It’s a slow Friday night. I’m reciting the specials on autopilot to a middle aged couple. They look bored and impatient. It’s a long list.
Just as I get around to the lamb shank, Claude, one of the dozen homeless people who frequent our neighborhood, stops in front of the window. He smiles and waves. I halt my recitation, break into a big smile, and wave back. Its a little moment I’ve repeated a thousand times.
I turn back to my customers and start wrapping up my little routine. Before I can finish the lady says to me,
“Who’s who?” I reply
“That man out there.”
“Oh that’s just Claude. He’s harmless.” I say soothingly.
“Well he bothers me. Make him go away.” she responds.
Claude is smoking his cheap cigar and having a low key conversation with himself on the curb.
“Well Madam he’s on a public street. Unless he is doing something disruptive there is nothing I can do.” I counter softly.
“He is bothering me. I want him to go” she repeats unmoved.
The husband, bespoke in his CEO suit of armor, chimes in, “Just do as she says.”
“Make it happen.” he orders without looking at me.
I fall silent. I do not move.
It takes a good thirty seconds before the husband realizes I’ve not left to do his bidding. He looks up. A look of confusion begins to dawn on his face. I skewer him with my patented 1000 yard waiter stare. You know – when I peer into your eyeball, bore through your brainpan, exit your skull, and zip out the window through several parked cars, pedestrians, and buildings fixating on something unseen several blocks away.
“No.” I say simply.
“Now wait one minute…” CEO begins to protest.
In a dead calm even voice I say, “Let it go brother. Let it go.”
“But…” he stammers.
I shrug. My expression is “And what the fuck are you going to do about it?”
This guy thinks he’s tough because he sends sycophantic bonus hungry subordinate drones into a tizzy with a memo. When faced with someone who doesn’t give a fuck he turns into a pussy. I’ve got his number and he knows it.
“Well let’s just order then.” he surrenders.
“Very good sir.”
They eat. They pay. They leave. The tip is a solid 15%.
The night ends. I walk to my car. Claude is sitting on a park bench eating soup from a container with my bistro’s name on it. One of the waiters must have slipped it to him. He looks like he won the lotto.
“Goodnight Claude.” I say softly.
Claude is lost in his soup. Lost in his castles in the sky.
As I drive home I think about that couple. They probably climbed into a hermetically sealed piece of German engineering and drove home to a gated community or doorman building. They pay people to keep their exposure to people like Claude to a minimum. Assistants fetch their laundry, lawyers fight their battles, and security guards keep them secure in their obliviousness. Life’s a journey from one comfort to the next.
People like Claude scare them. Why? Because he reminds them how lucky they are.
Much of what people possess or achieve has nothing to do with their own ability or ambition. Very often it’s just plain dumb luck. Don’t believe me? There are lots of Mensa members out there pushing mops. If things had been a little different that couple might have ended up like Claude. That kind of randomness scares the shit out of them. It scares the shit out of me.
I flip on the CD player. Durufle’s Requiem fills my car. It’s an old favorite.
I think about the seemingly random universe. I think of Claude. Durufle’s music whispers about eternity, forgiveness, and peace.
I think about how the universe can be a cruel, wondrous, unforgiving, and beautiful place. Instead of burying our heads in the sand we should be clinging to one another.
A wiser man than me once said we come together not in our strengths but in our brokenness. The universe can hobble us all. When we see some one like Claude we should remember our own brokenness. Deliver him some soup – not judgment.
I pull into my driveway. I fumble with my keys and let myself in. The apartment is silent. I pour myself a drink and settle into an easy chair. A few remnants of my ex girlfriend lie scattered about. A picture here – a piece of clothing there. I listen to the ice clink in the glass and take a sip. I am very in touch with my own brokenness.
I toast Claude silently repeating the old adage, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
I go into my study drink in hand. It’s time to write
Hey, stumbled across your blog. I am a server myself…lifer? I dont know. dont think so. Just wanted to let you know I loved this post! Thanks!
But how can the randomness of life be seen as anything but exhileration? Do you have any idea how trapped you would feel and how truly hopeless your life would seem without that randomness, if everything that could happen to you was predetermined, predictable, followed a linear path with no hope of complete breakdown or radical change anywhere along the line from birth to death?
The reason the old couple didn’t like Claude is more likely to be that they realize how un-lucky they themselves are. Living from comfort to comfort, with no risk, no danger, no real hope of change (this sounds like a cliche I know, but you know I hate it that often the most profound truths are simply written off as being ‘cliches’ and thus ignored – that in itself is yet another tactic unconsciously used by people like us to avoid facing the truth about whatever situation we may find ourselves in) is basicly the same as being dead. Think of the best memories you possess – were any of those experiences the result of playing it safe and making sure that nothing either extraordinary or disastrous could possibly happen to you?
So, embrace danger! Take risks! You don’t want to end up like those old fucks do you? When do you think the last time was that they experienced the simple joy that Claude did while eating his charitable soup? Probably not since they were infants and were allowed the liberty of pissig themselves whenever they felt the simple urge to do so. If you really want to take a risk: piss yourself while taking an order. Hah! Wouldn’t that be great? OK, well don’t do that (unless you really want to), but do take steps to ensure your continued liberty as a person.
love and kisses,
Another perspective. Thank you! All the best Fraulein 🙂
As soon as you said “castles in the sky” I turned on the song of the same name by ian van dahl. It’s one of my favorites and as I read the rest of the post to it, it went beautifully with you words. Like they were the words of the song. It was a simple but wonderful moment for me. (of course, I’m reading this 4 years late, there’s probably not much point to comment,but I just had to share)
“Much of what people possess or achieve has nothing to do with their own ability or ambition. Very often it’s just plain dumb luck.”
Right… like this blog!
Well said, except for “Old Adage”. A bit redundant, eh? “Adage” is sufficient. Sorry for being persnickity…it’s just a pet peeve of mine.
Claude sounds nice, I wish the homeless people who loiter outside my store cursing at my customers when they don’t give them money, calling the staff selfish because we don’t bring them food and staring at the people eating food through the windows of the restaurant adjacent to me and following them out when they leave with to go boxes only to scream and cuss at them if the people don’t give them to food they paid for just smiled and waved through the window
now this is more like it…the writing i mean.
being exposed to poverty is a big eye opener. makes you feel things you never felt. you think you know the feeling of despair? do you?
“People like Claude scare them. Why? Because he reminds them how lucky they are.”
Loooved that quote. It helps me realize why I feel uncomfortable around the same kind of people.
For our anniversary, my dad was nice enough to surprise my boyfriend and i with reservations and a gift certificate to one of our favorite places to eat. We parked our brand new car in front of the restaurant and saw a man sleeping in front of the service door. My boyfriend made a comment that it was probably a cook who had been working all day. The couple who came in behind us mentioned the guy to the head waitress, who informed everyone that he was a “drunk bum” and promptly ran outside and shoved the man and called the cops. My boyfriend ran outside to help the man up, told the waitress that what she did was wrong, and that we would take our food to go and that we would not be returning again. He then preceeded to leave her the “bare minimum” 20% and checked for spit in our food. I didn’t know whether to be more proud of my man for standing up for the poor, harmless guy or mad at him for still giving that wench 20%. I don’t care how rich you are, no one is better than anyone else because of their job or social class, it’s called dignity and respect and everyone needs to treat each other like human beings period.
Durufle’s Requiem. This is priceless. Thank you. I can’ believe I didn’t know about that composer and that particular requiem and I studied music and composition.
I have zero idea if you still read comments, but thank you for this. Amazing new discovery. And for people who might read this it’s a work of art. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqW7QzsT9jI
Thanks for your blog. I am writing a novel about a diner waitress in a small town in Texas. Not really what you’re talking about but it still helps me get a feel for the kind of life it may be. It is very strange to read such difficult moments that have happened in the past, knowing that today they had time to heal. Somehow if we are linked through time I send some good waves of energy to your old self in 2004, hoping the best… and now seeing that it seemed it worked! 🙂
The best to you and all your projects!