Number 100

No irony. Numbers can’t be ironic, can they? But this is post number 100 for waiternotes.com.

What? Four or five months since the last post?

Well it’s not easy being a human being. Stability in one’s life might be vastly underrated. Here’s my thinking:

You can be totally alone for years. You can be rich for years. You can be destitute for years. You can have the same job for years. You might be unemployed for years. You might be able to get the perfect pastrami sandwich from your favorite deli for years.

But everything ends. Even love everlasting.

Back to my impromptu list, any of these things can be positive or negative, right? But the thing is, you get used to it. Even bad stuff, is what I’m saying. Wherein, you have a limp because your ankle is gimpy, but after awhile you really don’t think much about it, and you just get around as fast as you get around.

On the other side, there’s a check that comes every month simply because your aunt liked you before she died. You get used to that too, and don’t think about it much.

Well, ol’ waiter here, the last number of months, has been getting a reminder dose of what it was like before he had a wife to count on.

Not to say I could count on her for all the important things. But certainly for one of the most important things: relieving me from worrying about getting and/or keeping a girl.

Eight years of marriage, and I had actually forgotten how intermittently miserable I was until I got married.

Make no mistake – I’m a generally happy and even-keeled person – when I was single or married. However, those stretches during the single years when I was chasing a girl who didn’t end up working out (and isn’t that all of them?), those were some troubling and frustrating times.

And here I am again. πŸ™‚

Yes, that was a smiley face, something I would never have used before the breakup – because I was blissfully ignorant of the modern dating environment. But now, having been shock-and-awe initiated into the world of contemporary dating and phone texting, I find it second nature.

Oh, god, the smart phone! I hate it, and I love it so much I have to hate it. There’s no message I can receive besides snail mail (and who gets that anymore?) that doesn’t funnel down into my Blackberry. Email, texts, voicemails, Facebook notifications, and of course phone calls. It’s the cruelest of worlds when you can be tied in knots over a new love, pining if you will, and have the ‘ability’ to monitor her every communication to you in real time. You will get her call, text, email, Facebook comment – anything – instantaneously. And when you’re really hanging on that response to your important text – ‘Whazz up? :)’ – it can destroy your central nervous system if she for some reason doesn’t respond for a few hours.

And if that reason is that she’s not that into you, well, all of those unrewarded glances towards your bound-and-gagged cell phone are just the same as needle-like drops of H2O in the classic Chinese Water Torture.

But as usual, I digress. But then, maybe not. This is post #100 and the biggest topic probably should be why I’ve waited so long between posts?

Well, people, I’ve got to tell ya, chasing women is really time-consuming!

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A Waiter Gets Divorced

Okay, waiternotes.com blog-ites, here’s some big non-restaurant news in my life. I am getting divorced from the Wife of 8 years.

First general thought is it’s a sad thing. I didn’t marry until the age of 40. By that point I had seen my parents and half of my good friends marry and divorce. I believed I was the one who was going to do it right. I thought I had the right partner with the right values to do it for the long haul. There might be tough times, problems to work out, but we would make it through those things and have an ultimately happy life together. You know, ‘. . . richer/poor, sickness/health,’ all that stuff.

Despite my initial and ongoing perception, our marriage bond wasn’t as strong as all that. It did not make it. Tough times were encountered, and we were not able to weather them.

The sadness I speak of is contained in that failure. But also in the remembrance of the really good times, the special bond we did once have, and to a much smaller degree the time lost in an ultimately fruitless undertaking.

That is the first general thought.

To be more specific and timely, however, I am happy and optimistic right now.

As I have told the various important and marginal people in my life the news, I’ve mostly met condolence. Virtually everyone shakes their head, says some things about how difficult it is, what a shame, etc. They say they are sorry.

It’s not their fault, but it’s the wrong tack on me at this time. If it were 1.5-2.0 years ago, they’d be dead-on. That was when I was head-over-heels, but not in love – more in complete chaos and confusion. My world was completely spun off its axis: the toilet water was swirling the wrong direction, the sun was setting on the wrong horizon, and time was a snarled mess of yarn. I was annotating cell phone records, staking out her friends’ houses, triangulating time/distance/tasks to see if things added up, cruising local watering holes where she might possibly be hanging out, etc. I was in a frenzy.

And then nothing happened. The wife and I did not get divorced. We had the sporadic blow-out yelling match; we didn’t share the affection and understanding we had before things fell apart; we spent more time separate. Essentially, there was no further deterioration, but also certainly no forward movement in repairing or rebuilding a marriage.

As months passed I had two basic modes: 1) numbed and willingly staring off in the metaphorical opposite direction to avoid confronting the situation; and 2) laborious introspection into every aspect of her behavior, trying to determine what it meant and where it was going.

As more months passed, Mode 1 came to rule. As long as the surface status quo (we still lived together, shared meals, contributed to the household, and generally kept maintaining the shell of our marriage) remained in place, I was comfortable enough with it. In fact, it was kind of a welcome relief, and something of a much-needed correction in the balance of our marriage.

That might sound confusing, so let me explain. The wife is that person who is always striving for the next thing, the next rung, the achievement. This is a good thing. Forward progress is what life is about. Through our marriage, she had many such striving projects. Buying the house I live in was a very good one. She pursued and attained her teaching credential. She took teaching jobs hoping to change her/our life. She started her own restaurant.

Meantime, I had my own set of striving goals when I met her. I wanted to become a capable musician and songwriter. I was already a writer and I wanted to bridge into professional writer territory – be it novels, short stories, screenplays. I wanted also to have a family and happy marriage.

Because of a character flaw in myself and the nature of the Wife’s personality, something else developed. Gradually, I came to espouse and support her causes and goals, to the vast detriment of my own personal goals and dreams. By the time the shit hit the fan, I no longer played in my blues band, and my writing was something I was able to get fired up for about twice a year for 3-4 week periods, essentially accomplishing nothing.

Our ghost-like occupation of what once was our marriage allowed me freedom from her demands on my time and psychic energy. And I gradually started writing regularly again (this blog is a product of that). I have not joined another band, but I’ve written and recorded more than a handful of original songs. (Update: Actually, since first drafting this a few days ago, my old drummer contacted me again. He’s got a bass player, and he’s invited me to be the guitarist/singer. Not bad.)

Then one day at the end of last summer, she said she had to move out – a trial separation. It’s hard for me to believe now, but I was surprised at the time. I urged her not to do it. For some reason, I saw our growing comfort with our bad situation as progress. Which it wasn’t. I begged and argued that I didn’t think it would solve anything, when we obviously needed to communicate more, not less. But she said she already had a place lined up and she was going to go ahead with it. Try it for a month. Maybe she’d be back in two weeks, missing me too much . . .

So she moved out. And I was surprised again. I found that my missing her was more than balanced by the relief and ‘lightness of being’ from not having her around.

She moved back home a few months later, just before Thanksgiving, in order to keep up the faΓ§ade for visiting family. (The separation was a secret from everyone except one of her friends. We still worked together at Carney’s, still sometimes hung out on our off days.) Things seemed a bit better. To reiterate however, there was no forward progress. It just wasn’t being a problem.

We did the holidays. If you’ve read the blog, you know she quit Carney’s in January. Then in February, she suddenly said she had to move out again. I was again taken by surprise. I guess I’m not the smartest guy in the room, as long as there’s at least two people.

This time, things changed for me. It didn’t happen precisely right away, but a switch flipped in my head. I’d long marveled, during my dating days, how women could be in love with me one day and the next they really didn’t care if they ever talked to me again. Women have that switch they can flip. Well, apparently I have one too.

I was basically over it. I felt fantastic. My luck improved. I gained a certain mojo.

One day, a little over a month ago, a beautiful young woman came into Carney’s with 7 octogenarian women. We connected. She put one of the old women up to ask me if I was single? I said yes. This gave me the confidence to ask her out. She texted me that night, we had a drink together when I got off work, and we were quickly having a romance.

This was all I needed to make the big change in my life permanent. I had to tell this lovely new woman my exact situation. Which was, frankly, not nearly settled enough for her. I didn’t blame her.

It was this that spurred me to make an appointment for the wife to come over so I could break her the news that I was finally done and wanted a divorce. I did not finally take this step so I could be with the new girl, because who knows where that will lead? But she did provide the needed motivation. She was the catalyst.

It was not easy or fun having this sit-down with the wife. She knew something was up. She came in the front door and her eyes were already welling with tears. I made my point concisely: A long time had passed. I had observed that there was no forward progress on fixing our fucked up marriage. This led me to understand that it was time to get divorced.

I put my personal spin on it. That it would be better for both of us from this very day forward, though it might not seem like it immediately, because we have taken a deliberate action. And that was so far better than just sitting stuck in the mud as we had been. I said that we could also end the charade of lying to our friends and loved ones.

She said a very nice thing to me. ‘You’re going to be hard to replace.’

That got me, and I started crying.

In all, though she cried and was sad, she seemed to take it well.

The next couple days yielded some awfully bitter and contentious phone calls from the wife. Then by the weekend, she seemed to be in a much better place. She had already found a permanent place to live, somewhat close by, and was excited doing that.

I feel relieved. It appears this will be orderly.

Thanks for reading.

My Fourth Waiting Job

[There was a prelude to this account. I felt it was necessary to set the stage for this turning point in my career/life. Click to read about How I Got To My Fourth Waiting Job.]

THE ACTUAL RUSTY PELICAN WHERE I WORKED

Were things in 1986 so much different than nowadays? I don’t know.

I moved up to NoCal with about $1000. Most of that was allocated to rent/deposit and the cash needed to set up my new residence: utility bills, washer and dryer, perhaps some really bad furniture beyond the slightly-better furniture donated by local friends and relatives, a mattress for my bedroom floor, and a chair and desk for my radical (Apple II clone) Franklin Ace OMS (Office Management System) computer and dot matrix printer.

I didn’t mention that I had a job waiting for me.

That’s because I didn’t.

For some reason, I considered my 8-month rΓ©sumΓ© (Red Robin, Baxter’s, Olive Garden) impeccable. No problem getting a good serving job with a history like that, right?

Pretty stupid in retrospect, but I didn’t know any better.

At the same time, it worked out just as I’d stupidly expected. I hit the pavement right away searching for work – best places first – and luckily got hired at the best place. The Rusty Pelican.

Contrary to the funky coffee mug graphic, this location was very state-of-the-art, top-level – at least in NoCal. Although it was 1986, the restaurant was only a couple years old and was very modern. There were multiple levels, pillars and pond-like divisions made of hedges and walls of big stones, burnished wood furniture, brass and glass in the walkways, and all of it with great lighting. It was a grotto on a sea of perfect carpeting.

And then there was the bar, on a separate side of the building. As in, walk in the front doors: Hostess Desk at center, dining room to the left, bar to the right. There was a stage for live music, and an extensive patio. As you might expect, there was a back connection between the bar and the kitchen.

My second interview was with manager Tom. There were three of us, and we walked well, apparently. I didn’t know it at the time, but later, manager Tom told me he always had new hires ‘Do the walk. I don’t let them follow me into the kitchen – I make them go ahead so I can watch the walk.’ From his tone and the smile on his face (when he told me this) I took it to mean he mostly wanted to see the girls’ bodies. But to be fair, knowing if an applicant was athletic, graceful, balanced and confident would be good information to have as a manager. I assume you believe that . . . hey, it was the ’80s! Anyway, we all got hired.

The initial deal was lunches only. The Pelican didn’t hire directly for dinner shifts; they filled openings in the dinner schedule with promotions from lunch. The path was lunch waiter to expediter at night to dinner shifts. It was Monday through Friday, no lunch on weekends. I usually worked all five days.

But first there was Training.

You must understand the lofty position The Rusty Pelican occupied in the restaurant business for a period seven or eight years. Each store offered 20-30 varieties of fresh (never frozen) fish each day, prime rib on weekends, a New York steak, Australian lobster tails, and the usual variety of fresh seafood appetizers. I was not any kind of experienced diner at that time, so I’m sure there were comparable or better restaurants in places – especially in more established areas like Orange County, where the chain started. But as the company expanded and put stores in Brea, Woodland Hills, Portland and my town in NoCal, these stores were a healthy cut above the best those areas previously offered. Do you remember when you first entered a TGIFriday’s (or am I dating myself even more?) and looked around at all the crazy, eclectic dΓ©cor, the massive menu, all the fun cocktails, and the lively atmosphere? Didn’t you think, Wow! This place is cool. This place is going to be really busy.

That’s the effect a new Rusty Pelican had on its clientele, but at the high-end dining level, not casual dining. And that’s what happened. Lunches were just average – there wasn’t a serious concentration of businesses to provide the customer base. But dinner and the bar was crazy busy. People drinking sophisticated wines like Beringer Chardonnay. Or the king of them all, Grgich Hills Chardonnay . . .

What did I say at the start? Was it a different time? Yes, it was. I’m not sure younger readers will understand how mind-boggling it was that people were spending $40 for a bottle of wine. This was the first step out of the White Zinfandel era. What we take for granted today about guests’ awareness about and willingness to order wine, was just getting started. And The Rusty Pelican was at ground zero for this as it reached the masses in California.

Not to mention all the ‘flown in daily’ fresh fish. Twenty-five varieties, all fresh! I came in on the second wave, where we had to ‘spiel’ five charbroiled fish, five sautΓ©ed, and the swordfish Malia (name of the executive chef) and blackened Mahi-Mahi. The first generation was responsible for reciting every single fish and stating how it could be prepared.

So training was going to be a bitch. First day, we received 8″x11″ training manuals that were two inches thick. That was the food and drink knowledge manual. There was another manual half the size dealing with policy and systems.

Every fish had 3-5 adjective descriptions. We had to know the ingredients in everything from the clam chowder (both Manhattan and New England) and salad mix, to the Teriyaki Chicken dish. We had to know how to make Prime Rib and how long to broil a fish on each side. We had to learn how to make every classic drink, including garnish. Yes, we’re talking Mai Tai, Old Fashioned, Long Island Iced Tea, Tom Collins, Martini, Manhattan, Sours . . . pretty much anything famous and popular. We even had to know what glasses each drink came in (names like Fiesta and Hurricane). We had to learn general descriptions of the various varietals of wines (Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, etc.), and what to pair with them. We had to understand (and answer questions about) after dinner drinks like cognacs and ports.

Our head trainer told us that once we finished training at the Rusty Pelican, we could wait tables anywhere. He was right, at least as far as mechanics and fundamental restaurant/product knowledge went. If the whole of possible waiter knowledge is (an unattainable) 100% and I’m at 90% today, I learned 80% at the Rusty Pelican.

The test was tough. The food and service sections, though long and detailed, were pretty easy because we had actually done the service and seen/eaten the food. So there was a tactile memory there to help. But the Rusty Pelican was dead serious about the bar test. No joke, every single one of those drinks and their components was on that test. And, of course, we didn’t have the benefit of tactile memory in this case.

Regardless, I passed. I’ve always been good at tests.

It was kind of tough doing the job at first because, like a lot of restaurants, the training is focused on the dinner experience. After all, that’s usually where the house makes the big money – and its reputation. The pitfall being that lunch is a different experience and it attracts a different diner. I spent all that time learning drinks and no one’s asking me about them (or ordering them – even worse!). I’m just filling iced teas and placing orders for seafood sandwiches and shrimp salads. And obviously the pace is way quicker than I was led to believe.

I remember my first complaint. Though I was green, it really was not my fault. It was a classic scenario. Four women having a ‘leisurely’ lunch. They ordered White Zinfandel, and actually sent a bottle back. Oddly enough, it really was sour – actually a bad bottle. But what are the odds? Anyway, they refused to place an order: ‘Oh, we haven’t even looked yet!’ I finally got the order about an hour into their visit. The food came promptly. They ordered another bottle of wine. The meals were fine. I cleared the table promptly. They declined dessert and coffee, wanting only to finish their wine. I brought the check. For the next 20 minutes, they sipped their wine and ignored the check presenter entirely. I looked in on them at 3-4 minute intervals. I check on them one more time . . . no progress. I go in back to continue my side work. Within 90 seconds, a manager is back in the kitchen holding the check, calling my name. ‘Where were you? This lady came up to the desk and said she wanted to pay but their waiter wasn’t around.’ The ladies got a few free appetizer cards for their outrage.

Remember that old classic Irate Customer gambit?

Early on I waited on football great John Elway. He was then a quarterback at Stanford and about to be drafted into the NFL. I believe at that time he was interviewing prospective agents. Also, Ronnie Lott, the famous safety for the 49ers used to hang out in the bar. That’s pretty much the extent of celebrity sightings for me in NoCal.

At any rate, my new life was now set. I was making $25-35 per lunch shift. With pay checks I was making around $600 take home a month. (I just found a letter I’d written in those days. Rent and utilities were running me $300 a month. I had a $1500 Visa bill – my only debt.) Now I had enough to be scratch-even – whew! Of course, that’s all I was. I was always crying about needing just another $50 a week so I could have some fun. This left me plenty of time to write. I wrote/finished a few short stories. I wrote letters to friends down south.

What about that romance novel I was supposed to write with my friend and new roommate, Dick, you ask? That got started okay. We spent some good hours doing a few drafts of the general plot. Then it just kinda stopped. Whereas early on I would get off work around 2 p.m. and head home to work on the book with Dick, now I was heading home to . . . play about three hours of Wiffle ball.

DON’T KNOW IF THEY COME PACKAGED LIKE THIS ANYMORE, BUT THEY DID IN MY DAY

If my other roommate was home early, he’d play too. Or sometimes other old friends would drop by. But mostly it was one on one. Our games were honed scalpel-sharp. We could make that ball dance the Charleston or drop deader than pigeon shit. I won’t get into the rules, save for the one defining refinement we added that has never been matched or improved on: the Garbage Can Lid, aka Gong.

My wiffle ball career has been played entirely in driveways, with home plate right in front of the garage door, pitcher’s ‘mound’ on the sidewalk. The garbage can lid was hung from two wires in front of the garage door, behind the batter, strike zone high. Because of the lid, there was no need to count balls – there were no walks. We still had strikes (swings-misses and foul balls). And then we had the ‘Gong’. If a clean wiffle ball pitch ever hit that garbage can lid, you were out instantly. (If you clanged on a foul-tip after the 2nd strike, you were also out.) The beauty of the Gong was that it was irrefutable and unmistakable. Even the slightest grazing of the Can Lid made a distinct bell-like noise. There was no arguing with the Can. You didn’t have to be watching to see if the pitch was good or not – your ears would tell you.

TWI-NIGHT GAME IN THE LEGENDARY SEASON OF ’86. I’M TAKING THE PICTURE. CHECK OUT THE ‘CAN.’

Dick and I played Wiff (as we called it) 5-6 days a week. Sometimes I would get home early and call him at work. ‘What the hell are you doing, you piece of buttcheese?’ I’d say when he answered (this is the way immature guys talked to each other back then). ‘Don’t you realize the grounds crew has already dragged the infield, laid the chalk, and now the ump is wondering where the hell you are?’

‘I’m out the door in five minutes,’ he’d say.

‘Well hurry up! We’re burning daylight!’

We didn’t doctor the ball beyond a single stripe of black electrical tape around the circumference. But we did customize our own bats. A little weight on the fat end was desirable to increase the centrifugal force, the whipping effect. This was accomplished in a variety of ways, from wrapping layers of duct tape around the barrel of the bat, to stuffing the barrel with things like old rags, Elmer’s glue and rice, and rubber cement with crumbled cork (the last two being my innovations). We also decorated the outside with different colors of electrical tape applied in eye-catching patterns.

Both Dick and I were good pitchers, but neither of us had unhittable stuff. As a batter, however, I caught a groove for about five weeks that almost had Dick hanging up his spikes, retiring from the game. Of course, I would have none of that. I talked him out of it with a Knute Rockne pep talk. Hell, he couldn’t quit now – I was on the tear of my life, this was too much fun for me.

We have since joked that at that time we were probably some of the best wiffle ball players on the planet.

It was either joke about it or cry. It’s embarrassing having spent enough time playing to become the best on the planet. We were supposed to be writing . . .

The Wiff was a constant, but elsewhere in life, Dick was getting serious with his girlfriend, spending most nights at her house. I segued from lunches, to expediting two days a week, to being promoted to dinners.

And the money started to roll in. Now I was making $70-100 a night. I had some money. I could actually do things.

But what was there to do? I have reread my old letters. At the time, I was outraged at the lack of beautiful girls in NoCal. I had no right to be outraged, considering what a self-centered dork I was. But at the same time, we must admit that SoCal is in some very rarefied air when it comes to beautiful women.

Being half-introvert, half-engineer mentality, half-Midwestern rube, half-writer geek – and with all that not even half a man . . . I naturally elected to spend my extra money paying off my $1500 credit card. Besides, there were only two girls working at the Pelican I really liked. One was an 18-year-old hostess who was an absolute goddess. I struggle to describe her, and the best I can come up with is that she truly could have been a Playboy model. Her body was so perfect it was almost like a caricature. She could have been a Vargas Girl model.

PRETTY MUCH LIKE THIS, ONLY MORE NORWEGIAN. AND SHE DRESSED AS A DEVIL ON HALLOWEEN.

In truth I had only an intellectual interest in her: My mind was telling me that this girl had a perfect face and body, and I appreciated that perfection in an abstract sense. Really, I’m only partly joking here. I wasn’t actually hot for her – it was more the principle of the thing, her being perfect and all. If that makes any sense.

The other girl was a cocktail waitress named Vicky Pope. She was a few years older than I, and had more of a normal-type perfect body. Plus, she was sunny and friendly. And way out of my league, with a grown-up boyfriend somewhere.

So I made no play for either of these beautiful girls, paid down my credit card, and further refined my Wiff game.

The Pelican was a thriving company. The ranking executives visited each store regularly to stoke up the staff. They threw great employee parties. The managers were cool because everyone was making money, enough even for managerial cocaine. There was even money around for a Pelican basketball tournament pitting other stores against each other. As a baller, I was recruited, along with a few cooks and three managers. We drove to Sacramento and played against three other stores in a big community college gym. I made some friends in management. I was really the only good player on our team. And in fact I was one of only two good players in the whole tournament. The other guy was my age, a 6’5″ college caliber player. He also had a pretty good all-around athlete as his wingman. We lost to them as the big guy got layup after layup on our big guy, 6’5″ General Manager Greg Kayes. Greg was probably a pretty good player 20 years earlier, but then he was in his mid-40s and far out of shape for serious full court hoop. I was able slice and dice at will off the dribble, but had trouble finishing because of the bigger guys inside and no one reliable to pass to.

Still, though we lost, the managers thanked me profusely, saying with all sincerity, ‘You saved us. We would have been humiliated without you.’

Back at the restaurant, I suddenly started getting better parties in my station . . .

There was a new crop of lunch servers shortly after I was promoted. Among them was a cute girl named Charlize Evans. I didn’t see much of her until she began the inevitable progression to expediter and on to the dinner staff. Charlize was also a very impressive looking girl. She was friendly enough to me, but I’m such a shy guy I always take female friendliness at face value, while hoping it means more. Then I’ll wait patiently to see if it ramps up to the next level. When the friendliness goes to flirting, I get happy, but, conservative as always, wait to see if it’s not just an act or folly on her part. She would next have to initiate physical contact with me, like touching an arm when talking, or punching playfully when I joke or even a tender touch of affection . . .

Yeah. Then I’d wait again. No, I wasn’t so stupid to understand what was going on. Now my problem was that I was just nervous/afraid to make a move.

It would come down to the girl making a definitive move to kiss me, or else me being drunk enough to fulfill my hunter role. In my life, a 50-50 shot which happens when the girl breakthrough occurs.

I went through those stages with Charlize and then the perfect storm evolved one Saturday night after a very profitable dinner shift.

It was summer in NoCal. The nights are delightful, with the 90-degree heat of day evaporated up into the starry skies. Mix that with the euphoria of having a massive pocketful of money, and free drinks from the bartenders . . . well, the band was playin’.

We hooked up despite my non-committal way and had a few drinks in the raging bar. It was around 11:30.

Besides a couple of beers and a shot or two, we had Portland Steamers. As is the wont with bartenders worldwide, if they don’t know how to make a drink, they’ll wing it. The Portland Steamer at NoCal Rusty Pelican was Bailey’s, Tuaca, and milk in a snifter, quickly steamed with the cappuccino machine.

So the band was cookin’, the bar was packed, we were drunk. Despite being our home turf as waiters there, the place was so busy and full, it was like actually being out in a bar. Charlize and I were alone for all purposes. The band broke out with a particularly great song (“Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh) and I grabbed her hand and rushed her into the cloud of bodies on the dance floor. Steam and sweat, and cool air from the night through the open patio doors. Some dancing, and the time was finally right. We kissed.

After that we had a couple of dates, she invited me to her place to sunbathe at the pool.

JUST SO YOU KNOW I’M NOT LYING ABOUT CHARLIZE. CHECK OUT THE ‘CAN.’ (OOPS! WIFFLE BALL CAPTION!)

We went to Sacramento to visit her mother.

That was an interesting night. Charlize’s car had died so her mom was going to give/lend her a Toyota Corolla. I was happy to lend my services for the two hour drive. It was summer and warm. We got started kind of late, and got to her mom’s apartment after dark. Her mother was a beautiful lady. She complained that since her hysterectomy she had gotten fat . . . which was weird, because she had a great body. There was some boyfriend there. They gave me a beer. The vibe was strange because, filling the void, I did most of the talking. Charlize’s mother talked exclusively to me, about me. The mother and daughter didn’t say much to each other. Then suddenly they flew into a snit with each other. Next thing we were saying goodbyes and Charlize and I were out the door, car keys in hand. The visit was no more than 30 minutes.

It was late, but Charlize wanted to stop and get some food and drink. We found a Baxter’s (remember them from My 2nd Waiting Job?), had some food and a couple of drinks. Charlize didn’t want to go right away so we went into the ‘club’ side. We drank some more, Charlize downing two Long Island Iced Teas – hey, it was the ’80s! There was nothing happening in the bar, and we could tell the town was shutting down, so we hit the road. Yeah we were both drunk, but, hey, it was the ’80s!

Charlize insisted on driving her ‘new’ Toyota, me following in my Honda. It was 1:30 a.m. and she was really weaving. Sure enough, here come some red lights and a siren, and she’s getting pulled over. The cop chastised her, came back to talk to me, then just gave her a warning and let her ride home with me. I guess compared to Charlize right then I appeared downright sober, though I had five drinks in me – two of them Long Island Teas . . . hey, it was the ’80s!

We left her car on the side of the road and I drove off as steadily as I could. Just out of town, she had me pull over so she could throw up. Back on the road another fifteen minutes, I started to lose it. I had to pull over. I could barely drive – I just wanted to sleep for a few minutes. We slept for about an hour but then Charlize woke me up and said we had to get going. I wasn’t so sure. She said, fuck it, she would drive, she was okay now. I let her, and she got us back to her apartment alive.

The sky was starting to lighten. I had a raging hangover headache as we got into bed. Charlize, puke-breath and all, wanted to kiss. I kissed her, then rolled over, saying, ‘Please don’t tell me I have to have sex with you now.’

It was crazy. We were both sick as dogs and completely wiped out. I couldn’t imagine a worse way to finally consummate a relationship – and it seemed that’s what she wanted to do right then. I thought she must understand how crummy that scenario was.

Nevertheless, it was a callous thing for me to say. I never did have sex with Charlize. And that had nothing to do with my comment. Surprisingly, she seemed to harbor no resentment about it. Maybe that’s another reason she was such a great catch.

Behind the scenes, the wheels were turning rapidly for my return to SoCal. My old running mate down there, Scott, was buying a house with his parents and needed roommates. We’d kept in touch. I desperately wanted out of NoCal, so it was arranged that I would rent a room once the house was fixed up. Move-in date was July 18th.

Writing this I wonder now what kind of an imbecile I was? You’ve got to understand how hot Charlize was. And she was very cool. And I liked her a lot. And she liked me a lot too. Talk about not taking the bird in the hand! Ostensibly I was returning to SoCal because it was boring in NoCal. It wasn’t any fun. So I would return to the L.A. area and kick up my heels and have fun . . . What exactly does that entail? Well, going out, drinking, dancing, um . . . meeting girls and getting laid . . . umm, mainly the girls. Right? The hot girls. The pretty ones. And, like, without the girls, the drinking and dancing business is pretty useless and not-fun . . . yeah. Sheesh!

The Pelican was great about transfers, so I figured I had it made. I had a manager call to arrange a transfer to the legendary Newport Beach store – but they said no. So anyway, there were a few other stores in the general area. Another call was made. I was assured a certain other store would take me.

Meantime, my last official act in NoCal was attending Dick’s wedding. Charlize was my date. She told me she was going to look super hot to impress all my friends. She did. I’ve got some pictures to prove it.

And after that it was back to my SoCal destiny.

How I Got To My Fourth Waiting Job

Fourth Of July holiday is tomorrow. As I am taking a road trip up to Ojai, then on to Carmel – total five days off – I’ll drop a post on you before I leave.

Recap of the last almost two weeks:

Carney’s Corner (week ago) weekend roundup: Fri-Sun, $169, $195, $125. Then I yesterday (Thursday) and had a great night of $185. Only tonight’s shift to go before starting my vacation.

The previous week at Michael’s was a good one. Off Monday, then on-call (and not used) Tuesday. I worked Wed.-Fri. and averaged $117 per shift. This week I got four shifts, for which I’m grateful. However it was a bad week: averaged only $50 per.

But that’s now.

This is then:

In 1986 I was everything. Fresh out of college, young, good-looking (at least, as good as I was gonna get), poor, bereft in love, motivated, excited about the future, and moving to another place.

Get In The Mood – Right-Click Image <open in another window> To See or Listen To Sledgehammer Video

Southern California had been my home after high school in No. Cal. The parents had moved, and I moved with them.

I underwent college. I emerged alive. I got a job . . . three jobs waiting tables.

Six years into Southern California, I had made some real friends. I even resurrected my sex life – my big-time high school romance back in ’79 yielded the end of my virginity, but also marked the beginning of a massive drought. The biblical seven years of blight and famine (lost virginity in 11th grade) were punctuated by a slight cough in Year Four when I hooked up with a voluptuous brunette at a Roy Buchanan concert in Palo Alto.

We went to her friend’s abandoned dorm room on Stanford campus, as it was May or June and school was over . . . but I digress. It’s easy to do when you’ve been waiting that long . . .

I only bring up my sex life because it plays a major emotional part in the move away from So Cal. My situation begged the question: Why the hell would you move away when A) you’ve finally gotten some friends, B) you’ve finally started making some decent money, C) you’ve finally finished college, and D) you’re already living in the best place in the world?

Because heartbreak knocked me into an ‘early-life-crisis.’

My romantic affairs had become just about normal for a healthy single not-unattractive man of 24 years. I say this because there was no ‘normal’ ramping up like most would experience. I had a girlfriend in high school. Then nothing. One night in 1983. Then nothing. Until finally in 1985 I started to go out, date, ‘hook-up’ if you will.

At the peak of my new-found powers, I completely flipped for a young girl. We became official boyfriend/girlfriend. We never had sex. The meaty part of the ‘relationship’ lasted about a month. But I was totally smitten. As such, and having been barren for so long, I lost it thoroughly when she disregarded me. I just didn’t understand these things. She was just a high school student.

(Yes, I was more or less innocent. I met her working as a doorman at a nightclub. Her ID was reputable – which wasn’t hard in those days – so she was 23 years old to me. After romancing her, eventually meeting her parents, and then standing/observing as her house of cards tumbled, it came out that she was a 17-year-old in her last year of high school. To be honest, at that point, I didn’t care anymore. I was in love. I guess I can say now I’m glad we never had sex, because of course it would have been highly illegal, but at the time I didn’t care in the least. I did have opportunity, had I been willing to be persuasive, but that’s not generally my nature. And anyway, I thought this was the love of all time – so I was in no hurry. When she backed out of our ‘relationship’ and eventually slept with another full-grown adult, I was brutally traumatized. I just wasn’t ready – I’d had no experience in the normal ways of dating – to handle what I considered infidelity. Of course, what should I have expected of an 18-year-old? That’s why I wasn’t ready.)

That’s why I included Peter Gabriel above and the link to his epic Sledgehammer video. This was the internal theme song of my deepest love and yearning for this girl. Sheesh!

But it’s an awesome song. And a really great video that until now I hadn’t seen in years.

So here we are in 1986. It’s summertime in So Cal. I might have love interests, but I’m obsessed with my erstwhile 18-year-old girlfriend. Driving place to place, I’m listening repeatedly to the 12″ single cut of Sledgehammer on the tape deck in my 1979 red Honda Civic. All of ripe, juicy life beckons me . . .

Meanwhile, I had kept contact with good friends from high school in No. Cal. My best friend, Dick, was/is a funny, inventive, energetic type. Through various correspondence, we had trumped up the idea to write a novel together. We hashed out the general concept of a ‘woman’s novel,’ as that was the most marketable and (we thought) easiest kind to write. We hashed out a fragile bones of a plot, as well.

Well, I wanted to be a writer. I was through with college. I had been devastated by a heathen woman (actually a naive teenager, but who’s counting?). I had no decent career. As far as work went, I was waiting tables at Olive Garden (check here for that story) and making no money, having no fun, and not even eating any good food for the trouble.

Under those conditions, moving back to No. Cal. with my best friend from high school seemed an attractive proposition. Dick was ready to move out of the family home as well, so he lined up a place (with another good friend) for us to share. Memory is hazy, but I think the rent was like $750 a month for a three-bedroom house. The master bedroom guy would pay $300 and the others would split the rest.

I know what you’re thinking, and I thought the same thing: That’s pretty freaking steep!

But anyway, I did it. I packed all my albums and other possessions into my little Honda and made the trip. Do you realize I had three fruit crates of vinyl albums? (What’s a fruit crate of albums? It was 1986. You had to be there.) That’s like 40% of the storage space in a 1979 Honda, including the body of the driver. Oh yeah. I also had an Apple II computer with monitor (actually a clone made by Franklin), and of course an amp, speakers, and a Technics turntable to play the vinyl. And my whole wardrobe. I have no idea what I was thinking, or how I did it, but me and my stuff got up there.

I remember the night I left. That car was an empty driver’s seat, with the rest of the interior packed as dense as a black hole. There were no rear sight lines besides the driver’s side mirror. It was night. Before I left home, I topped off the oil. On the way to the freeway I stopped at a mini-market on the main boulevard (coincidentally only a couple of blocks from the Olive Garden) for salty snacks and Coke. It was about 11 p.m. Walking back to the car, I saw smoke shooting out of three sides of the hood like someone had forgotten about a grilled cheese sandwich on the valve cover.

I opened the hood and discovered the oil cap was missing. Engine oil had been splattering all over and burning on the hot metal. I couldn’t believe how stupid I was. At this point, five miles from home, I didn’t know if I could safely drive back without blowing my engine. I mean, are there any guidelines on how much oil you lose when your oil cap is missing?

It would be really embarrassing and irritating (not just to me, but to my family – who were probably ecstatic I was finally leaving for good) to return home after all the hoopla of my leaving. This just had to be a freakin’ joke . . .

So, in the mini-market parking lot, I took another look at my engine . . . and saw the oil cap nestled cozily in the web of spark plug wires.

Okay, so that’s a long way to go for a false ending. But that’s actually how my trek started. 11:30 p.m., at a mini-market with a tight oil cap, but a still-smoking engine, finally on my way to Northern California.

* * * * *

. . . I’m sorry, but that’s all for now. I ran a little long in the preamble. Check the next post, probably after I get back from vacation, to get the details on my actual Fourth Waiting Job.

Have a happy Fourth!

[Here’s the link to what happened on My Fourth Waiting Job.]

Big Hits

I know I haven’t posted for a long time. Well, the Lakers won the World Championship (aka NBA Championship)! I’ve been on a high, naturally. I was previously adhering to a no-drinking-till-after-writing rule. I dropped that system temporarily.

I remember the glory years (both five titles in the ’80s and the three titles from ’01-’03), and the times between. If you’re not a serious (translation: of dubious sanity) sports fan, you won’t understand, but there is a major endorphin rush from winning the title (as a fan). So much so, that it colors your own off-season. You have a generally bright outlook. There’s a snap in your step. You feel more confident.

Likewise, when you lose (as a fan) you are actually depressed for a certain amount of time. It’s embarrassing and, really, unconscionable considering the true gravity of sports in your life and the world in general. But it’s real.

So when the boys took home the title this year, I decided to revel in the happiness and spend my next week or so reading everything I could find about them. I kind of went into vacation mode. You know vacation mode: You’d never consider having a drink at 11 a.m. under any circumstances in your normal life, but on vacation . . . what the hell?

For the record, I don’t drink in the afternoon, even when the Lakers have won the championship. Just an analogy there.

The other reason I haven’t posted is because there’s been a strange massive spike in my ‘readership.’ I’ve kind of been mesmerized by it. Which is exactly the opposite of the normal state of affairs – wherein I don’t post for awhile, hits go way down, and I get nervous and write something new.

For some reason, this post has gotten assigned a high-ranking search result for “Jack Daniels.” Yes, Jack Daniels whiskey is mentioned (and pictured) in the post, but it’s only the subject of a short quip. Some days traffic is up more than 500% from my previous normal. Most days it’s double or triple the old normal.

I don’t regard these hits as particularly ‘real,’ but they are hits and they might lead to new people reading my writing, so I’m grateful.

I’m also grateful that this seemingly random event has led surfers to what I consider one of my better pages (it’s the one about Real Life Waiter Nightmares). Hell, I could just as easily have ended up with a throwaway Tivo/Lakers post getting all the attention.

Anyway, if you haven’t read it yet check out Real Life Waiter Nightmare Type 2 (cont’d). It’s a good read. Everybody’s doing it. Come on . . . What? Are you chicken or somethin’?

Something In The Air

A furious day at Michael’s on Friday. Not me furious, as in my grumpy post about Restaurant Overstaffing, but furious business.

It’s funny that ideas and thoughts are just out there in the air . . . Have you ever had what you thought was a great idea for a movie or TV show, or a simple great invention, or just a new feature for an existing product – only to find out days or weeks later that exact thing in the marketplace? You thought of it on your own, yet obviously the parties bringing this idea out had been working on it well before you came up with the concept.

For some reason, after my post complaining about the overstaffing at lunch vs. dinner at Michael’s (which I concluded by saying I was ‘this close’ to having a sit-down with management on the subject), the next three days bore out exactly the result I was hoping for. And of course I never had the chance to talk to management about my objections.

Each day, management ran the floor with a small staff, forgoing the on-call server. Each day, we had relatively solid business – nothing enough to crash the system, but enough so we all felt busy enough – and the servers on the floor got another 30% more covers than has been usual. Instead of $40-60 days, we had $75-90 days. I was lucky each day, as I got some prime tables. I made $150, $155, and $194.

The last of these days, Friday, though, was a crusher. I had 29 covers, most of them in one seating (tables of 5, 8, 4, and 4). If you recall the last post, us lunch servers had been averaging 9 a shift. But it ended up proving my point magnificently . . . as if management really knew my exact ‘point.’

It was like a Christmas rush day. There were three of us on the floor, and we were all taxed about as far as we could go. We got some life-saving help from available management in running food or at least expediting it. We were totally selfless for each other regarding food-running. I was nowhere to be seen for entrΓ©e-delivery of several of my tables. Likewise, after checking back, I returned to several tables to find them cleared and crumbed. I did the same kinds of things for the other two waiters whenever I had an extra moment or hand – including refilling waters and drinks.

And we all got out of it with no more than the normal hiccups, and zero major situations.

Here’s where it proved my point: This was a blockbuster day for three servers to handle, but we did it. In other words, we ran into the absolute outside expectations for customer traffic and we still got through just fine.

I don’t warrant going with three waiters in a situation where you know business is going to be like that. It was hard on everybody, and things could have gone wrong. In that case where management has a pretty damn good idea, then bring on another waiter. But as I said, we saw the enemy, and we still beat him.

Meantime, I hope they’ve learned something here. Unless there are a tremendous number of reservations on the books, just let us go with what we have. There is excess production capacity here.

* * * * *

I haven’t written much about Carney’s here lately. A couple of things:

After our amazing hot streak from January through part of April, things have cooled off. Some weekends have been $120, $150 (Fri-Sat). Some have been $120, $185). But we haven’t been hitting $200+ each day like we were. (For those of you in other parts of the country, things are different where I live in California. I’ve discussed it before. Rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is about $1800 a month. A small 2-bedroom 1-bath house would be $2200. Mortgage on same house, even at today’s prices and interest rates and with 20% down payment would be $2900 a month. My own mortgage is almost $4000 a month.)

Ciera is always having the best time and the worst time. She’s flying to Vegas with a new boyfriend for two days, and she’s making a deal with her landlord to pay her rent weekly so she won’t get evicted.

She really hit a bad deal a couple weeks ago. Her cousin, who was like a sister to her when she lived back in Chicago, was part of a murder/suicide tragedy. The cousin had even been out for a week’s visit with Ciera only a couple of months earlier. The estranged husband killed her with a knife and then shot himself when he returned to his own home.

Of course, Carney tried to spin it as her own tragedy: ‘We have to cover her shifts so she can go back for the funeral. We just don’t know what we’re going to do . . .’

Ciera self-medicates religiously (actually, more than religiously) with pot-smoking and drinking. She usually portrays her travails in a kind of humorous, ‘what else can happen?’ manner. And it’s usually true. Hell, late rent, boyfriend-juggling, car trouble are part of living. And she understands she reaps what she sows, so most of the time she’s not bitter. She’s the kind of person who can have the most vile, screaming phone argument with a boyfriend, then hang up and start cheerfully making jokes about it.

But this. Her real vulnerability is pain and suffering. She always has between 3-7 dogs – all of them rescue animals. Kind of like her boyfriends, but I digress . . .

She has been understandably torn apart with this family disaster. Very sad. She went back for five days to grieve with her family and attend the funeral/wake. Because it involved a few shift-switches, Carney called it ‘her vacation.’

* * * * *

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t tip-off (pun intended) everyone to what I hope is the final game of the Los Angeles Lakers 2008-09 season today. Game Five, the Lakers lead the series 3-1 and can finish off the Orlando Magic today at 5 p.m. Pacific Time. If you don’t care, please root for the Lakers just because I’m asking you to.

Can’t wait till about 6:15 p.m., when I’ll fire up the Tivo (having buffered an hour or so of recorded game), shake up a New Amsterdam gin Martini, and watch it unfold.

Go Lakers!

Tivo, The Lakers, And Smug Idiots

I’m guessing many of you think I’m the idiot for including the Los Angeles Lakers so often in my ‘Waiter Blog.’ I know it’s completely off-topic, but the Lakers are such a large part of my life (a little embarrassingly) I just can’t avoid it.

Well, this time the Lakers and Tivo do have waiter-relevance.

I’ve been a Lakers fan since 1979, when Magic Johnson was drafted by Los Angeles. Magic hails from Lansing, Michigan, where he won the state championship in high school and later won the NCAA championship at Michigan State, also in (East) Lansing. It happens that during that same period of time, I also lived in Lansing for my grade school years and one year of high school. I even almost went to the same junior high that Magic attended, but my family moved to a different district before the year started.

I moved to Northern California in 1977. Because I was already following Magic, and because he, as a rookie, immediately won the NBA Championship in ’79-’80, I became a permanent Lakers fan. Coming from Lansing, I had one of the few legitimate excuses for rooting for Los Angeles while living in Northern California.

After graduating high school, I moved with my family to Southern California, and from that point, it was really on. I could watch every televised game. I could listen to all the others on radio. I spent many an evening in the garage with a portable radio, listening to Chick Hearn while I practiced writing on a Smith-Corona electric typewriter. Before cable television lines were planted in the ground in our neighborhood, I leaned on my step-dad to subscribe to ON-TV, which carried all the Lakers home games. ON-TV was a crazy idea that most people would have a hard time understanding. It was a set-top box that decoded a scrambled over-the-air broadcast signal, UHF channel 52 in Los Angeles. The station carried mostly local sports and movies, like an early HBO. There was also soft-core porn after midnight. If memory serves, you would put the TV on channel 3, then flip the big black knob on the box to ON. I assume the box was permanently tuned to channel 52. Just like that, Lakers!

Around this same time, we got our first VCR. And around this time in the post, we finally get to the relevance of Tivo and the Lakers to the life of a waiter.

I started recording Lakers games to be able to watch them later. In those days, I played a lot of basketball. I would head down to the lighted courts around 5:30 or 6 p.m. and play till about 9 p.m. I would do this like five days a week. It’s not like there were games going all day and night at those courts – those were the prime time hours. No one played earlier, and the lights shut off at 10 p.m.

As you can guess, I needed to have my cake and eat it too. Lakers home games started at 7 p.m. in those days (if I recall correctly), and many road games much earlier. So I learned how to program the VCR and taught the family how watch TV without screwing up the recording. I would return sweaty and salty, have something to eat, and periodically snipe flashes of live TV (with the sound off) to see if the game was over. Usually I would stare a few feet above the set so I could kind of only see the colors and shapes but definitely not make out a score or a particular play. When I saw Chick and his color man (Keith Erickson at the time – and by far the best partner I heard work with Chick) doing a ‘stand-up’ in front of the camera, I knew the game was over. So I’d wait another ten minutes, rewind the tape, and settle in for my fix.

At that time, I was working at pizza parlors for my money, living with Mom and step-dad for free, going to community college.

Fast forward to the mid-’80s. The hey-day of Showtime. I’m now working nights as a waiter, making more money than anyone else my age that I knew, and I’m taping every single Lakers game of the season. Even games I could have watched live. I had gotten to where I preferred the extra control I had (not to mention the time savings by being able to FF commercials). Pause, FF, Slow-Mo. I even archived a few particularly great games every year.

Of course, most restaurants have bars, and have TVs in the bars. And the most popular (almost exclusive) fare for those TVs is local sports. I should mention here that I watch the games because I love and follow the team. But my greatest joy is rooting for the victory, enjoying the rollercoaster of hope/despair over whether the Lakers will win or not.

I went through a lot, trying to avoid learning anything about the game that was being played that night during my shift. Failing that, I was absolutely desperate to dodge learning the outcome. Sometimes it was unavoidable. I come up to the bar and the eyes reflexively jumped to the TV, and sometimes I’d see a mid-game score. Damn! That much suspense ruined! Other times a guest would yell something about the score or the nature of the game or describe a play. Nothing you could do about that.

I trained (and pleaded with) my co-workers about how serious I was about not learning about the game. They mostly all cooperated. I had a lot of fun nights coming home with $100 in my wallet and settling in with my VCR to watch the Lakers at 11 p.m. It wasn’t the icing on the cake, it was the whole thing.

The intermittent and aggravating problem came with the garden variety public when I was off work. After a shift I would not infrequently end up having a drink or two in our bar or some other bar. Also not infrequently, there would be game highlights playing on the silent TVs. And again not infrequently, this would lead to desultory conversation with another guy at the bar.

‘How ’bout that game?’ he would ask.

‘Wait,’ I would caution as I held up my hands, ‘please don’t say anything about the Lakers game. I recorded it and I’m gonna watch it when I get home. Please. If you don’t mind.’

The Grin appears. If it’s possible to get a sick feeling in your spine, I start to get it.

‘Oh yeah? Okay.’ The eyes shift a bit. He’s thinking. Here comes . . . ‘You won’t want to watch it anyway. They lost. Ha-ha-ha!’

‘Why did you say that?’ I ask, pained and sad.

‘Okay. They won! Ha-ha-ha! Now you don’t know!’

But now I do know, you jackass. They won. You’re so stupid you can’t figure out that to ‘fake’ tell me the real outcome would make you just a cruel asshole who ignored my polite, earnest plea. So your cagey mind master-stroked: Tell him the opposite!

Except for a few scattered seasons in the last 30 years, the Lakers generally win about 2/3’s of their games. I know this. I know, as above, that whenever a jackass tells me with a retarded, thumb-up-my-ass grin, that the Lakers lost, it means they won. Big surprise here, but I’ve never been outsmarted on the matter by one of these idiots.

Then there’s the opposite – which isn’t really any different. ‘Ha-ha! It’s a great game. They won!’

These buffoons think they’re doing me a favor. He’ll get to the end of the game and Wow! It doesn’t end like he thought it would!

Thank you for orchestrating my evening of entertainment, numbnuts.

Then there are the ones who just can’t resist showing off. Though they don’t reveal the eventual winner, they insist on telling you some significant aspect of the game.

‘Kobe makes an amazing play in the 3rd quarter.’

‘Wait till you what happens just before halftime.’

‘You’re going to be surprised.’

I say they’re showing off because these people are the same ones who once they learn something, absolutely must show off what they know. Ever have to share a newspaper with someone and they hand you the section they’ve just read?

‘Check the obituaries. The Skipper from Gilligan’s Island died. Did you know he was a minor movie star before Gilligan’s Island?’

It’s almost as if these clowns are proud of the play they saw in the Lakers game – as if they had some ownership of it.

Hearing these snippets of their real life experience is about half as bad as hearing the ‘fake’ result of the game. Though I don’t know who wins, I do have a significant landmark to anticipate. So if I know, for instance, that something big happens just before halftime, more often than not I get a good idea of what it will be, based on what’s happening in the game. An obvious example would be that nothing cool has happened and Kobe has the ball, dribbling down the clock as the half is about to expire. Well, when he drains a long 3-pointer, I’m not really that surprised.

Or the guy who said simply, ‘You’re going to be surprised.’ Well, now I’m not, because that 25-point Lakers lead at halftime is almost certainly going to be eaten away and the Lakers will either lose or narrowly win. Because, after a 25-point halftime lead what else would be surprising?

My strategy for the threat has evolved over the years. I used to plead and explain nicely. Then I started making a firm and concise statement, and immediately walking away. Later, I would literally put my fingers in my ears and hum loudly. Eventually I discovered the best approach was nothing at all. If I hear talk of the game, I leave quickly (humming so I can’t hear). If there’s no talk but highlights are on, I don’t watch and I don’t mention. This works best because it doesn’t put the forbidden fruit out there for these bozos to impulsively snatch at.

Yet, many times every season, especially in the playoffs, I have to make the mini-speech about how I’m recording on Tivo and plan to watch the game when I get off.

It happened to the wife last night. She was off early and stopped at a local watering hole for a glass of wine before heading home. She had to make The Speech to an adult man and his mother.

‘Oh, they won,’ said the jackass.

‘Why did you say that?’ the wife asked. ‘I asked you not to say anything.’

‘Well . . . ‘

‘I hope you realize that you have actually ruined my evening. I was going to go home, make dinner, have a glass of wine, and watch the game. Now, because of you, I know they already won and all the excitement is gone. Thanks.’

He apologized. Better still, his mom verbally beat the crap out of him for a few minutes. A grown man in a public restaurant, being called rude, inconsiderate and immature by his mother.

I was impressed to hear her tell this story. There’s a lot to learn from women. I should listen when the wife tells me things.

Maybe that’s what I’ll do next time I get one of these smug idiots: ‘Thanks. I bet your mom would be amused and very proud of you right now. Have a great night. I’m leaving.’