One unfortunate side effect of working with strangers is the all too common consequence of being their scapegoat. Often, people don’t mean it. They’re not usually horribly bitchy or really that miserable. Maybe they’ve had a bad day or even a bad life, for that matter. But this isn’t a good excuse for taking your anger out on a complete stranger. No matter how miserable your life has been, or how much it sucks to be a middle class white person who can afford to eat dinner out and live comfortably in the suburbs, suck it up, put some things into perspective, and stop lashing out at others.
I am your waitress. Not your mother, your wife who just left you, or your counselor. I really don’t mind lending an ear when your parent just died or conversing about something that’s happened to you lately (it’s surprising how often I do this, actually); it’s more the angry venting that gets me. Perhaps you really were looking forward to some meatloaf all day long, but throwing your dishes at me the same time you throw your tantrum probably means something else in your life is going wrong, too. Huffing and puffing and trying to act like you’re a martyr because you’ll kindly accept some roast beef instead probably means you have some sort of complex. If you want an award or a standing ovation because you’ve gone to the depths of accepting something else, you’re not getting it from me.
Sometimes there are people who just can’t be helped. When this happens I try to do my job as silently as possible, not speak unless spoken to, and avoid an incident at all costs. It’s the surest thing to not getting yelled at, unless they just need to yell. I’ve been yelled at, had my sanity and intelligence questioned, and even had my hand slapped by an old lady once. Sure, it pisses me off (who wouldn’t get pissed off?), but I try to blame it on their miserable home life or their traumatic childhoods. Or I call them horrible names you wouldn’t hear sailors say when I get back to the kitchen. Usually all three.
One gentleman, who looked like he was in his mid- to upper 70s, came in by himself and was sat in my section. Little did I know he demanded this table from my manager, who had tried to sit him near a family with children first and he refused, calling the kids “little brats.” This was the first sign of Negative Ned, but I got no warning. Things went well, his order was easy, he was kind of grumpy but that’s nothing new. He seemed parched as he drank his entire drink in one gulp, and the first rule I learned as a server was to never let drinks get empty, or you don’t get a good tip. I came by probably 3 times TOTAL the entire time he was there, silently making sure his drink didn’t go empty, and on the third and final time, when I went to check if his food was okay, a bomb went off.
“Is everything okay so far, sir?”
“It would be a lot better if you’d leave me the hell alone instead of bothering me every five minutes!”
Boy, did time fly for him. I recalculated the time in my head- it had taken his food about 15 minutes to make it to his table, I had refilled his drink only once during that time, I hadn’t made a sound and definitely didn’t beg him for his life’s story. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and I definitely didn’t come by his table every five minutes.
I dropped his check and said, “Oh, sir, I won’t be bothering you again,” as seemingly sweet as possible.
And I didn’t go back. It could have been the desert, and I probably wouldn’t have refilled his freaking tea again. I left him the “hell alone” for the next half an hour, and when he finally left I went back to the table to gather his dishes. Unfortunately for me, he had forgotten his cell phone. Moral dilemma- do I run and give the jerk back his phone? Or do I let him go home without it and forget where he left it just because he was an asshole?
I would have hated myself and felt incredibly guilty if I let the geezer leave his phone behind, so I ran to catch him just as he reached the door. But I wasn’t going to be sweet about it; I gave him back his sass full force.
Tapping him on his shoulder, I said, “Excuse me, sir, I hate to interrupt you again, but I believe you left this.”
I turned around as soon as I gave it to him, and I believe he may have mumbled a “thank you.” I arrived back in the server alley triumphantly to cheers from my coworkers, and even got a high-five from my manager.
After the initial high of sticking it to the man, I began to feel a little guilty about it. Big whoop, I had “stuck it to” an 80 year old. Someone’s grandfather. I felt like I had performed some sort of geriatric drive-by, and it wasn’t a good feeling at all.
How was it fair that I felt all this guilt after deserving some kind of retribution for his asshole-like behavior, but all those other people get to be hideously mean everyday and feel no remorse? I should have known better.