Green Beans

November 2, 2010
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We stood firm and waited. It was coming and we all dreaded it. At 4:30 everyday it began. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, we assembled at the doors of the dining room.
The lights were almost blinding. Chandeliers hung down from the high ceiling to give the room a luxurious look. All the tablecloths looked creamy white and brand new. The settings on the tables were perfectly aligned. If a server misplaced a fork or knife, they were sure to be written up. 50 or so tables were grouped in nine sections throughout the dining room. Some tables seated two, and others seated up to nine. There was a runway that cut the dining room in two that all the servers used to get to their section. The runway ran up from the pantry and led to the main doors in an L shape. Right before the pantry there was a “dance floor”. Nobody sat there but it was there in case of a special function such as “swing night” or “German night” where the bolder residents could get up and dance.
We stood in tight, neat lines like soldiers. All of the servers dressed in black polos, dress pants, and no-slick shoes.
As we stood, we all feared the same thing. The residents were about to break through the door at any minute. Dave and I always felt like we were in some ‘straight-to-DVD’ horror movie you could get for six bucks at a grocery store. This was the scene where the zombies, vampires, monsters, or what have you, had cornered us. We represented the survivors; nine servers, a hostess, and a supervisor. I rolled my eyes in the back of my head and stuck my arms out like a zombie and began to attack Dave, a fellow server.
“DAVE! I want your flesh! Ughhhh”
“Sir I’m quite busy, I’m sorry-”
As I put my arms around Dave’s neck and tried to bite him, he dropped all his menus in hilarity and caught our supervisor’s attention.
“Greg! That’s enough!” our supervisor said.
Kathleen was middle-aged, methodical, and menacing. She was all about appearances; in other words, she was perfect for the job. Kathleen always looked prim and proper. She wore nice pristine dresses, in florals and plaids and was always adorned in the shiniest accessories. Her hair and stature were short like her temper. She had wrinkles that lined her face due to the years of passion and grief that came along with the retirement community business.
“The committee met once again last night. It seems as though the time between taking the residents’ orders and the time their dinner arrives is much too long-”
“Oh, what will we ever do?” I said. The other servers laughed quietly.
“You’ll fix it. Now let’s talk about the doily plates.”
Dave peered over at me and saw I was writing furiously. He gave me a quizzical look. I showed him the elephant I was drawing on the back of my dinner check.
“It took me half the pre-meal to make.” I said.
“It looks stunning.”
“And another thing, Greg! If you were even listening, the staff’s effort is in dire need of improvement. The unbuttoned polos, sloppily scooped and half melted ice creams, and poorly hand written dinner checks will not cut it any longer.” Kathleen said after she saw us engage in conversation.
I clutched my menus as the hostess walked over towards the main doors of the dining room. The second she unlatched the doors, they were thrown open by the eager residents.
“Stand up straight, no leaners. Here they come.” Kathleen said.
Kathleen began to scan their meal cards and the hostess assigned them to the table they reserved or asked for.
As this process took place, we watched the residents enter. It was always a sight to see the variety of residents that came into the dining room. The early ones were mostly in bad health and all used walkers; if not wheelchairs. “The First Wave” as we called them, looked disheveled and wore plain clothes and smiles. Usually t-shirts to places they had traveled or colleges that their kids went. They all had white hair and no makeup, and greeted us delightfully as we stood in our tight lines. They would say things like;
“Hello, young ladies and gentleman!”
Or “Smile! How are we tonight?!”
As they were seated, the second wave lined up right behind them. These were the residents that enjoyed arriving fashionably late. The men wore designer suits or sport coats; as for the women, they shined bright with the light reflecting off their gold necklaces or wrist wear. I always found it odd to look at them wearing flashy dresses that never quite seemed to fit their bodies.
This wave came to the dining room yearning to dine.
The final wave was the smallest, which arrived no later than 5:45. They were most likely members of the first wave that had accidentally overslept or had a doctors appointment but still made an effort to come to the dining room.
This particular night, it seemed like I waited for days to get my first table. I kept trying to correct my horrible posture every time Kathleen glared at me. Worry was etched in my face as I tapped my foot or clicked my pen to calm my nerves. Dave and the rest of the servers were already back in the pantry getting appetizers together or delivering meals.
Then, the hostess called my name; “Greg, table 30 for 4.”
“Hello, my name is Greg. I’ll be your server tonight. Follow me to your table.” I said to the residents.
They nodded and followed me past the other lined up servers and tables that filled the entire dining room. These were second wavers; I was in for a challenge. We arrived at their table near a window and they began to sit down. It was always a long process. Sometimes they would chat to their friends who sat near them, or forget their bag in the hallway. Their walkers were another issue. I would have to walk across the entire dining room to the “dance floor” to bring their walker to safety. Some of the residents could barely sit in the chair without needing help to push them in all the way.
“Hey folks are we doing okay tonight?” I said.
“Were fine. Now get us the bread.”
I walked down the runway and made it past the automatic doors and into the pantry. I bent down and grabbed a tray next to the refrigerator. Grabbing the bread out of the heaters, I placed them into the baskets lined with doilies above the counter. As I exited the pantry, Kathleen flagged me down in the middle of the dining room. Pulling me off to the side she said:
“GREG! You had better start walking like you’re in the military! You’re posture is horrendous!”
“Yup. Got it”
I quickly brushed past her and arrived back at the table. As I placed the bread down on the table I looked up and saw the residents staring at me anxiously with their menus. They were more than ready.
“Are we ready to-”
“Yes. I’ll start.” a woman said.
“Okay what would you like?”
“Well, I like the omelets, but sometimes they come out too big.”
“Okay, I’ll put you down for a small.”
“Well, I am hungry. Their small omelets are too small. You know what, how about the veal?”
“Okay, a veal and what else?”
“Actually, does the veal have peppercorn on it?”
“Um, yes, it does.”
“Oh…yes well can I have the peppercorn off of it?”
“Yes, I will ask the chefs.”
“Good. Now, tell me about this rice pilaf.”
I eyed down my elephant and wished I had taken notes on the menu.
“You know, its your simple starch. There’s rice, and….”
“I’m actually not too sure about the pilaf. I’m sorry”
“Well…I’ll just take a baked potato then.”
This continued for another three minutes. I got lucky the rest of the table as less picky. I returned to the pantry. Just before I gathered their salads and drinks together, I heard a voice from behind the salad dressings:
“Hey Greg, could you help me with something?”
“Yeah what do ya need Anna?”
Her hair was a mess, and she was sweating slightly. The nametag on her polo was lopsided, and her shortness of breath indicated she was obviously running back and forth. Anna was a nervous wreck.
“We’re out of cranberry juice. Can you show me where it is?”
“Sure thing.”
I led her from the pantry towards the dry storage rooms and freezers.
“You know, its not easy finding everything back here.”
“That’s why you always can ask for help. Did anyone show you what was in each freezer?”
Anna shook her head.
“Alright well it’s pretty simple. I guess it wont hurt to take a minute and show you.”
After I took her through each freezer, I returned to the pantry to find Kathleen steaming.
“Where have you been Greg?!”
“Getting cranberry juice.”
“Well, you better focus on your tables!”
“Tables? I just have one.”
“You better take another look.”
This was the point in the horror movie when the monsters had our hero cornered. There was nowhere else for him to go. It was not pretty. I nervously inched my head out of the automatic door and saw four new tables seated in my section of the dining room. My entire station arrived at the same time except for a table intended for two.
The residents were in a panic. They looked like they were on an abandoned island, trying to signal a plane to rescue them. I assembled my appetizer for table 30 and confronted the monster.
I was no match. They tore me apart
“There‘s peppercorn on my veal!” the woman said.
“Where have you been?” her husband added.
“I apologize, we ran out of cranberry juice and I had to restock it.”
“Great, well now the food is cold!”
With that he slammed his fist on the table.
.Pools of sweat shone through my uniform. I kept nodding and apologizing.
They never responded. Just frowned, nodded, and dug into their dinners.
With the help of Dave and a few other servers, I got the last of the dinners out to my tables. Relaxation was all I yearned for. I retreated to the pantry to have a nice, tall glass of ice water to calm my nerves. I leaned back on the counter next to the ice machine and let out a long sigh of relief as I gulped down the water.
Suddenly, Kathleen entered the pantry and said:
“Did you get bread for table 25?”
“No, they did not show up tonight. I just delivered my last dinner.”
“I’m afraid not. Table 25 just came in. Get their bread.”
She grinned and left the room. I stood in silence and tried to suppress the anger. I was about to lose it. Marching out to table 25, I was determined to see the face of someone who would do this to me. Someone who would have the gall to show up at 6:30, five minutes before our chefs stopped cooking food.
Then, I saw her. There was something somber, yet beautiful about her. She was like a soft snow flurry on a dark, winter night. Her white hair was worn down and touched her shoulders. The knitted sweater she had on looked as if she had sewn it herself. The eyes she looked at me with reminded me of warm brown chocolate chips on mom’s chocolate chip cookies she made for your birthday in elementary school. Although her movements were painfully slow, there was a hint of grace to the way she carried herself as she sat down at the table.
“Well, hello there. Are you my waiter?” she said.
“Yes, my name is Greg. How are you today, ma’am?”
“I’m…all right I suppose. How are you?”
“Unfortunately, I’m having a terrible night.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, boy. Would you like to take my order? I know I’m late, and I’m terribly sorry.”
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it. What would you like to have tonight?”
“Could I have some roast beef, a baked potato, and green beans?”
“Surely. That’s all?”
“That will do.”
“All right, ma’am. I will be right back with your dinner.”
“Splendid. Thanks, Greg.”
I took her menu and began to walk back to the pantry. Something caused me to turn around and get one more good look at her. She was staring out the window with the sunset gleaming on her face. Everyone was sipping wine and mingling loudly around her. Loneliness fit her like a glove.
Once I returned to the pantry I went to the kitchen to put her order up and take out her dinner. As I hung up the slip the chef’s groaned in annoyance.
“Who showed up now?! Were just putting everything away!”
“It’s just one dinner, come on. Last one of the night,” I said as I handed the chef my dinner check.
“Fine, here you go.
I took the meal excitedly back to the woman at table 25. As I placed it down on the table I realized I had forgot to put her green beans down on the dinner check.
“Here’s your dinner, ma’am. I’m so sorry, I will be right back with the green beans.”
“It’s fine, boy. Take your time. This meal looks delicious.”
“Thanks, ma’am. I’ll be right back.”
I almost ran though the dining room into the kitchen to grab the woman her green beans. Kathleen stopped me short. She was holding a dish of green beans.
“You forgot part of her order, Greg. You have to cut the s***. You’re not new anymore.”
My face burned fiercely. I began to lose it. My fists clenched and all the stress of the night began to flash in my head once more. Gritting my teeth, I gave Kathleen the dirtiest look I could possibly muster up.
“Yup. Got it.” I said.
With that I snatched the green beans out of Kathleen’s hands and returned to table 25.
“Here are your green beans, ma’am.”
“Thank you, Greg. You’re a great server.”
“You really think so?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Thank you, ma’am. It means a lot. Have a great night.”
“You, too, Greg.”

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