When you're looking to be spoiled on your birthday, whom better to celebrate with than six of your closest Jewish friends?
Enter Sharon, an uptight Jewish housewife with a louse of a husband and three couples-worth of penny-pinching companions.
I greeted four of the eight members of this bargain bin birthday bash.
"Were you waiting for more to arrive?" I asked.
"Yeah, the town car just went to pick them up," Oscar informed me.
"Pardon?" I asked.
"How economical," I responded. "Anything to drink while you're waiting?"
"Depends," Oscar replied. "Would those drinks be on the house because it's her birthday and we're inconvenienced by having to wait for our friends?"
I'm indifferent to the former and not responsible for the latter. So, no.
"Not unless you count four free waters as birthday drinks," I replied.
"Bah humbug!" Oscar mock-shouted.
For the next hour, Sharon and friends didn't order a thing. They'd hold up empty water glasses and crumb-filled chip baskets to let me know they were ready for more free stuff.
Finally the rest of the fun-loving frugal friends arrived. No one seem nonplussed by this inconvenient manner of transport. I suppose because it saved a penny, it was accepted as the more obvious choice than, say, shelling out the extra bucks for a limo or driving their own modest automobiles. My annoyance at their town car scheme gave me a rare moment of sympathy. For the driver. I wanted to give him a swig or two from my flask or concoct a scheme for him to leave these cheapskates stranded at the restaurant.
But that would involve me having to deal with them longer than tolerable, so better his suffering than mine.
The minute the remainder of the party sat down, Oscar waived his hands in the air like a plane crash survivor.
"Where've you been?" he bellowed. "We're ready to order drinks."
"So soon?" I responded.
"We'd like a bottle of wine," he said. "And eight glasses."
"Eight?" I raised an eyebrow. "You'd get more wine at communion than one bottle among eight people."
"I didn't know we got ourselves a waiter and a mathematician," Oscar joked. "Just bring us the bottle and I'll bet we can spread it out."
Wow, a Jew trying to multiply his gains to provide for his friends. How Christ-like of you.
I returned with the bottle and smiled victoriously as each party guest took parceled sips to preserve the pittance of alcohol. These party goers were out of control.
I began the arduous process of taking food orders. Each of the couples split a modest entree, with the exception of Oscar and Sharon. Sharon ordered a crab and shrimp salad. Oscar perused the kid's meal and tried to order the kid's quesadilla.
"Unless I miss my guess, you're a hair more than 12 years old," I said.
"So? It's her birthday," he retorted.
"Right. And unless it's her 12th birthday? She's not ordering off the kid's meal, either."
"Fine," Oscar said. "I'd like the kid's quesadilla. To go. For my, uhm, 12-year-old daughter."
I threw my hands up in the air and let him have his way. Given how small the kid's portion is, I was going to revel in his hunger and thirst. His small victory over my modest Mexican restaurant paled in comparison to the self-created suffering of shuttling around in a town car and enjoing a modest wine-tasting.
The meals were consumed quickly, and no more wine was ordered. Oscar instructed me to bring out their birthday cake, which turned out to be a slice of birthday cake from a fancy bakery. Yes, that's right. One large slice for the entire table. I wish I made this shit up.
Come bill time, and the tab was split among the four couples. Three of them paid with credit card, and one of the couples paid in cash.
"I see the gratuity is added," Oscar said. "Any chance we can negotiate something a bit more reasonable?"
"Sorry, the tip isn't up for negotiation," I said.
"Says you," Oscar challenged me.
The first four friends took the town car shuttle back to the Rosenstein residence. Oscar, Sharon and the other two friends stayed behind.
And when Oscar thought I wasn't looking, he returned to the table and tried to pocket the cash that his friends had left as part of the bill.
"May I help you with something?" I asked him as he was caught with his hand in the rugelach jar.
"Oh, I, uh, thought I left my car keys here," he stammered.
"But...I thought you all took a town car?" I said.
"Oh! Right! That's why I couldn't find my keys, haha."
"Yeah. Oh, and would you mind putting the cash back on the table? Otherwise it's a criminal offense to steal, and I'd really hate to ruin this lovely evening you've created for your wife."
"Haha, sure," he said. He quickly placed the cash back on the table and ran out.
And I'm pleased to say that's the last time I anticipate seeing Oscar in my restaurant. For as others have learned before, far more accommodating options exist for celebrating a birthday than my section.
Especially a birthday party with a shoe-string budget.