I had a very strange day. I know. This is not unusual. I was, once again, surrounded by idiots, morons, and imbeciles. Most of whom, I am thoroughly convinced, surely have the ability to read, they just choose not to. And why should they? Isn’t that what I’m here for?
Do I look like a fucking librarian? Is this story hour? Did I miss the memo? It’s a menu, dummy, not Dostoyevsky. Of course, I could probably knock off a fair bit of “Crime and Punishment” in the time it takes some of my customers to slog through just the portion of the menu that contains the soup/sandwich/salad combos.
I was forced today to answer various and sundry questions asked by folks pertaining to our standard menu items. Questions that I should point out that could have easily and, I would imagine, far more quickly been answered if they had consulted our fairly descriptive, simple menu. Instead, they chose to wait for me to read it to them. Nothing like the lazy and slothful. In addition, I was asked no less than three times today to “describe the salad.” The first time, owing possibly to it still being relatively early in my shift and, as yet, not knowing that I would have a section full of “non-readers”, I happily “described” the salad as “a lettuce mix, which includes iceberg, radicchio, arugula, shredded carrots and red cabbage topped with diced tomatoes, diced cucumbers, shredded cheddar cheese, red onion ring, and croutons.” This was met with a dazed look from the questioner, a middle-aged English-speaking woman who had not seemed upon my initial cursory observation, to be mentally handicapped or incapacitated in any way. Nor did she show any signs of being under the influence of alcohol, crack cocaine, or any other drug that I could identify. Neither did she seem even a little bit crazy. The excruciatingly lengthy amount of time that she required to digest the information regarding a common salad though, combined with her inquiry regarding the exact nature of red cabbage, gave me pause. I began to question the accuracy of my earlier impressions.
While watching her puzzle through the ingredients of salad at the pace that I would imagine molasses on an icy road might progress, I began to suspect that this might just be some kind of joke. I admit my mind began to wander. It alit on the idea that perhaps I was on “Candid Camera”. Naturally, this led me to wonder whether or not “Candid Camera” was still in production. I thought that I remembered that at some point, following his father’s death, Peter Funt had taken over Alan’s hosting duties. I had definitely seen a very funny bit about a “snail crossing” sign on a busy road. How long ago was that?
I was, quite literally, “snapped” out of my reverie when the customer, apparently still awaiting a response to her ridiculous red cabbage question, actually snapped her fingers while she queried, “Hello? Do you not know what it is either?” She had, incorrectly, confused my daydreaming with being deep in thought. Mayhaps I had unconsciously mirrored her facial expression. With as much sincerity as I could muster, I responded, “It’s cabbage that’s red, as opposed to the green kind.” In hindsight I realize that I failed to mention that it was a vegetable. Before you go condemning me for being snarky or unhelpful, understand that the definition that I came up with was simply the best I could do given the short notice, the finger-snapping, and my limited knowledge of horticulture. She did not appear enlightened by this answer but I couldn’t for the life of me think of how else to describe it. After what seemed to be a “light bulb moment” she asked me if it was the stuff that looks like purple lettuce. I was tempted to touch my nose, you know, like you do when you’re playing Charades and your partner gets the fourth word of the eight word song title. It has been my Charade-playing experience that jumping up and down excitedly often accompanies the nose-touching, but I managed to refrain from both of these activities. Instead, I just told her that “Yes. That’s exactly what it is.”
Then, this very stupid or drug-addled or, quite possibly, clinically insane woman (at this point I was leaning toward the latter) uttered the following sentence: “Do I like that?” It’s important to note, at this point in the story, that she was dining alone. A fact that should really come as no surprise to anyone. Normally I would be taken aback by the presence of an “imaginary friend” accompanying one of my guests, but in this case I was willing to make an exception; I was hoping that I had caught her mid-delusion. But, no. There was no large, drunk bunny rabbit or blue fairy sitting, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, on the other side of the booth. Her body language and the fact that she never took her eyes off of me indicated that she was, in fact, addressing this question to me.
I stared at her for a few seconds as I tried to formulate a response that would not get me fired. Fearing the imminence of more finger-snapping, I just said, “I don’t know. It’s added more for the crunchiness and the color than for the taste. Think of it as a garnish.” I know. I know. My assumption that she would understand the word “garnish” was a definite leap of faith. I was under no small amount of pressure here, what with her propensity for finger-snapping and all! Inevitably she asked if she could have the red cabbage “on the side”.
I explained to her that it was not possible to remove from the mix either the red cabbage or the shredded carrots (I feared I might be asked to do this, as well. I don’t know why, but I did.). I advised her that she could have plain iceberg lettuce or plain romaine lettuce or a combination of the two if she didn’t want to take her chances with the shredded red cabbage. I really could not believe that I was spending such an inordinate amount of time with a one-top, whose tip on a $9 check wouldn’t even buy me a cup of pumpkin coffee.
Of course, after all of this nonsense she ordered soup, which she returned owing to its spiciness. Ditto for the half-sandwich that accompanied it. So, in other words, she “picked”, got full on our free bread and her three waters with lemon, had a zero check because she didn’t like anything and left me nothing. Well, not nothing. I have this fabulous story to tell, so it wasn’t a total loss.
My very next table, right on the heels of the long-awaited departure of “red cabbage woman”, consisted of two men that may or may not have been brothers. I initially suspected this because they sort of resembled each other. By the end of their visit, after witnessing how little patience the one guy had for the other guy, but was still out to eat with him, I am convinced that their relationship was familial. Upon greeting them, though, all I could really conclude was that they were two American guys in their early 30s. Fully capable, I assumed, of reading and reasoning. Sometimes even cynical old me gives people more credit than they deserve.
We have a sign outside advertising our lunch combinations. I field an average of thirty-eight questions a day as a result of this foolish sign. It says something about twenty-three lunch combinations being FROM $7.49. Every single person who walks through the door asks for the special $7.49 menu. Every single person. I will not even get into the story about the math wizard who told me that he could only come up with nineteen. As a result of this stupid sign I spend a large portion of my day explaining to them that while I can’t confirm the whole twenty-three combinations claim (I’m suspicious now. Thank you, Math Wizard!), I can assure them that almost everything on the menu is $7.49 and above, including the items in the little box that lists the combinations. I then point to all of the areas on the menu where the descriptions of the items available feautured in the little box are located.
Often my explanation of the hideous sign results in some verbal tussling regarding “truth in advertising”, “misleading signage”, and, once in a while, a savvy consumer goes so far as to call it a “bait and switch”. This is where I throw up my hands, shrug my shoulders, and ask them if they think that I had anything to do with either creating the sign or with hanging it from the top of the building? It is usually at this point in the conversation that I point out to them that they are complaining to the low man on the totem pole. Further, I sympathize with them. Usually, at this juncture, I provide them with the information that they will need to access the corporate website where, one would assume, their grievances will get the attention they deserve. Or not. What do I know? Well, for one thing, I know that nobody listens to me. That’s for damn sure. I cannot help but think that if the legions of people that carp at me on a regular basis were to take their concerns up the corporate ladder, I can guarantee you the sign would have been removed long ago. Long ago. Because the company I work for avoids controversy and confrontation like the plague.
Of course, one of the two guys at this next table immediately asked me for the, as we have established, non-existent “special $7.49” menu. I did my song-and-dance and provided him with what I thought was enough information to make him understand that I was not withholding the “better” menu from him. Satisfied that I had sufficiently hit the highlights, I asked if they were ready to order. Still looking a bit perplexed, he responded in the negative. As I was about to tell him that I would come back in a minute, he told me that he had a question. Guess what the question was? Yup. He asked me if I could “describe” the house salad to him. He pointed out that its description was nowhere on the menu.
He had me there. Our menu, like probably most menus worldwide, does not waste ink or space describing something as basic as a common salad. We don’t describe the coffee either. Or the broccoli. Consciously avoiding any mention of red cabbage (I wasn’t going down that road again!) and keeping an eye out for another possible finger-snapper, I described the salad. My relief at having carefully circumvented another conversation requiring me to define red cabbage was, alas, short-lived. How could I have anticipated that the pitfall here would be the tomato. To be fair, the tomato wasn’t problematic in and of itself; just our mode of preparation. They are, for those of you who, like most of my customers, were not paying attention, diced. He told me that he didn’t like diced tomatoes and asked if I could bring them, instead, “on the side” (of course) and sliced. At this point I would have fashioned the fucking tomato in the shape of his favorite porn star if I thought this would convince him to stop talking to me about anything even remotely salad-related. And, really, what could possibly be different about a sliced vs. a diced tomato? What?
Having established that he could, indeed, substitute a sliced tomato “on the side” for the clearly inferior diced tomato, I thought that he might actually have reached the always earth shattering decision of what to have for lunch. But, no. He still needed more time. I was hoping he would not be using this time to formulate queries as to our methods of lettuce preparation. Torn? Chopped? Cut?
Me? I used this time to greet a table that had been sat during the “great tomato preparation debate of 2012”. They were a young couple who seemed enthusiastic about their decision to dine with us. A little too enthusiastic, as it turns out. Before I could even take their beverage order they excitedly told me that they were looking forward to the $7.49 menu. Once again, I was called upon to explain that the wording on the sign contained the phrase “FROM $7.49”. And I pointed out their options. After ordering, you guessed it, two waters with lemon, they asked for some time to “investigate” (yes, that is the word they used) their choices.
As I was trying to make my way to the kitchen to get their beverages, the “tomato guy” began to wildly wave his hand at me, which is the international sign for “I’m ready now, so you best skedaddle over here and take my order or I am going to complain to a manager about your failure to do your job efficiently”. So, rather than heading to the kitchen and the water pouring that was in my future, I made my way over to this guy where, it was soon established, my efforts at explaining the combos had not been fully understood. He ordered an appetizer (priced at $8.99) and a steak (priced at $15.49) as a lunch combination. At first I thought I must have heard him wrong, but I was pretty sure that he said, “I will have the combination of the fried shrimp and the ribeye.” He followed that up with “for $7.49, right?” I was absolutely dumbfounded. I’m going to assume that his dining partner felt the same because at this point he, who had remained quiet and nonchalant during our previous encounters, threw up his hands and said, “Oh, my God. What is wrong with you? She explained this to you already. You can’t just make up your own combo and name your own price. It looks like you can get the soup and salad for $7.49. No place is giving you a ribeye and shrimp for $7.49. Seriously? Are you an idiot?” Clearly someone had been paying attention! This guy was my new best friend. He was able to do and say all the things to and about this mental midget that I could not. Now, however, this nincompoop who was no way going to spend the $24.48 necessary to have what he really wanted, needed more time. Again. I thought the guy he was with was going to kill him, which would have added another absurd element to my day, but he didn’t. Instead he just rolled his eyes and asked me to come back.
I got the young couple their waters with lemon and, God help me!, asked them if they had any questions. Dear reader, they asked me to “describe” the salad. There could be no doubt about it. I was absolutely sure that I was being “Punk’d” and that all of these tables were minor celebrities that I was just unfamiliar with, not being a regular moviegoer or television watcher. I was looking forward to meeting Mr. Ashton Kutcher. One, because he’s cute and two, because I wanted to tell him that I thought that while she may be a crazy bitch, I could not approve of his behavior regarding poor Demi. I developed an affinity for her during her Jackie Templeton days on “General Hospital”. Hey, don’t judge me, it was the “Luke and Laura” years. I was young and didn’t know any better. I refuse to explain “G.I. Jane.” I just like it. That’s all. Sue me.
It seems Ashton had other plans as, apparently, did Peter Funt. No “Punk’d.” No “Candid Camera.” No minor celebrities. Just more moronic mortals with whom I must contend. Seeing as it would appear that no madcap footage of me reading menus or answering ridiculous questions would soon or, let’s face it, probably ever, be making it to even those pretty high up cable channels, I resigned myself to describing salad once again. This time I not only left out the presence of the shredded red cabbage but was also careful to just say “tomato”. No adjectives were used in the description of this salad because I was not going to enter into another conversation about dicing and slicing. No way, Jose.
Their concerns, as it happened, had less to do with the contents of the salad and more to do with its size. They wanted to know how much lettuce they would be receiving. My answer? “A bowlful”. I just couldn’t stop myself. I had nearly reached the end of my rope with the salad insanity. Miraculously this answer seemed to satisfy them. And then I found out why. They asked me to give them each every dressing we had in house. Every dressing. For each of them. Plus oil and vinegar. I was confused and, no doubt, looked it. In a feeble attempt at eliminating my confusion, they confessed to me that they have been participating in this salad dressing tasting at every restaurant that they have gone to over the course of a few years. I speculated that this must make them “pretty popular”, which they thought was pretty hilarious. What was not hilarious was my having to gather the twenty ramekins full of dressings and plate up the delightful dressing sampler that they had requested. Oh, plus oil and vinegar (really, vinegars, as we have both balsamic and red wine). Their question about lettuce quantity was designed to insure that they would have enough greens to engage in their little experiment. Far be it for me, a mere waitress, to stand in the way of science. Honestly, though, this was one of the dopiest things I have ever been involved in, and I am a woman who served on my local Board of Education for several years. I just couldn’t help but think, “several years of this bullshit and they hadn’t settled on a favorite dressing yet?” Yeah. They were morons.
Speaking of morons, the two guys were finally ready to order. The “I’m going to make my own combo with the most expensive things on the menu and pay $7.49” guy ordered a half-sandwich and a soup. Yup. After all that jazz, he ordered soup. I could only pray that his palate was less sensitive to a smattering of pepper than “red cabbage woman’s” had been. Considering they had been there for nearly thirty minutes already I was not going to open up to discussion something so personal as one’s tolerance for spice. I wasn’t out of the woods at this table either. Sure, the other guy had seemed to be on my side, but I knew from experience never to count on the kindness of strangers. They could, and often did, turn on you. To my surprise and delight, this guy remained on my side.
He looked across the table at the other guy and told him, in no uncertain terms, that he was not sharing any of his meal with him. He then ordered, for himself, the ribeye with a side of fried shrimp and asked me if he could have the shrimp prepared the same way as the appetizer. I told him that I would make it myself if necessary. Because I knew what he was doing. It turns out that there had been, lurking in the restaurant, a kindred spirit. I was tempted to offer him oral sex but, frankly, I don’t think I’m very good at it and I just couldn’t bear to disappoint my new best friend. So, I settled on a conspiratorial wink and what I hoped was the best service he’s ever had!
So, the shift ended on a high note. Crazy salad day had finally come to an end. Or so I thought. When I got home my family wanted to know what we had in the way of salad makings. Yup. Who says life doesn’t come full circle?
By the way, we had pizza. Margherita pizza. With sliced tomatoes, which were, I have to admit, quite tasty.