Restaurants, War Mongers, and Crazy Roommates

A couple years ago whiIe I was living in Washington, D.C., I worked as a bartender/waiter at a restaurant near the Friendship Heights metro stop. The restaurant was technically in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where a lot of beltway money lived and worked. A bunch of big shots came in there, including David Falk, who was Michael Jordan’s agent, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. I didn’t like the place because I had come from a family-run, Yugoslavian restaurant into this calculating, corporate structure. Instead of getting a formal warning or getting your hours slashed for messing up an order at the corporate restaurant, some low-level cook at the family-run restaurant would just throw a plate at your head or verbally abuse you for a bit for the same thing, and then everything would be back to normal. I preferred the latter.

One of my managers always threw other servers under the bus and he looked like a mix between the Gangnam-style guy and Elton John. He tattle-tailed a lot and lied to climb the ladder at the expense of everyone hating him. Although there were some good characters. This one co-worker who carried himself with the etiquette of a butler was very funny. He always had grand ideas, especially about publishing and entrepreneurship, but could never answer a question in under 3 minutes. Most of the time I had no idea what he was talking about.

Like most people in the industry, I was always hungover, tired, and miserable. I had been living in a partitioned living room that was in the apartment of a girl I had found on Craigslist. I needed a place to live as I settled into the city, so I took it for the time being. The girl claimed she went to school for sign language, but I never saw any evidence of it. I came to the conclusion she was crazy after the front desk called saying neighbors were complaining of the loud construction noise that was coming from her bedroom at 3 a.m. Apparently she thought this was the ideal time to build a shelf.

So I was always in a bad mood, and very keen on getting into little tiffs with customers to make grueling, 14-hour shifts somewhat bearable and interesting. Nothing crazy. Like if a customer insisted on smelling the cork after opening a bottle of wine, I’d subtly make them feel like an asshole about it, because such a request is pointless and extremely show-y.

One time I waited on Richard Perle, who was a major architect behind the Iraq War and someone that was hated by most of the planet. I didn’t even realize it was him until the end of the dinner, when I checked his name with his credit card. By golly, I was serving a terrible human. I pictured myself clearing his dish, and saying, “Hey, remember that time you were really into the idea of invading a third-world country where a lot of people died for no reason?” But I didn’t. I was actually kind of upset the guy didn’t come off as a total neo-con douchebag. He was polite! Very well-mannered and I think he even tipped well. I remember clearing the table after him and his party left in a sort of shock and urgently saying, “That guy is Richard Perle,” and my co-workers had no idea who I was talking about.

But I guess that’s the magic of a villain. In public, they come off like the nice guys, and up close, they’re never as evil as they really are.

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