Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tempered Heat

It’s 90+ degrees in the restaurant and all sixty-four seats are filled and there is a line at the door. Each customer was told our air-conditioning unit had broken down and the service man had been called. Twenty percent of the customers left immediately. The rest decided to take their chances.
            Glasses of tea, water, soda pop and beer were emptied almost as quickly as they were filled. There are three of us working the tables. A small blessing on an otherwise two waiter night. All of us are wearing black cotton shirts, black pants and a tie. We are all sweating profusely as the four ceiling fans rotate at twenty miles an hour give some semblance of coolness to the patrons. We are all miserable including the people who just needed to eat seafood tonight.
            Fortunately, we are all on our A-game and everything is going smoothly. Hell, we each even took turns standing in the thirty degree walk in refrigerator in an attempt to cool down. Little good that did because not two minutes after you came out of the refreshing respite of heat, you were once again covered in sweat. I can’t speak for my fellow waiters but I know I must have drank ten glasses of water in an attempt to stay hydrated.
            The owner and chef’s words rang in my head that he said before the shift started “I’d have closed down but I didn’t have any numbers for the fifty-four reservations on the book.” Oh, how I wish he had closed down. I felt as miserable as my co-workers looked.
            All of our hair, slicked back, tied back and plastered with hair spray was coming unraveled and we did our best to look presentable and professional. It wasn’t working. We all tried to stay out of each other’s way and when we did have the brief moment to interact we tried to make light of the situation. It was a lame attempt at best. We could all tell that each one of us was on the edge of snapping at each other, the customers and any inanimate object that decided to not do what it was supposed to do.
            I kept my head down, tried to stay focused, do my job, deliver my customers food and get my side-work done in an efficient and timely manner so I could leave as close to nine o’clock as possible.
            Then, at eight-thirty, the last table came in and they were seated in my section. I wanted to yell at them to leave. But, I didn’t. I mustered up as much cheer and joy as I could and introduced myself to them. They knew who I was, I’d waited on them before, people I’d call semi-regulars.
            The man made a comment about the heat, I told him about the ac unit going down. He said him and his wife would stay. “Great” I thought, “I just hope you leave soon.” Not a nice thought to have about people who give you money, yet how were they to know I’d been there for almost five hours in the sweltering heat with almost no relief. They couldn’t know. So I performed like the overgrown monkey I am and gave them the best service I could.
            They ordered, ate and left before nine. A wave of relief passed over me as I finished bussing the table and setting it up for the next day. I then went and cashed out. My numbers were negative, meaning the house, aka the restaurant owed me money. I informed the manager, collected my money and left.
            By the time I got to my motorcycle, put my helmet on and started her up, I realized it was actually cooler outside than it was inside the restaurant. I shook my head and roared down the street in an attempt to get as much wind over my body and dry off the sweat I’d been wearing since four o’clock.
            This sort of worked. By sort of, I mean I got behind a car that believed doing ten miles an hour in a twenty-five mile an hour zone was safe and lawful. I cursed. I would have gone around this idiot but we were on a one lane road. I tried to calm myself by saying I’d be home soon. That I’d be able to sit on my porch and relax. All the while knowing I had to stop at the store to pick up medicine for a sick family member.
            At the store, only two checkout lanes were available. The 12 items or fewer and the regular one. More people were in line for the 12 items or fewer and I looked down at the over the counter drugs in my hand and got in that line. The four different customers in front of me all had at least the regulated 12 items and each one seemed to be having difficulties working the credit card machine. I tried to calm myself. I tried to tell myself I’d be home soon. That my front porch and a tasty cigar were waiting for me. It wasn’t working.
            After what seemed like thirty minutes but was closer to five minutes, the cashier finally rang up my purchase and gave me my total. I handed her a ten dollar bill and exact change. She looked at it as if she didn’t know what to do with it. “Three dollars.” I said.
            “What?” she answered with a look of confusion on her face.
            “My change. It is three dollars.”
            “Huh?” she said staring at the money I’d placed in her hand.
            Instead of arguing with the girl. I opened my wallet, pulled out a five and two ones, took the ten out of her hand and said. “Have a good night.”
            The girl rang up the transaction and tried to hand me the receipt.
            “Keep it.” I said as I began to walk out the door while putting my helmet back on.
            Which is about the time the security officer stopped me.
            “Sir, what is that bulge in your shirt?”
            I looked at the man, he was/is about twenty-eight years old, at least fifty pounds overweight and on his hip a 9mm pistol.
            “You want to know what is in my shirt.” I asked the man who clearly hadn’t shaved in at least three days.
            “Yes, you have a bulge in your shirt.”
            “If I told you it was none of your business or that the bulge in fact is my colostomy bag would you let me go?”
            A look of confusion spread across his face. I laughed. Not out loud but inside my head and to myself. I could also see he was not amused. “Look man, if you have the notion to believe I am a shoplifter then you are sorely mistaken. However, I can say for certain that what is inside my shirt is none of your business and I can guarantee you that this store does not offer for sale what I do have inside my shirt. I would appreciate it if you would let me leave now.”
            He looked non-plused or convinced at what I’d just told him.
            “Sir, I just need to know what it is you have inside of your shirt.” He commented and put his hand on his pistol.
            “Well, since you are such a nice guy and are acting in such a nice manner I’ll tell you. I have two Gurkha cigars and a Batman and Robin comic book. All three items this store does not carry. If you don’t believe me that is fine. However; if you make me unbutton my shirt and expose these items to you for your own curiosity without any probable cause then I shall demand you write an apology to not just me but the entire population of motorcycle riders in America.”
            I made no move to the left or right. I just stood there staring at him. “Sir, I will need to verify what is in your shirt or else I’ll be forced to detain you and call authorities.” It was at this exact moment, standing in the air conditioned entryway of the grocery store that I realized I had a deep desire to fuck with someone and that desire was in direct contrast to where I so sorely wanted to be.
            “Okay. I’ll tell you what. I’ll open my shirt and pull out the aforementioned items and show them to you. And when I do, when I prove you wrong, I want an apology from you.”
            “Just open your shirt sir.”
            I did. I unbuttoned my shirt, pulled out the Batman and Robin comic book and my cigar case, I then opened my cigar case and showed him the Gurkhas. I then placed the items back in my shirt and stared at him.
            “You can go sir.”
            “No, I most certainly can’t. You owe me an apology.”
            “I will not apologize.” He said.
            I then looked over at the customer service counter. I saw a woman there that I’ve known for over twenty years. She looked at me and I motioned her over. She came. I told her what had transpired and that I felt I was owed an apology.
            She looked at the security guard and said “Apologize to Mr. Novak.”
            “I will do no such thing. I was doing my job.”
            “Mr. Novak has been a faithful and loyal customer for years. You will apologize or I’m calling your boss and requesting you never work here again.”
            The man looked perplexed. Lost. I could tell there were a dozen things going on in his mind at the same time. I sort of felt sorry for him. Then again, my entire night had been filled with heat and uncomfortable working conditions so now it was my time to turn up the heat and make someone else feel uncomfortable. I know, it is a shitty way to treat someone, but I didn’t care. All I wanted was to get home. Home with an apology for some knucklehead thinking I was a shoplifter.
            The man hung his head and mumbled his apology. I was fine with it. My old friend was not.
            “Look Mr. Novak in the eyes and tell him you are sorry.” She said through clenched teeth.
            The security guard looked at me. On his face was a look of total humiliation. I felt sorry for him. “I’m sorry Mr. Novak. You have a nice night.”
            “Thank you.” And sidestepped past him.
            My friend called out to me. “Skip.”
            I stopped and turned around and looked at her.
            “I’m sorry too. If that means anything.”
            “Don’t think anything of it. He was just doing his job and besides, I know I look like a hoodlum. But I’m not a hoodlum who steals. I’ll see you later. Thanks for your help.”
            She smiled and wave to me.
            In less than five minutes I was home, on my porch, cigar lit and writing this to you, my dear reader.

            Have a great week.

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