Fluvio went on vacation and I’m stuck minding the store. I’ve got seven more double shifts till he comes back. I’m worried. It’s only Sunday and I’m already punchy. There are bags under my eyes and my cheeks ache from maintaining the customer friendly smile. My feet hurt. Every customer is becoming an obstacle to overcome. I dread the phone. Waiters constantly harass me with problems. By the end of the week I’ll probably be psychotic.
The Sunday rush ends. The last tables are finishing their espressos. Soon the Bistro will be empty. I look at the clock. Fifteen minutes till closing. Thank God. I want to be in bed before midnight. I start doing my cashout.
I’m wondering why the drawer is short ten bucks when the door chimes. A youngish guy stands in the doorway. Damn.
“Can I help you sir?” I say cheerily, but my heart isn’t in it.
“Can I get a drink and some take out?” the man asks.
The guy looks familiar. I spin through my mental rolodex of faces. Ah, there he is. Dan something or other. Cute wife. He proposed to her in my section two years ago. I stuck the ring on a piece of tiramisu. Now they’re expecting their first child. Tempus Fugit.
“How’s your lovely wife sir?” I ask, smiling at the memory of his spouse, laden with child, sweating like a pig in the July heat.
“She had the baby earlier this evening,” he replies with a wan smile.
“Congratulations!” I offer.
I can’t help but notice this guy doesn’t look entirely happy.
“Mother and baby are both well?” I ask carefully.
“Yeah they’re both ok. Jen was in labor for twenty four hours.”
“Now she wants Porcini Risotto from her favorite place,” he says.
I groan inwardly and pull out my dupe pad. I have to let this guy get some food or my soul will burn in hell. The kitchen guys are gonna be pissed.
“So one Porcini Risotto. Anything for you sir?”
“Just a Ketel One on the rocks.”
“Coming right up.”
I put the risotto order in over protest and get the guy his drink.
“Here you go,” I say handing the man a frosted highball glass. He scarfs the vodka down greedily.
“Want another?” I chuckle. If I just had a kid I’d drink too.
After a short pause New Dad replies, “No I’m good.”
“Well it’ll be twenty minutes until your entrée’s ready. If you want another let me know,” I offer as I return to the cash drawer to find my missing ten bucks.
I start counting but stop. Something’s not right. Even with my back turned I can feel the tension coming off this guy in waves. I’m emotionally attenuated I guess. Chalk it up to my years working in a psychiatric hospital.
I turn around. New Dad’s knee is bopping up and down nervously. His discomfort is making me anxious. I decide to intervene.
“So did you have a boy or a girl?” I ask.
“You poor man,” I say winking.
“Tell me about it,” the man sighs.
“God has an exquisite sense of justice sometimes doesn’t he?”
That provokes a laugh. “You’re right,” the guy agrees.
Now you might think my comment’s inappropriate but it isn’t. Whenever men undergo a major life event, like getting married or having a baby, we guys tend to respond with a certain gallows humor. For example, my brother, on his wedding day, had to walk down a long dimly lit corridor to reach the main part of the church. As we groomsmen walked behind him, ostensibly to keep him from running away, I was reminded of a line from a movie. I couldn’t help myself.
“Dead man walking!” I cried out.
The guys cracked up. The minister cracked up. My brother smiled nervously and walked to the altar to await his bride.
Now he’s married and sipping beer on some beach in Maui with his beautiful wife.
My point? Sometimes a little ribbing helps soothe a guy’s anxiety and snaps everything into proper perspective. Usually.
“And then there’s dating. Oh man….” I continue saying to New Dad.
The guy’s laugh’s smaller this time. Actually he looks like he’s about to throw up.
Ok, so maybe gallows humor isn’t the way to go.
A quiet minute passes. The guy stares at the floor. He take a deep breath like he’s about to say something. He doesn’t. The clock ticks. I see moisture in his eyes.
“You’ll be fine,” I say gently.
The guy wipes his face quickly. “Yeah I know,” he says, “but there’s so much to worry about. I mean summer camp, private school, college. You know what college is gonna cost in eighteen years?”
“A million bucks!” he explodes.
“That much?” I wonder skeptically.
“And then there’s braces, toys, broken arms,” New Dad gushes as if a dam burst from within
I recognize what’s happening. When New Dad held his baby for the first time the enormity of what’s happening hit him. He’s trying to process it all at once. I don’t have kids of my own but I have friends who do. I’ve seen how they’ve handled it. I know what to say. I hope someone says it to me when my time comes.
“It’s a lot of stuff but you’ll break it down into small steps and it’ll come together,” I offer quietly.
“I guess,” New Dad says.
“Think about everything at once and you’ll go nuts,” I say, “just remember, one day at a time.”
“Your right,” New Dad exhales.
“Enjoy your little girl. She’s only a baby once.”
I finally see a real smile. “She’s beautiful,” he says.
“I’ll bet she is.”
“You have kids?” New Dad asks.
“Me? Hell no. I just have joint custody of a dog.”
“You’d be a good father.”
I feel myself blushing. “Thank you sir.”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty seven,” I reply. New Dad is about ten years my junior.
“Well, be sure you have them before it’s too late…”
“Sir,” I say clasping my hand on New Dad’s shoulder, “one of the great things about being a guy is we can still make babies twenty minutes after we’re dead.”
New Dad emits a soul cleansing laugh.
“I have plenty of time,” I reassure him.
“You’re a funny guy,” New Dad says.
“I try sir.”
The food’s ready. I slip a tiramisu, gratis, into the bag, run the check, and take the order to New Dad.
“All set sir,” I say, “and since your wife likes tiramisu so much I threw one in on the house.”
“Thank you,” New Dad says shaking my hand.
“You’re very welcome.”
The guy signs the check and leaves. I watch him walk off into the night his life changed forever. That kid’s gonna be all right.
When I open the checkbook and my exhaustion dissipates. On a thirty dollar check the guy tipped me fifty bucks. Totally unexpected.
As I close up the Bistro I can’t wipe the grin off my face. Baby bucks!
I hope this guy has lots of babies.
Postscript: In 2014 I was in New Dad’s shoes and several people offered me great pieces of advice. I guess what goes around really does come around.