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Sympathy hose are pantyhose with holes or runs in them that some waitresses wear in order to squeeze out an extra few bucks in tips. According to its wearers, they seem to do the trick.

The greatest wearer of sympathy hose I know is my friend Marie. To her, waiting tables was an art requiring every ounce of awareness she could bring to the task. She pushed them to their limit while she worked at Steak and Ale.

"I need to make rent by the end of the week," she'd say, collapsing cross-legged on the floor of my apartment. She surveyed her schedule, the night of the week, who she was working with, the size of her section and whether it was smoking or non-smoking. Waitron divination. "Hmmm. Three four-tops and two two-tops. Non-smoking, shit."

The smoking section always tipped more.

"Looks like it's time for the sympathy hose."

Marie wore this particular pair of hose over tanned muscular legs, a long tear on the inside of her right thigh and another slight run low on her left calf. All the runs occurred in the line of duty. It was unethical to make sympathy hose. They had to happen.

There was, of course, a degree to how ragged they could be. If they were too ripped up, management would send her to get a new pair. This would cut into her time, and time was money.

So with bouncy brunette ponytail, a white blouse and short plaid skirt Marie would trot back up to my place (she lived directly below me) to see if I'd be around later on.

"If the door is open, I'm here." I tried not to stare.

"OK, I'll be by. Wish me luck. Bye!"

With that Marie spun on her toes and floated down the stairs and out the door and to her car at the curb before I could tell her she didn't need any. I made a pot of coffee and propped the door open.

A few hours later, often close to midnight, she'd return and bound up the stairs. I'd be either cleaning my bicycle or lifting weights or writing something abysmal. She'd plop down next to me wherever I was, a muddy gumbo of exertion and kitchen smells rising from her like jungle steam.

Marie pulled a wad of bills from her purse. "Looks like they worked. Got there a bit early and picked up two in smoking. Then I had four businessmen that I wined and dined and they left me twenty-six on seventy-two. Then a little here and a little there and I was sweet as honeydew vine water."

She looked down at the sympathy hose. The acceptable holes from earlier had been expanded, revealing more of the inside of her right thigh. The slight smirk at her left calf had degraded to a gaping howl. A graph paper run had appeared on her left knee. "Time to eight-six these, I guess."

She stood up, kicked off her shoes and pulled them off, both legs at once as if she was doing it to music.

Again, I tried not to stare.

"That feels so much better. Have any beer?"

"I'm out."

"Good, cuz I'm buying." She wadded up the sympathy hose and walked to the door. "I'll be back up in a minute."

"You should probably frame those."

"Nah. I'll have another pair in a week."

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