or: bizarre easter brunch customers.the table was set for five people–five menus, five rolls of silverware, five chairs. a middle-aged man and an elderly woman were sitting at the table, with an empty chair between them. i walked over to them, smiled, and said, “hello.” it’s what i do. “hi,” the man said to me. “we’re expecting a few more people.” really? i thought to myself. you mean they didn’t just seat the two of you at this gigantic table? they didn’t give you and your mom five menus in case you thought each one was different? “so i see,” i said. “can i get you something to drink while you’re waiting?” “we’d love just some water for right now.” when i returned to the table with two glasses of water, another woman had joined them. she put her purse and jacket down on one of the chairs. “can i get you something to drink?” I asked her. “nothing, thanks,” she said, and headed off to the bathroom. nothing? i thought. really? nobody wants nothing. she’ll probably have water. i went and got a water for her, too, and set it down in front of her place at the table. “that’s very sweet of you,” the middle-aged man said to me. “but she’s allergic to water. she’s pretty sensitive about it, too, so i think if she sees it in front of her she’ll get upset. i’m just going to put it over here.” he picked up the glass of water and moved it away. “haha, okay,” i said, not sure if it was a joke. he seemed like he was serious, but a water allergy didn’t sound terribly plausible. everything’s made of water, after all. just in case he was serious, though, i didn’t get her anything else. she went through the whole meal without drinking a thing. i waited on the next group of five people (four adults and a child) who sat at the same table. the child, a little boy about two years old, slid all the way down in his high chair and ended up getting his head stuck somehow. he was really frightened, and cried and screamed as his parents tried to get him out. it reminded me of when i was little and got my head stuck in the railing of our upstairs balcony. i can still remember how frantic i was, how convinced that i’d have to live out the rest of my life with my head in a railing. the little boy’s parents unstuck him from the chair, and a few minutes later he was happy again, giggling as he drew on the tablecloth with a red crayon. “what have you got there?” i asked him, pointing at the sticker on the back of his left hand. he grinned at me, opening his right hand to reveal a smushed-up grape. laughing, he pressed his hand to his face, smearing grape guts all over his nose and upper lip. he waited for my reaction. “eww!” i shrieked, wrinkling my nose and holding my hands up to my face in a display of mock horror. “that’s GROSS!” “it IS gross,” his dad said. “i’m gross!” the little boy said through his grape guts. “i’m gross! i’m gross! i’m gross! i’m gross!” a table of three people ordered hamburgers. i had to ask one of them for his order several times, because he spoke so softly i could barely hear him. after they finished eating, i came over to the table to pick up their empty plates. the soft-spoken man said something to me. “i’m sorry, what did you say?” “i said, i’d like a doggy bag for this.” he handed me his plate, with half a hamburger left on it. “i’ll box it up for you,” i said. i continued stacking plates, putting his on the top of the stack as i walked away from the table, i heard him say, loud enough for me to hear, “i’m so glad we have a president who acknowledges god.” why did he say everything else so quietly and that was so loud? i wondered. did he want to make sure i heard him? was he talking to me? does he think we’ve had a lot of presidents who haven’t acknowledged god? does he think that, compared to bush, reagan was some kind of atheist? they tipped me five dollars on a thirty-five dollar check. “why is it that the christians always tip so little?” i asked amy, one of the other waitresses. (it’s true. the christians are, in my experience, notorious for being very friendly and sweet, telling you what a good job you did, and then tipping 14%. that’s quite small in a restaurant where most people tip 20-25%. i speculate that since christians are [ideally] more scrupulous than the average person, they’re less likely to succeed financially in a morally bankrupt society. also, earthly riches don’t compare to the riches that await us in heaven, or something. the 14% christians don’t bother me much; i just think it’s sort of strange. “how can you tell they’re christians?” my mom asked when i told her about it later. “they hold hands and pray over the food,” i said. “or they’re wearing a priest collar, or they show up in church clothes and tell you that the sermon was so long they need the biggest glass of water you’ve got. or they’re carrying a plastic souvenir shovel that says ‘church groundbreaking 2004.'”) “i don’t know, but they do tip less, don’t they?” amy said. “i think instead of WWJD we should have WWJT: what would jesus tip?” “yes!” i said, “or JDPMR: jesus don’t pay my rent.” i’m totally going to hell. it’s a good thing my mom prays for me.
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.
some photos of my restaurant at the end of the night, as well as the post-shift dart throwing. note: as my own camera is currently broken and i had to give back my dad’s digital, this will be the last photo essay for awhile. maybe for a long while. maybe now i’ll actually write something, for god’s sake.