They looked like rejects from a Li’l Wayne video, four women ranging in age from sixteen to early thirties, gold teeth, pierced eyebrows, tattoos and fake blonde and purple hair . When I came up to their table, they hardly even acknowledged me. I only got to the “W” in “Welcome” when the youngest told me, or rather barked at me, “I already know what I want!”
They more or less grunted their orders, one of them with her eyes closed, probably fighting off a hangover –yes, on a Thursday noon– while I hid my absolute knowledge of “no tip from this one” and wrote it down, all smiles. With a few differences –“no ‘shrooms on mine”, “no bacon on mine”– they all asked for the same thing, right down to their drinks, which would be the start of the problem.
The drinks they asked for are layers of flavored ice: kiwi, mango, and strawberry. They’re garnished with an orange and a lime slice. It’s the recipe, they can’t be changed. Keep that in mind, please. I bring them over and go to see about their food. When I come up they all have the look of disgust. “Too much lime here”, the oldest says, and they all grunt agreements. I explain to them they can’t be changed, that’s the recipe, and their indifference turns into (mock?) outrage. The leader, who has a pierced face that makes her look like a Maori warrior, maybe this guy, stares me down and demands a manager. I oblige at once, not only because by now I refuse to deal with this group, but because by now the whole restaurant knows this is a bad-vibe crew, including my manager, so I am welcome to forget about my tip just to get them out of here.
Reluctantly, my manager goes over, offers them new drinks, and I get their food. While serving another table, I see through the corner of my eye that my esteemed customers are slowly getting up. The new drinks haven’t arrived, there are four empty bowls that held respective orders of firecracker shrimps, there are two plates of shrimp and grits half-eaten, and there is certainly no paid check in sight.
Did I mention the tab was 118 dollars? That’s one hundred and eighteen dollars.
I learn later from the hostesses that, when they said their usual “Thank you for coming! Have a nice day!”, the charming little group answered with four variations of “Fuck all y’all”.
It has been a roller coaster couple of days for me, since I’ve had to deal with quite a few events, chief among them having the good fortune of having my family over from Venezuela. Since then I have gone through bouts of unequaled joy and deep, deep sadness, both by having them here and knowing what’s waiting for them back home, and my limitations for helping them as much as I can. This scene from Schindler’s List is more or less how I felt yesterday, thinking about everything. So today, I write, and focus on the many good things that have happened to me since.
The sole fact that I have my mother, father, brother and sister-in-law with me here, where they can see me as a family man for the first time, is the first great reward. Second is seeing all of them turn into children when I am able to take them to the Disney parks for the first time in twenty years. (GF works in one of the Disney hotels, so we have free passes.) My brother is moved to tears standing at the EPCOT World Showcase, all of them (fine, us) bubbling messes during the nighttime show in Magic Kingdom. Helping them buy things they might need (never enough), things they want (ditto), and things they could see and know. Having my mom’s sister and my cousin come from Washington, DC, and New Mexico was awesome, stress that coordinating the damn surprise nearly causing me a stroke notwithstanding. A stroll through Winter Park was perhaps one of the higher points, when we all strolled through the lovely downtown area in the city, an eight-member family without a care in the world. I felt like the richest man in the world.
Of course I’m not blind to the fact that after next week, there is nothing but a shroud of uncertainty. Things are escalating back home, and I fear for them, as anyone who emigrated and still has loved ones there would, naturally. But since I can only do so much, I try to focus on what I do have, on what I can do. What I can do is send them help any time I can. Find a better job, to get a better house, better lifestyle, help them even more. Keep striving to be a better step father, better spouse, better man. Maybe even get ready for the moment they can come again. Maybe stay.
That’s why I’m trying to deal with the sadness I’m starting to feel differently than before. I’m too good at feeling sorry for myself, digging myself into a hole and waiting until somehow I refloat, feeling rather ashamed I put myself in there. The past few days, have shown me that I have too many good things in life to let myself go that way. I am truly blessed, to be able to accomplish all that we have, together, here in Orlando, to have the ability to write like I am right now, interact with people like I do. I am a firm believer that good things happen to good people who put in the work to find them.
As I found out later.
As the “charming” ladies make their exit, the table next to them calls me over. It’s a family of four, a man, his wife, and his two teenage daughters. They share the former table’s race, but that’s where the similarities end. The man asks me what happened with them, and I explain.
–Damn… But they did pay, right?– he asked.
–Nope– I reply–. They walked right out.
His face and his wife’s mirror an expression of shock. It tells me this is one of those couples who have been friends before. They express their sympathy, and I excuse myself to tend to my other tables, saying that hey, I have two tables filled with good, decent people, and I’m not about to let their negativity get to me.
Ten minutes later, I stop by again. The gentleman calls me over, signalling his empty plate.
–I don’t know how to tell you this, Juan… But I truly did not like my food.
I couldn’t keep a straight face for long, but I tried. –Well, sir, we are not perfect.
–I demand this food be returned– he says, holding a very clean bone –and your manager informed of your actions.
I fake cry for a second, saying I’m deeply sorry, and then we both crack up, shaking our hands. –You have no idea how much I needed that, sir– I say.
I leave again, and see to my tables again, right next to them. When I pass their table again, the man calls me over one more time. And this time, hhe just hands me two five-dollar bills. –You’re a good man– he tels me, or I think he tells me, because I’m too flustered and filled with gratitude to do anything other than blurt out something like “Nosiryoushouldn’thavebutthankyousomuch”.
And that’s how I feel today: extremely grateful. Grateful for people like that kind gentleman who simply wanted to overcome an injustice. Grateful for the kind words my parents got when they went to eat at my restaurant, later that same day, from my coworkers and one of my managers. Grateful for the last twelve days, when I had the chance to host both them and my brother and his wife in my house, show them around, see them be kids again, show them how I’ve turned into a new man while staying the same man they remember. It’s a rare thing, to know that I have a family this wonderful, but I also feel lucky to have the ability to overcome my own situation. Not a bad one, but an infinitely improvable one. Remember that last thing, friends; it might be what helps you rise above and move forward.