Ten Years Ago Today

Posted on Saturday 10 September 2011

Sept. 10, noon

Credit card purchases: Hecht Company, misc. clothing; Hallmark store, cards; Nordstrom, cosmetics.

Sept. 10, 5 p.m.
I dropped Mr. Restaurant Gal off at Dulles Airport for a flight to Sweden. This was a perfectly normal part of our lives, saying goodbye every few weeks as Mr. RG took yet another flight to yet another overseas business appointment. But at least this trip would be a short one–less than a week.

“See you Friday,” he said as we hugged.

Sept. 11, 8 a.m.

It was a perfect morning for a run along the C & O Canal. The air was clean and clear with a slight breeze that felt like cool silk as it caressed my bare arms and legs. I ran for miles along the dirt tow path, wanting to run forever, but knowing a writing deadline loomed as well as a tutoring session with a high schooler applying to various colleges.

Sept. 11, 9:20 a.m.

I returned to my car. DC 101, the local rock station, was forever programmed on my radio in the mornings so the kids and I could listen to Elliott in the Morning as I drove them to their Dupont Circle high school. Instead of his hilarious inane banter, I heard Elliott reporting that it appeared a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, probably a small plane, but they didn’t really know. I immediately turned my radio to the all-news station WTOP. And for reasons that perplex me to this day, I couldn’t get anything but static on my AM dial. Thus, I drove the 20 minutes home relying on shock jock Elliott in the Morning for news about events that would forever change history.

September 11, 9:45 a.m.

As I unlocked my front door, my cell phone rang. This was followed immediately by my home phone ringing. For a moment I just looked at both phones and wondered which one to answer. I shrugged and answered both in unison, holding my cell phone to my left ear and the land line to my right.

“Are you okay?” asked my newly found biological father in my right ear.

“Don’t worry, it’s just a helicopter crash,” said Mr. RG in my left ear.

“What?” I asked Mr. RG

“Are you okay?” asked my father.

“Really, don’t worry,” said Mr. RG.

“I’ll call you back,” I said to the phone in my right ear.

“Okay,” said both my father and Mr. RG.

And now I was talking to no one. Little did I know at the time how precious those few phone minutes had been, as they would be nearly impossible to reclaim in the hours to follow.

Sept. 11, 9:50 a.m.

I turned on the TV to the local news and saw images of a burning Pentagon. The images were so bold, so big, so violent in nature, I immediately thought, “That’s no helicopter crash.”

I switched stations, and saw live footage of the World Trade Center Twin Towers in flames. What the hell?

My land line rang, startling me.

“Oh my God I worked RIGHT THERE!” shouted my college roommate. The World Trade Center? I thought. She only ever worked in D.C.

“But, how could you…”

“Oh my God, right there. I cannot believe it.” And then the line went dead.

I changed TV stations and saw a split screen that showed the whole unfolding horror in both cities.

Sept. 11, 10 a.m.

Bomb threats at the State Department. Bomb Threats at the Vice President’s Mansion. Bomb threats at Dupont Circle. Oh my God, they are moving the attacks right through the city, right toward my kids. Oh my God.

Sept. 11, 10:01 a.m.

I call and call and call my kids’ high school, trying to reach someone in charge to tell them not to let any of the kids take the Metro subway and to please tell my kids that they are to stay at school until I personally show up to get them. Please, please, please DO NOT let them leave school. PLEASE, PLEASE do not let them get on the Metro!

Except I never completed those calls, because the phone lines–land and cell alike–were jammed and useless.

Sept. 11, 10:05 a.m.

Unable to reach me by phone, one of my great girlfriends simply showed up at my house. Her son went to the same high school as that of my kids.

“Should we go?” she asked, although she already knew the answer. Her question was really, “Should we be the only car driving into downtown, knowing we may not get out of downtown?”

“We have to,” I cried.

All the way there, the radio announcers further alarmed us with real news, unfounded rumors and talk of another hijacked plane en route to D.C.

Sept. 11, 10: 15 a.m.

We were literally the only car headed into downtown on Massachusetts Avenue, other than the emergency vehicles that screamed by us every second. The lines of cars and throngs of thousands and thousands of pedestrians streaming one way out of town was unlike anything I had ever seen in all my life of living in D.C.

“I can’t believe this is happening; it feels like a bad dream. God, I wish it was a bad dream,” I said over and over to my friend who is driving.

Sept. 11, 10:30 a.m.

So many parents. So many kids. So many of us just wanting to see our own kids’ faces, touch their arms, kiss their cheeks. When I saw RG Daughter, she asked with a smile, “What’s going on?” When I saw RG Son, he said, “If we’re getting out early, can I go to Dan’s house?”

At this funky, alternative private high school that costs more than college and is located in the heart of D.C.’s Dupont Circle in what I am sure is in the line of fire for the next terrorist attack, TVs are obviously not an amenity for which I have paid plenty to have in every classroom.

Sept. 11, 10:40 a.m.

As my cell phone rang, I took a second to dumbly stare at it because who on earth could get through to me?

“Don’t take Massachusetts Avenue,” screamed Mr. RG from far-away Sweden.

“But…” I start to say, amazed he knew where I was, but of course he did. I looked at the gridlock on Connecticut Avenue, a scant half block from my kids’ high school.

“No, please, don’t take Mass. Ave. past the Vice President’s house,” he begged.

“It’s likely the only way or at least the only moving way out of here,” I told him. But by then the line was dead, and would be for several days.

Sept. 11, 1 p.m.

We were home. We would stay home. And nothing would ever be the same, ever again, at home.

Sept. 11, 9 p.m.

I turned on most of the lights in the house. I double checked the locks on all the doors. I turned on the TV in my bedroom. I opened the bedroom windows on this cool night. I wanted to hear the F16s. I timed them. Every 26 minutes. They were my security blanket, even as I didn’t sleep.

Email messages to my father because phones were useless:

Sept. 11

I put Mr. RG on a plane out of Dulles last night, headed to Sweden through Amsterdam. He arrived just fine, but of course, his return plans are now in question. He is due to get to London on Thursday and return here to Dulles on Friday afternoon. At this point, we have no idea when and what route he will take to get home. Just know that he is safe in Sweden.

When you called this morning, I really had no idea what was happening. As events unfolded, I became more and more concerned about getting RG Son and RG Daughter home. Their school is downtown in an embassy neighborhood. The Algerian embassy, for example is just a few doors up and across the street. I knew I didn’t want them on our subway, so a friend and I drove downtown to get them.

The school was releasing kids as parents came, and we have no idea if school will open tomorrow. The scene was eerie as we left: hordes of people walking on both sides of the sidewalks, all going in the same direction. Cars were in gridlock along Connecticut Ave. We chose to take Massachusetts Avenue out of town because the traffic was at least moving at a crawl. I was shocked as we moved along past the Vice President’s compound, seeing armed secret service men posted everywhere, shotguns prominently displayed at their hips. I have never in my life seen anything like it. As we sat in traffic at one point, a Russian Orthodox church’s bells rang in somber tones.

Needless to say, we are simply staying put at home, hearing only F-16s
flying overhead as they patrol DC airspace.

All this is against a backdrop of one of the nicest days we’ve had in
weeks–bright, sunny, no humidity, and 78 degrees. The beauty of it makes the horror all the more surreal.

Sept. 12, email to my father

F16s continue to fly overhead on a regular basis, and
school remained closed through today. Both kids are headed back tomorrow (as all schools in the area re-open), but happily I was already scheduled to be there for lunch tomorrow. I will feel much better knowing I am with them for at least part of the day. Security is very tight around the embassies, so we are okay with letting them go back. Believe me, if anything changes security-wise, I will bring them home.

But we are so determined to try to get our lives back on track–not completely back to normal, just back to a scaled-back regular routine. Today, for example, I allowed RG Daughter to visit a friend’s house just over the DC-Maryland line for a few hours. RG Son went out toward Rockville and had lunch with friends, then shopped at Best Buy and later hung out with pals in downtown Bethesda. I didn’t let them anywhere near downtown, but with National Guard troops everywhere and police on full alert, it was probably the safest place to be!

Sept. 15, email to my father

Just a quick note to let you know that although he wishes he was home, Mr. RG is doing just fine north of London. His friends are taking him on tours of the countryside churches and villages, as well as a pub here and there. The unexpected vacation! We are hopeful that United’s plan to get him back on Tuesday afternoon will occur.

In addition to a funeral for Mr. RG’s uncle who unexpectedly died on Sept. 11, I attended services at our own church yesterday. I was so sad to learn that a member of our congregation was on the flight that hit the Pentagon. Although I did not personally know her, the pain and grief at our service was palpable.

In most other ways, things are moving closer to normal. I think the F16s are still around, but we now see the planes headed in and out of Dulles. It is questionable when, if ever, National Airport will open again.

The neighborhood around the kids’ school is secure, although one never knows when parts of Massachusetts Ave. might be shut down in due to threats against the national mosque (blocks away from their school). The police presence around the mosque is impressive, but it is depressing to think that they are there as much to protect the congregants.

As I drove around uptown last night, I was struck by the small groups standing outside with candles. Two little girls stood outside their house holding red, white, and blue candles. We are not keen on venturing downtown at this point, any further than the kids’ school, that is. It’s not a case of fear so much as we just don’t really feel like doing a whole lot. The kids have gone out with their friends, but just to dinner or out to Best Buy–low-key things like that.

Sept. 15, credit card purchases: Citgo, fill-up; Giant grocery store, bottled water, batteries of all sizes, milk, eggs, toilet paper, canned everything, cat food.

Restaurant Gal @ 9:23 pm
Filed under: First course
Praying for More than a Jackpot

Posted on Tuesday 30 August 2011

I had just about given up leaving messages. Some days, his mailbox was simply full. Did he know on those days that I had tried again to call for the zillionth-plus time?

“Have you heard from Kevin?” everyone, from the bell hops to the room service staff, would ask me every day.

“No, not yet,” I’d shrug.

“That’s too bad,” everyone agreed.

Yes, yes it was too bad. Very bad.

Every afternoon after I work, I take a nap. I have never been a napper, ever, until I started my a.m. serving job that starts at 5 a.m. six days out of seven. And when I say nap, I don’t mean a 15-minute power snooze. I’m talking about a three-stage, deep sleep, complete with vivid dreams and an agonizing reawakening that takes hours to shake off. Don’t bother trying to call me during my naps. I put my phone on silent until I can cope with the land of the living again. Even then, the chances of my returning your call are slim. I am pretty much a groggy mess until I give in and call it a night for good.

On this day, I did not turn off my phone. And on this day, Kevin called me.

“Kevin!” I shouted into the phone, my voice still raspy from sleep.

“How’d you know it was me?” he asked, his deep voice sounding a very long distance away over a very good connection.

“Oh, well, you know, caller ID. Saw your name. But forget that. How the heck are you? I’ve been so worried.” My sleepy raspy voice now sounded uneven, breathless. My heart pounded a little. I was so happy to hear from him, and yet I was so nervous about what to say and how to say it right.

“I’ve got some demons to battle,” he said. “I’m working on it. But listen, I just have something I want to tell you.” He sounded tired.

“Okay.”

“I apologize for leaving you, all of you, like I did. But I really feel bad about leaving you.”

“Oh, Kevin, it’s okay,” I started to say.

“No, let me finish. I really regret that. But I want you to know that you get it. You get what it takes to do the job well, and everyone knows that. So please, hang in there.”

“Well, um, thank you. That’s incredibly nice of you to say, but…”

“Look, my phone’s about to die. Call me back tonight or tomorrow, or just when you can. I know your schedule is crazy, so whenever is fine.” He almost laughed when he mentioned my schedule. His used to be so much crazier, peppered always with three or four doubles in a row and rare, if any, days off. He preferred it that way, he always used to say.

I didn’t call him back that night. I didn’t call him back the next, either. My quiet life was suddenly busy with concert tickets and comedy club reservations, and on one night a stint in the casino that garnered me a $105 win.

I called him back three days later. The call went straight to voicemail. I kicked myself for not calling back sooner, then I left a long message, apologizing for getting back to him so late, begging him to not let our friendship go away the way so many work relationships do when work is no longer a common denominator. “Whatever it is I can help you with, you know I am there,” I ended the message.

I never expected to hear from him again. Until he called a few days later, on a day I decided to give up a nap in favor of getting a little more of a life, and instead embarked on a journey through the hazy nether land of one who has lost his home, his income, and most, if not all, of his very life’s identity.

I met him at the Burger King on this side of the ‘hood. He was nervous. I answered his nerves with a stand-up comedian side of me that comes out when I am very much on the edge of succumbing to my own demons that bear no relation to his.

I bought him a lunch he wouldn’t eat. “I’ll save it for later,” he said, because, seeing me, as great as it was, had prompted the perpetual knot in his stomach to pull tighter with the realization of how much he had thrown away. I asked him if he minded if I ate my bun-less Double Whopper with Cheese with the chain’s flimsy plastic fork and knife. He smiled the smile I coveted every day we worked together. “You enjoy that burger,” he said.

As I ate the burger I did not enjoy, Kevin told me only a little about his depression that he couldn’t address because his efforts to help himself were necessarily punctuated, nay overwhelmed, by the pressing, constant need of seeking “shelter and food.”

I swallowed the last bit of my burger and felt sick. My current life of wallowing in my own misery of a broken bank account verging on bankruptcy, a dumb job serving expensive eggs, a cute house run amok with big bugs, and a great guy I never see who tolerates this–the life I spent napping away on my Pottery Barn sofa because I was wallowing just that much on a daily basis–seemed extraordinarily perfect. And I, I now knew, was nothing more than a spoiled brat.

“But a friend of mine says the restaurant where he works has an opening and will hire me if I can come in on Tuesday and meet with the manager.”

I looked at Kevin’s thin face, his coal black skin as smooth and beautiful as I wish my sun-damaged tanned face could look. I watched him hug his tote bag close to him on the orange plastic booth seat. I wondered where he had washed his electric blue aloha shirt that perfectly complemented his coloring. I wondered how it was that I was blessed enough to know this man.

“Look,” I said, “I won a little money the other night.”

Kevin laughed. When we worked together, he loved to hear my stories about making more in ten minutes at my “second job” playing casino slots than I had in two days at the egg-slinging hotel.

“No, really,” I told him. “Let’s get you a place to stay for a couple of nights until the interview.”

I was struck by what Kevin didn’t do at that moment. He didn’t decline my offer knowing he wouldn’t, couldn’t decline it twice. He didn’t say, “I’ll pay you back.” He didn’t thank me in that uncomfortable way we all do when we have to accept desperately needed help.

Instead, he said, “I know a place. It’s in the ‘hood, but it’s only $35 a night.”

“Okay, then,” I said. “Consider the next three nights a gift from the Hard Rock.”

I expected scary. I expected the big bug motel. It was a little of both, but giant live oaks draped in Spanish moss–the likes of which I have not seen outside of South Carolina, much less in SoFla–gave shade to an expansive front yard. A vintage neon sign welcoming visitors with “Color TV by RCA” harked back to a time when Lucy and Ricky and the Mertz’s would have stayed here en route to some whacky SoFla adventure. Okay, then. I gave Kevin all the cash in my wallet.

“Do you have a way to get to the interview?” I asked him.

“Yeah, no problem. My friend is taking me,” he said, almost relaxed now that the “shelter” question mark was answered for three nights.

“Call or text me and let me know for sure,” I said.

“I will,” he smiled.

“Okay.”

He reached out to hug me. “Love you.”

I hugged his too-thin frame. “Love you, my friend.”

The next day at the fine-dining egg factory, the biggest bitch I have ever had the displeasure of working with, asked, “Can I give you some advice?”

Can you just shut the hell up and evaporate before my eyes?

“Whatever,” I mumbled as I scooped butter into perfectly round balls into tiny butter-ball-sized dishes.

“Save your money for a new dress for yourself. Or maybe that daughter of yours could use some extra cash.”

Talk about a Conch Telegraph. Talk about a real bitch. Talk about don’t you think I already thought about that and all that goes along with giving money I don’t have to spare to someone I really know nothing about outside of this stupid, stupid, miserable non-paying-but-great-benefits job?

“I mean, I’m just saying,” she continued.

“Gotcha,” I answered in junior-high kind.

“You know, this reminds me of my uncle,” said my great guy as we had a few minutes together before he went to work. “Everyone tried to help, and he just kept doing the same crap.”

Yeah. I know. I know this. I grew up with this. I lived this every single day of my youth and young adulthood. But maybe this is someone who can be okay. Or maybe I’m just an idiot. Yeah, I’m probably an idiot.

Three days and three agonizing shifts later it was Tuesday. I snuck off the floor every half hour to check my phone to see if Kevin had made the interview. Not a word.

By the time I was finally done and walking to my car, my uniform shirt untucked and unbuttoned and the first smoke of the day hanging from my mouth, I called Kevin.

“Hi RG, how was work?” Kevin asked.

“Work sucks here, as you well know. Did you go to the interview?” I asked, impatient.

Silence. Then, “Well, my friend never called. I never got there.”

Well, shit.

“Where is this job, exactly?” I asked.

“A little west of here,” Kevin said.

Okay.

“Okay, I’m coming to get you. I’ll take you.”

A “little west” turned out to be almost an hour north and west. A “little west” turned out to have hired two people in the last few days and didn’t have any openings, but thanks for coming in. A “little west” sucked.

With $45 in my wallet, Kevin in the front seat of my car, and an off-season payday four days away, what the hell to do?

Kevin was four thoughts ahead of me. “There’s a place. They might have a bed.”

Okay.

Back through the ‘hood. Back out of the ‘hood. Back to the edge of the ‘hood.

“I’ll wait here,” I said. “I’ll be the one chain smoking in front of the “No Smoking” sign.”

Kevin smiled when no one should have been smiling.

He was back within minutes. “No beds for two days. But don’t worry. I have some calls I can make.”

I chose to believe that because I had no choice. And later, when I’d had two glasses of wine while sitting on my Pottery Barn sofa and wondered how and when I could ever write about what was becoming one of the more subtly enveloping yet most life-changing experiences of my spoiled-brat existence, Kevin called.

“Can I dial 911 from my phone?” he asked, sounding frantic.

“Yes, everyone can, but what’s going on? Do you need 911 help? I mean, do you have that kind of emergency” I asked, now thoroughly confused and at the same time trying to figure out which of my credit cards was still good for another night for Kevin someplace.

“There’s gonna be,” he said, angry. And then he hung up and took no more of my calls all night.

I figured the worst. I tried to sleep and dreamt instead about his nightmare. My help, I now knew, had done nothing but prolong the worst of his worst.

I called him the next day after work. Voicemail. Voicemail again and again. I decided to drown my fear in rum and a slot machine and kiss my $45 goodbye in the process. If I won a dime, however, I’d give it to Kevin, if I ever found him again.

When I was two stop lights from the tightest casino in SoFla, Kevin called.

“Can you take me to Powerline?” he asked, like it was a trip to the dry cleaners.

Sure. Powerline and where? Where the hell?

“I just got released from Broward General. I have papers.”

Papers?

“To get into a place,” he said, reading my mind swirling with seven thousand questions.

“Where are you now?” I asked him, pulling a U-turn that would have made my great guy proud, painfully timid driver that I am.

“Downtown.”

“Give me 10 minutes.”

Twenty minutes later I saw Kevin waiting patiently on a street corner clutching his tote bag in which he held everything he owned, dressed in yesterday’s wrinkled electric blue aloha shirt.

And, for a brief moment, I considered driving right past him. Because maybe my great guy was right. Maybe the bitch was right. After all, I had never gotten it right before when I’d done all I could.

So, I drove right past him.

And circled the block.

“Did you just pass by here?” Kevin asked.

“No, just got here,” I lied, even though I knew he knew I was lying. Which he completely understood, and knew that I understood, and about which we said nothing more.

“We have three places to try before 2:45,” he said.

Great.

“What happens at 2:45?” I asked.

“I have to be at the tree by then,” he said.

Right. Of course. The tree.

It was then that I figured out what my very religious and incredibly wonderful older sister had already figured out. What was meant to be, what He meant it to be, would happen very soon. On this very day.

As Kevin carefully placed his tote bag in my back seat, I said my first prayer in a long time for something and someone other than myself and my kids. I prayed for guidance, for enough gas to get us where the right guidance actually existed, and for proving the bitch and my great guy and all my doubts wrong–that this pathetic, dollar-less effort of mine was, in fact, going to save a life.

The first place wouldn’t open the three gates that kept them safe and us out. We spoke through intercoms and I was referred to as “You” when asked to take him somewhere else called “there.”

“There” also turned us away, as did the other “there.” You could say, as I did say, “Everywhere is nowhere. What the hell?”

All the while, Kevin sat calmly and patiently through the rejection. All the while, I wanted to cry as much as I wanted to be done with it all.

“What time is it?” asked Kevin.

Oh, shit. The tree.

“Oh shit, 2:50,” I said.

“Then let’s get to the tree.”

Which would have been easy enough had Kevin known where the tree was.

“I think it’s over there,” he said, but it wasn’t. “Maybe a block over?” he asked himself while I pulled out in front of every type of traffic to go a block over.

Right, about those prayers.

At 2:55, ten full minutes past the time a van was supposed to be at the tree and a mysterious someone would call the names of the lucky ones on a list for a shelter, I had no van in sight and certainly no tree.

“Maybe we should ask someone,” Kevin said, as calm as if he was asking directions to a movie theater.

I screeched to a halt on a street lined by abandoned lots and a few store fronts. I eyed two scraggly guys sipping from paper bags. Perfect.

“Hey, you!” I screamed at them.

“Yes ma’am?” they answered in unison.

Ma’am? This was good.

“Do you know where the tree is? You know, for the homeless?”

Kevin sat stoically looking straight ahead through my car’s front window.

“Yes ma’am. You need to go three blocks that way, make a right, go two more blocks, and you can’t miss it. The van’s there already.”

SHIT.

Kevin waved thank you to them in my dust.

Three blocks that way and two more blocks, we were there. The tree, it turns out, is a pretty huge, amazing tree. It dwarfed the van and the cop car parked underneath it.

“I’ll get in line, now. You don’t need to wait,” Kevin said, slowly gathering his tote bag. “Thank you so much for this.”

“I don’t need to wait? After all this, I’m just going to leave?” I said, sounding like I was scolding a kid. “You get in line. I don’t leave ’till I get a thumbs up from you.”

An hour later, as I watched lines of women and men continue to swarm the van under the cool shade of the mammoth tree, Kevin emerged from the line.

No. No, no, no. We have no place else to go.

“It’s going to be another hour or so. They’re processing the women first. Go on, go. I’ll call you and let you know how it turns out.”

“Okay, because I can just charge a hotel if you…”

“No, it’ll be fine. I’ll call you. Love you.”

Love you, you pain in my ass that I am so worried about.

I did gamble that early evening, promptly losing $20 of the $45 in my wallet and wondering why I had bothered.

Kevin called me just as I was ready to leave Hard Rock. “I was the second-to-last name called. But I’m in. It’s a good place. Thank you for everything.”

Well, now, that calls for some karma, I decided. I promptly won $95 on a 60 cent slot pull. I swear to God.

Kevin is doing well. He is living and working a program that is as first class as the facility he is calling home for the next few months. I could not believe the change in him when I visited two days ago. He looks fit and healthy. His smile is warm. His eyes are clear. He still worries that I am struggling at work and tells me to hang in there.

Love him.

Restaurant Gal @ 11:32 pm
Filed under: Beloved Co-workers
Alma Mater–Oh Dear!

Posted on Wednesday 3 August 2011

Dad had on his Duke T-shirt. Mom sported an Ivy League someplace hoodie. Son wore his Ice Bowl hockey tee. Daughter and two other college-age kids chose to remain mysterious, wearing plain, logo-less tops.

“Morning folks, how is everyone today?” I smiled at the handsome group of six, and not just because my gratuity was now guaranteed. They really were quite striking in all their college-clothing pride.

“Good morning, how are you?” asked Dad.

“Fine, and I hope all of you are, too. Coffee?” I replied as I offered a steaming pot of fresh-brewed java.

“Yes, thank you,” both Mom and Dad said in unison. “And do you have some skim milk?” asked Mom.

“I see all kinds of schools represented here,” I smiled at Mom after nodding “certainly” to her skim milk request. “A family divided?” I laughed.

“Oh, no. Not at all,” said Dad, smiling. Then he pointed to the logo-less ones: “Georgetown,” he said, referring to Daughter. “And Cornell,” he said, referring to the other two good-looking kids.

“Nice!” I smiled back. “But Ithaca, so cold in the winter,” I laughed. RG Son and I had visited that cute town when I took him on his college tour that did not include a stop at Cornell. “Go to a college that touts its tunnel system so you don’t have to go outside for six months, and you won’t see me until you graduate,” I told him more than once during the Upstate New York whirlwind look at 10 colleges, several of which accepted him but all of which he declined in favor of spending four years basking in the fine Ohio winters.

“It’s not that bad,” said a girl who must have been a friend of Son or Daughter.

“And Georgetown!” I said to Daughter, who smiled back at me.

I said what I said next without thinking; I just blurted it out and wished, as I did so, that I could have taken back every word and remained silent and smiling like any good server knows to do. But instead, I said, “I went there, too!”

Someone’s butter knife clattered on a B&B plate. The three seconds of silence that followed my thoughtless comment might as well have been three hours.

“Oh!” smiled Mom with just a hint of a question mark.

“Well, how about that,” said Dad, now gazing at his menu.

Daughter simply stared at me, uncertain what to say.

As I stood there before them in my crisply pressed, formal black and whites, my pen poised to take their orders for egg white omelets and turkey bacon and sides of fresh fruit–because these smart, handsome people had their healthy worlds in hand and futures that could never be anything but bright–I scolded myself for casting doubt on those bright hopes, if only momentarily.

I thought of what I could have, should have said:

“My daughter went there!”

“My son loved all four years he spent there!”

“Gotta love those Hoyas in March!”

But alas, it was too late. So I could only think to myself: Yes, boys and girls, moms and dads, sometimes we choose paths that lead us far, far away from our carefree college days. Sometimes we simply work hard for the money and try to get on in life. I may sling fine-dining eggs full-time and tend bar on-call for my living, but that’s okay on most days, even on those days when it seems like a never-ending, insane challenge.

Mom and Dad, your beautiful, clearly smart kids will be okay, too. Daughter, you’ll be fine wherever life takes you after Georgetown. Work, you see, is just work. The rest is all you.

Restaurant Gal @ 9:31 am
Filed under: Guests
Pigs Fly and Frisbees Do Walk

Posted on Saturday 30 July 2011

I wrote the previous post almost a week ago, let it sit, then finally posted it. When I went to work this morning, a miracle or two occurred: the mood was decidedly different–for the much better. My coworkers showed up on time, worked hard, helped me and each other, and even laughed with me. My managers and I also seemed to have landed on all the same pages today, with “thank you” and “appreciate all your input” being the theme. Wow.

Perfect? No. What workplace is?

Money still terrible? Yes, but I can deal with that with a lot more patience when the work environment is positive and everyone is at least cordial and respectful.

Am I looking for another job? Only a part-time second one. I am determined to make this crazy place work out. Perhaps we all needed that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day to wake up and try a little harder to understand each other a little more.

Here’s to hoping it continues.

Restaurant Gal @ 3:51 pm
Filed under: Beloved Co-workers andManagers
RG and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Posted on Friday 29 July 2011

With full credit to and incredible admiration for Judith Viorst for writing one of the best children’s books, ever: “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”.

I woke up two hours before my 5:02 a.m. alarm on Monday morning, after tossing and turning for hours and tossing some more, and, finally, never really going back to sleep. I watched a third repeat of Piers Morgan’s CNN show, willing myself to find the elusive peace that only deep slumber could offer, which never happened. I knew, then, that it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I was the first one in at work, as always, and found it impossible to prioritize the zillion components of opening sidework, knowing my coworkers would be late as always, and once they arrived at work, late, as always, they would leave every sidework task incomplete that they took on, as always, which would set me up, as always, for a weed-fest at the opening bell.

When I couldn’t find the butter ball scooper because the in-room dining staff had hidden it too well, and I broke a half-full wine glass left by the night staff in our breakfast supply “cage,” and then realized we were also out of Frosted Flakes and sugar packets in said cage because the night staff had apparently been starving for an overly sweetened case of cereal, I knew it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Maybe I’ll just move to Seattle, where the air is cool and crisp, the evergreens are just that, and it’s sunny and bright and perfect weather three months out of twelve. Well, not until my shift is done.

When my first table was a nice lady from Denmark who spoke perfect English, and who wanted the most expensive breakfast Benedict we offer, plus a side of bacon and a mimosa, and who sat alone at my four-top for two and a half hours working on her laptop, thereby preventing me from turning said four-top, and who tipped me exactly nothing at the end of two and a half hours, despite the multiple refills of coffee, a free side of multigrain toast, and some great conversation that I provided, I knew it was but the start of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

When I offhandedly pointed out to my manager who arrived an hour into the shift that my coworkers had disappeared to God knows where to sleep, eat, put on makeup, do their hair, and sleep some more, and that although the sidework wasn’t complete, it wasn’t my fault, and she asked me why we had no ice, why fresh iced tea wasn’t brewed, and did I realize the juice glass on table 104 hadn’t been polished even though the table wasn’t in my section, I knew it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Maybe I’ll move to Montana to be next-door neighbors with my best-sister-friend and savor the cool mountain air and forget that winter exists there 11 months out of 12.

When I didn’t have another table for an hour and then a server from the night shift was called in because, said the manager, “We are supposed to be very busy,” and I had already written a third check on a zero-percent interest credit-card offer in so many months to make ends meet because I make less than half in two weeks what I used to make in four days in the Keys, but at least my Great Guy makes great money because they auto grat 18 percent on every single check at his place, and I told my manager I’d had it, and walked off the floor and smoked three cigarettes out back while waiting for HR to open its doors, I knew that what was already a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day wasn’t looking good for improvement.

When the HR lady opened her doors to find me waiting for her, and I couldn’t utter a coherent word to tell her all that was so very wrong with my job, with my finances, but mostly with the life that I had so excitedly set out to live four years ago, and she told me “disciplinary action” would certainly be taken against me, and I agreed that it should, and she said how surprised she was because she’d heard such great things about me, but policy was policy, and I told her do what she had to do and that I would write it all down for the F&B Manager because I could write ever so much better than I could speak about it all, and she simply nodded while jotting down notes, I knew that while some days may seem terrible, this was, in fact, the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day of all days, and it had not a whole lot to do with why I’d waited for HR to open up that day.

Maybe I’ll move to a place I’ve never seen.

My Great Guy tells me he’ll pay the rent and take over my car payments. The F&B Manager tells me I am not fired; quite the contrary, would I please make a detailed sidework list and mention to HR that we are working on a solution for me because that will help him. My one friend here tells me better things are in store. My manager says she thought we were friends and asks why I went to HR, and from now on she’ll be more careful about sharing her feelings with me (huh?). My coworkers snicker and speak about me in Spanish, which I pretend not to understand and understand very well.

Today, when I researched a small delivery of Sephora makeup items that cannot be gotten in the Fort Lauderdale store because they stock their store like a Soviet Union market of decades ago, and then realized that the delivery had been made days ago on the day when I found my locked mailbox wide open and empty–on the very day I walked off the floor at work and didn’t get fired–I surrendered to the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Maybe I’ll move to a place I’ve always dreamed could exist, where bad days are simply bad and not terrible and horrible, where work sucks but at least you make a living wage working for a manager who gets half of it and doesn’t accuse you of making her day more terrible and horrible.

I had terrible nightmares that scared me last night, well before my Great Guy got home from his always opposite shift to mine at 2 a.m., and long after I had stopped counting the days until we might have a day off together again, because contrary to being fired, I am on the schedule for 9 days in a row, call time 6 a.m. for the foreseeable future, as others are granted later start times and vacation when they choose it. Disciplinary action wears many disguises.

I think I’ll move to Australia. And when I don’t, maybe I’ll just take a hard look at the sum total of where I am and vow to finally move on, if only in spirit. A girl can dream, right?

Restaurant Gal @ 8:20 pm
Filed under: Beloved Co-workers andManagers
Please Come Back, All is Forgiven

Posted on Friday 22 July 2011

In a world in which SoFla hospitality ads demand that applicants be “sober” as well as have some “recent” experience–i.e., not 20 years ago when you were working part time while attending college and likely not sober–the professional server is a gem hidden among so much worthless rocks and sand particles.

This server oozes gentility and manners as well as finely honed skills to genuinely and appropriately serve you. This server is never overbearing in his efforts to make sure you are well taken care of. Rather than annoy you every five minutes by asking you how everything is, he knows exactly how the meal is going and adjusts accordingly. He offers a comped appetizer when the kitchen is slow, but before you realize how long it’s been since you ordered; he refills your water glass without having to be asked or brings another round at just the right moment; he senses when conversation with you is better left unspoken, but always manages to hack through his weeds to chat about where you are from and how adorable your toddler is when the time is right for you.

You may not remember your mediocre meal, but you likely will never forget “that server” who pampered you without ever crossing the lines of uncomfortable familiarity and forced cheerfulness, who deftly presented your entrees and cleared your appetizers with a smoothness that cannot be trained, who made you forget that you were in a dining room full of other guests because this server gave you 100 percent of his attention even as other guests demanded 100 percent of him for themselves.

You will go back to a place with semi-forgettable food if the service is impeccable. And, if you are fortunate enough to experience this kind of excellence, you will wonder how it is that such understated professional service has become a mostly obsolete commodity. You will, for the brief two hours you are breaking bread with friends or co-workers or loved ones, appreciate that this is what the dining out experience should always be and rarely is.

When you are lucky enough to be trained by one from the old school, you hope a little of what he is all about will become a part of your work persona, even though you know you will have to work hard to hone what is intuitive to him. He patiently answers your questions, even those asked for the third time in so many hours. He backs you up with all the behind-the-scenes details that make you appear to be a better server than you really are.

He applauds your successes on his slow days. He gives away a table to you when he knows the host seems to have forgotten to seat your section, pretending he is too overwhelmed to take it himself. He senses your frustrations with lazy co-workers, thoughtless managers and unforgiving needy guests by quietly saying, “Go grab a cigarette out back; I’ll watch your tables.”

He always smiles like he means it. He listens to you rail against the lousy tips and brutal schedule and tells you he hopes you hang in there because you are a pleasure to work with and you’ve even taught him a few things.

You won’t ever forget the in-season shift when everyone but you and he called out, and you and he successfully handled the unending stream of the hungry with a silent communication and understanding that you thought was only possible between twin siblings.

You couldn’t be less like his unflappable self. You vow every work day you will try to be. You cannot thank him enough every single day.

As I puzzle over and worry about his two-week, no-call/no-show absence, I wonder if the standard of perfection to which he holds himself and of which we, his co-workers, take for granted, took some sort of great and horrible toll on him. I don’t think I will ever know. He hasn’t taken any of my dozens of phone calls or responded to my worried texts. His voicemail box is full. Clearly, I am not the only worried one. Nor am I the only selfish one who is so very anxious for him to come back to work to make my work world bearable is this unbearably slow and mismanaged off season.

I always viewed my blog category titled “Beloved Co-workers” as a sidelong sarcastic wink. Until he left without warning, without a word. Damn.

Restaurant Gal @ 8:11 pm
Filed under: Beloved Co-workers
Do They Still Make Cherry Bombs?

Posted on Monday 4 July 2011

My dog Rouletta hasn’t done her business in two days. What business she has done has been done in a corner of her dog bed because she won’t step a paw outside.

Thank you dear neighbors who have reduced my otherwise sweet and house-trained pup into a shaking, shivering and panting disaster in serious need of doggie drugs. Thank you China or any other country that mass produces meaningless and worthless blasting devices under the guise of “fireworks.”

Someone, anyone, please tell me what is the point of these tiny, dangerous and annoyingly loud explosives? Professional fireworks mesmerize in their brilliant and multi-colored splendor, enthralling everyone at professional celebrations. Buy-’em-by-the-bag “bombs” tossed at will into the street, over my fence and onto my front yard are nothing more than pieces of crap lobbed by the same.

Then again, I was once saved by a cherry bomb.

I was 11 years old that Halloween, too old to be trick-or-treating and too young not to give it one last chance for a pillowcase full of Milk Duds, Mary Janes, and wax candy lips. My girlfriend of the same age joined me, and we happily trooped around the neighborhood dressed as “hobos.” Within an hour our sacks were three-quarters full. The sun had long ago set. Time to head home.

“Get ’em!” came a voice-cracking cry from a masked adolescent boy with his gangly posse in tow.

“RG duck!” screamed my friend.

Pop, pop, pop all around us.

“RG run!” screamed my friend, as more invisible pops cascaded around us.

But where to go? How fast could we really run in our baggy costumes, carrying heavy sacks of candy?

And suddenly, there it was, the scary house of the neighborhood. The one with the curtains perpetually drawn, peeling paint on every surface, and mysterious residents who were never seen and forever unknown.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

We were sobbing as we banged on the splinter-laden front door and frantically rang the doorbell.

“What the hell?” yelled an old man clad in overalls as he peered out of his front door that he’d opened only an inch.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

“Help us!” cried my friend.

The old man stared long and hard at us.

“Please,” she begged.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

“Okay, inside,” he said, clearly put out by the candy-toting hobos who’d landed on his front doorstep.

Even in my panic, I could only stare as we stood in the scary house’s living room. Except for the heavy curtains, the room was completely bare. Not a chair, not a lamp, not a table. Nothing.

“They’re chasing us,” wailed my friend.

I could only nod in agreement, being rendered completely unable to speak.

“Oh yeah?” said the old man. “Wait here.”

He shuffled down a dark hallway, leaving us alone in the dark living room for hours that were only 30 seconds.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

“They’re waiting for us!” sobbed my shaking friend as we clung to each other.

“I’ll take care of it,” muttered the old man as he shuffled back into the room.

With that, he snapped open a lighter, lit a hand full of round somethings, opened the front door and tossed whatever he’d lit into his weed-laden, overgrown front yard.

Boom. Boom. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. BOOM.

Ever heard an adolescent boy scream? That night I heard five of them cry like girls as they scattered and took off running, screaming to each other, “Cherry bombs!”

We just stared at our rescuer, both dumbfounded and aghast. And incredibly grateful.

“You can go,” mumbled the old man.

We couldn’t move.

“Now!” he almost barked.

“Yes sir,” said my friend, startled back to life.

“Sir,” was all I could manage to say.

He held the door open just wide enough for us to squeeze through. The moment we were on the front porch, he slammed the door behind us. I could hear the turning of multiple locks.

We were alone, the firecracker boys as far away as their awkward lanky legs could carry them in the few minutes that had passed.

And we still had our candy.

Happy Fourth of July stupid neighbors. This cherry bomb memory is all for you.

Restaurant Gal @ 9:43 pm
Filed under: First course
Princesses All

Posted on Monday 20 June 2011

“I’ll be in Orlando for a day between business trips,” said RG Daughter during one of her daily calls a few days ago. “You have to come up.”

I love it that RG Daughter calls me almost every day. It’s like she lives just over the fence and a shout away instead of 1000-plus miles out of reach and many more in the distance.

I saw a double rainbow moments after she called. I was outside smoking a cigarette before a freebie slot tournament, and a select few smoking outside with me knew the rainbows meant something wonderful:

“I’ll win, for sure,” said two.

“The pot of gold is right here!” said four.

“Alright,” sighed a few others who noticed this freak of beautiful nature.

“I’ve never in my life seen that! Never! Today must be my lucky day.” said one.

I didn’t win money that day, but I didn’t lose any, either, the slot tourney being free. But those double rainbows heralded the 15th–or is it the 20th–time RG Daughter and I have glanced at each other over a fast-pass fait accompli and silently high-fived because we had an unexpected, incredible time together in a place that writes the book for unoriginal and very expensive family time to which we cannot say no.

I had to beg to leave early on a slow day and promise to be back for the next morning’s 5 a.m. shift that would surely be slower. I wasn’t sure how I would make the three-hour drive up and back in one scant afternoon and evening, but I didn’t care. I hadn’t seen RG Daughter in six months, and I was certain I wouldn’t see her for another six if I didn’t run screaming from my slower than slow off-season serving job and just go.

I drove three-and-a-half hours through multiple horrific rain storms, some so strong I was sure a tornado lurked just beyond the wall of water that my VW’s windshield wipers could do nothing whatsoever to clear. I got lost twice trying to find RG Daughter’s hotel. I hadn’t eaten a thing since my day began 12 hours before.

All of this mattered not the least at the exact minute I wrapped my arms around my best baby girl and hugged her tight. My stupid schedule, my terrible tips, my total lack of a life beyond my stupid schedule and terrible tips retreated into a safe harbor of momentary denial in the here and now of seeing her again.

Back in the old days of easy money and frequent-flier perks, RG Daughter and I only ever stayed on Disney property, where we walked or trammed to the parks and never, ever parked with the masses in lots named “Pluto” or paid full-price for one-park, one-day admission. Funny how times have changed. Funny how much the real Disney World costs.

I bought a Florida resident multi-day pass for myself and tried to convince the perky Disney gate agent that RG Daughter counted as one, too. An expired Colorado school ID didn’t convince her. It was probably just as well; I felt like one of my customer thieves who pawn off 16-year olds as “under age ten” so they can get a cheap plate of kids’ eggs.

So, hundreds of dollars later, we were in Epcot buying frozen margaritas in Mexico, when we saw him–a poncho-clad Donald Duck, with no line of strollers to meet him.

“You’ll need to put the drinks behind his back for the photo,” said Donald’s handler, “You know, so he doesn’t get in trouble.”

Of course.

The handler took our photo with my phone, and I promptly texted it to my manager and begged for today off. Something about a mother-daughter Disney photo must have tugged hard at her heart, because she relented, adding that RG Daughter was “beautiful.”

We never planned to go back to Disney today. RG Daughter had work to do; I would leave early and head back before rush hour and more storms. But at 7 a.m., while drinking the worst-tasting in-room coffee ever brewed, I pointed out that we could be at the Magic Kingdom riding Big Thunder Railroad in less than an hour.

And so, another $88 dollars later, RG Daughter was upgraded to another day’s single-park pass, her work and mine be damned. We got soaked on a log flume ride that scares me more than upside-down roller coasters and dried off on Big Thunder. We took in the Pirates and got fast passes for Peter Pan’s Adventure. Which gave us an hour to kill.

“We’ve never eaten in Cinderella’s Castle,” I pointed out.

“You have to have reservations,” pointed out RG Daughter.

“You have to have reservations,” said the un-Disney-like greeter. “Sorry.”

We wandered aimlessly in the crowds for a few minutes, when RG Daughter announced we would return to the Castle and beg for a last-minute seating. Something about a mother wearing yesterday’s clothing and her cute daughter must have tugged at the heart of the second not-too-nice greeter.

“I’ll seat you, but it has to be now and it has to be breakfast. And it’s $54 each. It includes a photo with Cinderella. Is that okay?”

What the hell.

The photo, it turned out, was a “professional” shot that included an 8×10 and six 4×6 copies. The $54 breakfast included an auto grat (they get a guaranteed 18 percent on every check?!?) and visits with five princesses, plus a table-side chat with the chef who wanted to make sure we knew he knew we were Celiac girls.

I spent more on park admissions and over-priced food in 24 hours than I make in a week. I missed a day-and-a-half of lousy tips and $4.25 hourly wages. Maybe I’ll care when I see my credit card bill. Today, I couldn’t have cared less.

Because when you add it all up, I have had much less fun for far more money on many other days. And I wouldn’t trade this regal day for any amount.

princesses.jpg

Restaurant Gal @ 11:59 pm
Filed under: Dining Out andFirst course
End of Season Reflections

Posted on Friday 10 June 2011

I should have written this post a month ago, when season really ended, but for reasons that have no reason, I continue to work many hours, although my pay has diminished to half since Mother’s Day. Anyone who has worked the SoFla or Keys hospitality gig knows this season of riches/summertime slumber routine. I’ve been doing it for almost four years, and it still blindsides me every year. And if I think it’s bad in June, just wait ’till August and September.

Thus, I took the slow time at work today to reflect upon the bad, the unbelievable and the good of Season 2011.

The Bad: It Takes A Thief

I never suspected, for a second, I was being conned. It didn’t cross my mind that anything was out of the ordinary–not the first time, not the second, not even when it happened a third time. I could beat myself senseless for having had no sense each time a thief took advantage of their perfect moment to commit their perfect crime.

Papa Thief

He was young and handsome and as well spoken as he was dressed. His two children were adorable, as are most kids in holiday mode at my daytime eatery. This great dad gave the hostess as well as me a bona fide room number. Unfortunately, we were so busy on this particular weekend day, I didn’t look him up before he loaded up his plates and those of his kids with every breakfast buffet morsel to be had. You know the end of this story–name doesn’t match the room. Name doesn’t match any room. Name is that of no one. “Would you know him again if he comes in tomorrow?” asked my manager. “In a heartbeat,” I told her. She voided the sale, “Just this once.” Papa Thief knew better than to return a second time.

Charge-the-Card-and-Bolt Thief

Order the most expensive items on the menu. Charge it to your heavy black granite or whatever material it is credit card. Leave the pen and check presenter just so on the table. Thank me profusely for a wonderful lunch. Then laugh all the way to the beach thinking about me having to cover the paperwork you should have left in the check presenter. Oh, you are a clever one, my pathetic little thief.

Teach Your Children Well Thief

Right, you ate earlier and you want your kids to enjoy a “kids buffet.” Right, the pubescent 14-year-old girl is under ten years old. Right, you’re only drinking coffee as you eat a plate of pastries the younger of your two kids brought you from the buffet, because who would question a cute kid at the buffet? Right, say your kids have to go to the restroom as you leave cash that is two dollars and change short of the actual bill in the check presenter. Don’t bother saving for college for your two wide-eyed urchins who couldn’t look me in the eye. Save it for the bail bondsman.

The Unbelievable: Tipsy

Every French-speaking guest I served tipped me at least 15 percent. Every single one. Every German guest tipped $0.00 to $1.00 on $65.00-plus tabs. Every Dane pretended not to speak English and misunderstand the “suggested gratuity” chart and tip nothing. Every Brit tipped more than 20 percent so as not to be lumped in with the Danes and Germans. Every Scot and Irish lad and lassie asked if the tip was included, and tipped appropriately when I told them it was not. Hispanic men demanded the most service and tipped the least. Hispanic women tipped very well as long as their men weren’t around. Americans still confused the hell out of me with their profuse thanks and lousy tips, just as much as they did with their $20 bills on top of an auto grat for a large party. Just goes to show–you can’t believe anything you hear about who tips what.

The Good: Cheers to the Unsung, Even if They Were a Pain

Cheers to the needy business travelers who actually filled out positive comment cards on my behalf. Cheers to the picky food critic who ran me to death while whining every second who then wrote a note on her check that said the food was lousy but her server was a “10.” Cheers to every surly, miserable guest who surprised the hell out of me with a generous tip–even when I was likely just as miserable and surly toward them.

But RG, what about the guest who stirred your heart and fanned the muse flames? What about…I don’t know…your being above all that, you know, for the sake of the moral of the story? What about…?

I hope the stories and guests and all the rest who inspire my writing return soon. A certain flock does make it a point to roost in our midst during these rainy-season dog days, and I am quite certain they never, ever visit during season. But they are ever so subtle, so quiet, that they are easy to miss, to overlook, to almost ignore.

May my season’s fog lift for once and for all, or at least until October, so that I don’t miss seeing and hopefully appreciating the tiny bit of quiet humanity that they bring to SoFla summertime.

Restaurant Gal @ 9:30 pm
Filed under: Guests
ADD Post

Posted on Saturday 21 May 2011

Student Loan Madness

For months and months, I have been in touch with SallieMae to straighten out my six-plus student loans taken out over the past 8 years so that my kids could attend the college of their dreams. When you have undiagnosed-but-surely-have adult ADD, SallieMae is not a realm in which to wallow.

Because wallow is all you will do in the SallieMae miazma, through umpteenth forbearance attempts, through faxes sent of your pay stubs and income tax returns to gain that promised forbearance status, through phone calls numbering more than 20 in two weeks that garner a different response that is “the final say” each time, but never is. Just when I thought I had it fixed for a year so that my payments would reflect my “income sensitive” status for six loans, another two loans reared their hideous heads this morning–totaling more than my bi-weekly income. It will be all I can do to muster the focus, the patience, the reigned-in frustration to contact this awful organization for the trillionth time to straighten it all out, AGAIN.

On a positive note: Both kids seem to be following some sort of dream as a result of attending the expensive colleges of their dreams, and I am very, very proud of them for this. But if I had to do it all over again, I’d save more money from the first diaper change through the last teenage grounding for some now-meaningless infraction and point out the virtues of community college as a very real stepping stone to those same dreams.

Prom Theme Haunting Me

I have been invited to a birthday party in the Keys that has a “1950s Prom” as its theme. I love a theme party. I love a costumed event. I look great in pale pink tulle. Now, I only have to find the perfect dress for this silly but great event I cannot wait to attend. Every day before work, at 5:30 a.m. while munching a gluten-free and somewhat tasteless muffin, I peruse the Web for the perfect dress. Which has made me almost, but not quite, late for work these past few weeks, because I cannot focus on the tulle at hand when Etsy and its never-ending links and any number of other “vintage reproduction” Googled dress sites lure me deeper and deeper into their layers of fun, frivolity and unaffordable chic.

Kill Me Before the Kitchen Crashes

Today: Saturday. Fully booked hotel. An over-priced, profit-garnering breakfast was just the ticket for everyone staying in the hotel today. Too bad our great cook was out at the last minute, and I truly hope all is okay for him, because he never calls out–never–and he just celebrated decades with the hotel that mean he was cooking these same eggs for the same place when I was in high school a world away in D.C. wondering how to be a hippie as the hippie era was winding down. Wow. But he called out today. Uh oh.

To say the fourth string cook wasn’t up to the madness is, well, not worth saying. That’s a nice way of saying that from 6 a.m. on I banked my tips on this one phrase: “I hope you will give us another chance tomorrow, and breakfast is on us.” It sort of worked. But I have to say I had a moment I have never had in my entire hospitality career: As a charred French Toast was delivered to a table by my food runner–a plate of a burned-to-a-crisp mess that I mistakenly described to the doubting guests as “caramelized sugar”–a dining room mutiny ensued. Mind you, I was handling a 12-table, 48-plus guests section alone and being quintuple sat every 45 minutes. My busser had vanished, and so it was just me and the food runner feeding and turning tables for the hungry when the blackened French Toast landed on table 22.

“I can’t eat this,” complained the guest. No, you can’t, I thought.

“Excuse me,” piped up table 46 diagonally across and two rows over. “I ordered that, too. I want to change my order.”

“Miss! Miss!” shouted table 53, “Please make sure my eggs are not overdone!”

“Or my pancakes!” screeched table 15.

Which resulted in a ripple effect around every single one of my 12 tables that sought me out of my neck-length weeds to tell me to change their orders to cereal or fruit plates or toast or muffins so that theirs would not arrive as undistinguishable, burned-to-a-crip remains of something they all wanted to amount to today’s perfect fast breaking.

Which was when I watched the host unset two dinner tables and re-set them for breakfast and seat two more four-tops–all mine. When you have undiagnosed but oh-so-real adult ADD, that’s all it takes to send you running, scurrying, crawling into the kitchen, where you tap one of your favorite co-workers on the shoulder and say,”All that is getting me through the next three hours is the vision of us all done and smoking that first post-shift cigarette as we laugh about how horrible today was.” Except he was so weeded in his own far-away section, he couldn’t acknowledge me, except to mumble something about room service crashing, too. And that, I figured, was a great time to swill a quick glass of juice and refill the industrial-sized coffee filters with a bag of coffee that takes me three weeks to go through, but last approximately 32 minutes here. Which made me forget who changed their order to what, and then made me laugh aloud to no one, because the stress, the frantic pace drowned out my adult-ADD-denial two-second laugh break.

Make Time for Best Friends

“I’m coming in June, but I only have these days here and those days there,” emails my best sister friend. I request and get them off. I am broke, but I will pay anything, forgo anything just to see her. So I will drive three hours there then, and three and a half hours to the other there a few days later. I’m okay with that. Road trips force this adult ADD mess that I am to focus.

Oh, Geez

Clean the house, anyway, now that you are home after the worst day of your hospitality life. Then you won’t have to clean it Wednesday when you have your one day off. Yeah, no. It’ll just need cleaning, again, Wednesday. So I’ll wait until Wednesday.

Train your dogs to sit and stay, really stay, so they can pass the upcoming evaluation to become volunteer service dogs, because if you don’t get a life soon and volunteer to bring smiles and cheer to those who have so little, so that your life means something beyond serving eggs and slinging drinks at weekend weddings, what is your actually life worth?

Wait, isn’t the world supposed to end at 6 p.m. today, anyway? Maybe I should drain the $200 in my bank account that won’t last me ’till next pay day and play 25 red on a video roulette wheel at Hard Rock. Hey, the extra points would get me platinum status and preferred parking, right?

Sit. Stay. STAY!

Vacuum, even thought it’s not next Wednesday and your day off, just because. Hmm. I might as well wash the bath towels.

“I won something on the Preakness,” texts my Great Guy, whom I live with and never see, much less connect with anymore, except for tip-toeing around his sleeping, snoring profile that I try very hard not to wake up each morning at 5 a.m. when I dress for work. He got off at 1 a.m., after all.

Great. Guess the world didn’t end.

Did I put the laundry in, because I only have two work shirts and work six days a week, so laundry is as important as flossing. Actually, more. I never floss until two weeks before I am due to see a dentist.

Crazy Shackleford just took a race at close to the precise moment the world should have imploded–a horse with a sure case of ADD as I watched him prance and worry and sweat and fret as he timidly entered the gate to race, and I laughed that his name was that of a very long-ago, very nice boss of Mr. RG. Figures. If I had bet my last $200 on him, then I would have made…right, no more gambling.

Sit. Stay. Please stay. Please be the old dogs who can learn old tricks so that I have a chance to get a life beyond the couch onto which I fall every day after work, exhausted as I always am, with energy only for watching “Sex in the City” reruns that are, happily, all new to me because I was always too busy with my “real” D.C. life to watch them the first go ’round so many years ago.

Bugs in my house. How many times do I have to spray something that is supposed to last 12 months, but never lasts more than 30 days?

“It’s SoFla. Bugs are a way of life,” says my great guy. Really? Never had them in the one place I can no longer afford to live in SoFla because I have $200 in my bank account that won’t last ’till next paycheck.

Stop training the dogs to sit and stay. Stop looking for prom dresses. Check Craig’s List for rentals for bug-less places, just because I can after a two-hour nap.

What? Move again? No can do. And so I spray the useless poison again and again and again every day. And truth be told, bugs aside, I really like this old house.

Sit. Stay. STAY. STAY!

Set the alarm on the iPhone to wake up at 5 a.m. so I can press the “snooze” and sleep five minutes more. Sleep all the rest of the afternoon away on the couch. Wake up groggy, and wish it was 5 a.m. so I could call it a night over.

Shop online for the perfect prom dress. Figure out a way to take on another job. Vow to quit slot machines and casinos, unless the world really is ending.

Remind self that great guy is still great. Don’t think about D.C. Don’t think at all, because one thought cascades into another and another and another, and never a one is complete. So goes the wandering brain of one with adult ADD.

Sit. Stay. For the love of God, please stay. You dogs represent my next best hope to do something bigger, better, beyond my scattered self.

And with that, they stayed.

Restaurant Gal @ 9:03 pm
Filed under: Beloved Co-workers andFirst course