The Cooler

In Las Vegas gaming, a Cooler is a dealer or pit boss who comes to a table game that is hot, and through distraction, bad vibes, or outright rudeness, changes the spirit of the table and turns it into a loser. If you’ve played more than a few hours of blackjack, you probably know the effect – whether a Cooler was employed or not (it is consensus that big casinos no longer employ Coolers, relying instead on the simple mathematics that are distinctly in their favor) – of when the dealer changes and he/she is a real bummer, and your general winning streak ends immediately.

Coolers might be extinct in Vegas, but they still live, breathe, and eat at the tables in my station. And yours, too, I’m sure.

Here’s A Cooler

Here’s the four top: 42-year-old guy and his 35-year-old wife; both are nice-looking, well-dressed, worldly, social. Their partner couple is about the same age-set. They look fine, but less successful, less worldly, and less-social. It could be either one of them, but I’m gonna arbitrarily pick on the wife. She is The Cooler.

Now her husband, he is at least game – excited to be out and excited to have a chance to get drunk, instead of the wife remonstrating him from across the home dining room table. Removed from the friendly confines of her domicile, she has to maintain pretense of not being a tight bitch. But you can still feel her tightness.

While being seated, she cranes her neck in the familiar endeavor of searching for some other more-desirable table. When her visual scan returns the datum that all other tables are already occupied, you can sense her frustration (here, her frustration = your satisfaction). The Cooler is pale, appropriately, and doesn’t remove her jacket because she’s cold. She keeps to herself mostly in the conversation.

As I said, hubby is excited to be out. Hey, he used to be Frat Brother with the guy on the other side of the table! He’s gonna get a cold one! (Which instead of a beer or a martini, turns out to be his wife, as we will see.)

Here’s how The Cooler works. Our other three are smiling and chatting with each other. They are settling their bodies, bracing for a good meal. Well there I am, greeting the table. ‘So, enough with the water. Would anybody like a cocktail?’

‘Oh no! I can’t have any more than one drink,’ says The Cooler even before the words escape my lips.

A Cooler understands that she can’t speak for the whole table, but she can speak definitively for herself. This tack, together with always being the first to speak, creates an preemptive strike. On fun.

So first Hubby – who was just about to spill out ‘I’ll have a Grey Goose martini!’ – swallows his cold, crisp, dry words and goes, ‘Uhhh …’ and looks to the other couple (ironically, they’re the Cool couple, but for continued clarity we’ll call them the Fun Ones).

The Fun Ones are naturally accommodating. They would have definitely have ordered their martini and Cosmo, but they want to make their friends comfortable. So they demur. (Score one for The Cooler!)

‘Well let’s have some wine then,’ says Fun Guy, grabbing the wine list, but then offering it to The Cooler’s caddy (aka Hubby). ‘Oh no,’ says Hubby, ‘you go ahead.’ He wants Fun Guy to pick out a nice wine, hoping to avoid blame from The Cooler. Hell, hopefully Fun Guy’ll start with a white, then get red with dinner, thereby insuring at least two drinks for Hubby.

‘You like white or red?’ Fun Guy asks of The Cooler, as it’s already obvious who needs coddling.

‘Oh, I don’t usually drink wine. It gives me a headache.’

I say I’ll give them a minute to look over the list and come back to tell them the specials.

Fun Guy chooses a Chardonnay when I return. I give them the specials: ‘We have an appetizer special of Hama Hama oysters on the half-shell –’

‘Oh no, I couldn’t have an appetizer. I probably won’t finish my meal as it is,’ interjects The Cooler.

‘Well then, speaking of meals, our entrée special is a braised Veal Chop. It’s a thick cut, slow-cooked in Pinot Noir and –’

‘Oooh! That’s too big! I could never eat that.’ The Cooler again. This despite manifest interest from the other three.

I do not finish the Veal Chop description, to punish the entire table for The Cooler’s selfish behavior. I return in a couple of minutes with the Chardonnay. Pouring for The Cooler, she stops me with the hand wave just as I’m about to stop anyway – at half a glass. Next (and I have done this), I switch her glass with Hubby’s empty glass. Then I pour just a few drops for The Cooler. ‘That should be more like it,’ I say, affecting a congenial expression that reads “I understand, and I have sincerely taken good care of you.”

A little later, it’s now Go Time. I ask if there’s any interest in appetizers, or if they’ve made selections on their main courses. Predictably, The Cooler launches, ‘Oh, I’m sure dinner will be enough for me.’ I notice that while I will not pour more wine for The Cooler, someone else has – her glass now being appropriately at the half-full mark I’d poured originally.

Now don’t get me wrong. We’re talking about up-sells here, and it’s fine if people resist all of them. Cocktails, appetizers, special entrees, a la carte salads, side add-ons, bottle of wine vs. by-the-glass, dessert, etc. are things people will pretty much always enjoy, but they cost more money and, yes, they might be more than they actually wish to/can consume. So that’s fine. The rub is that The Cooler does his/her work to prevent the entire party from ordering such items.

The Cooler orders the Grilled Chicken and Veggies. ‘Would you like to substitute something for the vegetables?’ I ask. ‘For instance pasta instead?’

The Cooler is vexed. Her head involuntarily swivels in refusal – the nervous tic of a Cooler – but she can’t quite say it out loud because that does sound good. I help. ‘It doesn’t cost any extra.’

‘I, uh, I … no, that’s okay. The vegetables are fine.’ She’s even Cooling herself out of something with no downside!

So basically a very willing group (3 out of 4 of ’em) has now been hobbled into an entrees-only program.

By now you get the idea. Second bottle of wine, and The Cooler weighs in negatively on it, even though she has no intention of partaking. And on through dessert and after dinner drinks, even coffee.

There is no surprise ending. What these poor people (the other 3) have is a mostly joyless barebones meal that has somehow been dampened by an implication of negative political correctness. The Cooler posits (well, actually negates) everything with the shading that what’s not right for her is also not right for everyone else.

Poor bastards.

My Busboy Is A Dick

‘My busboy is a dick.’

It’s a big, wide world of waiting tables out there, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who can say this . . . but, isn’t this one of the most unlikely things you would ever expect to hear a waiter say?

Bussers are paid by the waiters, anywhere from 10-30% of their tips, or some similar calculation based on sales. Bussers exist to assist the waiters – or at the least that is the basis of most of their pay. Sure, job descriptions vary restaurant to restaurant. For example, at Michael’s the bussers’ only official duties with regards to the waiters, is to promptly bring bread and water to new tables, refill waters and iced teas, and reset the table (once plates have been cleared by the waiters – ouch) when the guest is gone. That’s not much. But then, we are only required to tip 10% there.

Still, at Michael’s it is informally expected that in absence of those duties to perform (and other things like filling ice wells, putting bread in the ovens, and packaging ‘sets’ for resetting the tables later), the busser will make himself useful by clearing plates or running food, or otherwise assisting the waiters. Hell, some places even call them Server Assistants or, SA’s (which is kind of funny because Ese – prounounced the same – is Spanish slang for buddy or homeboy, and of course around here most bussers are Mexican).

Not so with Lencho, my busser at my lunch job at Michael’s.

Lencho is about 5’6″, somewhat round, thoroughly bald, and around 50. He has that kind of dry, mothball-smelling breath which is visually enhanced by the little bits of white scuzz at the corners of his mouth that appear when he talks too long. And boy can he talk – with a super-thick, nearly impossible to decipher Mexican accent. He will corner you and go on about how great are his life, his children, his house, his car, his vacations, and more.

Ehhh. Somewhat close, but the vibe is right for Lencho.

He used to be a busser at a famous Prime Rib joint farther south. During those years he used to brag about how much money he made working special parties there. He always threw around figures like $200 and $250 a shift. During the holidays, he would bring in the schedule from this other job and regale us waiters with how many large parties he was working that week – and of course, how much cash he expected to bring home for each one.

A couple years ago, the Prime Rib joint decided it needed to shake things up, as the dinosaurs were winning. By dinosaurs, I mean the classic term for old and long-tenured waiters who are entrenched in their positions. Dinosaurs don’t work particularly hard or fast. Their precise job description is branded into their brains like a forged brass plate, and they will do nothing above and beyond. They are totally rigid and unhelpful when it comes to their schedules – in fact, they often have set schedules that they do not allow to vary temporarily nor change permanently. They resist change in general, and they usually win. They work the minimum in time and effort and scrape the maximum amount of cream off the top.

People who don’t work in restaurants can’t understand how dinosaurs can exist. But every waiter knows. Dinosaurs usually ‘outrank’ their managers by a decade or more. Of course they don’t really outrank them, but their years of ‘service’ give them some pretty good clout. It is socially difficult for a manager of 2 years to boss around the crank who’s had old Mr. Greenback (who spends $50,000 a year at the restaurant) as a call party for 20 years.

But as usual, I digress. Lencho’s Prime Rib joint (where he was indeed one of the dinosaurs) finally went Ice Age on their staff. From what I understand, about half the crew were dinosaurs. The joint obliterated the set schedule. They obliterated guaranteed shifts. They obliterated preferential stations based on seniority. It was time to change and get rid of their reputation for slothful and disinterested service.

The dinosaurs roared (to hear Lencho report it, and roaring a bit himself). Many of them threatened to quit, and many of them did, including Lencho.

Well, that was that. He was out of his night job, and he has not managed to get another that lasted more than a month or two, since. At least every other week he asks me what I know about Restaurant X in the South Bay, because he has a supposed ‘in’ for a job there, and an interview later in the week. But he mostly goes un-hired, and if not that, then quickly enough un-retained.

Anyway, I don’t know if you (assuming you’re all waiters) can picture Lencho, because he really doesn’t sound like any busser of the common description. But maybe if you instead imagined a short, bald, middle-aged white guy manager who did hardly any work, and loved to blow hard and long about his previous positions of importance at hotshot restaurants – then you’d get the idea.

So besides being full of himself, here’s how Lencho is a dick:

Let’s begin at the beginning, when he first gets to work in the morning. He comes in the door, punches in, and walks to his station. He will pass you along the way, and you will say, ‘Hey, Lencho! How’s it going?’ Or ‘Como estas?’ Lencho’s reply: ‘ .’ Yes, that’s nothing. Not a mumble. Not a head nod. Not even eye contact.

The first thing he will say to you comes about 30 minutes later, consisting of a grunt and a tip of the head as he is wheeling the ice bucket to the bar. This is because he demands help hefting it to dump the ice into the well. When you’re done, you don’t get a thank you, naturally enough.

He takes his employee meal with the rest of the Mexican staff, the kitchen staff, then retires outside to ‘make deals’ on his cell phone in the last 15 minutes before we open. He will not enter the building a second before 11:30, usually a couple of minutes after. And then he will take up residence at his busser station and begin producing sets. Mind you, the doors open at 11:30 and there are almost always parties to be seated at that time (sometimes earlier).

There is a window on the swinging door behind him that looks out onto the floor. He will not turn and peek through that window, ever, to see if there are parties being seated (his cue to produce bread and water).

And here’s what happens next. The waiters are on the floor, ready to serve (imagine that!). So, I, for instance, will be standing there as a group sits. I’ll say my hellos, take a drink order, and gather up the extra sets to take back to the busser station. He will not budge an inch to allow me to put the sets on the rack, but I will force him to at least break his rhythm as I reach past his arms. It’s clear at this point that a table has been seated, no?

Now go to the computer and punch in the drink order. I make an iced tea. I go to the bar and wait for the glass of wine. I return to the table and serve the drinks … hmmm, guess what? No bread or water yet. This has taken easily 3-5 minutes depending on the bartender. And of course, there are no other tables in the restaurant demanding other attention. Where the fuck is the bread and water?

So now I go back and tell him 14 needs bread and water. He does not acknowledge. And he does not stop making sets. It’s as if nothing has happened and nothing has been said.

I return to the table. They are ready to order. I get the order, and only as I’m walking away from the table – only then, maybe – do I see Lencho on the floor with bread and water pitcher in his hands.

Another Lencho pet move: Expediter Fantasy Camp.

Because of his previous exalted position at the Prime Rib joint, Lencho fancies himself as nearly a waiter. He was, in fact, briefly hired to expedite at another restaurant, until they evidently decided it was better to let food sit and cool off rather than have him actively screwing up orders. So at Michael’s, at a bustling lunch, rather than moving briskly about the dining room filling water and iced tea, you’re far more likely to see him with his back to the dining room speaking Spanish with the cooks at the pass out line. Then when plates appear on the line, of course so do the waiters appear. We promptly start garnishing and prepping the order, trying awkwardly to accomplish this with Lencho’s inert frame occupying a 3’x3′ block of real estate. The order ready to deliver, we will eventually use him to carry, say, a single ramekin of sauce. Hey, at least he’s doing something!

When you ask Lencho pointedly to do some task like picking up a couple of plates, he will do it, but without acknowledgment, which leaves you with the mixed blessing of slight anxiety he didn’t hear you and pleasant surprise when get back to the table and see he actually did grab the plates.

We have complained repeatedly to management, who have talked to him repeatedly. He will not accept criticism; his response often includes the sentiment that when he does ‘extra’ work, the waiters don’t tip him accordingly. For some reason, management relays this to us, as if it’s entirely acceptable that a restaurant worker withhold work and effort in doing a proper job for the guest if he’s not in his mind being tipped enough. I’ve always wondered how that would fly for a waiter speaking to his manager: “Why should I give the McNally’s good service? They only tip 12%!”

Then there’s the end of the shift. Even though Lencho has no night job to run off to, he is always in a hurry to get out around 3 p.m. As the closer, I often have a few tables working at this time, some finishing up with coffee and dessert. My point here is that, of Lencho’s official duties where waiters are concerned, final clearing and resetting tables is fully half his job. When he leaves at this juncture, I have to do that half. His performance leading to this moment of desertion is not exactly strong, so I just deduct these tables’ proceeds from the amount he gets tipped on.

And there is the rub that I don’t understand with surly bussers. We, the waiters, are his customers and we have the ability to pay them accordingly. If he does the good work, saves my ass on occasion, makes my job easier, he gets paid well. If he half-asses his shift doing the bare minimum in untimely fashion, forcing me to do extra work, then fine, I will do extra work and I will ‘pay’ myself for it. Out of his tip.

So finally, as I steal a moment from running around and servicing my late tables, I’ll find Lencho in the service bar, rubbing his hands together, apron off. I give him his 10% which he takes wordlessly, counting the money in front of me. Then he bustles out of the restaurant with more speed than he ever exhibited during the shift, on his way . . . somewhere.

Some days, I am literally so busy I can’t spare the 3 minutes to figure and count out his tip. These days, Lencho just silently leaves, again in some inexplicable hurry. When I count my money, I set his aside in a pocket of my ‘book.’ I will give it to him the next shift. Even though I (we) have been doing this effectively for a few years, about once a month Lencho lodges a complaint with management that I didn’t tip him from, say last Friday. So I get a talking to from management at some point the next shift, even though I have already found the money in my book and given it to him, like always, the first time I saw him.

Lencho managed to pick up some temporary employment for a couple weeks during the holidays at a ritzy place. I asked him in January if they kept him on. ‘No. Just Christmas. I don’t want to work there anyway.’ (translated from the original thick-tongued dismembered English)

Then he told this quintessentially-Lenchonian story. He had to work Christmas day at the ritzy place. ‘Very busy. Very busy. $5000 tips. One Captain. Three waiters. Bussers get only $330.’ He stares at me, mouth agape – behold the injustice! ‘Captain take $1000. Only $330 for the bussers.’

‘Each?’ I ask.

He nods. ‘$5000. Captain take $1000.’

‘How many bussers were there?’ I ask.

‘Three.’

Hmmm. So I walked him through it, illustrating on the calculator that was handy. $5000 in tips. 20% of that is $1000. Divided by 3, that makes $333. ‘That’s a 20% tip. What do you expect?’

‘No, no, no. $5000. Captain take $1000.’

Ahh, Lencho. You will never be happy or satisfied. Nor will you ever work hard, I expect.

It’s kind of sad and funny. Lencho’s son is a busser at a rival steakhouse nearby. Several of Michael’s waiters work a second job there. They say Lencho’s son is awesome, a dynamo who takes care of business and doesn’t need instruction to do so. They’ve told me they tease him. ‘How come you’re so great and your dad sucks so bad?’ Reportedly, he just looks down and shakes his head, saying quietly, ‘Hey, I love my dad.’

Well, Lencho has got that. But there will probably come a time soon when that’s all he has, besides 12 months of unemployment insurance.

The Joke Guy

Let’s see if I still remember how to do this . . .

There was a time in my life when I did a lot of writing. I have been directed since I was in high school towards a writing career. Let’s, for now, look past any questions of what rewards that career has brought me. Instead let’s talk about what I did with my time.

I wrote stories, screenplays, TV scripts, novels, poetry. I even tried my hand a couple of factual magazine articles. The remuneration was nearly non-existent. But I always kept plugging. I loved writing, and I loved my dream, and I didn’t mind working towards my goals. I wrote. I once wrote every day – every single day, without exception – for 1.5 years.

And then, at a summer party, I played ‘Pride And Joy’ (by Stevie Ray Vaughan) with my roommate’s band. I didn’t know it then, but that was it. I veered onto a course of concentrating my creative energies on music for the next 10+ years, playing guitar and singing in two different blues bands over that period.

I didn’t stop writing, but I cut back a lot (not willfully – it just happened). Like 90%. And I didn’t really miss it. Instead of smacking away at the keyboard for a couple hours every night, I instead practiced guitar. Or I rehearsed with my band. Or I played gigs. Or I listened to other guitarists to cop licks. Or I went out to blues jams (open mic events). Or I even wrote my own songs.

I’m telling you this because it explains, somewhat, why I’ve stopped blogging for around a year. I discussed this a couple posts (and about 12 months) ago.

For about two years, I posted 5-10 times a month. I was happy doing it, and I didn’t feel like I was running out of material. It was a pretty natural thing to do for two reasons:

  1. I had quit my band and decided not to join/start another.
  2. My marriage was in shambles. For some reason, emotional strife turbo-charges my creative juices. So it was a good way to spend some time while the Wife was not being a member of the marriage.

Then the marriage effectively ended (permanent separation) and I declared myself back on the market. Hence, dating.

I stopped blogging and started spewing my juices (figuratively, of course) in the endeavor of trying to find a new girlfriend/getting laid.

But this time I’m not as happy about it. Especially now that more than a year has passed and I don’t really have much to show for my efforts besides 100,000 words of emails, the reduction of my net worth by thousands of dollars, and the memories of 20-30 forgettable dates (wait, how can you remember something forgettable?).

Imagine if I’d instead written 100k words on the waiternotes.com? I’d probably have gotten a book deal like Waiter Rant!

Okay. Probably not. But I’d have something good. I reread six or seven of my -blog posts last night and was actually quite entertained. Either I have narcissistic delusions or I write pretty well. I tend to think the latter. But then, I’m narcissistic . . . ohhhh, I’m getting dizzy now.

* * * * *

I had a thought tonight at work at Carney’s ($232). What is it like to be married to the Joke Guy?

We all know him. He’s the one who makes a ‘joke’ about every phrase that comes out of your mouth. And also makes ‘jokes’ about everything that he says too.

‘Tonight the chef has Bacon-Horseradish Mashed Potatoes as the side accompaniment,’ I state.

Joke Guy: ‘So then it accompanies the side dish?’ He looks at me with a highly-satisfied glint in his eyes.

‘I guess you’re right. It is a side. It accompanies the entrée. You got me there,’ I say.

‘So the side dish comes unaccompanied? What kind of place is this?’ Twinkling again.

What does a jackass like this expect me to do? I can’t really start laughing, because he hasn’t said anything funny. But he thinks he has. Or is he expecting banter from me, so he can riff some more and impress his sad wife and the other couple?

‘What kind of place is this? It’s actually a Charter School. Are you the English teacher?’

But I don’t say that. I just match his bemused eye twinkle and move on.

At another point, he said, ‘One thing you’ll learn about me. I’m not always right on everything, but I’m always right on.’

Whew.

Usually this bonehead has a suffering wife who spends the meal staring at her food while he excretes his gems like anal beads out of a porn actress. But every guest is different. This time, his wife seemed to think he was just hilarious. And this is no joke (pun intended) – he was ‘on’ for a solid 120 minutes tonight.

So maybe this hits tangentially with my initial thoughts in this post. Getting with the right person is nothing more than finding someone on the same wavelength as yours. Even if you’re flat-lining.

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?

Blackie Redux – Part One

Bear with me. A couple of reasons.

Number One, I’m going to do a two-parter based on the new effective star of the blog, Blackie. (Grrrr.)

Number Two, I’ve got about half a martini and two glasses of wine in me.

It all started when I got to work (lunch job, Michael’s) Tuesday and the new boss, Eric, said there were two 9-tops on the books and not much else. I was to get one and Blackie was to get the other. Because servers at Michael’s aren’t allowed to take more than an 8-top by themselves, it was mandatory we share. Therefore, Eric decided the solution was for us to share both of them.

‘Are you okay working with her?’ he asked somewhat conspiratorially. Recall, Eric is new; he likes what I do; I’ve earned his trust as ‘his kind of waiter.’

‘Honestly, I’d rather not,’ I told him. ‘But I don’t care enough to make an issue out of it. It’s fine.’

So here’s the inevitable link to my other dark escapades with Blackie. If you haven’t read them, at least click here or here, for another one, and give a quick scan over a bit of our history.

This day I actually felt much more confident because I had already thoroughly identified what hell I could expect. Also, it promised to be a much more manageable day – only three on the floor and a helpful manager and not much danger of getting overwhelmed with surprise traffic.

The first table was billed as a grudge lunch wherein the host had lost a bet and now his compadres were going to take him to the cleaners (while he took them to Michael’s). We were excited, visions of dinner steaks, appetizer symphonies, and $100 bottles of wine dancing in our heads.

Blackie suggested I do the full dinner spiel (a great sales technique, normally omitted at lunch because of time constraints) because I was so much better at it. I couldn’t disagree. I also liked it because it put me in control of the table. I do not like the manner Blackie uses with her tables. Her other job is at the Claim Jumper . . .

Okay, so a tangent is in order here. I do not disdain Claim Jumper or similar ‘echelon’ restaurants (TGI Friday’s, Chiles, Outback, Coco’s, etc.). Ironically, I actually place Claim Jumper as my favorite restaurant for when I choose that ‘level’ of dining. Their quality is excellent. The service is generally spot-on. The restaurants (locations I’ve visited) are always spotless and well-kept. You get the feeling the hierarchy is working well and doing its job. I love the Claim Jumper. I always suggest it when the wife says, ‘Where do you want to eat?’ Of course, whenever I suggest a solution for a problem the wife can’t figure out herself, I always get shot down. <click-click … ‘PULL!’ Blam!> But that’s another sub-tangent . . .

Anyway, back on tangent . . . I actually regard Claim Jumper as first class. The problem here with the Claim Jumper is that you take the worst prejudices about Claim Jumper and combine them with what you already know about Blackie, and you find the worst stereotypes are true.

Think about a highly-corporate place with a lot of rules and behavior codes and what kind of virulent bacteria could breed in that Petri dish (Blackie). Think further about what that dangerous burgeoning organism (remember: Blackie) would turn into after a dozen years of incubation (as opposed to the usual 6–24 month tenure of Claim Jumper waiters).

Minus the expected gum-popping and cigarette-breath, there you have Blackie. She does not communicate with guests. She dispenses information (no, not even that – she dispenses words) just the same way as she slings a plate of hash: ‘You’re not supposed to understand this, much less enjoy it. Just take it. ‘Cause here it is.’

So to wrap the tangent up, take your worst bigoted preconception of a mid -level chain restaurant waiter, and, even though the restaurant chain itself doesn’t deserve that branding, you have exactly that in this person Blackie.

End tangent. For now . . .

Yes, I was excited to be doing the spiel because I could handle this table which might well be our ‘meal ticket’ (there are just sooo many restaurant/food metaphors out there!). So I made contact with the table. Introduced myself and mentioned my partner Blackie. I pitched the idea of wine (remember, these guys were potentially taking their friend to the cleaners) and cocktails. They were happy to have the wine list at the table because it was a maybe (remember, this is lunch). I sussed it out that pressure was not the correct tack. I thought that common peer pressure, or else inertia (i.e., the body in motion being the idea of having a drink) would eventually prevail.

Of course, just after I leave the table after my spiel for the dinner steaks, etc, Blackie charges at them with her typical tactless hard line about ordering wine. No surprise, we were removing the wine glasses from the table about five seconds later.

So much for my managing this table into a moneymaker.

It came time to take the order. Michael’s requires multiple servers take orders on large parties. Blackie started at position 1. I started at position 9 and worked back.

We met in the side station to place the order. Turned out, I had the host – who authorized a round of appetizers. But there were also four salads ordered for the table. Naturally, you want the apps to go out before salads, followed by entrees. So we placed the order that way. However, at Michael’s this particular appetizer symphony is not that quick to prepare. Another factor to consider before you read what follows: some guests acknowledged they wouldn’t have any of the shrimp appetizer on order.

After about 10 minutes, I fired the salads for the table. By now, I’m expecting the appetizer symphony to be ready or nearly ready. Further, I know the salads might take a 4-5 minutes (in a normal world not, but at lunch when the pantry guys are doing multiple jobs, it can easily take this long), so this will allow the shrimp appetizer to be delivered and perhaps consumed (it’s only about a piece per person, after all).

Well, the shrimp app is just about ready to go out. But the salads are now ready. Blackie, ever ‘helpful,’ is standing by the pantry, ready to grab the salads (shrimp app comes up on the front line). She asks me if she should take the salads, since they are ready, or wait till the appetizer is served and removed? I weigh it all . . . and tell her . . .

Go! Serve the salads!

After all, some of the guests are not having shrimp. Next, these people are at lunch, so time is always a factor. Next, eating a single shrimp (for those six eating them) doesn’t take more than a minute or so. Next, some have ordered dessert in advance as well. And, remember, we’re still at lunch.

Now, I have not gotten the idea that these folks are in a hurry. But I can tell they are at lunch. They are going back to work. So I am using fuzzy logic, just as I mentioned here (fuzzy logic part towards end of post).

A good waiter knows how to properly time courses. A better waiter knows how to judge when guests don’t give a shit and are silently placing a premium on continuous, expedited service. Admittedly, it’s mostly a lunch thing, but that’s what I’m working at here. Same with Blackie. For the last 5 years.

So I make the judgment that it will be okay if those having salads are eating them, and those eating shrimp appetizers are eating them, and those eating both combine the experience.

I have other tables of course, so since Blackie has implicitly agreed to deliver the salads that were practically right in her hands when we had our exchange, I took care of some other business.

I finish my business and double check on our 9-top and see them happily eating their shrimp appetizer. Wait, what happened to the salads?

Despite her asking me what I wanted her to do – as she was right there about to do it – and my telling her to do just that, she had somehow not done it.

Blackie strikes again!

Okay, okay, don’t get too worked up. The timing still worked out fine. It was just classic Blackie.

So as a team we deliver the entrees. I have positions 1-3. Position 2 has a small New York steak. Oops!

He says he ordered the New York sandwich. Naturally, staff immediately goes into emergency mode to prepare a NY Sandwich for him.

Meanwhile, Blackie explains he ordered the ‘small New York’ and she repeated it to him and he said yes, she was right . . .

Well, she was wrong.

Yet more meanwhile, Position 1 has a question about why she didn’t get prime rib instead of the Rib Eye like she asked for . . .

Again, Blackie explains that she told her just what she was ordering.

Maybe Blackie should explain more to her guests rather than her managers and fellow waiters?

(This is Part One. Part Two is Right Here.)

Blackie And The Pretense Of Competence

If you’ve been reading, you know my nemesis at Michael’s is Blackie. Is it fair to say you hate someone?

NO, I LOVE KEITH RICHARDS. BUT THIS IS A FAIR APPROXIMATION OF WHAT BLACKIE LOOKS LIKE

Hell, why don’t I digress right out of the chute?

I say it’s okay to hate someone. It’s all semantics anyway, but here’s what I think.

Real hate is not productive. It consumes the hater. And in fact, that’s probably a primary tactical objective for the ‘hated.’ If you’re worthy of hate, it’s because you’re a despicable person, trying to destroy other peoples’ live for your own benefit. So if, as a ‘hated’ person, you can generate the kind of all-consuming obsession of hatred in someone, then you’ve won. Because the person who hates you is severely diminished, spending vast precious psychic resources on the activity of hating you. That person is definitely not functioning well. And it’s all because of you. Nice job.

But I hate Blackie. Because she is this person. She’s completely selfish. And, as stated above, she thrives by creating disturbances in her rivals (who are everyone), thus backhandedly kicking her up a notch because everyone she touches becomes less effectual. Because whenever Blackie touches you, there is something wrong with it.

‘Hi, Blackie. How’s it going?’

‘Fine. But I’ve about had it. When I left home this morning, Larry said he wasn’t coming back unless I apologized to him about going to the Raiders game without him . . .’ and on and on.

Another typical one. Blackie: ‘I made these brownies because I just couldn’t sleep last night so I figured I might as well do something. And then I didn’t have enough flour, so they were sitting there, half-made and I didn’t know what to do. But then Larry was being a bastard and I woke up and couldn’t sleep so I just decided, I might as well go and get some flour at 6 a.m. and finish those brownies. I mean, right? Why not?’

Is it just me, or do you also feel the need to take a shower?

So to get back to the digression, I say it’s fine to hate someone when you just realize they f’n’ suck. Give the devil his due, right? These are people who obviously don’t want to be loved or even tolerated. Or else why would they be the way they are?

Okay, so anyway. On to the topic of this post. I made this note awhile back: ‘Just saying something doesn’t necessarily get the job done.’

Naturally, Blackie spurred this thought, causing me to scribble it on a chit-sized piece of thermal printer paper.

Here’s Blackie telling the specials: ‘. . . freshalaskanhalibutcomeswithcucumberrelishandgarliccroutons . . .’ And no, that’s not some unwieldy URL. That’s the way she talks to her guests.

A guest will order the steak salad. There are two official steak salads on the menu at Michael’s, not to mention that you can add steak to any other salad (or for that matter substitute it for the meat on a chicken- or seafood-themed salad). Instead of clearly and politely explaining the differences between the two steak salads, and asking which the guest is ordering – or even instead of pointing physically to the two menu items to get clarification – Blackie does this: ‘Hotsteaksaladismedallionsonasiangreenswithsoygingerdressing. Newyorksteaksaladisoverchoppedlettuceandvegetableswithredwinevinaigrette.’

It’s practically asking the guest to order the wrong thing. Please order the wrong thing! If there’s any way I can help make this complicated enough so you order the wrong thing, let me know.

I truly believe that on some level, this is because of what I wrote above: she wants to create disturbance and chaos in others.

Then, when there is a problem and the kitchen is scrambling to get the right dish in front of the guest, and the manager is called into action to deliver the corrected entrée, Blackie explains to the irritated manager, ‘I told her the Hot Steak Salad had medallions and asian greens, and she said yes, that’s what she wanted.’

Just saying something doesn’t get the job done. No more than an insincere ‘Thank you,’ or a sarcastic apology, firing off technically proper verbiage at the guest without taking care to connect is a waste of time, offensive, or both.

The waiter has to take full responsibility for the delivery and receipt of his communication. Hell, just the waiter? Everybody in life.

This classic Blackie move exhibits what I mean by the title of this post. The Pretense of Competence.

I suppose I could define true competence as the ability to get the job done. Easy enough to agree on, isn’t it?

Well, for those masters in the performance art of the Pretense of Competence, there are lots of great moves. Like watching Andrew McCarthy furrow his brow, clench his jaw and look hard to the left, in the Pretense of Internal Frustration.

Here are the ways Blackie (and your own personal Blackie), mounts her façade:

  • Ask A Lot Of Questions
    • Have you ever noticed the fakers at the Saturday employee meetings who have to ask a question after every managerial proclamation? And not necessarily only at employee meetings – any time someone in authority gives information to her, this server (hell, why not call her Blackie?) comes back with 2, 3, or more ‘clarification’ questions. She is pretending to be competent. In other words, I know my job so well, I need to know from you exactly how this is going to fit in with everything else I’ve learned perfectly. More to the point, however, this is my chance to show you how much I already know about my job.
    • Ironically, this same server becomes a close-minded know-it-all when a peer says something similar to what the Big Wig would say. If I said to Blackie, ‘Hey, you know, from now on, let’s just keep the dessert tray in the walk-in during lunch instead of out on the floor. There’s only three or four of us, and it’s not losing us any steps, and it saves a whole tray of desserts from being ditched between shifts,’ she would respond, ‘Well maybe, but I really need it to be out on the display table next to #147. It’s always been there and I don’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t there.’
  • Talk A Lot
    • Of course, all kinds of people talk a lot. And many of them are perfectly competent. I’m speaking of Blackie dealing with her tables. Words, torrents of words, cascading streams of uninterrupted words. Verbal waterboarding. From the Tommy Gun delivery of the specials, to responses to questions, to any other stock verbalization required during the meal.
    • Then there’s the ‘personality’ aspect of the job, wherein talking a lot makes up for being interesting (such is the subconscious computation in Blackie’s head). Ever see a guests with a fork mid-air, loaded with a delicious steaming bite, and that fork stuck in a holding pattern above Airport Pie-Hole? All the while Blackie bludgeons them with the details of her vacation to Rancho Cucamonga?
    • Yes, the job description unofficially includes making the guests like you. Blackie is operating under two misunderstandings: 1) the guest will automatically like anything he/she hears about you; 2) the only way to get them to like you is to get them to know you.
      • Of course, getting to know Blackie will inevitably lead to hating her. More interesting, however, is that for a restaurant guest, they can come to like you plenty if you just stay out of their way and give them great service.
    • Click the above heading for my full post on this.
    • Maybe a finer point I can put on it for purposes of this topic, though: Maybe call it activity for its own sake. A busy person is generally perceived as a good worker. Blackie mines this concept like thar’s gold in them thar hills!
      • First, she pretends to be busy when she’s not, by doing things like fine-tuning table maintenance at the exact time when real work (like delivering entrees) needs to be done.
      • She even engages in Fake Anti-Hustle! She will ask for help doing things she could easily do herself – just to prove that she’s in tune with the teamwork aspect of the restaurant. (Now you may think I’m going overboard here, but it actually happened to me today, with Blackie. She had three tables. Two were eating entrees, and she was seated her third. I had no tables so I was able to understand what was going on in her station. She had only one current task on her ledger: get initial beverages for the new table – the other tables were completely contented and serviced. I happened to be standing in the waiter station when she was getting iced teas . . . ‘Can you get me a 7up for postion 1 on #36?’ I dutifully get her 7up and bring it to her as she is preparing her tray of iced teas [we get sodas from the bar, iced teas in the server station]. ‘Oh, can you drop that? I said position 1.’ So I drop on position 1, moments before she arrives behind me with her tray of iced teas for everyone else. Sheesh. Did she just invent Fake Anti-Hustle?
  • Over-Refinement
    • I invented this term initially as Over-Courtesy, specifically for driving situations when car drivers are too courteous and thus gum-up the expected workings of gears and driving.
      • A pedestrian is standing on the sidewalk, at a crosswalk (this is California where drivers legally have to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians whenever demanded by said pedestrians). A motorist will see this guy standing there and screech to a stop inches before the crosswalk, and motion the totally-surprised pedestrian to cross. Meanwhile, there might be other lanes unaware that this jackass driver has set this deathtrap in motion. Other lanes of traffic might not be aware of this over-courtesy and that pedestrian might well get his clock cleaned once he clears that first car. But more practically, the problem is that the pedestrian was not actively soliciting traffic be stopped. He’s happy merely (and properly, I believe) to wait till traffic has cleared enough for him to cross. Now he’s forced into a maelstrom of steaming, grinding metal, hoping ‘the law’ will provide enough for him to live through the experience. I’m a pedestrian quite frequently. I understand my place: I’m trying to survive. I will not insist on my ‘right of way’ at the expense of my life. So, that said, motorist fools who practice over-courtesy are actually endangering the lives of those pedestrians.
      • Much more common are the jackasses who defer turns at stop signs and lights where they are the ones entitled to the right of way. Come on, people! Just do your job. Understand, I’m the one who’s deferring to them when I say this. I approach a stop sign and another guy is just settling to a stop. Two beats and I stop. Jackass looks at me, I look at him, he motions to me to go ahead . . . Jesus! You were there first. Just go when you’re supposed to, and we’ll both be where we want to be sooner!
    • It’s the same in restaurant work. Same as the Ask A Lot Of Questions waiter. There are no instructions simple enough that won’t be met with over-refinement questions. Teamwork things like, ‘Run plates 1, 2, and 3’ get hammered with a retort like ‘Who’s #1?’ (even though positions are standardized). Or, ‘I didn’t clear the side plates because someone was still chewing something.’ Or, ‘Do you have the dessert silverware down already?’ Look, dude, if I ask you to run desserts, just run the desserts.
    • In Rules and Regulations, Blackie will figure out ways to gum up the works because of perceived incongruities. Like, ‘Chicken dishes always come with lemon and parsley, just like seafood, but now seafood is only coming with lemon . . . what am I supposed to do?’ Or, worse, the guests’ meals are coming out late, but Blackie will make them later still because she refuses to deliver the entrees without the table first being ‘marked’ with fresh silverware . . . Argh!
  • Narrating Aloud What They Are Doing
    • ‘Table 7 is just killing me. I’m getting this guy his fifth Diet Coke refill right now, and it’s not like I have the time ’cause 15 is have four courses and I have to keep resetting silverware. Are you having trouble with the kitchen today? I just had a French Dip that took 20 minutes, and this was the table that told me straight off they were in a hurry . . .’
    • Besides the probable explanation that Blackie is just doing this because she knows it’s annoying, there’s also an Implication that by saying everything she’s doing, she is proving herself in control and competent.
    • Here’s what I think of this: Shut up.
  • Too Organized To Participate In Teamwork
    • Every time you ask Blackie for a teamwork-type favor, you get this: ‘Okay. I have to make two cappys for 12, and then run salads for 13, then I can refill your coffees for you.’
    • Similar to Narrating Aloud, she’s feigning competence while accomplishing the parallel goal of avoiding work. Actually, Not bad; this is the most efficient you’ll ever see Blackie.

Cleaning Out The Refrigerator III – Banquet Serving Blow-Up

Last couple of posts concerned happenings at Carney’s. Michael’s – my lunch job – had a few moments as well.

Back in December I had an uncomfortable incident with Mickey, the day manager at Michael’s.

First a bit of background. Michael’s does a lot of business in its banquet rooms. When I first started there, more than five years ago, it was the drug companies bribing doctors to prescribe their snake oil. Now it’s all about selling IT guys software/systems for handling their company’s exponentially-growing digital data. Evidently there is a lot of money to be made selling Virtual Machines and the like, because these companies are spending thousands every week to do it – just at our restaurant.

[A side note: If you ever want to know what businesses are making windfall profits, check who is hosting banquet events at high end places like Michael’s.]

Anyway, like every other aspect of restaurant business, banquet volume heats up during the holidays. So more servers are needed to staff these banquet events. There are 4 unfortunate things about this, from my perspective:

  1. I don’t like working banquets. I will do it for the good of the team and the restaurant and not to be a whiner. While I actually enjoy dealing with guests in the normal, ‘on the floor’ arrangement, I don’t like working banquets. It’s just plain labor with no fun attached.
    1. The labor? There’s also more of it. A lot more. Despite an automatic 20% gratuity, Michaels’ system of tipping out everyone including the coordinator, the manager, the bartender, and the restaurant itself as an entity, unfortunately omits the busser. Therefore, the waiters do all the busser work – Breakdown/Reset included, which invariably involves moving lots of tables and heavy wooden chairs.
    2. The money is inferior as well. For our trouble in doing the work of the busser, the waiters get to divide up what comes to 13.5% (out of an original 20%) of the check, pre-tax, after everybody else in the house wets his/her beak. Further monetary insult comes when the presented check includes the gratuity pre-printed by the computer, with no additional blank line offered for the possibility of getting thrown an extra bone or two. And by the way, before this system went into effect, about one in five hosts would tip extra. Now it’s about one in 20.
  2. I work all year cultivating good relationships with my lunch guests. Then comes the one month of the year when I might get either side-tipped (Christmas tips) or get to handle the high-dollar blow-out office party, there’s an increased chance I’ll be unavailable – banished to the salt mines, er, banquet rooms.
  3. When extra staff is brought on from the night crew to help with the massive business at lunch (both on the floor and in the banquet rooms), quite often it is these night servers who end up on the floor getting the once-a-year rainmaker parties. Even though these night servers actually don’t even know how to work lunch – they don’t know the menu, the system, the pace, the tricks of the trade, the guests who come in. And to make it hurt even more, these night servers do know how to work banquets.
  4. And finally, I don’t like working banquets.

So as I say, I’m dutifully logging about a day a week in the banquet rooms. That seems to be the threshold that Mickey (who’s in charge of scheduling us lunch people) adheres to. I’m quiet as a mouse about it because everyone has to sacrifice and that’s just fine. Hey, I’ve been doing this at Michael’s for more than 5 years!

We’re about two weeks before Christmas. I do a banquet shift on Monday. I examine the various in-times for Tuesday’s lunch, which can reveal whether one is on-the-floor or in-the-banquet rooms. Or not. My in-time was inconclusive. So I stop in the office on the way out the door and ask Mickey if I’m working the banquet rooms again tomorrow.

Now truly, at this point I’m just inquiring. If she says I am working the banquet rooms, I would at most comment, ‘Wow, two days this week.’ And there would be no more from me. I’m not the complaining-type of employee (at least to managers – I actually generally sympathize with them and want to leave them to do their jobs with minimum hassle from us stiffs).

Instead, Mickey says she doesn’t actually know yet. So I say, very politely, even kind of mock begging: ‘Pleeaassse, if at all possible can I not be in the banquet rooms tomorrow?’ I say this with my hands folded as if praying, with a big smile on my face. She says she doesn’t know. She’ll see.

Next morning I show up and, yes, I’m in the banquet rooms. I’ll be real: I was not happy. But if for some reason it had to be, then it had to be.

Then I see the floor chart and notice that Celine, a night server who has never worked lunches, is on the floor. And she was the on-call person. As this data sits in the pit of my gut like a smoldering cigarette butt that just won’t go out, I go about the grunt work, er, opening banquet set up. Celine shows up and is delighted that she’s not in the banquet rooms like she expected. She gets a table straight off. I happen to be standing by the terminal as she’s placing her first order.

‘What is the Just-Right-Rib-Eye? Is that the same as the Boneless Rib Eye at dinner?’ she asks me.

The Just-Right-Rib-Eye is the top selling lunch steak for 5 years running. It is just a different name for the same smaller Boneless Rib Eye served at dinner. I equitably answered her question and helped her along with the ordering screens at lunch and gave her some advice on timing.

Then I went back to smoldering. Refer above to the 4 problems I have with Banquet Serving.

By the end of the day I was fit to be tied. I had resolved to demand some answers from Mickey. Namely, how could she put a completely inept and inexperienced (at lunch) server on the floor during the busiest part of the year, while I suffered all year long with $50-70 shifts only to be taken off the floor at exactly the time I finally stood to make some real money, and how after all I had even begged her not to put in the banquet rooms this day and how she actually had every reason – even from a management/profit/be-a-nice-person perspective – to go along with my plea, and yet she still jammed me into the banquet rooms?

Actually, that’s a whole bunch of run-on questions. And when the time came, that’s about how it came out of me. Mickey turned up in the empty banquet room at the end of the shift as I was lugging some chairs. She said something innocuous and I took the opportunity to rant at her. When she claimed that Celine was the on-call and she didn’t know she would need her till the last minute, I countered that she still could have just switched us. It had been done countless times in the past.

As Mickey mounted ever-diminishing excuses, I unfortunately couldn’t contain my frustration, and I raised my voice. Kind of shouted, in fact. She told me to not yell at her. I said I was mad, that’s why I was yelling, and that I was sorry. So I stopped yelling and started in with that kind of so-tightly-controlled-hush-it-still-seems-like-you’re-yelling voice. Then it was over.

Until I was summoned to the office on the way out the door. Mickey and the GM awaited me. Mickey reiterated that she didn’t appreciate being yelled at, that she wouldn’t treat me that way. I said I was sorry, and that I had been upset. She repeated herself, and I said I was sorry again. I started to explain what was going through my mind when the GM jumped in.

‘At this point it really doesn’t matter,’ he said. ‘You really weaken your argument when you lose your head like that.’

I apologized again.

He said how surprised he was that this came from me (as I say, I’m not that kind of guy). He went on about how this kind of thing was unacceptable and could not be tolerated, etc.

I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Well what else do want me to do then?’

He kind of got a glimmer in his eye, grinned a bit, and chuckled, ‘Ho . . . You’re not getting sarcastic with me, are you?’

I admit, it was a little chilling and intimidating. But I said, ‘No. But I apologized once to Mickey right when it happened. Then I apologized twice to her right now. And once more to you. And since you’re saying it doesn’t matter at all what I have to say about the incident, apologizing is about the only thing I can do.’

That did the trick, I guess. Because he stopped being menacing. He had a few more words to say. Then Mickey offered to let me have a say about it. So I took a controlled take on the various points I’ve mentioned above, and pointed out I’d spent the afternoon stewing about it because in the final analysis it just seemed so unfair.

I wrapped it up, and then said, ‘So, do you have something for me to sign?’ Meaning a write-up form. The GM said, no, they didn’t think it would be necessary because they couldn’t imagine it happening again. I thanked them for having that opinion of me, and beat it out of there.

In retrospect, while I still think I got screwed that day and I’m even still irritated thinking about the situation, I’m mostly just embarrassed. But then, what the hell? Nobody’s perfect. I’m not the first person to lose their cool at work. Thank god it didn’t involve an automatic weapon.