Across three states and almost two decades of waiting tables, I've mastered the art of pretending not to recognize an acquaintance/someone I don't like when they're sat in my section. It's an admittedly awkward gamble. The first time I was called out for it was when I was serving back in Oklahoma right after college. I'd been sat with some asshole alum from my snobby private school's snobby rival private school, along with his parents.
There I was, standing two feet away from someone with whom I'd grown up, both of us engaging minimally and politely with no mention of our shared past. Until right after the food arrived.
"Chase?" he asked.
"Mmm?" I responded in a higher register than intended.
"You know it's me, Patrick?"
Fake warmth washed over my face and I stupidly said, "Oh! Hi! Yes, sorry, when I'm in server mode I rarely look at people." We all chuckled at such an inane response, all of us laughing at me, not with me.
The second time my faux amnesia was revealed was yesterday evening. Years ago, I worked as a writer's assistant on a show you never saw. Our line producer, a horrible witch of a woman we'll call Marilyn, tried to fire everyone, including me. No one liked her. She was dreadful at her job. She possessed no people skills. Her bad breath smelled like she'd eaten straight from a soiled diaper. She was fired during my time on the show, and I'm fairly certain she saw me flip her off when she was escorted from her office, her beast breath lingering long after her exit.
Last night, Marilyn and a few executive-looking people were sat in my section for an early dinner. I tried to give the table to another server. I begged, pleaded, whined, bitched, and threatened to blackmail, all to no avail. I was stuck.
Hoping this encounter would go as briefly and smoothly as possible, I put on my lobotomy face and quietly announced my presence by taking drink orders.
"What's your name?" asked Lydia, the outspoken ringleader. I introduced myself, mutually avoiding gazes with Marilyn. I soon surmised two key facts: 1) She didn't want to play catch up any more than I did, and, more importantly, 2) she was the lowest on the totem pole among her dinner companions. This was clearly a business dinner, and Marilyn took breakneck notes on her Mac while Lydia gave orders and opinions.
Things proceeded peacefully as drinks and meals were delivered and consumed without incident. However, I'd accidentally rang in a glass of wine for a different table on Lydia and company's bill. When the bill came, Marilyn fastidiously checked it, waiving me down and making direct eye contact with me for the first time.
"Why is there a glass of merlot on our bill?" she asked in that familiar twat tone. "Can we see a manager?"
Before I could respond, Lydia intervened. "Just take it off the bill," she said. "There's no need for a manger. Thank you."
Lydia's grace only partially cooled my jets. If Marilyn wanted to play "Let's see who can humiliate," I was more than game.
Along with a free dessert, I brought the corrected bill. "I'm so sorry for the inconvenience," I said through a cherubic grin, "so please enjoy this apple tart on the house. Oh, and Marilyn, I didn't recognize you earlier! I'm so glad you found another gig after things didn't work out with you on our show! I hope this goes much better for you. Good to see you!"
And off I strolled, erasing the reintroduction to her bad breath and bitchy habits with a victory vodka.