Friday, September 23, 2016

The Persistence and Perseverance of Freddie

I’ve never been a cat person. I’ve always had dogs, snakes or birds as pets. I was never interested in cats nor did I even like cats. Truth be told, there was only one cat I ever cared for. His name was Tripps, he belonged to a pal of mine named Dominick. A guy I met while taking some college math courses. He was having trouble so I tutored him. Through that tutoring process, he and I became friends. When he had to go away for a while, I watched his cat.
             Tripps was not your ordinary cat. He was a rescue cat. Apparently he’d been abused and something in his little brain got messed up and he couldn’t walk straight, and had no depth perception whatsoever. He was always banging his head into walls, and if he tried to jump off a piece of furniture, he’d either land on his head or his back. At first it was funny, but then it just became sad. So, I helped take care of the little bugger. He was cool. He was loving and he never tried to be mean to anyone or anything. He was also happy to see you when you came home. Like a puppy. So, we bonded.
            And that was the last cat I had any relationship with.
            Until Freddie.
            It was a little more than a year ago when my life was threatened and I had to take a restraining order out on a person. It was a scary time for me and my family. When the incident happened I was home alone and my family was at a church function.
            After the hostile person left, I called over a pal of mine to wait with me on my porch. He brought his own firearms and I had mine as we sat on my porch talking about what had happened and try to figure out if this person was actually crazy enough to come back.
            That’s when Freddie showed up.
            He’s a black cat with little white marks on his chest and stomach. I don’t know why I call the cat a he, or why I even started to call him Freddie. For all I know Freddie could be a girl. But, I being a male, I see most androgynous creatures as male. And before you go and get all “Toxic Masculinity” on me, ask yourself whether or not you do the same thing.
            Freddie hung out all night, even after my buddy left and my family was home. He sat on my porch, primarily on the welcome mat and when I woke up in the morning, came downstairs and opened my front door. He looked up at me as if to say “Don’t worry man, I got this.”
            It was pretty cool.
            Over the course of the next few months Freddie would show up randomly. As if he were checking on my health, my being or maybe he was just looking for some treats. I never had any. I should also mention, when I first met him, he didn’t have a collar on, then one day, he did. So I assumed he belonged to someone in the neighborhood.
            Then one day, he didn’t have a collar.
            It was quite startling that night. It’s dark on my porch at night. I don’t like to have the light on, it attracts too many bugs. Normally, I’d hear Freddie approach because his collar had a bell on it.
            As I sat there, in my black beach chair, legs stretched out and my face alight with the glow of the screen, something bumped against my legs and scared the living hell out of me. I kicked out my legs at the offending touch and heard the cry of the cats painful wail. I turned my flashlight app on my phone on and saw Freddie sitting a few feet looking at me. The pain on his face hurt me to my core. Then he turned his back on me and walked down the steps into the darkness.
            The next day I went to the store and bought some catnip treats as an apology to him. I didn’t know if he’d ever come back. After all, I have no clue as to the memory of cats with the exception of Tripps. And he could barely remember how to stop walking when came to a wall.
            Three nights after purchasing the treats I was on my porch typing away and I felt the familiar rub on my legs. This time I didn’t kick. Instead, I opened the bag of treats, poured a handful onto the porch and watched as Freddie gobbled them up.
            Looking back, that was the moment Freddie adopted me into his family. We’ve even settled into a routine. Most days, he is sitting on my porch in the morning when I walk out the door for work. I scratch behind his ears, tell him he’s a good cat and to safeguard the house. At night, when I get home, he wanders between my ankles rubbing up against them, begging for treats and attention. I go inside, put away my riding gear, grab a cigar and my laptop and go out to my chair and spend time with him.
I’ve expanded his eating habits to food and not just treats, he seems to like the food I buy, it’s in a can and I try to get different flavors for him and he’ll spend an hour just nibbling on the food at my feet. Then, when he wants something crunchy, he stands up and lets me scratch behind his ears for a bit then he starts swiping his paws at my arm and looking at the treat bag. Since I’m a big softy, I get the bag, open it and try to pour some out into my hand all the while he is trying to grab the open bag and dump it onto the porch.
He’s quite adamant about wanting to eat the whole bag. Maybe I should let him. Nah, that would most likely make him sick and I don’t want a sick cat on my porch. Then again, I can’t imagine anyone who would.
 I guess what I’m getting at is this; while all my life I’ve never liked or really wanted a particular animal or even person in my life, sometimes, situations and persistence will change your views. After all, Freddie somehow wheedled his way into my life, I wonder if there will be a human like that sometime in the future?

Have a great week.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Waiter Worries

Seventeen years ago, when my wife got pregnant, I took on a part time job as a waiter. The owner hired me even though I had zero experience as a waiter or even in a kitchen. That is if you discount the ninety days in the U.S. Navy when I worked in vegetable preparation and assisted with the “Jack of the Dust”.
            But, she hired me and I went straight to work. I had a trainer for my first two shifts and then I was cut lose on my own to take orders and bring food to tables. Basically, I became a delivery boy for good food at a good price. To be truthful, the food is great and the price is more than reasonable.
            It didn’t take me long before I started recognizing the regular customers and building a regular customer base myself. Also; it didn’t take me long to discover the unspoken fact of waiting tables… All waiters know who tips well and who doesn’t. We all struggle to give the same quality service to the known shitty tippers as we do the good tippers.
            Where does all this information come into play… standby.
            It was maybe three or four years ago when a teacher from a local university located across the river from where I live and wait tables, let’s call her Bessie, came into the restaurant and I had the pleasure of waiting on her. I gave her the best service I could, made sure she had plenty of sweet tea, her drink of choice, and that her food was served hot and the way she wanted. Her check wasn’t large, but she left no tip. I didn’t think much of it. I’d been stiffed before and I’m sure I’d be stiffed again. It’s not uncommon for this sort of thing to happen but as a waiter, you quickly become immune to that sort of behavior. It is something you learn to not take personal.
            Besides, if you take that sort of behavior personally or if your skin doesn’t thicken up, then you are doomed to spend many hours on some therapists couch questioning yourself and how others view you. To be truthful, after Bessie left, I hoped she’d never come back. If she didn’t like her food, which a waiter has no control over, or if she thought I didn’t give her good service, then why would she come back? Good question, I know.
            However, two weeks later, she darkened our doorstep again and I waited on her again, and, I got stiffed again. To be honest, when I was waiting on her, I thought, fuck it, I’m not going to give her good service. But that sort of behavior is not in me. I can’t hold a grudge. I wish I could but I can’t.
            When she left, I once again hoped she would never come back.
            But she did.
            Only this time, she brought a woman who I assumed was her daughter, a woman I’ll call, Tameka.
            Tameka had a baby boy with her. Both women ate, the baby made a mess of some crackers on and off the table. They also made a huge mess with their appetizer, ordered extra napkins, ordered extra sauces, extra napkins, extra silverware, extra drink glasses, extra plates, extra napkins, extra bread, extra butter, extra napkins and well, anything and everything they could order extra of.
            The next time they came in, there was a young girl with them, maybe eight, maybe nine. They ordered her a child’s meal. Now, to be honest, our children’s menu is for kid’s age six and under. However; we sometimes make an exception. Once again, they wanted extra everything, we in the food service industry call this “Being Run”. The table of these women and one toddler boy basically wanted me to stand by their table and get anything and everything they want or think they need all the while ignoring my other customers. Also, they don’t want to pay me for my service.
            Which brings me to a conclusion of my first encounter with Bessie, if she didn’t like the food, she wouldn’t have kept coming. If she didn’t like my service, she would have requested a different waiter. No, her continued patronage of our restaurant and her lack of tipping told me one of two things, either she didn’t know how to tip, or she knew she was supposed to tip but was just cheap. I believe now, she is just cheap.
            Which brings me to tonight.
            She came in with her niece, who is now fourteen years old. I know this because I overheard her tell another table I was waiting on the child’s age. This is of course after Bessie told me the girl was only twelve and would be ordering off the child’s menu. When I told her that the cut off for the child’s menu was six, she looked at me like I was a slug.
            When Tameka arrived, she ordered a kids meal for her young son who is four maybe five. She ordered for herself the same meal her mother ordered. The twelve/fourteen year old wanted a kid’s meal. I couldn’t sell her one. Why? Because one of the owners had told me not to. Also, how many times do you have to cater to someone before it becomes abuse? Whether in the service industry or in life itself?
            Now, I feel it is in my best interest to say that I am not the only waiter to have waited on Bessie and Tamika over the years. No, they are well known in our restaurant and I assume in most restaurants they frequent. I’m also pretty sure that most servers don’t care for them. After all, how can you like someone who doesn’t tip or if they do, it is always just a couple bucks on a check that when the math is done should be in the double digits? It’s difficult to say the least. And when the owners or managers discover this fact, they lose any and all respect for the customer. I can’t say I blame them. After all, if someone treats an employee badly, how can you respect them?
            Needless to say, Bessie and Tamika didn’t like the fact that they had to pay full price for a meal for a fourteen year old, or that they were charged for everything extra they asked for, except for the napkins. They also, on this occasion split the check. Between the four of them, they drank two soda pops, nine glasses of tea and one glass of apple juice. I made sure I was as attentive as I could be and when they complained about the price of the food or the portion size of the food, I informed them I was just a waiter, that I had no control over portions or how the food was prepared.
            They were quite unhappy. Especially when the bills were placed in front of them.
            They paid, they complained, they left.
            I didn’t expect a tip. I never do with them.
            I wasn’t disappointed.
            And this is where things get interesting.
            Two of my other tables had witnessed everything these women had done to me and heard every question they had posted to me. They also heard all my answers. One table, a couple and regulars to boot, started to question me about Bessie and Tamika. I just put on my best fake smile and nodded or shook my head to answer their questions.
            Which is when the man lowered his voice, placed his hand on my left forearm and said “You can tell us.”
            Which I did. I told them a bit of the history of the table, when they come in, what they order and how they don’t tip or on the rare occasions they do, the it is a mere pittance of what they should be tipping. The woman laughed a bit and then said “Bessie said “God Bless You. To me. Yet she treats waiters like garbage? That makes no sense.”
            I just smiled and nodded. After all, what else could I do?
            When I dropped the check off to them the woman touched my right arm and said “I’m going to tip you what they should have tipped you. How much was their bill?”
            I shook my head “No, you don’t have to do that. It is not your place to do that.”
            “I want to. Besides, you have no control over what you should be tipped. Now, how much was their bill? Thirty? Forty?”
            “I can’t tell you what their bill was.”
            “Forty it is.” She said as she pulled out her wallet and placed a pile of money in the bill holder.
            Then they got up and left.
            When I delivered the check to the other table that had been sitting near Tamika and Bessie, the man just smiled at me, nodded and said “I heard what that table did to you.”
            “Don’t worry about it Sir. Happens all the time.”
            “It shouldn’t.” he said. The woman seated across from him nodded in affirmation.
            He picked up the check, pulled out a wad of cash and said “No change. Have a great night.”
            I took the money. After all, what else could I do? It’s not like I could chase them down and hand them their change that they didn’t want. That would be awkward to say the least.
            To wrap the night up, the owners both expressed opinions that they hoped customers like Bessie and Tamika would never return. After all, what sort of precedent does it set for customers and waiters alike when they get treated like garbage by those depending on them for their sustenance?
            After all, what does it really say about a person when they treat not just strangers like trash but strangers they are asking to do things for them like trash?
            It tells me they are small minded and have no real respect for their fellow humans. That they think they are the most important person in the world and that their own hubris will undoubtedly be their downfall.
            Which is why I always try to be as nice as I can be when I meet new people. It’s when I begin to know a person when I become a jerk to them. So, if I’ve ever been a jerk to you, it’s because I know you and like you.
            Have a great week. And don’t forget to be nice to the people who bring you things

Friday, September 9, 2016

Ad Hoc Restart

My phone rang, well, it vibrated, and I couldn’t answer the small electronic device. I was at my part time gig, serving food to customers and the general rule is “Never answer your phone as a waiter during shift.” I let the maddening, vibrating piece of plastic continue on its persistent journey to fruitlessness. After all, if it were an important call the person on the other end would leave a message.
            Moments later I locked myself in the bathroom, dug the phone out of my pocket and checked the number of the missed call. There was no name, no blocked caller, just a bunch of digits I didn’t recognize. Also, the little red 1 was flashing above the message icon. I clicked on the icon, put the phone to my ear and it was one of the board members of the theatre company informing me that we were in fact going to open and perform on the already scheduled dates. However; since we had missed over two weeks of rehearsal, we were not going to do the play. Nope, instead we would be doing readings of the Bard’s sonnets or specific monologues which we could pick out ourselves. Lastly; if we were comfortable, we could perform scenes from “The Merry Wives of Windsor” if we wished.
            This has all transpired in the past week. Our opening is tomorrow. Most of us can’t make it simply because we all told our respected boss’s that we were available to work and our boss’s put us right back on their schedules.
            We have four performances the company has commuted too and there may be five people performing on any given day. So we went from a cast of fifteen and a full production to a hodge-podge, rag tag troupe of performers trying to memorize sonnets and monologues.
            I am only available for two of these performances and instead of volunteering to do a monologue or sonnet, I am sticking to what I know. My character and what I’ve memorized and practiced. When I talked to the other actors in the scenes I wanted to do, they agreed.
            Tonight, we practiced those scenes. Then a bomb was dropped on me. The board member who is doing all this work said she had several modern pop songs that were rewritten in the voice of the “Bard”. I looked over the list and found one I wanted to do. I snatched the paper and began reading it aloud on stage in the parameter of Ol’ Bill.
            I loved it, but I didn’t finish it.
            I stopped cold in the second stanza before the chorus and put the paper back down on the stage and stepped away. I didn’t do this out of fear or nervousness. No, I did this because I knew that in the end, when all was said and done, I would be asked to do more. Because I felt the passion flowing through my veins as the words flowed from my mouth and I felt the adolescent excitement of joy coursing through my body.
            That is one of my fears, my foibles, and my “step on the brakes” points in life. Maybe you’ve experienced it, or maybe not. I don’t know and I can’t speak for you.
            You see, as my spouse told me not so long ago “Your greatest fear is becoming a success. Of having people look up to you and you being who you are, are afraid of letting them down.” Which is true. I don’t seek out the spotlight. I do like performing and I like the process of creating but I don’t like the accolades or attention. Never had, and I don’t think I ever will. That sort of things makes me uncomfortable and I always feel like I’ll say something stupid. Which I really shouldn’t worry about since I say stupid stuff all the time.
            Sometimes I do it just to get a person’s reaction and judge what type of person they are and where they will fit in my life. When I do this, most people fail and we part ways amicably. No harm, no foul. Just a parting of ways by people who are not compatible. Yet, when I do meet like-minded folks whose tender feelings aren’t bruised or abused by my off-handed comments or actions, we get along like long lost brothers and sisters. It’s a good feeling.
            But, I digress.
            The fact is, while I like being creative, I don’t like all the craziness that may come with success. Not that I will ever be successful. Or, that I am all that talented. No, I just like to have some fun at what interests me or helps me become a better person. Personally, not professionally.
            Some have accused me of arrogant humility maybe that is true, maybe not. All I know is that I have heard plenty of horror stories of success and its trappings that I really don’t want any part of it. Well, that’s not true, to be honest, I’d like to have some of the money the “successful” folks have. Hell, to just pick up the phone as it rings and say “Sure, I’ll be there for 10 grand.” Is quite liberating. But is it worth it?
            I don’t know. And I don’t know if I want to find out.
            After all, what is a person’s privacy worth?
            A ten thousand dollar appearance fee? Five thousand? A million?
            We all have our price, I know we do. I know I do. But what is the fallout? The collateral damage we have to pay? I’ve no clue.
            Until then though, I’ll stick to being who and what I am. I’ll be the “Bottom Feeder” that Mr. Joe Landsdale so eloquently called me. He didn’t say it in anger, rudeness or out of spite or just to be mean. No, he used it as a simple description of how he saw me and many others like me. I will wear that label as a badge of honor. Especially in a couple of days when I’m donning my fat suit, my fifteenth century trousers and overcoat to perform on stage. I’ll also wear that title with distinction in a couple of weeks when I stand in front of an audience and read aloud to them one of my own original stories.
            After all, learning theatrical skills can only help one improve themselves when they are standing in front of a bunch of strangers and telling an original story. Right? After all, William Shakespeare did say “All the world is a stage and all the men and women are merely players; they have their exits and entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, his act being seven stages. At first the infant mewling and puking in the nurses arms.”

            Have a great week.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

And it didn't happen.

Back near the end of July, while I was in Williamsburg, Virginia, on a hot Saturday afternoon while standing in the parking lot of a hotel visiting with friends I received a phone call from my wife and daughter who were at home. They had just finished auditioning for the Portsmouth Theater Company’s play of William Shakespeare’s comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. Both of them had gotten roles and were excited to tell me about everything.
            I obliged them and offered my congratulations. That’s when things took a strange turn. They asked if I’d like to be a part of the play and that there were three rolls left open. All three male roles, one the lead, the other two not. I agreed to audition under the condition that it would not disturb my work schedule too much. After all, how often does one get to act with his family? Not often.
             Four days later I find myself sitting on the porch of the Director’s house smoking a cigar and discussing my extremely limited theater experience. He then had me read for all three parts then we sat down and talked for another half an hour. After our conversation was over, he excused himself and went inside to get my script.
            I stood there perplexed. He hadn’t told me what part he was giving me or even when rehearsals were or where. I just shrugged my shoulders and figured since he was the director, he knew what he was doing. When he came out he had a bright orange three ring binder in his hand. As he offered me the binder he said “You’ll make a handsome Falstaff. We’re going to have to get you a fat suit but you’ll be great.”
            I took the binder and tucked it under my arm and said “Uh, are you sure you want me for Falstaff? Isn’t he like the anti-hero, the villain, the lech of this play?”
            “Yes he is dear boy, and you’ll be brilliant. Now, go home and start reading your part and memorizing your lines.”
            I walked down his porch steps, put the binder in my saddle bag, climbed on my Harley and left. I didn’t know what to say or really what to think. By the time I got home I was sure I was wrong for the part. I had no training in theater whatsoever, and the characters I’d played over the years had not been as intricate as Shakespeare’s favorite character.
            At home, my family was thrilled I got a part, and when they found out I was the lead, they cheered.
            Then rehearsals started.
            The first few were okay. Everyone getting their blocking done, discovering their characters and of course finding ways around personality differences. Which, after I spoke with friends who’d worked in professional theater companies about the tension, they assured me it was all part of the creative process. I shrugged and said “okay”. After all, I’d never really been involved in a professional or even semi-professional production. So I went with the flow, tried to discover my characters motives, moods and foibles. Which was cool, simply because I love research and the application of the knowledge you receive after you learn it. My character, Sir John Falstaff, was the best friend of the King. He was knighted by the king himself. He was the only reoccurring character in Old Bill’s plays and he was a scamp, a tramp, a man who abused his position and power because he knew the king had his back and nothing he did would get him in serious trouble. He was also loathed by almost the entire country because of this. A deliciously deviant vagabond. A real “Ass” in the words of the Bard himself. I figured I’d do my best to do both the character and the writer proud.
            I also spent time researching all the other characters I’d be interacting with. I chuckled with glee the more I read about each and every one that Bill wrote about. These people, their foibles, their attitudes, their suspicions and their personalities ring true to this day. The more I researched, the more I realized how timeless this piece of writing was and the happier I was to be involved in the production.
            Then, things went south.
            There was a fight between the Director, Assistant Director and the Stage Manager (who also happened to be the Vice President of the theater company). When this happened, I was on stage, in character and in the middle of a line. I wanted to break character, I wanted to step in, I wanted to put my two cents in so to speak, but I couldn’t. After all, I was in rehearsal and everything I’d ever read was you do not allow things offstage to affect your performance on stage, especially during a monologue. So adhered to the unwritten rule.
            The next rehearsal, everyone seemed to show up. The ruffled feathers of the previous rehearsal seemed to be smoothed. I was sitting on the stage going over a scene and lines with a couple of other actors when the stage manager came in and quit.
            She just picked up her stuff, announced she quit and walked out. My wife followed, as did my daughter, as did a few other actors and I. In the parking lot, the wardrobe mistress made an appearance with my fat suit, my costumes and various other sundries. Soon, it seemed the entire cast shy of one was standing in the parking lot talking about what had transpired and what we were going to do.
            I took the opportunity to don my fat suit, take a photo or two and joke around with the cast and crew that were there. The general consensus was that we all still wanted to perform together, however; we did not want to be treated as ungrateful peasants who were not committed to the production. After all, each and every one of us had rearranged our work schedules, our commitments to our churches, our families and other extra-curricular activities. To be accused of not being committed to the cause of the production was not just ridiculous but also a slap in the face of our loyalty to our community.
            A few short days later, all of our fears and worries were laid to rest with the announcement of the Director and Assistant Director quitting the company and moving to another state.
            Twenty-four hours later everyone in the cast and crew were seemingly called and told there was a meeting for everyone interested in continuing in the company. However; we were not given a time or place. Meaning, no one would show up for the meeting. Strange, I know.
            So, here I sit, on my porch, relighting my cigar, listening to jazz and rock-a-billy music wondering if there ever will be any sort of theatrical production on a community level to my adopted home town.
            Will I ever act again? Will I ever be given the opportunity to be the lead in a play? Will I ever get asked by my daughter and wife to perform with them on stage and share a once in a lifetime experience? I don’t know.
            What I do know is that I have the opportunity to create memories and bond with my family on a daily basis and that at both jobs I work, I can put on any face or personality and be whomever the people I come into contact with. So in a sense, I will always be acting.
            Acting like a mature adult. Acting like a father. Acting like a husband. Acting like a caring employee. Acting like a human and taking on the role of a person who is what others expect me to be. Just like you do. Everyday.
            However; if you really are interested in who and what I am, you, my dear reader, you’ll continue to keep reading these blogs and make up your own mind as to who and what I am. I won’t judge you. That is not my place. I’m just here trying to not goof my life up too bad.

            Have a great week.