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.

the inside of a waitress apron

those of you who know me well know how meticulous i can be about certain things, especially my belongings. everything in my apartment has a place where it lives — the orange scissors live in the kitchen drawer, the white ones on the desk in the study. the hammer lives in the right junk drawer, the nails and thumbtacks go in the left one. coffee filters, for some reason, live in the refrigerator.

i’m particular about my apron, too. here it is:

my apron, the whole thing
the pens live in the left pocket (my right). the pens go in order from best to worst, with the best one closest to the middle, and the worst one on the outside edge. i usually have between six and thirteen pens. my order book goes in the middle pocket, always facing the same direction so that i can pull it out and open it in one quick motion. one of the guys at work always pulls his out of his apron, flaps it open like a police badge, and says, “conrad camp, waiter.” it’s funny. mine’s covered with stickers, which are not pictured. the right apron pocket holds everything that is not a pen or an order book. more on that later.

here is the inside of the order book:
my apron, with order book

the right side is where i keep scrap printer paper to take down orders. each order is a list numbered according to where each person is sitting at the table. seat one is having the chicken, seat two the salmon, etc. usually i can remember tables of two and three and even four, unless everyone’s having burgers, in which case i have to write down cooking temperatures and whole wheat buns and no tomato and such. the left side contains, in order from back to front, each shift’s credit card receipts, my tabc certification, a map of the restaurant with table and seat numbers, a scrap of brown paper i found at a table once, a photo of wes anderson from new york times magazine, and a very stylish version of my name that one of the hostesses drew in red pen.

here is the brown paper i found:
an odd scrap of brown paper i keep in my order book

i saw this when i was cleaning off a table and i’ve kept it in my order book ever since. it’s a rather interesting combination of words for someone to write down. maybe the person grabbed that day’s newspaper and was reading the international news and the society pages at the same time. but then, why did they underline hasbeens and elite, but cross out mel├łe? the world may never know.

here is the stuff i keep in the right apron pocket:
my apron, stuff i keep in itfrom left to right: my wine tool (it’s the fourth one i’ve had since working at this restaurant), a book of matches i use to light candles, the finger puppet heather gave out at sxsw this year, and this little metal thing i found on one of my tables once. this baby had been chewing on it, and i picked it up after he and his family left, because i didn’t know what it was. last week when i was cleaning out my apron, andy saw it and said, “alison, why do you have a rifle shell in your apron?”

so now the rifle shell freaks me out a little bit, but i still keep it in there, because that’s where it lives.