So I’m telling an eight top the specials on an especially clamorous Friday night, shouting to make myself heard above the din, when I hear a dog barking.
No not outside, somewhere on the side aisle! Mystified I stop mid sentence and look in the direction of the canine vocalizations. The woman at that table is opening and closing her mouth and I swear everyone thinks she is the one barking.
“What the fuck?” the hard charging corporate CEO type at my table exclaimed.
“I believe some one is having a psychotic episode sir.”
I walked over to the offending table. Just as I was about to ask the barking lady if she had skipped her morning dose a little dog peeked his head out of the handbag on the seat next to hear and went “YIP YIP!”
Now I love dogs. I have a little dog myself. But Vietnamese cuisine is not on the menu and if the health department showed up we would be well and truly fucked.
The woman ignored me and was barking back at her surrogate child as he happily squirmed in her handbag.
“Madam, unless it’s a seeing eye dog, it can’t be in here.”
Angrily she looked at me. “I take him EVERYWHERE!”
“Not today. Please take him out of here.”
In a huff the woman took her pooch and exited stage right. Her dining companion was busy staring at the floor willing it to open up and swallow her whole. Where before there had been the roar of a crowded bistro on Friday night – now there was only silence.
I went back to my table where a chorus of laughter and “Good jobs” rained down on me.
“Brings new meaning to the term doggy bag.” I deadpanned.
The woman took her food to go.
I was hungry at the start of my shift so I jetted to the pizzeria across the street to grab a quick slice. As I was chatting up the kid behind the counter a totally smoking babe walked past the window hand in hand with her boyfriend. In typical guy fashion we both continued to talk about how the Mets sucked while our eyes lit up the girl’s ass like radar tracking an enemy plane. When I turned back expecting the usual lustful smirk the kid’s expression was crestfallen. He said, “Girl like that! Us working stiffs only get the leftovers.”
The egalitarian side of me recoiled at this notion. Leftovers? No one is a leftover! I am a working stiff and if I ever told my girlfriend I thought of her in the same terms as two day old meatloaf I would be dead before my body hit the floor. I knew the kid was having some self esteem issues but there was something other than being unlucky in love behind his comment.
Everyday we guys are bombarded with images of women we are “supposed” to have. They stare at us from magazine covers. Beckon us in beer commercials, Girl Gone Wild ads, and porn web sites. In the affluent area were I ply my trade there is a never ending parade of trophy wives with firm Pilates honed bodies, botoxed faces, and surgically enhanced boobs. If I said I never felt a twinge of longing or envy I would be lying. I am just as susceptible to those images as the next guy.
But I am a little older and wiser than the pizza boy I hope. In another life I worked in a mental hospital that catered to the rich and famous. I saw women struggling to maintain “perfection” by vomiting up everything they ate till they ruptured their esophagus and bleed to death internally. Girls cutting themselves, trying to hang themselves with pantyhose in the shower, offering me blowjobs for cigarettes, and crying till they almost shook apart – the collateral damage of “perfection.”
I remember one trophy wife whose eating disorder was so bad she had a very real risk of dying. Her fat rich husband’s only concern was if she stopped puking she would get fat and he did not like fat girls. Scumbag.
Working stiffs get more than their fair share of beautiful women. I lucked out! I see plenty of average guys with knockouts. Yet the images the assault men every day are raising the standard to an unattainable level and women are literally dying to keep up. Besides if you are holding out for that supermodel you may miss the love of your life right in front of you. Sure her ass may be a little wide. She never wears bikinis and high heels while fetching a beer from the fridge – but she will love you. And when you get older and gravity has taken its toll on you both she will be the warm body you reach for in the middle of the night.
I wanted to tell the kid all this but I had to go back to work. Back to where the women recoil in horror from the dessert menus. Back to where smelling vomit in the ladies room is a weekly occurrence. So I said,
“Every dog has his day kid.”
Then I left.
A couple of years ago we hired a waiter, whom I will call Carl, who arrived with impeccable references. A Swiss citizen, Carl had worked in some of the finest establishments all over the world. An older man, in his fifties, he knew everything there was to know about waiting tables. He could rattle off wine vintages, discuss the finer points of French and Russian service, spoke three languages, could debone a filet of sole and prepare flambé tableside. The man knew his shit.
Erudite and able to converse about a wide range of topics, I found he was a pleasure to talk to: a welcome change from the coarser discourse usually found in the back of the house. Yet there was a sadness that clung to him like tobacco smoke. Divorced, childless, living alone in a small apartment in a downscale neighborhood, he had the air of a man who accepted that his moment in life had come and gone.
As we walked to our cars one night at the end of a long shift I noticed we were wearing the same exact beige jackets, smoking the same exact cigarettes, and doing the exact same job. I looked at this guy, twenty years my senior, and wondered if I was going to end up exactly like him. I felt I was in a bad Star Trek episode catching a glimpse of my future self in some sort of time machine. The question was could I, like Captain Kirk, change the future? The thought disturbed me. I went home.
Then one day Carl had a problem with a table. Two nasty old biddies, festooned in gaudy jewelry and even uglier hats, were eating lunch and were unhappy with their meal. Carl went over to resolve the problem but they bitched and sent the food back. As he turned away, plates in hand, the nastier of the two, mistaking his Swiss accent for a German one, hissed, “He’s a Nazi dear I just know it.” Carl turned around and archly replied, “There is no need to be rude madam!” and strode away.
Two days later the owner got a letter from the aforementioned biddies demanding Carl be fired. The owner laughed and told him not to worry about it. Carl was, however, shaken. I bought him a drink at the end of the shift but he seemed to be in a fog.
The next day, Friday, I was surprised to see Carl had failed to arrive for his shift. I called his home but no answer. The following day he didn’t report for work either. Maybe he quit. Maybe he was on a drunken bender. On Sunday evening the owner, who had a sense something was amiss, called the cops. They found Carl. He had been dead in his apartment for two days. Heart attack.
The owner, in typical Italian bride at every wedding / corpse at every funeral fashion, freaked the fuck out. While I was at a table was about to regale another table of overfed aging yuppies about the specials, he grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear, “Carl is dead man. He’s fucking deaaaaaad!” The news barely had time to register when I looked down at the impatient upturned faces waiting to hear what culinary delights awaited them. Dead. Carl is dead. In one shocking moment my fears of ending up like him took on a new urgency and I was insensate. I described the specials on autopilot while my mind tried to process the news. After I finished a shrewish woman asked me to repeat the specials – again. I asked her to excuse me, that I had just heard a colleague of mine had died and I needed to compose myself. Without missing a beat the bitch said, “Ok, but is that striped bass fried or grilled? The withering stare I gave her, coupled with my abrupt departure from the table killed any chance of a tip from those assholes but I didn’t care. The rest of the night was like serving food in a funeral parlor. After shift the entire wait staff got stinking drunk.
There was no wake to go to. No funeral to attend. Carl was cremated the next day and his ashes FedExed to his gray haired old mother in Switzerland. It was as if he never existed.
Time, however, marched on and the jokes, of course, soon followed.
“This place will fucking kill you.”
“Better tell the customers it wasn’t the food.”
“The only way you can get a Saturday night shift in this dump is if someone dies.”
“Can I have his wine opener?” Where did he stash all his pens?”
“Some people will do anything to get out of working Saturday night.”
“Carl’s ghost did it.” – used to excuse every imaginable fuck up.
I told the owner he should write a letter to Carl’s old Nazi hunting bitches stating that:
“At our restaurant we take customer suggestions very seriously. You will no doubt be gratified to hear that the waiter in question no longer works for us, He is dead. I hope this resolves the matter to your satisfaction. You dumb cunt.”
Yet, after all the jokes and mythologizing, I was unable to shake the preternatural sense that I had seen a glimpse of my possible future. The nagging question that faced Captain Kirk still faces me. Can I change it?
Too you Carl. Votre’ Sante.
Lots of doctors eat in our restaurant. Every couple of weeks pharmaceutical reps drag these guys in and treat them to dinner while pitching their particular brand of poison. Audiovisual presentations are a normal part of these ethically dubious dinners and last night’s was a dooszy.
We set the medical ten top in the back so the drug pushers could set up their power point projector to display images on the side wall near the entrance to the men’s room. The doctors arrived and immediately began to wolf down copious amounts of free wine and food while a rep showed her presentation to the assembled freeloading horde.
I was up front so I didn’t hear what the topic was nor did I care. It was easy money for the restaurant and I envied the waiter who caught the table. When I checked in to see how things were going I noticed the waiter looked kind of pale. I asked him what was wrong and he said he couldn’t believe the pictures they were showing on the wall. “What kind of pictures?” I asked. The waiter leaned forward and whispered in my ear “Broken pussy.”
Dumbfounded I peered around the corner and sure enough, displayed en flagrante on the wall was a woman’s malformed genitalia oozing some kind of pus. Shit. The pharmaceutical whores were pitching some treatment for some kind of gynecological medication: just what I want to see on the wall before I tuck into my dinner. We had to redirect all the other customers well away from the doctors so they did not upchuck their $30 entrees.
I couldn’t tell the fish specials the rest of the night with a straight face.