sour milk

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Why I don't play tennis.

I am a waiter.

I like to think of myself as an actor, but to honestly respond to the intention of the question -- what are you? (i.e. how do you make a living?) -- I am a waiter.

Today I tell a tale from the world of waiting tables.

It was a Tuesday morning shift, and I cringed as I saw one black Cadillac Escalade pull up after another. Certainly no car pooling for this crowd. Yes, it was that time of week -- the ladies after tennis luncheon. You can spot them from a mile away (figuratively speaking of course). They each walk in still donning their shorts, which are a little too short, and a little too tight for women their age and size. I smile, slightly amused, as I ponder the fat of their thighs jiggling from side to side as they clumsily waltz through the front door.

"Hello ladies, how many today?"


"Right this way ladies"

I am no longer smiling. They sit at 302, one of my tables. I grab a bottle of wine, gather my wits and paste a smile on my face. I approach the table.

"Hello ladies, how are we today? My name is ..."

"Could we get some bread?"

"Of course. I'll grab in just a minute after I get your ..."

"And some parmesan cheese to dip it in."

"Sure ... "

"We want some roasted garlic too."

"Not a problem, I can ..."

"Were you going to take our drink orders?"

"I'd love too. What will ...?"

"Water ... with lemon ... extra lemon .. not too much ice ... but make sure there's enough."

I'm still smiling ... on the outside.

I go around and take the the drink orders. The mix of inordinate amounts of overpriced perfume and sweat somehow makes the general area smell of cat urine, and it's quite the task to find pockets of air amid the small cloud hovering above the table. I survive phase one and proceed to return with 1 tea and six waters (one with extra lemon, not too much ice, but enough), a small plate of roasted garlic, a mound of freshly grated parmesan cheese, and 3 fresh loaves of bread (one more than usual for a party of 7).

"We're gonna need more bread."

"I'll grab you some when I ..."

"We're ready to order."

"Of course."

Still smiling.

I take the orders, which are all differing variations of Soup and Salad. I take the menus and put in the order. I continue to wait on them for the next 30 minutes, getting more bread, refilling drinks, getting more bread, clearing plates, getting more bread. It is flawless service. I smile (on the inside) as I hear them congratulate each other on a really nice lob, or a great return, or one fantastic ace. I smile as they tell Tracy about that spectacular backhand that "really cleared the net". I suppose as I watch Tracy heave masses of parmesan cheese and garlic into her mouth with the aid of a large chunk of bread soaked in pure olive oil that it was the only shot she had that "cleared the net" all morning. Tracy's salad remains in front of her ... untouched.

At one end of the table is a lady that sticks out like a sore thumb. She wears long pants, her hair is naturally blonde and would move in a breeze, her hands are not imprisoned by excessive amounts of yellow gold, and she speaks with a foreign accent. Yes, she is the tennis pro. She is paid to impart her knowledge, but most importantly she continues to be paid to laud the tennis ladies with praise for their feeble efforts. In many ways we are the same. I listen to her praise the marked improvement of Tonya's service. I hurt for her. I know she wants to be here at this table at this moment in time as much as I do. But the way of the world requires it. I know the impossibility of her task. I imagine it to be quite similar to teaching swine how to use a fork. She has a job I could never do. She is my silent confidant.

The end of the meal comes, and I return the tennis ladies' change and credit card slips with impeccable speed. I thank each of them and ask if there's anything else I can do. I am largely ignored except for one lady who takes the initiative to be somewhat polite and tell me -- "No, we're great ... thank you." I walk away gravely awaiting my fate.

What I have come to learn about tennis ladies is that in many ways they are financially hurting. Oh you wouldn't know it to look at them, but that is precisely the point. Their chronic hyper-consumerism has put them and their families so far in debt that it's finally at the point that, well, something must be done. Perhaps at their husband's request, or perhaps at their own gallant self-discipline they decide they need to make a change. But you see, any change that they make must meet the following criteria -- it can never, under any circumstance require personal sacrifice. Because this very well could lead to some semblance of a slightly lower "quality of life". So, instead of trading in their luxury SUV's for a more fuel efficient vehicle to curb their skyrocketing gas bills, or instead of being so bold to sell their $600,000 home and buy a smaller house that still more than takes care of their needs, or instead of buying one less pair of shoes, or instead of carpooling with their fellow tennis ladies, or instead of cleaning their own house, or instead of learning how to tell a child no, they silently place their nickels and dimes, and occasional dollar bill in my waiter wallet to do their part in being a better steward of their money. Yes, if they can cut the tip percentage they leave from 15% to 10% they can save ... oh ... at least $100 a year. (Tennis ladies have never really dreamed of leaving anything near 20%. They have never really seen the point in having to pay someone to do a job that 200 short years ago they had people do for free.) Yes this is my plight. I must sacrifice for the tennis lady to "thrive". It is the world I know.

The moral of this story: Don't play tennis.