The Sleep Of Innocence
It’s Thursday night. The headwaiter’s stuck me in a three table section by the men’s room. The few customers I have are low spending college students pissed off that they’re sitting by the toilet. They probably feel like they’re being discriminated against. In a sense they are. None of the other waiters want to waste their time serving them. When I was at The Bistro I distributed bad customers as evenly as possible. Everyone, including myself, got their fair share of badtippers, psychiatric cases, and cheapskates. In this place, however, the senior servers, in league with a power tripping hostess, make sure only the newest waiters get them. Since shit rolls down hill, I get to play Rathskeller waiter today. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being a poor college student. But it’s tough to make living waiting tables when all your tables order less than $50 worth of stuff.
Bored and with little to do, I lean against the wall and contemplate the nefarious effects of ageism in the restaurant business. I also contemplate the bust sizes of the coeds at my tables. I’m sure I’m committing some kind of ‘ism’ doing that too. Feeling slightly guilty that I’m ogling girls born when I was in college myself, I go to the coffee bar and pour myself an espresso.
“You got a problem on Table 65,” Hernan, the food runner says, interrupting my demitasse break.
“What sort of problem?”I reply.
“The lady didn’t want mushrooms on her chicken sandwich.”
“Shit,” I say, slapping my hand to my forehead. “I forgot.”
“Well she doesn’t want it,'”Hernan says, pushing the rejected hoagie towards me.
“Take it into the kitchen,’ I say, refusing to grab the plate. ‘I’ll go talk to her.”
‘”I ain’t telling Guillermo you fucked up.”
“I need to talk to the customer and fix the problem Hernan,” I say, exasperation creeping into my voice. “It’s a little thing called customer service.”
“I don’t care what you call it,” Hernan says, pressing the plate into my stomach. “I ain’t taking shit for you.”
“Take the food back into the kitchen,” I growl. “Tell Guillermo I will talk to him when I’m done talking to the customer.”
Hernan shrugs and walks away. I walk over to the young lady with fungus issues. She’s a pretty girl with chestnut brown hair and a button nose. She’s wearing a floral print sundress that highlights her impressive d’colletage.
“I’m very sorry about your sandwich Miss,” I say. “I made a mistake.'”
“That’s OK,” the girl says sweetly.
“Are you allergic to mushrooms?”
“I just don’t like them.”
“The chefs will fix your sandwich,” I say. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Screwing on my ‘take no shit face’ I head into the kitchen. The moment I walk in Guillermo throws me a sour look.
“You fucked up,'” he says. “Again.”
Guillermo’s not entirely off base. I have been making stupid mistakes lately. Historically I make more errors when business is slow than when it’s busy. Since the headwaiter sticks me in the Special Ed section every shift, I’m always slow. But, if I’m honest, another part of me knows I’m fucking up because I don’t want to work here any more.
“Can you fix the sandwich Guillermo?'”I ask.
“Take the mushrooms out yourself cabron.”
“I know I made a mistake. But the sandwich needs new bread and new sauce.”
“Not my problem,” Guillermo says, walking away.
“Dumb fucking pendejo,” Javier cackles, an evil smile splitting his broad blunt face. The kitchen guys laugh in unison.
Frustrated, I grab a small fork and pick the mushrooms out of the sandwich. There are so many of them that I’m afraid everything will be cold when I’m done. I feel a pressure building up inside my head. I told the girl she’d have her sandwich back in a minute. That was five minutes ago.
“Could you put this in the oven for a minute?” I say, putting the reconfigured sandwich on the stainless steel counter.
“It’s already been cooked pendejo,” Javier says. “I ain’t cooking it.”
“Dude,” I say, “You may be angry at me but let’s not punish the customer.”
“Suck my dick,” Javier says.
Anger detonates in my chest. My fist asks to be introduced to Javier’s jaw. A little voice in my head whispers I should hit Javier with my elbow or forearm instead and spare the bones in my hand. I decide this thought process is a bad sign and exit the kitchen. The sandwich is warm but not hot. I decide to chance giving it to the girl. My options are limited.
“The sandwich is cold,” the girl says, after taking one bite.
“I’m sorry Miss.” I reply, “I’ll get you a new one.”
“I’d rather not have anything,” the girl says, aggravated but still polite. “Just take it off my
All the students are staring at me. For a moment I see myself through their eyes. A middle aged guy wearing an apron who can’t get a simple order right. I feel embarrassed. I screwed up, yes, but in a professional restaurant this situation would have been remedied quickly. The only mistake these kids made was to spend their limited funds in a dump like this.
“I’m really sorry Miss,” I repeat.
“Don’t worry about it,” the girl replies graciously.
I call the power tripping hostess over and ask her to take the sandwich off the girl’s check. For some reason the owner sees fit to give a girl making $9 an hour all the void codes. Dumb. The hostess tells me I have to pay for the sandwich. I smile and shake my head.
“Absolutely not dear,” I say firmly. “If you have a problem with that, go get Tony.”
“Whatever,”the hostess says haughtily, voiding the sandwich. “I’m too busy to deal with your nonsense right now.”
The college students pay their bill and leave. They tip 20%. That was very kind. Since it’s almost closing time and my section’s empty, I do my side work, tabulate my cash out, and hand my paperwork to the headwaiter.
“You’re not done,'” the headwaiter says. ‘You’re taking the people who just got sat in Basir’s section.”
I look at the new table. They’re young, drunk, and rowdy.
“Why isn’t Basir taking them?” I ask.
“Because you were behind in the count tonight,” the headwaiter says with a straight face. “We want you to catch you up.”
I chuckle. Its ten minutes to close. The new customers will be here for hours. Basir wants me to take the table so he and the other waiters can go out drinking. I’ll be stuck doing side work till 2AM.
“No way,” I say. “But thanks for thinking about me.'”
“It’s not asking.”
“I made $75 tonight,” I reply. “Basir made $250. He can stay.'”
“But…” the headwaiter stammers.
“Goodbye,” I say, “See you Saturday night.”
The headwaiter’s not used to anyone telling her to go screw so she pretends my going home’s her idea. As I walk out the door Basir intercepts me.
“Aren’t you going to take these tables?” he asks, his voice shaded with impending alcoholic frustration.
“Nah,” I reply. “You might as well make all the money tonight Basir.”
Basir knows I’ve got his number. He emits a disgusted hiss and walks off.
I exit the restaurant and start my journey home. I’m a few blocks from the restaurant when I find a man lying face down on the sidewalk. I can’t tell if he’s breathing. He’s not making any noise. He’s still as a corpse. Cautiously I walk up to him. He’s a small guy with brown skin and short black hair. Wearing cheap jeans, white shirt and the kind of sneakers you buy in the supermarket, a small trickle of blood is seeping out from under his head and running onto the pavement. It looks black in the moonlight. I feel the man’s neck for a pulse. He has one. I place my hand near his nose and mouth. I feel breath on the back of my palm. I don’t smell alcohol. Maybe the guy overdosed. Maybe he had a coronary. I flip open my cell phone and call
The cops and ambulance come quickly. They find drug paraphernalia in the man’s pockets. They load him into an ambulance and whisk him away to the hospital. When he wakes up the police will have a few questions for him. I wonder if I did him any favors. I come home to an empty apartment. My roommate’s out of town and my dog’s with the ex. My stomach growls. I realize I haven’t eaten since breakfast. I take some Italian sausage out of the fridge and fry it up with onions and half a green pepper. As I watch the food sizzle I drink a beer. When every thing’s done cooking I put the greasy mess onto a day old roll and sauce it with some microwaved Ragu. I pop open another beer, take my creation into the living room, turn on the TV and take a bite out of my sandwich. As I’m eating a thought strays into my head.
If I found Javier lying on the ground I’d leave him for dead.
I chew on that thought with my sandwich. After a minute I shrug internally and forget all about it. Dark impulses are part of life. It’s acting on those impulses that get you into trouble.
I drink my beer, finish my sandwich and get ready for bed. As I brush my teeth I realize Basir is probably still stuck at the restaurant. That thought makes me happy. I climb under the covers and turn out the light. As soon as my head hits the pillow the sleep of innocence overtakes me.