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.”

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Analyzing Mr. Pig Man

“I took Mr. Pig Man’s order since you weren’t there. He’s in your station. I’ll put it in the computer and transfer it to you,” said Perfectionist Server. He’s tall and thin, and his uniform shirt is always dry cleaned, starched and pressed.

“Oh my god! You keep him. I don’t want him,” said Theatrical Server. Her short, dyed-black hair was side-parted and combed diagonally across her forehead, then tucked behind her ear.

“Sorry. I don’t need his dollar.” Perfectionist Server was talking about the tip expected to be left by Mr. Pig Man.

She stamped her foot and shook her hands in the air. “Oh, God! I can’t stand waiting on him! He’s so rude!”

Mr. Pig Man, a regular at The Pie Shoppe, earned his moniker for a variety of reasons. His face resembled a pig, sans snout, with a sallow complexion, beady eyes, and sparse, greasy hair. His belt hid beneath a protruding pot-belly. He ate like a pig, both in quantity and quality, shoveling copious amounts of food into his mouth with sloppy gusto. His ordering was abrupt and squealing, like someone making demands but who was uncertain he’d receive compliance.

As Theatrical Server waited on him, she repeatedly refilled his iced tea. She microwaved his big bowl of potato cheese soup and full rack of BBQ ribs “very hot.” Corn bread sprayed from his mouth as he called for more napkins. Every time he got up to refill his plate at the salad bar, he adjusted his ill-fitting clothes pushed aside by his corpulence, hiking up his pants and pulling down his shirt. His over-loaded salad plates were cloaked with ranch dressing like a snow-capped Mount Everest. He mowed down ribs and fries like they were blades of grass. When he finished eating, the table looked like a toddler made merry there.

When he was ready to leave, Mr. Pig Man sought out Perfectionist Server in the server aisle and gave him the bill book with some cash. “Here’s your money. Keep the change, buddy,” he said in a jovial tone I’d never heard before, waving his hand as he walked away.

“Why did he pay you when Theatrical Server waited on him?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Cuz I took the order?” he suggested.

We both looked at the cash. There was $30 left for a $28.18 bill. His tip was a dollar and some coins. Theatrical Server approached.

“Here’s your money from Mr. Pig Man,” said Perfectionist Server.

I started wiping the pie area counter of crumbs and smears of fruit and whipped cream. “Funny, I never heard him talk like that before, sounding so friendly. I wonder if he doesn’t know how to talk to women. Maybe he’s afraid of women. Or shy. I feel sorry for him. He’s probably never been laid.”

“Never been laid? I don’t think sex factors in,” retorted Perfectionist Server, who was organizing the glasses and pulling empty racks to take to the dishwasher. “I mean, fuck sex. I don’t think he’s ever had someone’s arms around him. Think about it. He’s what? Late 40s, early 50s? It’s possible he’s never been held. I’m talking by someone who’s not his mother or sister or something. And maybe not them either.”

Theatrical Server, who was loitering, holding up her money from Mr. Pig Man, looked fascinated and serious. “Well, what about his defense mechanisms? If you put it out there like he does, it’s what he’s gonna get back. You can’t walk around being unpleasant all the time and expect people to hug you. How we act attracts what we get.”

I said, “I don’t think he’s aware of how defensive he is. It could be unconscious behavior.”

Perfectionist Server replied, “Yeah. He was probably raised by people like all the parents we see here all the time, where their kids can run around how they please, drinking soda after soda, screeching, and getting ignored, while their parents sit on their smart phones, texting.”

Theatrical Server moved closer to Perfectionist Server, enthusiastically chewing on the discussion. “That’s so true! These parents don’t get that what they’re doing is creating another Mr. Pig Man. I think it’s sad.”

At that point, we all dispersed from the server aisle to check on our tables. Mr. Pig Man was forgotten.

On Serving Pink Slime

“I would like the BBQ Cheddar Burger, extra cheese and add bacon. No tomatoes, no lettuce, and no pickles. Just the burger, cheese, bacon, and onion ring,” said the woman. Her hair, eyes, and skin were monochromatic brown and vaguely masculine. “Oh, and make the fries extra-crispy. Is there dressing on the burger?”

“Thousand Island. Also BBQ sauce,” I said.

“Extra dressing on the side. For my fries.”

“How would you like that cooked?”

“Better get it well done. Is there pink slime in it?”

I paused. The question put me in an awkward spot. I didn’t know but figured the answer was “yes”. I knew I couldn’t give that answer without repercussions. “We’ll cook the pink slime out of it,” was all I could think of to say. Thank goodness she laughed and stopped pursuing the question.

I sought out the Bald Man. “I’m fielding questions about pink slime. Is it in our burgers?”

“If it is then we pay too much for our beef,” said the Bald Man in well-rehearsed fashion.

This didn’t answer my question and I sincerely doubted we paid top dollar for beef. I’ve watched quality go down and cost cutting go up in the years I’ve worked at The Pie Shoppe. Since the Bald Man had taken over as General Manager, we’ve been squeezing the nickel until the buffalo poops. The food coming out of the kitchen has been increasingly prefabricated. Earlier that day, I watched a cook dump individually frozen, pre-cooked, pre-chunked turkey breast pieces onto a sheet pan. They sounded like marbles as they clattered across the surface, glistening a strange shade of gray. Later they were served in the salad bar. Once upon a time, we freshly roasted turkey breast in-house for our dinners and salad bar. Now the turkey breast comes frozen, pre-roasted, and ready-to-eat in a vacuum-packed bag. So does our “Freshly Roasted Whole Turkey”, which we unwrap then rewrap for takeout Easter dinners. I’ve also watched them dump frozen “Tasty Yams” straight from the freezer bag into the foil containers customers take home.

I said, “I’m not sure pink slime is tied to pricing. I read it was in 70% of our beef supply.”

“That’s all the cheap grocery stores,” he said, his tone sharp and his body stiff.

“Foodservice too. It’s not just grocery stores.”

“They’d have to tell us if there was pink slime in our meat,” he insisted. I wasn’t sure who “they” were.

“What do you mean? Did you ask? I don’t think distributors volunteer the information. The FDA doesn’t require labeling or disclosure. It’s part of the hue and cry.”

His head jerked backwards and his eyes narrowed. The air felt crackly. These kinds of questions and direct conversation made me unpopular with the Bald Man. I knew if I kept it up, I’d likely see my schedule reduced by one shift next week, or find myself closing the restaurant on Monday nights. He punished for his annoyances where it hurt: my wallet. I needed to redirect the conversation, so I laughed a little too loudly and said, “Well, pink slime is only the tip of the iceberg. Why aren’t people asking about hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs?”

His tone was still sharp. “Pink slime isn’t even bad for you. It’s meat. It’s still part of the cow. If people wanna worry about something, they should worry about the chemicals in food.”

I turned and grabbed a couple of glasses and filled them with orange soda and root beer. The subject was dropped.

Vanity Plates

“I’d like some black coffee,” said the woman. Her eyes squinted at my chest through rimless bifocals with thick, black, gold-trimmed earpieces. “Look at her name tag.” Rectangle-shaped earrings swung as she turned towards her friend. A geometric pattern woven into her sweater repeated her earring pattern.

“Oh. Dawn.” the other woman responded, with a tone that sank into the seats. Her wrists and neck were draped in gold chains, and her short-cropped gray curls harmonized with the purple rims of her glasses and bright peach cardigan.

“Well, my name certainly isn’t Pie Shoppe,” I quipped, hoping to lift the tone. My name tag indicated both my name and the name of my employer.

“Dawn is the name of my daughter-in-law,” she said with the same tone and shrugged. Then she suddenly laughed. “Her license plate says SUNRISE.”

“‘Sunrise’? ‘Dawn’ sounds so much prettier,” said Geometric Woman.

“I know. ‘Sunrise’ sounds so pretentious and clunky!” said Mother-in-Law. “There are so many DAWN plates out there it would’ve had to be DAWN469. She wanted the name, but no number. Obviously no one else was interested in SUNRISE.”

“I’ve always thought ‘Aurora’ was a pretty complement to my name,” I said.

“Aurora. That’s nice. I like that too,” said Mother-in-Law. “My son’s license plate says SPORTS NUT.” She rolled her eyes and laughed. “Don’t know why they spent that money. Why didn’t they go out to dinner instead?” We laughed with her.

Senior Discount

She sat under a dome of snowy, perfectly coiffed hair staring at her credit card slip and bill.  A red jacket covering a sunny blouse looked pressed.  Her fingers, twisted and white, like exposed roots, held the pen poised in the air.  She maintained this pose for a while and I wasn’t sure if she was confused.  She had come alone, without the care of a nurse, which so many of the elderly customers at The Pie Shoppe had in attendance, so she must have been capable.

I passed her table and she looked up.  “Thank you for giving me the senior discount,” she said, her voice musical and soft.

She mistook me for her server.  I didn’t wait on her and her server was on break.  “You’re welcome,” I said.

“I take the senior discount so I can turn it around and add it to your tip. I want you to have it.”

“Oh! Thank you.  That’s very nice of you.  Not every one does that.”

“Well, it’s nice to be able to do it.” She placed the papers carefully into the bill book and handed it to me with eyes that sparkled under their rheumy glaze.