The hostess escorts a young couple to my section. As they walk to their table I notice they’re looking around nervously, like they’re out of their element. Maybe the Bistro’s the first fancy restaurant they’ve ever gone to. I sigh inwardly. Experience tells me I’m gonna get a lousy tip.

The couple sits down and opens the menus. The girl’s eyes widen when she sees the prices. She says something to the boy I can’t hear. He holds up his hand reassuringly. His expression says he’s saved his pennies. He’s got it covered.

As I approach the table I notice a weird halo enveloping the boys head. As I draw closer I realize his angelic countenance is not of divine but chemical origin. The kid’s used so much hair gel I’m afraid the overhead lights will combust his head. The young man completes his ensemble with shiny sharkskin pants and a t-shirt that looks sprayed on. I’m envious the kid can get away with that look. I haven’t been that skinny since I was in high school.

“Good evening,” I say cheerfully. “Welcome to the Bistro. Can I get you something to drink?”

“I’ll have a Coke please,” the boy says.

“Very good sir,” I reply. “And you Miss? Something to drink?”

“I’ll have a glass of red wine please,” the girl says softly.

This sends up a red flag. Adults usually say I want a glass of Merlot or I want a glass of Cabernet. Underage drinkers, because they’re inexperienced or nervous about getting caught, usually don’t specify the brand of liquor they want. Kids will order a beer or a martini instead of a Heineken or Ketel One Up. Despite her impressive décolletage the girl doesn’t look old enough to drive. I have to ID her.

“Very good Miss,” I reply. “Would you like a glass of Chianti, Merlot, Barbera d Alba, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Brunello di Montalcino, or Valpolicella?”

“Uh, Ill have a Cabernet.”

“Very well Miss,” I say, “May I see your ID?”

The girl has her ID ready. I examine her license. The girl is twenty-one years and three days old.

“Thank you Miss,” I say, handing back her license.

“It feels so good to be legal!” the girl chatters excitedly.

The young woman’s very cute. With her provocatively short skirt, high heels, and plunging neckline, she’s trying very hard to look grown up. But the effect shes going for is maimed by the gum she’s noisily chewing.

“I’ll return with your wine in a moment,” I say, excusing myself from the table.

I go to the back and pour out the girl’s Cabernet. I smile to myself. I remember the first time I took a girl to a fancy restaurant. It was 1986 and the place was The Brasserie in Baltimore. I was eighteen and the girl was sixteen. I remember it was raining outside. I remember being nervous about money. I remember the waiter. He was about the age I am now – but with much less hair. I return to the table with the girl’s wine.

“Excuse me,” the girl says, after I put the glass down. “Do you have a paper napkin?”

All the napkins are linen. I’ll have to go to the back and get a paper one.

“I’d be happy to get you one Miss,” I reply.

“I need to spit out my gum,” the girl says. Lovely.

I go to the back, grab a cocktail napkin, and return to the table.

“Your napkin Miss,” I say, offering it to her.

The girl takes the gum out of her mouth and puts into the napkin I’m still holding.

“Thank you,” the girl says sweetly.

I look at the glistening gum. How nice.

I feel a patented waiter put down bubbling up from the depths. This girl needs a lesson in manners. But, being the oft-criticized sentimental softie that I am, I think about the balding waiter who served the adolescent me back in ‘86. He gallantly complimented my date, guided me through the menu, and made sure I didn’t make an ass out of myself. It was at The Brasserie, sitting by the front window as the rain fell outside, that I felt like an adult for the first time. I remember my date’s red hair, the feel of her hand in mine, how she leaned across the table and planted a kiss on my lips. It’s one of my happier memories.

My caustic reply dies in my throat. I tell myself these kids deserve happy memories of their own.

“My pleasure Miss,” I say, folding the gum into the napkin. “Enjoy your wine.”

The kids order cheap, eat quickly, and leave. The tip isn’t spectacular but I’m happy. Its like I’m repaying a debt to that waiter from 1986. But as I watch the couple walk out the door a sudden anxiety grips my chest. Did I remember to tip that waiter twenty years ago?

I smile to myself. If I did’nt karma has more than paid me back.

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