Years ago, when my wife to be and I were Christmas shopping in a ritzy mall replete with Tiffany, Hermes, Rolex and high couture retailers, we decided to get coffee in the VIP lounge to which Annie’s uber elite travelers credit card gave us entrée. When we got inside, however, every seat was occupied. That didn’t bother me – until I spied a middle aged woman sitting alone in a seating area complete with four sumptuous leather couches. Ten or fifteen people could have been sitting there, but the woman had “reserved” all the spots by draping fur coats and expensive leather jackets on all of them.
I knew what was up. Her family and friends were shopping in the mall, leaving her to guard, or rather hoard, their precious real estate. What made it even more galling was the woman pretended to be enraptured by an NFL game playing on a big screen TV. Judging by her loud comments on the gridiron action, it was obvious she knew as much about football as I knew about particle physics. Standing with my coffee, I watched her closely, thinking her inept cheerleading was a ploy to cover up her nervousness at hogging all these spots while dozens of patrons were standing around. Then, when I caught the woman’s eye, an avaricious smile played on her heavily made up face. “This is all mine” it seemed to say. “And you can’t have it.”
As my blood began to boil, I thought that if this woman was greedy with such a small thing, then she was probably greedy in all things. And, judging by her pantomime, she knew what she was doing was selfish but didn’t really care. Yes, yes, I’m probably being a tad judgmental, – perhaps frustrated that I couldn’t cool my heels on those sumptuous couches – but her smile reminded me of Jesus’s warning about wealthy folks trying to thread that camel though the eye of the needle. But for whatever reason – proletariat resentment perhaps – I never forgot that woman.
Fast forward a to 2013 when my new wife and I were at the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego and I suggested grabbing a cocktail on the outdoor patio facing the ocean. I’d been there on a moonlight night four years earlier and had a lovely time swilling martinis by the fire pit with some very nice people. The only thing missing was a special someone in my life. So, when Annie and I got to The Del on our honeymoon, it was a box I had to check. Despite the bar being very crowded, the hostess said she had a table free. A happy surprise.
But as the hostess grabbed our menus, I heard a sharp intake of air from the well-dressed and maintained woman standing next to us. “But that’s our table!” she hissed, pulling on her tanned husband’s expensive blazer. “THAT’S OUR TABLE!” I figured the pair was waiting for another couple to join them and, since their full party hadn’t arrived, they had to wait for the next available table. They would have a long wait since happy hour was just getting into full swing.
Much to my delight, the hostess sat us at one of the best tables in the house. After ordering drinks (Non-alcoholic for my two month pregnant bride) and some small plates to nosh on, Annie and I settled in for a very nice time. But as I sipped my martini, I felt that tickling sensation you get on the back of your neck when someone’s staring at you. Looking over at the hostess stand, I could see the aggrieved woman peering at me angrily while her husband harangued the girl who’d given “their table” away – tapping his watch for emphasis. An equally bespoke couple was now standing next to them, sending waves of ocular hostility my way. We had beat them to our coveted piece of real estate by a scant minute.
An hour later, after our drinks were finished and the plates cleared away, the waitress looked at us nervously and asked us if we wanted anything more. Looking back at the quartet, I could see they were still waiting for a table and were primed with purses and wraps in hand to jump into our seats before they had a chance too cool. Now, other tables had opened up in the meantime – but they obviously wanted ours. And, being a former waiter, I knew we were taking up a four spot and that foursome was probably going to spend more money than us, hence a bigger tip. Or maybe not. It’s been my experience that such people are parsimonious as far as gratuities are concerned. But I also knew management probably wanted to get these cranky people seated and out of their hair.
“Actually,” I said. “I’d like another martini. And the dessert menu please.”
The waitress smiled wanly, walked to the front and whispered something into the hostess’ ear. I must admit, when she related the news to the anxious foursome, the looks on their faces was priceless. By this time, however, Annie knew something was up and I told her what was happening. Being a nice person, she got flustered and wondered if we should leave. “Fuck ‘em.” I said. “We’re on our honeymoon. We’ll stay until the sun sets.”
As we imbibed our second round and had something sweet, the looks we got from the aggrieved couples became persistent, palpable and toxic. If I weren’t so tough, I might’ve been intimidated. That’s when I remembered the greedy woman at the mall. Turning my head, I lanced one of the waiting women with my thousand yard stare and smiled. “This is mine,” it said. “And you can’t have it.” I seldom get to enjoy such niceties and figured I’d earned a chance to snag a nice seat at the table. That foursome probably thought it was theirs by divine right. Discomfiting them didn’t bother me in the slightest.
After another forty-five minutes, however, I noticed the sun was in no rush to set and decided enough was enough. Motioning for the check, I laughed when it was delivered into my hands at warp speed. Looking over at the quartet, I could see their faces pulled taut with strain, like they were horses chomping desperately at the bit. Shaking my head, I settled the bill and left a tip so large, I still won’t tell my wife about it. Then, after a brief bit of canoodling, we got up to leave – and the bus people pounced. As the foursome raced past us to claim their seats, I caught the first woman’s eye. “Have a nice evening,” I said. The look I got in response was carcinogenic.
Was I as awful as the woman in the mall? I’ll leave that for you to decide. But as a former server who waited on entitled and nasty patrons for years, the experience was cathartic – exorcising that couch hoarding faux football cheerleader from my soul. Everyone deserves a seat at the table from time to time. Everyone. And if that occasionally pops someone’s bliss bubble? The expectation that life should be a blissful and carefree journey from one pleasure to the next? Oh well.