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.”
“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.
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.
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.