Two scruffy bespectacled bohemian guys come through the door. Pausing at the hostess stand they look around, exchange a few words, shrug, and deign to grace us with their presence. They look like pains in the asses.
Of course they’re seated in my section.
“Good evening gentleman. May I get you something from the bar? A glass of wine or a cocktail?” I ask in greeting.
“We’ll have tea,” the thinner of the two sniffs.
Oh great. Tea for an aperitif. I’ve got the last of the big time spenders.
“Do you have lapsang souchong?” the fat one inquires, his lower lip trembling.
“I’m afraid we don’t but we have a nice selection of other teas. I’ll bring the tea box.”
“Mmmmm, no lapsang,” Fatty murmurs sadly.
“Just fetch the tea box,” Thin orders.
Fetch? I think about emitting a little bark but think the better of it.
Now, any waiter will tell you that serving tea is a monumental pain in the ass. Unlike coffee, tea requires about a dozen accoutrements for its preparation and presentation. First you have to lug out a tea box the size of a cigar humidor, stand around while the patron agonizes over the selection, run back to the kitchen, steep the cup in hot water, assemble saucer, spoon, biscotti, lemon, milk /cream, lemon wedge, sugar bowl (which better have every cancer causing brain cell killing artificial sweetener ever cooked up in a lab), a miniature teapot of scalding water, and, finally, honey. God forbid you forget a single thing.
Imagine doing that for five different tables at the same time and you get a taste of my pain.
I deliver the tea humidor to the Bohemians. There are about a hundred tea packets in the box. They flip through every single one. After what seems like an eternity Fatty pulls out four herbal teas and a bag of Lipton. Thin draws out five herbals and a decaf Lipton. I stand there in confusion. How much tea are they going to drink?
“Well aren’t you going to get us some hot water?” Thin huffs impatiently.
“Sorry sir,” I say, beating a retreat to the kitchen.
When I return, tray laden with supplies, I notice there are only two bags of Lipton tea on the table. The other nine tea bags have vanished.
Steeping their tea they place their order. Two house salads and the cheapest bowl of pasta we have – split for two.
“Can I have more bread?” Fatty asks hopefully.
“Of course sir.”
I go to the computer and place the order.
“Hey Maria,” I ask the busgirl, “Did you take any tea bags off of table twenty-six?”
“No,” she replies, “Why?”
“Forget it,” I murmur, “Just bring them some more bread please.”
Two hours elapse. The men eat their salads and entrees while polishing off four baskets of bread. Plates cleared I go to the table.
“Would you gentleman care for some dessert?” I ask warily.
“More hot water,” Thin says without looking up.
“Very good sir.”
I bring two fresh pots of hot water. The men recycle their cold Lipton bags. The other teas are nowhere to be seen.
I’m steaming. “Ok motherfuckers,” I think to myself, ‘You wanna play? Let’s play.”
After another half hour the Bohemians signal for the check. I happily ring it up.
2 House Salads $ 0.00
1 Penne Pomodoro $ 11.95
Split Charge $ 1.00
2 Regular Teas $ 3.00
9 Herbal Teas $ 22.50
Total (Pre tax) $ 38.45
I drop off the bill with a friendly, “Thank you very much gentleman.”
Thin examines the bill. He looks like he discovered someone put sand in his Vaseline.
“Waiter, come here.” he yelps.
“Why are you charging us $25 for tea? We only had two!”
“But you gentleman took nine herbal teas and they’re $2.50 each.”
“We gave them back,” Thin argues. Liar
“No sir, you didn’t,” I reply, putting some steel in my voice.
“Well, we’re not paying for it.”
I look away from Thin and fix my gaze at a point on some imaginary horizon. After a long pause I say softly,
“I would hate to involve the police in this conversation.”
I look back down. Fatty’s lip is trembling in overdrive.
Thin looks at me venomously. He’s probably pulled this shit a million times and gotten away with it. Not tonight. He’s come face to face with the Tea Nazi.
The men pull the tea packets out of their pockets and place them on the table.
“Happy now?” Thin snorts.
“Thank you sir.”
I readjust the check, process the credit card, and hand the check back to Thin. He writes a prominent zero in the tip section.
“Very generous sir,” I deadpan.
“We are never coming back here,” Thin sputters looking at Fatty, “Are we?”
Fatty just nods.
“Good.” I reply simply.
Thin looks positively livid.
“And we are telling all our friends not to come here either,”
“If they’re anything like you we don’t want them here either,” I reply in a dead even voice.
“Fuck you,” Thin hisses. He jumps from his seat and barrels out the door.
Fatty, who can’t move as fast, is still in his seat.
“I’m sorry,” he says in a small voice. He looks terrified.
I look at Fatty. I feel sorry for him. Something tells me Thin is the only friend he has.
Fatty pulls out $5 and hands it to me.
“I’m sorry,” he repeats.
I purse my lips and think for a moment. I put my hand on Fatty’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry too.”
Fatty gets up and shuffles out the door.
Walking back to the kitchen I hand the busgirl the $5 bill.
“What’s that for?” she asks.
“Don’t worry about it.”
I don’t feel victorious. Just sad. All this over tea.
Fatty’s trembling face will haunt me for the rest of the night