Tense

Its 6:00pm and The Bistro’s been overrun by the Memorial Day rush. Fluvio’s down the Jersey Shore, I’m missing a waiter and the new hostess quit. The phone’s been ringing non-stop. The cordless is on the fritz so I’ve been rushing up to the hostess stand every time it rings. I have an extra large section of customers. When it rains it pours.

The phone rings for the millionth time. I pluck it off the receiver.

“The Bistro,” I answer simply. I don’t have time for “How can I help you tonight?”

“Hello,” a cell phone garbled voice shouts, “This is the Bistro, right?”

“Yes it is.”

“I got six people with me,” the man says, “We’ll be there in twenty minutes. That table by the window open?”

“I’m sorry sir,” I say, “But I have no tables available.”

“What?” the man shouts.

“Sorry, we’re completely full.”

“But I’m friends with Fluvio,” the man protests,

“Without a reservation there’s nothing I can do. Sorry.”

“Eight o’clock’s too late,” the man groans, “I’ve gotta go to work tomorrow.”

The door chimes. A man and woman walk in the door.

“I’m sorry sir,” I repeat, “I have nothing until eight.”

There’s a moment of silence. Then the caller hangs up. Typical.

I look up at my new arrivals. “Good evening. How many?” I say, trying to keep the frustration out of my voice.

“Two,” the man replies. Clad in black from head to toe, he looks like a younger version of Dennis Leary.

“Do you have a reservation?” I ask. Please say yes.

Leary’s doppelganger says he does. He gives me his name. He’s on the list. I look over the floor. The couple on table 26 is waving their credit card around. I’ll put my new arrivals there.

“Sir, your table will be ready in five minutes,” I say.

“Great, thanks,” Learyganger says, “My wife and I’ll have a smoke outside while we’re waiting.”

“I’ll come and get you.”

I head over to table 26, take the vacating couple’s plastic, and head for the credit card machine. I don’t get very far. One of my customers grabs me by the arm.

“Can I get another drink?” he sputters. He’s already had several.

“I apologize sir,” I say, “I’ll have your drink out in a moment.”

The man doesn’t let go of my arm. Instead he turns to his companions and asks if they want anything else to drink. I take off my glasses. When the man turns back to give me the order he sees the expression on my face.

He lets go of my arm.

“Sorry,” he mumbles.

“Very good sir,” I reply, “I’ll have your drinks out in five minutes. Thank you for your patience.”

I get to the back. Saroya’s putting an order into the POS computer.

“How long you gonna be?” I ask.

“This is a big order,” Saroya says without looking up.

“I need to run a check,” I whine, “I have to free up a table.”

“Sorry,” she says shrugging.

I say nothing. I need to use my time wisely. I run to the bar and make some drinks. Luckily they’re all simple – gin and tonics and scotch and sodas. I deliver them to the arm grabber’s table.

“Here’s your drinks folks,” I say smiling, “Enjoy.”

“Uh, Waiter,” the man who grabbed my arm says, “I apologize for earlier.”

“Its ok sir,” I reply, “It’s just one of those nights.”

“Sorry again,” the man says blushing, “I can see you’re busy.”

“Don’t worry about me sir,” I say, “Enjoy your dinner.”

I return to the POS computer. Saroya’s finally finished. I run the credit card, drop it on the outgoing table, bid them good evening, and ask a busboy to reset the table. The kitchen bell rings. I run to the pickup window. I’ve got nine plates of food to deliver. The phone’s ringing again. The food’s my priority. The machine will take it.

I deliver the entrees. The bus people have reset the table. I go looking for Learyganger and his girlfriend.

I find Learyganger angrily standing toe to toe with some yuppie dude. I don’t need to hear a word to understand what’s going on. The air crackles with the energy of impending violence.

“What the fuck did you just say?” Learyganger asks.

“I said you shouldn’t be so judgmental,” the Yuppie spits back.

I have no idea what’s going on. I have no idea who started it. But if I don’t bust it up I’m gonna have a brawl on my hands. It won’t be the first time it’s happened.

“Your table’s ready sir,” I tell Learyganger.

The man looks at me. He looks at the Yuppie. He looks at his girlfriend.

“You’ll follow me sir,” I say firmly.

“Uh ok,” Learyganger mumbles.

Then the Yuppie does something incredibly stupid. He pushes past us and sits down at table 26.

Learyganger looks like he’s gonna kill someone. I lightly touch his shoulder.

“Let me take care of it,” I say politely. I walk over to Table 26.

“Sir,” I say, speaking softly, “This table’s for the party that was here before you.”

“What?” the Yuppie replies, “You said ‘Follow me.’”

“I was speaking to the other gentleman sir,” I say, “You must have misunderstood me.”

“Oh,” the Yuppie says, “Well my son’s joining me in a minute.”

“I’m sorry sir,” I say, “I’ll get you another table.”

“Can’t I have this one?”

“No.”

Yuppie gets up. I walk him to the opposite end of the restaurant. The worst table in the place is open. I put him in it. I don’t care if he has a reservation or not. I just want to separate these two children as quickly as possible.

I walk back to the front to check on Learyganger. He looks like he’s calming down. The phone rings. I resist the urge to throw it onto the floor and stomp it into tiny bits. That wouldn’t be professional. I answer it instead.
“The Bistro,” I sigh.

“This is Carmine from XYZ Produce,” a man says, “You got your order ready?”)

“Uh I don’t know,” I reply. “The chef didn’t give me a list.”

“I’ll wait.”

“Listen,” I say, “Can I call you back in a bit?”

“I’ll wait till you get the order,” Carmine says casually.

“You’re calling a restaurant during service hours,” I snap, “Call us when we’re not busy.”

“Sorry!” Carmine yelps, “I’ll call later!”

Later, when all the customers have gone home, I get the order and call Carmine back.

“Sorry about earlier,” I say, “I didn’t mean to sound like an asshole.”

Carmine says it’s no problem. He apologizes for calling so late. He was at a barbecue somewhere. We make nice nice. Two working stiffs just trying to get by.

The night ends. I lock up and go home. My back feels as stiff as a board. It was a very tense day – lots of negative energy buzzing around. When I get home I pour myself a scotch. I drink it. It doesn’t even faze me. That’s a sign I shouldn’t have another. I take a shower and go to bed. I toss and turn. I finally fall asleep around three AM.

I dream of angry people yelling at me.


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