Drifting Chaos

I’m standing by the bar at Roots Steakhouse in Summit, New Jersey waiting for a table. Being a gentlemen I let my date have the only available stool. I’ve already drunk two margaritas so I’m now working on a bottle of Perrier. It’s all about pacing yourself.

As I listen to the rattle and hum of a restaurant on a busy Saturday night I look at the patrons around me having a good time. Roots is an expensive place – but then again so are the customers. Most of the guys here are wearing blazers, expensive shirts and the badge of rich North Eastern men everywhere – shoes with no socks. I’ve never quite understood why waspy men think it’s cool to have smelly feet. To my left two horsey looking women who look like they play lots of tennis are laughing and drinking martinis while their richly clad husbands honk about the stock market. In my polo shirt and slacks I feel a bit underdressed. No one hassled me about the dress code when I came in, but when the maître’d gave me a big smile and a friendly hello I had the sneaking suspicion he noticed I was wearing socks. I’ll live.

“This is a nice place,” my date says. “Thanks for taking me here.”

“No problem,” I reply, wondering if I’ll need a loan shark’s services to pick up the tab.

“Very busy tonight,” she says. “I thought most people were still on vacation.”

“Their yachts must be in dry dock.”

My date laughs. “So how many guys here aren’t wearing socks?” I ask

“I can see seven right off the bat.”

“These guys must buy Odor-Eaters by the gross.”

After ten minutes the hostess glides over and says our table is ready. Before I can ask the barmen he says he’ll transfer the Perrier to our bill. Classy. Not a lot of places will do that. The hostess seats us at a table in tight corner next to the waiter’s station. It is not the best table in the house but that’s what you get when you make a reservation at the last minute. I’m sure some customers would freak out if they got sat here, but if a bad table’s the worst thing that happens to me all week I’m ahead of the curve. But I like overhearing waiters as they ply their trade. The table will do.

My date and I order a mess of oysters and a prime New York Strip steak. When the waiter asks me what I’d like to drink I order another margarita. I know I should order red wine, but after two margaritas, margaritas go with everything. When our steak arrives it’s cooked to perfection and our side of grilled asparagus is very tasty. As I eat I notice the servers are friendly, prompt and very professional. I guess they didn’t notice I was wearing socks either. Passing on dessert we chitchat with our waiter, pay the bill and leave. I didn’t have to utilize underground-banking services after all so I leave a nice tip. The server deserved it too.

Well fed and slightly tipsy, my date and I emerge from the restaurant’s air-conditioned confines and into the warm evening air. Lighting up a cigar I suggest we go for an after dinner stroll. Digesting red meat involves peristalsis. And as we walk past the fine shops and real estate agencies advertising homes costing a million bucks we find ourselves at the scene of a murder.

The Promenade is a nice little spot in Summit on Springfield Avenue. A little oasis of tranquility, it’s a miniature park wedged between two buildings. It has a water fountain, greenery and four or five benches to sit on. During the day it’s a place where mothers come with their children and old people stop to rest their feet. On the evening of July 17th an El Salvadoran restaurant worker named Abelino Mazaniego was sitting on one of those benches drinking some post shift beers when he was approached by a pack of teenagers. One of the kids pulled the man’s shirt over his head and he and his accomplice severely beat him. One teenager even recorded the attack with his cell phone camera. Mr. Mazaniego died a few days later. But the authorities didn’t know they had a murder on their hands until that video started making the rounds on the Internet. The attackers were apprehended and initially charged with manslaughter. After it was discovered the motive for the attack was robbery the charges were upgraded to murder.

The citizens of Summit were shocked that such a thing could happen in their affluent burg of 21 thousand people. They last time they had a murder was fifteen years ago. But that was a domestic killing, not in the center of town. In response the townspeople laid flowers and lit candles at the scene of the crime. Many also donated money to take care of the restaurant worker’s funeral expenses. There are good people everywhere and Summit has more than its fair share. But my question was this – why didn’t any adults see the attack and do something about it?

Walking into The Promenade with my date I sit down on the bench where the worker was attacked and puff on my cigar. The flowers and candles were removed so it looks like nothing ever happened here. But as I sit where a man spent his last conscious moments I look at the lines of sight into the park. The stores looking into the square were empty that night. And any customers milling outside the restaurants across the street would have been unable to look in. With a group of teenagers blocking their view no one could have really known what was going on even if they had looked. So there’s a good reason no adult saw anything.

As I’m pondering this fact two men across the street eye me surreptitiously. Maybe they think my sitting on this bench is sacrilegious. They could be right. My date won’t sit on the bench. But one day mothers, children and old people will sit on this spot with no idea what happened here. It’s the way of the world.

I take a draw on my cigar and think of the reactions the townspeople gave to the press after the incident. Most of them were shocked and saddened by the evil that visited their city. They have every right to be. It’s tough when the world’s darkness shows up in your backyard. But one lady’s comment got to me. She said the murder was “embarrassing.” That pissed me off. Why? Because none of the teenagers who witnessed the attack called the police. Not a single one. That’s embarrassing. And not just for Summit, but for all of us.

A gentle breeze floats the laughter of customers outside Roots into the little park, twisting the smoke from my cigar into curlicues of drifting chaos. Shaking my head I get off the bench and walk with my date into the night.


Comments

Drifting Chaos — 43 Comments

  1. Nice post Waiter (Steve)
    For mine, I would think the most embarrassing thing would be that there was a gang of teenagers walking the streets of this ‘nice’ neighbourhood would would beat a guy to death.
    What does that say about your nice little town?

  2. Steve,

    What IS the deal about wearing leather shoes with no socks? My wife would love if I ran around like that, but my feet don’t like being in shoes without socks. What a strange fashion trend that is. Socks are what soak up the sweat. With no socks, your feet and shoes get nasty.

    Sock wearers of the world – unite and take over!

  3. There were 28 murders in my city last month alone and over 1,100 aggrivated assaults. We’ve become so desensitised to the news of another violent crime that it hardly registers, and most are never even reported on the news.

    Glad to know that there is still compassion left out there.

  4. Here in the Queen City (Charlotte, NC), the affluent people still wear socks. lol Really, I’ve never heard of this no sock trend – could save on my laundry bill. I can’t imagine wearing leather shoes with no socks though – seems like it would start to hurt after awhile. Crocks, flip flops, or sandals on the other hand….

    Okay – I know “no socks” wasn’t your point. You don’t write these to make a fashion statement.

    I like the way you take an every day event and turn it into a moment of deep reflection. Your writing, to some extent, reminds me of Earl Hamner. Enjoyed the latest post.

  5. So you shared one main course and one appetizer and then skipped dessert? On a busy Saturday night when you’re server was likely depending on doing well in tips? Sounds like you’re just another yuppy diner who goes out to restaurants without first and foremost thinking about the well-being of your server. Because according to you, that’s what restaurant patrons are supposed to do, right?

    This makes you no different from the “lunch ladies” you so often talk about who order only salads and water, taking up precious time at “your” table without running up a bill to your satisfaction.

    Waiter replies: In a country where portions are massive I’ve never had much of a problem with people splitting entrees, just so long as they tip a little extra to help make up for the shortfall. I took that into consideration when I left my gratuity. – you boob.

  6. There is a definite desensitization to crime, even crimes that include murder. They are given a brief note, a “no big deal” attitude about them in the newspapers, not even mentioned on the television news unless there was something special or unusual about the crime.

    As to shoes with no socks, I can tell you that expensive, well-made, leather shoes are quite comfortable without socks. They shape themselves to your feet with wear, becoming a comfy, almost literal, second skin. Also, you don’t wear socks when boating, as it just adds weight and keeps your feet wet. If you keep your feet clean and dry, rotate your shoes, make sure they dry completely, and store your shoes where air circulates, you probably will not have stinky shoes. If your feet are stinky no matter what you do, you probably have a fungal infection and need to see a doctor, and have your shoes treated.

  7. Steve, talking about sight lines makes me wonder if you have some law enforcement people in your background. (that & the shooting range stuff) Most civilians are unaware of their environment, sometimes with terrible consequences.
    Nice piece.

  8. Even more horrible than the murder itself is the fact that one of the kids taped it! If that doesn’t scream SOCIOPATH I don’t know what does. And then passing it around like it was a video…can’t even wrap my mind around that.

    As for the no-socks thing; it’s not as bad as the latest trend here in Atlanta, everyone running around with jeans or slacks and flip-flops. Talk about tacky!

  9. The failure of groups of bystanders to render aid is a well-studied phenomenon, and the explanation is not apathy: even in busy cities, a lone witness is more likely to help someone in trouble than is a group of witnesses. The explanation seems to be: (a) the greater the number of bystanders present, the less each one feels responsible for responding; (b) in a group setting we take our cues as to how to respond from those around us, leading to “pluralistic ignorance” when no one knows how to respond — we see the people around us doing nothing (because they don’t know what to do), so we think we should also be doing nothing.

    Robert Cialdini’s Influence discusses this in its chapter on “Social Proof.” The Wikipedia page on the Bystander Effect also provides some good basic information on the topic.

  10. Videotaping an assault is terrible enough, but passing it around on the web is just plain disgusting. And on top of THAT, passing it around after the person you assaulted is DEAD from their wounds? Cruel, insensitive AND stupid. What is wrong with people?

  11. Today I heard the news about the Jet Blue fed-up flight attendant who allegedly fled his plane with two beers in hand after cussing out the passengers. Made me think of your book. Dod you hear about this? What do you think?

  12. Summit is a town of great contrast. While there is great affluence, there is also poverty. The tragedy is that many of these teenagers parents moved from the urban decay and gangs of Newark to hope for a better life for their kids in Summit and some of them brought the gangs and the drugs and this horible type of behavior to the burbs with them. When caught the purps initially tried to excuse their appaling behavior by saying that the victim made a pass at them. Even if this were true (which in this case it was not) homophobia does not justify killing.

  13. wow – something very similar happened to a homeless man in South Florida a few years ago. What struck me the most is that one of the teens used to routinely share his lunch with the man that him and friends killed while videotaping. Its all just so sad

  14. We’ve grown up in a nation so blessed with good that we are aghast at evil. How incredibly blithe and naive we are! There is no other country on the face of the Earth with such an outlook.

    Nasty, brutish, and short is still the default mode for most human life lived in countries that have no moral compunction or respect for life. We seemingly have NO idea that our existential ponderings are a luxury born of a unique ideology: individual worth, a worth that is not deemed by men.

    It is so sad that we are throwing it all away to regress to the tribal “authenticity” of Might Makes Right.

  15. Shoes without socks: I have been told that fashion started with boat shoes, which traditionally can be worn with or without. So wealthy person would wear boat shoes and no socks for a long day on the yacht (where it kind of makes sense not to). Then he’d dock, throw a blue blazer over his khakis and head for the Club. Still wearing no socks.

    As for the unwillingness of crowds to help an outcast, yeah. That’s not new, but the taping of it is; the hideous crime just becomes another cool video clip. No one’s even ashamed. That level of disconnectedness — cultures have been here before, but it’s really, really not good. Out here, there was an incident where a girl was gang-raped on the campus of an urban high school after school, dozens watched and yes — videotaped. Nobody told except the girl, eventually.

  16. Bob Dobbs is right, no socks (and the obligatory Topsiders) is an Old Yank seacoast thing. It has apparently migrated south. As for Summit, many years ago, back in the late 1950s, I worked construction for my uncle, who was a builder/developer in the Summit/New Providence area. it was far from fancy back then. Interesting to hear that it has been gentrified.

  17. Hi Waiter/Steve — So glad to see another blog although I miss the more frequent updates.

    I wanted to let everyone know that Borders is currently offering WaiterRant up as part of a Buy One – Get One 50% Off deal. I picked up my copy today.

    I wonder when the day will come when not reporting such a thing will result in the viewers being held as accessories to the crime; in a way they are. By keeping silent they’re preventing an investigation from going forward and the victims from receiving justice.

    I’m sure many are afraid of repercussions against them, but whatever happened to human compassion? It’s like the story of the Good Samaritan. The others didn’t stop for social reasons or for fear of being robbed themselves… sad.

  18. It’s a damn sad commentary on the state of things. What was once a line never crossed has now become a chance to be “famous” on Youtube. Just sad, on a grand scale.

  19. I was not expecting a new post from you and was thinking about whining to you.
    But at the top of the mountain you sit with another bit of sage writing! You are so good with the written word, you are far more then a waiter! please consider a novel! Yes the editors and publisher prob think you are a one trick write about tipping pony! Oh no man! You bring us inside the mind of the city, We smell the faint wisp of your cigar, we see the shadow of the candles and the faint wash of the life that was beaten out by the crazed. You have rich memories and the peristalsis flows out your fingers onto our screens.
    Don’t let this fame corrupt your observations! Be true to yourself and become the anonymous snobrant.

  20. I used to think you were a decent writer but I can’t stand the lies. Artistic license only goes so far. Come up with someting good either all fiction or all
    biography. Make me brag about how
    good your website is again.

  21. We are all sad when we hear about murder, industries spend millions of dollars on making movies about killing, we then watch the movies, celebrate the actors and allow our kids to watch them on DVD a million times…. can we really be dumb enough to not see the correlation?… The kids were just making their own reality show. Jackass Two, maybe?

    Every life is important enough to take a stand for not celebrating violence in any way.

  22. Big Rooster, if you’re going to make such a scathing accusation, back it up w/ some proof. Or shut your pie-hole and enjoy this free, entertaining blog…

  23. THANK YOU for poking fun of the whole uppity shoes-without-socks-trend. You made me laugh out loud at your odor eaters comment. But then I got to thinking,I wear flats without socks all the time (and spray the hell out of my feet and shoes with odor eaters frequently, as I’m ridiculously paranoid about stinky feet)…oh no, I’m one of the them! Oh well, thanks for making me laugh at myself too.

    LOVE your blog, your writing has kept me giggling for years.

  24. I’ve read your blog for many years and enjoyed it. I think this is one of the best pieces of writing you’ve put up, ever. Thank you very much for it.

  25. Hi.
    I just wanted to comment on the “domestic killing” part of your murder commentary, Steve. While the restaurant worker being murdered for no good reason was indeed tragic and nonsensical, so was the domestic violence crime that had apparently happened in Summit fifteen years prior. Unfortunately, the stigma of silence that has surrounded DV for so long, along with the erroneous idea that it is just between two people, has caused our society to rank this type of violence on a lower par than other violent crimes.
    Having said that, I’m pretty darn sure that you did not intend to make light of a DV situation; I just wanted to point out that just because it happens behind closed doors and that there is still a ‘taboo’ attached to it does not make it any less tragic.
    I just can’t help but wonder how the citizens of Summit reacted to the DV incident fifteen years ago; did they light candles for her too?
    Thanx for your open-mindedness. :)

  26. The murder is sadness indeed. For those of us not in your area, thank you for posting about it. It reminds me that the world is changing, a human being seems to only get the respect he deserves when he’s gone, and that little things do matter. At least the community is saddened by the loss.

  27. I can’t believe people are commenting on why he wrote about socks, or what he ordered think about the big picture next time. Notice the fact that a fellow human being lost his life and no one stopped to help him out or care about it that’s the real tragedy in life. No one cares about there fellow man any more and it is just pathetic!! Stop and help a stranger once an awhile it would make the world a better place!!!

  28. Hey Man,
    Just finished reading your book, and thought it was amazing with a few grammatical errors. Oh well I’m not a writer yet so I shouldn’t criticize you. You are a “Table Waiting God!” I’ve been waiting tables for a few years but started like most other waiters in the early twenties. I really enjoyed your book. If you keep writing books I’ll keep reading them. I wish I could patronize whatever establishment you work at now, and sympathize with your story of the Bistro. Reminds me of the restaurant I hated working for but stayed at for way too long. Well take it easy and keep making those big-tips!:)

  29. @Robert: Not only are American portions ridiculously large, but look at what they ordered: New York Strip Steak and oysters. That’s not cheap, most certainly not “salads and water”, and I’m sure the waiter got a very nice tip based on what choice items like that cost. I agree with Steve, you’re a boob.

  30. I can’t believe those kids actually filmed a murder and then put it on the internet. That is so disgusting! I don’t think it sheds a negative light on Summit though, as most cities are filled with murder and crime.

    On another note, not wearing socks with shoes is gross, especially in a restaurant. I don’t care if it is an “Old Yank Seacoast thing,” or any other type of fad. That’s seriously unsanitary.

  31. Summit is a great place to live in, I know because I live there. And a friend says there are two areas–actually 3 including the town where you had your dinner at Roots. the other two are Snootmit, and Slummit. Judging from their first syllables, you get what I mean… If I only knew you were there, I’d run to you and have my book signed…shucks!

  32. I just read your book – and loved it. I grew up in NJ and had a home in Watchung NJ for yrs.Summit is just a few towns over and where I use the train station till this day – They have some amazing places to eat there – If you ever decide to return there try Brix 67 it is a older place but still excellent and right near Roots where you ate – That is shame that there was a murder there – it has never been a high crime area – I use the train station to come into NJ from NYC where I live now – I also have a home in Atlanta -But I have to admit no matter where I go in the country the food is the most oustanding in NJ and NYC …I hope you are working on another book :) ….I was a waitress about 10yrs ago in Upstate NY – Lake George – the stories I could tell you – all tourist and when they left we had nothing there but the rednceks – Also my family owns some very high end restraunts – In NJ and NYC – I am sure you know them all:)…..

  33. To all of you wondering about the murder being video taped, guess what!They can be charged as well. It is called being an accessory, and the only way they wouldn’t be charged is if they proved they tried to help.
    As far as being a waitress, I know the feeling of being treated like a second class citizen by the customers and guess what, bosses as well.. I say to this. ”Bosses treat your staff as you would like them to treat your customers.”With respect. Because guess what it is usually because of them the customers come back.
    You expect your waitresses to be loyal to you as servers the same as you expect your customers to be loyal to you.You would have less turnover in your business and happier staff.

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