It’s eleven fifteen on Saturday morning. Julie and I are sitting on a park bench waiting for the restaurant to open. Javier was supposed to unlock the doors at 9:30 but hes missing in action. The busboys and kitchen staff are milling around the front entrance smoking cigarettes and cursing in rapid fire Spanish. They’ve been standing around for almost two hours. They’re pissed.
“What times the baby shower?” I ask Julie.
“Noon,” she replies, shaking her head disgustedly.
“How many people?”
“And we’ve got 45 minutes to set up the entire restaurant?”
“You got it babe,” Julie replies.
I look at my watch. Julie and I should be done with our prep work by now. Thanks to Javier the entire days going to start off on the wrong foot. Just great.
“Doesn’t anyone else have the key? I ask.”
“No,” Julie replies.
“Do you have the owners number?”
“Hey!” Julie calls to the kitchen staff, “Does anyone have Anthony’s number?”
The kitchen staffs response is to shrug and keep looking angry. Its a look they’ve mastered.
“There’s your answer,” Julie says.
“I guarantee that baby shower’s going to show up before 11:30,” I say. “They’ll want to get all the presents inside before the mommy arrives.”
“My God,” Julie groans. “If that happens I’m leaving.”
“Embarrassing,” I say, grinning. “Ain’t it?”
“This is the most unprofessional restaurant I’ve ever worked in.”
“I’m forced to agree with you.”
Malevolent butterflies start fluttering in my stomach. Nothings worse than starting a restaurant day behind schedule. You never get caught up with your work and everyone runs around in a panicked shitty mood that exacerbates the problem. Its a vicious cycle that only ends when your first post shift drink crosses your lips. Since I’m working a double I’ve got twelve fun filled hours to go.
Julie pulls a pack of Marlboro Reds out of her purse and lights up. The strong smell of tobacco floats under my nose and tickles my primitive brain. I haven’t smoked in a long time, but the prospect of spending a hellish day inside a restaurant reactivates a powerful desire to self medicate. Nothing alleviates waiter stress and anxiety like cigarettes. Too bad they’re lethal. I try relaxing. I know from experience that my cigarette joneses are powerful but mercifully brief. Instead of drawing Julies second hand smoke into my lungs and asking for a butt, I think of lung cancer patients smoking though nicotine stained tracheotomy tubes. After a minute of this pleasant mental imagery my urge to smoke fades away.
“I bet Javier went on a bender last might,” Julie says, the white smoke dribbling out of her mouth and rising in front of her face like a veil. “He does that from time to time.”
“Booze?” I ask.
“I have no idea,” Julie says. “He’s a bi-polar little shit. Probably tequila and cocaine.”
The clock keeps ticking. As I predicted the baby showers advance guard shows up at 11:30. Julie and I watch them go up to the door and pull on it. When they realize its locked they turn to me.
“Why is this door locked?” a prunish looking woman in a floral dress asks me.
“Because Javier hasn’t opened it,” I reply sweetly.
“We’re running a bit late,” Julie interjects. “We’re trying to get someone to open the place up.”
“But I made a reservation!” the woman exclaims. “I left a deposit!”
“I know madam…” Julie stammers.
“This is a disaster!” the woman wails.
Javier picks this moment to show up. Looking like a red eyed tequila worm he wordlessly opens the front door and goes inside.
“Well,” I say pleasantly to the prunish woman. “It seems Javier’s arrived. Let me help you with your packages.”
I help Prune Woman carry her gifts inside the restaurant. Julie, to my surprise, doesn’t run away. We valiantly try cramming an hour and a half of set up work into thirty minutes but its impossible. The mommy to be arrives early and within minutes a horde of hungry lunch customers descends upon the restaurant. The restaurant isn’t clean, the kitchen is struggling to catch up, food comes out late, and the phones ringing off the hook. Even though We’re supposed to, Julie and I don’t answer it. We decide to deal with customers we have in the here and now and screw the reservations. Of course, NOW the owner decides to show up.
“Why isn’t anyone getting the phone!” he yells.
“We’re swamped Tony,” I say, trying to carry a tray of food past him. “We got a late start.”
“Why?” Tony asks. I really don’t really like Javier so I tell him.
“That’s no excuse for not answering the phone,” Tony says. “I make the rules here not you.”
I try not to roll my eyes. What a typical restaurant owner reaction, freaking out over things they can’t control and ignoring the things they can. Instead of hectoring me Tony should be helping Julie, answering the phone, or excavating Javier a new asshole. Instead Tony wastes crucial time reassuring himself that he has the largest penis in the restaurant. Sigh, I hate when a man mistakes his ass for a hat.
“Sorry Tony,” I say, trying to humor him out of my face.
“Get the phone from now on.”
“I will,” I reply. “But there’s another thing.”
“We were all here at ten. Can you fix our time cards to reflect that?”
“You worry about getting the phone!” Tony barks. “I’ll worry about the time cards!”
“Yes sir,” I mutter, knowing Tony will never fix the time cards. He’s kind of ruthless that way. Probably why he’s rich.
I spend the rest of my double shift knowing how Sisyphus felt rolling that rock uphill. I never catch up with my work. I labor in the weeds all evening. At midnight I stumble out of the restaurant and head to the local pub: hungry, tired, and frustrated. Javier didn’t get in trouble, Tony screwed everyone out of and hour and a half’s pay and Guillermo didn’t feed us. When I get to the pub it takes a cheeseburger and three beers to put this shitty day into the grave.
Its a miracle I’m not smoking.