Ode to My Nice Neighbor

She knocks at my door. I answer.

“I’m a bootlegger,” she said and thrust a gallon jug with a sunny liquor in my hands.

The homemade label says, “Limoncello. Enjoy!” The top looks like a jam jar.

“Cleaning out the house for my move. I found it in a corner, but it should be good.”

I hugged her, “Damn. Now I’m really sorry to see you go.”

She laughed and left just as quickly as she came. “… so much to do…”

“Thank you and good luck!”

I made a lemon drop martini before you could say “Lemonade.”

My dog, Jack, says, "Let them eat steak!"

Dogfucius say, “Love thy neighbor, especially if they make good drinks!”

Decisions, Decisions

“So, how about some pie, ladies?” I said as I set down a dessert menu. They both groaned and laughed with a huffing wheeze as I organized empty plates, scraped (almost licked) clean, into a stack. This after they exclaimed with wide eyes how huge the cobb salad and blue cheese burger with coleslaw looked.

“Oh no,” said Woman On My Left. “I’m so full! I couldn’t eat another bite.”

I gestured to some indistinct place around my kidney. “Well, you know there’s a special dessert space in our stomachs waiting to be filled, no matter how full the other side gets.” I smiled. “I’ll leave you with the dessert menu just to satisfy your curiosity. Besides pie, we have a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake that’s to die for.” I picked up their dirty dishes and walked away.

When I returned, check in hand in case they were ready to leave, I asked, “Are we having something sweet?”

Woman On My Left said, as if I should stop the presses for some big news, “We decided to share a slice of pie.”

“Great!” I chirped. “Which one?”

They stared at each other briefly. “What kind of pie would you like?” she asked Woman On My Right, frowning with concentration.

The friend deferred grandly. “I like banana cream. But, I don’t care. You pick. Pick any pie.”

Woman On My Left stared at the menu for a few seconds. “Ooh! How about Pecan?”

“Oh, I love pecan,” I said, hoping to rush a decision. It was a busy lunch.

Woman On Her Right’s face scrunched towards her nose. “Oh no. Pecans give me gas. I don’t eat nuts anymore.”

“Well, what would you like?”

“Whatever you like. You pick.”

Woman on the Left furrowed her brows and tried again. “Mmm, chocolate sounds good. How about the chocolate satin pie?”

“The chocolate satin here is amazing,” I said, not caring which pie they ordered. I just needed them to order.

“Oh, I don’t like chocolate. It still gives me acne–and at my age!” Woman On My Right chuckled at herself.

“Lemon meringue?”

“It’s my very favorite pie!” I said, trying not to sound pushy.

“Oh no, citrus makes my stomach acid-y. Gave up oranges and lemons long ago.”

They stared at each other some more. I stared too.

“Razzleberry?” suggested Woman On My Left.

“People love that pie. It’s especially good with ice cream,” I said.

“No, can’t do berries either. Those tiny seeds stick in my teeth.”

Pause.

“Well, what pie do you like?”

“Something creamy would be nice. I like banana cream. But really, pick whatever you like,” said Woman On My Right with a wave of her hand.

Pause. Woman On My Left’s eyes seemed to narrow around a knife point. “Shall we get the banana cream?”

“Oh, yes, that sounds good.”

“We’ll have banana cream.”

Random Customer Feedback

One of my customers recently filled out a comment card for The Pie Shoppe:

Food: “Fair”

Service: “Excellent”

Suggestions? “The environment is relaxing and I like the way the light comes in the big picture windows. The food wasn’t bad, just a little bland. Someone in the kitchen needs to be a little less generous with the grease. The music isn’t too bad either, just turn up the volume a little. Dawn was very pleasant and outgoing. Very knowledgeable about food. She made a lame date bearable. I need to be done with online dating. There may be Plenty of Fish out there but so many of them swim in brackish waters. This one needed to be spiced up more than the food. I may come back, hopefully with better company.”

My So-Called Double Life

“What else do you do, Dawn? Do you have another job?” asked My Favorite Busboy.

“I write,” I said, a bit reluctantly. I try to stay private at work.

“Oh, really?” he said, eyes bright. “What do you write?”

“I work on short stories and novels. I also have a blog.”

“I love to read. How can I find your stuff?”

“You need access to an ebook reader or computer.”

“Oh. I have a phone.”

“A smartphone?”

“No.”

“I’m afraid you can’t read my stuff then. It’s all online,” I said. Then, noticing his disappointed expression, I added, “Maybe I’ll print out a sample and bring it in.”

I said this knowing I didn’t want to bring in any of my writing. I think I opened up to My Favorite Busboy because I knew he didn’t have a computer or a smartphone and, therefore, would have difficulty finding me online. I like him and it was a low risk sharing of me.

I don’t like feeling the need to be cagey, but I keep a low profile about my writing at my day-job. It’s not just cuz many of my blog stories are inspired by my day-job and someone may take offense at my observations. I recently published my first ebook, An Encounter With Death, a short story which explores themes of sex and suicide. Those don’t exactly qualify for “office” shop-talk. Discussing the finer points of deep despair or how sex can be a loving, healing exchange between two people are not exactly fodder for snippets spoken while cutting slices of pie.

Hot off the online presses: An Encounter With Death. After a series of emotional setbacks, Vanessa, is filled with despair. She decides to take control of her destiny, but like her life, nothing turns out as planned. Wanting to meet her maker, she instead has an encounter with Death. A magical tale of the power of love to heal. Available for $.99 at Smashwords and Amazon.

Hot off the online presses: An Encounter With Death. After a series of emotional setbacks, Vanessa, is filled with despair. She decides to take control of her destiny, but like her life, nothing turns out as planned. Wanting to meet her maker, she instead has an encounter with Death. A magical tale of the power of love to heal. Available for $.99 at Smashwords and Amazon.

Plus, the day-job is generally not a safe place to talk about my writing or even my personal life. You just never know what random situation or misunderstanding will come to haunt you.

A perfect example of why I feel a need to be so careful at work happened recently. It was a busy Saturday night. I had a full station of 8 tables, two of which had just been sat and were wondering where their waitress was. I had two bill books in my hand with credit cards to run for tables who were anxious to leave. I was standing at Table 54 with four customers taking their order. One woman ordered a gorgonzola salad. “I have a nut allergy, so could you take out the pecans and add extra cheese.”

“Of course,” I said.  I took the rest of the orders, greeted my two waiting tables, got their drink orders, and rushed to the computer. When I wrote up the order for the woman at Table 54, I clearly stated, “NO PECANS SUB EXTRA CHEESE.” After I finished the rest of the orders and ran the credit cards, I looked for one of the managers to tell them about the special order, which I knew was important. We were so slammed, I couldn’t find anyone. I looked into the kitchen window to talk to the cooks. “Hey, guys, I got a special order for Table–”

“Put it on the ticket!” one of the cooks said, waving me away. I had to get back to the floor, and hoped I would catch a manager in time.

Later, I saw the manager delivering the gorgonzola salad to Table 54. When she finished her delivery, I flagged her down. “Did you make sure the salad had no pecans?” I asked.

“The Kitchen Manager said there weren’t any. I didn’t see any.”

Satisfied, I went on with my service. Moments later, I noticed the woman was gone from her table. I dropped everything I needed to do to ask if everything was okay. A dining partner said, “There were nuts in the salad. She had a reaction.”

“I’m so sorry. The kitchen said there weren’t any nuts. Lemme get a manager over to talk to you.” I picked up the bowl, stirred it with a fork, and buried under the field greens were a few pecans blending into the colorfully tossed salad. Embarrassed, I said I’m sorry again and went to find the manager. She handled the rest of the service by writing a report and comping the entire meal.

On my next shift, the Bald Man called me into his office. “I have to write you up,” he said.

“What? Why?” I was honestly surprised.

“If a customer has an allergy, you have to write ‘allergy’ on the ticket.”

“What? Okay. That’s no problem. I didn’t know that. I did clearly state ‘no nuts’ on the ticket. Why are you writing me up? The kitchen screwed up the order.”

“They’re saying they didn’t and it’s probably cross-contamination cause some bits of pecan fell into the cheese container. They–”

“Cross-contamination is a kitchen error. They should never cross-contaminate.”

“No, but they didn’t know there was an allergy. If they did, they woulda gotten fresh gorgonzola from the back.” He looked at me with narrowed eyes. “Why didn’t you tell a manager?”

“I tried! The floor manager and the kitchen manager were nowhere to be seen. They were busy running around doing other stuff. I had to get back on the floor to my tables, cuz it was very busy and I was behind on the floor as it was. I tried to interrupt the cooks and tell them directly, but they wouldn’t stop what they were doing to listen. It was a busy night. You know that. You have the sales figures.” I paused. “And, I didn’t know to write it on the ticket!”

“You had to have known to write “allergy” on the ticket. It’s in the manual.”

“Where in the manual? I never saw it.”

“Well, I couldn’t find it this morning. But still… it’s a part of our training.”

“I was never told, or trained, to put “allergy” on the ticket or I would’ve done it. I’m sorry this happened. I take these things very seriously. I care about people. But, at the time, I thought I did everything I could.”

“Look, this went all the way to The Owner. I have to explain to him that you’re in deep shit and back it up.”

“So lemme get this straight. I’m being written up for failing to do something I didn’t and couldn’t know I had to do. And even though both managers and the cooks had their hands in this problem, I’m being thrown under the bus.”

“Just write “allergy” on the ticket.” He motioned to a piece of paper on table. “And sign here. You can write in the margin that you didn’t know.” He said that last bit as if it was supposed to mollify me.

A lot of lip service is paid to team work and team spirit, but when a mistake happens, the team disappears. Shared, and even personal responsibility, also disappears. It’s one person’s problem. Somebody has to take the fall. I work in the politics of cover-your-ass. These people aren’t my friends.

I have a job to do because I need the money. The money-making opportunity needs to be protected. It’s scary to share my private life with The Pie Shoppe. This sounds paranoid, but any knowledge they have may somehow work against me.

And so, I have a working world and a personal artistic life between which exists a wall surrounded by a moat teeming with alligators. I almost regret my lapse in silence with My Favorite Busboy, even though he is also my favorite co-worker. I would love to share my writing and especially my new ebook, An Encounter with Death, with everyone–put a sign up at work or casually mention it to all, including customers who come in. The more people who know, the better chance I have at selling books and letting go of the day-job. But, I’ll take my chances that this small population surrounding The Pie Shoppe can stay ignorant of my dreams and they will still come true.

Reading, Wine, and a Dog

“Would you like another Chardonnay?” I asked. My regular’s glass was a quarter full. He doesn’t like to wait long between glasses. It was late afternoon and not very busy at The Pie Shoppe.

“By the time you pour that glass, I’ll be ready,” he said with a smirk. He comes in almost every day. Roly-poly, balding, and bespectacled, he always sets up a hardback book from the New York Times best-selling fiction list on a reading stand to peruse while he sips four glasses of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay. Today he had two books, one two-thirds open on the stand and one waiting near his pudgy elbow.

“That’s a lot of reading for one Pie Shoppe visit,” I said.

“Oh, I read very quickly. I’ll finish this one and be a quarter way into the other one before I leave.” Later, it turned out he wasn’t bragging in vain.

“Guess the Chardonnay helps.” I laughed.

With his third glass, he expects a slice of cornbread. “Center cut. Please make sure it’s very fresh.” If he’s really hungry, he’ll order the turkey dinner or pot roast to be enjoyed with the fourth glass. It was a hungry day, so he ordered the turkey, extra gravy on the side, melted cheese on his veggies. “And I’d like to order a top sirloin to go.”

“That’ll be a nice lunch tomorrow.”

“It’s not for me. It’s for my friend’s dog. I’m dog sitting for a few months.”

“Oh. Must be nice to be a guest in your house.”

He laughed. “She is man’s best friend. I don’t know what to feed her.”

“I’m sure a pet store would have something.”

“Yeah.” He didn’t sound convinced.

“How do you think she’d like her steak cooked?”

“I think she’d like it medium rare. How do you think?”

“Well, I like my steak rare. You know, still mooing. But I’m not a dog.”

His face scrunched at the idea. “Maybe medium’s better. Yes. Medium.”

“Okay. It comes with loaded mashed potatoes. Do you think she’d like that, or maybe just a plain baked potato?” Loaded mashed potatoes come with bacon, chopped green onions, sour cream, and cheddar cheese melted together on top.

“Hm. I’ll take the loaded mashed potatoes. What are the veggies?”

“They’re the same veggies you get. A medley of yellow and green squash, carrots, broccoli and onion. You want that for her.”

“I think maybe she wouldn’t like the broccoli.”

“I can order it without broccoli.”

“That’d be good.”

“Great. Thank you.” I rushed off to place his order.

My dog Jack says, “Let them eat steak!”

As I gave him his fourth glass of Chardonnay, I said, “It’d be cheaper next time if you buy the whole bottle.” A bottle of wine is just under 5 glasses.

“Yeah.” He smiled. “But that would be so indulgent!”

How to be a Tin God

The server schedule for The Pie Shoppe was taped to the wall above a trash can and a cart holding the bus tub. The noise of food dumped into the trash with a squish and plates dropped into the tub with a jangle resounded as I stared at my schedule for the following week. It’d been completely altered to my detriment. Instead of 4 shifts, I had 3, losing Sunday altogether. My lucrative Friday and Saturday shifts were replaced with the slower Monday and Tuesday.

“Shit!” I said to myself as Star Server slumped a half-eaten Cobb and clanged the bowl on the pile of dirty dishes

“What’s wrong? asked the man, who was younger than me by a few years and an excellent server.

“The Bald Man cut back my schedule. He’s punishing me.”

“Yeah, I saw that. What happened?” he asked, his voice tinged with anticipation for good gossip.

“The Bald Man and I disagreed on what’s fair in the world.”

“He’s gotta be right, you know. You can’t tell him anything.” Star Server also had impressive kissing-management-ass skills, which I lacked, and received whatever schedule he wanted.

“Yeah, well something got stuck in my face this time.”

I told him my story.

Employee rights?

About two months before, I had a family of five who paid their bill with a credit card. There was nothing suspicious about them: a mom and dad, two children and an elderly grandmother. It was a busy shift. They exited quickly. There wasn’t time to grab their bill book to make sure they signed the receipt before they left. Naturally, it wasn’t signed.

The Owner looked dimly upon unsigned receipts and assumed it’s entirely due to slapdash server lameness. Many times, people forget to sign credit card receipts. When I remind them to do so, there are awkward apologies on both sides: “I’m sorry, but I still need your signature.” “Oh! I’m sorry. Did I forget to sign? How silly of me!”

The assistant manager didn’t say anything when I closed out my sales that day, so I figured, with relief, nothing would come of it. Over a month later, as I was counting my cash at the end of a shift, the Bald Man asked to speak with me in the office. I walked back with trepidation knowing this would not be fun times.

The office was the size of a walk-in closet and it felt too small to hold the two of us. A table top, with a couple of metal filing cabinets underneath, rested against the full length of the side wall. A large safe was embedded in the back wall. The room felt cluttered and cramped.

After I turned over my sales for that shift, the Bald Man said, “The customer who paid this bill is contesting the credit charge.” He passed the unsigned receipt and a document across the table top. “We’re still talking to the credit card company, but we need you to accept responsibility for the charge should they side with the customer.”

What? I looked down at the document. It had a photocopy of the receipt for $68.60 on the top half. The bottom half said, “The Undersigned accepts responsibility for incomplete fulfilment of the Financial Transaction represented above as required by The Pie Shoppe, and therefore agrees to accept Financial Obligation for any unpaid Monies from said transaction. The Undersigned further authorizes said Company to deduct said Monies from the Pay Check of the Undersigned.” There was a line for my signature and the date, and another to print my name. I wanted to laugh, though this was no laughing matter.

I took a few seconds to think, still staring at the document. I took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry about the bill. I try very hard to make sure credit card receipts are signed. However, I don’t believe I’m responsible for the unpaid bill.”

The room was too warm and the Bald Man’s face scrunched into a frown. His dark eyes became shark-like and unpleasant to look at. He straightened his spine as he said, “Yes, you are.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You’re responsible for cash receipts. It’s the same as running a cash drawer.”

“It’s not the exactly the same as being a cashier.”

“When you collect cash and lose money on the floor, you still owe it to us.”

“I agree if I lost a twenty from my pocket during my shift, I’d still owe it to you. That’s beside the point. I’m not responsible for unsigned credit card receipts. ”

“It’s not beside the point. You walk around with your cash drawer. If you’re short, you owe us the money.”

“A cashier can’t be held liable for cash over or short. But you’re still arguing around the point. This is a credit card receipt.”

“Yes, they can and are. This is the point.”

“No, they can’t. Not legally. If a cashier is constantly over or short, you can warn them or fire them. Or train them to be better cashiers. But you can’t charge them.”

“Oh really? Who’s responsible for the cash, then?” I could tell he was mocking me.

“Who do you think is responsible? The Owner, obviously. It’s his business. He’s responsible for creating a system which minimizes mistakes. Mistakes are the cost and risk of doing business. I’m your employee, not your insurance company. If I wanted to take on risk, I’d start my own business.”

“As an employee, you’re responsible for ensuring proper payment.”

“I’m also not responsible for dine and dash. I can’t stand over my customers, watching their every move. There are other responsibilities that take me into the kitchen and away from the dining room. I’m not responsible for management of the whole system. That’s your job. Maybe you should pay the credit card bill.”

He stood up. “Don’t get smart with me.”

I stood up. “Smart? You’re trying to reach into my pocket to pay your expenses.”

“You’re responsible and that’s all there is to it.”

“I think the Labor Board might feel differently.”

His mouth twisted again. “Look, Dawn, we have lawyers to check with before doing such things.”

“I’m sure you do. I’m still gonna double-check before I sign anything.”

There was a long, charged silence. I broke it with, “Is there anything else you need from me?”

“No.”

“Alright. I’ll keep this piece of paper in case I need it. Have a nice night.” I rushed out, my stomach churning.

I finished telling my story to Star Server. “So I checked with the Labor Board, and of course I’m not liable. The Bald Man hasn’t brought it up again, but he did jerk me around on the schedule. Guess he figures I’m gonna pay one way or the other.” I rolled my eyes.

Star Server looked at me, his mouth pulled into a frown. “I think I would’ve signed the piece of paper.”

I looked at him and thought, of course you would’ve. “Yeah. Well, it’s not right.” I put on my apron and started wiping down the salad station.

My schedule remained that way until I was replaced as “bad server” by a couple of colleagues. One had lost his temper in a Bald Man confrontation. The other had called in sick and couldn’t find a cover for her shift.

At least when the Bald Man is petty, it’s with an even hand.

Charm Above Circumstance

Another boring day at the office?

The Pie Shoppe had another couple hours left before closing and I was feeling crabby. There were very few customers to wait on. Ahead on the to-do list was cleaning the server aisle, where sticky pie fillings and greasy pie crust crumbs managed to get onto everything. The unstimulating, corporately designed decor, with its drab brown tones and dreary furnishings, was weighing me down. I was bored and wanted to go home. Feeling sorry for myself, I greeted my new table.

“If your name is ‘Dawn’, how come you’re working at night?” His face was merry and the wrinkles around his eyes crinkled flirtatiously. He sat with two white-haired ladies.

“Working at night keeps me off the streets,” I quipped back, hoping my current crankiness didn’t put too much edge in my voice.

“Do you work late?” he asked.

“I’ll be closing the place.” Sadly, I wanted to add.

The older of the ladies asked, “What time do you close?”

“We close at 11 p.m. on Saturdays,” I replied.

“What if I came in at 11 p.m.?” she asked.

“I suppose if you walked in the door at 10:59, you’d get served,” I replied, still hoping my annoyance didn’t show.

“Yeah. With a bunch of spit in my food.”

“Ha!” I laughed in spite of myself. “There might be some surly spread on your burger and fries.”

The dry humor didn’t stop, especially with the gentleman. “I suppose I need to tap a spring to get more water around here.”

“It’ll be fresher and better tasting, then,” I said.

At the end of their meal, I accidentally gave them the wrong bill.

He waved me over. “There’s a problem here. I want to pay this but I don’t remember drinking a root beer.”

I apologized and gave them the correct bill. “You’ll probably like this less since it’s more.”

“I’m still waiting for my rootbeer,” he said.

“I’ll bring your rootbeer.” I smiled and winked. “And pour it over your head.” Their mirth was contagious.

“Dawn, go away, you’re no good for me!” He sang the oft-sung-to-me song charmingly off-key.

“Stop it,” said the younger lady, smiling. “You’re making her nervous!”

“It’s true,” I said. “I’ll go home and cry myself to sleep tonight.”

She said, “Well, tomorrow will be the dawn of a new day!”

They paid their bill leaving a generous gratuity. I didn’t see them come in so as they stood up to leave I was startled to see the gentleman struggle to set himself upright on two canes. His face twisted with pain as he balanced himself. Then he looked up, saw me, and instantly brightened, “You have a nice rest of your night, now.”

“Thank you. I hope you do as well.” I said.

He slowly lurched out of the restaurant with his two ladies tottering behind.

Who was I to feel sorry for myself?