When you bring me my steak tonight,” The man complains, “I will be sending it back because you and the cooks here won’t get the order right.”
I take a moment to form a diplomatic answer and squelch an instinctive retort about the wisdom of eating here in the first place.
After a silent count of ten I reply, “Whatever it is that you want, I will do my best to deliver it.”
I am having a bad night before Mr. Send-it-back even sits down. Tonight is the last night I will have my beloved manager Orlando overseeing this clip joint.
Orlando and I have been simpatico from the start. The first day he showed me around he said, “Walk this way,” as he broke into a complicated and silly gait. Our friendship was secured from the moment I mimicked him. I will eventually follow Orlando around the city from restaurant to restaurant.
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Sam Spiegel being seated at the station next to mine. Everyone in here knows not to seat Sam at one of my tables since the night he grabbed at my boob.
Instead of throwing the bastard out, Orlando had just shrugged and said, “Spit in his food.” Which is the restaurant employees usual response to the ceaseless abuse we suffered at the hands of the cheapskates that came for the unlimited drinks, shrimp, and salad-bar.
Instead of spitting in Sam’s food, which everyone in the restaurant did anyway as a matter of course, I up the ante and make a copy of his credit card slip.
I know where Sam lives and works. Now I can order all kinds embarrassing merchandise to be delivered to any number of humiliating locations. Maybe some lingerie several sizes smaller than his wife, delivered to his Riverside apartment. Or even better, lingerie and feather-tipped pumps several sizes bigger than hers. A little something that would fit on Sam’s feet perhaps.
Whenever Sam comes in during my shift, while I watch him dine, I reach into my apron pocket.
Fingering that triple carbon-ed slip, I hatch nefarious plans I will never carry out. It is enough that I have the power to do so.
I bend over Mr. Send-it-back as he points to the cut he wants for dinner. A New York Strip. I put my pad in front of him on the table so that he can see what I am writing down.
New York Strip, I write in long hand. Next to it I write NYS, MW .
“See?” I say. “MW tells the cook that you want it medium well. I’m sure there will be no problem.”
But he will not cast his eyes on my pad, instead, he ignores me.
He waves me off. “Just try and get it right this time.”
He tells me this as if it is an ongoing thing between the two of us.
I take the city block walk from the dining room to the kitchen and hang my order on the slide.
As I speed-walk back to the dining room, I look at my feet. I really need to replace these scummy shoes. It’s not like I haven’t gotten my mileage out of them. These shoes have traversed the city. Through subways, streets, and parks they have stepped in dog-shit and walked through spreading puddles of urine that leak from unconscious Winos.
Yes, these black leathers have walked everywhere and it is time to buy new ones.
Tomorrow, I promise myself.
I stop at the vestibule in front of the kitchen. The bright fluorescent lights reflect off the shiny white tile. Our night porter keeps this room so spotless that even the Health Department can’t get over the sparkle.
But we still have to pay them off to keep our doors open.
This is the drink station where we fill plastic half pitchers with the unlimited beer, wine or Sangria. The Sangria is actually a pitcher of 7up and ice, flavored with house burgundy and garnished with bar fruit.
If we can get away with it, the bar wants us to recycle the Sangria fruit.
I stop by the service bar to pick up the frozen drinks for my table of six. They have been drinking and eating the unlimited salad bar for four hours now.
It offends the bartender Eric’s sensibility to waste perfectly good liquor in frozen sweet concoctions. Instead, I watch him funnel 151 rum into the straws that stand erect in the frozen libations.
It’s a good thing too because those big ladies seem to get have gotten roaring drunk on these milkshakes. Between the eighteen hundred pounds of them, they have consumed less that an ounce of hard liquor and Three half pitchers of the 7up/sangria.
When I drop off their drinks I slyly ask if they are ready to order yet. I stand poised with my pencil as if I am going to force them to choose between the cheap burger or barbecued chicken.
Except for frilly drinks, this table is not going to be spending money.
The lady at the head of the table is draped in purple and lime green stretchy velvet.
“It’s Baby’s Birthday.” She announces to no one in particular. “Baby does not cook on her birthday.” She emphasizes this fact as if I have invited her back to the grill to prepare the meal for everyone.
Even though no real alcohol has been delivered to this table, clearly the men of the party have taken something. One keeps jumping up to the men’s bathroom, and the Baby’s date is passed out face first in his all-you-can-eat-shrimp.
The third date has gone missing altogether, but if anyone is noticing, they do not share these fears with me.
After a few more passes through the kitchen, Mr. New York Strip is ready for pick up.
I check the temperature of the meat myself to make sure it is indeed medium well. I hot foot the steak to the other end of the restaurant before the meat cooks itself any further.
I put the meat down with a flourish and continue serving dishes to the rest of his party of four.
But before he even cuts into it he snarls, “What’s this?”
“What is the problem with it?” I ask. I am truly surprised.
This is by no means a first class restaurant but this one particular time, I have actually made an effort to please this man.
“Well,” he says, winding himself up, “it’s NOT a Blue ribbon Steak. This is a New York Strip steak!”
He insists I have gotten his order wrong. After a three-minute chew out, he wants to take this up with my manager.
Orlando tells the man we will correct the mistake immediately.
“But charge him for a Blue Ribbon,” he whispers. We both know the man is looking for a free something.
“This guy does this to us twice a month,” Orlando complains.
To my mind, charging Mr. Send-it-back the full price won’t be enough of a consequence.
This man needs to meet his Karma tonight, I think as my toe finally breaks through my greasy leather shoe.
What he really deserves is the end of my foot.
Then I get an idea.
Pedro is working behind the grill tonight.
He is a mild-mannered Salvadorian who is working to bring his family away from the political turmoil.
He likes me because I provide him with a steady stream of cold beer when I tend bar on weekends.
I step behind the slide and face the cook.
I open the big silver cooler and order Pedro to find me a blue ribbon steak.
He hands me a red chunk and I tell him to turn away from me because this is not his battle.
As he averts his gaze, I throw that meat on the dirty black floor mat and grind in under my filthy sole.
Then I reach down, pick it up, then throw it onto the hot flames.
Medium well, I direct him.
Then I flounce off to put more pressure on the jumbo sized table of five to order something. Two hours from now, they will roll out of here highs as kites on something I did not serve to them.
And I will get a big fat three bucks.
Before I get past the service bar, Sam’s waiter Mitchell, lines the staff up to spit into Sam’s pitcher of beer. Sam has abused the employees at this restaurant so thoroughly that spitting in his beer has become a team enterprise.
After Orlando leaves us, we will have a new manager that is so vicious that she too will become the continual recipient of the restaurant staff’s collective saliva.
But tonight our focus is on Sam.
Orlando sees the queue of spitting waitresses, cooks, and busboys, and gets to the end of the line.
But when the pitcher reaches him, he takes it into his office and closes the door.
Minutes later he hands it back to the waiter.
I cannot resist watching Sam drink this concoction. As he sips the spitty draft beer, he protests loudly about tonight’s pork rib special.
“I can’t eat pork,” he hollers at the poor waiter. I’m Jewish!”
He bellows this as if we are trying to force feed the stuff to him.
The busboy leans over and clears a plate of discarded shrimp tails that Sam keeps knocking over with his elbow.
The mound is about 8 inches high.
“Some good Jew,” the busboy whispers to me as he passes by with it.
I giggle and finger my triplicate charge slip again.
When Send-it-back’s steak is ready, I rush it to the table.
I am sweet with apology.
He nods grouchily and cuts into the Blue Ribbon.
The dining room is not busy now. Everyone will be settled for the next ten minutes. Ordinarily, I would sneak into the alcove for a smoke, but I need to watch this man consume his meal.
I am filled with peace as I watch him chew morsel after morsel.
Tip, the Thai waitress, wants to know why am I watching these people eat?
See that guy over there? I say.
Oh yes, Tip tells me, I wait on him all the time. He is a big asshole.
I stepped on his steak tonight, I confess to her.
Tip’s face breaks open to a smile of tiny pearl teeth.
“Me too!” She confides excitedly to me. “Me too! I always step on his second steak!”