A near ‘death by waiter’ experience
For some reason, just hearing a person say, “I screwed up and I’m sorry” can make even the worse transgression forgivable. It seems the young and the very powerful are the least likely ones to admit fallibility and seek forgiveness. But while the young can be forgiven for their youth, for the very powerful there is no excuse. I’ve never been powerful, but I was once young. Thirty years ago, I nearly killed Mrs. Haskell. Lucky for her I didn’t. The cause of death would have been listed as “Death by waiter.”Before I embarked on my current career as a mediocre-media-man, I worked in restaurants from coast-to-coast. Winters would find me in Colorado; summers were beach resorts of southern California, Cape Cod or the New York Hamptons. I slung hash and served drinks in bars and bistros ranging from fancy to not. “Mon Amour” was a fancy place. Pictures on the walls featured movie stars, famous authors and politicians. Actually, I wasn’t even an employee; I was trying out for the job. It was the practice of some restaurants to hold a tryout for coveted positions; six waiters were vying for two openings. For three nights I was required to rent a tux, work for free and earn only a half-portion of tips.
This was high-touch service. A file was kept on all frequent customers with some biographical information and preferences of cocktails, wines and food. Each team would be provided with a copy to assist us in kissing the customer’s butt. The Haskell’s card contained the usual, but written on the bottom in capital letters was MRS. HASKELL IS DEATHLY ALLERGIC TO ANY NUT PRODUCTS.The Haskells were a white-haired couple who looked to be in their 70s, and had more money than God. Everyone loved Doctor Haskell, but Mrs. Haskell was snooty and sullen – her encounter with me did little to cheer her up.I served them drinks, gave them a wine list and sent the head waiter over to discuss their entrée options. Doctor Haskell ordered off the menu, and a special nutless-dish was being prepared for his wife. When someone has a nut allergy, they can’t eat any nuts, oils or butters made from nuts, or foods cooked in pots or pans that once contained a nut product. Some can’t even look at picture of Mr. Peanut. You might be able to guess what happened: Everyone did their jobs perfectly – except me.
Since our house salads contained thinly sliced almonds roasted in sesame oil, they were off limits. I was charged with preparing a table-side Caesar salad with ingredients all perused by the chef and maitre d’. Not finding any clean salad plates in the waiter-station, I took two plates that contained unused house salads and dumped the contents. After wiping the plates down with a clean cloth, I put them on my cart and rolled it to the table. It seems I didn’t get all the nut-stuff off.Mrs. Haskell hit the ground about 10 minutes after her first bite.Fortunately, her husband carried a shot of adrenaline, which allowed her to breathe again. As Mrs. Haskell was helped to her feet, I remembered the salad plates.After the elderly couple headed to the hospital, and the restaurant closed, a full inquisition was held. No one declared their innocence louder than I. By claiming my own innocence, it was indirectly implicating all others, but I was young, stupid and selfish.
Then it dawned on me I had nothing to lose by telling the truth: Either way, I was gone. There were six waiters vying for two jobs, and I was the only one suspected of near-manslaughter. Since I was getting fired anyway, why not at least remove the veil of suspicion from the innocents?We all sat down and I blurted out: “It was my fault, I made a mistake, I’m sorry.” I told those assembled about the plates and my laziness and walked out. At that period in my life, I had no particular fondness for honesty. Had I though it possible to keep my gig, I might have been less forthcoming. I just wanted to be done with it and start looking for a new job.Shortly after I arrived home, the maitre d’ called and offered me the position. It seems that he and the owner felt that anyone who could accept blame and responsibility for a mistake would make a good waiter. Looking back on the event, 30 years later, I find it sad that waiters are held to a higher standard than this county’s leaders. They’ve been poisoning us for years now with the nuts of wars and misinformation, but where’s the irate maitre d’ to call anyone on the carpet? Jeffrey Bergeron under the alias of Biff America can be seen on RSN TV, heard on KOA radio, and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.
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