Outside Looking In
It’s a bright and cool Sunday afternoon. The sidewalks are choked with young couples walking dogs, moms pushing double-decker baby strollers, and middle aged husbands trudging behind their wives. I notice most of the men skipped their morning shave. I wonder if Sunday facial stubble is the Yuppie male’s way of asserting individuality until shaving it off on Monday. All the people walking past the restaurant look tired and anxious. Maybe they’re caught in the grip of the Sunday blahs. The house phone interrupts my ruminating. I pick it up.
“The Bistro,” I answer. “How may I help you?”
“I’m coming with ten people in twenty minutes,” a male voice barks. “We want to sit outside.”
“I’m sorry sir,” I reply. “All our patio tables are occupied.”
“They don’t have any outside tables,” the man says to someone in the background.
“When will they have tables?” the background answers.
“When will you have tables?” the man asks me.
I look at the patio and do a rapid calculation. Al fresco diners tend to linger.
“About an hour sir.”
Click. Impatient bastard.
I hang up the phone. Calls like that are typical. Before I can get angry another potential customer sticks her head in the door.
“Those people outside are paying their bill,” the lady says, motioning to a patio table. “When they leave can I please sit there?”
A reasonable request and she said the magic word.
“Of course Madam,” I reply.
“Thanks,” the woman says, “I’ll be in the shop next door for five minutes. Is that OK?”
“I’ll hold the table for you Madam.”
The woman goes into the store. The patio table pays the bill and leaves. The busgirls swoop in and reset the table. I step outside with some menus. A young couple stops me.
“We’d like to sit here,” the guy says, pointing to the table the polite lady asked for.
“I’m sorry sir,” I reply. “But someone has already requested it.”
“Oh yeah?” the guy sniffs, trying to look tough. “Where are they? I don’t see them.”
I look at the guy. He’s about twenty eight. Fashionably dressed in surfer chic, his eyes are masked by a pair of expensive sunglasses. I notice the guy’s wearing sandals. His toenails gleam with polish. A guy can’t look tough with polish on his toenails.
“The people who requested the table will be back shortly,” I say.
“I wonder how they’re gonna feel when they lose this table,” the guy says.
“They�re not going to lose the table,” I reply evenly.
“Oh really?” the man says, looking very surprised.
“We have some lovely tables inside if you like, “I offer.
“But it’s a beautiful day out,” the girlfriend says, a pouty look ruining her face. “We want to sit out here.”
“I’m sorry Miss.”
“You sure you can’t do anything for us?” the boyfriend asks.
“You’re more than welcome to the next table that opens up.”
The boyfriend stares at me and says nothing. He thinks the silent treatment will work on me. He’s wrong. As I wait for his nerves to buckle I admire my fake customer service smile reflected in his sunglasses. My dentist does good work.
“But I want this table,” the guy finally whines.
“First he’s tough. Now he’s a whiner. I was right about the toenail polish.
“Sorry sir,” I reply. “Perhaps another time.”
The guy and girl storm off. I shake my head. All this anger over tables. I shouldn’t be surprised. Yuppie types want what they want when they want it. And when they don’t get what they want they get pissed. That’s the salient feature of Yuppie groupthink.
I go back inside. Suddenly I hear the abrupt sound of chairs grating on the floor. Four women are hurriedly getting up from their table. Since I showed them to their table a few minutes ago something must be wrong. They have strained expressions on their faces.
“Is something the matter?” I ask the lead woman.
“This place is too expensive,” she says softly.
These ladies made a mistake. They can’t afford to eat here. That’s a painful and embarrassing situation to be in. I’ve been there myself.
“Might I suggest the café down the street?” I offer. “I eat there all the time. The food’s very good.”
“Maybe we will,” the woman says. “Thanks for suggesting another place.”
“My pleasure Madam.
“Come on,” the woman says to her friends. “This guy says there�s a place down the street we can try.”
The four ladies start walking out the door. The last woman pauses, looks around, and sighs. “It would’ve been nice to eat here,” she says. “The food smells great.”
I feel a twinge of sadness. There will always be people on the outside looking in.
“I hope to see you here one day,” I reply.
The woman smiles graciously and walks out the door. As I watch the ladies walk away I think about the rude person on the phone. I think about the entitled guy and his girlfriend. Sometimes people are on the outside looking in because they don’t have any money. But sometimes people are on the outside looking in because they don’t have any class.