With three new tables sat in quick succession, on top of four other tables already started, I was barely caught up. The Pie Shoppe was thick into its lunch rush. A couple at table 70 sat with faces of stone as I greeted them with a harried smile. A Very Old Mom with her Bland Son, who looked to be 50-ish, sat with glazed, almost expressionless eyes and pale skin. My Favorite Busboy had brought coffee for her and iced tea for him. They were ready to order, as were my other two tables
“Is this how it comes?” he asked, with all the personality of a rice cake. He pointed at a picture on the menu of The Pie Shoppe turkey dinner. “We’d like to split it.”
“It sure does. Would you like the lunch portion or the dinner portion?”
“What’s the difference?”
This was all explained on the menu. “The lunch portion is slightly smaller and doesn’t come with soup or salad.”
“What’s the difference in price?”
“The dinner is $15.99 and the lunch is $12.99,” I said, pointing at the clearly marked menu. “The dinner portion comes with soup, salad, and bread, or you can add it to the lunch portion for $2.59. Since you’re splitting your meal, you might want the dinner portion with a salad for 40 cents more.”
I could literally hear both the wheels of calculation rotating in his head, and the table behind me tapping their feet impatiently waiting to place their order. Very Old Mom asked, her voice a rasping whisper, “What do I get?” Bland Son explained what I’d just explained.
“Do you want soup, Mom?”
“Our soups today are chicken noodle, potato cheese, and hearty vegetable,” I said.
“I want soup,” Very Old Mom said.
“Okay, we’ll take the dinner portion,” Bland Son said.
“What kind of soup would you like?” I asked.
“What’s the soup?” she asked.
“Our soups today are chicken noodle, potato cheese, and hearty vegetable.”
“We’ll take the potato cheese,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. “Would you like cornbread or garlic bread with your potato cheese soup?” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see another table of mine being sat. I groaned inwardly.
“Would you like the cornbread, Mom?”
“Would you like the cornbread, Mom?”
“We’ll take the cornbread.”
“Great. Thank you,” I said.
I gathered their menus and did my best to look like I wasn’t running away from that table. I got the drink order from my new table and took lunch orders from two other tables, then rushed to the kitchen to fulfill everything and catch up.
Later, two young girls at the table across the aisle from Very Old Mom and Bland Son flagged me down.
“The table over there needs your attention.” They both looked smugly joyful, like they couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
Indeed, table 70 was also staring at me, eyes still glazed, and there was a metallic object sitting on top of a napkin.
“Mother found this in her soup,” said Bland Son.
It was a gold crown, sucked clean of the potato cheese soup. It looked for all the world like a real tooth, browned with age, a bit spotty, only shiny, like jewelry. Its sparkle mocked me.
Very Old Mom sat stirring her soup.
“I’m sorry. I’ll get the manager.” It was all I could say.
The Bald Man stood at the hostess stand taking the name of a customer waiting for a table. I rushed to him wondering how could I miss a solid chunk of metal while ladling a pureed, cream-colored soup into a bowl. Who in the kitchen could afford fancy dentistry? A thing like that didn’t just fly out of one’s mouth. If it did, it’d be hawked on Pawn Stars before being pureed.
I approached with a vain attempt at wry humor. “Are you ready for this?”
He looked grim. “Yes.”
“Table 70 found a gold crown in their potato cheese soup. They wanna see a manager.”
At first I thought he might laugh, his face contorting into a strange grin. Then, just as quickly, his face became a grim mask. I suggested the crown possibly belonged to Very Old Mom.
The Bald Man took that in and accompanied me back to table 70. Awkwardness hung in the air. I could see the girls across the aisle watching intently, as were several other tables. It was a free show.
The Bald Man quickly offered apologies, then said, “Are you sure this isn’t your crown? None of the kitchen staff has a crown.” My jaw dropped. I hadn’t intended my supposition be mentioned aloud to them. I expected him to follow his apology with a comped meal. The air grew more taut. Nobody said a word. Finally, he offered to comp their meal, or provide another one gratis.
“My stomach’s a little queasy now. I’m not sure I can even eat lunch,” said Bland Son.
“Well, I’ll happily comp your meal. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do.” He apologized again and marched off, a couple hundred dollars’ worth of gold in hand.
I stayed to pick up the rest of the pieces. “Would you like a pie to take home?” I thought if there was a gold crown in the potato cheese soup, there might be a diamond ring in the pie.
“Sure. Okay. We’ll take a pie,” said the son. Of course. Free stuff. Now, pie decision-making prevailed. Bland Son seemed pleased. Very Old Mom sat vacantly. Holes were being bored into my back by the eyes of waiting customers.
“What kind of pie do you want, Mom?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you want a peach pie?”
“I don’t know.”
I tried to facilitate the decision. “I like the fresh peach better than the baked.”
“What’s the difference?” asked Bland Son.
I sighed inside. “The fresh pie is made with fresh peaches and a peach glaze and is mounded on a crust. The baked pie is sweetened peaches baked between a double crust.”
“Do you want the double crust, Mom?”
“We’ll take the double crust.”
“Okay. I’ll be right back with your baked peach pie.” I ran away saying, “Thank you!” this time without hiding it. I came back with their pie, apologizing as sincerely as I could– “… hope you’ll try us again…”– as I wished silently, with even more sincerity, I would never see them, ever.
I tried in vain to win back favor with my other tables. My slow service annoyed, though they witnessed the event. You’d think I put the gold crown in the soup. It set the tone for the rest of my shift.
My Favorite Busboy sought me out. “The guys in the kitchen– they no can afford gold for teeth. That guy wanted free stuff.”
I said, “Maybe. I think they were too out-of-it to know it came from her mouth.”
He shook his head.
I guess we’ll never know.