Friday, March 5, 2010

Wine and Cheese

Annabelle was a waitress that I worked with some years ago at a Canadian themed restaurant in Toronto. Annabelle had a magnetic and vivacious personality that could be detected from across a crowded room. She had all the trappings of a theatre actress trying to make it in the big city, meaning she loved the spotlight and was quite put off when things didn’t progress to her liking. She got along very well with the staff at the restaurant and could always be counted on to liven up any gathering if only with her laugh. Her laugh was never a half measure. It was the kind of wholehearted endeavour that involved her small body being thrown about as if in convulsions. Her guffaws could often be heard emanating above the din of a crowded bar to the delight of the regulars. Simply put, we just loved Annabelle to bits.

This particular day was during the NHL playoffs and the joint was bumping. As per usual the poorly organized kitchen was having troubles keeping up with the pace. Pick up times were getting far beyond acceptable and the helpless wait staff was hearing it from the hungry customers. The head turning and staring, became palms up gesticulations, then grumbling, and was progressing to outright revolt.

Annabelle came into the kitchen wanting an ETA for her most vocal and impatient tables, which of course caused a rather unabashed back and forth with one of the cooks. He took the stance that whilst she was in the kitchen complaining she was actually slowing them down and therefore actually escalating the problem. She of course took the position that it was unreasonable to expect that the servers would not want an estimate for the timing of their already late food, and if the cooks just gave a reasonable answer all problems could be managed. Both sides had a point of course, but reason has no place in a restaurant. Perhaps unconstructively, I was watching this development with some degree of entertainment. When I could see that Annabelle’s level of agitation had quite reached a dangerous level, I made some mention that I would watch for her table’s food if she wanted to go back and tend her section. Rolling her eyes at me she turned and began to walk out of the kitchen quite in a huff. It was at that point that the cook in question showed what he was really up to. With a wry smile creeping across his face it became evident that he had been enjoying their exchange, and was not ready to let it end.

The thing about this particular cook was that his speech had a heavy lisp, almost to the point of impediment. It was sometimes hard not to smirk when he spoke, and especially when he proffered his parting sentiment, “Hey Annabelle, don’t you want some cheese with that whine?” She stopped dead in her tracks and actually froze for a long beat. I couldn’t see her face as she was almost out the door, but her hands balled into white knuckled fists, hammers at the end of ramrod straight arms that began to shake. She then spun on her heal doing a perfect about face of military quality. I think it would be safe to say that I was truly shocked by the condition of her face at that moment. Any amusement drained from my own mug as I saw her wide eyes and rabid mouth. She had a savage and wild look, befitting of an institutionalized maniac about to do battle with the ward staff over meds. Her face and neck had flushed a bright pink in an instant. Amidst the tremors undulating through her body there seemed to be a certain visible restraint, which was amplified by the long pause in motion. I began to think that she might just burst into tears and leave when her lips bared back to thin white strips across her clenched teeth and she uttered a guttural shrieking. The resonance rose in pitch as her mouth opened wider. This animal sound then melded first into a drawn word and then into a sentence. She screamed as she charged back to the pass through, but all she could manage was “You Fucker!” I am not even sure that she was aware of her intentions at that moment but myself and another waiter had to restrain her from climbing over and into the kitchen. She didn’t even consider the heat lamps, all she wanted was to get her hands on that cook, who had now backed away from our favourite little ball of rage. Once we got her fully back to the service side she let it all out and began cursing like a sailor and flailing about.

We managed to calm her down and sent her for a smoke, the kitchen set about catching up with their orders in silence, and I went back to the floor. Turning the corner into the dining room with Annabelle some minutes later, she received a standing ovation with applause and hoots. The customers were happy that the little waitress with the big attitude had finally let those cooks have it. She blushed and bowed deeply, happy to finally have her appreciative audience after all.

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