cyclops the waitress

there’s a family of four that comes in a few times a week for dinner at the restaurant.  i don’t know all their names, but the mom won’t let her two sons use crayons, the dad doesn’t talk much, and, until a few months ago, they kept their younger son in a blanket-covered stroller.  when they brought him out and put him in a high chair for the first time, i thought, “who the hell is that kid?  oh, wait!  it’s the baby!”  before that, i thought maybe the blanket concealed the fact that their baby had two heads, or that the stroller was a clever way for them to sneak in their cat.

anyway, the other son is three, and his name is jack.

he’s a funny kid, that jack.  he wears plaid shorts and battery-powered light-up sneakers.  he wears a restaurant t-shirt, a very small version of the one our busboys wear.  the food jack always orders has recently been named after him and put on the children’s menu, but no other kids order it because it’s too weird.  and, really, if you had to choose between fried chicken strips and french fries or two half-ears of corn, two flour tortillas, a bowl of fruit, and a bowl of rice, which would you pick?  when jack’s mom orders him the jack special, it comes out to the table on a plate and in two small bowls.  his mom proceeds to transfer all the food into green plastic bowls she’s brought from home.  this is the only way jack will eat the jack special.

jack’s mom and dad have a list of three other waiters that they request depending on who works that night, so i’ve never waited on them.  but i like jack.  i like making faces at him from afar and watching for his reaction.  he’s on my list of three favorite kids, along with the baby in the saks fifth avenue bib who imitates me and the squeaky-shoed girl who yells things like, “I WENT TO THE BATHROOM!” or “YOUR HAIR IS TWO COLORS!” or “I CRACKED OUT OF MOMMY’S TUMMY!”

when i make faces at jack he giggles and shrieks, clapping his hands over his eyes or ducking down in a hail of herb rice and blueberries.  usually i hide behind a wall for a second, and then pop my head out to see him grinning expectedly.  tonight as i walk by their table contorting my face at her son, his mother says, “you’ve found a new friend, haven’t you, jack!”

i’m standing with a group of waiters when i look over at jack.  he’s turned around in his chair and opened his mouth, showing me a half-chewed ball of tortilla.  i stick my tongue out and cross my eyes.

i’m just outside the waitstation when i see him squint at me, his teeth bared.  i give myself moose antlers with my hands, furrow my eyebrows and bare my teeth in return.

he thumbs his nose at me.  i grab my pigtails and hold them out as far as they will go, giving him a silly grin.

he shows me his food again.  i make a fish face.  he ducks.

the next time i walk by the table, i smile at him.  he looks me straight in the eye and says, “mommy, i don’t like her.”

his mother gasps.  “oh, don’t say that,” she says, but it’s too late.  i’m picturing every face i’ve ever made at him, each one layered on top of the other.  i’m a frizzy-haired, drooling ogre.  a nightmare pippi longstocking.  a cross-eyed monster frightening a shrieking three-year-old.  mortified, i avoid jack’s family for the rest of their visit, and i know that the next time they come in, i won’t even look in their direction.

it would be difficult to see them, anyway.  as a hairy cyclops, i have no depth perception.