The Bistro’s phone rings. I glare at it. I should pick it up by the third ring but I don’t. I hate the phone today. I’m at the end of my workweek and my reservoir of patience is depleted. If I have to deal with one more socially maladjusted misfit I’ll be forced to tap into my strategic reserves.
The phone rings spitefully. Since it won’t answer itself I pick it up.
“Hello the Bistro,” I say, forcing myself to sound cheerful, “How may I help you?’
“I want a reservation for seven people this Saturday,” a middle aged sounding woman says prissily, “And I want the window seat.”
“What time on Saturday?” I ask tiredly. No using “please” for this lady. A bitch from the git go.
I tab over to Saturday on the reservation computer. Every slot between seven thirty and nine is booked. This woman’s out of luck. I can’t say I’m unhappy about that.
“Sorry Madam,” I inform her, “But I don’t have seven thirty available.”
“What’s available?” the woman snaps angrily.
“I have six o’clock available,” I say, breathing deeply. Stay calm Jedi.
“That won’t do!” the woman shrieks, her voice clawing me through the receiver, “We have friends driving in from Westchester!”
“I’m sorry. But that’s the only time I have available for seven people on Saturday night.”
“Is the owner there?” the woman rasps.
Now, I’ve gotten a few comments from readers saying that I’ve been repeating my stories. Nonsense. It’s just that the same shit keeps happening over and over again. It’s not my fault.
“He isn’t,” I reply, “And even if he was he couldn’t seat you at seven-thirty.”
There’s a long silence at the end of the phone. I know the lady’s waiting for me to cave in and give her what she wants. I spend the time examining my fingernails. I’m due for a manicure.
“Well,” the woman says finally, “I’ll take the table at six.”
“Very good madam.”
“But I want to sit in the window,” she says, “Or I’m not coming.”
“Madam,” I reply, “We cannot guarantee where you will sit. But we shall certainly try and accommodate your preference.”
Translation? “Fuck off.”
“If I don’t get the table I want,” the woman barks, “I’ll walk out. And that would be a shame.”
Actually it wouldn’t be a shame. Just from the tone of her voice I can tell her party will spend no money, take forever, and hurt the restaurant’s bottom line. Some customers need to be fired.
And I’m just the guy to do it.
“Madam,” I say carefully, “On Saturday night we have several other parties that made reservations before you……”
“I don’t care. I’ll walk out,” the woman huffs.
Suddenly I realize this fight’s not worth having. I don’t have any strategic reserves left to tap into. Dealing with entitled shits like this woman’s been having a corrosive effect on my better nature. I’ve been short tempered lately – less easygoing. My coworkers have noticed a change.
I need to take a vacation but I can’t. Money worries have been pressing in on me. I need a root canal and a crown. I’ll get it done – but at the expense of cavorting with bikini vixens on some tropical beach. Goddammit. That’s been depressing me. There’s never enough money. I regret being a waiter today. Maybe I should’ve been a lawyer. They’ve got good dental don’t they? I wonder if you need your teeth in hell. Maybe not.
“Well?” the woman says, interrupting my thoughts.
“Madam,” I say surrendering, “I’ll give you the window seat.”
“Great,” she says, her voice brightening, “And I can have it at seven thirty? Right?”
This harridan won’t give an inch.
“No madam,” I reply, “The table is for seven people at six o’clock.”
“It’s ok if we’re a few minutes late?” the woman asks, suddenly coy. I know the drill. On Saturday she’ll call saying her party’s running fifteen minutes behind. Then she’ll call and say they’ll be another fifteen minutes late. Before you know it they arrive at the time they originally wanted. Passive aggressive bullshit. No way lady.
“Then you risk losing the table in the window,” I say firmly.
“We’ll be there at six,” the woman says quickly.
I take down the woman’s name and number, wish her a pleasant evening and hang up. She’ll try calling tomorrow and get another staff member to move her reservation around. We used to call it “staff splitting” when I worked in psych. I make a notation not to move her reservation under any circumstances. If something should open up at seven-thirty she won’t get it. I’d rather the good tables go to good customers.
I stare out the window. I feel small and anxious today. I’m not the snarky Uber waiter of anonymous internet fame (Which, by the way, isn’t worth much.) I’m just a guy wondering what the fuck he’s doing with his life. But darker thoughts always crowd me when I’m tired. I make a small decision, pick up the phone, and dial Fluvio’s cell.
“What?” he answers. Phone etiquette was never his strong suit.
“I need an extra day off this week,” I say.
Fluvio sighs. He understands limits. That’s one of his strong suits. We negotiate. I’ll work an extra day later in the schedule so he can go somewhere. We’ve always horse traded hours like this.
“Thanks,” I say.
“Get some rest.”
“I will,” I reply, hanging up.
Three days off in a row stretch out before me. I need them. It’s a poor substitute for a tropical beach but it’ll have to do.
The night ends. I close up and drive home. I take a shower, slip into some sweats, and pour myself a whisky. I go over to the bookshelf and peruse my collection. Whenever I’m feeling small and anxious I turn to Raymond Chandler. I pick out one of his books at random. I have them all. I sit down and start reading “Trouble Is My Business.”
Suddenly, I’m transported to the sun blinded streets of 1930’s L.A. My fedora’s square on my head, my pistol’s snug in its shoulder holster, and I’m one autonomous son of a bitch. Smallness and anxiety wither under my hard boiled gaze. Instead of worrying about my teeth I go looking to knock out somebody else’s.
And I go searching for that smoldering red-head. The one with the sultry eyes that “looked as if she had heard all the answers and remembered the ones she thought she might be able to use sometime.”
She’s out there. I need to find her.
Maybe she’ll look good in a bikini.