parents. They’ll tell me if something is confusing, where I need to give more information, if a transition is awkward. I don’t feel as bad when they say that something doesn’t work. It’s a safe place to get feedback from.   

I work 20 to 25 hours a week at Edward’s now. I’m trying to wean myself off it but I used all my money from my advance to pay off my student loans. I was very proud that I did that.

It would be sad to leave Edward’s. Everyone here is an artist; it is my community. There are playwrights and musicians and a bunch of actors, and everyone talks about their lives and struggles.

I’ve given lots of books to the customers. It’s exciting. Some of them knew I was working on it. But now I can point to it and say, “Look, there’s a copy right up there on the shelf. It really does exist, There it is!”

An excerpt from “Dear Lucy”

Lucy’s voice really just came to me out of the blue. She was talking about gathering eggs. I don’t know how long she’s been developing in my mind without my knowing. At first, I didn’t think of her as mentally disabled. She was just a unique and singular voice. It wasn’t until later, when I started drawing the other characters and they reacted to her as if she was mentally disabled, that I started writing it that way.

—Julie Sarkissian

I take one hand to open the door and keep one around my apron. An egg jumps out.

“Lucy, use a basket. When you don’t use a basket, then the eggs break.” Mister is standing next to the skillet. When the skillet is hot with oil he puts his beard inside his shirt. “Then we don’t have food for breakfast. And everyone is hungry.”

“I am gentle with the eggs, Mister,” I say. “Missus said, ‘Have you ever known a girl who was as gentle with the eggs?’”

Missus doesn’t say anything. Today Missus forgot to tell her face to wake up. She is stirring a bowl and watching the grits turn around and around by the spoon. Mister he makes the eggs and Missus she makes the grits and that is what breakfast is. Missus, Missus, say how good I always am with the eggs. That is my wish but she doesn’t look up. A lot of the times wishing doesn’t make things happen any better than they would without your wishing. But it is something hard to learn, not to use your time to wish things.

“Missus, Missus.” I have to say it louder because her ears are still asleep. So I say it louder and louder. “Missus, did you ever know a girl who was as good with the eggs?”