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2:30 PM In Miami
Isaiah had engaged in disrespectful behavior on more than one occasion in everyone present’s recent memory. He had never been a type of kid to pick fights, smoke pot and ditch class, but he always knew exactly what he wanted to say and there wasn’t a soul he wouldn’t say it to. It was a trait that--as cringe-inducing, it had proven to be more often than not, his youngest and only brother had come to greatly respect. But in the present moment, it was about to make Isaiah’s family’s multi-household trip to Florida an utter disaster: a disaster that would make for unpleasant dinner table conversation for years to come.
Isaiah’s brother stared emptily across the table into the bright blue eyes of the individuals on the other side of the table from him. That opposing bench was occupied by his three cousins under five years old. Sweat trickled down his scalp and an eyebrow diverted it from hitting his eye head-on. He leaned forward to take a sip of his seltzer water, and was met with the frustrating understanding that his glass was empty, just as another bead of sweat hit his equally bare plate. His grandmother had entered her “the waiter is taking too long” phase. She could only make a pouty face for so long and was now off to find someone who probably wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. One of the things Isaiah and his brother had learned was never to impede a Jewish woman on her course toward getting the check and getting the hell out of the restaurant.
But worse than the heat of the Miami restaurant’s outdoor plaza, dotted with umbrellaless tables, was the sinking knowledge of how unpleasant Isaiah’s brother’s parents would be following the disturbance Isaiah had caused. He didn’t even want to dream of how many passive-aggressive asides “the pair” (as he liked to call his parents) could throw in when he returned to their hotel room. Somehow it would be his fault, the one who had sat there, outwardly reactionless as the scene had transpired. He very rarely wished he were treated like the family’s baby that he was, but at this moment that yearning had never reached such a high point. His teenage years inspired a longing for the very years he had longed to be a teenager.
Nonchalantly, a five-foot-six man dressed in a suit that fit him well but a hat that made look like a dad trying too hard to have fun on vacation, not unlike Isaiah’s father (whose own white pressed linen shirt failed to hide he always felt more at home in the office than anywhere where wearing sandals was appropriate), entered the balcony. Isaiah’s brother recognized the pin with the restaurant’s logo that signified that the man who had entered was the manager. He paused at the table to their right and quickly realized the group he was looking for was one over.
‘Everything’s ok over here?’
‘Yes. We sorted it all out,’ Isaiah’s grandmother told him.
The manager responded with an outstretched hand, ‘Martin Cohagen. I’m the manager here.’
She responded with a sour handshake. ‘Barbara Morris. We were wondering where the check was.’
‘Yes. I had him hold it. I wanted to make sure I got to talk with you all and figure out what happened before you left.’
In Mrs. Morris’s eyes, you could tell what a rotten trick she thought this was. Nothing could have set her over the edge easier.
‘Well take a look. There’s no problem here. We’d like the check.’
‘Ma’am there’s no nuance to why I’m over here. If I hear one group is pressing another group to leave the restaurant, I’m going to need to figure out at the very least what the confusion was about.’
‘Look there was a little yelling. My grandson was upset for a perfectly understandable reason. If that meant that the family was going to up and leave, so be it. I’m sorry about the disturbance but there’s not much more I can offer you but my good graces and a friendly tip.’
Isaiah’s-mom’s-father put his head down. His Cranbrook and Cornell upbringing found being the center of attention in such an embarrassing fashion to be unpleasant, to say the least. His daughter’s husband’s mother, who was staring cold-eyed at the manager, had grown up with a similar idea but had a “can’t-back-down” attitude that came in direct conflict with it.
‘Can I ask what was going on?’ the manager took a bold move. It was the first time Isaiah’s brother had witnessed anyone address his grandmother in any tone that came shy of utter respect. It may not have been a coincidence that he so rarely interacted with her along with someone who wasn’t aware of her long-winded and grand career as a food critic.
To their left, a large wave made contact with the beach the patio looked down upon. Its sound was followed by the yells of those who hadn’t been prepared for high tide and promptly had all their belongings soaked. The manager, Isaiah’s cousins, his younger brother, and the two grandparents who were both able to walk and sitting at the table turned their heads, with only the one grandmother keeping her eyes on what was going on on the deck.
Barbara spoke matter-of-factly: ‘My grandson heard the other patrons making some rude and insulting comments...well they were a matter of fact offensive. I mean, who the hell says that kind of thing? Those aren’t the kind of people you want representing your patronage, are they? Anyway, he stood up and--quite loudly called them out. He was perfectly justified and it’s a shame he was the only one that said something. He didn’t mean to be upsetting, but he meant to cause some rethinking at that table. And when those patrons could no longer ignore it, they became flustered and left the restaurant.’ She gave the humble cough of someone who had just described an action they would never partake in.
The manager looked taken aback in an almost cliche way. While he had received the main sentiment of what had happened, it shouldn’t have been considered a completely truthful retelling. It was not exactly as open-minded a confrontation as she had made it sound, but more like the upstanding of an angry sixteen-year-old not quite mature enough to convey his feelings in that respectful a way. It was also probably worth mentioning he was already set off by the heat, the holdup on his burger and the fact that his young cousin had denied him a sip of her pineapple juice. ‘She’s four,’ his grandfather had had to remind him. And yet, to his brother, who had been nothing but a witness to the whole encounter, this was a deeply impressive moment for his brother and a lesson in humility for a family who often didn’t have enough of it.