Walking A Mile In The Manager’s Shoes

Even though I’m kind of an a-hole as far as criticizing/stereotyping restaurant managers and owners, I hardly get any hate mail from them. Or any mail at all.

Maybe that’s because writing a waiter blog is, ironically, like stripping down naked and walking a mile in the manager’s shoes.

Let me explain. There are so many similarities.

Bad predictions and bad solutions

Managers are notorious for overstaffing – predicting more business than materializes. Conversely, they will under-staff to save labor, and the restaurant will get buried. Managers decide Server A can handle being triple-seated, and Server B can’t take another table, with the result that A gets pounded with complaints while B pounds the manager with complaints that she’s bored and poor.

Managers also provide stupid solutions to problems. Like recently when Michael’s waiters complained that employee of the month awards weren’t fair. At the time, management nominated a handful and kicked them around during a manager’s meeting to decide as a group. The “solution” to this problem is that now the employees vote on it, with the managers getting an equal weighted vote. Stupid. Now it’s just a popularity contest. Not to mention that as a lunch server, I will never get the award again, as I am totally off the radar of the more populous dinner crew.

Another example? Michael’s instituted a Running Sidework list for dinners, wherein servers are responsible for ongoing, during-the-shift tasks, like stocking silverware on trays in service stations, making coffee, etc. Nice idea. Except the problem arose because servers were too busy during the shift to handle these things in the first place. Now, in addition to the tasks themselves, they are expected to be monitoring each other’s effectiveness on running sidework . . . like they have time to do that, in addition? So now there is a dry erase board on the wall, with the names of 3 servers assigned their running sidework . . . from a Sunday a few months back. Hasn’t been updated since.

Well, us bloggers aren’t much different. We make bold, provocative predictions – about business volume, cash flow, interoffice politics, even the direction of the nation (with regards to foodserving). And we’re constantly wrong.

Likewise, our blowhardy solutions to the problems we gleefully present are quite often stupid. Thankfully, nobody listens to us, or else we’d see our ideas backfire in the harsh world of reality, rather than blossom and flourish in the rose-tinted universe of our dreams.

No More Convenient Amnesia About Failures

Speaking of backfiring in the real world, of course us waiters are always there to remind the managers of how retarded they were when their appetizer sales contest got gamed and ended up discouraging everyone (except the cheating winner) from trying. Or that their new cover count system actually ended up making everyone more petty and self-absorbed, rather than freeing the staff from obsessing about their own money.

No, we would never allow that. No disgrace is big enough that it can’t be amplified just a bit more.

Same for waiter blog writers. People read and love to point out the folly of our ideas/solutions. When our house-of-cards “improved” systems collapse in the real world, there’s always someone out there to point out what idiots we are.

Limited Audience

Managers don’t have many people to speak to. A large restaurant will have 20 waiters. And of those, maybe only 10% will actually listen.

Waiter blogs do not have massive audiences – unless you’re willing to go public and tell all your friends and co-workers, notify on Facebook, and of course risk getting into deep shit or getting out of a job when you tell too much truth.

So it can be a little dispiriting for us both drop our pearls of wisdom (self-perceived) and have them lapped up only by the few swine who are even barely listening. Not that my readers are swine . . .

The Swine Don’t Know

As a manager you’ve got those two waiters who will actually hear you (listen, maybe not). But even those two are preoccupied with the chronic waiter affliction of not really caring beyond what it means to their tip revenue. They are more concerned with their child with the sniffles, or finals coming up, or that their other job won’t give them Sundays off. So they will gobble up your nuggets of management, swallow, and completely forget. Not important.

While I will compose a post over a couple of days – or in this case 6 or 7 months – it will be read by 30 to 50 people who respond with . . . silence. Next blog. Or next shift. Or, ‘What time does Happy Hour start in this one-bedroom apartment?’

People Are Happier When You Don’t Say Anything

For me, refer to the aforementioned silence after a laboriously-crafted post. My hits have actually climbed steadily in these months of total silence on the waiternotes.com blog. This leads me to believe readers are glad that I’m there when they need me, but are just as happy that I’m not continually bleating at them about cover counts and my arch-enemies.

Like when you need a problem smoothed out at a table – thank god for that manager! But otherwise, please, dude, just stay in your office in front of the computer monitor. Or at the end of the bar with your Johnny Walker Black on the rocks drinking friend.

Pander And You’ll Lose Their Respect

When a manager starts trying to be your friend, it’s great at first. It’s happened to all of us. It might start with your massive computer mistake that he secretly voids to protect you from a catastrophic disciplinary action (or even having to pay money for it, in the case of Mom and Pop restaurants who try to get away with that). Then there will be after hours drinks in the restaurant, followed that night or another time with drinks away from the restaurant. Then kibitzing privately about other waiters, managers, or confidential restaurant business. And later still you might play golf, or see a concert, or just more drinking together. Okay, it’s almost always just the drinking.

But the time comes when you take for granted that manager will always have your back, even when she shouldn’t. You lose respect for any of those pearls of instruction cast before your swinish self – she means everybody else, not you. And then the final domino falls when the rest of the staff susses up that the manager is toothless and their respect (what little existed in the first place) fails as well.

Writing a post that panders to my audience by taking an indefensible position regarding, say, being late to work, and it becomes immediately clear that the blogger is just a blowhard hack (in waiting and writing). Mind you, most of are anyway, but it’s not necessarily immediately clear.

I’ve read blogs like that, myself. When I read about the guy who thought the owner was an a-hole for not letting him off on Valentine’s Day because his ‘girlfriend’ of two weeks is expecting a date, I can’t help but complete the picture of this swine: wrinkled, untucked shirt, shoes that look like mud-cast fossils from Bigfoot, cell phone ringing in his pocket when standing at the table, and drinking a bar mat shot at the end of the shift.

This is the guy I’m reading for food serving enlightenment?

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Pet Peeves III – Holiday Edition

Merry Christmas, everyone! And while I’m at it, Happy New Year! Hope you’re still having a fun and profitable holiday season.

Like the rest of you (assuming mostly waiters read this blog), I’ve had a very busy Christmas month. Michael’s ramped up earlier than the previous two years – an encouraging sign, no doubt – and stayed busy right up till Christmas eve. I worked long shifts. I made a lot of much-needed money. I got a few ‘handshakes.’ My best day was $475, which included $150 in Christmas gifts, separate from the tips these generous guests gave me. All told, I’d guess I averaged close to $200 a shift for about three weeks. Michael’s is my lunch job.

My dinner job, Carney’s Corner, was hot for about two weeks – though not like two years ago and earlier. Actually, there was hardly any sense of the typical Holiday Crush, where there are a lot of large parties and tons of reservations. Instead, Carney’s had reservations only moderately heavier than non-holiday times. However, the walk-ins were very strong. You could count on them any night of the week. And there were also a lot more, ‘We’re whooping it up tonight’ vibes floating around – more high-digit wines sold, more steak and lobster combos, more appetizers. Non-weekend shifts ramped up to $150-175. Weekends, $220-250 per night.

I worked a lot of doubles. One week I worked four. I felt good this year. Sure, I got tired, but not too run down or sick. As usual, I kept the end in sight and kept counting off the days till Christmas . . .

I’m sure a lot of businesses (retail, especially) are hectic during Christmastime, but restaurant work has to be up near the top. It’s difficult for ordinary people to understand. First of all, there is a heightened level of activity and responsibilities for everyone engaged in the Christmas season: shopping, wrapping, social commitments, etc. So it would be stressful just to add those elements into a normal month. But restaurants compound the crisis by being twice (or more) as busy. Suddenly, your four hour shift is 6 or 8 hours. In my case, three shifts a week became five – at each job. A four-table station gets fudged up to five or more. Traffic getting to and from your job sucks away more hours of your time. You wake up hungover and tired because you were so tired from the double the day before, you treated yourself to a couple of martinis when you finally got home at 11:30 p.m. . . . Well, I did, anyway.

But it’s cool. There’s a perfectly beautiful symmetry to the year for a waiter. Most other professions will see Christmas coming and also see a lot of money they don’t have suddenly flying out the window. No so for waiters. Right when you need a bunch of extra money to pay for all the gifts you’re buying, all the socializing you’re doing – that’s the exact time you happen to be making a bunch of extra money. It works itself out every single year. And even if you happen to overdo the generosity a bit . . . if you file your taxes as early as possible, you’ll get a tax refund to pay the leftover credit card bills.

It’s really not so bad being a waiter.

Wait, did I just write that? In a Pet Peeves post? I take it back. Lots of things suck about being a waiter. Here are a few I’ve been making notes about the last several months.

Waste Sugar Packets In The Caddy

Why do people tear open sugar packets, empty the contents, then put the shredded paper back into the sugar caddy? Are they ashamed of the ‘mess’ they made, like they just soiled their own shorts, and they’re trying to conceal the evidence? Or maybe they think they’re helping, by keeping the rest of the table tidy?

It makes the restaurant look bad, because quite often the waiter does a brief visual check of the caddy and can’t detect that anything is amiss (the used packet blends in with the rest of them). Then the caddy goes out to another table, and the guest finds this trash. It also goes another degree further because the used packet is usually not emptied completely, and the diner unfailingly puts it back upside-down, spilling sugar into the caddy.

Actually this goes for any kind of waste. I’ve seen gum, wadded up ‘straw paper’ (is there a name for this? A straw sheath?), even stray pieces of food. It seems if it will fit in the caddy, it will be hidden there.

I know I already debunked the ‘They wouldn’t do that at home‘ myth, but . . . dammit, they wouldn’t do that at home, so why do guests think it’s good to do in a restaurant?

Wine Tasting Indecision

These days I take pleasure in not automatically assuming the man will be tasting the wine. I know it’s proper to present and pour the taste for the person who ordered the wine. I usually do this. But sometimes fuzzy logic can be employed if it’s apparent that the party isn’t too uptight.

For instance, the guy orders a martini and says he’ll take a look at the wine list for the lady. I bring his martini. He selects his wine. I return with the wine. At this point, his palate is fucked because of the harsh martini. Further, he was selecting the wine for the lady (though he’ll obviously have some later). So here I might ask if maybe we should have the lady taste the wine?

But here we sometimes run into trouble. The man will say, sure. I pour the lady a taste. She picks up the glass and sets it in front of her date. He puts it back in front of her, ‘No, you go ahead.’

‘No, it’s okay.’

‘No, really, go on and taste it . . .’

So she’ll finally taste the wine . . . and then shove the glass back to her date. ‘What do you think?’

I’ve also seen this play out in perfectly straightforward wine tasting scenarios – no cocktails or other mitigating factors involved.

People, do not pass around the tasting glass to everyone at the table so they can sign off on the wine. Either it is acceptable or it is not. This is not a question like, ‘Do you think this sweater matches my pants?’ If the wine is bad it will smack you in the face with its badness. If your sample of taste and bouquet seems inconclusive to you, then, the wine is fine.

‘Do You Mind Taking Our Picture?’

This isn’t actually a pet peeve of mine. It’s more of a curiosity. Why do people say this? Because, I do not mind at all taking someone’s picture. I can’t imagine a reason why anyone would mind. Are there waiters in France or Manhattan who consider this the foulest of insults? Are these waiters pitching a fit when guests ask them to take their picture? Do they passive aggressively shoot out of focus, or time the flash wrong, or leave people out of frame?

Or maybe it’s the guests themselves. For some reason, they think it’s terribly demeaning for a waiter to take a picture. Perhaps they feel it rubs the waiter’s nose in the fact that this is as close as he is ever going to get to ‘working’ in the film industry?

Wait. You know what? Maybe it is offensive. ‘This is a restaurant, you idiot, not a portrait studio. I am a Waiter. I didn’t spend two weeks training for this job just have you come in and treat me like a common photographer. I doubt, Dr. Wyrick, your patients ask you take a snapshot of them and their family when you finish the colonoscopy.’

Red Sweater Day

Like the inexorable calendar-creep forward of the baseball playoffs, or the backwards creep of the ‘first Christmas shopping day of the year,’ what I call Red Sweater Day happens earlier every year. Red Sweater Day marks the first appearance of the hideous Christmas sweaters donned by (mostly) women. And (mostly) older women. And (mostly) overly precious women. And (mostly) women who order cheap(est) wine and pretend they don’t normally drink more than one glass.

I saw a doozy the other night. A knitted cardigan affair in lime green with candy canes and snowmen (also knitted) affixed like ornaments to the front of the sweater. Read that again. Affixed. These were not designs in the sweater. They were separate knitted entities hanging from the sweater. Sheesh.

I think I’m pretty old (48 now), and I’ve been waiting tables for 23 years, but this makes me think I must have missed something. Because these women appear to be part of an earlier era or generation. But if so, where were they with their sweater in decades past? If it was a tradition that’s been going on all along, I would have noticed in 1987, when they were in their hey-day, sporting their Holiday Reds-And-Greens.

And if not, how did this entire generation get sold, so late in their lives, on the idea of garish holiday wear? Isn’t it a whole lot classier and impressive to simply wear your best outfits? As it is, it’s like an entire month of Halloween night – but Christmas-style. I don’t see people showing up October 12th in a Mummy costume. But these women don Santa hats, and scarlet sweaters, and snowflake pins for a solid month.

Maybe it’s just something old people do nowadays. Sheesh, old people nowadays! (You know, like, ‘Kids these days . . .’? Not funny? I thought it was, but if not, let me know, because I can’t hear you laughing.)

But with all the ‘mostly’s’ accounted for, the worst is the emasculated man in the Red Sweater-Vest in the company of ‘his women’ (I put ‘his women’ in quotes because there is no chance in hell or heaven or this limbo called earth that this man would ever ‘have’ women). He’s typically the white-haired fairy (not to mean gay – just the ‘fun’ guy) of the office henhouse, or the badgered accountant/teacher/no-level salesman husband. This is the same guy who makes bad jokes (usually puns) at every opportunity, and ‘his women’ laugh dutifully, because he’s supposed to be funny. Of course he’s not. What he is, is a disgrace to masculinity. A toy for the office women. Just like a girl’s Chihuahua dressed up in, well frankly, in the same damned sweater he’s wearing.

Don’t get the idea I’m against a red shirt or sweater around the holidays. I have a couple I will break out when the family gathers, or just for general wear on a Christmas vacation. It’s just a color, after all. My problem is with the guy who is decorated. And yes, you can always tell the difference if a guy is clothed by his garments or decorated by them.

Christmas Overtime Panic

A corporate thing. It was refreshing this year: I heard from a manager, himself, that the company wasn’t going to freak out about doubles this year.

Which was in stark contrast to every other year I’ve worked in every other corporate restaurant:

‘Dennis has to get off the clock! He’s working a double tonight! I’m sorry, but you guys’ll have to handle his sidework. He’s got to get off the clock!’

‘No. Even though Megan is willing to cover your shift on the 22nd so you can have Christmas with your 5-year-old twins, that would put her on a double that day and we can’t pay the overtime.’

‘Justin, Fred, and Eunice are here to help out today with the big parties at lunch. I’m having them come in late and leave early so they can still cover their dinner shifts.’

These are all scenarios I’ve experienced . . .

Personally, they all irritate me. But rarely do I even try to get a shift off during ‘The Season.’ So the middle one plays out infrequently. The other two, however, are the worst.

Look, it’s not my fault I have second job therefore making my 18 hour day not your problem. I don’t mind. That’s one reason I have the 2nd job. But when I’m getting stuck with extra sidework from someone making all the same tip money here as I’m making . . . just so the company can save $4? I have to get to my other freakin’ job!

Likewise, I haven’t worked these stupid lunch shifts 11 months this year just to have someone from the dinner shift come in late, wait on the big lucrative parties, then leave early without doing sidework . . . so they can fit into the labor budget.

For Christ’s sake (and I guess I mean it, as this is all for the Christmas season), can’t restaurants just reconcile that it’s going to be super-busy and they’re going to need all hands on deck? Just accept it as the cost of doing business. It’s the cost you’ve saved all year by having fewer employees, by avoiding over-scheduling just to give everyone ‘enough shifts.’ I mean, really, we’re talking about $8 an hour (or far less in many states) employees here. You (managers and corporate bean counters) are paying $4 more per hour for a person who’s generating up to 100 times that amount in sales each hour. Live with it.

And last of all, isn’t corporate mantra (at least as professed), ‘. . . anything that makes the customer happy . . .’? It might make the customer happy if you kept your restaurant fully staffed during the busiest month of the year, and paid whatever overtime was necessary to make that happen.

Happy New Year!

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 résumé (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 décor, 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 sautéed, 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.

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 entrée-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!

Uncle Ben Revisited

So I ran into Uncle Ben at a local bar a couple Mondays ago. I was out with the wife for a ‘Monday Holiday,’ having a cocktail at a ritzy golf club bar. On the way home we passed The House and I suggested we stop for a drink. It was about 4 p.m. ‘And we’ll probably run into Uncle Ben – ’cause you know this is his favorite Monday hangout.’

Sure enough, 75% into our Cadillac Magaritas, Uncle Ben pulls up in his privately-hired PT Cruiser taxi. We were among only six people in the bar. He recognized us immediately and sat down at the next stool. We talked a lot about music (Ben is a keyboard player in his non-millionaire, starving artist life). Turns out he gave The House a cd by Doug Sahm to put in their jukebox. I’m a Doug Sahm fan, so that was a nice topic. We talked about his Bob Seger story about when Bob came out for a late-career tour (not his last one) and demanded a car with a trunk full of cocaine. Ben saw the spectacle and just laughed.

Understand, guys with money have access to stuff most of us can only imagine. I don’t know Ben’s connection with Bob Seger that allowed him to be around for this big party scenario. I didn’t get the impression that they’re friends.

Over a period of 90 minutes, Ben bought three house rounds (‘Set everybody in the place up with a drink!). Of course, there were never more than six customers present, but that’s no knock on Ben. I’ve seen him buy several house rounds (on multiple occasions) for full houses of 20-30 people. When he left, he paid his modest tab of $120 with three hundred dollar bills – the rest going to the bartender.

Ben said he hadn’t been into Michael’s lately because he’d been travelling, and because he was no longer doing business with a certain person who had used Michael’s as a sort of remote office. Apparently, one of this persons associates had recently been indicted for running a (another!) Ponzi scheme. Ben claimed he had felt things were squirrelly and kept at arm’s distance – then found his suspicions confirmed when the indictment came down.

I don’t think I’ve written about my greatest Uncle Ben story.

I was on the closing shift at Michael’s one Wednesday about a year ago. The day was ticking down with no guests in the restaurant after 2:30 p.m. Around 3 p.m. Uncle Ben wanders in through the bar door. Good news because this was the stretch of time he was doing a lot of business at lunch with the aforementioned nameless person. It was going to be a party of seven.

So this is huge.

There were a couple of women in the party. Everyone was good for red wine . . . except one of the girls. So Ben ordered our best White Burgundy for her alone – $170. As for the red, he stated that he knew these fellows liked their American Napa Valley wines, but he preferred French, and he wanted to show them something. How ’bout a Burgundy? Pick something out, he told me.

I consider myself quite knowledgeable about wine – and I know from tasting experience about quite a lot of American wines – but I don’t have mental notes about French wines because I haven’t tasted a lot of them, nor enough to be able to compare. On the other hand, from what I have tasted, I understand basic principles and tendencies of those wines.

So to start, I of course went to the right margin of the wine list – the price column. Uncle Ben likes good wine (who doesn’t?), but I’ve noticed that he picks stuff to impress. Turning him on to a $70 bottle that drinks like a $200 bottle is not going to impress in the manner he desires. He’d rather spend the money and impress how great the wine is – and how much it costs.

I arrived at a $1000 Burgundy (the name escapes me now). They went for another bottle an hour later. They were still rolling when our resident wine guy, an assistant manager, came on for his shift. And not a moment too soon. There were no more $1000 bottles. Our wine guy went to table and pulled a $1200 bottle out of his ass that wasn’t even on the list.

Suffice to say I did an excellent job serving the table. Although my shift was usually over at 4:30, I naturally stuck with Uncle Ben. By 7 p.m. I decided I could make a break for it and said I had a dinner date with the wife and asked (believe it or not!) if I could close out. Now, the rule of thumb for a party (and a check) of this magnitude is that you never ask them to ‘close out’ because you have to get going. You just wait it out. Don’t be stupid and unprofessional.

At the same time, I had the benefit of a semi-personal relationship with Uncle Ben. I’ve drank with him personally on several occasions. I’ve run into him outside the confines of my restaurants many times. I’ve had personal conversations with him. And I’ve been serving him at various institutions for more than ten years.

I didn’t feel at all bad or reluctant to ask for the ‘close out’ at that point. And it was no problem.

It was a $4800 check. Ben pulled out a massive wad of $100’s . . . oops! Not enough. He reached deeper and found another wad to cover the bill. He gave me $6000 to cover it, the rest for me.

Of course I went back to thank him again. One of his cronies asked me, kind of sarcastically, if I was taken care of properly.

‘Oh yes. I won’t forget this day,’ I said.

So that was nice.

The Real Valentine’s Day

I left you last with the specter of Valentine’s Day upon us. Yes, we at Carney’s Corner did see the expected brain-dead trying to get a table at the last minute for he & she.

The best of the night, for all of us, was the Liquor Rep. In this case, I’m not in sarcastic mode.

Our first reservations came at 5 and 5:30 – only a few, still not a full house. [For those not up-to-date, Carney’s has only 10 tables in the dining room-proper. Ten more tables in the lounge/patio.] Phil is the Main Man Liquor Rep. He’s a charming (aren’t they all?), good-looking, dark-haired guy in his early 40’s. Phil sidles up to the bar and starts pleading. He’s in a big bind.

He has four people at his house for Valentine’s Day dinner but his oven is broken down. [Remember, he’s in the Biz, so he understands it’s foolish to go out on V-day.] He needs to get a top-flight meal for everyone or his ass is grass (his words).

Carney is not there, and our restaurant has a policy of no to-go orders. ESPECIALLY on holidays. Not to say the rest of us wouldn’t do it any other day if she wasn’t there – we understand how to do things – but she was due any minute and we’d surely get caught trying to pull a fast one.

So 20 minutes later Carney arrives. Phil pleads his case. First thing Carney says is, ‘We just can’t do it.”

Did you see the period I wrote? Same period Carney stated.

The servers are . . . well, we’re freaking out. We know better. This guy is a good guy. He’s done us a lot of favors. Even if he hasn’t done us a lot of favors, maybe we’d do it anyway. Further, do this for him now, you know you’re going to have an ace in the hole for later. Last of all, at the time it was perfectly within the restaurant’s capabilities to produce a to-go order . . .

We couldn’t believe it. But to spare you the minute-by-minute drama, Carney capitulated.

But then, this guy is their best salesman. Is it any wonder he was able to convince her?

End story: Four dinners to-go, $$240 check = $100 tip.

So that was the start of our evening.

Aside from the idiots aforementioned, the night was pretty smooth. We left the building like Elvis with $375 apiece and a nice buzz from the ‘shifters’ and everything was well.

The only salacious part of the night came from our irrepressible bartender, Frank.

On holidays, Carney’s usually has a policy of restricting the bar from regular customers – ostensibly to reserve the seats for parties waiting for their tables. In practice this creates an empty bar, as Carney runs a tight and efficient reservation book. The trade-off for Frank is on such days he contributes to and takes part in our tip pool. Do you remember that Frank is a snake?

After night-after-night (of special holidays) of sub-par bar business, they reversed this stupid policy. This did not affect the dining room business, but it increased the bar business.

Unfortunately for Frank, it took him out of the gravy-train waiter tip pool. I’m sure he did well, but not as well as us – which burns the hell out of him. Frank was bitter the whole night.

The penultimate moment came when Ciera had a Big Regular, Mario, on the patio who tipped her big, then also offered to buy her a bottle of wine on his tab. Well, she decided to have a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, on him.

So it’s the end of the night and we’re sitting down for what we call the ‘Sewing Circle.’ So-called because we gather to gossip about all the bullshit that went on in the restaurant during the night, generally about Frank and Carney. Frank asks Ciera what she wants for her ‘shifter?’ He expects her to ask for a simple glass of red wine. Instead, she tells Frank she’s having Veuve Clicquot. She gets it out of the refrigerator and shows it to Frank.

Of course, Frank wants to know what the F’ she thinks she’s doing? Frank is all about his control of the ‘shifters’ for the staff. If we want an import beer, he gives us a domestic. If we want a decent glass of Cab, he gives us the cheapest Merlot. The thing is, the owners, Carney and Harry, don’t care at all. It’s just Frank’s power trip.

So Ciera explains that Mario wanted to buy the staff a drink. She told Mario that we liked Champagne. Mario said, ‘Then get a bottle of good Champagne.’

Frank was incensed. But Mario was gone. The bottle had been paid for. And he wasn’t getting any of our tips.

As we commenced the Sewing Circle back in the dining room, Frank made a point to come out from behind his Sacred Bar to . . . well, it’s hard to say what he was doing besides spying on us, listening to what we were talking about. See, Frank makes it a point never to come out from behind his Sacred Bar when he needs us for anything, be it a new stack of dinner checks, a clean fork, a cup of coffee, a fresh napkin . . .

I hope you get the idea. If he needs something that requires effort, he’s too busy (and too important) to come out from behind his Sacred Bar. But if he wants to spy on us, suddenly it’s no problem to come back to see how many tables are left in the dining room.

During the Sewing Circle, Frank came back three times for various ‘reasons.’

Weasel.

We enjoyed it a lot. We counted out a lot of money, and made a point of hushing significantly and hiding the cash whenever he showed his face.