Since Tom's Restaurant is closed until the 11th (damn you, Gus and your family vacations), I trekked to Park Slope for some breakfast and New York Times time. All was pleasant and nice. Coffee, orange juice, corn beef hash, eggs, home fries and toast. Nice late New York breakfast.
Until The Guy walked in.
I was seated near the door so was privileged to his snort of derision the moment he came through the door. A scoffy sort of snort. Or maybe it was it just a snort. It sounded loaded with scoff, but I try not to judge. Plaid shorts, t-shirt, indie alt musician facial hair, mid thirties. (No, I was not looking in a mirror.)
As he pushed by me to get to his seat he sneered, "Excuse me." He meant, "Excuse you." (Why is "excuse me" usually used sarcastically? And even when used sincerely, isn't is a weird way of not saying "I'm sorry"? It is a command meaning, "I just got in your way and inconvenienced you. I command you to absolve me of that sin.") Then he glared at me for a second. I almost apologized for sitting at my table.
Everything that entered into his little world received another snort. I started to think he just had a cold. A busboy came over with a napkin, knife,fork and menu. ("snort.") "Get me a coffee and an orange juice." "Large or small?" the busboy asked. ("snort.") "Smahhhhll." All of this was sad with his head down in his New York Times. ("Oh, please don't let him order corn beef hash....") Everything about him said, "I don't have the time to waste my ocular energy on a busboy."
Thirty seconds later ("snort."), he is craning his head, looking for his beverages. When they came sixty seconds after that (total elapsed time: 90 seconds), he had a heady steam of scoffy snorts going. As soon as the busboy arrived, he immediately looked down at the table (not at the menu or even his Times), and said in a barely audible voice, "I want to order... now." By this point I was convinced he must be hung over. Or at the tail end of a drunk. Lethargic, edge of pained anger, every stimulus or lack of stimulus a low grade annoyance. I've been there. Usually I am extremely grateful for anyone who is serving me in times of need, but I at least understood.
The busboy nods, clearly thinking "This isn't my job but whatever." "Western omelet..." Long pause, mouth hung open, stuck in a timeless moment, the last "t" sound in "omelet" impossibly strung out. "Wheat... toast...." Again, he holds it, his inflection clearly indicating there was more to follow. I was pulled in by the suspense. What would he ask for next? Some special condition for the omelet? Egg white, perhaps? Or maybe a side of bacon? Like the end of The Graduate, in the back of the bus, that sense of incompleteness and anticipation and balances of excitement and thrill and possible regret and just not knowing. Finally the busboy gently slipped in, "Home fries?" ("SNORT.") "Yeeeehssss." But it came out, "Of course, lowly fool. Don't be an idiot."
The busboy turns and goes, chased after by a flurry of tiny exasperated snorffs. Relieved of the pressure I went back to reading about the Olympics. (I am so not paying attention this year. The sports has been swallowed up by the politics and stories of the damn swim suits. But there was an interesting story about the swimming pavilion in the Science section.) When The Guy's food was delivered by the actually waitress after only 4 minutes, he snorffed once in a way to say, "That was too quick." Until he looked up and saw it was an attractive woman.
"Can I get you anything else?"
"No," he said with a smile. "Thank you." She nodded and turned to go, but he shot out a "yougotatan."
She stopped and turned back. "What was that?"
"You got a tan. You've been in the sun." Clearly they know each other, yes? You only say something like that if you've had something to compare it, like her paleness the week before.
"Um," she replied, starting to inch away. Okay, clearly she doesn't know him. "Yes."
The Guy wasn't going to let her slip away. "Did you go some where?"
"Did. You. Go. Some. Where? On a vacation? A trip?"
"No, no." And she quickly spun away to help a grandmother and her blond two year old grandson who was attempting the drum solo from Zeppelin's Moby Dick with a knife and a fork.
("snort. snortsnortsnort. snort. snort.")
Seconds later, the busboy comes by. The Guy spits out (actually spits tiny bits of egg and ham because he was chewing at the time), "I need water... please." He managed to make "please sound like a foreign word. But he was at least more lively. Clearly the coffee was helping. The water came quickly but was given a snorff when the busboy didn't hang around to see if his lordship had more requests. Half a minute later the water was placed unceremoniously on his table, the busboy clearly not wanting to hang around longer than needed. As he retreated, The Guy took half-hearted snorff potshots.
Things quieted down for awhile as we ate in silence, me with the tail end of my corn beef hash and my Arts and Science sections, The Guy with his Western omelet and Sports section. Eventually the busboy came over with my check (perfectly timed with my last bite of toast). The Guy waited until the busboy had turned around and was ten feet away. "My check," he mumbled to no one. When the busboy didn't hear him, The Guy shot his head up, clearly offended. So offended he forgot to snorff for five seconds and was only able to get out a half when he finally remembered. ("snor–.")
Soon after, the waitress tentatively made a swing through our section. "Need anything else?" she directed at both our tables at once.
"No, thanks," I chirped. "I'm good."
"No," The Guy snirped. "Just the cheeeehck."
Within seconds the busboy slipped up, slid the check on his table and slipped away. The Guy had returned to the Sports but snapped his head back up and began looking around and scorffing, as if to look around to see if anyone else had noticed how badly he was being treated. I was trying to keep my head down but I was clearly paying attention to his every move an twitch (as you can attest if you have read this far).
And that was when he turned directly to me and said, "Can you believe that? What's his problem?"
There are times in one's life when you are faced with a simple choice: either shrug and say nothing and extract yourself from a situation, or to say what you're thinking. I have worked customer service and I have trained many new employees. I always had a little section that went something like this.
"You know the saying, 'The customer is always right?' They aren't. Often they are very very wrong. But 95% of the time it is easier to pretend they are at the moment and then make fun of them with your co-workers when you know no customers can hear you. Seriously, mock the customers (out of earshot, of course). It's one of the few things that makes this job bearable."I'd then follow up with my technique of smiling as big as you can when talking to assholes. Be as polite as possible but in the back for your brain think of the worst swear words and violent and degrading things you could do to the costumer. If you do it right, the customer has gotten great service and been treated fine but they get a feeling from the back of your eyes.
Again, 95% of the time when present with the choice of shrugging or opening my mouth, I chose the shrug. Why take on their petty rants? I have plenty of my own.
Today was one of the other 5%.)
"You really want me to answer?" I replied, making direct eye contact. You can't say I didn't give him an out.
This through The Guy off. "Wha... Yeah. He has just been rude... I..."
"Well," I said folding up my paper carefully, "from the moment you walk through the door, every part of you body language and tone of voice has said been rude. You have extruded a sense of superiority and discomfort and dissatisfaction at absolutely nothing and everything."
"Now," I continued, "I have no idea if it was intentional. I am guessing not. But except for your creepy comment on the waitresses tan, you have done nothing that would indicate to anyone that you wold have a nice thing to say about anything. Much less leave a tip worth the effort. And since you ordered less than ten dollars worth of food, which would only be two dollars if you managed to tip twenty percent, I am guessing the staff has written you off. And you got quick good service."
I like being overly dramatic when I have the chance. I paused, put my money on the table and gathered my stuff. I stepped to the door and turned back.
"They just didn't bow to you." And walked out.
I have my moments.