Wednesday, August 25, 2010

and the word is...

I have a new favorite word. It's 'no'. I love the look people get on their faces when you say it to them.

"Can I sit here?"

"Would you move over?"

It's hilarious to see people's reactions to this simple assertion of what they cannot do. What do you mean "No?" People are not used to not being able to do whatever they want and have whatever they want. Which is what makes "No" so empowering.

It's particularly satisfying when the answer actually is no (and not simply an arbitrary whim), specifically in a restaurant setting. I know, shocking, I'm talking about waiting tables...again.

Scenario: It's a really busy night in the restaurant, and I'm tired of dealing with people's b.s. I make my way over to a family of five: two parents and their three snot nosed brats.

"Little Joey wants a slice of pizza" says the Mom, after I've just gone through the gauntlet of explaining that there's no root beer, and that we've run out of Coors Light (strikes one and two against me...disappointment all around). Then they start in on the food.

I want to say: "You stupid bitch, this is a restaurant, not the food court at the mall. In what restaurant that you've ever gone to can you get a slice of pizza? Would you ever go into Uno's and ask for a slice of deep dish? Would you go into the Cheesecake factory and ask for just a bite of cheesecake because you couldn't possibly eat the whole piece? Would you go to a seafood restaurant and ask for just the claws of lobster, because you hate the tail?"

But instead I simply say: "No." No explanation, no apologies. She looks at me like I had just rattled off the afore mentioned speech, and fires back: "So he can't have just a slice of pizza?"

Again, I want to say something along the lines of: "Did I stutter? Did I or did I not just say no? Did you think by no I meant yes?"

But, for emphasis, I simply shake my head. "Not in the dining room." I want to say TELL YOUR KID TO EAT SPAGETTI, OR ORDER AND ENTIRE PIZZA. OR SHOVE IT. But I refrain.

She laments: "So you have to order a whole pie?"
Me: "Yes." Keep in mind, ladies and gents, nowhere on the entire menu makes mention that there might be slices for sale.
While the dense momma tries to cajole all the kids into eating pizza when two of them nearly start crying because they want chicken fingers, and little Joey starts whining that he really wants pizza, I move onto Daddy, still reeling from his lack of a Coors, sipping plaintively from a Budweiser.

"I want the fried clam dinner."

Let me take a step back. There's a special section on my restaurant's menu that has "dinners." This is about 10 dishes that come with a choice of New England clam chowder or the soup of the day to start, and the starch and veggie of the day on the side (or fries and coleslaw, or pasta). The menu's flaw is that it says "potato" instead of "starch," and 4-5 days a week, the starch is rice pilaf. So now we have to enter the 'awkward dinner line of questioning, especially if the guest is not familiar with the menu (as these people so clearly aren't because they just tried to order slices of pizza)' portion of the ordering process.

Me: "Would you like chowder or french onion soup to start?"
Man: "Oh. I don't like either of those. Can't I have a salad?"
Me: "No."
Man: (dumbfounded) "ummm"
Me: "The choices are chowder or french onion."
Man: "What kind of chowder is it?"
(keep in mind...we are in New England...what the hell kind of clam chowder do you think it is?)
Me: "It's New England clam chowder, sir."
Man: "Well, I guess someone will eat that."
Me: "Ok, and would you like fries and coleslaw on the side? Or rice and vegetables?"
Man: Baked potato."
Me: "Our starch today is rice pilaf."
Man: "But it says here you have potato."
(He points to the flaw on the menu. Now I have to be nice, because this kind of isn't his fault.)
Me: "Yes, but it means starch. The starch today is rice."
Man: "But I really wanted a baked potato."
What I want to say: "Listen, asshole, we don't have baked potatoes today. We didn't yesterday, and we probably won't tomorrow. You'll get rice, or you'll get fries, or you'll get nothing. What is it you want me to say? I've already explained three times that we don't have potatoes! Oh! Sorry! I forgot. For people that ask three times, we DO have potatoes! Congrats! You beat the system! Fuck off."
Instead I say: "We don't have that today. Would you like french fries or rice?"
Man: "I'll just have coleslaw."

That's right, you fat bastard. You will have coleslaw, eat all of it, and ask me for four extra tartar sauces while your fat son eats more than half the pizza when he only wanted 'a slice' and you wife sits there gloomily forcefeeding everyone because she's not happy unless everyone around her is miserable.

But, I always feel a slight rush when I say no to someone without an apology, because sometimes "no" is just the way it is. Try it sometime. You might like it.

I'll leave you with a little song my mom used to sing whenever she wanted to say no to us, but also keep the peace. You'll probably find yourself humming it for the next few...decades. Like me.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Vineyard Misadventures: the time i did a belly flop in front of at least 50 people

Back in the good ol' days of June, when summer was new and bright and there were few tourists but the weather was warm and the beach was inviting and tourists had not yet sucked the life out of all those who work on this island, I went to the beach with some of my roommates.

The water was cool, and the current was strong, and my friend Ben and I decided to let the water carry us down the channel over to the big bridge that leaves to Sengekontacket Pond. This bridge is famous for its role in the movie JAWS, and it's also where anyone who is anyone and has ever come to the island of Martha's Vineyard has jumped from.
Photo via

I started jumping from this bridge every season since I was about ten. But this specific day, the stars aligned and disaster struck.
"Let's jump of the bridge and then let the current carry us over to the pond!" Ben's always excited about this kind of stuff; everything is an adventure.
So we climbed up the jetty and made our way through the jumping crowd. Ben executed a beautiful backflip, eliciting applause and impressed cheers from the people on the bridge. He surfaced and began to tread water against the current and waved appreciatively.
"Let's go, Stephie!" He called out to me, still on the rail.

As I attempted to launch myself off the rail, I lost my footing, thus rotating my body forward. As the water rushed up to meet me I realized a crushing reality: I was about to belly flop into the channel. And flop, I did. I surface with blood running from my nose, whip lash, a bruised chin, a bruised thigh, my whole body tingling from the smack of the water. The crowd was quiet.

"No! Are you alright!?" Ben was there for my rescue. We floated under the bridge together, both of us laughing (me half crying). I looked up just as we were about to disappear from view and caught a glimpse of the crowd: stunned and disgusted.


At least it makes for a funny story. Kind of.