This was how it went: I’d approach a table carrying a tray of bottled water or beer or steak knives. I’d feel an attack coming on, swiftly place the tray on an empty table, smile tightly, apologetically, at the customers, and make a beeline for the wine closet, where I hoped they couldn’t hear me hacking my brains out, involuntarily crying, my face sweaty, my nose running as though for its life. Wadding up cocktail napkins in my hands, dabbing my eyes (and eyeliner). “Are you okay?” a concerned co-worker would ask, peeking her head in. She’d flinch, without meaning to. “I’m fine,” I garbled, sounding like Steven Tyler. I’d return to the table, where a couple waited expectantly, watching the head on their beer dwindle, the sparkling water go flat, as it sat on the other table. “Good evening,” I’d murmur. “Have you decided on appetizers?”
I went home early. “I’m going to explode my lungs on a customer,” I hissed to the manager at nine o’clock. “Don’t seat me if you know what’s good for you.” (I made that last part up. I would never say that to a manager.) I was putting my receipts together, and found the one from a quadrangle of women (“Here’s to the girls!” they toasted) seated in my section an hour before. “Look, Cindy,” I said, showing the manager, who was also suffering from the Steven Tyler cough. She eyed the tip, which, at 20%, would have been about $40. It was $19.28. “We were so nice to them,” she anguished. I served them special red zinfandel port, which doesn’t even have a button on the computer; I served one woman the last two orders of stuffed calamari in the whole restaurant; I placed steak knives on the table BEFORE the steak came out. They were going to Hell.
Later, weary, at the bar while I waited for the bar manager to finish with my cash, I noticed the owner’s handsome son several seats down. He looks like he was adopted from an island of Abercrombie & Fitch models; he looks nothing like his parents, who are slight and flaxen-haired. He dates the hostess, a pleasant twenty-two-year-old with the most amazing chest I’ve ever seen. She is sweet and genuine, but I hold a dim view of her talents as a hostess: she literally just stands there and looks pretty.
I wanted to turn to the owner’s son and tell him his mother forgot to tip me on her last check; she owes me $12. For some reason, while I can hardly add or subtract, I have a nearly photographic memory for numbers; the $12 was for a $58 check from over a week ago. Of course, I did no such thing. I folded my money and left for the rainy bicycle ride home. Which, in a blurred, imagined London sort of way, ended up being beautiful.