DATE: 8/04/2002 05:04:00 PM
The Tragic Tale of the Coffee Nazi
Today we wrapped up Andy's Fabulous Barbecue Evening with the customary Post-Party Hangover Breakfast at (where else) Denny's. Many of us had not been there in the daytime, let alone on a Sunday morning, so we were prepared to share our lair with the Bluehair Brigade.
But nothing could have prepared us for our waitress, whom I'll call Gladys, just because whenever I encounter cranky middle-aged women in the food-service profession, "Gladys" seems the most appropriate name. Six among our party of ten were seated at one of the larger booths, with Kathleen and Andy's friend Cooter sharing the smaller table, and the larger table populated (and quickly covered in a dense layer of smoke) by Cory, Kim, Kellie and me. Andy, Tim and Andy's friends Beth and Rob were at a separate table a few feet away. All of us were served--or rather abused--by Gladys.
Our first inkling that something was terribly, terribly wrong came when Kim, a vegetarian, attempted to substitute hash browns for the bacon and sausage meant to accompany her meal, the famous Grand Slam Breakfast. There was also a Sunshine Slam, which did not include meat, but it cost a full dollar more and did not include the same number of menu items, such as, for example, hash browns, to make up for the missing meat. So had Kim ordered the Sunshine Slam, she would not only have had to pay a dollar more for what amounted to two-thirds of the Grand Slam, but she would also have had to pay another buck to two bucks for a side of hash browns. Being a smart girl, Kim instead politely asked if she might make the substitution.
Gladys regarded her for a moment, as if trying to guage whether she was serious. Then, one hand on her substantial hip, Gladys leaned toward Kim and snapped, "No."
This wasn't just any "No." This wasn't even a mildly belligerent "No." This was a "No" that carried the weight of all the untold miseries in Gladys' doubtlessly miserable life, all poured into a single syllable and deposited in front of Kim like a steaming, fat-laced pile of distasteful bacon. This was a "No" with all the wind-up, delivery and impact of a thrown projectile or a slap to the face. This was the "No" of all "No's."
Kim recoiled and said with her patented Crisis Smile, "Okay then. I guess I'll take the meat."
This only infuriated Gladys further, which seemed to be the plan judging by the look on Kim's face. But, as K timidly pointed out, "Maybe it's not good to piss off the waitress while she still has your food."
Much as I sympathized with Kim, it became apparent that K was right. As explained above, we were divided into three groups, with three separate checks. K and Cooter ordered first, Kim et. al ordered second, and Andy's separate table ordered third. As can be expected, K and Cooter received their meals first. We were all caught up in an intense discussion about what they could do with the ice-cream-scoop-sized globs of butter that had come splattered all over their flapjacks when we became aware that the separate table had received their orders already, despite the fact that they had ordered last. Oh well, we thought. Ours will be out soon. We waited. And waited.
And waited. Finally we had waited so long for our food that the manager came over to inquire whether there had been a problem. We shrugged. He glanced back into the kitchen and explained that it seemed the waitress had switched the orders around so that ours would come last, for reasons he couldn't figure out.
Finally our food came. I had ordered the simplest meal, with the simplest accompanying request: a dish of honey-mustard with my Super-Bird sandwich. My sandwich was a miserable looking thing, with limp purplish bacon, a few meager slices of lukewarm turkey, decidedly yellow tomatoes, globs of white cheese, smashed rudely between two hunks of soggy bread. On the side of the plate, rather than the healthy golden french fries promised on the menu (and delivered on previous occasions), it looked as though they had cleaned out the triple-fried crumbs stuck at the bottom of the Fry-O-Lator and scraped the compost next to my sandwich. To add insult to injury, the honey-mustard which would have made all of this more palatable was markedly missing. The others had not fared much better.
"Even my water tastes funny," K remarked over the lip of her coffee cup.
"It looks like we're being punished, eh?" I said. Nods of agreement.
Gladys had a habit of depositing things on the table with palpable bangs and then lumbering off before we could get her attention to ask for, say, the honey mustard she'd "forgotten" to bring. It seemed she was doing her level best to ignore our attempts to get her attention, and when our solicitations finally became unavoidable they were met with heavy sighs, grunts, and dirty looks that matched the noxiousness of her earlier "No." In general, it was clear even before we'd begun eating that our college-student asses were not welcome in Gladys' little corner of the world. But I still wanted some freakin honey mustard, dammit, and I didn't think it was too much to ask. I finally coaxed Gladys into bringing it to me, and she set off for the kitchen, head shaking, mouth a-muttering all under the breath-like, a great fifty-year old pile of hostility.
Sometimes I feel sorry for people like Gladys. Sometimes there's something obviously going on that makes me feel pity rather than anger. Sometimes. Not this time.
Especially when, as she came storming back, ready to slam down the honey mustard with a satisfying "bang" in front of my demanding face, she found Tim sitting between her and the sweet honey-mustard throwing catharsis for which she so longed. Brandishing her steaming coffee pot and holding the honey mustard hostage, she regarded Tim with eyes narrowed to truly remarkable slits, glancing back and forth between him and me with angst coming off of her in waves you could nearly smell. If I hadn't been so angry, I might have been terrified--but as it was, I was less than impressed with Gladys' full frontal assault of attitude, since Tim had only crowded into our booth in the first place to eat the bacon and sausage that she, Gladys, had refused to take out of Kim's Grand Slam breakfast. And furthermore, Tim had only had to come crowding into our booth because they hadn't seen fit to seat us together, despite the fact that the Smoking Room was less than densely populated throughout our meal. No, Gladys, I thought coolly, You've brought all of this on yourself, honey.
"My water really tastes weird," K offered meekly in an attempt to create a diversion. Gladys was not to be deterred.
Gladys, you see, has yet to transcend bitchiness to grand high evil, and so she has not acquired the ability to read and respond to thoughts. Still thinking she could stymie my need for the honey mustard with sufficient nastiness, she stood with her eyes fixed hypnotically on Tim like a threatened cobra, holding the honey mustard up like a trophy. I held out my hand for it with a supplicating smile, waggling my fingers a bit, attempting to demonstrate for her that she should just put the condiment down, we could talk about this. I felt like a hostage negotiator. I kept smiling timidly at Gladys as if to reassure her that all her demands would be met if she would only hand over the dish.
Drawing herself up to her full height, Gladys then shocked us all by literally roaring at Tim, "GO BACK TO YOUR TABLE." In that moment she was every terrible substitute teacher losing her cool you have ever had, give or take about fifty pounds.
We may not have been fully prepared for Gladys, but Tim, like the Wu-Tang clan, ain't nothin to fuck with. Tim looked back at her, his face a study in stony insult. My fingertips were just brushing the honey-mustard dish. She shoved it into my hands, breaking the standoff, and huffed away.
As the meal wore on, our conversation was consumed more and more with Gladys' malevolence. The room would go tensely silent whenever she'd walk in to refill coffee or ignore us when we asked for something else, which seemed to be the only two things that she was good at. At this point K was growing more and more concerned about her water. Finally she held it up to the light to investigate, breaking off all other conversation by saying calmly, "Oh. That would be why this tastes strange. There's probably broken glass in it."
We looked at the glass, aghast. Straight across its thick, doorknob-like bottom was a nasty crack, and, still nastier, a piece missing from the middle of the fissure. We gazed at one another in horror. Whether the horror was mainly inspired by the fact that our friend may have been poisoned by broken glass in her ice water, or that we were actually going to be forced to interact closely with Gladys again is anybody's guess.
Two of our initial attempts failed utterly. First Gladys just walked by, not even registering our existence as K pointed at the glass and gesticulated wildly. The next time, we all spoke in loud tones usually reserved only for the hearing-impaired of advanced age. This time Gladys stopped, turned around, listened to K's story, looked at the water glass with its horrible crack and missing piece, and then astounded us all even further by walking away again without a word of response. Finally Kellie spoke up on K's behalf, and this time, with a dirty look that would have killed a cockroach, a thunderous sigh and a gratuitous eye roll, Gladys acquiesced and trundled off to the kitchen to exchange the glasses. When she came back she also had our checks. Apparently we were shut off.
"I think exact change is in order," I said quietly, regarding the bill, as soon as Gladys was out of earshot.
A debate then ensued over whether or not we should tip, whether or not we should explain our lack of tip or merely walk out, and whether or not we should make our statement in writing or in person. Finally, basing our decision on the realities that we could not, in good conscience, reward the behavior of our waitress, but that Denny's is our only hangout option most nights and we still wanted to be welcome there, and that there were no comment cards with which to explain our dissatisfaction in a more passive-agressive manner, we agreed that we would leave exact change but that one of us would take up our grievance with the manager before we left. I was elected spokesperson, and as Kim, Cory, Kellie and K counted out nickles and pennies to come up with the exact $23.29 we owed, I walked out into the non-smoking dining room in search of the manager. I found him by the coffee, took him aside, and explained the situation. "We come here all the time," I began, and he listened right up, going on to apologize, say he completely understood, and assure me that he would have a talk with Gladys after we had left. Which we did, then, quickly.
Outside we exchanged reports about how we had each left things: I recounted my conversation with the manager, and Kim reported on how the bill had been paid.
"Well, we didn't really leave exact change," she said.
"You didn't?!?!" I demanded, incredulous.
"Nope." Kim said smugly. "We left two extra pennies, just to show that we had put in our two cents."
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Gladys. Denny's is our hood. Don't come around and expect to step to us, ya heard? Let it be known--beeeyyyaaatch!