— Jesse Jackson
(b. Oct. 8, 1941)
As much as I’d like to deny it, especially seeing as though I thought I was mellowing with age, the sad truth is I can still be ... well, not to put too fine a point on it ... a jerk.
My inner Mr. Hyde surfaced not long ago in a Cleveland restaurant.
Here’s my story ... or perhaps my confessional. If I were Catholic, I would have already visited that little box asking forgiveness for my transgressions. But then again, I might have been turned away at the door by the priest ... so haunting were my sins.
In our almost 37 years of marriage (come June 4), the one constant in the longstanding love affair with my wife is dining out on Saturday nights. We also hit the local eateries on Wednesdays and Fridays ... most of the time. But Saturday night, that’s a done deal. Always has been. Always will be.
It’s hard to explain the calm of those eat-outs, but I can say this. It’s not just the food. It’s not just the occasional adult beverage. It’s not just the escape from this chaos called an office ... arguably.
But it is most definitely the company. Without her I’d be a shipwreck listing hopelessly at sea.
This particular Saturday evening came as the end of an exhausting day. After spending most of the morning at the office trying to catch up on work I couldn’t complete on Friday because of work left over from Thursday, I rushed home to push-mow two yards. I also spread a few dozen bags of mulch, did a little weedeating and probably even chased away a couple rabbits that were chowing down on our ornamental grass that surrounds the backyard swing on three sides.
This was a sunny spwing ... er, spring ... Saturday whose temps hovered around the low 80s. Because I’m still wearing my winter layer of ... excess, the work was fatiguing. I staggered back into the house five or six hours later with a crooked back and skin afire.
But a hot shower, clean clothes and the thought of an evening out with the missus ... and three ibuprofen ... returned a little glee to my step. In men my age “glee” is a matter of perspective.
As expected, we arrived at the restaurant to find a lobby full of hungry patrons waiting for their buzzers to buzz, signaling an empty table.
Our wait was only about 15 minutes. No biggy. But my back still hurt.
Once buzzed, we followed the hostess to our table. It was a nice table. Square. Clean. Buried in the corner of nowhere. Almost isolated.
We sat. We scanned the colorful menus.
I ate a peanut.
I ate another peanut, careful to drop the shells into an empty bucket that separated salt and pepper from steak sauce and artifical sweetener.
Finally, an attractive young lady server— not much more than a girl — approached our table.
“Has anyone waited on you?” she asked. “Have you been waiting very long?”
We shook our heads “no” in unison to both questions, almost like bobbleheads in reverse.
“I’ll go find your server,” she assured. “I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t been waiting for a long time.”
We assured her we had not.
I ate another peanut. I handed one to my wife.
The pretty young server returned.
“I can’t find who’s supposed to be assigned to this table,” she said. “I’ve got these tables over here, but I’m gonna go ahead and pick you up so you don’t have to wait any longer.”
We thanked her for her courtesy and ordered our beverages. She promptly returned with my wife’s iced tea. My adult beverage would be coming soon thereafter, she assured.
I ate another peanut. My wife sipped on her tea. And my back still ached.
We waited. My wife had her tea, but neither of us had our salads. And I had no adult beverage.
The server brought our rolls. My wife had one and offered me the other. I declined. I wanted my adult beverage.
I ate another peanut, and then another. I was shooting hoops with the shells into the empty bucket.
A manager dressed in black walked by and asked how we were doing. Giving his staff the benefit of the doubt, I replied, “Fine.” But I didn’t mean it. By now I was getting a little too warm under the collar. Maybe it was just the sunburn.
My wife was pleasant as always. I was beginning to stew.
I have no idea how much longer we waited ... could have been 20 minutes, could have been two hours. The young server who had brought my wife’s tea was working frantically to service her other tables. Whether she glanced in our direction on occasion, I cannot say. She was too busy. Too many tables and too little time.
I still had no adult beverage. Neither of us had salads. The second roll remained untouched. I wanted beverage, not bread.
Looking across the room, I saw a second young server heading toward our table carrying two steaming plates of food ... our entrees.
“One Southwest Tilapia and one Grilled Shrimp?” he asked.
We were mortified. I could no longer contain myself.
“We’re not ready for entrees!” I lectured. “We haven’t even gotten our salads. And I don’t have my beverage!”
I was no longer courteous. I was stern. I was frustrated. I was ... a jerk.
The young guy’s face lost all color. He was just doing his job. The young girl was doing hers. But both were overwhelmed. Each was being tugged in too many directions. Both were good kids just trying to survive a bad situation.
He offered to store the entrees in a warmer and to promptly return with our salads. He was just trying to help the young girl who was just trying to help us ... because no one could find our rightful server.
The evening slowly improved as the servers worked to tag team back into our good graces. My wife remained patient throughout, but I wore an ugly scowl the rest of the meal. And my back still hurt. Darn those ibuprofen.
I can think of only one moral to this story. Don’t be a jerk.
Recognize when others are trying their best and thank them for their efforts.
These kids weren’t at fault. On this evening, the restaurant’s system just broke.
It happens. Life sometimes gets in the way.
The wise will smile in patience. I wish I had smiled ... for those kids, if for no other reason.