It is Saturday night and POB (partner of blogger) and I have a babysitter, so we can have dinner out.
We take a long walk and happen upon a new-ish Italian place. It is a double store-front sized space, with tables too close together to meet fire safety standards. We know it will get crowded at prime time which is within the half hour. But we are in the patch on the West Side that is a restaurant wasteland.
So we squeeze in between two tables and are close enough to share their food and, unfortunately, their conversations.
POB and I focus on each other and our conversation but the random bits and pieces of the surrounding conversations threaten to enthrall me in the way that bad movies are so horrible that they become intriguing. Just a flavor of the conversations:
The guy at the table to my right, who cannot afford school or dinner (prior soupçon), says to his date, “I am trying to diversify myself,” in trying to explain why he can’t finish any particular course of study. (I, of course, want to suggest remedial English because using big words in the wrong way is not really a career advancement technique.) He goes on to talk about how netting $1million after taxes each year is barely enough to cover living expenses and school for your kids. Hence his self-diversification because he is thinking really, really, really big. Makes me wonder whether dinner will stay in my tummy. But enough scatological musings.
A woman to my left is discussing a terrible tragedy about a family. However, her point is that she is so personally affected by it (and so her friend should soothe her) because her cousin’s best friend’s sister lives in the same town. Ok, somehow the tragedy is all about her. I am staring at this woman a little too long with this gobsmacked look on my face, so much so that POB has to say, “Eyes on me. Bring the focus back.” In this instance, she is not out of line.
But, I digress . . . .
Back to the freakish restaurant. The food is quite tasty and the service staff is earnestly incompetent. So earnest, in fact, that you think they are trying to get everything wrong. For comparison purposes, service staff needs more experience to reach the level of practiced, aggressive incompetence that would qualify for a job at Duane Reade, Rite Aid or CVS.
Luckily we are not in a hurry. In fact we are taking our time because we need to make sure our son is in bed and falling asleep before we come home, or we lose one of the perks of a night out — no bedtime drama, etc. So, the earliest we can get home is 9:30. If the service were not so head-shakingly bad, we might have stayed for dessert.
When we try to ask for the check, we end up pleading for someone to ring up our bill. We couldn’t get anyone’s attention for twelve or so minutes. I am handed someone else’s bill, for about 1/3 of what our bill ought to be. It takes me another seven or so minutes to get someone’s attention to get me the right bill. After ten minutes, I am given the right bill. I pay cash but I need some change. We wait, and wait and wait and wait — ten minutes. I cannot imagine that in their earnest incompetence, any of them expected a 25% tip (if I didn’t get change).
I am finally able to flag down someone in this small (did I mention tiny?) restaurant to ask for my change. The service person nods, and five minutes pass, and — viola! — I am handed the first bill again. AAAAAaaargh. The service person tries to dash away. At this point, I yell in an annoyed, commanding tone, “WAIT!! STOP!! COME BACK!! I want my change. I do not want another person’s bill AGAIN!!”
Then three people come over, each wanting to handle the problem. All of sudden, everyone wants to pay attention. I tell everyone to go away and designate someone to bring the change. Finally, the change comes. Another five or so minutes have passed.
Then I start to calm down and feel bad that they are so inexperienced at their incompetence that maybe they need the bigger tip to take some classes to perfect their art. Really, I feel bad. I turn to POB and ask, should I leave 20%? She laughs at me. She wonders if I have reached the tipping point of dementia. She reminds me that we have spent more time waiting for and paying the bill than ordering and eating. I remind her that we couldn’t go home anyway because our son is not yet asleep. So, they did us a favor by forcing us to stay and giving us a bloggable moment.
I still say the bigger tip was in order.