Opinion | Biff America: My deadly nuts
“I screwed up. I’m so sorry.”
Having someone acknowledge their culpability and offer regret can sometimes make even the worst transgression forgivable. It seems the young and the powerful are least likely to admit fallibility and seek forgiveness.
I’ve never been powerful, but I was once young.
I was in my 20s when I nearly killed Mrs. Haskell. Lucky for her, I didn’t.
Before I embarked on my current career of misspelling for money, I worked in restaurants from coast to coast. Winters would find me in Colorado. Summers were beach resorts of California, Cape Cod or the 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.
When I dropped Mrs. Haskell like a short putt, I wasn’t even an employee; I was trying out for the job. It was the practice of some restaurants to hold tryouts for coveted positions, and three waiters were vying for one opening. For three nights, I was required to work for free and earn only a small portion of the 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 Haskells’ 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 Dr. Haskell, but Mrs. Haskell was sullen. Her encounter with me did little to improve her mood.
I served them drinks, gave them a wine list and sent the head waiter over to discuss their entree options. Dr. Haskell ordered off the menu and a special nut-free 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 a 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 that contained unused house salads and dumped the contents and wiped the plates 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 halfway through her meal.
Fortunately, her husband carried an EpiPen, 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, a full inquisition was held. No one declared his innocence louder than I. In my haste to exonerate myself, I was indirectly implicating all others — cooks and servers alike. In my defense, I was young, stupid and selfish.
In retrospect, I think I could have pulled it off. At that time in my life, I was a maestro of misdirection. Though it took a while, finally the ramifications of my denying responsibility and the resulting implication of others got the best of me.
So after 10 minutes of indignantly claiming my blamelessness, I blurted out, “I screwed up. I’m so sorry.”
I told those assembled about the plates and my laziness and walked out. I knew with that confession I was a dead man walking since my two competing applicants had not almost killed anyone during their tryouts.
I remember bicycling home on that warm So Cal night feeling unemployed but proud. Yes my laziness nearly slayed a lady, but perhaps for the first time in my young life, I did not succumb to my worst inclinations. I was proud of myself, also a novel feeling, for reasons that were not provided by genetics.
I can’t honestly say that became a habit for me going forward — rather one of testing the honesty waters.
Shortly after I arrived home, the maitre d’ called and offered me the job. For the rest of that summer, I did not almost kill one person. I don’t consider myself a hero. I was just doing my job.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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