“Spaghetti carbonara.” Calvin arrived slightly behind and to the left of the big-haired woman and deftly came in from her left side, presenting a lacy white bowl of pasta in cream sauce and settling it onto the white tablecloth. He stepped back slightly with his hands behind his back. “What else can I get you two?”
“Oh, it’s BEAUTIFUL!” Big Hair bent forward and inhaled loudly. “I can really smell the bacon! Buddy, can you smell the bacon?”
Big Hair’s dining companion — if not her husband, then someone who wore a look of long suffering as if born to it — didn’t look up from his own recently presented well done ribeye steak.
“Yes, it smells like bacon.”
Gently, Calvin offered, “It’s actually pancetta, which is a like bacon, except…”
Ignoring Calving and gesturing with her fork, Big Hair raised her voice as if Buddy had not heard her the first time, “You didn’t even smell it! Here, lean in.” Twirling a wad of spaghetti on her fork, she shoved it, dripping carbonara sauce all over the table, under Buddy’s nose. Accommodating his wife — good heavens she MUST be his wife, otherwise he was paying penance for some past life misdeeds — Buddy agreed again.
“Yep, it definitely smells like bacon.”
To Calvin, Big Hair beamed, “This is wonderful, we don’t need anything else.”
“Excellent I hope you enjoy it. I’ll be back to check on you again shortly.”
Big Hair and Buddy had already tucked into their dinner, not acknowledging Calvin further. Walking back toward the kitchen, he didn’t even hear his own quiet sigh of resignation. Having been a server for (he was embarrassed to admit) more than 25 years, he could easily predict the conversation between Big Hair and Buddy at the end of the meal. Buddy would ask what the tip percent even was these days, and Big Hair would say with the price of spaghetti in bacon sauce at twenty five dollars they certainly weren’t going to get any more than the minimum out of her, and Buddy would say but yes that’s not this guy’s fault, and they would quietly bicker back and forth before Buddy decided that his soul had been crushed so many years before that there was no salvation now, and Big Hair would know that winning was all that was left to her and in the end they’d agree that 10% was probably fine. All this became clear when they started by saying they were celebrating something big and that Cal should bring the cheapest bottle of house white he had. Something fresh.
As Calvin rounded the corner and came up the ramp into the kitchen, he passed Angie on her way out, loaded with plates of food.
“Deb’s on the warpath, watch out.”
Debra waited for him just inside. Her arms were crossed under her silicone enhanced breasts, practically daring him to look at them. He kept his eyes on the floor where her foot tapped impatiently.
“Oh hey, Deb. How’s your day been?”
“Don’t give me that shit and don’t call be Deb, I’ve asked you a thousand times Calvin. I don’t call you Cal, so please don’t diminish my humanity by reducing me to a single syllable.
“Everyone else calls me Cal, I kind of like it Deb. Debra. Sorry.”
“Whatever. Did you upsell 19?”
“Ribeye and carbonara? I tried, I really did.”
“Bullshit. They’re drinking that rotgut chardonnay that we keep for when we run out of vinegar. Did you even try to sell them a bottle of the Markus Estate Cellars? The whole reason we do those tastings is so you will take two extra damn minutes and recommend a bottle of wine that has a decent profit margin. Did you even ask?”
“I did, Deb. Debra. I swear. They said they’re on a budget. I’ll try to upsell a desert wine when they’re done. I remember that Markus Estate had a dessert wine”
“I’m glad one thing penetrated your thick head. I’m tired of you thinking you know more than me because you’ve been carrying plates longer than I’ve been alive. You should be embarrassed by that, not proud that this is still your life. And I didn’t get my Diamond Restaurant Management certificate so career tux monkeys like you could walk all over me.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry Debra. It’s just been a tough week.”
“Well supposedly you’re a professional. Deal with it.” Like a dog catching a scent of fresh meat, Debra darted her eyes across the kitchen where Margot was dumping a plate into the compost bin. “Margot! Is that from 23? Did you even ask if they wanted dessert? I swear, I won’t be walked on…”
Stalking away from Calvin, Deb went to chew on Margot for a bit, who was looking around for an escape. Cal fled from her view and went to grab the food for table 12, a couple of men he had named Ball Cap and Tight Shirt. The average restaurant customer came and went in about 45 minutes and Calvin usually granted each guest a name based on something about their appearance. Usually, but not always. When he heard Big Hair use Buddy’s name at their table, they couldn’t be anyone but Big Hair and Buddy. He snickered to himself thinking about it. If he was honest with himself, the name game gave him more pleasure than most things in his life.
Dropping the salads off at 12, Cal couldn’t help but notice that Tight Shirt was getting the most out of his gym membership and wanted everyone to know it. Ball Cap didn’t look like he was spending any time at the gym although with most men who kept a hat on in a restaurant, Calvin assumed it was hiding a bald spot that no one cared about except Ball Cap. Not that Calvin was judging. At least not much.
After presenting the salads, he stepped slightly back with his hands behind his back. “What else can I get for you?”
Tight Shirt looked at his companion’s salad. “Didn’t you ask for dressing on the side?”
“No I didn’t,” Ball Cap said through clenched teeth.
Looking at Calvin, Tight Shirt bared his teeth in a soulless smile, “He asked for dressing on the side.”
Calvin nodded and reached for Ball Cap’s plate, “No problem, I can have it remade”
Ball Cap placed his hands protectively over his plate and smiled at Calvin. “No, really. It’s fine, this is how I asked for it.” Gritting his teeth, he told Tight Shirt, “Do NOT do this.”
Tight Shirt tried on a more genuine smile. “We’ve talked about this. Dressing on the side is the easiest way to start losing weight. And next you’ll stop with the fatty dressings and the weight will melt off, you’ll see.”
Still with gritted teeth — his jaw must hurt like hell — Ball Cap tensed and pulled the salad plate a millimeter closer to him. “I’m not TRYING to lose weight, we’ve talked about this. If you wanted to date someone thinner you should have.”
Placing one hand on Ball Cap’s wrist, Tight Shirt tried to placate him. “Honey, I love you. It’s just that I know you’re not happy.”
“Excuse me, I’ll check back with you shortly.” Calvin backed away, seeing this as his only chance to escape. Neither Ball Cap nor Tight Shirt even acknowledged him which was just fine. Only 45 minutes and they’d move on to whatever was next in their lives and Cal would stand ringside at a thin slice of someone else’s life.
He swung by 19 and found Big Hair gesturing with her fork at Buddy. The fork was wrapped in dripping spaghetti and both Buddy and Calvin watched in horror, wondering when it would slip its slippery bonds and launch across the table.
Big Hair explained patiently, “No, I saw it on Facebook. Vaccinations cause autism, they just don’t want us to know that.”
Buddy looked baffled. “But there are lots of people who get vaccinated who don’t have autism, aren’t there?”
“That’s what they WANT you to think.”
“I’m not sure who ‘they’ are, though. Doctors seem pretty convinced that vaccines are right for kids.”
Gesturing one more time with her fork, Big Hair said, “Why would people on Facebook lie about something this important?” before reversing it and stuffing it in her mouth. Calvin took his chance.
“Folks, how is everything?” Big Hair held up her index finger to place him on pause and furiously chewed then swallowed.
“It’s wonderful. I mean, it’s got bacon in it, right? What’s not to like? Calvin…that’s your name right? Calvin?”
Gesturing to his name tag, Calvin agreed, “Yep. Calvin.”
“Good. Calvin, what do YOU think about vaccinations. They cause autism, right?”
Calvin felt his 10% tip dwindling. “I’ve heard people say that, but I don’t really know.”
“Well I’ll tell you, it’s true. I saw it on Facebook and I think on Twitter, too.”
“Got it, I’ll look out for those.”
“You should. We all should. You can bring the check, now.”
“I can do that, are you sure you didn’t save any room for dessert? We have a great dessert wine…”
Big Hair cut him off, “None of that, we need to get going. Just the check.”
Calvin hung his plastic server smile from his mustache. “Absolutely. I’ll be right back with it.”
3 hours later, Calvin balled up his apron and tossed it on the passenger seat of his car, glad to leave another shift behind him. Sighing, he turned the ignition and the radio started playing.
“…reporting that a new virus has shown up in a city in China. The virus is baffling scientists and doctors who are trying to understand just how dangerous it is. One doctor is reported saying that this is the fastest moving and most deadly virus he’s ever seen. The Centers for Disease Control could not be reached for comment.”
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