Author Topic: In the Weeds  (Read 974 times)

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In the Weeds
« on: November 14, 2004, 05:42:21 PM »
In the weeds

Time: Friday Night, 6:30
Open Menus: 20
Wait: None inside, 20-30 minutes for outside

   D-Day. We wait. We’re on the ship, two knots shy of Omaha Beach, with a clear sense of our impending ass beating. We’re understaffed (Rachel, a strong head server, called in sick after throwing up all morning from taking too many loritabs the night previous). We’re overbooked by at least 30 heads. The phone has been ringing non-stop. We’re fucked. The kitchen nervously preps; Chef trims the fat off pieces of rib eye. Gustavo, the Ecuadorian grill man, cleans the grill. Jorge, the Mexican salad guy, cuts cucumbers and fresh bacon bits and grades cheddar and jack cheese. Miguel, the sous-chef, is putting the final touches on the pesto sauce that is to accompany tonight’s catch (Grilled Maine Sea Scallops with a fricassee of corn, shiitake mushrooms and smoked pepper, spring garlic and lemon thyme). Steve, a line cook (the only white kid who works in the kitchen) is prepping and measuring the weight of crab cakes and crab-stuffed mushroom caps. Diablo, the crazy, meth-head dishwasher with a propensity of dry-humping male servers, is stirring a trash can full of cocktail sauce. A 311 song plays at a near deafening level over the kitchen speakers. The servers pre-fold and hide linens, stock glassware, fill ice bins, cut lemons, brew ice-tea and coffee, restock sugar packets in the caddies on their tables and refill salt and pepper shakers, take many of cigarette breaks. We wait. Chef is interrupted with his meat trimming by the new bulimic hostess Rachel. “Call on line 2, Chef!” she says. He takes it. Someone trying to sell him something, from what I can deduct. He is not interested, hangs up quickly.

   We wait.

   I retreat to the service bar and motion to Marty; “We need to have a meeting.” He nods as he quickly begins to pour a healthy amount of Jose Cuervo into a mixing cup. I am to meet him behind the dumpster out back in 2 or so minutes, during which we will chug strong margaritas and each do a few key bumps of coke and suck down a quick cigarette.

   We wait.

   After our meeting we sneak back into the kitchen through the back door, hoping Ann, the front of house manager, is not standing there waiting to give us a royal ass beating (no cigarette breaks without consulting a manager first, so goes the rule). She isn’t. Chef is on the phone again, this time with a seafood purveyor after discovering 10 pounds of shrimp in the walk-in that had been delivered just that morning were spoiled. “I’m sorry. Maybe it was my mistake. Maybe I was a little tired or stoned when I was talking to whoever the fuck takes orders at your office. Maybe, who knows. But you know what? I am almost positive I didn’t order 10 pounds of diseased, half-frozen, grocery store shrimp that smell like stale piss! Maybe you don’t value my business? Maybe I should spend my money elsewhere, at a place that doesn’t take me for a fucking retard, a place that knows that I know good shrimp when I see it?.... Oh you’re sorry? Well I don’t give a fuck. Get your ass over here and pick this fucking shit up, now!” He slams the phone down. “Chef! Line 2!” Rachel says again. “Hello? How can I help you?”
   We wait.

Time: 8:05
Open Menus: 90
Wait: 40-50 minutes for smalls, 60-75 for bigs, 80+ for outside

   I have a table of twelve (three different sets of parents, six obnoxiously loud kids) and need to take their order and ring it in fast because Luis, the bus boy, is about to bus table twelve and table twenty four and I know I’m about to get double seated. One of the moms, with bleach-blonde hair and a body two shades shy of being morbidly obese, informs me that they will need separate tickets (I don’t know why, but I hate it when people call checks “tickets”) I respond with a hesitant nod and an “okay.” She points to her husband, who is wearing dark denim overalls and a Dale Earnhart hat, and to her two little girls (the blonde ones, she tells me). I nod, even though I don’t know which of the six brats are hers because they’re all girls and they’re all blonde. I start with the drink order:

   Mom #1: Sweet Tea in a glass with ice and a straw
   Me: (how the fuck else would I serve it to you?) Okay.
   Husband #1: Sweet tea
   Mom#2: Half sweet, half un
   Husband #2: Sweet Tea
   Mom#3: Unsweet tea
   Husband #3: Half sweet, half- lemonade.
   Mom#4: Unsweet tea
   Husband #4: A sweet tea, a water, and a Budweiser with dinner
   Mom #1: Oh I want a water too.
   Mom #2: Me too.
   Husband #3: Waters all around.
        Mom #1: For the kids, my girls with both have waters in kid cups with      lids.
   Brat #1: Nooo, mom! Shirley temples! I want a shirley temple!
   Brat #2: I want a shirley temple with three cherries!
   Brat #1&2: Shirley temples! Shirley temples!
   Mom #1: Okay, bring them waters and shirley temples!
   Mom#2: My kids will have milk, the two blondes on the right.
   Brat #3: Nooo, chocolate milk!
   I turn an see that not only has Luis bussed, silverwared, and swept my two tables (the one time I want him to take his time, he doesn’t, bastard) but a five-top and a four-top have already been sat, and are impatiently awaiting my arrival.
   “I’ll be right back,” I say, as I finish taking the drink order, making a deliberate effort to not smile.

Frantic pandemonium in the kitchen. The air is sticky and wet and greasy from the overworked dishwashing machine. The circulation vents are doing little to clear the clouds of smoke rising from the grill. Matt, the stoner expo, is screaming out orders while the printer endlessly spits out ticket after ticket after ticket. I run-walk to the server station and grab a tray. “Who didn’t pre-slice the fucking lemons!?” Matthew screams as he slams straws into glasses of sweet tea. I grab the requisite 19 glasses needed to make drinks for this table (fucking hell) and put them on a big server tray, only to find that we’re out of ice. Seven servers are all pushing each other out of the way, trying to make drinks, fighting for space on the small-ass end table that serves as our beverage station. Lisa, the new girl I trained last week, stands at the expo line. Apparently, she is missing half the food on table 101 and no one will help her. Now, usually, I would ignore such an episode, because my sympathy for neophyte servers is more often than not quite thin, but I pity the poor girl for some reason. I go to her aid. “What’s the problem?” I ask her. “I’m missing a filet, a stuffed flounder, and a mixed grill. Everyone else at the table has there food,” she says quietly, about to cry. “Jesus Christ,” I say as I push Matt out of my way. “Gustavo, where the fuck is the filet for table 101? The rest of the food has already gone and it’s been like 20 minutes!” Gustavo screams back at me. “Dos minutos!” He says something else but I can’t hear over the collective noise from the grill, deep fryer, and dishwasher. “Hurry up! The fucking table is about to leave!” “SUCK MY DICK!” He screams back. “It’ll be out in a minute,” I tell Lisa.

   Back at table hell, the little blondes have torn and emptied all the sugar packets onto the table. One girl keeps dumping salt into her father’s glass. He doesn’t seem to notice. “We’re ready to order,” the head bitch at the table tells me before I even put the first glass down. I just nod and continue to put down the drinks. Dad #1 sucks down his sweet tea and demands a refill as I give the kids their little Shirley temples. The things I could do to you with some kerosene and lighter fluid, I want to tell him. I look at tables 14 and 24, motioning for the hostess to take a drink order. She is busy taking to-go orders on the phone and does not acknowledge my request. There is a mob of people waiting to get into this place. It’s never going to end.

Mom #1: I want a New York Stip, extra well done, with a baked potato with extra bacon bits and cheese on the side, and a side of ranch. And please make sure that strip is well because last time I was here it was a little pink and I cannot eat pink steak.

(I’m infuriated for so many reasons that I don’t even know where to begin. A New York extra well? So while the cooks burn this delicious meat into a leathery, hunk of inedible carbon, she is going to demand at least seven more refills of sweet tea and persistently bitch about why her food is taking so long. And why in God’s name does she need extra bacon and cheese on the side? Why why why why why! She’s just going to put it on there anyway! Why on the side? And like her fat ass needs any more bacon and cheese! Jesus.)

Dad #1: This here filet imperial, I don’t want none of that crab meat or that demi-glaze sauce. I just want the meat cooked well. And I don’t want no broccoli on the side. I want some mac ‘n cheese.

(Number 1, people who change everything on the menu should not eat in restaurants. Take your lazy ass to Publix and buy what you want, cook it the way you want, and keep your uncultured ass at home out of the view of the public. Secondly, substituting shit pisses me off from the get-go, but to substitute vegetables for a side item on the kid’s menu? Sweet Jesus. Oh, and a New York Strip is one thing, but a filet mignon cooked well done? 30 minutes at least, assbag. Get ready.)

Mom #2: I’m not really hungry. I just want a side salad and a
baked potato with butter, chives, and sour cream on the side. Extra ranch on the salad. And no croutons.

(Why go to a restaurant if you’re not hungry? It’s like a woman with no ovaries going to a sperm bank to try to get pregnant. You’re just wasting everyone’s time!)

   Dad #1 (interrupting Dad #2): I need some more sweet tea.

(I heard you the first time asshole. And this whole concept people have of needing really pisses me off: I need another sweet tea, I need more butter, we need more bread—no you don’t. You don’t need anything. You want. You want another diet coke. You want another side of ranch dressing, because you’ve only poured three quarts of the stuff on your enormous platter of cheese fries and that just isn’t enough. You don’t need that extra ranch. You’re ever-growing ass sure doesn’t need it.)

Dad #2: I want the salmon (he pronounces it sall• man) but I
don’t want onions.
   Me: It doesn’t come with onions.
Dad #2: Just make sure there are no onions on my plate. And do we get any of those cheese biscuits or do we have to pay for them?

   (I wish physical harm on this man.)

A Meltdown

Time: 8:50
Open Menus: A lot
Wait: Over an hour and a half for anything, small or big  

   I need to ring in table 14’s drink order. 24 has their dinner already but there appetizers are still not up. Every glass of ice tea at that 12-top is empty, and they’re all looking at me. I picked up table 34 because Marcus is busy splitting separate checks for his party of 45 outside. I need salads, more bread, refills on 23. Table 34 is ready to order, a real table, a high maintenance bunch that’s going to want a bottle of wine to start, soup, an appetizer, then salad, more wine, entrees, a post-meal drink (most likely White Russians or Bailey’s ‘n cream) and then dessert and expresso, all with at least a two-minute buffer in between each course, so I’ll have to orchestrate and time out that mess (kitchen ticket times are running 45 minutes so it will be near impossible). The bitch at my 12-top stops a passing manager, vehemently asking where their food is. In the kitchen cooks are screaming at whiny servers and the managers are screaming at the cooks and the inexhaustible printer keeps spitting out tickets.

“I’m missing some garlic mashed for this meatloaf!”
“I need a grilled Halibut on the fly!”
“86 crab bisque!”
“Table 32 says if they don’t get their stuffed mushrooms and fried green tomatoes right now they’re walking out!”
“86 lamp chops!”
“Walking in, four 8oz burgers, one medium with American cheese, one medium well with jack cheese, one medium rare with bleu cheese, one well done with no cheese!
“Did anyone sweeten this tea?”
“I got a ticket time for fried shrimp over 40 minutes! What the fuck!”
“I need a re-cook on this New York, it’s suppose to be medium rare.”
“86 lobsters!”
“Servers, don’t print! We’re out of paper! Don’t print!”
“Can someone please refill the woman’s unsweet tea at table 10 before her head fucking explodes?!”
“We need more pilsner glasses in the bar!”
“86 baked potatoes for the next 40 minutes!”
“Gustavo, walking in, three New Yorks, one medium, one medium rare, one medium well! Two ribeyes, both well, a veal chop, two filets, one butterfly well and one medium rare! On the fly, Miguel, I need a rosemary duck breast and a seared chicken!”
“86 smoked salmon!”
“I need a recook on this pasta, without garlic!”
“Tell the hostesses to stop seating!”
“I need to see Colleen in the kitchen, Colleen in the kitchen!”
“50 open menus!”
“The Sprite is out!”
“Are we still on a wait?”
“I need food runners! Sell this fucking food now!”
“Take this to 22!”
“We need more bread!”
“86 bread!”
“I need a caramel-apple upside down cake on the fly!”
“Birthday! I have a birthday!”
“Table 60 wants to know where their spring rolls are!”
“I’m missing some home fries on that burger!”
“This is overcooked!”
“This is undercooked!”
“86 salmon!”
“I need runners! This food is dying in the fucking window!”
“Table 21 just walked out!”
“Gustavo, where are my fucking clams!?”

The Aftermath

Time: 9:58
Open Menus: 4
Wait: None

The enchanting feeling you get when you realize the night is almost over has come, and I tell you, it’s better than oral sex. The exhausted kitchen begins to break down the line and clean. Servers start their sidework and roll silverware, bitching about shitty tips and having to work the next morning. Everyone is trying to cover their shifts for the next day to allow for a late night of much needed drunken debauchery. Managers hide in their little office and drink and smoke Budweisers and Marlboros, venting about how much the kitchen and front of house suck. The servers discuss what bar they’re heading to post-work. Ashley sneaks off with Gustavo to the dry storage room for a quick make-out session. The dining room is a filthy mess but we’re all too busy smoking cigarettes and bitching to clean it. I walk to the bar to tell Marty that a meeting is desperately in order.
And that is when she walked through the front door.
A woman, late 40s maybe, black as night, wearing a torn flowery dress-skirt thing and a faded jean jacket, standing alone. “Are y’all still serving?”
Technically, we are. We close at ten, and the clearly visible clock that sits to the right of the tooth pick dispenser reads 9:58. Now, maybe she is unaware of the fact that coming to a restaurant on a busy, balls-to-the-walls, we-ran-out-of-everything,-got-fucked-in-the-ass-with no-lube-Friday-night two minute before closing time is a bad idea. Maybe she doesn’t know that when you does this, you’re guaranteed shitty service because the server wants nothing more than to get out of the place and onto the bars and the kitchen is going to bitch and moan and will most likely make a plate of food that is well below sub-par in quality.
As she walks in, Matt, Eric, and Katie all blatantly tell the hostess that they refuse to wait on the woman (she is standing in clear, audible distance). She continues to stand still up front, looking a bit frightened, as the hostess walks from server to server, pleading for someone to pick up this one last table.
“Hell no.”
“I just got cut.”
“Get someone else.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
I see her walking towards me, looking desperate. Marty is in the process of making my margarita and we are about to take a meeting. My answer would have been no any other time. Any other time I would have walked away quickly. I would’ve been out behind the dumpster with Marty stuffing my nose with cocaine and chugging sweet margaritas. I would’ve hid in the employee bathroom or behind the ice machine or the walk-in cooler. I would’ve faked a seizure and insisted on medical assistance. I would’ve called my girlfriend and have her call the restaurant pretending to be my mother, telling the manager that I was needed home ASAP because my little basset hound Skippy had broken its leg. Any other night, I would’ve done anything and everything to avoid picking up a one-top at 9:58 after a long, hard, shitty, exhausting, suicidal night.
“Sure,” I say. “I’ll pick it up.”

I don’t know why, but those words did come out of my mouth. There is no turning back now. The hostess leads the woman to table 22 and she sits, already quickly perusing the menu. Meanwhile, my fellow servers are already almost done with their silverware rolling and table sweeping and are two steps away from being out of this hell-hole and en-route to the nearest bar. Not me. I’m stuck here for at least another hour.
“Hi there, how you doing?” I say.
“Very well, thank you. And you?”
“I’m good, as good as can be. Can I get you something to drink?”
“Yes, diet coke please.”
I have to go behind the bar because the beverage station in the kitchen has long been broken down. I return with her diet coke. She looks nervous.
“Thank you so much,” she says. “I’m so sorry to come so late.  What’s something good to order that’s quick?”
“Um, anything fried is usually pretty fast. Salads too, they don’t take long.”
“Okay, I’ll have this grilled caesar and artichoke salad. That’s sounds nice. But is it possible to have it without the feta cheese? I have allergies.”
“Not a problem,” I tell her, smiling for the first time that night.
“Thank you so much. I’m so sorry to come so late but I was on the road for so long and I’m starving and this place looked so nice. I don’t mean to keep you here all night.”
“It’s not a problem, really.”
She smiles. I walk to the computer and ring in her salad. Not too seconds before I hit the “send” key the kitchen is already bitching. “It’s one salad assholes. Deal with it!” I yell as I make my way to the back to smoke a cigarette. “Jorge, there better not be any god damn feta cheese on that fucker or I’ll rip you a new one.”  
She gets the salad and I walk behind the bar and watch her eat. She takes small bites, carefully stabbing the cubes of chicken with her fork, smiling after each chew, enjoying the food, taking sips of her diet coke. I have a sudden urge to cry. Watching this nice woman enjoying her food, not sadden by eating alone or worrying about what anyone else thinks of her sent a wave of effervescent euphoria throughout my body. I want to hug her, kiss her, tell her I hope everything wrong in her life will soon be mended and healed. When I notice her drink is half-full I am there in 10 seconds with a refill. “More bread?” I ask. I can bake more myself, wrap some up to-go. Dessert? Coffee? Please don’t leave, I want to tell her. I don’t care if she doesn’t tip me at all, if she even shorts me on the bill itself, it doesn’t matter. I’ll pay for the fucking salad. It’s on me. Just be nice. Smile. Appreciate. Enjoy. Grateful.
She finishes every morsel of food on her plate (I respect people who do this).
“That was wonderful!” She tells me. “Best salad I’ve had in a while, maybe ever!”
“You know, I cooked it myself,” I tell her.
“Oh really?”
“Well, if you liked it, then yes. If you didn’t, then no, someone else cooked it.”
She sincerely laughs. I think my eyes are watering up a little (last time I cried was when Knight Rider was taken off the air).
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” I say as I clear her plate.
“I’ll take the check whenever you have time.”
“Are you from out of town?” I ask.
“I’m visiting my son. It’s his birthday and I’m going to surprise him. It’s his first year here at school.”
“That’s really great. I wish my mom would do that.”
“Yeah, all I get from her is a weekly call telling me I’m wasting my money on beer.”
“Oh dear! You know she does it because she love you.”
“Something like that.”
“I worry about my son a lot too. I don’t call as much as I want to because I don’t want to hound him.”
“What’s his name?”
“Daryl. I like that name.”
“It’s after his dad.”
A short, awkward pause, then;
“Well thank you so much for everything,” she says.
“Oh sure, and thank you. I’ll be right back with your check.”
She pays and leaves. I walk behind the bar and pour myself a pint of Bass Ale. I light a cigarette, not bothered to even look and see if a manager is in sight. I should be doing sidework, cleaning the tables in my section, rolling silverware, scrambling to close checks and find a manager to check me out so I can get the hell out of here. At this moment I can’t. I can’t do any of that. The best decision I’ve made all night was to wait on that woman. I should’ve gotten her name. Why didn’t I? I didn’t even introduce myself (something we’re required to do to each table). I need to sit here for a moment and drink this beer. I wonder what would’ve happened if someone else had waited on her. She would’ve no doubt received shitty service. She’d been lucky to get even half of what she ordered, and I guaren-goddamn-tee they’re would have been feta cheese on the salad if another server had waited on her. I wonder if anyone else would have appreciated or even acknowledged the fact that she may very well have been the greatest customer to ever grace a restaurant. No one would have thought that. They would’ve bitched and moaned about getting a table two minute before closing. They would’ve done unthinkable things to her food. They would’ve talked shit about her in the kitchen. Who knows.
My beer is almost done. Katie and Eric have cashed out and ask me if I’m going out. I say no. I’m heading home, I tell them. I need to be alone. I need a break. Besides, I have a date with my recliner and a bottle of Jack Daniels.


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In the Weeds
« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2004, 08:13:06 PM »
I'm tempted to say that this is your best story yet -- it takes the style you've established in all your other work and applies it to a completely different setting. Rather than being about debaucherous kids simply acting according to character, this one is about debaucherous kids doing something, and it makes a world of difference (not that you haven't written excellent stories in the past -- but as I pointed out once before, there's only so much you can do with the template you so often adhered to). The restaurant setting is brilliantly illustrated; it's clear to the reader that you know what you're talking about; and the character(s) exist within it perfectly. The chaos and frustration is completely palpable, and it makes me glad I've never worked in a restaurant.

The only thing I'd change (other than a few typos) is the ending, which almost gets a little TOO sweet. Rather than have the server's conversation with the woman be real, what if he just imagined all those things? Her reason for being there? Her going to see her son? Limit the actual exchanges between them; keep things simple; let the sweetness reside entirely in the main character's mind, rather than extending it to the woman (who needs not confirm her server's near-fantasy about her -- just having her enjoy her food is enough fuel for that particular fire).

I dont' know if that makes sense or not, but that's my only suggestion. Great work.


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In the Weeds
« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2004, 08:23:26 PM »
cbrad, how do you manage to write all that?
regardless of your talent,  i always wonder how do people get  to write massive paragraphs. when i write something, anything , it's as if i was constipated. do you take breaks while you write a short story? or do you write the whole thing in one day?
context, context, context.


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In the Weeds
« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2004, 10:30:44 PM »
well first, let me go  :oops:   :-D

i do appreciate ppl who read these long damn things.

Quote from: Ghostboy

The only thing I'd change (other than a few typos) is the ending, which almost gets a little TOO sweet. Rather than have the server's conversation with the woman be real, what if he just imagined all those things? Her reason for being there? Her going to see her son? Limit the actual exchanges between them; keep things simple; let the sweetness reside entirely in the main character's mind, rather than extending it to the woman (who needs not confirm her server's near-fantasy about her -- just having her enjoy her food is enough fuel for that particular fire).

I dont' know if that makes sense or not, but that's my only suggestion. Great work.

okay, i totally agree. first off, i usually post my 1st or 2nd draft on here, wait for feedback, rewrite, and then turn her in. so the typos and shit, yeah, those are definitely abound.

as for your suggestion, you're totally right. i've reread the thing and part of me cringes at the dialogue. it would definitely work better and, hell, make it a lot more powerful if he'd imagined it all. i was just thinking about his state of mind at the time-- exhausted, semi-drunk, furious, coked up-- it seemed plausible that he would make such an exchange with the woman. but your right, it is too sweet. i think i made it so b/c my professor always tells me my stories depress him and i always write about nihilistic, alcoholic, sexually frustrated drug addicts. this was an attempt to "lighten up." meh.

Quote from: cronopio
regardless of your talent, i always wonder how do people get to write massive paragraphs. when i write something, anything , it's as if i was constipated. do you take breaks while you write a short story? or do you write the whole thing in one day?

it really comes in spurts. if ur in the zone and things are clickin' it's easy to knock out five or six pages at once. however, just yesterday, i could barely write one good paragraph before walking away from my computer in disgust. i have no idea how or what it takes to get in this zone. i think it's about your mood, mindframe, food and alcohol consumption on that given day, who knows.


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« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2004, 10:43:08 PM »
Quote from: ©brad
i think i made it so b/c my professor always tells me my stories depress him and i always write about nihilistic, alcoholic, sexually frustrated drug addicts. this was an attempt to "lighten up." meh.

It'll still be plenty 'light' without that dialogue (and far more satisfying, as far as happy endings go); I imagine your professor will be pleased.


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