I waited on a post-church-service family of eight, led by the sassy and perpetually disappointed grandmother. She sat at the head of the table, glaring daggers at me and rolling her eyes every time I approached. She inspected each and every dish as it came out, doing everything but jumping on the table to alert me of any errors or skimped portions.
Finally, bill time. I was going to hand it to her polite and friendly son, but grandmama grabbed it out of my hand with both of her hands.
I retreated but stayed within earshot to hear her dissection of the bill, just daring her to find an inaccuracy.
She found something much worse.
"Es-suuuuuuuse me?" she bellowed at everyone at the table. "Who the Hell ordered this gratuity? It's the most expensive thing on the bill!"
Despite the vast expanse that is Los Angeles, sometimes my work life and personal life are tediously intertwined.
One of the many wretched regulars at the restaurant is Rhondi, a tacky cougar who, physically, is equal parts Jeanne Tripplehorn and Steven Tyler. Her limited repertoire of wardrobe includes cheap leopard prints that bend to the will of her thriftily enhanced bosom. She reeks of the drug store's cheapest fragrance. Her make-up is like an un-blended palette of clown colors. She possesses an inherently joyless quality that always overshadows her trite attempts to emit warmth (which only occur when she wants a free vodka and Coke). I suspect she returns home each night to feed the orphans in her basement a bag of crumbs, threatening them with reprehensible acts of violence if they don't continue taking to their sewing machines to manufacture her litany of leopard print.
After many years of dealing with Rhondi, we have our interaction down to a precise 5-step science:
1) I wordlessly greet her, tapping my pen to my pad to announce my presence.
2) She orders her usual (A cheap vodka and Coke, and a small caesar salad with croutons on the side, even though I tell her every time that we don't have croutons).
3) She looks around the restaurant for single men. Or married men. Or gay men. Or old men. Or young men. Or handicapped men. Nay, men with wallets.
4) She gives up on someone else picking up her tab and pays it (always $19.36) with an even $20.
5) I bring back her 64 cents regardless of where she is, whether it's still at the table, perched at the bar, or squatting in the ladies restroom. The delivery of this change is always by way of dropping it theatrically in front of her.
It turns out Rhondi has decided to get in shape this summer, so she's now a permanent fixture at my gym.
A quick history about my gym; it is the nastiest, most bizarre display of broken dreams and faded humanity. The men are seedy and the women are desperately dodging their expiration date. Crazy is the norm, and anyone wishing to merely work out must keep their eyes to the ground and back to the wall. A man once died in front of my very eyes during my morning cardio routine. I go there because it's dirt cheap and close to my apartment. Rhondi goes because someone there once told her she was pretty.
One morning, as I stepped onto the one open elliptical machine, I noticed a small wad of a paper towel in the barely there compartment for bottled water. I tossed it on the ground and commenced my cardio.
Before my mind could process what was happening, Rhondi got right up in my face and interrupted the lovely cadences of Madonna's "Human Nature."
"EXCUSE ME, I was using this machine," she said. I could see there was no immediate recognition on her part.
"As evidenced by what?" I asked.
"Uhm...The paper towel in the cup holder??" she said obviously.
"See that sign up there?" I asked, pointing to a neon set of rules that, decades earlier, had guided Richard Marx and Pia Zadora to proper gym etiquette. It read, "It's against club rules to save an elliptical machine by placing you're [sic] personal objects while you're gone."
"I really don't give a shit what that sign says, I come here all the time," she informed me.
I come here all the time. I come here all the time. I come here all the time. Hmm. Wherever have I heard that novelty sentiment expressed before, and by whom? Think, think, think...
"Good for you," I said. "But unless you want to pry me off this machine, it looks like you have another 28 minutes and 34 seconds before it's available again."
With this, I put my Bose back over my ears and furiously resumed my work out, shaking a bit from the encounter. Rhondi stood by for a good two minutes, muttering insults as I fervently ignored her.
Finally, a machine several feet down became available, and after flipping me off, Rhondi let me be.
I have yet to see Rhondi again at work, but trust me, when she returns to my section, or any other server's section for that matter, I'll make sure she recognizes me at the gym next time.
I'm sure you were hot shit in your rural town of 200 back in the early 90s when you beat up the high school drama geeks and killed deer on the weekends with your football buddies. And accordingly, you packed up the Chevy with your dreams and yearbooks and headed west to certain stardom. After all, if everyone in your home town worshipped you, Hollywood must gladly give you a similar reception, right? And today you're perpetually "almost there," just one role away from breaking out. Just as you have been for 19 years. In reality, however, all you have to show for these wasted years are a one-line scene in "Models, Inc." and a Payless commercial that your parents preserve on VHS. The homecoming queen initially married you and sojourned to Los Angeles, but the lack of stability both financially and intellectually took its toll, and you hear she remarried a nice veterinarian back home. Her loss though, right? All it will take is one role to show her and anyone else who ever doubted you. It's not your fault you're continually overlooked by casting directors and producers. It's all gays and minorities now, anyway. But you're not bitter, no. All those dreams that no one once promised you are still well within your reach. So fuck this waiter, so much younger and more talented and more attractive and in shape than you. You never had to slum it and wait tables, so naturally he deserves your ire and your short temper. Look at him, giggling with his friends - all of whom think he's the funniest person they've ever met - and drinking a cocktail without concern of being seen. Wait. You can be that happy again. People still love you (your parents tell you about all their friends at church who still ask how your career's going and when your movie with Clooney is coming out). That's it. You resolve that, starting tomorrow, you're going to really pursue your acting career. No more resting on the laurels of that acclaimed North Hollywood showcase you did back in 2004. THIS TIME, YOU'RE REALLY GOING AFTER IT! So watch out, world. The Butt Fuck Falls, IA, Homecoming King of 1994 is back. Ruder and more entitled than ever. Coming soon to a theater near you.
I walked into work last week to discover the largest booth in my section held hostage by cheesy Pepto pink birthday decorations. The whole thing screamed "cheap" in a way you can only understand if you've ever laughed at the poor quality of someone's party-store-purchased pirate costume.
The booth was presently empty. I counted an impending party of 20. Before I could throttle the hostess, I was waylaid by the birthday girl, who was wearing a pink plastic "BIRTHDAY GIRL" tiara.
"Hiieeeee," she said in an intentionally soft dolly voice, a voice that girls of her disingenuous ilk use to call in fake-sick to work .
"I'm Tara, the birthday girl!"
Tara (rhymes with "Sarah") bore in both looks and personality a resemblance to Sarah Jessica Parker circa that one season of Sex and the City in which Carrie Bradshaw was a self-absorbed bitch (i.e., Sex and the City: The Complete Series). Henceforth, I shall call our central character Tara Jessica Parker, or "TJP" for short.
"This is going to be, like, a craaaazzy luncheon," she warned me with an exagerrated pantomime of chaos. I could tell TJP was one of those wannabe-actresses who was always the life of the party, always "on," and always charming, according to no one but herself.
"I think I can handle it," I said as I reached my hand into my pocket and discreetly unscrewed my flask.
"I'm turning 21, so I hope I don't get toooooo drunk," she exclaimed as if I were an audience member watching CBS's latest live shitty sit-com, TJP!
The first guests arrived (two homely girls, likely from TJP's on-camera acting class in Tarzana). One of the girls presented TJP with a bottle of Blackstone Merlot ($7.99, Suggested Retail Price) with a big pink bow around it.
"Awwwwwwwwww, thanks!!!" TJP squealed. "This ought to hold me over until lunch is served!"
LOL @ TJP!
"Let's get a picture!" TJP said. She handed me her iPhone and asked me to take "several" pictures of their complicated pose. This involved the ugly two flanking TJP as she pursed her lips and put her index finger to her mouth, which I suppose was meant to signify cutesy, but instead she looked like a seizure patient picking food out of her teeth.
Three more equally obnoxious girls arrived, followed by a group of boys who I can only categorize as hipster jocks?
As the girls remained seated next to one another, the boys sat down awkwardly on the other side of the booth.
TJP assessed the situation and exclaimed, "It's like a 7th grade dance at this booth!"
LOL @ TJP!
Despite her forewarning that this party was going to reach noise complaint levels, a mere 10 people showed up. I would have felt sorry for TJP had I not sympathized more with myself for dealing with her.
They ordered three plates of nachos and two pitchers of house margaritas. I brought out a particularly meek birthday flan while her friends sang the first two courses of "Happy Birthday" then gave up.
The bill reached a whopping total of $72 for the party of 10 ($62 plus an automatic gratuity). This would amount to a simple $8 per person (not including TJP).
Alas, we reached a snag in terms of who would pay what.
"I'll pay whatever," TJP said in mock humility, prompting no one to interject. I soon discovered that these friends stopped by the party under the impression that the bill would be taken care of. That's peculiar. I've been invited to lots of birthday parties, but very few at a restaurant where the bill was taken care of unless implicitly stated. I've also never been ugly or worn a basketball jersey with skinny jeans, so I'm out of my element trying to understand these people.
TJP ultimately did not pay for any portion of the bill, but she did approach me with the 7 different credit cards and cash amounts.
"Ok, soooo, you'll have to pardon my friends, they've never dined out in public before," she said in her sit-com voice.
LOL @ TJP!
"First, just divide the cards evenly," she said. "Then use the cash towards the rest. Second, I'm so sorry, but my friends are so cheap. They only tipped, like, $8 total. But next time I'm in here I'll totally take care of you."
"Neat," I replied.
Granted, I could have told TJP that the gratuity was already included. I could have also chosen a career path in competitive break-dancing, but some things just aren't in the cards. With that, TJP and her lethargic posse moved on to a bar down the street. I can only imagine that poor bartender's evening.