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It's a very slow Friday night. I've had precious few tables and the evening promises to be a bit of a wash. I check my watch for the tenth time. Only eight-thirty. Although the night drags interminably, I know better than to ask my manager to let me go home.
"You don't know," he'll say, "it could get busy. This is Friday night."
I know it won't get busy. The rush is over. Tomorrow he'll be complaining about skyrocketing labor costs. I fold napkins and wait. The hostess finally saunters over to one of my tables with another deuce. I've had nothing but couples sharing soup and salad tonight. My check average is going through the floor. When I cash out, my manager will complain about this too.
I approach the table and sense trouble immediately. Right off the bat, the drink order is problematic.
"I'll have the cabernet," she says.
"No, you don't want that," he says.
"Yes," she repeats firmly, "I do."
"You want the Chianti," he says, "it's very good here."
"I don't want the Chianti. You can have the Chianti."
"We'll have two cabernets," he says to me, smiling. He acts like he's trying to pacify her, and she looks pissed off already. Somehow, it's going to end up being my fault.
By the time I return with the wine, they're all geared up for a fight.
"I want the special linguini with extra mussels," she says.
"Instead of the shrimp?" I ask.
"No, I want the shrimp. But I also want extra mussels. Can you do that for me? I don't care, I'll pay extra. Whatever it costs." She's giving me a steely-eyed stare, just daring me to say no or even waver in myresponse.
"No problem," I tell her pointedly. "Would you care for a salad or appetizer?"
"I don't eat salad," she says. "Just the mussels. You're going to bring me the extra mussels, right?"
"Extra mussels," I repeat, "no problem." To convince her, I pull out my order pad and make a note. "What a bitch," I write and smile at her. I turn my attention to her date. "And for you, sir?"
"Let me tell you what I want," he says unctuously. This is a phrase that flags trouble as surely as a red cape in front of a bull. It means he's not even going to look at the menu and the dozens of entrees listed there. No, he's got something in his mind and he means for me to get it for him, whatever it is. Especially if it's not on the menu and we don't have it. Whether this is to impress his date, generally act like a big shot, or just to be a pest, I can't tell. He is, however, offering a challenge and setting up a dynamic between the three of us that will last for the duration of his meal. The game has begun and we're off and running.
"I want a shrimp scampi. You got anything like that?"
"You mean the large prawns?"
"Garlic and butter?"
"No," I tell him, "we don't have that. We only have the small shrimp. Sorry." I've picked up the gauntlet. Why should I make this easy? He's certainly not going to.
"Tell the chef to make something for me, then. Something like a shrimp scampi."
"Well, we really don't have any--"
"Just tell him." He smiles again and this time the smile says, "If you don't do what I say, I'm going to call the manager over and make a really big scene."
I take inventory of the situation. His date is pouting smugly. She's really enjoying this. He is a bit of a parody, wearing a gold pinkie ring, a heavy gold bracelet, and enough gold neck chains to choke a horse. When he speaks, he sounds like a bad imitation of Billy Crystal doing Fernando Lamas. He's got Witness Protection Program written all over him. She has a very pretty face, which is spoiled by an inch-thick layer of makeup. She's wearing very little jewelry and often clutches at her purse, which she's kept within reaching distance as if she might need to bolt at any second. Her body-hugging pantsuit is understated but looks expensive. The thought of getting into it with these two is suddenly exhausting. I just don't have the stomach for it tonight. And in the split second I stand there contemplating my next move, I change my mind about my entire plan. Why not give them what they want? It's not as if I don't have the time to go the extra mile for them. I decide I'll even go talk to the chef, despite possible risks to my own mental health. Their date is obviously not going that well. Perhaps, I think, I can help to make this a better evening for them.
"Just a second," I tell them, "I'll be right back."
I approach the chef, who is so bored on this slow night that he's removing the bones from a sea bass at tableside. Normally, he's not overly fond of appearing in front of customers.
"I need you," I whisper to him.
"Oh really?" he says, raising his eyebrows suggestively.
As soon as the sea bass has been sufficiently ripped to flaky shreds, the chef follows me to the table. My couple seems quite surprised to see him there.
"I've brought the chef out personally to speak to you," I tell them.
"Oh, this is wonderful," Mr. Gold Chains says. The chef is totally ingratiating, although I can tell he is barely containing his inherently sarcastic streak.
"I just want some...Waiting. Copyright © by Debra Ginsberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.