Subbing for the Servers

One of the neatest things about living in my retirement complex is the large, open dining room where cheerful, well trained young servers wait on us.  Unfortunately, the place was in an uproar the other night; more than half of the servers were no-shows for various reasons and our chef was going slightly nuts trying to cope.

On some crazy, spur-of-the-moment whim, call it an urge to get goofy, I managed to convince him that I had waited on tables back in the Dark Ages and, like riding a bike, it was a skill never forgotten.  I knew I was fibbing and I suspect he knew I was fibbing.  I knew he knew, and he knew I knew he knew, the way he kept eyeing me dubiously.  But desperate situations call for desperate measures.  By now hungry residents were pouring in, so he finally gave me the O.K. to pitch in and help.

I grabbed the nearest unused orange shirt, starched and spiffy, rolled up the sleeves several times, got a quick rundown on procedure and my table assignment, and I was good to go.  No worries, my fellow residents all being good friends, kind and gracious, how hard could it be?

Salads were a breeze, everyone headed for the salad bar and served themselves.  O.K., first step – water, then soup.  I tucked my cane under my arm (hey, we’re all old here), grabbed a tray of sparkling cold water full of ice cubes, and made the rounds.

Doing well, doing well, doing…OOPS, my cane was sliding.  I tried to hitch it up higher under my arm but the tray slipped and the glasses slid.  Before I knew it ice water was running off the tray and down the backs of several necks.  I got some sharp remarks and a few nasty looks as I grabbed napkins and started mopping necks, reminding them that it had been an extremely hot day and they should appreciate the extra effort toward cooling them off.  This did not go over well.  So be it.

Next step, hot soup, very hot soup.  This time my cane caught on the back of someone’s chair, twanging around and giving the person sitting there a good jab in the ribs.  The darned thing had a life of its own.  The soup cups slid and more than a few dropped into laps.  By now the diners were on their feet, swabbing away at their dripping, freezing necks and their dripping hot laps.

One old crab, you’d know who if I were mentioning names, which I’m not because I have to live here; anyway, he complains about everything and he was getting very vindictive so I made sure he was on the receiving end of both ice water and hot soup.  It was all I could to keep from taking my cane to him.  Vindictive is as vindictive does.

I finally beat a retreat, letting things simmer down a bit before I entered with the entrees.  The glares and rude remarks were downright personal by now and I was getting a little steamed myself.  What had happened to kind and gracious?  After all, it’s not like I was getting paid, I was doing a favor, for Pete’s Sake.  Let’s show a little understanding.

O.K., so here I came with the entrees, my grand entrance.  I’d calmed down and like a true professional, was in complete control with 4 loaded plates down each arm.  Too late, I realized that a strategic error had been made.  I had some help lining up the plates to bring them out, now how did I unload and set them down?  And I still had the darned cane under my arm.

While I stood there trying to figure out what to do, a late-comer walked in behind me, bumped against the cane and the plates started a long slow descent down both my arms onto the center of the table.  One by one they piled up, food everywhere.  Even the weakest hearing aid in the room picked up on that racket.

Well, when in doubt, do something.  I spied a pork chop poking out of the mess, thought to myself,  “Aha! ‘blue shirt’ ordered pork chops,” so I picked it up and handed it to him. It felt a little too well-cooked but that was his problem.  “’Green shirt’ ordered meatloaf,” I recalled, and spotted it under some broccoli.  I passed it to him on the palm of my hand, several chunks at a time.

“Plaid blouse with striped pants” wanted mashed potatoes so I picked up a glob of those, gravy running down my fingers, and reminded her if she’d ordered baked there wouldn’t be such a mess.  I plopped them in front of her. What looked like a full order of peas had rolled onto the floor but I retrieved them rather neatly, using the handle of my cane to gather them in.

I doled out the food as quickly as I could and finally was left with what looked like a triple order of Oregon Bean Medley on the last whole plate.  It must belong to “Ms. prissy polka-dot.”  You all know her, white hair, wears glasses, lives near one of the elevators on either the 2nd or 3d floor.  She shrieked, “I didn’t order that, I hate beans.”  I could only reply firmly, “This is what’s left so it has to be yours.  You ordered it, you eat it.”  I had to threaten her with my cane to shut her up.  Such ingratitude.

I had to lick the gravy and grease off my fingers before I could pick up the slick salad plates and soup cups and begin clearing up.  We didn’t need any more carnage.  Between “prissy polka-dot’s” tantrum and the complaints coming in about shards of china in the food, I had just about HAD it!  As to the shards of china, I could only say, “Either chew harder or spit them out, and be thankful it’s not ground glass.”  (Thinking to myself, if only it were.)

Finally it was time for dessert.  Our pastry chef had outdone herself,  Chocolate Eclairs a la Mode!!  Everyone clamored for a double order.  It was obvious to me that they all had high cholesterol, not to mention being too fat anyway, so I canceled the  Chocolate Eclairs a la Mode in their best interests, and served squares of plain Jello.

I withstood the barrage of complaints about the dessert, but when they began demanding coffee, decaf, no decaf, cream, no cream, 2, 3 or 4 teaspoons of sugar, no sugar, Splenda, Nutrasweet, I couldn’t take it any longer.  I ripped off the no longer spiffy orange shirt, yelled “don’t call me at 2 o’clock in the morning when you can’t sleep,” grabbed my cane and sneaked off to the pantry to eat my Chocolate Éclair a la Mode in peace and quiet, vowing no more volunteer subbing ever again.

As things turned out, that won’t happen.  I’ve been banned from the dining room indefinitely, and now dine regularly at McDonald’s, hoping to make some kind and gracious new friends.

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