Its 4:30 and I get sat my first customers of the day – a young couple with a screaming, kicking, red faced, snot dripping three year old boy. I take a deep calming breath, flick on my waiter smile, and head over to the table. The parents, embarrassed by their offspring’s behavior, watch my approach with a mixture of apology and fear. The little boy, as all children do, is screaming about getting something he wants when he wants it. As the child’s delivering his full throated spittle laden ultimatum, a little bubble of mucous elongates out of his nose and pops. The resultant effluence drips down his chin.
Arriving at the table I don’t say anything to the parents – I focus all my towering attention on the little boy. As I stare into his big watery eyes he instantly falls silent. The parents are amazed.
“Who is this man?” I ask the little boy, pointing to the bearded caricature painted on my tacky Christmas tie.
“Santa,” the child blurts.
“And what does Santa do?”
“That’s right,” I say, winking at the mother, who at this point, wants to leave her husband and shack up with me. “You know that Santa only brings toys to good children don’t you? Have you been a good boy this year?”
“You’ve been a good boy? No crying and yelling?”
“Yes,” the child lies, wiping his nose with a crusty shirtsleeve.
“So you’re going to be nice and quiet while I talk to your Mommy and Daddy?”
“Do you like chocolate milk?”
“If you’re good and Mommy says it’s okay I’ll bring you some. Would you like that?”
I look at the mother. Hopefully this kid’s not Jewish and lactose intolerant.
“That would be great,” the mother says, hero worship shining in her blue eyes.
“Okay then,” I say. “When I finish talking to Mommy and Daddy I’ll bring you some chocolate milk.”
“Okay,” the boy says.
“Carson,” the mother coos, “What do you say to the nice man?”
“Thank you,” the boy says automatically.
“You’re welcome, sir,” I reply.
I tell the parents the specials, take their drink order, and return with two Chardonnays and a chocolate milk in a child friendly cup. The last thing this kid needs is more sugar but his dietary welfare’s taking a backseat to peace and quiet. I take the parents’ dinner order. They sensibly skip getting appetizers.
“We don’t know how much time we have,” the mother says, handing me her menu. “Carson’s all stressed out. We spent the whole day at the mall shopping.”
“I’d cry too.” I reply, shaking my head. “The malls are nuts right now.”
“Are you done with your Christmas shopping?” the mother asks.
“Thank God for the internet. I’m done.”
“Lucky you,” the father says, looking aggrieved. “We’re still not finished.”
“Would you like some chocolate milk, sir?” I ask, deadpan.
“With vodka in it, please.”
I look over at the little boy. Carson’s happily sucking his chocolate milk though a cocktail straw. Life is good.
“Do you like your chocolate milk?’ I ask.
The boy, unwilling to remove his mouth from the straw, nods in the affirmative.
“You’re very good with children,” the mother says. “I can’t believe how quickly you quieted him down.”
“All I did was extort a little boy with Santa Claus and bribe him with chocolate milk.” I reply. “No biggie.”
“Everyone extorts and bribes children,” the mother says “Especially this time of year. No kid wants coal in their stocking.”
“You’ve gotta love that whole Christmas behavioral mod thing,” I say, walking away from the table. “It works wonders.”
A short while later, as his parents dine on braised lamb shank and blackened swordfish, Carson is sound asleep in his high chair. His sugar levels must’ve crashed. He’ll probably wake up in worse shape than he was earlier. That’s okay. The young parents,, taking advantage of their break from baby talk, are reconnecting as adults and lovers. From their lingering touches and lowered voices they’re probably gearing up to do what brought Carson about in first place. I smile to myself.
That’s a hell of a lot more fun than Christmas shopping.