No matter what else happens to me, I hope that I never, ever have to wait tables again.
It’s all wrong for my temperment, which is socially extroverted and vocationally introverted. Also, I like to believe the best of people, and working with the public will turn you into a misanthrope faster than just about anything, short of going to prison or joining a political campaign.
I’ve been to college now, and they let me write little things and edit little things and waiting tables seems a long way off — the way nightmares seem a long way off when you’ve woken up and remembered the logic of reality. But once, oh once, I was a waitress.
Here’s a story:
The man with the super fake smile had three kids with him. Either they weren’t all his kids, or else he wasn’t usually in charge of them, because he treated them the way you’d treat an especially clever dog, or a child actor from TV. He seemed disappointed when they drooled, annoyed when they weren’t cute. His clothes were non-descript, the uniform of someone with a job like the one I have now, only ten years ago when there were dress codes. His clothes would never fade under the flourescent lights of his office, and he was getting a little fat now around the middle as he crept closer to 40.
Super Fake Guy smiled and smiled at me, and called me by my name, which I hated, reading it off my nametag each time, which was worse than if he’d remembered it.
“Jen, darlin, when you get a sec, would you bring us some more chocolate milk?”
And one of the kids would scream, “STRAWBERRY!”
And he’d say, “Sorry, Jen, except for Stephen’s milk, he’ll have strawberry, won’t you, Stephen? Thank you, Jen. You’re a peach.”
At that point in my shift, I was manifestly not a peach. I was a sweaty, tired teenager who smelled like maple syrup and frustration, sexual and otherwise. I did not want to be there right then. Or ever.
The evening wore on. Super Fake took up one of my tables for two hours with his brats, who changed their orders multiple times and spilled things like kids do. They took all the jellies out of their jelly caddies and opened up all the sugars and made designs with salt on the table tops. None of this really bothered me all that much.
What bothered me was when I gave the bill to Super Fake, and he held up a finger.
“Excuse me there, Jen,” he said. “We have a problem.”
“Yes. Can you tell me why it is, Jen, that the kids’ burgers were two dollars and mine was six?”
“Um. Because they’re kids’ burgers?”
“Jen. Jen. Jen Jen Jen. Jennie. They weren’t all that much smaller, Jen? Were they, Jen? They were almost the same size. Jen, here’s what I wonder. I wonder, Jen, if we can charge the same for my burger as theirs. Make ’em all two dollars. What do you say, Jen?”
“I say, I can’t do that. It’s a franchise. The prices are set in Omaha or something.”
“Six dollars is a lot for a burger, Jen.”
“I’m sorry. That’s just what they cost, sir.” I held out a menu, and pointed. “It says it on the menu.”
“Okay, Jen. Thanks for your time, Jen. I really appreciate it–” I left before he could ruin my name for me anymore.
A short while later, he and the kids trooped out, and I waved goodbye and he waved goodbye, and I went over to clean off his table. There, on the check, right by the circled amount reading “$20.03″ was a fifty cent tip.I snapped. Motherfucker. No one abuses my name and patience and then leaves me fifty cents. Jeebus.
I went out into the parking lot, where he was loading the kids into his minivan. “Excuse me, sir,” I held out the quarters. “Was there a problem with the service?”
He looked surprised. “Well, um, no…Jen…”
“Because you seem to have left me fifty cents on a twenty dollar check.”
“Well, I was very disappointed that we couldn’t do something about the prices, Jen, to be honest…”
“You were disappointed? YOU WERE DISAPPOINTED? Try buying books for school on fifty cent tips and see how disappointed you are. You know what?” I hucked the quarters at his minivan. He flinched. They bounced off the glass a foot from his head and landed on the pavement with a merry tinkle. “You obviously need this a lot more than I do.”
And I turned on my heel and went in.
The prep cook Sophie came out of the kitchen. “You on break?” she asked.
“No. But you probably better fire me. I just threw a customer’s lousy fifty cent tip at his minivan.”
Sophie took her cigarette out of the hole where one of her lower teeth used to be, and exhaled a giant blue plume of smoke. “Good. Bet he fucking deserved it. You want a blintz?”
Okay, so the company was sometimes good, even if the customers weren’t.