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.
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