Sunday, October 12, 2008

An Amendment to “Black Friday”

On a day that I posted about how in the service industry “there is no such a thing as being human,” I witnessed one of the most tender, least bull shitty acts human understanding I have seen in some time, and I must say, it actually moved me. The act, described below, was performed by a girl around 18-yearsold who is somewhat self-conscious and insecure and seemed to desperately want to make an impression on her new co-workers—which is understandable—but these things have nothing to do with why she did what she did or the act itself. While I don’t know what to make of it, in an act of full disclosure considering what I wrote yesterday in my piece Black Friday, here it is.

Sometime during the dinner rush around 7:30 or so, with every table occupied and on a 25-minute wait and the big screen playing the UNC-Notre Dame contest in a town where everyone either loves UNC or goes to Wake and people are intent and focused on food and football, a kid with severe mental disabilities starts shouting very loudly some general football terms that are audible even from the recesses of the kitchen. And people getting uncomfortable in a really bad way—I have people asking for their checks and holding their temples looking down at their crotch and whispering about the kid and the scene he is making—and this isn’t really good for anyone. Servers begin whining, people are staring, I here someone say “why don’t they just leave.”

But just as people are about to stampede for the door, a hostess who started a week ago to the day, came over to the clearly frightened severely mentally disabled boy and his ancient companion (who I assume was his grandfather[*]) and squeezed her way into a one person booth, taking up very little of the kid’s space but still setting with him and just talking and listening to his pleas of “score!” and “touchdown!” Maybe part of it was the fact that he had a very pretty young girl sitting next to him actually giving him her undivided attention that calmed him down, I know it works for me when I am freaking out and my unbelievable female companion shows me that I am worthy of such lavish and unwarranted attention. But as with the case with my female companion, there was something else that transcended simple circumspection. It is shown in words and tone and body language that all say it is ok and you are a person and you are human and you are worthy without having to actually say it.

So as she sat there talking to the unlikely pair, she provided comfort for everyone around her. Obviously for the kid, but also for the grandpa in listening to their story, which she barely mentioned afterwards to the inquiring minds, and then the paying customers who were annoyed with the outbursts and the servers who were having to damage-control their tables and on down the line of employees and customers all with a single act of kindness. It visually illustrated the fact that we all are connected and that can be a good thing. When it was over and the two were gone, I told her something along the lines of “nice job” but it was insufficient sounding like some work related issue which it was not, not really. It went beyond that and I hope she realizes this and retains this quality.

After I had some time to reflect on this event, this lone instance of actual, really deep caring, I started to think that maybe this actually shows how most of us are broken by such places. In this line of thinking, I figured it would take someone who has only been working at it for only a week to do something like this. Later, a newer server who has worked at other branches of the company who is one of the most negative people I work with and bitches a lot and calls people “redneck” or “ghetto” depending on race and is pissed off about something virtually every night though he is a nice enough guy for the most part and has been doing this far longer than I have and is also “educated” apparently had some sort of talking to with the hostess because it was late and she was forced to set people in his section around the bar (though she tried to sit at least two of these tables in my section but the TVs aren’t over there and who wouldn’t rather sit in a table around the bar anyway) and it didn’t look like these folks really gave a shit about when we close (20 and then 15-minutes from when they moseyed on in) and were only drinking water (often times a sign of how cheap the table is comes from the drink order which tells you a lot about the way they are going to tip you[†]) and never even acted like they wanted to be there and have you prepare their drinks and dinners for them.

Afterwards, she was pretty upset and said that she is now “thinking about leaving.” Here is a young female who did an unbelievably kind thing that greatly benefited the restaurant in a way that pretty much went unacknowledged by anyone but me because everyone in there was so self-absorbed. I mean, this was a place where two weeks ago a severely mentally disabled employee (who is so handicapped he is actually appears happy) was coming out of the back when he not only slipped and fell on the hard tile but after landing awkwardly, he like sort of slid, sort of bounced, and racked himself on a pole of the platform where the guys in the back wash dishes. It was incredible as far as falls go. It was the worst one I had ever personally seen in that it was a double edged sword of wounded pride with the initial fall and then the skid into pole resulting in genital anguish. It was also, I hate to say, slapstick comedy. When it happened I couldn’t believe he had actually went down the way that he did, the odds had to be astronomical, and I was frozen for a second, everyone was. But, being right there only a couple of feet away dropping off dirty plates, I went over and helped the poor guy up. Once on his feet, he simultaneously grabbed his elbow with his uninjured arm and his crotch with the arm being held. That is when some people began laughing. It made me sick to my stomach but I can’t say that I blame them. Maybe in the future she will be one of those that laugh and say things like “he really shouldn’t be here” but today she is not. She is human. It is the staying human that I pray she keeps and pray that we all keep.

[*] Something that a lot of times will happen in cases like this is the severely mentally disabled will go unwanted by their biological parents and instead of institutionalizing this person, a family member will take the person in and care for them. My grandpa did this with a second cousin or something who was maybe ten years older than my dad who remembers my grandpa telling him to stick up for him and not let anyone give the guy any shit. So my grandpa and my dad took on a lot of the responsibility with this guy whose story was a very sad one indeed—he was dropped as an infant not once but twice by nurses and went unloved and uncared for by his own parents who wanted nothing to do with the burden of caring for a child with special needs (though it was a different time then, I suspect things like this still happen as they did back 40-years ago). When this guy died in 2003, my grandpa and my dad were the only attendees of his funeral, marking the sad end to a excruciatingly sad life. The point is, I suspect this was a situation similar with a relative stepping in to raise a child with special needs.
[†] For example, it has happened on occasion that a family will come in and when you prepare to ask about maybe bringing them a Samuel Adams Oktoberfest, which really are delicious btw, they cut you off mid-sentence and act offended like you are one of the many salesmen in their lives trying to dictate your purchasing/spending, which technically you are, or like you are stupid for not like knowing that they would never drink ever or at a restaurant that overcharges or in front of children or late on a Saturday night or while operating a motor vehicle or whatever. These people do not tip well. You are extremely lucky to get 10% out of them. The most telltale sign thoughthat your tip is going to be lousy, in my experience, is when the adults in this situation order “water with lemon” and then order the drink for the kids however diminutive such an action appears to everyone involved and makes a point of stating that their offspring would like whatever beverage of their choosing “in a kids cup” as in “he’ll have a kid’s coke” which is free and they typically know is free and involves extra work for you because they are tiny and have lids that make refilling and knowing when to refill a pain because they want to make sure you don’t charge them the buck fifty for a regular sized glass, which I never do anyway, and is yet another way of telling you you are too stupid to see this person is a child and thus gets a free beverage all before the adult themselves try and order a ½ order of ribs or steak off the kids menu to save a couple of duckets because it is the same quality of food at a slightly cheaper price and the whole thing just makes you want to quit and tell them they need to get with the fucking program here and acknowledge what they already know in that servers get paid like shit for an hourly wage and depend on your gratuity to make rent and we are working hard to get a paid just like you are and so on and so forth.

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