Friday, October 07, 2005

What happened to this weekend?

Hi again folks. This post has nothing to do with serving, but it does explain why I didn't write anything last weekend....

I've been feeling crappy all week. Getting over bronchitis. Coughing up phlegm, taking antibiotics, chugging NyQuil and DayQuil, the works. Saturday afternoon, the woman gets a call from one of her friends. She wants to go camping.

"Server, would you like to go down to Podunk to meet Breanne?"

"Sure, but I thought you hated camping? You always freak out when a bee flies by the screen door..."

She slaps me on the leg.

"Shut up. I'll be fine. We're going to sleep in my car."

I get up off the bed and walk towards the window.

"What are you looking at?" she asks.

"To see if you got a new car. I'm not sleeping in that little thing you're driving now. 50 miles to the gallon is great, but it just doesn't cut it when it comes to crashing."

Sure enough, her mid-size sedan has not been replaced by a gas-guzzling SUV or a mobile home. Regardless, I have a feeling that I'm looking at my bed for the evening.

Casting a look over my shoulder, I eye the cushy queen-size that I'll soon be leaving in favor of a partially-reclined front seat. Crap.

***

We're on our way. It's supposed to take an hour to get there. We've been driving for two hours.

"Want me to hop out and ask for directions?" I ask. I'm sitting in the passenger seat, leg on the dash, head on a pillow. I'm comfy, but I'd like to get to the campsite and streee-etch.

"Yeah, but I don't see any gas stations." We're flying by farms, corn fields, and the occassional trucking company.

"Stop up there."

"That's a bar."

"Yeah, I could use a drink. You don't get one, you're driving. Plus, they'll probably know where we're going."

The woman stops in front of the honky tonk and I extricate myself from the front seat. Opening the door, I notice how chilly it is. Glad I packed that extra sweatshirt...

The bar is bumping... for a hillbilly bar. I stick out like a sore thumb. I forgot my John Deere hat.

The bartender is a sweet, plump little thing. She's more than happy to help me out with directions. She does a great job, despite the fact that the old codger sitting at the end of the bar constantly interrupts her with 'short cuts'.

I thank her, and ask for a shot of her best top shelf tequila.

"Three bucks," she says, pouring Cuervo into a dirty small rocks glass. I love small town bars. I drop a ten spot on the counter, pound my shot, and boogie.

New directions in hand, the woman and I speed off into the night.

***

Camping is a good time. We're sitting around a fire drinking beer in plastic cups. Apparrently you're not allowed to drink alcohol in a state park. Wonder why?

For some reason, I don't feel so hot. My cough is getting progressively worse, and it feels like I'm getting a fever. I chalk it up to the camp fire and promise myself that I'll hit the hay before midnight.

Luckily, everyone else seems just as tired as me. I'm snuggled up in the front seat by 11:30.

I wake up around 4:30. Have to pee. I get out. It's freezing outside. Going to be a cold Chicago winter....

I do my business and head back to the car. As I'm walking back, I realize that I'm having a hell of a time breathing.

I stop before opening the door. I try to catch my breath. Nothing doing.

I knock on the window. My girlfriend opens the door.

"What's wrong?"

"Having... trouble... breathing... we ... should... go..." at this point, three things cross my mind. First, we're in the middle of nowhere. Second, if I don't get help soon, I may die. Third, I sounded exactly like Stevie from Malcolm in the Middle.

My girlfriend bundles me into the car and peels out of the campsite. Once we get on a main road, she dials 9-1-1.

"My boyfriend is having trouble breathing. Can you send an ambulance?" I would be surprised at how calm she sounds, except for the fact that she works in a hospital. She's holding it together really well... me on the other hand, I'm concentrating on staying alive. It feels like I'm sucking air through a straw.

"I have no idea where we are. We're on Highway A in Podunk.... What's that? A mailbox? Yeah... There's one right here. Says "Coffman." You know where that is? Stay here? OK, please hurry."

The woman gets off the phone. She turns to me.

"It'll be a couple minutes. How you doing? Are you feeling any better?"

She knows full well I can't talk. She also knows full well that by keeping my mind on something else, it may make the time go by faster for me. I know exactly what she's trying to do, which makes it worse for me.

Five minutes go by. I'm in agony. Finally, I can see the ambulance lights break over the hill. Sweet.

The EMT's load my ass into the ambulance. One straps an oxygen mask to my face while the other starts plugging me up to a vital sign monitor. Countless episodes of ER make the real thing seem boring by comparison.

After a few minutes, I'm able to breathe again, although it's still shallow. The EMT's are asking me questions. They decide to give me nitroglycerin.

For those of you not in the know, there are several different forms of nitro. The first is an explosive that can be used to blow a hole in the side of a bank vault. The second form is used to stifle a heart attack.

They stuff a pill under my tongue. It starts to dissolve. It tastes like crap.

Suddenly, it hits me. I'm having a heart attack!?? What the hell? I'm in my mid-20's, I can't be having a goddamn heart attack!

I'm freaking out now, and all of a sudden I can't breathe again.

I pass out.

When I wake up, they're wheeling me into the hospital.

***

A while later and the woman is able to join me. We're in a hospital in Podunk at 4:30 on a Sunday morning. Surprisingly, it still takes a good 30 minutes for a doctor to get to us.

The only other patient is a girl who is sobering up in the next room. She's not a quiet drunk, and she's been spending most of her time on the cell phone, screaming about how unfair it is that this latest 'set back' was going to destroy her dream of being a cop. She's making very little sense, and I hope to God they don't make her a crossing guard, let alone a cop. Some folks should not be allowed to brandish six-shooters.

Trying to block out her complaints, I turn my attention back to the woman. She's putting on her tough face, but I can see the trails running down her cheeks where the tears have cut through the soot of last night's campfire. She's worried about me.

At this moment, I'm not concerned about anything else in the world. All I can see is the woman sitting in front of me. I always knew that she loved me and that I loved her. I just never realized, up until this point, how much it would actually mean if one of us lost the other.

I think back to my bitching about sleeping in the car. I realize how stupid that was, and I decide to make a conscious effort to never complain about the little things. There are more important things in life.

Finally, the doctor shows up. She gives me an inhaler. Apparrently I didn't have a heart attack. My bronchitis damaged my lungs, causing bronchospasms, which is similar to asthma. The inhaler should help me in case of another attack. She sends us on our way.

The drive home is long, but uneventful. Watching the trees fly by on the highway, I can only ponder the future. How long will I have to deal with these spasms? Will I be able to play sports? Will I be able to throw a baseball around with my future son? Will I be one of those people that lapses into a state of permanent health problems? Would my girlfriend have to take care of me? Would I put her through that?

Finally, exhausted and consumed by thoughts and fears beyond my control, I drift off to sleep.

To be continued...

(You didn't think that this was enough of an excuse? Good, cause it gets worse. This wasn't my only ambulance trip that day....)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

New Post Coming Tomorrow

Hi Folks!

Long time, no write. My sincerest apologies. I've been working my ass off at my new job, and I haven't had the time or the energy to post. I am going to start writing today and post tomorrow.

In the meantime, I want to point out two things that I discovered this week. First, I love that new show about the chef who is trying to turn his life around. Good stuff. Second, I can't wait for that movie "Waiting." I hope the writers did it right. This better not be the "Good Burger" of casual dining.

Monday, September 19, 2005

My New Job....

Is taking up a lot of time. I'm sorry folks, I may not be able to post anything major this week. I'll try to find some time to poke out a couple of short stories. Think of this as... the kitchen messed up your food. I'm going to bring you some chips and salsa so you don't resort to cannibalism.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Most Interesting Server Ever

-Preface-

This is one of the most difficult posts I've ever had to write. Enjoy.

-A Description of the Most Interesting Server Ever-

The Most Interesting Server Ever (I'll call him MASE, most amazing server ever, for short-besides, 'MASE' sounds much cooler than 'MISE') is 6'1'' and weighs about 200 lbs. He's all muscle. Not from lifting weights, but from dancing.

He's half-black, quarter white, and the rest is a mixed bag. He's bald by choice. He looks like Vin Diesel from such glorious box-office smashes XXX, The Chronicles of Riddick, and Pitch Black.

MASE is a homosexual, as are a large number of male servers, at least in The Restaurant. He's not effeminate. Many of the female customers drool over him. I've been asked many times, "Does that server have a girlfriend?" I've always answered with a truthful, "no." Keeps their dreams alive.

In my very first post, I noted that servers are some of the most colorful, interesting, and vibrant people. MASE is a prime example. He has lead one of the most amazing lives of anyone I've ever encountered. He did not always do things the good (or even legal) way, but he has no regrets. He shouldn't.

I'm writing his story knowing that it won't do him justice.

-The Most Interesting Server Ever-

I'm standing at the computer punching in a table's order. I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn to see MASE looking down at me.

"You went to Princeton, right?" he asks.

"Yep," I reply, waiting for what usually follow. It goes something like this...

'You must be really smart, huh?'

'Not really. I was a pretty good football player, so they let me in.' I always try to downplay my education when I'm serving. It makes everybody, myself included, feel more comfortable.

'Oh. Umm... if you're so smart, how come you rang in three burgers at table 111 when there are only two pepole?' Every time I do something dumb, I always catch more flack than your average Joe. It's the curse of going to an Ivy League school.

I'm standing there, wondering what I did, when MASE shocks me.

"That's cool. Did you ever make it up to New York?" Curveball. Most people don't know where Princeton is, let alone know that it's about an hour train ride from NYC.

I don't know anything about MASE. I haven't talked to him much because he is still relatively new. He's just passing the point where I feel like he'll make it at The Restaurant.

Most veteran servers will tell you that they don't talk to new people for at least a month. It's sort of like Vietnam. You don't want to be friends with someone knowing that they probably won't last. Once they reach that one month threshold, a bond begins to form. You've been 'in the shit' (The Waiter's words) together, and you know you can count on them.

I decide right then that MASE is going to make it as a server. It's a Saturday night, we're on a wait, and he is able to shoot the breeze with me while keeping up with his four table section.

"Yeah, I've been there a couple times. Breaks the monotony of campus life. Why do you ask?"

"I used to live there, back in the day. I had a lot of fun, but I'm glad to be out of there. Are you going out tonight?"

It's a ritual that the entire staff go out for a beer after a busy Saturday shift. It usually turns into a bitch session. Managers, customers, poor servers; all are fair game. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

"Yeah. You should definitely come. I'll even buy you a beer."

"I'll definitely come by, but I'll have to pass on the beer. I'm on the wagon. Been sober for five months." He smiles and walks back into the kitchen.

I'm intrigued. It seems like he doesn't want to talk about himself. Very few people dislike talking about themselves. I get the feeling that there is more to MASE than meets the eye.

Putting my questions on the back burner, I turn back to the computer. I finish typing in the order, grab the iced tea pitcher, and head back to battle.

***

We're at a neighboring restaurant. It's another "crap on the walls" casual place, but the bar is open later than ours. Even the closing bartenders at The Restaurant have time to come over for a couple beers.

We've pulled three tables together. It's a good turn out tonight. About 90% of the staff showed up. As usual, we're banging on Valerie and horrible customers. Everyone's laughing and having a great time.

MASE, true to his word, is sipping a Diet Cola, silently taking in the scene. I decide to break the ice.

"So how come you never come out with us?"

"Well, a couple reasons. I'm living with my aunt and her two kids. I have to babysit for them almost every day. Also, I can't drive. Speaking of which, can I get a ride home?"

No more shots for me. Oh well.

"Sure! How come you can't drive?" I'm expecting to hear the usual. DUI.

"I got deported from Canada for stealing a car," says MASE, chuckling. Wow. Wasn't ready for that.

"What? What the hell happened?" This is a story I have to hear. I notice that two of the waitresses are starting to steal glances towards us. I can tell they're eavesdropping.

"After NYC, I went up to Canada with some friends. We went on a two month long bender. Drugs, booze, you name it. One night, I decided to steal a car and go joyriding. The mounties didn't like that so much."

One of the waitresses that was listening in decided to pipe up.

"How did you steal the car?"

"With a scredriver. It was kind of funny. The cop that pulled me over turned on his loudspeaker and said, 'Throw the keys out the window and put your hands on the wheel!' I didn't have any keys. I was so freaked out and paranoid from the drugs that I thought he was going to shoot me if I didn't throw something out the window. So I grabbed the screwdriver and tossed it into the street. Looking back on it, I bet he was laughing his ass off when he came over and saw a phillips-head lying in the middle of the road."

Most of the table is riveted. We all want to hear more, so I decide to keep leading him on, seeing how much he'll tell us.

"What did they do with you? Throw you in the clink?"

"Yeah, for a couple days. I didn't have any ID, so they had to call my parents to come verify who I was. They came and picked me up. I ended up getting probation, since it was my first offense. My parents put me into rehab in Seattle."

So that's why he doesn't drink anymore. Seems like a good reason.

"Earlier you said you lived in New York. Were you serving there?"

"Yeah, at a gay restaurant. It was kind of like an Ed Debevic's, except everyone dressed in drag." Wait a minute...

"Oh, you're gay? I didn't know that."

"Yep. I made a hot drag queen too. You would have loved it." We all start cracking up.

"I was waiting tables and modeling too. Eventually, I was making enough modeling and... doing other things, and I was able to quit serving." He didn't want to talk about the 'other things', so I decided not to push him on that. However...

"What kind of modeling did you do? Anything we'd know?"

"Maybe. I was one of the original Calvin Klein models. I was on a couple billboards in NY, and I was in one of the commercials that was on MTV." Holy cow. This wasn't a small-time modeling gig. MASE was on the verge of the big time. Well, maybe not the BIG time, but he was closer than any of the other people sitting at that table.

"I was also in a couple of B-movies. Straight to video horror flicks. In both of them, I was one of the extras in dance clubs. For one of them, they made me wear this big Afro wig. I was so coked up at the time, I thought I was the king of the world. I kept tossing the wig. The director was getting pissed. They had to do like fifteen takes for a ten-second scene because I kept throwing my wig over the crowd." Enraptured, the entire staff is fixated on MASE.

"But the one you all would probably know is a music video shoot I did. Lenny Kravitz's 'Are you Gonna Go my Way?' " Excited murmers and agreements from the peanut gallery. "I was a dancer in that video. I have a copy, I'll bring it tomorrow."

I can tell the MASE is getting tired of the attention. I want to hear more, but I figure I'll have plenty of time. I switch the topic.

"So, are you a Nintendo guy or a Sega guy?" Almost immediately, the female servers lose interest. For some reason, only guys spent a large portion of their youth learning that you could get 99 lives in 'Contra' by pressing up down up down left right left right B A B A start on the title screen.

MASE and I talk about video games for the next couple hours. He tells me that he just bought an XBox, the brand new gaming system from Microsoft. Cost him $350. He loves it.

Soon, the house lights shine bright and it's time to go. MASE follows me out to the parking lot and hops in my car.

He lives really close by, and we're there in a matter of minutes. Pulling into the driveway, I see a young kid, about six, sitting on the stoop. When MASE gets out of the car, the kid runs right over to him. He looks like he's been crying.

"What's wrong buddy?"

"MASE, I'm so sorry. We were playing with the football in the house and I made a touchdown and spiked the ball. It hit your Xbox and broke it."

Quickly, the calculator in my brain goes to work. $350 for the Xbox. About $5 per table in tips. That comes to 70 tables of wasted work. I expect MASE to blow up. Instead....

"You know you're not supposed to play ball in the house. Mom told you that yesterday. I'm really disappointed in you. But you know what? I'm also really glad that you told me. You could have not said anything and blamed it on someone else, but you took responsibility. I'm really proud of you."

Wow. I'm impressed. The kid smiles through the tears. MASE picks him up and carries him back into the house, waving goodbye as he reaches the door.

Driving home, I reflect on what I've seen. MASE has lived a fast-paced life, but he's turned things around. He's grounded. Most parents I know wouldn't have handled the situation with the XBox that well.

Despite all I learned about MASE that night, I felt that I hadn't even scratched the surface yet. I was right.

*** (A few months later)

The company Christmas party. If you can call it that. We're celebrating Christmas in early February, apparently.

Valerie got a nice-sized check from the corporate office to spend on this party. Instead of going to a high-class bar or banquet hall, we end up ar a local dance club/bar. On Industry Night. No cover for servers. $1 appetizers and half-priced drinks as well. Way to stretch those dollars, Valerie.

Soldato, my girlfriend, and MASE are talking in a corner away from the dance floor.

"I betcha Valerie is pocketing the rest of that check," comments Soldato.

"You know it," I reply. "Oh well. At least we're drinking for cheap tonight." I take a gulp of my Captain and Coke. Mmmm... I love watered-down drinks.

MASE is dancing in place. I can tell that he can't wait to get on the floor. I nudge my girlfriend.

"Why don't you dance with him? I'm not nearly drunk enough yet, so you may as well get warmed up." She laughs and grabs MASE's hand, heading for the dance floor. MASE gives me a smile of thanks.

My girlfriend is a pretty good dancer. I can't keep up with her. Tonight, she can't keep up with MASE. He's a whirling dervish. Soon there is a crowd around him and my girlfriend. He's tossing her around like a rag doll, and she's having a great time. I've never seen anyone dance like MASE. It's ordered chaos keeping in time with the music.

After a while, the music changes. It's a slow Tina Turner song. MASE and my girlfriend head back up to our table.

"You're a pretty good dancer!" I say. My girlfriend is still trying to catch her breath. MASE is sweating, but he doesn't seem to be breathing hard.

"I like dancing. I love this song, but it's not good for anything except the middle-school slow dance." He puts his arms out straight, about waist-high, and pantomimes the akward step/turn of the pre-teen slow dance. We're all cracking up.

"So you like Tina Turner, huh?" I ask. Personally, I loved her in Beyond Thunderdome.

"Yeah. Did I tell you about the modeling benefit I did where I saw her live?" I haven't gotten many more stories since the first night we all went out. I'm dying for more.

"No. What was the benefit for?"

"It was an AIDs benefit. There was a modeling show, followed by her performance afterwards. I was in the modeling show. I was supposed to walk once, but I was all coked up... again. I walked twice. The second time I went down, I saw Billy Zane sitting at one of the tables up front. There was a seat open right next to him, so I thought I'd go sit down. After I got backstage, I booked. I was wearing a five thousand dollar Armani tux. I went over and introduced myself to Billy Zane. We started talking and he let me sit down. I guess one of his group didn't show. He orders a couple bottles of Dom for the table. Pretty soon, the lights go down and Tina Turner starts the show. The coke is starting to wear off, so I finally realize what's going on. I'm sitting next to a Hollywood actor, drinking Dom Perignon, wearing a five thousand dollar tux, and watching Tina Turner perform less than ten feet from where I'm sitting." He shakes his head. "That was probably the best night of my life."

"Holy shit," says Soldato.

"Wow. Did you get to meet Tina Turner?"

"No. I met a bunch of musicians while I was in NY though."

"Really? How?"

MASE looks around and then motions us to go over to a corner with him. He speaks in a low tone, so he isn't overheard.

"I used to be an errand boy at one of the concert venues. If a band wanted drugs, booze, whatever, I was the one they called to go get it. It was good money, and I got to meet a lot of cool people." He shrugs.

"I don't want too many people to know about that."

"Fair enough," I say. "Who all did you meet?"

"Lots of people," he said. "I saw Eddie Vedder (lead singer of Pearl Jam) so drunk that he was eating Play-do out of the can. That was funny. I also got to be really good friends with Michael Stipe (lead singer of R.E.M.). He still sends me and my aunt a Christmas card every year."

Just then, Valerie comes up to announce that it's time to give out awards. We amble back to the table to watch as she gives out cheap plastic "awards" in categories such as "best Front of the House employee", "Best Cook", "Best Smile", and "Best Ass." Good times.


*** (A few months later)

I walk into The Restaurant for a lunch shift. MASE is at the bar, staring at the TV. They've just caught the sniper in Maryland. MASE is starting to tear up.

"What's wrong? Did you know one of the people who got shot?" I ask.

"No. I knew the sniper. The kid." He's really upset.

"How did you know him?"

"Remember that rehab clinic I went to in Seattle? He was in there with me. He was such a good kid. This is fucked up. I can't believe it."

Neither can I. Forrest Gump has nothing on MASE.

*** (A few months later)

MASE has been crabby for a while now. He's showing up to shifts late. He's lost weight. I have a feeling something's wrong.

It's a Saturday night. MASE is at the computer, typing in an order. I'm reminded of the first time we talked. I tap him on the shoulder.

"Hey, you OK?" I ask. He turns around. His eyes are bloodshot and he's sweating.

"Fine." He's short with me.

"Are you sure?" I hate to pry, but I want to help if I can.

"I'm OK. Really." He turns back to the computer. I walk away.

After the shift, we head out for drinks. I order a tall Bass.

"I'll have a double Johnny Red on the Rocks and a tall Black & Tan," says MASE. Whoa. What the hell is going on? MASE doesn't drink.

"MASE, what's going on? You never drink."

"Well, some stuff has changed." He drains the scotch in one gulp and then downs half his beer. I've never been scared watching someone drink, not even in college. MASE is scaring me.

He drinks hard the whole night. I drive him home. I watch him stumble up to the door. He unlocks it and almost falls inside. He isn't the same person who, less than a year ago, carried his aunt's son in after performing some of the best parenting I've ever seen.

I drive home with a heavy heart.

*** (A few months later)

MASE is dying. He has AIDs. He's not HIV positive. He has full-blown AIDs. He hasn't worked in a month. He's in the hospital.

We called his aunt to see if there was anything we could do. The entire staff is upset. MASE is one of the nicest people and hardest workers around.

His aunt tells us that he's in the hospital. He doesn't want visitors. He's nearing the end, and he doesn't want anone to see him in his condition. She thanks us for our concern.

One of the servers gets a card. We all sign it. I can't put into words what I'm feeling. How do you tell someone, "I hear you're dying. I just want you to know that I'm thinking about you"? What consolation will that bring?

I am waiting on a table during a weekday lunch. Two 30-something ladies. Well-dressed, but not in business attire. They're enjoying hubby's money while he's slaving away. One of them grabs my arm.

"I need more ice." She turns back to her conversation.

At first I'm mad as hell. Who the hell are you to order me around? I'm a person too. I'm probably better-educated, smarter, and a lot harder-working.

Then I realize that I'm upset about MASE. I come to a realization. Nobody that MASE waited on knew who he really was. They saw him, as many customers do, as a dog. Fetch me more ice. Fetch my food. They had no idea of what he'd seen or what he'd done.

Turning that around, I realize that I don't know who these two ladies are. I don't know what they've gone through, what they've done in life. Who am I to make judgements about them, based on a half-hour spent waiting on them?

This was the last, and probably best, thing I learned from MASE. You never know who you're dealing with until you talk to them.

I got the lady more ice and set it down with a smile.

"There you are ma'am."

"Thank you! I must tell you that it's so nice to be able to have an afternoon away from the kids. You've been wonderful."

***

I realize now that MASE must have found out he was sick right before that last conversation I had with him at the bar. He spent his last couple months at the restaurant deteriorating before my eyes.

Aside from the drinking, MASE made some other lifestyle changes. I could tell he was using drugs again. He also told me that he was frequenting places downtown that offered a place for guilt-free one-night stands. He was spending less and less time at his aunt's house and more time partying all night in Chicago.

He lived his last couple months hard. He wanted to go out with a bang.

Honestly, I don't know if I can blame him. If someone put a time limit on my life, how would I react? I don't think I'd want to go quietly.

Wherever you are now, MASE, please know that you touched my life, as well as many others. There are people who loved you and who cared about you during your short time on this planet. In fact, we still do.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Drunken Irishman

-A Description of The Drunken Irishman-

The Drunken Irishman (who I'll call Irish from now on) stands 5'9'' and weighs about 180 lbs. Most of it is baby fat. He has sandy hair, which is 'styled' bi-monthly at Supercuts. His complexion is ruddy. His cheeks and nose seem perpetually red from the burst capillaries. He is in his mid-20's.

Irish mumbles and stutters, which is not a good combo when trying to chit chat with customers. This can get him into trouble sometimes.

Irish drunks too much, but nobody seems to mind. He's a friendly drunk.

This story is about a shift and the beginning of a night out with The Drunken Irishman.

-The Drunken Irishman-

I've been working at The Restaurant for a few weeks now. I'm learning the ropes, and my tip percentage is rising steadily. Running four tables is a breeze.

I'm even starting to become familiar with some of the oft-used (but never under-appreciated) jokes that servers use to banter with their tables when we're in a hurry. For example: "You didn't care much for your dish, sir?" when the customer has all but licked the plate. I'm starting to enjoy this job.

I walk into The Restaurant for a Saturday night shift. I'm pumped. Weekend nights are electric. The bar is busy, sections are full, and almost the entire staff is scheduled. It's always a good time.

Walking in the back, I notice a group of people hanging out by the pin-up board. Normally, this board contains notes from people looking to pick up or give up shifts, a list of the 86'd items, and any other random pieces of info that Valerie thinks important.

Today, a shopper report hangs on the wall. For those of you not in the know, let me enlighten you on shopper reports....

Restaurants, especially corporate-owned restaurants, use shopper reports to grade service. A shopper service recruits people to go out and eat at restaurants and then grade the server. If a server follows the cookie-cutter 10 steps of service, they will score well.

(I hate shopper reports. In my humble opinion, the scores do not represent the true ability a server has to make the guest enjoy their dining experience. This is worthy of an entire post, so I'll get into this another day.)

This server scored a 67%. Horrendous.

"Ouch. Can someone get in trouble for that?" I ask.

"Yup. You can get your ass fired for that." The Hippie is examining the report, idly munching on organic carrots.

"For what?" Irish walks into the back, looking harrassed. Then again, he always looks harassed.

"Low shopper scores."

"No you can't! If that was true, I'd have been fired after my first night. I got a 35."

Now Irish has a crowd. Taking pains to speak slowly and clearly, he explains. He was so poorly trained that he barely knew how to clock in for his first shift, which happened to be on a Saturday, our busiest night of the week. He had never waited a table before in his life, but he was given a four table section. He didn't know the menu, the computer, or the steps of service. Murphy's Law: Irish got shopped his first night on the floor.

"How did you manage to get 35?" If he knew nothing, I'm wondering if he got points for saying his name correctly.

"Oh, it wasn't me. They liked the food." This gets a laugh from the servers.

"Shows you how much shoppers know. Our food is crap." This from one of the veteran servers. I can't say that I disagree.

Valerie comes around the corner.

"ShiiiiiiIIIIIIFT!" It doesn't matter that we're all standing within five feet. Valerie always screams like a banshee when announcing the shift meeting.

Ten minutes later, after a scathing assesment of our serving abilities, Valerie sends us out to the floor. I see that I've already been sat, so I head to the table. As I'm launching into my spiel, the hostess double seats me. Great. It's going to be that kind of night.

Two hours later The Restaurant is hopping. I'm in the groove. All my jokes, even the bad ones, are working. My tables love me, and all my tips are over 20%.

I'm restocking glasses in a side station when Irish comes in to refill a soft drink.

"How you doing tonight?" I ask.

"Not so good. That shift meeting killed my good mood."

"Well, looks like your night is about to get better." I nod to one of the round 8 tops in Irish's section, which is getting sat with a party of 7. "Try ID'ing the older lady if she asks for a drink. Old folks love that." The 70-something looks like she could use a drink. The grandkids are rambunctious.

"Oh yeah? I haven't done that before, but I'll give it a try." Irish runs his drink and heads to greet his table. All my tables are happy, so I stick around to hear his delivery.

"Hi folks how are you doing? My name is Irish and I'll be taking care of you this evening." He rattles off the specials. "Can I start you folks off with something to drink?"

Turns out that everyone (with the exception of the little ones) is drinking. Finally, Irish gets to the 70-something.

"And for you miss?" I love that he used 'miss.' It's a good lead-in. They're going to love this if he can pull it off.

"Pinot Grigio, please."

I lean forward in anticipation. I love the sound of a table laughing.

"Of course. And I know I don't need to see your ID."

Dead silence from the table. Irish realizes that he's completely blown it. He's turning all shades of red, and he's starting to shake. He tries to backtrack.

"What I mean is.... I was going to ask to see your ID, cause... I mean, can I see your ID? No, just kidding...." I'm reminded of Tommy Boy. ("Your brain's the one with... shell on it")

The 70-something is staring at Irish to see if he's serious. The lady's son looks at Irish with pity. I bet he's wondering if Irish left his helmet on the short bus.

Irish beats a hasty retreat to the bar. I follow.

"So, uh, that didn't go so well, huh?" I'm trying to console Irish, but inside I'm laughing my ass off.

"No. This shift is worthless. How about going to the bar after this?" He's still beet red. I feel bad for him.

"Of course. We're going across the street. Hopefully we can catch the end of the Cubs game." Irish is a big Sammy Sosa fan. (mind you, this is pre-steroid scandal baseball) The Cubbies are playing the Cardinals in St. Louis. They're vying for the division lead.

"Great. Now excuse me, I'm going to try to save my tip."

He walks back to the table with a full tray of drinks.

He scoots in between his table and another 8-top. He places a drink down. As he straightens back up, a man at the other table finishes a story he is telling with a flourish. His arm flies back, slamming into Irish's tray. The tray tips, spilling the drinks all over the table.

The man telling the story glances back at Irish, then quickly turns back to his table. He says nothing. Irish looks back at the man, anger flashing in his eyes. He turns back to the table.

"I can't believe that guy just did that! I'll be right back with a new round and a towel." Irish turns to leave.

"What guy?" The son asks angrily.

I don't believe it. The son missed the whole thing. Looking around at the table, I can see that the rest of the party missed it as well. Irish looks around helplessly. His eyes lock onto mine. I smile and shrug. What can you do when Murphy's Law is in effect?

***

After a long night, the shift is finally over. We head to the bar.

We sit down and order beers. Pint of Bass for me, schooner of Miller Lite for Irish.

"How about some shots? I need to forget tonight." Irish is looking haggard. I'll help the best I can.

"Burning Turkeys?" Nothing will make you forget your troubles like Wild Turkey and tabasco.

The bartender sets down our shots and heads to the taps. I look up at the big screen TV. The Cubbies are clinging to a two run lead in the bottom of the ninth. They've brought in Antonio Alfonseca. While I know that he's twice the man I am (24 digits, 6 fingers on each hand, six toes on each foot), I also know that he's a rotten closer. He's in a precarious situation. Two men on, two outs, with the Cardinals slugger up to bat.

"To the Cubs!" says Irish, holding his shot glass up. I pick mine up, clink Irish's glass, and we down our shots. Immediately the burn sets in. The bartender was generous with the tabasco. She sets down my beer. I down half of it in two gulps to try to ease the burn. Irish looks for his beer.

"We're changing the keg, hon. It'll be just a sec." She saunters away. Irish is in pain. He's madly brushing his tongue with his hands. Just then, a groan arises from the bar patrons. Looking back at the screen, I catch the ball leaving Busch stadium. Great.

I look back at Irish. He looks downright miserable. He lives and dies with the Cubs. He's just seen his club blow a two run lead, his mouth is on fire, and it will be a few more minutes before he can get his beer to put out the flames. On top of that, he's had a rough night on the floor. Rotten night for Irish all around. Murphy's Law.

Monday, September 05, 2005

A Night out with the Deaf Server

-A Description of Amy, The Deaf Server-

I first introduced The Deaf Server, Amy, in the post The Deaf Guy. In that post, you learned that Amy is a bitch. Here is a little bit more information on Amy.

Amy is in her late 30's. She claims that she's in her late 20's. Her body could easily pass for the latter. Full chest, nice legs, trim waist. She's in good shape. She has wavy platinum blonde hair that she wears long and loose. From the neck down, she's a head-turner.

However, her face will send most men packing. She must have had a losing bout with acne when she was younger. The pockmarks stand out despite the copious amounts of base and rouge. She also tans too often. Her skin is beginning to take on the consistency of leather.

Amy sports a surgically-implanted hearing aid. You don't notice it unless she has her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was sick as a child, and the high fever stunted her hearing development. She can read lips and hear conversation in close quarters.

Amy is a slut. I thought of putting that in nicer terms. I can't. She deserves the label. You'll see.


-A Night out with The Deaf Server-

Two days off in a row. I haven't had two days off in a row since I started working at The Restaurant. My only day off was Wednesday. Inevitably, every Wednesday morning at 9:00, I'd get a call from Valerie. It usually went something like this...

" e'lo?" me, in a raspy, confused voice.

"I need you to come in today." Valerie, ordering, not asking.

"What? No, Valerie, it's my only day off this week." I'm not about to give up my only day off. I'm already pissed that she woke me up five hours after I went to sleep.

"I need you to come in." She's not budging.

"Valerie, how many people do you have on the floor?" I'll give in if they have 6 or less. You can run a shift with five, but it's tough.

"Only ten. Need one more." You have to be kidding me.

"Bye Valerie." Click.

She did this to me almost every week since I first put on an apron. Unbelievable. But not this week. Nope. This week, I have two days off. Some new manager screwed up the schedule. Valerie is pissed, but I don't care. I deserve the time off.

A group of servers decide to make a night of it. It's me, my girlfriend, Amy, The Penguin, The Actor, and Soldato. We're going to meet at The Restaurant before heading out to a club. I hate dancing, but if I get drunk enough, I'll give it a whirl.

I'm driving my girlfriend's car to The Restaurant. She's in the passenger seat, putting on her makeup. I refuse to ride in the car while she's simultaneously putting on her makeup and weaving through traffic. I don't mind taking risks, but this is one situation that is sure to end in disaster.

"Have you ever been out with Amy before?" She asks, brushing on mascara.

"No, why? I hear she spends a lot of time on her knees in the bathrooms." I had heard this stories, but always dismissed them. Tales have a way of growing as they travel through The Restaurant's grapevine.

"Um... yeah. That's on a slow night." She's smiling mischievously. "Don't drink too much. You're going to want to remember this."

She refuses to say any more despite my increasingly insistent pleas.

We arrive at The Restaurant a few minutes later. Everyone else is already drinking.

The Penguin is wearing a purple dress. (Quick side note: We call her "The Penguin" because her body resembles that of Danny Devito as The Penguin in Batman Returns.) Tonight, she looks like Grimace from McDonald's. Hot momma!

Soldato is sporting a tight black shirt and about five pounds of gold on his neck and wrists. Vintage Italian mobster wanna-be.

My girl has on a nice top and tight low-rider jeans. I'm a happy camper.

The Actor is a homosexual dressed to the metro-sexual nines. Eighty dollar T-shirt, 400 dollar jeans.

I'm in jeans and nice polo. Still haven't lost my college fat yet, so I'm avoiding the tight tees for now.

Amy takes the cake. She's wearing a tube top that leaves very little, if anything, to the imagination. I can't tell if it's a tube top or a neck warmer that she's stretched out. It leaves everything exposed except the bottom 3/5 of her breasts. She's also wearing a mini-skirt. I get the distinct feeling that she's on the prowl.

We sit down and have a few beers. Valerie stops by our booth.

"I need to talk to you," she says to The Actor. He gets up and they move to the bar for some more privacy. Valerie didn't even so much as nod to the rest of us.

"Well, how about one more drink and we go?" I want to get out of here before Valerie tries to strap an apron on me.

"OK. Do you guys all know how to get there?" Amy asks. The club is about fifteen minutes away. Hop on the expressway, take the third exit, hang a right, and look for the shining lights.
Nothing too complicated.

Regardless, The Penguin insists on following Amy. I have a feeling The Penguin got ditched a lot in middle school.

"Hey Actor, we're ready to go!" Amy shouts. The Actor looks up, then resumes his conversation. I get up and head to the bathroom. Time to break the seal. A commotion at the bar slows me down.

"What the hell?!" The Actor is surprised. "Oh my God." The Actor sounds like he's going to puke.

I stop, wondering if I can wait a minute for my bathroom break.

"You disgusting bitch! I can't believe you just did that." The Actor has run behind the bar. He is washing his hands furiously. The Penguin and my girlfriend are looking on in disgust. Soldato is laughing hysterically. Amy is sitting in the same spot, looking impatient.

"What happened?" Soldato is closest, so I ask him. Unable to stifle his guffaws, he points at the floor near where The Actor was standing.

There's a used tampon laying on the floor.

"Did she just throw that at him?" Soldato is near tears. He nods.

"Did it hit him?" Another nod.

"Where did she..." I trail off, thinking of the miniskirt. I'm glad I missed this one. I run to the bathroom knowing I have to pee, wondering if I have to puke.

When I return to the bar area, The Actor is gone. Everyone else is in varying stages of putting on the winter coats, hats, gloves, and scarves.

"What happened?" I ask the group.

"He left," replies Amy. "You ready to go?"

Not wanting to have a tampon flung in my direction, I nod and head out the door carrying my coat.

***

The club is noisy, smoky, and filled to the brim with hormones and sexual tension. Oversized speakers spit out techno, drum and bass, and house music. Thump Thump Thump...thumpthump.. Thump Thump Thump.... How can I not dance?

We've lost The Actor, who I presume left to get to the nearest bio-hazard containment unit, but the rest of the crew made it to the club. Upon arrival, Soldato immediately headed towards the pool tables in the back. (Hustling pool is one of Soldato's lucrative side businesses.)

Soon the woman and I are dancing, oblivious to everything else. We quickly loose track of The Penguin and Amy.

After a while, we take a break. Heading to the bar, I catch sight of The Penguin. She's making out in the corner. I nudge my girlfriend.

She stares, open-mouthed. "It reminds me of that Discovery Channel show about anacondas. You know how they dislocate their jaw to eat their prey?" Hopefully The Penguin ate before she went out, or the poor guy will be in trouble.

Smiling and laughing, we grab a couple beers and sit down to watch the commotion on the dance floor. Sometimes watching people is the best form of entertainment.

One guy, obviously in the bag, hits on half a dozen girls before he finally convinces one to dance. Once on the floor, he promptly falls flat on his face. Undeterred, he keeps gyrating, holding a hand to the swelling on his forehead.

The cocktail waitresses weave in and out of the crowd, fake smiles plastered on their faces. They dish out shots in neon test-tubes, charging six bucks a pop.

There's a commotion at the far end of the dance floor. Cheers and jeers alternately arise from the group. The woman and I are about to head over when Soldato shows up out of nowhere.

"Dude, it's time to go." He casts a worried glance over his shoulder. Towards the pool room.

Uh-oh. It's likely that someone has taken exception to losing to Soldato by one ball... again. Soldato never learned that you can sheer a sheep many times, but you can skin it only once. When Soldato says it's time to leave, it's time to strap on the boots and find the nearest exit.

"OK, let's get out of here. Where's Amy?"

Grimace looks as though she's found her late-night meal, so we'll leave her here.

"I think I know," my girlfriend says. She points to the noisy crowd in the corner.

Sure enough, I can see a platinum blonde head bouncing in time to the music. Great.

Crossing the dance floor, we make a beeline to Amy. When we get closer, we see that she's in the center of a group of guys. A great number have pulled down their pants. Amy is judging each man's member with either a thumbs up or a thumbs down. So that's what all the cheers and jeers were about.

My girlfriend shoots into the group, grabs Amy's hand, and pulls her away. There is a collective groan from the inebriated circle.

They make their way back to us, Amy wild-eyed and fiery, my girlfriend mildly annoyed. We start towards the entrance, only to see an angry-looking bouncer heading our way. Changing course, we leave through a side exit.

***

We head to a 3 am bar. We're regulars here. Soldato sets up shop at the pool tables in the back. Amy, my girlfriend, and I settle into a booth.

"So, Amy, what was that all about?" I have to know why she was holding a penis judging contest in the middle of a crowded club.

"I got bored," is her reply. Fair enough, I suppose.

A few drinks later and we're laughing. Interesting night, one that is sure to live on in annals of The Restaurant lore for years to come. Amazingly, it isn't over.

A man walks over and taps Amy on the shoulder.

"Remember me?" big smile. The guy has on more gold than Soldato. He's wearing a silk collared shirt with more than a few buttons undone. He looks like he just stepped out of a South Beach porn shoot.

"No," is Amy's curt reply.

"From the bathroom? About two weeks ago?" Oh my God, the stories are true.

"Oh yeah! How are you?" Amy crosses her arms in front of her, leaning forward to accent her cleavage. She bats her eyes at the AO, who is openly staring at her chest. Dear God, this woman has no shame.

"Fine... want to get out of here?" He's smiling like the Cheshire Cat.

Amy doesn't even reply. She just gets up and leaves, waving over her shoulder. I guess that's all you need to do to pick up The Deaf Server.

The girlfriend looks at me. "Are you OK?" she asks.

"I think so. I can't believe she just left with that guy. Although, I'm still trying to process that she was in a circle of guys holding an impromptu...." I trail off, shaking my head.

"Don't forget the tampon," is my girlfriend's reply.

"How could I? Disgusting. Hey, you want to get out of here? I've had enough excitement for one night." I'm drained, both physically and psychologically.

"Sure. I'll drive." What a sweetheart.

Making sure Soldato can get a ride home (he's had a few DUI's, so he doesn't drive anymore), we head out the door.

As we get to the car, I ask, "Is that the wildest night you've had with Amy or what?"

She looks at me and smiles.

"Not even close."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

For the Newcomers

Hello, newcomers! I want to thank you all for visiting Server Stories. Most of you came from Waiter Rant. I can't thank The Waiter enough for linking to my blog.

I think it would be nice if the newbies got an idea of what some of the good stuff on here looks like. If you veterans want to let them know what your favorite Server Stories post is, perhaps the uninitiated can get a better idea of what this blog is all about.

I'm opening the floor to voting!

I'm also opening the floor to voting for my next post. I do this from time to time to encourage reader participation. Your choices this week are...

Soldato's Last Stand

A Night out with The Deaf Server

The Most Interesting Server Ever (new character)

The Penguin (new character)

Hillbilly Night

Anyone can vote for the new post. Let me know what you want to hear. I'll close the voting when one story has 15 votes or on friday at midnight (which, coincidentally, is my birthday). I'll try to get a story out by Saturday evening.

Another year older,

The Server

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Server Plays Manager

-Epilogue-

This story takes place in The Bar. It happened less than a month ago.

Recently, two managers left The Bar. One got canned for nailing a server after close, while the other moved to a location nearer his home. To pick up the slack, the GM asked my to run some "key shifts" until the new managers arrive. Basically, this means that my responsibility will be to take care of the servers, the customers, and the appearance of the front of the house. No biggie.

-A Description of Zo-

Zo is somewhere between 27 and 35. He is short (about 5'4''), and only slightly overweight. His hair is short and curly. It also seems as though his face is too small for his head. In several years, when osteoporosis sets in, he'll look like the guy on the Keystone light commercials. Bitter-Beer Face.

Zo is a low talker. For those of you who don't watch Seinfeld, a low talker is one who speaks so softly that it is difficult to understand what they are saying. He mumbles. Worse, he talks really fast.

Zo is one of the new managers. He's had the roughest start I've ever seen at The Bar. All the servers hate him, but with good reason- he treats them like crap. Case in point: We're doing a new promotion for our wings. Zo stopped one of our veteran servers to ask where her Wing Pin was attached to her uniform. The server had a tray full of drinks at the time. She almost dropped them while pointing out that the Wing Pin was indeed attached to her apron. Zo's remark as she's walking away, "Good, cause else you'd be in trouble!" In a place where it is difficult enough for servers to show up to work, he decided to pick on one of his best veterans for a pin. Picking battles is not Zo's strong suit.

-The Server Plays Manager-

I hop out of my Jeep dressed in manager garb. In other circles, this is referred to as 'business casual.' I'm excited for the upcoming day. While I'm an outstanding server, I feel that managing people is my best attribute.

It's 11 am, and we've just opened for business. The Bar does a decent lunch business. Nothing like The Restaurant, but decent nonetheless.

I walk into the back to talk to the GM. He's going through his paperwork.

"What's up GM?"

"Hey, Server, you ready for this?" He puts his paperwork to the side and pulls out a manager card. The manager card is the key to the city. I can adjust checks, comp food, 86 items, the works. Only problem is, I have no idea how it works.

"Can you show me how to wield this thing?" Normally, I don't use words like "wield" in everyday conversation. Somehow, it feels right today.

"Sure thing." He hops out of his chair and leads me to a computer screen.

He swipes the card and gives me a two minute crash course. When he's finished, I'm still completely unsure as to what I'm doing.

"Got it?" He's ready to go back to the books.

"Got it." I'll figure it out as I go.

The lunch rush goes off without a hitch. No customer complaints. The only issue I have is the staff's teamwork, which is non-existant. Oh well. Can't fix it today. One thing at a time.

The servers cash out. They all leave except for the late check. She handles the entire bar until the 4 o'clock servers arrive in a few hours.

I use the time to eat, make up the night floor chart, and clean up the place. So far so good.

The first problem arises at 4:05. One of the PM cooks hasn't showed.

Cooks are the backbone for the restaurant. Without a solid kitchen, any restaurant will fall apart in a hurry. This is a problem that needs to be fixed in a hurry.

"GM, one of the cooks didn't show." The GM is packing his briefcase. He's been here since 5 am doing inventory. He's ready to go home.

"Let Zo take care of it." He snaps his briefcase shut and walks out the door. Way to take care of business. I guess the buck doesn't stop here.

Zo walks up. It's his first shift. He's nervous and taking it out on the servers.

"Where's your Wing Pin?" he yells as each server walks in for their shift. I'm already sick of that question. Obviously they are too. One of the servers pulls me aside.

"Dude, I can't take that guy any more. He's such an asshole. I'm going to quit." I agree completely, but since I'm wearing manager garb and I have The Card...

"He's new. It's going to take him a while to get used to things. You know how new managers are. They want to change the world on their first shift. It'll be OK." I can see that she's still pissed. I also know that she's well-liked in the restaurant. If she walks out, I get the distinct feeling that others will be right behind.

"Well, just don't walk out. I'll see if I can't talk to GM and get things squared away."

This seems to placate the server. Whew. Bomb diffused. I've seen a mass staff walkout before. It ain't pretty. That's not how I want my first shift to run.

Six o'clock rolls around. For some reason, we're busy as hell. We're staffed for a Monday night. The place is filling up like a Friday night. SHIT.

I head back to the kitchen. All hell breaks loose.

The ticket machine that prints each server's order is spitting out chits like a Gatlin gun. There is a pile an inch thick behind the printer. The cooks already have a full kitchen. There is no place on the grill for more burgers, no free basket in the fryer. The cooks are staring at the machine, mouths agape.

I spring into action. I track down Zo, who's chasing servers around with the Wing Card, which is supposed to go hand-in-hand with the Wing Pin. For every order of 10 Wings, a customer gets a Wing Punch on their Wing Card, which could earn them a trip anywhere in the continental U.S. Wing-derful.

"Zo, the kitchen is in bad shape. Can you help them out?" We need a kitchen manager directing traffic. Since no one can understand what Zo is saying, I figure it's best if I stay up front and deal with the customers.

"Make sure they're doing their Wing Punches!" He ambles, hobbit-like, back towards the kitchen. I watch him go, shaking my head.

No time to dwell on that now. Servers are lining up with myriad problems.

"Can you take off this guy's steak? It was cooked too well-done."

"Can you check and see if the guys at table 110 are ok for another round?"

"Can you buy this drink for my friend?"

"Can you put this tab onto this one? I messed up and..."

Time flies by. Not cause I'm having fun, but because the place is busy as hell. People are standing in the aisles because there is no place to sit.

Soon I'm sick of my own name. Each time I hear it, there is five minutes of computer work ahead of me. I soon realize that I should have spent more time learning how to use The Card. Oh well.

Finally, I get some time away from the computer. I use it to mark down the 4-drink calls. Servers write down a description of the customer, what they've had to drink, and how they're acting. This prevents us from paying a huge lawsuit if some drunken yuppie has a few too many and wraps his Beamer around a telephone pole.

As I'm filling out the chart, I look up. Bedlam. It's a rowdy crowd. Guests are standing on chairs, shouting to each other across the bar. I see two college-age guys having a chugging contest with $6/pint beer. Then my eyes settle on a middle-aged couple eating dinner. My heart goes out to them. Here they are, trying to enjoy a decent meal and a nice glass of wine while all around them, hell is breaking loose.

I turn to the host.

"Turn down the music." He looks at me like I'm nuts. But he's a friend of mine. He does what I tell him.

I walk across the floor, pulling guests down from chairs as I go. I finally reach the older couple.

"Hi folks, how is everything tonight?"

They look up at me. "It's a little wild in here for us."

"Yes, things are a little crazy tonight. I promise that it's not normally like this. Tell you what... I've got some coupons here for a free meal. I'd love it if you would come back and visit us again on a night when things are a bit less... hectic." They smile and thank me.

Feeling pleased with myself, I am walking back to my 4-drink sheet when a server stops me.

"Hey, there's blood in one of the stalls in the men's bathroom." She's gone almost as quick as she came.

This is just what I need. I grab the spray bottle of bleach and some paper towels. Hopefully this will be quick.

I open the door to the men's room. Immediately, I realize that this is going to require a bit more effort than I originally thought. The sharp, coppery smell of blood assaults my olfactory sense. I can't see it yet, but I sure can smell it.

I open the first stall door. Clean. Same with the second. That leaves the handicapped stall. Opening the door, I choke back the bile that rises in my throat.

It looks like someone had a knife fight in the stall. Blood is everywhere. The toilet seat, the floor, the walls are all covered in quickly drying blood.

Closing off the restroom, I am grabbing cleaning supplies when Zo comes up to me.

"mumble...mumble...Wing Punches?"

"What? No, I haven't done any Wing Punches. " I can't believe he's asking me about this shit now. The servers are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and I'm about to clean up a bio hazard. Wing Punches are the last thing on my mind.

"Well, you should be doing those. Hey, we're almost out of napkins. I know you were supposed to be off an hour ago, but could you run to the other location and grab a pack for us?" I looked at my watch. 11:00. I was scheduled to get off at 10. Oh well.

"I'd be happy to," I say, grabbing my keys. "Oh, by the way, there's some blood in the bathroom. Would you mind taking care of that while I'm gone?"

As I'm heading down the highway toward the nearest sister Bar, I reflect on the night. I remained calm, made at least one customer feel special, kept a server from quitting, and saddled a bastard manager with a horrible job. All in all, not a bad first shift. I wonder how many Wing Punches Zo has done....

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Least Popular Server

-Prologue-

It's not fair to call her the Least Popular Server (LPS from now on). The managers loved her. I don't know why. She was an awful person.

-A Description of the LPS-

The LPS stands 5'5'' and weighs nearly 300 lbs.

She always wears shorts to work despite the fact that her legs are pasty white. She also wears knee braces on both knees. The cloth kind. They're sweat-stained and smelly. Kind of a mixture of B.O. and week-old Chinese food.

She has long red hair. It's unruly and always tied back in a ponytail.

Her voice is raspy and whiny. She is both bossy and abrupt when she speaks. This is not a good combo. Hearing her speak is similar to listening to nails grate across a chalkboard. Yech!

-The Least Popular Server-

It's Tuesday night in September, our slow month. The Restaurant is slow, yet steady. The atmosphere is subdued.

I hate working nights like this. You have to scramble to make money. Getting sat a party is the only way to cover your gas money.

The only redeeming factor about this shift is that I'm working with my girlfriend. (We've only just started dating. Everything is still new, exciting, and mysterious.) She's trying to make the best of the shift. She tied a balloon to my apron as I was walking to my first table. I took their burger order with a helium-inflated balloon hovering about a foot behind my head.

The LPS is standing against the wall. I walk by, two thoughts flashing through my mind. Is she trying to hold the wall up? Followed by, Shouldn't she be doing something?

Reading my mind, she says, "I have no tables. This place sucks." She walks away. I don't know where she's going, and I don't care. I just hope she stays there for a while. Honestly, if you don't like your job, find work elsewhere! Serving jobs are a dime a dozen. It's not rocket science, and almost any restaurant will take on a new server if they have any experience.

My girlfriend walks over.

"Hey, you got sat. Go make some money so you can take me someplace nice." I look up in alarm. I'm not worried that I'm going to be late. I'm worried that I'm dating a gold digger. I see her face break into a huge smile and I realize that she's yanking my chain. Whew.

I walk to my table. Friendly folks. As I head back to the side station, I notice a two-top sitting in the LPS's section. Normally, I'd search high and low for a server to let them know they have a customer. With her, I don't really care. Hopefully they'll complain, get their meal comped, and the LPS will be sacked.

By the time I reach the soda fountain, I realize that I'm being a Bad Server. I turn around, about to search for the LPS. The girlfriend is trying to tie another balloon to my apron. Busted.

"Oh, hi," she gives me a big smile. She lowers the balloon.

"Hey, can you let the LPS know that she's been sat?"

"I'll look for her." She marches off, head on a swivel.

I deliver the drinks to my table and take their order. Lots of modifications. Oh well. I have plenty of time.

After taking their order, I notice the couple is still sitting, unattended. It's way past the shopper-acceptable 2-minute greet time. They're looking around, slightly miffed.

I spot my girlfriend. She's walking a lot faster than she was before. give her an inquisitive look. She shrugs. I nod at the table. She nods at me. I love server sign language.

As I disappear behind the side station wall, I hear my girlfriend greet the table.

"Hi folks. I'm so sorry that it took so long to greet you. This isn't the way things work here at The Restaurant. If it'd be alright, I'd love to buy you folks an appetizer." Damn, she's good.

I enter the food order for my lone table and look around. The LPS is nowhere to be found. Oh well. You snooze, you lose.

My girlfriend comes back into the side station.

"How are they?" I ask.

"Fine. I smoothed things over. If I do a good job, I may pull a sympathy tip, but I'm not betting on it. She jumps on the computer and enters their appetizer. She heads off towards the kitchen.

I start rearranging the cabinets, trying to keep busy.

"What are you doing?! They're mine!" Fingers on a chalkboard, yech!

I peek around the corner. It's worse than I thought. My girl looks as though she's in the middle of taking the couple's order. The LPS is standing uncomfortably close to her, looking murderous.

"I'm sorry. I couldn't find you, and these nice folks had been waiting a while. Would you like to take them?" All this in front of customers. Great.

"No! I don't want them. I'll just take your next table." She stomps away, feet thundering like an elephant. I'm reminded of a 2-year old throwing a fit.

I see my girlfriend trying to smooth things over with the customers. Actually, the LPS's outburst probably helped her tip percentage. At least they know that it wasn't her fault they were greeted late.

I follow my girl as she heads to the back. Even from behind, I can see the tension and anger consume her. She's practically shaking as she starts pounding away at the touch-screen computer.

"That effing bitch! I save her ass and she acts like this?!" She hisses.

I know better than to get in between to angry women. I'll let them work it out. I peek around the corner.

"You're getting sat with a party! Go make some money." This puts a smile on her face. She grabs a stack of bev naps and heads out the door.

She stops in the doorway. The bev naps fall to the floor. I run behind to see what's wrong, although I have a pretty good idea already.

Sure enough, the LPS is setting down bev naps as the party is sitting down.

Now, I'm going to break aside here for a moment to explain an Unwritten Rule of Serving.

If a server takes a table in another server's section (usually because the server is running late and The Restaurant is getting busy or the hostess mistakenly seats someone in a non-present server's section), it is common courtesy to allow them to have a table in your section.

However, this rule does not apply when a server takes a table in another's section in an attempt to do what's right by the customer. Also, this table swap does not include party tables. Taking another server's party table is like kicking them in the groin, opening their wallet, and stealing a wad of cash while they lie writhing on the floor. Not cool.

Back to the story...

My girlfriend is seething. The LPS looks directly at my girlfriend as she begins her spiel.

"Hi folks, my name is _______, and I'll be your server tonight." She's smiling evilly.

My girlfriend walks to the back. She's upset.

"I can't believe this. That was my only chance to make money!" She puts her head in her hands and sighs. Time for damage control.

"Hey, don't let her get you down. If she sees you like this, she'll know she got to you. Pick your head up," and win one for the Gipper! I should have been a motivational speaker.

"You're right." She shakes her head. Suddenly, her face transforms. The forlon look is gone, replaced by a combination of anger and mischief. Uh oh. I think I just tossed gasoline on smoldering ashes. Woops.

She runs to the back. A few minutes later, the manager on duty comes strolling up, stopping in front of the computer.

"What kind do you want?"

"Just chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. I know the oreo shakes hurt your food cost." My girlfriend's voice is sugary. Too sugary. Toothache sugary.

The manager types in an order. I look over his shoulder. Ten shakes; vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Enough for the whole staff, including the cooks. Nice guy. Milkshakes are like crack for our servers. A free milkshake is the server's version of a bonus. It's too bad we can't have the oreo shakes. They're the consesus staff favorite.

I pull my girlfriend aside. "What are you up to?"

"You'll see. If something happens to her, it will be her own fault." I'm scared of my girlfriend right now.

She walks up to the bar and grabs the shakes. Instead of heading to the side station, she heads back to the expo line. I have to get back to my table, so I can't follow her.

When I get back, my girlfriend is back up at the bar. I'm confused, but I'll wait and see how it all pans out.

When she comes back, she has a tray full of milkshakes. I notice there is an extra shake. An Oreo! The bartender must have accidentally made an extra one!

The servers are swarming like a pack of starving wolves. I'm wondering how we're going to decide who gets it when the LPS waddles around the corner, stinking like old Mongolian beef.

"Milkshakes! Are these for us? I get the Oreo!" She snatches it from the tray with her sausage-like fingers. She licks some of the whipped cream off the top. "Haha! Mine!" She turns up her nose and walks away.

The other servers watch her leave. They're pissed. My girlfriend is laughing.

Everyone turns to look at her. What was so funny? She tries to compose herself to explain. She's still trying to catch her breath as she starts talking.

"Little (gasp) known fact. (gasp) Parmesan Peppercorn salad dressing (gasp) looks just like an oreo milkshake." The servers are all smiling. They all scatter, taking up strategic positions so they can watch the LPS, unnoticed, when she gets back.

So that's what she was doing! She got the shakes, went to the back and filled one with dressing, then went back to the bar and topped it with the whipped cream! Counting on the LPS's greed and selfishness was a brilliant stroke of poetic justice.

I'm waiting, pretending to refill the pickles on the expo line, when my girlfriend runs around the corner. She's smiling so big, I think her head's going to break open like that flip-top head in the Reach Toothbrush commercial.

"Did I miss it?" I thought I kept the 'shake' in view the entire time.

"No! Look!" She thrusts a credit card slip at me. It's the couple that she picked up from the LPS. Their bill was $20 after the comp. In the TIP line is written $50. At the bottom, written on the credit card slip, thanks for the great service. We're sorry that the other server stole your table. Hope this helps.

Just then, the LPS storms around the corner. She looks pissed. She looks at my girlfriend.

"Your stupid party only left me $20. On a $200 bill! Oh well, it's more than you'll make tonight." She reaches up and plucks her 'shake' from the shelf.

She licks her lips hungrily, and slowly wraps her lips around the straw....

What happened next is not fit to write, but rest assured that the night ended as it should. Poetic Justice is a beautiful thing!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Email

Hi all. Just a quick note to let everyone know that you can email me now. My address is server_stories@yahoo.com. I am going to be spending some time housesitting for my parents while they are out of town. This translates as... I'll have plenty of free time to write some posts! Look forward to a busy week on the blog.

The Server

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Server Goes to the Loony Bin

-Preface-

Sorry it's been so long, everyone. I hope this makes up for the time lapse. This story has its funny moments, but its tone is more somber and serious than the usual posts.

I am giving you all a glimpse into my personal life on this one. There are a couple of things you should know before we get started...

1) I suffer from depression. I take meds, but every now and again I need to get the prescription adjusted. Keeps me level.

2) While I was at school, I used to date a Canadian. I don't talk to her any more. You'll soon see why.

3) My family is really close. I'm serious. We're like the Cleavers and the Cosbys.

-The Server Goes to the Loony Bin-

It's a beautiful day at The Restaurant. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the waitresses are wearing short shorts. I'm walking in, swinging my apron around like a kid going around-the-world with a yo-yo. Life is good.

The only thing weighing heavy on my mind is a conversation I had the night before with The Canadian. It didn't go well. In fact, it ended with me yelling, "You make me want to shoot myself!" before hanging up. Mature, I know. But I'm young and emotional, which isn't a good combo.

As soon as I walk in, Valerie calls me into the office.

"Call your Dad. You no work today. I get your shift covered." I blink and rub my eyes. Valerie is going to give me a day off? Something must be really wrong.

My mind whirs. Is my Dad hurt? My Mom? My little Sister? What the hell is going on?

I grab the office phone and dial my house. My Dad picks up on the first ring.

"Dad, what's going on? Is everyone ok?" I brace myself, preparing for the worst.

"Everyone's fine, buddy. Can you meet me at the gym?" This is weird... my Dad doesn't take days off, and all of a sudden he feels like he needs to miss work and start working out?

"That's fine. Can you tell me what's going on?"

"I'd rather talk over a game of HORSE, ok?" We used to do this when I was little. Everytime there was big news, we'd talk about it over a game of HORSE. This must be important...

This day just went from beautiful, to odd, to ominous.

I drive over to the gym and start warming up. A short while later, my Dad shows up.

We go at it for two games. He doesn't take it easy on me any more. We split the games. I kill him with trick shots and threes from the corner. He makes me look silly with his left-handed reverse layups and free throws. Funny how old-school fundamentals and new-school flash even out.

My curiosity grows throughout our games. The old man hasn't said a word, and he seems to be in good spirits. Normally, I can get a pretty good read on people. In this case, even though it's my father, I'm clueless. Finally, he's ready to talk.

"Hey, buddy, got a call from The Canadian this morning. She's a bit worried about you."

What?! This whole thing is about a stupid fight I had with the Canadian? And what the hell is she doing calling my parents? I feel like I'm in a fifth grade feud... 'I'm telling on you!'

"OK...." I can't think of anything else to say.

"I think it's time we go back to the doc to adjust your meds." Ah, I see. No big deal. It's probably time for an adjustment. A quick visit to the doc and I'll be good to go.

"What time is the appointment?"

"Well, we should just make it if we leave now."

"Alright, let's go."

We hop into his car and head off towards the doctors office. I didn't sleep well after the fight with The Canadian. I'm tired. Watching the trees shoot by the car, I start to nod off.

When I come to, we've stopped. There's just one problem. We're at the hospital, not the doctor's office.

"Dad, what's going on?"

"I got a reference for a new doctor. He works here. The family doc says he's like a chemist with anti-deppressants." Sounds good to me.

We walk in past the front desk. We amble through the corridors until we reach a set of double doors. A placard reading "Mental Health Ward" hangs over them. Whoever did the sign has a macabre sense of humor. The words have been scrawled in an olde English script, conjuring images of the old asylums where the inmates were tortured. If they weren't insane when they arrived, undoubtably they were batty when they left.

After passing through these doors, my Dad turns to me.

"Son, I've already talked to your doctor. He thinks you should stay here overnight, just to clear your mind." Ah Ha! So this is why he was acting so oddly.

"Why? I don't feel that bad." I don't mind changing my meds, but this place is kind of creepy. Buncha folks walking around in paper pajamas, looking really unhappy.

"Well, the Canadian told your mom and I that you were thinking about suicide. That makes us kind of nervous."

"Whoa... hold on there. That was taken completely out of context! I'm fine, really!" I carry on like this for about half an hour. I can see the steely resolve in my father's eyes. I'm staying here whether I like it or not. Shit. This puts a damper on my afternoon plans.

"Fine. What do I have to do?" I turn to the orderly. He makes me fill out a form. He takes my belt (in case I try to hang myself), my shoelaces (in case I try to use them to saw my wrists), and my dignity. Even though I'm 90% clothed, I feel as naked as I've ever felt.

My Dad hugs me before he leaves. For the only time in my life that I can remember, I don't hug him back. I'm pissed.

I sit on a bench for a while, watching the other "guests" in the ward. There is a woman in her mid-30's. She's got a visitor, but she isn't talking to him. She's completely listless, holding her head in her hands.

Another woman, in her early-80's, is walking towards the orderly stand, across the hall from where I'm sitting.

"Where is my red pill?" Her voice reminds me of sandpaper scraping across gravel.

"Delores, you don't get a red pill tonight." The orderly is friendly.

"I need my red pill, you bastard." Delores is getting angry.

"Now Delores, don't be like that. The doc says you don't get one tonight." He remains calm and friendly.

"Give me my red pill you stupid motherfucker." I'm trying not to laugh. This shit is better than TV.

"Delores, if you don't calm down, we're going to have to put you in the restraints."

"Fuck you!" Delores turns to go, then stops. She turns back to the orderly, murder in her eyes. I outweigh Delores by about 90 lbs., but that look makes me uncomfortable.

I'm looking for something blunt and heavy when I hear something that sounds like a shotgun.

I dive behind the bench.

Now the orderly is cracking up. I sneak a look.

Delores has just shit herself. There's a brown stain on her otherwise pearly-white night gown. Oh... my... God.... No way I just saw that!

The orderly takes Delores to the bathroom to clean up. While he's gone, I notice a phone on his desk. I know he'll be busy with her for a while, so I decide to take advantage.

I use a calling card to call the Canadian.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Beats 'hello' anyday.

"What do you mean? Calling your parents?"

"Yes, calling my parents. Do you know where I am? I'm in the fucking loony bin!"

"I didn't mean for that to happen!" She sounds sorry, but sorry doesn't get me out of the loony bin, does it?

"I can't believe this... I don't know if I can forgive you for this one. I better go, the orderly is done cleaning up the old lady that shit herself." I hang up and let her stew on that one.

Over the next couple hours, I'm privy to some of the everyday occurrences of the mental health ward. A fight nearly breaks out when someone switches the channel from PAX to Lifetime. One older gentleman mutters to himself in the corner. I'm introduced to my roommate, who has two fresh bandages on his wrist from his most recent suicide attempt.

I'm going through this whole thing in a haze, alternately cursing my parents and the Canadian. Ultimately, I realize that I'm more pissed at the Canadian. My parents were just looking out for their son. She was looking to hurt me after our fight.

That evening, everyone is told to retire to their rooms. It's 8:00. The orderly gives me a pill to help me sleep.

"Doctor's orders," he says with a wink. He's a good guy. I take the pill and slip into the void of sleep.

***

"GET THE FUCK OFF ME YOU STUPID MOTHER FUCKERS!!!! I'LL KILL YOU!! GET OFF ME!!!"

I shoot out of bed, disoriented. Where the hell am I? Oh yeah, the booby hatch.

Two orderlies are dragging my roommate out of his bed. He's screaming bloody murder.

A third man stands in the corner. He's tapping his clipboard with a pen. He looks bored.

"What are they doing to him?"

"He has ECT this morning." For those of you not in the know, ECT stands for "electro-convulsive therapy", the newer, happier-sounding name of electric shock therapy. The same electric shock therapy that we all remember from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Good times.

I get to call my parents. They tell me that the doctor is supposed to meet with me by 10, so I should be out by noon. Thank God.

The morning passes uneventfully. The only event of interest is "exercise hour". This is actually a half hour in which the "guests" are allowed to walk around a small courtyard.

There is a ping pong table. I ask one of the guests to play with me. It's the same lady that had a guest the day before. I was looking forward to a nice, quiet game.

Turns out the lady is bipolar. Last night, she was down. Today, she's manic. She's talking a mile a minute. I know her life's story by the end of the game.

The doctor doesn't show up until 6 pm that evening. My parents are here. They're ticked. They wanted me to be able to relax for an evening. Instead, they worry that I've been traumatized. Can't say that I blame them. Honestly, had Delores not started the events on such and uplifting note, I would have been miserable.

The doctor prescribes me some new meds. Sweet.

I get my shoelaces and belt back, and we're on our way.

In the car ride home, I reflect back on my stay at the loony bin. I'm not mad at my parents for putting me there. They always want what's best for me. However, I feel bad for those who make a permanent home there. That's no way to live.

As for the Canadian... I haven't forgiven her. Honestly, I don't even know how she feels about it. I haven't spoken to her since. I don't know if I'm being shallow about this whole thing. I mean, after all... I did get a great story out of the ordeal.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Valerie Gets Canned- Part II

-Preface-

When we left off, Valerie was scrubbing floors. The corporate office sacked the regional manager. I am at school in Jersey while my girlfriend is working at The Restaurant. She calls me with regular updates. I'm nervous, as I wrote an email that laid out all the problems that Valerie is causing. She hasn't been fired, and I'm wondering if I've been laid out to dry.

-Valerie Gets Canned, Part II-

I'm in my dorm writing a paper for one of my Anthropology classes. It's a five-pager. In high school, a five-page paper is intimidating. Now it's a breeze. I've been writing for an hour and I already have seven pages. I just have to pare down the flowery language and I'm good to go. There's a party tonight that I don't want to miss.

The phone rings. It's my girl. She's calling from The Restaurant.

"She's still here." She's whispering. She must be on her cell phone in the back.

"Is she still washing the walls?" I love the mental picture of Valerie on her knees with a bucket of soap and a sponge, Cinderella-style.

"No... the new regional made her clean out the entire dry storage. She's still in there. This place reeks like bleach!"

"How's the new regional treating everyone?"

"She's strict, but she loves me... I think she might be a lesbo. She made me unbutton a few buttons on my shirt. My boobs are almost hanging out." I like this new regional manager already.

"Oh, yeah? How are the tips today?"

"Actually, really good." No surprise there. How you look can effect your tip, regardless of your skills as a server. (More on this in another post)

"Nice. People are pigs. Hey, I have to finish this paper, then I'm going to go out. Ice block party tonight. You working tomorrow?"

"Yeah."

"OK. Can you call me if anything else happens?"

"Sure... by the way, what's an ice block party?"

"We got a 300 lb. block of ice. We set it up on a stand and use an iron to melt grooves in it. Whoever wants a shot stands at the bottom with their mouth on the end of the groove. We pour in the booze from the top, and by the time it gets to the bottom, it's ice cold."

"Sounds like fun! Wish I could be there..." I can hear her pouting. Truth of the matter is, I wish she could be here too. When you're at school, you forget what it feels like to get a hug from a loved one.

"I know, baby. I wish you could be here, too. Give me a call tomorrow, ok?"

"Will do. I better get back..." Click.

OK, back to the paper. I hate Foucalt....

---

The phone is ringing. So is my head. Jaeger is the devil, especially when it's being poured down an icy chute. I grope for the phone in the dark.

"Hello?" My eyes are still closed. A little monkey is playing conga drums in my skull. Every time I move, he playes louder. I try to stay still.

"You sound like shit." Is that a hint of glee I hear?

"Thanks. What time is it?"

"Eleven your time." I've been asleep for five hours. Super.

"What's going on?"

"I just got here. She's still here, but now they have her cleaning the ceiling tiles. The reason I called is that there are two people from corporate here." Forgetting my headache, I shoot out of bed onto my feet.

"You think they're going to fire her today?" I pace nervously while my mind races. Is this it? Will they finally get rid of her? Who will the be the new GM? Man, my hardwood floor sure is dirty. Where are my shower slippers? Shit, she's talking again.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"I said 'I don't think so.' They wouldn't make her keep cleaning if they were going to fire her, right?"

"Honestly, I don't know. I'm going to be in my room all day. Call me if something changes."

I hang up the phone. I wonder out of my bedroom into the common room. The light streaming through our lone window hurts my eyes.

My roommate is gently shooing out some girl he picked up last night. She leaves reluctantly. Time for her to embark on the Walk of Shame.

He looks like hell. I figure I probably look just as bad. We look at each other. Without saying a word, we turn and head back to our beds.

---

I'm finally able to get out of bed around 2. My roommate and I head out for lunch at Hoagie Haven, home of the greatest cheese steaks on Earth. We need grease if we're going to rebound for another party tonight. I love college.

When we get back about an hour later, the red light on the phone is blinking. There is a message. My roommate checks first.

"Must be you. My voicemail is empty." He tosses me the handset, plops on the couch, and flicks on the TV. He finds an NCAA basketball game and zones in.

I check my voicemail. Four messages. The first is from my parents. Just checking in. The next three are from my girlfriend.

"Call me back!"
"Where are you? You better not be sleeping! Call me back!"
"I can't believe I can't get a hold of you! You said you'd be in your room all day. Call me back!"

Weird. She's not the type to call and leave a bunch of messages. Hmmm... I pick up the handset and call The Restaurant.

"Thank you for calling The Restaurant, this is Rena speaking, how can I help you?"

"Rena, it's me. Is the woman around?"

"I was wondering when you were going to call. You ain't gonna believe this shit! Here she is."

"Hello? They did it! They canned her ass! HA!" She's screaming into the receiver. My mind goes numb. I recover quickly and start dancing a little jig, laughing hysterically. My roommate watches me with mild interest.

"Tell me everything!"

She launches into the story.

Valerie has been cleaning the place from bottom to top. She was washing the ceiling tiles, but when she got to the final tile, the corporate G-Men stopped her. They lead her over to one of the tables. Nobody can hear anything until Valerie stands up and starts screaming, "This bullshit! You can't fire me! I managing partner!"

Valerie invested some money into the franchise a while back. She gets a percentage of the store's profits.

Apparently, The G-Men anticipated this. They open a briefcase, write her a check, hand it to her, and point her towards the door. She's screaming as she's leaving.

"You can't do this! This bullshit! I sue your asses!"

As she's leaving, still raving, a man walks in. He's about 6'4'', and he looks a bit nervous. The G-Men speak to him for a moment. They then ask the staff to gather in the back.

Once everyone is there, the G-men introduce the tall man as the new general manager, Randy. Then one of the G-men explained what happened.

"The corporate office felt it may be time for a change for this store. When we arrived a few days ago, we realized that The Restaurant was in a lot worse of shape than we anticipated. In fact, it was rotten to the core. We made Valerie clean up her own mess, as you may have noticed. However, we left one ceiling tile untouched." He points to the uncleaned ceiling tile. It's yellow, on the verge of brown. The contrast with the gleaming white ceiling tiles is astonishing. "Every time you look at that tile, I want you all to think about what each of you can do to prevent the same sort of thing from happening."

The G-men pack up their stuff an leave.

In the coming weeks, Valerie's absence was easily noticable. From the associates (servers, bartenders, cooks, busboys, hosts) a mild euphoria permeated The Restaurant. From the managers, astonishment and disgust. Valerie had been doctoring her cost numbers for months. Food cost jumped four points, beverage cost jumped 2. For those of you counting at home, that adds up to about $4,500 in missing food and liquor.

And from me? Well, I'm just amazed at the power of one well-written email.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Valerie Gets Canned- Part I

-Preface-

This is a longer story, so I'm breaking it into two parts. The first will deal with the events leading up to Valerie's firing. The second will deal with the day prior to and the day of her termination.

-A Description of Valerie-

Look in past posts, including The Captain and Valerie, Ranch Dressing, and a Birthday.

-Valerie Gets Canned, Part I-

As you've seen in posts past, Valerie is a tough cookie. By "tough cookie", I really mean "a cold, selfish, unsympathetic, heartless, Napoleonic (Bonaparte, not Dynamite) little wench." The servers hate working with her. She cares little for anything but herself and her bottom line.

Here are some brief examples that reveal the true character of Valerie:

-A server home from school works a six-hour shift. She heads to the back, where she sits outside the office, separating her checks into cash, credit, and other (coupons, comps, etc.).

Tomorrow morning she leaves for Purdue to buy books. She has managed to scrape together $60 on a slow shift, just enough to afford her Econ book. She's hustled on her feet all day. I can tell she's dead tired. She goes into the office to check out with Valerie.

There's a problem. She can't find one of the $2 off coupons. Valerie can let this slide. She doesn't. The server slams her book down on the desk and storms out of the office, heading to the back door. Soon she is knee-deep in the dumpster, looking for the coupon. By some amazing stroke of luck, she finds the coupon. She returns to the office, stinky and bitter. It gets worse.

She counts down her money. She now only has $40. She has to borrow money to get her books.

I can't prove that Valerie took it, but here are several facts that make a good case.

First, the server's book, which included her money, her checks, and her coupons, remained in the office the entire time she was digging through the dumpster. Valerie was the only person in the office.

Second, another server spotted a Jackson stuffed in between two envelopes. She said something to Valerie, who immediately responded, "It fell out of petty cash." Petty cash is kept in the safe, which is on the floor. The lockbox weighs fifty pounds. When the managers take it out of the safe, they just put it on the floor. I find it hard to believe that a twenty fell out of the lockbox, caught an updraft, floated around the office like a feather in the wind, and then slid between two envelopes.

-Valerie counts down my bar drawer. She says it is $20 short. I have to pay it or I get written up. I pay it. I hate getting disciplined for anything. I never got a detention all through school.

Looking at my sales vs. my total tips, I see that I averaged less than 15% for the first time in my serving career. I normally average over 20%. Hmm....

-Less than a week later, she tries the same trick with another bartender. This bartender fights back.

"I counted the drawer before I gave it to you. The money was there, Valerie! Where the hell is it now? You better it soon, and don't try to pull this shit on me again, you hear me?!!" Saucy little bartender, isn't she?

Miraculously, Valerie finds the missing money. Hmm...

Events like these have the staff on the edge of mutiny. People are constantly grumbling, and the staff is getting snippy. We're sick of being verbally and emotionally abused by Valerietnam.

We try to talk to the regional manager. Unfortunately, Valerie is his protege. He hired her as a pantry girl and then brought her up through the ranks, all the way to GM. In his eyes, she can do no wrong. No help is coming from that corner.

Eventually, one of the older bartenders decides to take action. She writes a letter to the corporate office.

Copies of this letter circulate among the staff. As the resident academic, I am one of the first to get a copy. Hiding it in my server book, I read it during a slow lunch shift. I'm pretending to be studying a description of the new chicken and pasta dish. Cloak and dagger all the way, baby.

The letter starts off, "I am a server, a bartender, a cook, a busboy..." and ends with, "It is my firm belief that Valerie's employment with your establishment should be terminated forthwith." In between lay a poorly-written mess of lofty ideals and baseless accusations. The bartender is very proud of her work. I don't have the heart to tell her that the corporate office is more likely to correct it in red ink and send it back rather than take action.

However, the bartender does have some solid evidence. There are photocopies of checks that Valerie adjusted after close. No check should ever be adjusted after The Restaurant's business hours.

The Administrative Assistant deals with all adjusted checks. Apparrently, she started making photocopies of these suspicious checks months ago.

This was Valerie's scam...

She waits until after close. She re-opens checks paid in cash. She comps all the food, pockets the cash, and thinks no one is the wiser. Nobody knows how long she's been doing this.

Just as I predicted, the letter doesn't get a response. In all honesty, I don't see how anyone at the corporate office could respond. The bartender didn't leave a return address or a name. They couldn't call us up and say, "Hello, I'd like to speak to a server, a bartender, a busboy..."

Luckily, I head back to school. I don't want to deal with the political b.s. and all the bitching that goes with it. It makes me cranky.

Every day while I'm away at school, I talk (long-distance) to my girlfriend, who works as a bartender at The Restaurant. Remember the bartender who wouldn't let Valerie scam her? That's my girl. She bitches constantly about Valerie and her surrounding managerial staff. I can tell she's miserable.

Finally, after talking to her until 3 a.m. on a Sunday, I decide to take action. I go on the company website, click on the "comments" link, and go to town. My email letter is short, pointed, and biting. I lay out all I know. The stealing, the attitude, the Regional Manager's lack of action, everything.

At the end, I don't leave my name. If this thing doesn't go well, I don't want to be singled out and screwed over. I leave my school phone number and an offer to talk anytime.

I finish up at 5 am and go to sleep. I drift off wondering if they'll even bother getting back to me, let alone take action...

Ring.... Ring...

What the hell?! I roll over and look at the clock. 8:15. What soulless bastard would call me at 8:15 on a Monday, especially since I don't have class until noon?

"Myelllo...?" I'm groggy as hell. I've only gotten three hours of sleep.

"Hi! My name is (Name Erased to Protect the Innocent), and I'm a Vice President at the corporate office. Are you the one who wrote that email comment this morning?" The voice is chipper. Way too damn chipper for a Monday morning. The man has a slight southern-sounding twang to his voice. Having lived in Texas, I know Southern...and this isn't a Southern accent. I'm guessing Indiana or Ohio farm boy.

"Yes, yes I am. Wow, that was fast!" Now I'm wide awake and excited as heck.

"Well, we've been looking at this situation for a while. We even got a letter a while back, but we couldn't really make heads or tails of it. That wasn't you, was it?"

"Nah, but I read it."

"OK, good. Hey, um, can I ask you... are you still employed with us?" He wants to know if I'm a bitter ex-server out to get the GM who screwed me. Fair enough.

"Yes I am. I'm at school, but I work during the summer and holidays."

"Well then, tell me everything you can about what's going on out there."

I talk to him for an hour. He never rushes me while I speak. He asks good follow-up questions. He even asks for my girlfriend's phone number so he could follow up with her.

His final remark is, "Thank you for your help. Rest assured, we'll take care of the situation." I will always hold respect for this gentleman. His word is as good as gold.

Later that afternoon, I get a call from my fired-up girlfriend. She's at work and she's practically screaming. They fired the regional manager that wouldn't listen to us about Valerie. She said two men in suits breezed through the doors, found the regional (who happened to be at our store at the time), sat him down, and then escorted him to the door.

The new regional manager came in one hour later. Apparrently, she blew in like a hurricane. She immediately sought out Valerie and reamed her over the state of the restaurant.

"Oh. Is she making you guys clean everything in sight?" Now I feel like an asshole.

"No! Not us... Valerie! She's down on her knees scrubbing the walls in the back. I don't know what you did, but it worked! Love you!" She gives a little squeel and hangs up.

I'm stunned. Great, they got rid of one of the problems (the regional was a prick), but what about Valerie? I mean, I'm all about having her wash some walls, but will she still be boss when I go back? Will she know that I caused her all this grief? Will she take it out on me?

to be continued...