I wanted to hate them, to insult them with sharp jabs of anger and truth, but I needed their money to pay my phone bill. Such is the dilemma of working in the service industry. No one, especially not this pair, wants to be reminded of their ignorance by a 24-year-old cocktail server. Let alone one with a wicked cell-phone habit.
You can do this.
So I smiled and got them their bottle of wine. I returned to their table. I opened it like I was taught. That’s a good cocktail server. I smiled again as I poured and poured and asked about their vacation.
But they didn’t want to talk about vacation. They had questions.
Questions deserve answers.
-We’ve been here for over 20 years.
– Yes, in the same place.
– Yes, it’s a nice building.
“And what is that building there?” the husband asked, pointing to the five-story box across the street. Some 20 men stood outside smoking cigarettes and huddling into smaller groups, talking.
I’ve heard what they are saying.
“A drug rehabilitation center,” I answer. To which he responded, “Hmm.” His wife just sighed.
“And the building next door?” he inquired.
“Government subsidized housing …”
Don’t tell him for whom. He doesn’t want to know.
I have to.
“… for the mentally ill.” I can’t stop myself. They need to know.
It’s not changing the subject. It’s avoiding –
– responsibility. You have a responsibility.
“No,” they say in unison, and before I can get away – run away, quick – he blurts out, “Must be hard on business.” How is it possible for a person to live so long and be so stupid?
Would AT&T understand this: I want to pay my cell-phone bill. Really, I do. But there was this man and this woman and they had they nerve to say …
Or this: Truth is priceless.
I sound like a MasterCard commercial.
“It’s not as if they have anyplace else to go.” They need to know. Everyone should know. “The city, I mean, doesn’t have enough housing. And we can’t put them on the street.”
They could die. They’re so old. And sad.
“So, I guess I’d rather have them here.” Even you feel guilty while you eat your $22 steak dinner and drink an overpriced bottle of wine.
They are quiet and I leave. I can’t believe I said that. And so poorly. So poorly and way too emotional.
But it’s better than nothing.
And in the end, they must have not been too offended because they tipped me better than I expected and were even back the next night to watch the World Series and have a beer.
But they are just two. What about the others? What about the ones who turn away when the ambulance and the fire trucks come and roll the old, sad souls away on stretchers? They drink their beer and liquor and wine and turn their backs – not on responsibility, but accountability.
It takes a village to raise an idiot, and an idiot to redesign the village.
Calling all idiots.