Friday, September 17, 2010

For the Tip

Four tables. She’s got one with drinks ready at the bar; one with an order in, wants more bread; one just sat, needs to be greeted; one just got their salads. (So many people order Caesar salads with substitutions to make them not Caesar salads. Very strange.) Business is picking up, which is good, four tables turning over all night is a chance to bring home some much needed cash.

The four topper that just sat is a husband and wife with a young boy: a towhead. The kid’s friendly, a talker. The waitress is a mom herself. Working nights to help make ends meet so she can be home days with her own kids. She was a sixty-grand-a-year professional before her twins were born. Most of the people that come in assume she’s just one of the girls, the other young waitresses that work here, who never moved on, got stuck and is ageing in this job. They can be condescending. She chats the boy, schmoozing the parents by proxy. It’s for the tip. But she really does like kids.

The boy tells her about his school. His friend Tommy’s new toy. What he hopes to get for his birthday soon. The waitress asks friendly questions, the boy loves the attention.

From outgoing chatterbox, the change to glassy-eyed zombie is startling. Power Rangers in one breath, smiling, to blank-faced the next, he asks: “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your lordandsavior?”

There’s no quick answer to this. The waitress is from Rhode Island, moved to North Carolina when her husband’s job relocated the family. She knows the locals, especially those from the small towns are mostly farmers, or laborers; deeply religious and often lightly educated people. Their out group biases are strong. She didn’t have to deal with these sorts of questions from people in New England. Not that people up North weren’t religious, lots of Catholics especially, but they were almost never proselytizers.

Village of the Damned
“Wow, he sure is ... forward,” she says, addressing the parents directly now, forcing a smile. She could’ve just played along with a “why sure I have hon’,” or something along those lines, but she was stunned. She needs that money. Needs the tip. Needs to make a hundred bucks a night or it means she has to work more. Or worse ...

“Yep, just we like we taught him to be,” the father answers. Proud ... and angry? He must not like her dodging the question.

She’ll tell her husband about it when she gets home. Feet aching, laying in bed next to him she’ll recount the misadventures of the night. Her co-workers are mostly younger: pot smokers, kids between high school and college. Lots of drama with that lot. Lots of stories. This story though, the kid with the zombie eyes taught to bully by blinkered parents, it’ll make them both queasy. Was moving down here the right decision? What will happen when the kids go to school? Can we protect them?

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