Waiting Life

Words on a serviceable life from a working man near Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

News Flash: Cop Pulls Over a Person Who Felt a Need to Write a Blog Entry About It!

This last weekend was a rough one. My double Thursday sucked because of the snow. Hardly anyone came in. I made ninety-eight bucks in twelve hours. My Friday double was much better (the days after a bad storm are usually good, because people like to get out). After work Friday, I went with a few people to a bar down the street. After that, I hung out with a friend until about five in the morning.

I should have slept in the next morning, but for some reason, I woke up at ten and couldn't get back to sleep. I did some editing for a while and went to work at four.

That shift was insanely busy and happily very profitable. I was damnably tired when I finally clocked out at just after one in the morning. Not only was I running on little sleep, I'd only eaten a can of tuna fish all day. But the lack of sleep or food didn't stop me from having a drink at the bar as soon as I was off. Very quickly, I felt my face freeze up in that wonderful, slightly buzzed sort of way. I remember saying suddenly--loudly, interrupting whatever conversation had been going on--"Ye Gods, I'm already fucked up!." There was a pause, and everyone went back to their conversations. I drank a glass of iced tea before I left the restaurant at about two-thirty.

I drove home carefully, going only a few miles over the speed limit (This is a good practice. Everyone speeds a little bit. Going under the speed limit only draws attention.). I was just getting to my neighborhood when I realized I needed to make a left, but I was in the right lane. There was only one other car next to me, who irritatingly felt a need to go my exact speed. So I gunned it, whipped in front of him, and made my turn.

I make three turns to get from the entrance of my developement to my apartment. I made the first turn and saw a cop car way behind me. I made the second and saw he was still there. By the third, I knew I was fucked. Cops on the prowl, even without their lights on, move like sharks going after prey. That steady, sure motion is instantly recognizable.

I pulled into a parking space in front of my door, hoping that my being home and no longer needing to drive would play in my defense somehow (it has worked in the past).

The cop turned on his lights and pulled up behind me.

And just like that, I was back in Thompson mode.

Sorry to be so damn repetitive with my last three posts, dear reader, but getting pulled over calls for that kind of behavior, right?

And I heard the voice in my head, taking stock of the situation: "You're a very scrawny fucker who hasn't eaten or slept much and you have alcohol in your system One beer alone will put you at 1.0. If he pulls out a breathalyzer, you are done."

I pushed the line "Make the bastard chase you" out of my head and rolled down my window (Why make the officer have to knock?).

After walking up, he stood slightly out of my sight: "Sir, that was an awfully dangerous move you made back there."

"Good evening, sir. Yes. Yes, it was. Sorry." (No, I didn't "do the voice," although I did lower mine a bit.)

"How much have you had to drink?"

"Just a beer, sir. I just worked a nine-hour shift--"


I told him and continued, "Had a beer, then I came home."

"Can I see your license and registration, sir?"

"Of course."

I pulled out my wallet and gave the man my driver's license and insurance card.

"Not your insurance card. Your registration."

"Oh. Yeah."

I grabbed my owners manual with all the car-related papers and flipped through it. I took out the Personal Property tax form and showed it to him.

"Is that it?"


I'm not sure what the other legal-looking page was, but I held that up, too.


I showed him a few more pages, all of which he said were wrong.

"I just bought this car last year. I'm sure I have all the right stuff. My apartment's right there. Let me go in and get it for you."

"That's all right, sir. Just wait in the car." With that, he walked away.

I've been pulled over maybe six times in my life. I've had three speeding tickets, all of them fairly minor (never any points on my license). And not one police officer has ever asked me for my registration.

He was gone for over ten minutes.

I thought back to a story I'd heard recently about a man who got pulled over and knew he was drunk, so he stalled the cop as much as possible, asking questions, making conversation. All while doing this, he was moving around, drinking water, eating crackers; doing whatever he could to work the alcohol out of his system. I heard that it worked. And why should I take any chances?

I drank the rest of my iced tea, ate the rest of a can of cashews I had in the car, along with a package of Austin peanut butter crackers. Then I took a Listerine tab. After that, I smoked a cigarette. I don't know what affect the cigarette would have--good or bad--but I felt I needed one. This was the first time I had ever smoked a cigarette in my car. The window was down, and I kept the cigarette out the door, but still, there it was, precedent started.

The officer finally came back.

"Sir, I'm not going to give you a ticket for not having your registration, but I am giving you one for making that dangerous turn. No points on your license, a seventy-five dollar fine."

"I see."

"When you jumped that lane and made the left turn, you forced the car behind you to slam on its brakes. You didn't signal, so he had no warning."

(I don't recall seeing two cars behind us, but I know that I did use my turn signal. I know this because I always use my turn signal. It's a habit, brought on by hate. It irritates me greatly when people misuse a turn signal. I'd almost rather they didn't use it at all, rather than turn it on too late. Using your signal after you change lanes is about as stupid as making the phone ring after the other person picks up. The same goes for people who turn on their signals while waiting at a red "turn only" light. Of course you're going to turn here. You have no choice unless you're planning on running straight through that building somehow. It would have been better if you'd have used your signal to show you were getting into the turn lane itself, but that's too complicated for you, isn't it, moron?

My, I can bitch about anything, can't I?

So, yes, I used my signal, but I only hit it a second or so before switching lanes, and I know that that is a totally wrong and shitty thing to do. The guy on my left seemed determined to stay beside me, slowing when I slowed and speeding when I sped. I gunned it out of irritation, and got nailed for it. Did the alcohol have any part in that? I'll never tell. (Heh. Sounds like a commercial.)

Back to the story.)

The officer continued, "That caused the two cars behind him to brake, and it could have caused an accident. I thought for certain you were drunk, but maybe that one beer affected your judgement."

"Yes, after working so long--"

"Hey, man, I understand. I'm running on four hours sleep and working a twenty-four hour shift, so believe me, I know how it feels. Just be more careful. It's better to drive another block and turn around if you miss an exit, then possibly cause an accident."

I signed the form, took back my license, and watched him through the mirror as he got in his car and drove off. I waited a few minutes for no reason, then went inside. I had a brief conversation--during which I mentioned nothing of the ticket--then chatted on-line for about an hour. I didn't fall asleep until after four, then got up at eight to be back at work at eight-forty-five.

So what's the life lesson here? I think it's "Don't get pissed at people driving next to you and jump ahead of them at two-thirty in the morning after you've been drinking especially when there's a copy behind you."

And I'll never do it again. Probably.

There are two comments to make about this. First of all, most importantly, it is not true that all Montgomery County cops are assholes. I've heard this time and again from people. I've heard lots of stories from reliable people that validate this claim. And it is true, there are a lot of shitty cops in the world, and some of them are around here. But this guy was professional, polite, and human. I did a bad thing and he busted me for it. Could have been A LOT worse, if he'd have given me any drunkard tests. I'm not about to fight this fine.

Which brings me to point number two.

Lately, I've gotten to be all kinds of social. I've gone from "maybe a beer or two a month" to "maybe four or five a night." Just so happened that on this night I didn't have much anything at all. I know my recent socializing is brought on by post break up crap, even though I haven't had any of the lingering depression for well over a month now (I haven't carried that little "feelings journal" around since January, simply because I don't need it anymore).

The time has come for me to be a little less wreckless, a little more thoughtful, and most definitely a lot less drunk. The seventy-five dollar fine seems like a good amount to pay. It's not enough to make me feel like I really fucked up, but it's enough to slap me in the face and make me pay attention to what I'm doing. More than that, for me to realize things could have been a whole lot worse. I've had friends get pulled over for similar things and, through chance alone, ended up with thousands of dollars in fines, along with raised insurance rates and legal issues to deal with. I got off easy, and I'm not going to let that lesson go to waste.

So you see, kids, the system can work, if you work with it.

(But watch! The gods of mischeif will play a joke on me, and I'll end up in prison for a crime I didn't commit. It'll make for a good story, and as long as I have internet access, I think I'll be fine.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Yesterday, I read The Washington Post's two page article on Thompson, written by Henry Allen. I noticed that not only did he quote the same passage I referred to--the "high-water mark"--he also made mention of young Thompson typing out The Great Gatsby. And there's also the reference to Thompson ending his life like Hemingway, a writer Thompson admired.

I think of the scope of Thompson's life, all the things he did, people he met, stories he wrote, and it just seems odd that in the space of a few short pages, the same seemingly minor events would appear. It's like once a person dies, all that's left of him--the man himself, not his work--is a series of trivial events, like in the Biography section of any actor on the IMDb.

I found my fisherman's hat and aviator sunglasses in a box yesterday and wore them while I edited (didn't buy any liquor, 'cause I wasn't in the mood). I randomly recited certain memorized passages and poems of the man, doing my best to imitate his mumbled, gutteral drawl. Honestly, it felt equal parts foolish, stupid, and pointless. Maybe because I didn't have an audience. Maybe because even if I had an audience, they would wonder why I was talking so weird and acting so strange and would you give me back my fucking beer, you asshole.

I put the hat and sunglasses back in the box and returned to editing. It looks like a two page write up in major newspapers is all the eulogy Thompson's gonna get, and he'd probably like it that way. Thompson, the man, doesn't need to be analyzed. He just needs to be read.

Res Ipsa Loquitor.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Swan Song of the Doomed

Last night I shot a short movie I've been writing for a while. I took some scenes from my old movie about waiting tables that folded partway through production and wove a narrative around it. It plays okay for a ten minute short and it was a lot of fun to do. I had a good time acting with John again, and Chris ran the camera for us.

We shot from about seven to eleven. When we finished, we grabbed some burgers and went over to John and Chris's place to watch the footage. John and I sat on the couch while Chris moved back and forth from the computer room where he was chatting on-line to the living room (since he held the camera, he'd already seen everything).

About half way through the tape--laughing more at the screw ups than the successes, which makes me wonder how this movie will turn out--Chris came back into the room and said, "Hey, Dan." I looked at him. People in groups of three only use first names if it's to get one's direct attention. I waited for it. "Hunter S. Thompson is dead. He shot himself."

After a pause, John said, "Jeez, Chris, you really know how to kill a room..."

I first found out about Hunter's writings like I found out about most things in my young life, through being a big fan of Saturday Night Live since shortly after I started walking. I watched everything the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players did outside of the show. Some time in the early eightes, I saw pieces of a movie that ran on late-night television (probably one of the cheaper cable channels, because I know I saw various parts of this film over the course of several months) where Bill Murray wore sunglasses, smoked cigarettes out of a filter, and threatened to beat the crap out of everyone. The movie didn't make any sense to me, but I always enjoy watching Murray in any role and thought it was funny. The movie was "Where the Buffalo Roam." I found out later that Murray was playing a real person called Hunter S. Thompson. The name stuck with me.

Shortly after I started smoking at the end of 1990, then eighteen years old, I took a trip to visit my sister in Memphis. Driving around the dirtier sides of town (sadly too young to enjoy the finer points of Beale Street), I walked into a tobacco shop and saw a cigarette filter much like Thompson's. It was black with a silver tip, but close enough, so I bought it. There was no reason for me to buy it other than I thought it looked cool. I had never seen anyone else use a filter for their cigarettes, and I was still in that "If no one else is doing it, it must be cool" phase. Ah, to be a teenager again...

I probably would have only used the filter for a couple days as a novelty if not for a few practical considerations. I had just given up my "commercial/comic book artist" major and switched over to writing. I got a Canon StarWriter word processor and wrote a novel in two months (and it has all the flaws a novel written by an nineteen year old kid would have, although I still like reading it every few years). I liked having the filter to hold cigarettes as I typed. And since I was spending so much time driving from St. Louis to Memphis to Chicago in those days, I liked the way the ashes flew out the cracked window, so I didn't have to use the ashtray so much. Mostly, I think, I just got used to the taste (It's not just a holder; it filters the tar and gives the cigarette a different taste.).

But as I found out, using a cigarette filter is not at all considered "cool." Most people just wonder why the hell I use it. I've heard all sorts of comments about it, like being told if I was "three feet shorter and six feet wider" I'd look just like the Penguin, and general questions about that "half a fag" filter. Not too many people, surprisingly or not, have asked me if I'm gay.

None of this stopped me from keeping my filter. Popular opinion doesn't hold much for the adult version of a solitary child. I wear socks with my sandals because it feels better. I rarely take my jacket off in public, even when sitting down to dinner, because I like having all my stuff with me. So the filter has always been with me.

And every once in a while, someone would say, "Hey, you have a cigarette filter like Hunter S. Thompson!" (Sometimes, I would get "You have a cigarette filter like Bill Murray in that movie..." In the last few years, it's been "that movie with Johnny Depp.")

After hearing that enough times, when I happened upon a copy of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," I read it. I thought it was great. Can't say I got that much out of the drug stuff, though. I never used drugs, didn't know the allure, and always thought using drugs just to use drugs was boring, both in fiction and in the real world (Anyone who's gone to a party with a drunk knows there are few things less interesting than the drunk himself, unless he gets arrested, in which case wacky antics can ensue).

But reading the book, I thought, "The prose is so damn good!" There are some great passages in that book. I loved Hunter's take on being alive in the sixties and how America was starting to change in the seventies. The section about looking west and seeing "the high water mark" especially struck me when I read it (they used that bit--almost word for word--in the Johnny Depp movie version). Here was a guy who knew how to draw you in and see the world as he saw it, making the trivial seem important, and knowing that danger could be anywhere (real or imagined).

I picked up a few other Thompson books over the next few years. I liked most of "Songs of the Doomed," but not so much of "Generation of Swine" (His political stuff is only interesting if it's fairly new. In the mid-nineties, who still cared about Gary Hart?). I read his collections of old letters.

I also read three biographies of the man. They all seem to be written with a sense of awe, as if the authors knew their subject was more than a man, almost godlike in his ability to create himself from such a young age. His persona was almost fully in place by the time he was twelve. That could just be retroactive invention, but most people seem willing to accept it.

I had a good idea of the man Dr. Thompson was. I no longer saw him as a Bill Murray type charicature, but almost as a force of nature (Jack Nicholson called him a "baffling human iceberg." A fine description of the man.). Being an impressionable youth, I adapted some of his writing style into my own (I've come to believe that every writer is simply a composite of the styles of the writers that impressed him the most, mixed with personal experiences. I've had all the late night arguments and discussions that this belief brings, both from those who agree and disagree.). More than that, his general mindset seemed almost alluring to me, possibly because he was so much different than me. I'd almost go so far as to say we were polar opposites. Regardless of the meanings, I liked to try to view life through his eyes, on his terms. I was big into acting at the time, taking on characters, and I'm sure that played a good part in it all.

For Hallowe'en of 1996 and again in 2002, I dressed as Thompson for the celebration at whatever restaurant where I was working. I had the fisherman's hat, gold sunglasses, Hawaiian shirt, white pants. Even a bag with grapefruit, Wild Turkey, and large knives. Always getting into character, the whiskey was real, and added a fine sense of danger to a shift (drinking on the job will always get you fired unless you're one of the valued few, and even then you're issued a corrective of some kind). In '96, the costume suited the way I was living at the time, going through a bottle of whiskey a day while writing my thesis paper for my degree. The paper was about the drug culture in modern society and, in true Gonzo mode, I spent weeks following my coworkers around to various parties and raves, making notes as they got as fucked up as possible. I contrasted it with my own drinking, comparing illegal drugs to legal ones and asking if one was really any worse than the other. The paper, as originally written, could have been written by a lesser-experienced clone of Thompson, with doomsday sayings and all the heightened drama of fairly ordinary situations.

After six or so months, I got bored of the new addiction (constant drinking) and gave it up. The paper, when I finally turned it in, had very little left of me as an active participant. I had turned it into a more or less standard research paper. I wouldn't pass it off as art, but it did eventually earn me my degree.

But those six months as the alcoholic writer (who also waited tables) stuck with me, and whenever I decide to socialize with people, whether I'm a full time smoker at the time or not, I buy a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of whiskey, grab the filter and sometimes even the hat and sunglasses, and proceed to be as incredibly bizarre as possible. It's sort of childish play-acting, but it comes out so naturally that most people only think I'm somewhat drunk. Fact is, I hardly ever get past buzzed, but at a party it's sometimes fun to act that way, if only to guage people's reactions.

As I said earlier, I don't like drunks. They're loud, irritating, and incoherent. But when you gain that shield of irresponsibility for your actions (Everyone forgives a good friend for a single night of drunkenness), you can pull off some pretty damn funny situations. That's usually my goal in any social setting, seeing how far I can push people, but still not come off as a total jerk off. Besides, social situations where everyone sits around gossiping are damnably boring.

So I've long had a disposition to "act like" Thompson. It's like he's a role I played on stage and had trouble completely shaking off. When the mood hits me or the situation calls for it, Thompson can always quickly come out to take charge and make for a very lively evening.

If I had some weird urge to act like a Festrunk brother (Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin on SNL), people would get that I was doing an impression. It's not like that with Thompson. A lot of people don't know who he is ("Ain't he a poet or somethin'?"). Both times I dressed as him for Hallowe'en, a few people said, "Are you supposed to be Gilligan?" This allows a certain freedom, and not just because I'm being judged on the success level of the impression. To those few who do recognize who I'm going for, they seem to feel like they're in on a joke, and woe to the poor bastards who don't know what to expect. I try to only spend time with those who welcome any change from the ordinary.

To my closer friends, they've always accepted that I'm simply a fan of Thompson, with a weird habit of falling into his character from time to time (again, no one close has ever told me not to do this, reinforcing the idea that it's worth doing). This explains Chris's almost reverential tones in telling me that Thompson died. I've already recevied two calls today asking me "How I'm doing."

Honestly, I don't know how I'm doing. Death always sucks, yeah, but it's not like I ever met the guy. I haven't read all of his books or all his articles, but I keep tabs on him, like I would an estranged uncle who gets into trouble with the law and whose name pops up at the dinner table every once in a while. I always paid attention when Thompson's name popped up in the news. I just liked knowing that he was around, out there, keeping an eye on things, and always able to bring back a story.

And now he's dead.

Hunter read a lot as a child. People interviewed about him have said that he was at a college-age reading level by the time he hit high school. He loved the giants of American literature, like Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Hemingway (If I remember correctly from one biography, when he was a kid he once typed "The Great Gatsby" verbatim on his typewriter "just to know how it felt to write great words."). Maybe the connection was greater than he knew, which is why he, like Hemingway, decided to kill himself. Hemingway had good--or at least understandable--reasons for wanting to die (a crapload of health and mental problems), but Hunter seemed fit. The piece he wrote last November in Rolling Stone backing Kerry was just as well-written as anything from the seventies, and I had the impression afterwards that he seemed eager to ride Bush's ass for the next four years, gleefully pointing out his inadequacies and failings.

But it won't happen. No more reports about how the world is doomed. No more hard stories about the excesses of minor celebrities and major politicians who will soon lose their hold on the spotlights they crave while pretending to hate. It feels like one more strong, independent voice is gone, to be replaced by the crappy blandness of CNN-style coverage. No heart or insight, just the facts as they choose to show them. No emotional frame of reference. No anger and outrage. No voice to tell you that this is wrong.

People complained that Thompson was getting repetitive in recent years, and I agreed with them, but I knew that he was still there. He had all the potential. Like a shitty season of Saturday Night Live, where you can say, "Yeah, that sucked, but mabye next year it'll be better," and sometimes it does improve. Sometimes it doesn't. But it gives you something to hope for.

I can't imagine anyone taking Thompson's place. There's no one readily available, but maybe with the hole death has created, a new voice will appear. It'll probably come from a high profile web site. Thompson ventured into film and the internet, but he was mostly at home on the printed page, where his most profound works appeared. This new guy will have to have all of Thompson's singleminded determination, strong will, experience and knowledge, and the added bonus of being internet savvy. Yes, I know I sound like a comic book dork trying to come up with a mythical creature who could possibly take down Superman. But we do need someone slightly on the outside of mainstream culture, looking in, and, while not telling us what to think, showing us that certain events are important and need to be questioned, considered, and acted upon.

I'm not feeling pessimistic or angry. Mostly, just sad at the loss, and left with the feeling that if George Carlin dies anytime soon, we will all be doomed.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

For the last two months I've been carrying a reporter pad notebook around with me. It's always in my apron at work or in my jacket outside of work so I can write whenever the need hits me. And the need has been there a lot lately.

The books are not filled with cute stories about waiting tables (maybe a few, out of habit). The books are filled with the most horrible of all writing: minor post-break-up mental breakdowns.
For the last two months I've been all kinds of fucked up, mentally speaking. It hasn't been so bad that I couldn't function. I haven't missed a single shift at work, and I've done a few other odd things besides. I flew to Minneapolis the first week of December to be best man in an old pal's wedding. For Christmas week, I flew home to Missouri and spent some time with my family and friends.

I took notes and wrote about almost everything I've done for the last two months, but I can't concentrate on any story long enough to finish it. More than that, the prose has this terrible dread hanging over it, like everything's being seen through depression-tinted glasses. I think it was just a lapse in my general mood that allowed me to write that bit last month about how I didn't urinate on my car.

To repeat the girlfriend basics, in 1992, when I was twenty, I met my (now ex) girlfriend in Missouri. She was from the D.C. area. I followed her home and have been here ever since, with a few extended stays in Missouri from time to time. She's the only girlfriend I've ever had.
Despite having met and worked with hundreds of people in my time out here, at various restaurants, a tv studio, and a recording studio, I don't have many D.C. area friends. I count four of them--all male--and two of them I see very rarely. These are good friends, too. I've got no complaints against any of them. Well, against one, I suppose, but he's a good guy, just a little… ah, young. He'll grow out of it.

I have no close female friends out here. There are a lot of girls who I know, talk to, and am on friendly terms with, but for any number of reasons, none of these girls have made the jump from acquaintence to actual friend.

I like having girl friends. Or, more precisely, friends who are girls. There are certain things that I can discuss with girls that are somewhat awkward to talk about with guys. Sports, cars, drinking, fucking. Those are guy subjects. But try having a conversation that starts with "I feel like this and I'm not sure why…" with a guy and you're going to get some pretty weird responses, followed--at best--with some very practical, rational, reasonable advice that isn't quite helpful. I think this is because, being a guy myself, I already know that sort of thinking. I want to know what the other half thinks. Women have a fantastic way of approaching any given subject from a point of view that I usually hadn't even considered. It opens up new ways of thinking, and rarely is the conversation ended without me receiving several new points to ponder.

But, as I said, I have no close female friends out here.

This became painfully apparent to me recently, right after I split with my girlfriend. The reason, obviously, is that when I was with her, I didn't need any close female friends. She wouldn't have objected to me having any "girls who are friends." I just didn't bother looking for any.

As of right now, I feel really weird talking to my ex (still hate that phrase) about any sort of "What I'm feeling" stuff. I imagine that in a few weeks or months, we'll hit that good "Remember when…" stage where we can talk about anything, but right now, talking to her about personal depression stuff feels really awkward, to say the least. Maybe it shouldn't, but it does.

In Missouri, I have people I've known since I was ten who I can talk to about anything. But they're eight hundred and fifty miles away. I can send them e-mails. I can call them. I can feel bad I didn't get to see them that week I was in Missouri recently. But phone calls and e-mails only go so far. There's no substitute for a real, live person sitting across from you, reading your expressions, catching your inflections, and being able to take a long pause to consider things without having to wonder if the cell phone lost its signal.

I wrote a piece for this blog in late November called "Friendship" but never posted it. It looked a little too unfinished (and, as I said, depressing). Now that I'm quoting from it, I guess I don't need to post it, and maybe it's better that way.

The piece was about the various kinds of friends a person has. I focused on the big two: work friends and real friends, and gave a few examples.

A work friend is someone you pal around with on the job and have a good time with while you're working, but as soon as work ends--as soon as there is no set reason for the two of you to be together--you go your separate ways. Maybe stop off for a drink or two, but that's it. If work was somehow removed from both your lives--the company went out of business, whatever--you two would not see each other again except by accident, no matter what promises were made to "keep in touch."

A real friend is a person who spends time with you no matter where either of you work. Effort is made on the part of either your or him to get together and do things, or just talk on the phone.
Obviously, in my long restauranting career, I have made many, many work friends. People who I liked and liked me but neither of us had anything in common with the other aside from the job, and it was only because of certain personality traits that we got along with each other better than with some of the others.

A work friend can make the jump to a real friend, provided enough outside activity happens. The two of you get together, find you like lot of the same things or are just comfortable with each other, and then the get-together times become self-sustaining almost by themselves. And there you are: A new friend.

(I've never seen it happen where a real friend becomes only a work friend. That would be weird, I think. An extremely soul-crushing job would have to do it.)

So those are work friends and real friends. You get what I’m saying.

Sometimes, the line between real friend and work friend gets blurred, and you're not sure if this is the start of a real friendship or if you're just intruding on someone's personal time and you need to get the fuck out. It's a tricky thing. I'd say that if you have doubts, it's not gonna work out.

I was trying to think of a simple way to separate the real friends from the work friends. A common characteristic, or some action to define a real friend.

And this is what I came up with. No, it's not elegant like String Theory, but it says what I mean, and even though I wrote this a long time ago and have been attacking it with newer ideas ever since, I haven't found anything to prove it wrong in my personal experience. Maybe you'll find that you have in yours. Regardless, here's the line:

A real friend is someone who calls you when there is no need to do so.

Awkwardly written, sure. Maybe "A real friend is somone who spends time with you needlessly." Or, to use less words, "A real friend calls you without need."

I still like the first one better. It works like this:

The work friends only call about work. "Can you pick up my shift tomorrow night?" "Did you get the memo on the TPS reports?" "You're fired, jerk-off." "Will you be picking me up tomorrow morning, Frank?"

There is a need to call, because something related to work needs refinement or explanation or planning, and work is necessary because without it, we don't make money and we can't pay bills and we die slow deaths. Chances are, the person would be calling you even if he hated your guts (in that case of that last one, depending on how much he disliked public transportation).
It's possible that it could be a little more personal than that, such as calling to remind someone to bring in a movie you wanted to borrow or ask if plans were still on for everyone to go out to a certain restaurant for lunch the next day. But it still involves being at work.

So all these kinds of calls say nothing about personal feelings, because a separate need was there which is what caused the call to happen.

Now onto the needless call.

If a person calls you for no other reason than to inquire as to your day, ask if you knew a certain bit of humorous information, or make plans for a get-together later, then he must genuinely want to be reaching you. Not the copy boy. Not the office manager. Not the door guard. You, personally. So he must like you, and he must want to give up his own free time to spend with you.

(I'm not going into corporate politics, manipulations, and all that crap. Nice thing about waiting tables is there's hardly any political shit at all. Fuck all the managers you want, you're still not getting more than $2.38 an hour, just like everybody else. Unless you plan on suing later, that is, you dirty bastard.).

Notice that I said need instead of reason. Nobody does anything without reason. People say stuff like "He did that for no reason!" but that's not at all accurate. Look softly enough, and you'll see that every action a human being makes has a reason. Most of the time, the reason is "'Cause I felt like it," but that is still a reason in itself.

Now I feel like I got all pedantic without properly explaining what I really mean. I think it's that self doubt creeping back in. I have a good deal of that lately.

Over the years, I've met a few people at various jobs who I really liked a lot and wanted to make the transition from work friend to real friend. Without exception, every attempt has failed.

As I said in a previous post, "How the heck do you make friends, anyway?" I don't think you can, and most people seem to agree with me on this. In my experience, all of my friends just happened, gradually and without much notice. Usually, it'd be a case where I went to school with them or worked with them and somehow we just ended up being outside of work friends. Wasn't planned at all. It happened and here we are.

All of these "happening" friendships were with guys. It has never happened with a girl. There are reasons for this, as I'll write soon enough.

I wasn't interested in any of these "female work friends" in that way. I genuinely liked their personalities and wanted to spend time with them. Have conversations. Watch movies. That sorta thing. I wanted those same enjoyable work experiences to happen away from work. This is very practical because, as every work friend knows, when one of you leave, the friendship is over. I was looking for ways to sustain that friendship.

But anytime you want something, you risk appearing obsessed, especially if you want it badly enough. And that brings me to another term I think I made up myself: the "Platonic Crush."Never heard that anywhere else, but I came up with it some years ago to explain how I felt about certain girls. It sums my feelings up rather well. I see a girl, get to know her, realize she's really cool and fun to be around, and then I get sorta hooked on her. But, at the same time, I have no desire to have sex with her. I usually don't even find these girls attractive, even when I know they're attractive.

It's genuinely not freakish obsessive behavior. I've had several of these crushes now, and they all happen the same way. And this goes back as far as middle school.

It happens like this: First of all, the girl and I are put into a situation where we see each other frequently. Way back when, it was being in the same classroom. Now, it's just working together.
Secondly, I realized I usually didn't notice these girls for months or longer. Each girl was just one of many that I went to school with or worked with and didn't pay any attention to. They were background people, members of a crowd that I had no feelings about one way or another

And then the change happens. It's usually like this: (really)

I'm minding my own business, being goofy and weird in my own special way, when the girl I didn't formerly notice asks something very personal of me. Either confiding in me all kinds of personal shit or saying I'm really cool and we should hang out or something in between.

Most of the time, I'm playing Mr. Counsellor to them. But the "let's hang out" thing happens a lot, too.

And I think, "Wow! This person likes me because she confided all this really heavy personal shit in me and wants my opinions, or she said that we should go out and do stuff together. Cool!"And, for the last twelve years, all the girls who treated me this way knew I had a girlfriend, so I never felt like I was "being hit on." Not that I could feel that way, anyway. I'm a gawky sort, you see. Charming in my own way, sure, but gawky, and not the sort of boy a girl hits on abruptly like that.

So I always took it as "This girl wants to be friends."(It sounds so stupid to say that. "Wants to be friends" is a horrible, horrible line, and dredges up memories of all kinds of shitty kiddie books and after school specials.)

Here's what happens the next day. Either I show up and say, "I thought about your problem and have a few ideas…" or "Hey, I know what would be fun for us to do…" and the response is always the same:"What the fuck are you talking about?"Not in words, no. In attitude. Like that little girl in that graduation story I wrote, it's as if she was saying, "I confided in you 'cause I needed it at the time, but it didn't mean anything, so please back off." In the other case, it's usually, "Oh, that was just talk. I didn't mean I really wanted to go out and do stuff with you. You're just fun to be around at work. And just at work."

It's like saying "We'll keep in touch" to the departing coworker. You mean it when you say it, all full of good-bye sentimentality at the time, but a week or so later, when the feeling is gone, then you're left thinking, "Why did I say I'd keep in touch with that guy? I barely knew him."

You didn't lie. Just felt differently at the time. And it's the same way with "We should go out." Maybe that was a really good day, and work was fun and we were both laughing a lot, and she thought it'd be cool to do this or that and we'd have just as much fun. But then the day ended, and a few days later, when the mood had faded, she might remember saying the words, but not the reason why, and so she's left with the embarassing feeling of hoping I don't ever ask when we're going out, but I do ask, and am usually met with some sorta weird vibe that's like "Uh… I can't believe we had sex last night. Let's pretend it never happened and never mention it again."

(Y'know, it occurs to me right now that I could just be making myself sound like a total perv/skeev/freak who scares the hell outta women. But in defense against that, if I was so off-putting, then why would I get told such incredibly personal shit from coworkers, and invited out in the first place? Every job has the token "unsanitary, lecherous sloth who probably molested someone at one time or another." This could not be me because, as far as I know, I am not perceived as slothful.)

This is how all six of my "Platonic Crushes" have ended up. (Yes, six. I counted.) A girl confides in me or heavily compliments me, I respond in what I think is an understandable or appropriate way, and then I get he big smackdown, which, sadly, isn't a smackdown so much as a let down, a slow and uneasy parting of the ways, resulting in awkward glances and dismissing comments until one of us leaves for good.

Also, I'm not such a sensitive fool to think one or two nights of conversation should lead to a good friendship. Usually, the relationship (such as it is) grows over the course of a few weeks. I always get lulled into a sense that, no, it's not my imagination, this girl is genuinely comfortable around me.

I really hate pushy guys. I'm not much of a regular guy, anyhow. I don't care much at all for sports or alcohol, and I never think "Man, I'd like to fuck that hot chick" just because she's hot (I've met far too many beautiful women who were actually very, very ugly.).

One trait most regular guys have is the arrogant belief that the girl he likes likes him back just as much and probably more. "C'mon, baby, hang out with me. Let's get some drinks after work. Come back to my place. It'll be fun. You'll like it."

That, to me, is an asshole. Forcing yourself on someone who doesn't want to be around you in social ways isn't as bad as doing so in physical ways (that'd be rape), but it's still horribly inconsiderate and unsettling. It puts the girl on the defensive, to where she has to stand up for herself (knowing she'll probably be called a "stuck up lesbian" by the guy), or just deal with it and politely put the guy off (in which case he'll call her "a tease"). Either way the girl looks bad, and all because a guy can't understand that he's not the center of the whole damn planet.

With this always in mind, I do not force myself on anyone. To people who say, "You gotta go for the gold! You gotta take what you want!' I say, "You gotta take a step back and pay attention to what's going on around you, you inconsiderate fuck."

So for me to get attached to any girl--to think she actually wants to make the jump from work friend to real friend--takes a whole lot of signs on her part.

The most difficult part of a Platonic Crush is because of how it is perceived. It's easy to try to have sex with a girl, but it's much harder when you don't want to. If you see a girl you want to have a serious "dating and maybe marriage but definately fucking" kinda relationship, you pursue her and hope she likes what you're selling. She gets that signal right away and knows how to respond to it, either positively or negativesly. I don't even think this is learned behavior. Females have been batting down eager males since the planet first cooled.

But that only applies to the big sex. When you have no romantic or sexual feelings for the girl at all--you just like her personality and want to spend time with her--you're left adrift in a sea of mixed signals.

All girls have a nice defense mechanism for warding off unwanted boys. They see signs quickly. "He's complimenting my hair, my shoes, my eyes. He wants something. I'm not attracted to him. I better laugh off the compliment with the standard 'This old thing?' or 'Oh, you're just being silly'…" That way I don't come off as stuck up and he's not encouraged."

If you ever get a Platonic Crush on a girl, try saying "I like you a lot and want to spend time with you" to her and see if she doesn't listen to your words and somehow hear, "This guy just wants to fuck me, like all the others."

(Boy, does it feel even more shitty when the girl in question is someone that nobody finds attractive, but she still tries to ward you off. Even in that situation, cries of "I just like hanging out with you" sounds more and more like reverse psychology.)

Anyone else currently hearing a few lines from "When Harry Met Sally?". "Men and women can never be friends. The sex thing always gets in the way."

Is that the universal truth, then? It would suck if it was true, because honestly there's nothing like talking to a really cool girl about some of the things that guys just don't get.

(Does this post make me sound gay?)

I've always liked girls. It's unfortunate that all the female friends I've ever had are much older than I am (usually women I met through the theatre, where people are much more relaxed on issues of sex and relationships). When in my early twenties, I had several really good female friends who I had enjoyable converstaions with. Not just about life, the universe, and everything, but about people and movies and art.

Boy, do I love me some platonic women friendships.

And so it's almost turned into a goal for me to find a female friend who's the same age I am. I don't actively look, really. I put up that singles ad last year in the hopes that I'd meet a few women to correspond with and then maybe go out with. Didn't happen out here. When I stayed in Missouri for a few months last spring, I changed to ad to the St. Louis area and got several responses, one of which turned into a genuine friendship I'm very happy to still have. And, because our relationship was internet based (a whole different kinda friendship), we got to know one another quickly and intimitely, the sex thing never came up, and we spent a lot of good time together.

(All this makes me think my sense of humor just works better in the midwest. But I'll leave the quirks and tastes of east coast natives to writers who have said it much better than I ever could. Fitzgerald, specifically.)

I think this is a long enough post for now. Come back later for part two, when I discuss how spectacularly I've fucked up several potential friendships, and how a few others took me totally by surprise.

[Editorial note: I'm on about my sixth pass editing this entry right now, and I still think the prose and general composition totally sucks. For that, you have my apologies. I promise you it's not from lack of effort, just lack of clear literary thinking, and I thank you for having read this.]

Saturday, December 18, 2004

What I did when they came for me.

Yesterday I worked a usual fourteen hour double. Made good cash, had a fine time. Such a good time that I decided to hang out with the crew afterwards. I don't hang out after work very often. I just worked with these people all friggin' day, so why do I wanna spend more time with them when I could be, you know, not seeing them. Besides that, I don't like alcohol very much (aside from needed medicinal uses, for the most part), and even if I did, why anyone spends seven bucks on a beer is beyond me.

No, when I feel festive, I smoke cigarettes. Plain, old, disgustingly awful "I can't believe I'm doing this after not smoking for six months" cigarettes.

But it's okay. I use a filter. I'm the only person I know who uses a filter. Yes, just like Hunter Thompson's, except mine is black.

Not only does it look cool, people mistake it for a one-hitter, which makes my coolness go up, even though only people who don't know what a one-hitter looks like could ever mistake a cigarette filter for one, and how cool can I be in the eyes of a person like that?

Still, I do like to smoke outdoors in the damnable cold when I feel like hanging out with people I've been working with for fourteen hours and honestly can't say I have much anything in common with outside of work itself. I have no love of sports and gossip, only life and society, movies and comic books.

(Janeane Garofalo, the patron saintess of comic book fans, once said that she found angsty, smoking, comic book guys to be really hot.

(To quote some on-line interview with Janeane:
How would you describe the guys who fall in love with you?
They're the guys you would find in comic-book stores.

(I, like so many others, need to find a Janeane Garofalo.)

(And yes, I did spell her name correctly.)

I had worn my uniform into work that morning, so my jacket was out in my car. I lit my cigarette and walked across the parking lot to my car to get my jacket (Everybody clear with this fine literary imagery?). My employers frown on employees smoking in full uniform, and I agree it looks bad, smoking being the social leper-dry of the new millenium, so I folded my apron in and up over my waist.

Good gosh, how to explain that simple act. Picture an apron that goes down to about mid-calf and wraps to the sides of your legs. A full length apron, right? You've seen pictures.

Instead of taking it off, which jumbles up all the crap in the pockets, I'll flip the outside edges toward the center, then fold the whole thing up so it's the size of a waiter wallet (which is safely protected along with my pens and wine key and not sliding around in the center of all that cloth).

The apron is still tied around my waist. I hold the bulk of the apron upright so it looks like I'm carrying a small cloth book over my stomach. And I can walk freely.

Seriously, it takes two seconds to do this. Much less time than to try to explain it, but there it is.

With cigarette in filter in mouth (hands free!), apron pressed to stomach, I made the long cross-parking lot trek to my car.

Once I got to my car (parked on the street), I went to the passenger side door. I didn't want to get in my car while smoking, you see. Sure, I don't mind a cigarette on occasion, but I don't want that smell in my brand new shiny car. Even when I was a smoker I never smoked in my own living spaces (after the age of twenty-two). There's a huge difference between the fine spark of a new Camel Light and the smell of an unwashed bowling alley.

I stood by my passenger side door at midnight and tried to undo my flipped up apron. The apron string had gotten a little tangled, so it took a few seconds to get the knot undone. Apron strings have been known to get tangled in belts and shirt tails, and that's what happened this time. I swear, it only took about ten seconds for me to fiddle with the apron strings to get the damn thing off.

But that ten seconds was enough time for the cop car to flash its lights, speed in front of me, and come to stop diagonally in front of my car, so as to prevent me from going anywhere at all in my parked, unmoving car, of which I was still not in. And standing on the passenger side, at that.

The cop gets out in true cop fashion, with his flashlight held up next to his head, pointing straight at me, apron strings in hand.

"You wanna tell me why you're urinatin' by your car?!" he asked.

It probably would have been bad to laugh at the stern man, so I did not.

"Actually, I was just taking off my apron. See?"

A pause. No one moved for a full two seconds. It would have been a nice picture.

"I stand corrected," he said. He got back in his car, drove down the street, and parked between concrete islands, to await any number of drunk college kids who still don't understand that cops like to hang out next to places where lots of people drink and there is no direct public transportation.

Even had I wanted to leave then, I would not have. I would have taken an interest in sports for at least twenty minutes, so as not to have to drive by that cop car at that time.

(Several of my coworkers have upcoming court dates for DUIs, all of which they got directly after leaving work. When costs are factored in, this makes brings the price of our draft beers jump from seven dollars to about four-hundred and twenty-two.)

I stowed my apron, put on my jacket, went back inside, put a little extra sugar in my iced tea (festive!), smoked another cigarette, made two new female acquaintences (both married), helped drunk people not fall down as they tried to leave, smoked another cigarette while holding open the door for more drunk people, and then I drove home.

And right this minute I'm chewing knock-off CVS brand nicotine gum, which I do kind of enjoy, but probably only because I'm one of the few people who read the instructions for nicotine gum and knows how to properly chew it. Smokers of the world, it really isn't that bad.

Although it looks really dumb sticking out of a black cigarette filter.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

You know, I was thinking I was a bit harsh with my last post, since it was only about how to go about paying for a check in a restaurant, so I printed it and showed it to several of my coworkers and managers. They all agreed entirely with what I wrote (although one guy added, "You might wanna clean up the language a little...").

Of course, this lead to a good number of people wanting to know why I was writing such stuff about waiting tables. It certainly can't go into any sort of manual, unless there's a good "How to act in restaurants" manual someone is putting together. I told them I write about waiting tables on my blog, which lead to me having to tell most everyone what a blog was.

Thankfully, I didn't have to explain what what the Internet was, too.

After a very brief explanation (anyone who takes more than three sentences to explain a blog is surely being pedantic), I got many suggestions for other irritations to write about, like people who don't tip well or are rude or stupid or annoying or just plain unsanitary.

And then there were the ideas that I liked, and promptly stole them all, for later use.

But for now, my bed calls me, and so off I go.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Congratulations to Breakup Babe on getting that Random House book deal. I noticed it at the top of the blogger news when I wrote my last entry. I meant to comment on it, especially since my last post was about breaking up.

And Happy Thanksgiving to everybody.

Today, I'm going to work a swing shift from eleven to nine. Yes, the restaurant is open today. I know not many restaurants are open on Thanksgiving, but mine is, and it should be a fantastically busy day.

A thing about payment.

The little book that holds your dinner check is called a waiter wallet. We usually call them "books" for short. A waiter wallet is a book with two flaps on the inside to hold papers and a little slot at the top to hold a credit card. Some of the cheaper waiter wallets only have one interior flap and no credit card slot. The really cheap ones aren't even books at all, but vinyl-covered pieces of card stock with a pocket on one side.

At most of my restaurants, we use the book-like, two flapped, credit card slotted types.

Dropping a check on a table is sometimes awkward for a waiter. You and your friend have finished your entrees, declined dessert, and are about finished with your drinks, of which you do not want a refill. At that point, there is no reason for you to be sitting at the table. Sure, you may want to talk for a while and let your food digest, but you are not going to pay for any more food or drinks.

To any rational person, that means it's time to drop the check. How am I to know you might get another beer in half an hour--but don't want anything now--if you don't tell me?

I usually end it like this (after being told no to dessert and drink refills): "Is there anything else at all I can get for you today? No? Okay, then."

Here, I pull out the waiter wallet containing the guests' check, which I cleverly hid in my apron before approaching the table, knowing they weren't going to get anything else. I stand the waiter wallet like a table tent in the center of the table so as not to imply that either one of the guests should pay for the check (knowing that chivalry isn't quite dead, but it is scorned and laughed at). I do this as I'm talking, continuing with, "I'll pick this up and make change or run a credit card for you whenever you're ready."

With that, I walk away from the table. Some of the more experience diners will immediately grab the book and say, "Hold on," while fishing a credit card out of his wallet. I like these kinds of people. Saves me a trip back to the table and the guest time for when he wants to leave.

Usually, people ignore the book (probably some social awkwardness wondering who is going to pay the check) and continue talking. I go on to check on my other tables.

It is not possible to keep constant watch on that single table at this point. I can't stand off to the side watching those two guests for when one of them takes cash or a credit card out of his wallet and puts it in the waiter wallet. Even if I could stand there and watch for this, do you think the guests would want me to?

No. So I go about waiting my other tables.

I will keep passing by the table with the newly dropped check. Every time I go to get an order or a refill for a different table, I'll look at the book on the table and see what stage of paying the guests are at. These are the stages:

1. The book is still standing upright in the same place on the table, which means they haven't done anything with it. Fine, I'll come back.

2. The book is laying down and there is no money or a credit card sticking out of it. One of the guests picked up the book to look at the total on the check, but hasn't yet pulled out a type of payment. Fine, again. I'll come back in a few minutes.

3. The book is laying down and there's money or a credit card sticking out of it. Time to make that change or run that credit card.

Now, you would think that these are the only three options, but there is one more shitty option that far too many people take, and it fucks up the whole payment process. Here it is.

The book looks like it's in stage two, but it's not, it's in stage three. The guest has taken the book, looked at it, and then thrown either cash or a credit card into the book and then closed it, not adjusting the money or credit card so that anyone can tell that there's money or a credit card in it.

And, you know, this is really the point of this post, and while it seems stupid to even mention, it always leads to awkard endings for guests and makes things much shittier than they have to be.

Waiters know that they have to be fast. If you have to wait for a waiter to get drink refills or take your order or bring you a check, you're going to think your waiter sucks. Sometimes rightly so, othertimes not. I'm sure you understand this. If you think the waiter sucks, you're ot going to leave a good tip. Waiters certainly understand that.

You know the Hollywood saying, "You're only as good as your last picture?" For waiters it's "You're only as good as your last task." If I'm right there for your drinks, order, drink refills, food, food extras, desserts, and coffee, you'll either think I'm a good waiter or, because nothing went wrong for you to notice anything, you'll not think of me at all.

(Yes, it does suck that when waiters do eveything exactly right, most people don't notice. It's not unreasonable. How often do you notice things that don't fuck up? Very rarely, because if they're not fucked up, how are you going to notice them?)

So I did everything right all throughout the meal, and now you're ready to leave. Actually, you need to get out of the building right now. You're a law-abiding citizen, so you're not going to skip out on your check. But to pay, you need to have your check, and you need me to bring it to you. If I take ten minutes getting you your check, you think you're going to remember that the coffee was, in fact, fresh when I said it would be, or that your heavily modified food was modified exactly right?

No, you're going to think I'm a slow-ass bastard for making you sit there for ten minutes.

It's this last task I fucked up, and so now my tip just dropped off to nothing, even though all my other work was good.

Again, not saying this is wrong. Any waiter who makes a guest wait for ten minutes must have serious problems.

The point is, bringing the check was the last thing from me you saw. If I had taken ten minutes to get your drink order at the beginning of the meal, then I have all the other steps of the meal to redeem myself. If I do screw up at the beginning, I focus on that table and make damn sure they leave with a good impression. Or, at least, tip with a good impression.

I bring all this up to illustrate that the check is very important, because it's the last job I have to do for a guest. "Check 'n' change," they call it, and it's a four part process. Not only do I have to bring you the check, I then have to go back to pick it up, make the change or run the card, and bring whatever's left back to you.

And I do not want you thinking I'm slow for any of that.

So let's go back to the three stages of me dropping the check. It's on the table, you haven't touched it. This is nothing to me. I'm waiting on you, so I'm in the clear.

Once you touch that book, I have to get over there and make change for you, so you're not thinking, "I wish the waiter would take my payment so I could get the fuck outta here."

But--and this is where stupid social rules get into play--I cannot make it sound like I want you to get out, even if I do. Even if you're my very last table and as soon as you leave I can go home but goddamit you had to order desserts and then coffee and now you're chatting about nothing important and we all know there's no way she's going to sleep with you, you moron.

Obviously, I can't let you think that I'm thinking that. So if I see a book lying on a table and I walk over and say, "I'll be right back with your change," but you're still in stage two--you've looked at the check, but haven't put in any payment--then it looks like I'm rushing you.

And I always get the same stupid line, "Okay, but don't you want me to put some money in it first?"

Har. If you ever think you're being clever by joking with a waiter, I'll tell you now: You're not.

So I'm reluctant to pick up books when they're lying on their sides, because I don't want to give a bad impression. This is why I wait for stage three; payment is in the book.

How can I tell you're at stage three? Because the credit card is in the little credit card slot at the top of the waiter wallet, which makes half the credit card stick out the top of the book where it's easily visible. When you put your card in there and place the book at the edge of the table, I know you're ready to go. If you're paying by cash, stick the cash out of the top or side of the book and I'll know to stop by.

Very simple shit, right?

I'm going to make a guess here, based on a decade of restaurant experience. I would say that about three-fourths of all people do not see the little credit card slot at the top of the book--the one with words "Please place your credit card here"--nor do they think to fan out the money so it's sticking out the side of the book.

They just chuck it in and leave the book wherever it lies, sometimes at the back of the table, away from the aisle.

So what's a waiter to do, if he doesn't see you put your payment in the book at the exact moment you do it?

He's left with this thought, "It's been at least ten minutes since I dropped the check and someone must have paid by now, but I didn't see any payment in the book when I walked by the table, and I'm afraid to just pick it up because I really don't feel like hearing the stupid 'don't you want some money' line, nor do I want to blow my tip because they think I'm rushing them out the door..."

Eventually, the waiter will probably use the shitty language of all waiters and ask the guest if he's "all set with that."

(Waiter language evolved for very precise social reasons, but each one deserves its own entry, and this one's getting too long as it is.)

The waiter's taking a big risk here, depending on the personality type. Some people don't care at all and will just say, "Oh, just a sec..." and pull out payment. Far too many people will act indignant. No, really. Like I'm a total bastard for insisting he pays, or that he's taking too long to pull out his overused credit card, or implying that he's probably gonna skip out on the check because he looks like an overweight loser who shouldn't have eaten all those fries.

Money and food can bring about weird reactions in people.

What's the alternative thought to taking a chance on picking up an empty book? "I don't see any payment and I'm not going to stop by until I do."

If you choose this, then believe me, there is a credit card in that book, and the guest is in a hurry to get out the door. Within a few minutes, that guest is going to hold up the book and wave it around like he's at a semaphore competition. He's going to think why does he have to get YOUR attention, aren't you supposed to be waiting on HIM?

And your tip probably just got shot to shit, regardless of your work during the rest of the evening.

Now, did I just spend a hell of a lot of words basically saying, "Always put your credit cards in the little credit card slot at the top of the book because it makes life for everyone much easier?"

Yes, I did.

But from now on, for the rest of your life, every time you go out to eat in a restaurant, if you don't put your credit card in that little slot at the top of the book--knowing how little effort it takes and how incredibly simple a thing it is to do to make the end of the meal go that much smoother--you are going to know--not think, but know--that you're being a total asshole.

And that's good enough for me.

(Keep in mind that if you do always put that card in that slot, then you're a very cool person and we want you to come back and sit in our sections every time. Thanks for being considerate of others and aware of your surroundings. Good job.)