The Restaurant Chronicles

The Story of My Sexual Assault on Muni in San Francisco

Something happened to me yesterday that has happened to millions of women in cities all over the world. This is my story of sexual assault on public transportation, a bus in downtown San Francisco:

I was sitting in a seat by the window across from the rear doors with headphones on, listening to music, being careful to hide my loaner phone in my purse after I had my iPhone stolen out of my hand last week. A man sat down beside me in the empty seat.

I did what I usually do and quickly, discreetly sized up my seatmate. He was a disheveled middle-aged man with blonde hair that was either dusty or graying. He smelled strongly of alcohol on his breath, body and clothes. He didn't smell like piss and weeks upon weeks of not showering, like other unfortunate people who sometimes take the bus, but he looked like he was swiftly headed in that direction. This man was clearly intoxicated and behaving strangely. He swayed in his seat and repeatedly made the sign of the cross, which is highly disconcerting, let me assure you. When women would board and stand next to where he sat he would try to engage them. They would quickly move away. I should have followed them.

He tried to engage me as well. My defense was to aggressively ignore him on the very crowded bus by staring out the window and keeping my headphones on. I had just three stops to go. When he tried to talk to me (words I couldn't hear due to the music) I shook my head no and held my hand up, flattened, to signal that I wished to be left alone.

Muni Bus

The bus continued to lurch down busy Market Street. I pulled the cord to signal that I wanted off when the bus was due to stop again at 5th and Market.

I stood a few seconds before the bus came to a halt, a clear indiction that I was getting out and off the bus. When the bus stopped the man to my right swiveled his legs around rather than stand, so I took a wide step to get around him and as I did he grabbed me between my legs.

Without thinking I turned and swung my heavy purse containing a server's book, a hardback journal and loose, sharp pens at his head, but barely connected. I think the purse grazed his face. I screamed FUCK YOU, also without thinking, and fled off the bus.

I stepped down onto the concrete platform, my head swimming in a raucous tide. A young man beside me asked what happened. "He grabbed me between the legs," I told him. 

The young man shook his head. "And that man said, 'What?,' like he didn't do nothing."

My legs moved forward in spite of myself. I was floating down the sidewalk on Market Street trying to comprehend what had just happened. I was trying hard not to vomit. I felt ill; I was physically revolted. I shuddered and tears collected in the corners of my eyes. 

My lip quivered as I crossed the busy mall to the elevator that would take me to the restaurant where I work. Everything was foggy. My feelings were foggy and my vision was foggy and my mind was foggy. I couldn't believe what had just happened, and I couldn't believe how awful it made me feel. 

As I hit the button in the elevator for the 4th floor I realized for the first time I'd been sexually assaulted. I'd considered whether or not this was a big deal, checked the facts against my feelings and decided that yeah, it kind of was.

I walked into the restaurant in a daze. I walked over to put my bag away when my friend Leo put up his hand to give me a high five. I blurted out, "I was just sexually assaulted on the bus."

I told Leo and Marc more specifically what happened and the embarrassment rose in my face and the revulsion in my gut. I sat down at Table 100, put my forehead on my forearm, burying my face, and cried really hard.

Poor Leo and Marc stood there mostly silent. "This fucking city," was certainly uttered, as were several I'm sorries. They were both very comforting in their presence, but they seemed at a loss for words. And who can blame them?

"Do you want a glass of wine?," Leo offered. I looked down at my hands and they were shaking.

"YES," was my emphatic reply.

He went and poured a hefty glass of gruner veltliner, my favorite, and handed it to me. "Here. Slam this."

And I did. It helped immensely. My nerves were completely frayed and I was a mascara-y mess and I had a new two-top at Table 49. I freshened my make-up in the bathroom and by the time I took the couple's drink order the wine was kicking in and my nervous system began to unclench slightly. 

I made iced tea for the lady at 49 and waited for the bartender to pour a Trumer when I felt the first bubbles of boiling anger begin to rise within me. I was moving through the stages of grief very quickly. Suddenly I was fucking pissed.

I wanted to punch someone--specifically the asshole who grabbed me between my legs. Just typing that sends puke rising into my throat. I can recall with precise accuracy the sensation of his hand between my legs and I'm not sure I'll ever forget it. It felt like wrongness and violation and horror and evil. 

Marc, the sous chef, sensed my anger. He stood watching me fume.

"Is it too soon to make a joke?," he asked, knife in hand.

"It's been 15 minutes," I said. "I think it's probably overdue."

He grinned. "I'm going to say I was sexually assaulted, too, because I could really use a glass of wine right now."

I laughed and laughed and was grateful for the levity. And the wine.

As my shift continued I thought more about what had happened. "I was just wearing my work uniform," I thought. "It wasn't even anything..." I stopped myself before I could think it all the way. I was about to consider what I'd been wearing in trying to process what had happened to me. 

After urging from others I decided to go to the police precinct and report the crime today. I was reminded that there are cameras on Muni buses and that there might be viable video of him touching me. Even if not, these crimes are grossly underreported and even one more record of this kind of assault might mean more police presence in the future.

So, after my short lunch shift this afternoon I took a cab to 6th and Bryant to the Southern station to file a report. I took a cab because the next bus was reportedly 47 minutes away and I felt unsafe walking. That happens when you've had your crotch grabbed on public transit and the police precinct is in a sketchy-ish part of town. 

I entered and told the security guard I was there to report a crime. He told me to walk to a counter where officers were protected behind thick plastic or glass. I had to use a phone to talk to the policeman on the other side.

"I'm here to report a crime. I was groped on the bus."

"What happened?"

"I was groped on the bus. He grabbed me between my legs as I was exiting."

"Where did he grab you? Sorry, but you have to be more specific."

"He grabbed my vulva." I tried to tamp down my embarrassment.

"Okay. What do you want to do? File a report?" His tone made his words sound more like, "Are you serious? You came all the way down here for this?"

"Yes," I told him. Yes, I wanted to file a report.

He asked for more information. I gave it to him. He told me to wait. Then he came out and spoke with me face to face.

"We have two options here. We have a Muni task force. We can give them this info and they can be on the lookout for this guy. Or you can file a full report, but it won't do anything."

He made sure to tell me this guy wouldn't be caught even if I filed a report. For a moment I hedged. For a split second I considered not filing a report. He nearly convinced me. Then I remembered what I came there to do.

"I realize this guy probably won't be caught, but this crime is underreported and I want to do my due diligence and make sure this one is. And if it means more police presence later, then even better." He did not agree with me; he said nothing. The amount of sympathy he managed could fit into a thimble.

I waited more. While waiting with no where to sit for many minutes. I considered the infirm or pregnant or elderly women who would be very physically uncomfortable waiting to file a similar report. With nothing to be said of the emotional discomfort.

Finally I was given a slip of paper with my case number on it. I was told that usually sexual battery requires "skin on skin contact," but that that was how my case would be labeled. He told me I could follow the case online.

I initiated a hand shake. He finally, finally mustered that he was sorry this happened. He told me to be careful. It sounded a lot like, "don't let this happen to you again."

A less confident woman would not have filed this crime report for sexual assault. I know this, because I nearly didn't.

I have a lot more processing of emotions to do before I write more about what happened to me and how the situation was treated by SFPD. Plus, there is more to be revealed with how this case will be handled. But I wanted to write about this now for my own therapeutic reasons, but also to shine a light on a crime that happens regularly and that just might be downplayed by the people in charge of our safety. 

If this happens to you I urge you to report it to the police. Do not let them convince you to walk away without filing a report. Being groped against your will on the subway or bus or anywhere is sexual battery, and you deserve to stand up and have your assault counted.

More soon.

How Do You Say "Are You Ready To Order" In German, French, Italian and Chinese?

Every restaurant is unique and thus every restaurant presents a unique set of challenges. And one of the primary challenges in being a server at the restaurant where I currently work is the steady stream of foreign toursists who breeze through the doors and right past the host stand, seating themselves at a dirty table.

I should pause right here for very necessary disclaimer: I have never traveled abroad. I know! I know; it's sad, but the truth. I have no idea how difficult or scary it must be to try to order a meal and a glass of wine in a country you don't know in a language you barely understand. I'd relish the opportunity to try this task, but the free tickets to Italy have never presented themselves.

Trying to decipher the menu while trying to observe local customs and etiquette completely alien to you is probably a overwhelming experience. I have sympathy for anyone attempting this endeavor. But now more than ever before I empathize with the person in an apron standing with pen poised trying desperately to figure out what people want to eat.

All of my previous serving jobs were in Tennessee, and the restaurants I worked in didn't draw a large number of travelers. I did sometimes have trouble understanding the guests at my tables, but that was rare, as I am fluent in redneck. I knew when Position 1 ordered a side of "raynch dip" that he wanted ranch dressing and likely lots of it. I once thought a young girl ordered a glass of ass, but it turned out she just wanted some ice. These misunderstandings were minor.

Now I'm employed at a fancy pants pizzeria in a mall that serves artisan Neopolitan style pies and creative anti pastis and pasta dishes featuring pig ear, but did I mention we're in a mall? The food is phenomenal and the menu is better than solid, but a good half of our guests just wander in, Hollister bags in tow, with no idea what they are getting into. Most of them know a very limited amount of English.

When the most important part of your job is communicating what the guest wants to the people who make it happen, it can be maddeningly frustrating to be unable to get across the most basic question. Something as simple as, "Would you like something to drink?" becomes a five minute blank-faced stand-off. I'm not exaggerating when I say many of the people I wait on can barely order water. 

Again! Let me stop here to say I COULDN'T EITHER. I am not blaming or judging here, in the least. Drop me in the middle of Bangkok and ask me to order water and I'd fail spectacularly. But none of this makes it any easier for me to decipher what the hell people are trying to say to me.

Italian Cafe in Lugano

There are some things I quickly learned: Water "wis no gas," is still water in a bottle. Panna. They want that. I know my Muslim guests most likely don't want pork on their pizza, but "pancetta" didn't set off any alarm bells for them. So, I clarify by saying, "That pizza comes with just tomato sauce, chile peppers and pork, that okay with you?" This allows them to order a vegetarian pizza and saves everyone a lot of hassle (in the kitchen) and disgust (at the table). 

But most of the time it's a comedy of errors as I stand tableside and try to translate all varieties of French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and German. 

Right now it's heavy toursist season, and thus my section is heavy with tourists. After being seated with my sixth table of barely-English-speakers this week I asked the hostess if it would kill her to seat me with some locals. She said that there weren't any. 

One table with a language barrier is tough enough, but try five. Or six. It can quickly become a nightmare.

The primary problem with these types of tables is that they are a time suck. Many worldly foreign travelers have no qualms about flagging down their server--or any server that wanders into their eyeline, for that matter--and relaying that they are ready to order. At which time the guests in question carry on a five minute long conversation amongst themselves in Spanish as you stand there waiting to be addressed. 

How would you answer this question: What is a beet? What is garlic? Those are tough questions! I can tell you that pecorino is a type of cheese, but how to explain a beet? I am stumped with these difficult questions nightly.

And since I'm on the subject foreign tourists dining out, I would be remiss if I didn't address the issue of tipping. Or lack thereof. That's right, you knew I was going there! And how can you not, when you regularly get a dollar and three cents on a $120 tab?

This is a delicate subject, I know. But, oh my God, you guys, the not tipping thing is the worst. No tip, a few cents on $40, $2 on $200--this happens to me on the regular. The only way I can stomach it is by working in a place that pools the tips and divides them evenly based on hours worked. We all share in the stiffing. It's the only way I don't go mad dozens of times a night. I know that service charges are included in other countries. But if that's so, how do these travelers not know that here they are not?

I'll be honest here, and say it: If I'm slammed, my foreign guests are my last priority. It's horrible, I know, but the odds of a 5% tip or none at all is so high that I'd be stupid to concentrate my efforts where it won't pay off. That said, if I'm not completely weeded, then everyone gets the same level of (amazing, if I do say so myself) service, regardless of where you're from. But if the adorable gay regulars from Noe Valley are back and want another bottle of wine, they are getting it before the Italian teenagers (literally) snapping at me order their 7th Coke.

Perhaps one day I'll have the chance to travel to an exotic location and attempt to order a meal and will be humbled by the experience and regret ever publishing this. I hope so! In the meantime, these are honest thoughts on my work life that are likely shared by a number of people who work in my profession.

For a humorous take on this phenomenon from the other perspective, take a listen to this bit from Bill Cosby about the time he tried to order dinner at a restaurant in Italy and was shocked by what landed on the table.

[I would just like to repeat I am a silly American who has never traveled outside US borders, so I should probably shut the fuck up.]

The Story of the Big Spill

When you carry things for a living, the likelihood that you will drop things is sky high. When pouring refills and building cocktails or opening wine is a huge part of your job, the chances you will break or crack or spill something are through the roof.

When one takes on a serving job it becomes immediately clear that accidents will happen. A lot. Whether it's an errant elbow to a tray of champagne flutes or pulling the tea urn out too soon and watching in horror as sheets of brewed black tea rain down in waterfalls, shit gets fucked up. You just hope and pray it isn't *on* someone. That's when it gets really ugly.

Belgian Beer Lunch at High Street Grill, Mt. Holly, NJ

Take for instance, last night. We were having the biggest night in the restaurant's history, and I was weeded. I won't lie, I was slammed and hurrying to take care of the many people in my section, which happened to be outside, on the patio.

I'll pause right here to say I hate working on the patio. It's because I'm not good at it. The tables are far away and the computers are all the way inside and you are the only person out there so you can't easily snag a colleague and beg them to send that dessert on hold or top off coffees. The patio intimidates me, and last night it won.

I had a full section and two new two-tops. I made it out to 207 with two glasses of iced tea, and when I went to take one of them off the tray with my left hand the glass tipped over, hit the edge of the table and shattered, sending shards of glass and cubes of ice and brown liquid pouring down and into a bag of freshly-bought dresses in a Nordstroms bag.

When this happens, when you ruin people's new clothes or important dates, you watch it happen in a torturous slow motion. You begin to calculate how much time and energy and "I'm sorry" it's going to take to rectify the situation, add that to the amount of time you didn't have before the spill and you softly say to yourself, "Fuck it."

There is a sort of mental switch that is flipped when you feel all eyes on you, watching the spectacle you created, where you realize, "It's food and drink. I didn't spill the new cure for cancer all over the ground. I spilled iced tea. So, fuck it. Everything will be okay."

Then you begin to pick up the pieces.

If you are lucky, like me, you are surrounded by a crew of compassionate and quick-moving co-workers who appear like magic with a broom and dustpan to sweep up the debris, while someone else is at the ready with towels for wiping. If you have it good, like me, your incredibly understanding and capable manager rushes out, apologizes profusely, grabs the shopping bags, sorts through what can be salvaged, offering to replace what has been damaged. Then your manager, if you have a manager like mine, will then rush off to Nordstroms with the stained dresses and the receipt and have replacement garments table-side before the pair of women this happened to see entrees on the table.

Last night everyone rushed to my aid to help. When I asked one young lady to replace the iced teas that were the instigators in all this, I began to tear up. The embarrassment and stress became too much.

Particularly when I went back out to the patio and the lady whose dresses were ruined (then replaced) asked, "Are you the person who spilled the drink?" I said I was, and she grabbed my hand and pulled it toward her bosom. She is my grandmother's age, if either of my grandmothers were still alive.

"Don't you worry," she said. She pulled my hand even closer toward her chest, and I squatted down beside her. "Don't you worry. I was a waitress at summer camp, and I spilled orange soda all over and oh, did I cry."

I began to cry.

"Listen, sweetie, I don't want you to get in trouble. Accidents happen. We're both Jewish and we work in the Jewish Community Center kitchen and we spill and break things every time we walk in there. Don't you worry. You go home tonight and have yourself a stiff drink.

I couldn't help myself. I squatted and cried at her kindness. I spilled tea on her and she went out of her way to comfort me and assure me that it was fine. She patted my hands and she hugged me.

And I've found that's pretty common when accidents like that happen in restaurants. When people's jeans become soaked with Diet Coke or four glasses of cabernet wash over the table and onto their clothes, they don't flip out and scream or fly off in a rage. Not at all. Most of the time people become kinder and more personable and are quick to forgive and eager to make sure no one gets fired. It's just tea. It's just slacks. It's not the end of the world.

I said this last night as I relayed my shitty night to my colleagues in the dish area: "When push comes to shove, most people don't suck." Not the most eloquent statement, but true nonetheless.

This is evidenced as well by the other people in your section who have witnesses the shit-show, thanking their stars privately that they came away unscathed. They say things like, "Oooh, girl. I feel for you, girl," or they ask, "Are you okay?," and they make sure you know they can wait for that second beer. They're good; you go get yourself together.

Then they all leave really big tips.

Big tips, human compassion, blog/book material or not: no server ever wants to spill something on a customer. It's mortifying. In fact, Beth tells me she knows a guy who was waiting tables when he spilled an entire tray of wine on four guests. And he just turned around, walked out and never came back--to his table or to the job.

Which leads me to ask, have you ever been spilled upon while dining out? Would love to hear tales from the other side of the table.

[photo by Jazz Guy]

Check, Please Don't Fight About It

"May I take this for you?" I grabbed the little glass cup with his ticket and a credit card poking out of it.

"Sure. You saw what he did, though, right? The ol' bathroom trick. Took off when the check came."

He was saying it with a smile. But intentionally or not, he was right. His date that night had pulled the classic Powder Room Pull Out, the deft act of excusing one's self to the restroom when it's time to pay the tab at a restaurant. It's not a common occurance, but it no doubt happens from time to time; enough that I overhear people talk about trying it while their dinnermate is out of earshot.

Who is going to pay for dinner? Whether on first dates or business lunches or simple, friendly, spur-of-the-moment outings, the question looms large.

People ask themselves: "What is the best way to pay for this meal we have shared without seeming like a complete tightwad?" Or "I paid last time, can I count on him to cover it now?" Or the even more complicated, "We are dating so perhaps he should pay, not every time, but maybe on occasion, like this one, but if I don't offer will I totally blow it, ohmygodwhatdoIdo?" I've seen tell-tale signs of all these internal questions being asked on the faces of those who see me coming with the check.

Check 044933

Thing is, I'm a server, and even I don't think there are hard and fast rules about who pays and when to split it down the middle and when to go so far as to ask to pay separately down to the penny. Each situation is unique. And let me tell you, watching people hash out what to do about that inconvenient money part at the end can be pure spectacle. 

The most dramatic (and my least favorite, by far) of all the things people do when the check comes is the Big, Loud Fight. That ridiculous thing diners do when they snatch the bill off the table (or even out of my hand) and hold it aloft in the air screeching loudly that they've "got it." Inevitably, because the production demands an equally showy response, the other person at the table tries with exaggerated movements to take the check from the person who has now hidden the check behind his back. Things escalate. There is lots of hemming and hawing and NO, NO, NO, and finally, after much ado, one person relents and in turn gets a free steak. 

I dislike the Big, Loud Fight because they often get me involved in their fake war. "Don't take it from him! Don't take his card. I demand that you let me pay," all while the other guy is saying the exact same words. I'm there to provide service to both guests and asking me to pick who pays is just unfair. I have no idea who paid last week or who makes more money or whose turn it is. Leave me out of it.

That said, there is a sly way to go about paying for dinner without a lot of fuss. Be smooth. Keep your card in your hand from the outset and when your server comes to tell you about wines, make eye contact, then quickly hand it to her. If you don't trust your server to hang onto your credit or debit card for the length of the meal, even just signaling to her that you have the card out and ready will result in a smart server bringing the tab discreetly to you at the meal's finish. 

But people love to put on airs. The Big, Loud Fight over the tab is often cultural, too, with some families going to great lengths to attempt to pay the bill in order to save "face." To not make grand gestures to pick up the tab is considered gauche in many circles, and so I've learned to sit back and watch rather than let it bother me.

Except when I'm in the weeds. In which case, let me know when you've got things sorted out. You play Tug of War, I have to go pour 15 waters.

[Photo by Steve Snodgrass]

Wine and Punishment

I'm not proud of this, but yesterday I had the mother of all hangovers. The sort of hangover that reminds you each second of your constant decaying and messy mortality. The kind of hangover where you can't even eat. The one where you wake up still slightly drunk, so you have no idea how unfathomably horrible the rest of your day will be, your trauma building and building as the minutes creep up and punch you in the temples.

The reason for this beast of a hangover is my own idiocy. I'm 34, not 21. And frankly, no one any age should mix the kinds of alcohol I did the other night. White wine and tequila? Champagne and whiskey? Yep, I was that stupid.

And, oh, did I pay. I woke up to the phone ringing. It took me a solid ten minutes to reach the foot of the bed for the phone still in my jacket from the night before, barely alive with 8% battery power. It was work. There was a fire in West Oakland and thus the BART system was unable to take commuters either to or from the East Bay. The opening server was stuck in Berkeley. My boss was calling to see if I could come in early.

I assessed the damage. I decided it wasn't too bad. In retrospect, I was still intoxicated, because I was worse than bad. I just didn't know it yet.

I called back and said I'd be there as soon as I could. Still, I sat in bed a solid fifteen minutes trying to move my limbs to the floor. I was finally able to clothe myself and walk the 6 or so blocks to pick up the 9-Bruno.

Staggering into the sunlight, I dragged my body the length of the five-minute walk with immense effort. Naturally, as soon as I boarded the bus and it began its bumpy route, a crashing wave of nausea rose inside me.

"Are you tired or something?," a man asked me.

"Sir, please don't talk to me right now," I pleaded, and he scooted backwards in his seat.

A vagrant who smelled distinctly of pee took the seat right under where I was standing. I choked back the urge to puke. He asked me if I wanted to buy any menthol singles.

"The very idea makes me want to vomit," I told him honestly, my voice ragged.

"Damn. Okay, then," he said back and left me to sway, my face turning ever greener.

A large man dressed like a woman mercifully got up from a corner seat, which I immediately snagged. I watched a young black man in well-tailored pants and a perfect-fitting sweater board the bus. As he did the driver accelerated and he stumbled, stepping on the foot of a dirty white guy listening to a Walkman and drinking Arizona tea from a tall, hot pink can.

"You stepped right on my toe!," the white guy yelled.

"That's why I said excuse me," replied the black man.

Then the white guy began to shout, but the black man quickly eclipsed him with his own shouting of, "Don't TRY ME. Don't TRY ME. Don't TRY ME," until the white guy was quiet.

When the driver stopped to give a passenger bus route information the white guy turned his annoyance toward her. "JUST DO YOUR FUCKING JOB, LADY, AND DRIVE THE BUS. YOUR JOB IS NOT TO ARGUE."

I put my head in my hands.

I then heard more arguing from the front: "Fuck you!" 

"No, fuck you!"

I looked up from trying to hold it together to see two senior women, each well above the age of 70, in a shouting match with one another.

"Is that...two old people yelling?," a teenaged girl asked her mother, who was wagging her head at the entire scene. "Yep," she replied. And then the teenaged girl mused about what the world is coming to.

Even more verbal fights erupted before I dismembarked and 5th and Market. With lead legs I lumbered through the crowd. The sous chef and another cook stood at the doors smoking cigarettes. They laughed as they saw me coming.

"One foot in front of the other, Brittney. You can do it," one of them cheered.

And I did do it. I waited tables, albeit few of them--BART being down really cut into our lunch business--then went home and napped, trying to rally for an art show I promised I'd attend. And I did go, but had to bail after just half an hour. 

The moral of this story is: Don't be a complete moron like me. And that even if a hangover commute makes for a good story, your liver asks that you consider the consequences. Which? So very not worth it.

I Can Hear You

One of my favorite things about waiting tables are the short relationships you get to have with people who come in and out of your life, your shift, your tables, your care. I get to learn more about humans every time I go to work.

And one of the very best things about these fleeting relationships is that each one is unique. Each one lasts, typically, about an hour. Yet in that hour I am privvy to incredibly private and sensitive conversations, if only the snatches I overhear as I approach or walk away.

Here are just some of the bits of conversation I've overheard of late:

  • "They were fucking each other's balls."
  • "How was it?" / 'It was awesome. There were naked boobies everywhere.'
  • "I told my dad I didn't want his wife in my life. And that's when my dad and I started to get really close."

And then there are the things people tell you outright when you ask if you may clear their plates. For instance:

  • "We just got back from our first marriage counseling session. So we're still talking."

It's always incredible the sorts of sensitive information people will reveal to their server. Or even just around their server. My aim is always to provide attentive but unobtrusive service. In doing this, I can often be viewed by tables as invisible, just a ghost collecting unneeded butter knives who they think can't hear the heartbreaking language about how their mother's life is ending.

It Would Be Better

"It would be better," she told me. She told me several times.

She came in alone, requested a table for one and she carried a thick book. I took to her immediately. One of my own; a woman after my own preferences. I also enjoy a table for one accompanied only by a big book.

She wore a knitted cap the entire meal. It's safe to say she made it herself. It sat sloppily on pale hair cut in the style all women seem to adopt after the age of 55. The hair shook beneath the handmade hat.

I encouraged her to order the most delicious pasta and she did, especially when I told her it would be gone soon. Out of season. The time was ripe. 

She said she wanted red wine. I asked her if she wanted it with a big body or a light body and she said big but not too big so I directed her to something fitting and she nodded her approval. When I went on to describe more about the wine she stopped me rudely and said, "I know the wine." She repeated, "I know the wine." Her tone was patronizing, but her voice was soft.

I asked if she'd like bread with the pasta. She asked, "Whose bread?" I told her it was our own, homemade foccacia, and she said she would. I brought it at the same time her dish arrived hot from the kitchen. 

After leaving her to tuck into her meal, I came by later to inquire about the quality. A thumbs up and a smile pleased me and I left her to dine in quiet.

Later I cleared her used dishes and presented her with a dessert menu. She accepted it without a word.  On my next trip near her I saw her credit card was lying flat on the edge of the table. She was holding her open book, her arm outstretched away from her body.

"I'll bring your bill right back." I said it softly and quickly, unobtrusively.

At this point the woman put her hand, her pointed finger, in my face. She was signaling for me to wait. She finished reading the page in front of her while I stood waiting.

"I was absorbed in my book. It would be better if you had just taken the card." Her voice was coated in contempt. 

"I don't like to grab people's cards without a word. Most like to see a total before paying."

She then smiled at me, but her smile was matched by narrowed eyes. Her voice was ice.

"Just take the card. And bring back the receipt."

I was livid. 

Rarely do I let people get to me--each of us is fighting our own battle, and people don't mean it, they're just having a bad day, et cetera--but this? This pissed me right the fuck off. 

This guest had an air of eccentricity from the beginning, but it became quickly apparent that she was also quite particular. I'm fine with that. I like the challenge.

But if someone feels that they are above talking to me, I'm done with them. If someone thinks they shouldn't have to communicate with their server, especially about something as crucial as taking her money, then I don't know what to say to that. Except how dare you think you are too good or too busy or too absorbed to exchange a few words with someone whose job it is to wait on you. I mean, really. Fuck that.

This woman went so far as to complain to the hostess on her way out of the restaurant. "The meal was fine until she insisted on talking to me about my credit card."

To her credit, the hostess replied, "We are really big on communicating with our guests here," to which the woman sort of growled and walked out.


She didn't even have to talk to me. She could have nodded. But she couldn't be bothered, and instead made me feel incredibly small. Part of that is my own fault. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent, but goddamn. They can certainly try, and that's exactly what that woman did to me that day.

I'm over it now. Had I written this entry the afternoon it happened it would have been a fire hose of cursing so intense you'd have been in awe. I couldn't believe that someone stuck her finger in my face, had me wait nearly a minute, only to dress me down. Why would someone do that?

That's where it gets complicated.

[Photo by Robert S. Digby]

This Happened

"I want the large tri-color salad, but with no salt. I already asked the girl up front and requested no salt."

"Okay. If the dressing has salt, you'd like no dressing."

"No, I want the dressing, just no salt."


"And what can I put on it? I don't want prawns. Give me chicken. Grilled chicken."

"We don't have grilled chicken, but we have organic roasted chicken. It is served cold, and it is thinly sliced. It's said to be very good."

"I don't want that. I don't want that, and I don't want prawns. What else?"

"You can add the roasted chicken or the prawns. That's really it."

"I get that! But I want a protein! What else do you have?"

"It's chicken or the prawns."

"Fine. Give me a sample of the chicken."

     *           *         *

"I'll have the calamari salad. What is it like?"

"It's fried calamari on an arugula salad. It's lots of lettuce with some preserved lemon and red onion."

"I can't eat dark green vegetables. I can't eat salad."

"Okay. Maybe I can help you select something else."

"No. I want the calamari salad. Can I just substitute asparagus for the salad?"

"Not really. The dish *is* a salad."

"Okay. Fine. I'll pick around the lettuce."

"Are you sure you wouldn't like a different dish?"

"Just give me the salad."