Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Smacking Saroya

It's a busy night. As I dash into the kitchen Saroya walks out with a plate of tiramisu in each hand. I'm not watching where I'm going. My shoulder catches her in the left eye.

"Owwww!" Saroya yelps almost dropping her desserts.

"I'm so sorry!" I apologize taking the plates out of her hands.

"My eye!"

"Let's go put some ice on it," I say pulling her over to the ice machine. I wrap a wet cloth around some ice and apply it to her eye socket.

"That hurt!" Saroya moans.

"Well it looks like you're ok. You didn’t smack into me hard. You're not going to get a black eye." I offer soothingly.

"My boyfriend is going to beat you up," Saroya whispers mischievously.

Saroya has been dating Armando, our assistant chef, for two years. They're moving into together next month. Armando is a BIG guy.

"Well," I sigh, "if I'm gonna get my ass kicked I might as well really pop you one,"

Saroya laughs, "You'd like that."

Saroya and I have worked together for four years. We're the top money makers at the Bistro. We've always had a mildly antagonistic, teasing, friendly relationship.

"You stay here with the ice and I'll go run your food." I say.

"Thanks."

I go into the kitchen and deliver Saroya's food to her tables. When I finish I explain to Armando what happened.

"No dinner for you," he says grinning.

"I'm sorry. It was an accident," I say.

"Don't worry about it."

Relieved that I've been spared physical retribution I go back to work.

A short while later I notice Saroya is fine. Her eye didn't swell up. I apologize again.

"Since you banged into me you're gonna have to pay the obstetrician bill," she pouts.

(Waiter turns to audience and grins.)

"If I banged into you Saroya and you needed an obstetrician, I think Armando would definitely kick my ass," I say.

"Huh?"

"Saroya an obstetrician is a doctor who delivers BABIES. An opthalmologist is an eye doctor. "

"Ooops!" Saroya says covering her mouth in embarrassment. She's originally from Honduras. While her English is excellent she still trips up on a few words.

"You don't want to mix those doctors up," I say.

"How do you say it? Optha…..?"

"Opthalmologist."

"Yes Armando would beat you up if I had to go to the obstetrician!"

"Everyday for nine months," I say ruefully

Saroya laughs evilly

"Be a beautiful baby though," I quip

Saroya mock slaps me on the arm, "You're a very bad man!" she gushes.

"No kidding," I reply.

Laughing softly to herself Saroya goes into the kitchen. Soon she and Armando are nuzzling sweetly in the corner.

Ah, I think to myself, love is blind. There's no opthalmologist in the world that can quantify what the heart sees. I look at Armando and Saroya. They're nice people. I hope everything works out for them. Who knows? Maybe they'll get married.

Then they'll really need an obstetrician.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Gringo Cracker

We need a new dishwasher. Fluvio places an ad in the paper. We’re soon inundated with applicants.

Throughout the morning an onslaught of applicants trudge through the front door. They’re all Hispanic men. Hailing from places like Ecuador, El Salvador, and Mexico - eager to take the jobs Anglos turn their noses up at.

Most of the applicants don’t speak English. That’s a problem filling out the paperwork. My Spanish is terrible. That’s a shame since I’ve worked around Spanish speakers for several years. I should’ve learned. I ask Julia, one of our bi-lingual busgirls, to help me fill out the applications. It’s time consuming. I feel bad. Only one of these guys are going to get the job.

By noon the men stop coming. I’ve got a stack of applications. Flipping through them I notice most of the guy’s left only phone numbers. No addresses. Worried about La Migra I guess.

As I shuffle through the paperwork the door chimes. I look up. A young Hispanic looking guy is standing in the vestibule. Surly faced, pants hanging off his hips, he looks about twenty years old.

“Can I help you?” I ask.

No response.

“Can I help you?” I repeat.

The young man stares at me. He says nothing. Maybe he doesn’t speak English.

“Are you here about the dishwasher position?” I ask.

The kid looks at me angrily.

“What did you say?” he hisses.

“I was wondering if you were here about the job,” I ask.

“That’s fucked up man. Fucked up,” the kid mutters angrily.

Now I’m getting aggravated. Why’s this kid pissed off? Not a good way to look for a job.

“Listen, I don’t know why you’re getting mad at me…….” I start to say when the door opens.

In walk the kid’s parents. The mother’s white. The father’s black. This kid isn’t Hispanic.

Oh shit.

“Hey Dad this cracker thinks I’m here for a job!” the young man shouts.

“What?” the father says surprised.

Looking at me the kid barks, “You thought because I’m black I’m here to get a job - not to eat. Didn’t you?

I want to say “But I thought you were Hispanic” but think the better of it.

The father turns to me. Gulp.

“Sir, we’re looking for a new dishwasher and I’ve been talking to applicants all day….,”

“You’re an asshole,” the kid sneers.

“That’s enough William,” the father says sternly.

I feel my face getting red. “I apologize for my assumption sir,” I say contritely.

“Well I don’t accept your apology,” William pouts.

The mother puts two and two together. “He didn’t mean anything by it William,” she says.

“An honest mistake sir,” I entreat.

We’re all quiet for a moment. I pray for the earth to swallow me up.

“Well, I’m hungry. A table for three please,” the father says finally.

I grab some menus. “Right this way sir,”

I’d better not wait on this table. I get one of the other waiters to cover it. When I see Fluvio I explain what happened.

“Good move,” he says when I finish.

“I have no excuse. I screwed up.”

‘That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done.”

“I know.”

Fluvio sighs and goes to the table to make nice nice. The kid’s still angry. The parents say they understand. They order their lunch.

The kid doesn’t miss an opportunity to glare at me. I hide behind the hostess stand.

I’m embarrassed. I think I made an honest mistake. Fifty Spanish guys came looking for jobs this morning. The kid, who turns out to be a BIG fifteen year old, looked like all the other guys searching for work. How was I to know he was black? Or is he white?

Oh man my head hurts.

“I’m not a racist. I’m not a racist,” I chant to myself, trying to reassure myself that my mind filled in the blanks with the information I had on hand. I made a false assumption. That’s all

I’m not a cracker.

Or am I?

When I was in the seminary I heard a story, maybe it’s apocryphal, about a white nun who worked in the inner city for forty years. Most of the people she ministered to were black. She was considered a saint.

She’s driving to work one day when some black guys jump in front of her car screaming at her to stop.

What does the nun do? She thinks they’re carjackers. She guns the engine trying to get away.

And ends up busting up her car in gigantic pothole.

The black guys waving her down weren’t trying to carjack her.

They were trying to save her.

The men pull the nun out of the car. She goes to the hospital. Luckily, her injuries aren’t serious.

The nun is shaken up and not by the accident. She’s shaken by the knowledge if those guys had been white she would have stopped the car. Forty years of service in the black community and she still had prejudice in her heart. It was an eye opening experience.

If I’m honest with myself – that’s exactly what happened with this kid.

I thought because he looked Hispanic he was looking for work – not lunch. So what if a hundred Hispanic guys came looking for a job? I was wrong. It was an assumption wrapped within a stereotype.

The kid? Well he’s a teenager. Teenagers are quick to anger and keen to expose hypocrisy. He got confused because he thought I was making an assumption based on his racial background

Right idea kid. Wrong ethnicity.

I take a deep breath. Despite my education and experience, my good intentions and egalitarian ideals - I struggle with race and ethnicty like everyone else.

I’m not perfect. Far from it.

The trio finishes their lunch. The kid walks stonily past me. The father and mother follow him.

“I’m sorry for what happened earlier,” I say.

The father graciously offers his hand. I take it.

“We all make mistakes,” he intones solemnly.

“Thank you sir,” I say appreciatively.

The mother smiles at me and they go outside. The father says a few words to his son. The kid heads back inside.

“I’m sorry I called you an asshole,” he says.

“Maybe I deserved it,” I reply.

The kid smiles.

“Maybe you did.”

“Good day sir,” I say.

I watch the family walk down the street. I shake my head. What a day.

The lunch shift ends. Ernesto makes us something to eat. I sit down with my compadres and dig in. I look around the table. These people have been like my family for five years.

And I’m still a gringo cracker.

But I’m trying.

The staff eats their lunch.

I eat my crow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Nunc Dimittis

Three priests walk into my bistro.

No, this isn’t a setup for some awful joke – three padres sit in my section. They’re dressed in civilian clothes but I make them instantly. Former Catholic seminarians can spot priests a mile away. Perhaps it’s the clothes; the standard off duty Dockers and conservative button down shirts. Maybe it’s the odor of sanctity about them. Perhaps it’s because they’re always slightly uptight in public. God forbid someone sees them acting out of character; tell a dirty joke or have too much to drink.

“Hello Fathers” I say merrily.

The eldest of the trio smiles broadly. They’re busted.

“How did you know?” he says.

“Once a Catholic…..” I shrug.

“Well you’re very perceptive.”

“Thanks Father.”

The two younger guys order gin and tonics. The eldest orders a club soda. I’ll wager he’s a recovering drunk - uses grape juice instead of wine at Mass. It would make sense. Alcoholism is an occupational hazard for priests.

Come to think of it, it’s an occupational hazard for waiters too.

The priests order off the menu. They say please and thank you. They’re dream customers.

After I deliver their entrees I stand off to the side and listen in on their conversation. They discuss their jobs in the verbal shorthand priests use when they talk to each other in public. Having been in that subculture I understand every word.

I listen to them talk shop. Not much has changed since I left the seminary in 1990. But then again people and their problems never change.

I walk to the back and pour myself a short espresso. Seeing these guys reminds me about the time I studied for the priesthood. I was eighteen when I joined up - an idealistic firebrand who gloried in debating the finer points of theology and philosophy.

But the priesthood, and ministry in general, is not about that stuff. Not really. It’s about dealing with the passions and fears of flesh and blood people in the here and now.

Angels dancing on the head of a pin dissolve into nothingness at the bedside of a dying child.

When looking death in the face things get very real very quickly……..

I’m twenty one and doing a stint as a chaplain’s aide in a large gritty urban hospital.

Part of my job is to bring Communion to people dying in the AIDS ward. Most of the people wasting away in their beds are uninsured junkies or prostitutes. This is long before antiretroviral therapy. AIDS is poorly understood. Some people still wear masks out of fear of contagion.

Many of the people dying in this place are wracked with guilt. Remember how people used to say AIDS was God’s punishment for sinners? That’s not an abstract concept for many of these people. A lot of them made disastrous life choices - the consequences of which are now, remorselessly, killing them.

I’m too young and emotionally under equipped to be any real help to these people. I just try and listen. That’s hard. Some patients scream at me, driven insane by secondary infections that are rotting their brains. Others are stonily silent – not wanting help from anybody. Occasionally people find peace but that's rare. They cry, they bargain, they pray. All the things people do as they rage against the dying of the light.

Maria is a drug addict. She got AIDS from years of mainlining heroin. Her baby, the result of exchanging sex for drugs, died of AIDS. She has no family or friends. She lies dying alone in a small room overlooking the hospital’s air conditioning plant. She hasn’t had a bath in days. The sweet sour smell of the unwashed is over powering.

“Hi Maria. I brought you Communion,” I whisper.

She looks at me weakly.

“Can I have some water?” she asks. She’s near the end.

“Sure.”

I look for her water bottle. There is none.

“Where’s your water bottle?”

“The nurses won’t let me drink water,” she says.

Must be something going on with her kidneys. Stupid doctors. The woman's dying.

“Let me go ask the nurse what we can do,” I say.

“Thank you.”

I walk to the nurse’s station. A large woman sits behind the desk yakking on the phone with what seems to her girlfriend. She looks at me with complete disinterest.

I wait patiently for her to finish. She doesn’t.

I wait some more.

“Pardon me, Maria wants some water. Can I give her some?” I interrupt.

“Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” the nurse yells.

“Yes but….”

“I’ll be with you when I’m finished!”

So I wait. The nurse ends her call.

“Now, what do you want?” she says angrily.

“Can I give Maria some water?”

“She’s on restricted fluids you can’t.”

“How about some ice chips then? I think she has dry mouth.” I ask innocently.

The nurse throws her hands up in the air in frustration. “Yeah, go get the girl some ice chips for what good it'll do her. You can get them on the next unit.”

“Thank you,” I say.

I go over to the neighboring unit and fill a Styrofoam cup with ice. I walk back to Maria’s room.

“Maria I got you some ice chips.”

No response.

“Maria?”

I walk over to the bed. She’s dead.

A wave of incredible anger sweeps over me. All this poor girl wanted was a drink of water. It turned out to be her last request

Even this small thing was denied her.

I crush the cup in my hands. Ice scatters on the floor. Hot tears run down my face. This girl had nothing – less than nothing. She died thirsty and alone.

It was then my innocence was taken.

I march out to the nurse’s station. The nurse is on the phone again. When she sees me a look of annoyance crosses her face. “Now wha….”

I slam my hand down on the counter. “MARIA IS DEAD!”

The nurse jumps out of her chair.

“DON’T YOU GIVE A SHIT YOU LAZY BITCH? SHE’S DEAD!” I bellow.

All hell breaks loose. A code is called. Security is called.

The attending shows up. There’s a do not resuscitate order. He pronounces Maria dead.

Security guards escort me to the pastoral care office where the Chaplin waits for me.

Instead of yelling at me for losing my temper he sits me down on his couch. He hands me a cup of coffee.

“What happened?” he asks gently.

I tell him everything.

A small smile crosses his face. “That nurse is a lazy bitch,” he says.

I laugh harshly.

“This is hard work son,” he says.

“I had no idea how hard.”

We’re quiet. I listen to the wall clock tick.

“When you were looking at Maria in that bed were you thinking about yourself?” the priest says suddenly.

The tears come again.

“Yes.”

“What were you feeling?”

“That I never want to be alone like that.”

“Do you feel that alone?”

A truth I had been hiding from myself came bubbling up from the depths.

“Yes,” I start to sob.

The priest gets up and sits next to me. He gently and puts his arm around me. I cry till I feel like I’m going to shake apart.

When I finish the Chaplain says, “If you’re honest - trying to help people makes you confront the darkness in yourself.”

“Yeah,”

“Maybe you should work on feeling alone,” he adds.

“Kind of tough when you want to be a priest,” I reply.

“Maybe you should think about that.”

I’ve given my heart and soul to being a priest for four years. I’m supposed to go abroad to study theology next year. Now, for the first time, I realize it isn’t going to work out.

“God doesn’t want you to be unhappy,” the priest says.

“Then why drag me here and put me through all this for nothing?” I whisper.

“I don’t know.”

“God’s a real asshole sometimes isn’t he?” I say sadly.

The priest leans back and smiles. “A gigantic asshole.”

We both laugh.

A few months later I quit. ………….

Now, fifteen years later, I look at the priests sitting in my section. I smile.

I’m no longer that young seminarian from long ago.

I changed. I grew.

I’m still growing.

But I’ll never forget the kindness and wisdom that priest afforded me on that terrible day.

I buy my priests some dessert.

“Thank you!” the eldest says as I set down the tiramisu.

“Just trying to shave time off in purgatory Padre,” I chuckle.

“Well, none for me,” the younger priest says throwing up his hands.

He’s about my age. I look him in the eye.

“Faith is tempered in the fires of desire.” I say.

He considers that for a moment.

“Well maybe just this once,” he says grabbing a spoon.

They polish off dessert and leave a nice tip. The night ends. I go home.

I drive home thinking about the priests, Maria, and my time in seminary. When I get home I pull an old leather book of the shelf.

It’s my old breviary from seminary. I still have it.

The binding is loose. The pages are worn. I open it.

The one priestly habit I never lost was to slip important things inside my breviary. The book is stuffed with funeral cards, birth announcements, and love letters; pictures of friends dead and gone.

I pull one picture out. It’s a Polaroid of my brother and I when we were teenagers. We look so awkward. He’s getting married next month. Soon I’ll put a photo of him and his lovely bride in this book – the repository of memories.

I turn the pages till I get to Night Prayer. There’s a prayer there called the Nunc Dimittis.

I silently read the words I chanted years ago.

“Lord let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled;

my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people.

A light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.”

I close the book.

Now, years later, God and I sometimes get along.

I’m strangely peaceful.

I turn off the light and go to bed.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Gay Friendly

A young woman walks into the Bistro.

“Is your restaurant gay friendly?” she asks.

“Yes Madam,” I reply. I’ve gotten this question before.

“I want to take my partner out for her birthday. We only patronize gay friendly establishments,” she says.

Wow. Militant.

“You come to the right place,” I say.

“Are you listed in any directories as gay friendly?” she queries.

“Yes.” I tell her which ones.

Satisfied the woman asks, “Can I have a table for two this Saturday at 7pm?”

“No problem,” I say. I take down the lady’s information.

“Can I have that nice table in the window?” she presses, “it’s the first birthday we’re celebrating together and I want to make it special.”

I juggle some things in the computer. “The table’s all yours.”

“Can you tell the waiter it’s a special occasion?” she asks.

“Madam I’ll take care of you myself.”

The woman smiles, “Thanks for your help.”

“You're welcome.”

Saturday night rolls around. The ladies come in and sit at their romantic table. I pull out all the stops. I put a candle in the woman’s dessert and even sing happy birthday. They hold hands and talk quietly as they linger over liquors.

No one bothers giving them a second look.

I sigh contently.

Love is love. It comes in all shapes, sizes, and orientations. There’s not enough of it in the world.

The ladies signal for their check. I ring it up. The woman signs the bill. They get up to leave.

“Happy Birthday madam,” I say cheerfully as they depart.

“Thanks for a wonderful evening,” the woman gushes.

“It was my pleasure.”

After they depart I retrieve the bill folder from the table and open it.

On a ninety dollar bill they left me eight bucks.

Shocked I walk towards the back of the restaurant.

“Check this shit out,” I say waving the check in front of Louis.

“Ouch that hurts,” he says.

“I can’t believe it. I was so nice to them.”

“Was that the two lesbians?”

“Yeah.”

“Figures,” Louis replies, “Lesbians are horrible tippers.”

“That’s a tad stereotypical,” I counter.

“It’s true,” Louis shrugs, “I’m gay so I know.”

I don’t say anything. I’ve gotten good tips from lesbians before. I can’t figure out why these ladies were so cheap.

I sigh.

Assholes are assholes. They come in all shapes, sizes, and orientations. And there are more than enough of them in the world.

I close out the bill. I’m more hurt than angry.

We’re gay friendly. Not cheapskate friendly.

I’ll remember those ladies the next time around.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Let me clear something up

In my post "Gristle" I alluded to the fact I was working on a book. That's true. However, it is still in the embryonic stage and I have not committed to anyone or anything. Judging from the comments and emails I've received I think some people are under the impression that the book will be hitting the shelves tomorrow. That is not the case.

I am talking informally to some very nice people who have taken a kind interest in my writing. Many thanks to them! I am currently trying to figure out how to write a book and cobble together a winning proposal. So you see folks - a book is still a long way off. I apologize if I didn't explain myself clearly. A book will happen eventually!

Thanks to all the readers for their words of encouragement and criticisms. It is appreciated!

Any ideas? Throw 'em my way! Got a cousin in the publishing biz? Let me know!

Oh, in response to a question - yes the comments section is priceless. I'm gonna have to figure a way to include some of the quips my readers have written!

Hope that clears things up! Have a nice weekend everybody.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

What’s a Yuppie?

I’ve gotten a couple of emails and comments from people who are upset by my use of the term “Yuppie.” So I’ve decided to explain what I mean when I employ that word. If you’re easily offended or have a shaky self image I suggest you skip this post.

Still here? Ok.

Let’s start with a definition. I searched around the web. This one from Nationmaster.com I like best.

"Yuppie," short for "Young Urban Professional," describes a demographic of people generally between their late twenties and early thirties. Yuppies tend to hold jobs in the professional sector, with incomes that place them in the upper-middle economic class.

The term "Yuppie" emerged in the 1980s as an echo of the earlier "hippies" and "yippies" who had rejected the materialistically-oriented values of the business community. Syndicated newspaper columnist Bob Greene is generally credited having coined the term "Yuppie" in one of his columns in the early 1980s.

Events and trends The 1980s marked an abrupt shift towards more conservative lifestyles after the momentous cultural revolutions which took place in the 1960s and 1970s and the definition of the AIDS virus in 1981. ...

The term is often used pejoratively, with an emphasis on the connotations of "yuppies" as selfish and superficial. ………………

That’s pretty good. Now here’s my definition – emphasis on pejorative.

Yuppie,” Originally meant “Young Upcoming Urban Professional.” Now denotes a group of people, irrespective of age, politics, or class, who demonstrate the following characteristics.

1. If they ever worked a day in their life - they forgot all about it.

2. More interested in the quality of their chardonnay than the quality of their public schools.

3. Pore over the Sharper Image catalog and others like it as if it’s devotional reading. (Full disclosure: the Sharper Image catalog is on top of my toilet tank.)

4. Anyone who stopped drinking Merlot after seeing “Sideways.”

5. Take from the community but never give back. Yuppies think paying taxes fulfills their obligations as citizens. Most commonly seen in gentrified neighborhoods.

6. Over schedule their children’s lives and treat the little tykes as accessories or barometers of their own self worth.

7. Think money is the answer to everything.

8. Spiritual Masturbators. Pursue spirituality disconnected from any social responsibility. (Spiritual navel gazing while people are starving around you) They flock to gurus or new age con artists who recycle older traditions and tell them what they WANT to hear - not what they NEED to hear. If your spiritual guide, whatever his or her denomination, doesn’t say something every once in a while that pisses you off, – they’re only interested in your money!

9. Name branders. It has to be Grey Goose or Stella Artois. Now, I like that stuff too. But if all they have is Bud I can deal.

10. Treat people as if they’re disposable items. (Waiters, sex partners, colleagues, coat check girls, etc.)

11. Are only nice to people when they want something.

12. Never say “please” or “thank you.”

13. RUDE!

14. They always want the “big” wine glasses. Even for the cheap stuff. (Only waiters will understand that one.)

15. Expect the best table on Saturday night without a reservation.

16. Talk incessantly about money, what they have, and what they want.

17. Will sue, or threaten litigation, at the drop of a hat.

18. Know their stock portfolio better than their second wife or husband.

19. Their house is TOO clean.

20. Buy trendy books they never read.

21. Think NYC is the center of the known universe. It isn’t.

22. Assume anyone who didn’t finish college is stupid. (Hey, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard!)

23. Think nice people are suckers.

24. Claim to be honest but cheat on their spouses, taxes, exams, and cynically take credit for other people’s ideas.

25. Know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Some caveats:

1. Just because a person’s rich or upwardly mobile doesn’t mean they’re a Yuppie. There are plenty of wealthy people who are kind, polite, generous, and take interest in other people and their community.

2. Ambition, competitiveness, and invention are good things so long as long as they are not pursued solely for their own sake.

3. We all, myself included, have indulged in the some of the behaviors and actions described above. Some of us are recovering Yuppies.

4. You don’t have to be rich to be a Yuppie. But it helps.

5. Yuppies can change and often do. Time is a brutal teacher.

So, in short I define a yuppie as a: rude, brand name dropping, self centered, impatient, spiritually stunted, obsessive catalog reading, materialistic, emotional dwarf who doesn’t care an iota how other people feel or think.

I hope that clear things up.

But if you read this and it pissed you off – too bad. I’m not here to blow sunshine off your ass.

Some people take the stuff they read in my blog WAY to personally.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

"Your Powers Are Weak Old Man"

I’m reciting the specials to a two top by the window. In typical yuppie fashion they don’t make eye contact. Sick of talking to these social misfits my eyes begin to wander. A pretty girl walks past the restaurant with her dog. I take an appreciative look.

I glance back at my table. Nope, still not looking at me. I look out the window again.

People of all shapes and sizes walk by on this hot day. I’m just getting around to the fish specials when I see HIM.

I blink my eyes.

No it can’t be.

Lumbering towards the restaurant, in all his dreadful majesty, is the infamous Dark Lord of the Sith.

Darth Vader.

“Excuse me one sec,” I say to my customers.

I run out the front door. Openmouthed I watch Vader approach. Funny -he looks a lot taller in the movies.

“Hi,” I say in amazement.

“Hello there,” Darth Vader replies pleasantly.

“Must be hot as hell in that suit.”

“You ain’t kidding," Vader says walking past me.

I stand and watch the Dark Lord go around the corner. The pretty girl with the dog comes next to me. She’s chuckling softly.

“Tell me I wasn’t seeing things,” I ask her.

“You weren’t,” she laughs.

“For a moment there I thought I had to go back on the meds.”

“No – you really saw Darth Vader walking down the street,” she says.

“He must be sweating bullets in that outfit.”

“I think he’s going to a costume party somewhere.”

“God I hope so.”

“You know those Star Wars fans….” the girl says shrugging.

I thank the girl and walk back inside.

Of course the yuppies are looking at me now.

“Sorry folks but Darth Vader just walked by.” I say happily.

The couple looks at me like I'm smoking crack.

“Well, that’s not something you see everyday,” I add weakly.

“We’re ready to order now,” the man says flatly.

I guess some people have no sense of humor.

The man and woman tell me what they want. Without saying thank you they dismiss me by carelessly thrusting their menus in my face. I feel a sudden hot spurt of anger.

I reach out with the Force and wrap it’s dark tendrils round the couple's throats. It would be fun to see them sputter and choke. I squeeze.

Nothing happens.

I mentally squeeze harder.

Still nothing.

The man looks at me quizzically. “We’re done here waiter,” he says.

“Very good sir,” I say disappointedly. Taking their menus I head to the back. Gerald, another waiter, is sitting by the POS computer mopping his brow. Even inside the Bistro the heat’s oppressive.

“You’ll never guess who I saw outside,” I say entering the order.

“Who?” Gerald asks.

“Darth Vader.”

“Really?” Gerald says, his face brightening.

“Must be a costume party somewhere.”

“Guy dressed up as Vader in this heat? He’s crazy.”

“I should have asked him if he wanted a job here,” I sigh.

“Can you imagine that? He’d choke the shit out of all the customers,” Gerald laughs.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if you could do that? I wanted to mentally strangle those rude yuppies on table twenty-six. Too bad I can’t do it.

Gerald’s eyes widen. “Your powers are weak old man,” he says.

“Screw you Gerald.”

Gerald walks away laughing.

I angrily watch table twenty-six. Some people go out to eat because they’re hungry. Others eat out because they’re too lazy to cook. But some people frequent restaurants to indulge a false sense of superiority.

I really wish I could force choke those bastards.

Oh well.

I guess I have to spend more time in my meditation chamber.

Now where did I put my lightsaber? That'll fix 'em.

Monday, June 13, 2005

I'm a Waiter - Not a Psychic Dietician

“You’ve got an outside table!” the hostess yells at me over the din.

I’m swamped. It’s Saturday night and my section’s hopping.

“Can someone else take it?” I beg

“It’s your turn,” the hostess barks while juggling two phones.

I sigh and head outside. Al Fresco diners, as I might’ve said before, are a pain in the ass.

This table proves to be no exception.

The middle aged couple starts out friendly. I smile. They smile. I rattle off the specials and they listen patiently. The man decisively orders the snapper.

I look at the man’s wife. Her lips are pursed. Consternation creases her brow.

“Can I help you make a selection?” I ask.

“Do you have anything light?”

Uh oh. Here we go.

“Madam?”

“I’m on a diet.”

“Which diet are you on?” I inquire. It’s a valid question.

“I don’t know. I just want to lose weight.”

Having known lots of women I can make a fair guess at what’s happening. This lady got on the scale today and didn’t like what she saw. She made one of those forgotten tomorrow resolutions to trim the fat and her anxiety's now bubbling to the surface.

“Might I recommend the tuna with the tomato mango salsa?” I say, “It’s light on the carbs.”

“I don’t like tuna.”

“Then might I suggest the chicken sautéed in white wine and artichoke hearts?”

“I don’t feel like chicken.”

The husband shifts uncomfortably in his chair. He looks at me. “What the hell am I supposed to do?” I telepath him.

“Perhaps the steak?”

“I don’t eat meat.”

An off color comment comes to mind. Running out of options I suggest some pasta dishes.

“Well the Spaghetti Gamberi looks nice,” she says.

Ah, a personal favorite of mine - plump juicy shrimp with spaghetti in a spicy pepper oil and garlic sauce. Delicious.

“An excellent dish madam,” I reply.

“Ok, I’ll take that with no spaghetti.”

“Pardon?” I say surprised.

“Give me the dish with all the seasonings but without the pasta.”

I look through the window into the bistro. My other table’s drinks are getting low. I know I have to deliver entrees. I need to detach myself from this table NOW.

“Very well madam,” I say. I run inside, enter the order, and attend to my other, less troublesome, tables.

“The chef wants to talk to you,” another waiter says as she walks past me. I head into the kitchen.

“Spaghetti Gamberi without the spaghetti?” Armando says waving the ticket in disbelief.

“That’s what she wants.”

“Atkins?”

“Who knows? Just give it to her.” I say exasperatedly.

Armando shrugs and throws the shrimp in the pan.

A short while later I deliver the entrees. The man’s eyes widen with anticipation when he sees his snapper, lovingly prepared, with leeks, fresh tomato, and cannelloni beans.

I set the lady’s entrée down. Armando did a nice job with the presentation. He carefully arranged the shrimp in a bowl - artfully placing a sprig of basil on top.

“I can’t eat this,” the woman says instantly.

The husband groans.

“Is something the matter?” I ask warily.

“Look at this! The shrimp is swimming in oil! How am I going to lose weight eating this?’

“But…”

“This is not what I ordered,” she says petulantly.

Somewhere in our employee handbook it says, “The customer is always right.”

Now is not one of those times.

“Madam you asked for the spaghetti shrimp without the spaghetti,” I say.

“I didn’t want this – this oil!”

“Madam, you said you wanted the dish with all the seasonings and none of the pasta.”

“Well, it isn’t what I wanted,” she pouts.

“Marjorie I think you ordered it that way,” the woman’s husband says carefully.

The wife throws her husband a withering stare.

“I’m on a diet!” she says with a hint of menace.

What can I get you instead madam?” I ask plaintively.

“Just get me a plate of steamed broccoli.”

“Yes madam.”

I return the woman’s shrimp to the kitchen. Fluvio walks in after me.

“What the hell is that?” he says pointing to the dish.

“Spaghetti shrimp with out the spaghetti,” I say shrugging.

“What’s the matter with it?”

“Nothing.”

“Then why?......”

“Lady on a diet,” I say simply.

Fluvio throws up his hands and leaves the kitchen. I feel for him. The Bistro is not a hospital kitchen. We try out best to accommodate people’s dietary requests but people like this lady are just off the wall. I can’t tell you how much profit Fluvio’s lost to finicky eaters over the years. But it’s probably enough to buy a small boat.

“Hey everybody!” I announce holding up the shrimp, “Got some free shrimp here. Help yourselves.”

The wait staff descends upon it like a pack of ravenous wolves. I’m lucky I don’t lose a finger.

The pickup bell rings. I deliver the lady her broccoli. She stares at it glumly.

“I can’t believe you don’t have anything for dieters,” she says reproachfully.

We do. But it’s too late to argue now.

“I took the shrimp off your bill sir,” I say turning to the husband.

“Thank you,” he says wearing an “I’m sorry for this shit” expression.

The woman picks at her vegetables. The man happily eats his fish. I go back inside.

I feel for the woman. I really do. I’ve got a few pounds to lose too. But that’s my responsibility – not a restaurant’s.

Restaurants specialize in combing salt, fat, and sugar into an astounding myriad of combinations. Why do you think the food tastes so good when you eat out? Oh sure, we have healthy stuff but they’re not big sellers. People come for the artery clogging stuff. The Bistro has probably provided enough patients to pay off some cardiologist kid’s college tuition.

If you’re on a diet, examine the restaurant’s menu before you go in. See if there’s something you can eat. Don’t assume the waiter is a psychic dietician. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

And please - check your neuroses about food at the door.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Hit and Run - Follow Up

A few months ago I wrote a post entitled "Hit and Run." It was about Jairo Gonzalez-Romero, a young immigrant restaurant worker in NJ who was killed by a hit and run driver.

After two months, a person has been arrested and charged in this case. The full story in appears here in the Bergen Record.

I was also gratified to see that $4000 has been raised to help cover Jairo's funeral expenses and send money home to his family. I know Waiter Rant readers have donated a portion of that money.

To all the readers who generously contributed to Jairo and his family you have my heartfelt thanks.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Pay Pal

I took the PayPal Donation button down temporarily. It was compromising my anonymity. As soon as I figure a work around it'll be back. Don't worry!

Many thanks to the kind persons who dropped some cash in my jar the past year. It was, and still is, very much appreciated!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Gone to the Dogs

I was sitting down writing a new post for my blog this morning when my ex girlfriend called. Our dog, with whom we share custody, (I know, I know - snicker all you want) was shaking, lethargic, and throwing up. So I shut down my computer and drove to meet her at the vet’s office. Luckily nothing’s seriously wrong with the little guy. He has to be on antibiotics for two weeks until his infection clears up. He was back to his old self as soon as he sauntered out of the vet's office. He’ll be ok. $180 bucks! Damn pets are expensive!

Sorry. I’ll have some new posts next week.

Hey we hit 400,000 yesterday! Is any one still interested in the t-shirt thing? Let me know! I’ll see what I can put together!

Have a nice weekend everyone. Don’t forget to tip your server!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hannibal

“Say, did you see Hannibal last night?” Fluvio asks me.

“Yeah, it was on TBS. You saw it too?”

"I was up late.”

I laugh. Fluvio and I spend a lot of time working together. So when we go home what do we do? We end up watching the same movie at the same time. It’s like we’re joined at the psychic hip or something.

“What a great movie,” Fluvio adds.

“I love the part where Lecter flambéed that guy’s brain tableside,” I say.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film I’m referring to the lovely scene where the cannibalistic serial killer gourmand, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, pops open a man’s skull and proceeds to sauté parts of his hapless victim’s brain tableside – while he’s still alive.

Fluvio looks at me suddenly.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asks.

There’s a short pause

“Cooking class!” we blurt out simultaneously.

Fluvio holds private cooking shows every couple of months. We set up a cooking station in the front of the bistro and Fluvio demonstrates, step by step, how to prepare an elegant five course meal. The classes are very popular. They’re sold out almost a year in advance.

‘What an outstanding idea,” I crow, clapping my hands delightedly.

“Can you imagine the looks on the customers faces when I tell them what the main course is gonna be?”

“Fucking pricless.”

“Which customer’s brain could we cook up?” Fluvio asks grinning.

“Oh god – the list is endless.”

We go over a few potential victims.

“How about Mr. X?” Fluvio asks.

“Not him,” I reply, “He’d complain his brain is undercooked.”

“Yeah, he’d want to send it back.”

“Which could be problematic.”

“Be fun though.”

“Remove half his brain and no one’d notice anyway.”

A vision of Fluvio and I dressed in tuxedos, merrily scooping out some yuppie’s brainpan like a melon, pops into my head. The image warms the cockles of my cold dark heart.

“How would you cook it?” I inquire.

“I think sautéing it in truffle oil and porcini mushrooms would be tasty.”

“Hey, people eat cow brains,” I say

“So it wouldn’t be such a big leap.”

Fluvio and I chuckle evilly. If the customers around us knew what we were talking about they’d run like hell.

A short while later I’m tableside with some arrogant yuppie. You know the type. He doesn’t say please or thank you. He tugs on my sleeve to get my attention. I’m surprised he doesn’t start snapping his fingers.

While I repeat the specials for the third time a faint smile appears on my lips. Recalling my conversation with Fluvio I find myself carefully examining the yuppie’s head.

It’s about the right size. Hmmm.

He’s bald so that’ll make the part with the cranial saw so much easier.

I peer into the man’s eyeballs as I parrot the specials. All I need now are some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

"He’ll do,” I think to myself.

Yes.

He’ll do nicely.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

E-Zine

Many thanks to Sofia and the students and faculty at NYU for writing about me in their Digital Journalism Class magazine "THISISNOTABLOG." You can read about my interview here.

Thanks again guys!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Two Dollars!

“Hey Arlene, thanks for the shit you put me through this morning,” Fluvio growls.

“What did I do now?” Arlene, our very pregnant waitress, exclaims.

“You added two bucks to a tip and the customer called to complain.”

“I did not!” Arlene says angrily.

Fluvio hands her credit card slip in question. The check is eighty dollars. The tip on the credit card slip is a hastily crawled number. It could be a ten or a twelve.

“I adjusted the check for twelve,” Arlene protests.

“Well the lady says the tip’s ten bucks.”

“Cheap bitch,” Arlene huffs.

“The lady called me from Florida to complain. She made me send her a check for two dollars,” Fluvio says.

“She called to complain about two bucks?”

“Yeah.”

“She must be from Miami Beach,” Arlene snorts.

“Oh that’s nice Arlene. Feeling a tad hormonal today?” I chuckle, joining the conversation.

“Fuck you,” Arlene shoots back.

(Anti-Semitism and sexism in the space of two seconds. How about that!)

“And I lost 37 cents on the stamp!” Fluvio interjects.

“Oh, don’t you start,” I moan.

“What kind of person quibbles over two lousy dollars?” Arlene asks.

“People who really look at their credit card statements,” Fluvio says.

“They should,” I say, “My credit card company is always trying to screw me with bogus late fees. They even signed me up for an insurance plan without my ok.”

“Really?” Arlene says.

“Yeah, I caught it and they refunded the whole amount.”

“Those bastards,” Arlene says, “I should double check my statements.”

“Money’s money.” Fluvio sighs.

"But to bitch about two dollars?" Arlene asks rhetorically.

We’re quiet for a moment.

“You know this conversation suddenly reminds me of a great movie,” I say.

“Which one?” Fluvio asks.

I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!” I grumble evilly.

Better Off Dead!” Arlene shrieks in recognition.

That’s a real shame when folks be throwin away a perfectly good white boy like that!” I laugh.

“Huh?” Fluvio says befuddled,

“TWO DOLLARS. I WANT MY TWOOOO DOLLARS!” Arlene giggles.

“What the hell are you guys talking about?” Fluvio yelps. He hates not being in on a joke.

“Better Off Dead was a film from the Eighties Fluvio,” Arlene explains laughing, “A crazy a paper boy goes psycho trying to collect two dollars from John Cusack.”

“What?”

“Forget it Fluvio. I think you were in Italy when the movie came out.” I say.

“Oh.”

“I can just imagine this little old lady rapping her cane on our window screaming for her two dollars.” Arlene says.

“I wouldn’t put it past her,” I admit.

Arlene and I laugh and go back to work. We promise to give Fluvio a copy of the movie. I wonder if it’s dubbed in Italian.

I haven’t thought about that movie in years. What a great flick.

Sigh

I know people. Money’s money.

But come on - its two dollars.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Puke

I’m driving to work when a wave of nausea hits me.

I break into a cold clammy sweat. Every bump and swell in the road threatens to propel the contents of my stomach on to the dashboard. I have to throw up NOW.

I pull my car into a gas station.

“Where’s your bathroom?” I ask the attendant getting out of the car. I must look green.

The turbaned Sikh thinks I’m drunk at ten in the morning. Shaking his head disapprovingly he hands me a key chained to a hubcap.

I race into the bathroom. As soon as I see the toilet nature takes its course. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say I have to change my shirt.

I emerge from the bathroom still shaking from the effort. I hate throwing up. I walk into the small convenience shop attached to the station to buy some gum. Out of the corner of my eye I see the Sikh walk over to the men’s room to inspect the damage. Hey. I cleaned it up.

I get back in my car and head home. Once inside I call Fluvio and tell him I’m sick.

“What’s the matter with you? You pregnant?” Fluvio says. I can almost see him grinning on the other end.

“Must have been the sushi I had last night,” I say.

“Forget working lunch,” Fluvio says, “But can you come in at four? I have to go somewhere tonight.”

I’m sick and tired. I need another day off. The prospect of sitting home and watching old movies while dining on saltines and ginger ale is suddenly very appealing to me. But I can’t.

“I’ll be in at four,” I say hanging up. I go and take a long nap.

Feeling much better I walk into the Bistro at four on the dot. Louis is already there doing prep work. He looks terrible.

“What’s the matter with you?’ I ask

“I don’t feel good,” he replies.

“You too?

“My ulcer’s acting up again.” Louis moans.

“Have you been to the doc?” I ask.

“Yeah, she put me on all sorts of drugs. They’re kicking my ass.”

“Can you work tonight?”

Louis shakes his head, “Negatory,” he says.

Great. Just great.

I tell Louis to go home. I ask Beth, who worked lunch, to stay for dinner.

“What else can go wrong today?” I mutter to myself.

I learn later it’s not wise to tempt the Fates.

Fifteen minutes before closing a drunk guy walks in the door. I curse silently under my breath. A few more minutes and we’d have been home free. The man sits down and immediately wants a drink.

“I’m sorry sir, you’re visibly intoxicated. I’m not allowed to serve you.” I say.

“Whaddaya mean I can’t have a drink?” the man sputters. Telling a drunk he’s cut off can always be a tense moment.

“Sorry sir.”

“Just a small one.”

“No way.”

“Oh fur ch-ch-Chrissakes.”

“Try eating something. You’ll feel better,” I tell him.

Giving up on the drink the man orders some pasta. I deliver it to the table. He eats it slowly, his movements wooden. When he’s finished I go over to the table.

“How was your meal sir?” I ask politely.

The man replies by regurgitating his pasta all over the table.

“That good huh?”

The young couple sitting few tables away looks on in horror. I think the boy’s date is gonna hurl.

Moaning, the man slumps back in his chair, eyes glazed over, looking at no one in particular.

A busboy races over to the table with a garbage can. His cleanup method is simple. Pulling the four corners of the tablecloth together he wraps everything, cups, plates, and vomit, into a bundle which he dumps, dripping, into the trash can. Another busperson brings up the rear with a mop and bucket. In a minute it looks like nothing ever happened.

That is, except for the bile hanging from the guy’s chin.

“Ok, time to go buddy,” I say.

“Uhnnnnh” the man groans.

“You gotta go now.”

The man hands me his wallet. I extract his Amex card and run the bill. He makes his mark on the receipt and stumbles towards the door. I notice he’s fumbling with his car keys.

“Did you drive here buddy?” I ask.

“I drive a Lexus,” the man answers stupidly.

“Not tonight you don’t.” I say taking the keys away from him.

“Hey….” the man protests.

“Where do you live?” I ask. The man tells me.

“I’m calling you a cab.” I dial the number for the car service we use. They’re good for getting drunks, upset girlfriends, and coked out hookers off the premises in a pinch. We’ve used them before.

The cab pulls up and I dump the drunk into the backseat. I pull a few bills out of the man’s wallet and tell the cabbie the address.

“Have a good night pal,” I say tossing the keys and wallet in his lap.

No response - he’s out like a light. I bang on the hood. The cab takes off.

Back inside the bistro I comp the young couple’s dessert and apologize for “the unpleasantness.”

I started my day with puke. I ended my day with puke. Lovely.

I go and retrieve the drunk’s checkbook. Of course – there’s no tip.

Now I feel sick.

Goddamn it.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Dead Man’s Tie

Its five minutes till my shift starts when I realize I’ve forgotten my tie.

I duck into the thrift store run by some old church ladies down the block. It’s a good spot to grab replacement neckwear in a pinch.

“We’re closing in five minutes!” the harridan manning the door calls after me.

“I’ll just be a sec,” I say rushing inside.

I head over to the tie rack. Not too many choices. Most of them have been donated by newly minted widows cleaning out their husband's closet. I pick out the lesser of the fashion evils; a nifty green and gold number circa 1975. I go to the register and hand the lady a dollar.

“Dontcha have anything smaller?” the wizened cashier barks. The tie costs a quarter.

“Sorry madam,” I say sheepishly.

With an exasperated sigh the woman pops open the register to get my change. As I watch her arthritic hands count out my pennies I finger my purchase and wonder about the tie’s previous owner. The image of an old man lying in his coffin, wearing a plaid blazer and a lopsided grin, fills my mind.

Well, at least his troubles are over.

Walking into the bistro Louis’ eyes light up when he sees my new acquisition

“Nice tie. Going to a fondue party later?” he asks.

“I think Jerry Ford was president the last time this tie was worn,” I reply.

“Very disco,” Louis sniffs.

I start whistling “Do the Hustle.”

“Burn that thing,” Louis says.

“As soon as my shift ends,” I promise.

A short while later a customer walks in the front door.

“How may I help you sir?’ I ask.

“Reservation for two under Martin,” the man says.

I look at the reservation computer. Two people at six. The name’s Steve Martin.

I look up. “You don’t look anything like Steve Martin,” I say in mock surprise.

The man laughs, “I get that a lot.”

“I’ll bet.”

“In the late seventies I never had a problem getting a table,” he chuckles.

“I’m sure you were a wild and crazy guy in the seventies,” I say.

“Yeah. But I never had a tie like the one you’re wearing,” he replies smiling.

“Touché sir.”

I grab two menus and escort the man to his table. A short while later his date arrives.

The woman is a very attractive lady in her late forties. I can tell this is a blind date. She looks like she spent hours primping in front of the mirror. She looks very nervous. I’ll bet she wonders if she’s still pretty. It’s hard to date at her age.

After the introductions are made Mr. Martin orders a bottle of Prosecco - a light sparkling wine.

The brand he ordered is sealed with a bottle cap. Opening the bottle I grin inwardly. I may never get this chance again.

“Would Mousieur like to smell the bottle cap?” I offer.

The man laughs heartily at my reference to “The Jerk.” The woman looks confused.

“The waiter is disappointed I’m not the real Steve Martin,” he explains.

“Yes sir. But your lovely companion has more than made up for my disappointment,” I reply suavely.

“Oh thank you!” the woman burbles delightedly.

“You’re welcome Miss.”

By giving the woman an unexpected compliment I’ve buttressed her shaky sense of desirability. It’s an old waiter trick. Mr. Martin’s evening should proceed smoothly.

Sure enough, after a few hours, Mr. Martin and his date are holding hands and playing footsie under the table. I smile. My tip’s gonna be huge.

I go outside to get some fresh air. As soon as I lean up against the wall a thin, out of sorts looking man rounds the corner.

“Hey man, that’s a nice tie,’ he says.

“Thanks.”

The man stares at me for a few seconds.

“Don’t I know you from Narcotics Anonymous or AA?” he asks.

“Nope,” I reply.

“You look familiar.”

“Well I used to work in a drug rehab years ago.”

“Which one?” he asks. I tell him.

“Naw, I was never there,” he says.

The man is neatly dressed. But his clothes look like they came from the same place I bought my tie. He probably came out of the NA meeting in the church around the corner.

“Well, it was a long time ago.” I say.

“Now you’re a waiter! What’s that about?”

“I found the customers easier to deal with than drug addicts.” I deadpan.

The man smiles suddenly - showing me all three of his teeth.

“Ain’t that the motherfucking truth!” he exclaims.

The man smiles some more. There’s an awkward silence. I wait patiently. I know what’s coming.

“Say, I’m trying to get a bus home and a bite to eat. Could you gimme a couple of dollars?” he finally asks.

I ask where the man lives. He tells me. I know how much the bus fare is. I hand him a couple of bills.

“Thank you sir.” the man mumbles with a trace of embarrassment.

“No problem,” I say watching him walk off.

The man heads into the pizza joint across the street. I see him get a slice.

Goddamn. The man wasn’t lying to me. He really was hungry. I should have given him more.

I head back inside. Mr. Martin asks for the check. They’ve been here four hours. His date's hanging all over him.

I drop off the bill. Mr. Martin counts out some cash and hands the checkbook to me.

“Keep the change,” he says.

“Thank you sir,” I say smiling.

“Nice tie,” his date gurgles.

I go out of sight to count the money. My smile disappears. The bastard gave me 13%.

I guess Mr. Martin really is The Jerk.

After cheapskate and his date stumble drunkenly out the door I close the restaurant. The place is empty. It was a slow night. I start doing my side work.

After I finish I take off my tie and look at it.

After a moment’s consideration I throw it in the trash. It was an ugly tie.

I drop the day’s receipts in the safe and lock the front door. It was a bad night. I didn’t make much money. I walk slowly towards my car.

That’s the last time I ever wear a dead man’s tie.

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