K-Bob’s Family Steak House, where good and faithful servants hear, “Well done!”

10 01 2004

As a 21-yr-old newly-wed with another year to go in college, she took a job waiting tables at K-Bob’s Family Steak House. Not exactly a glamorous position, especially when you consider the dark brown uniform consisting of elastic-waist polyester pants and a matching zip-up top. A several-inch-wide, brown-and-white gingham collar broke up the monotony of the outfit, but only managed to make it even uglier.

But it was a job. A much-needed paycheck. So she stifled her fashion sense, swept her long, dusty-blond hair into a ponytail, and chose to approach every shift with a smile.

The smile at least, unlike the polyester, was natural. She enjoyed serving people. She particularly enjoyed serving the ones everyone else dreaded serving. Like the grumpy old man who came in for lunch at least once a week. Always alone. Always ordered the side salad ($1.25) and water. Never smiled. Never said thank you. Never left a tip.

Her first week at the restaurant, the manager called her aside. “See that man who was just seated in your section? I heard Brenda ask the hostess to seat him there. The waitresses can’t stand him, because he never tips.” The manager paused.

She looked at the manager and waited. Why the pep talk? she wondered.

“I bet he will tip you,” the manager whispered and then walked away.

She glanced over at the man. His slouch; his scowl . . . nothing about him invited conversation or asked for friendship. She would offer it anyway. She didn’t care if he tipped her or not. She felt sorry for him.

“Hi! My name if Jeanne, and I’ll be your waitress today. What would you like to drink?” She smiled warmly.

He barely glanced up at her. “Just water. And all I want is the side salad with Italian dressing.” His tone was defensive, as though he were picking a fight.

“Okay,” she responded cheerfully. “I’ll bring it right out.” When she brought the food she asked if he needed anything else. She came by with the water pitcher several times, always with a comment or question to make sure everything was okay. When she brought his check she said, “Thank you! I hope you have a wonderful day!” She meant it.

He looked a little confused, muttered, “thanks” and fumbled with his napkin.

A few minutes later the other waitresses were whispering in a huddle. The manager winked at her and nodded toward the now-deserted table. She walked over and looked down at the cloth. Lying beside his empty plate was a shiny quarter. One of the “best” tips she ever received.

* * *

When she’d turned 21, she hadn’t gone partying or drinking, though lots of people asked her if she wanted to. She didn’t want to. Her loves were simple. Jesus. Georgie. Family. Friends. Music. Poetry. Color. She’d been rescued from a bottomless pit of hopeless selfishness at sixteen and willingly signed on for a lifetime of bondage to the Freedom King.

She wasn’t naive. In fact, she often pretended not to understand dirty jokes or inuendo, just so she wouldn’t be expected to react one way or another. She wasn’t a prude, but she opted for purity. It called to her like a priceless perfume. She wanted no other scent.

She’d traded agitation for peace. Lust for contentment. She didn’t miss that other world.

One evening a pack of frat boys came into the restaurant. She approached their table, smiled, introduced herself and asked what they would like to drink. The apparent pack leader — a poster boy for name-brand clothes, Old Spice cologne, and designer hair products — took his time looking her up and down. His eyes meeting hers revealed a soul sated by unrestrained self-indulgence. He leaned toward her, smiled his best I-know-I’m-too-hot-to-resist smile, and whispered, “Didn’t I see you at the Peacock Club?”

She didn’t mean to laugh. And this was no flirty giggle. She was laughing at him. Laughing at the thought of this party boy — so full of himself and yet so sadly pathetic — hitting on a married waitress wearing tacky brown polyester. Laughing at the name “Peacock Club.” The whole picture struck her as highly amusing, and she laughed hard.

“Nooo,” she finally said. “I don’t think so.”

He looked incredulous. What?! Could this country bumpkin of a waitress be rebuffing him?

She met his gaze steadily, her smile now tinged with a sorrow, and asked, “Are you ready to order?”

* * *

Rich Mullins wrote a song. “The World as Best as I Can Remember It.” I think about that song a lot. I’ve lived with peace for so long, I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be living as though there were no Master of this universe. Looking for life in a bottle or a party or a Peacock Club. I’ve almost forgotten. But not completely, because that world is always right outside my door. It’s shopping at Wal-Mart or eating out at K-Bob’s Family Steak House. I still live in that world, but I don’t wear its uniform any more.




2 responses

11 01 2004

I think I went on a blind date

with that guy’s older brother back in 1973. Charming fellow.

I must disagree with you, though. Your world is not shopping at Wal-Mart or eating out at K-Bob’s. You may go there, but you aren’t really from there.

You visit!

11 01 2004

I’m afraid that guy has lots of brothers.

Well, that’s what I was trying to say (i.e., I’m in that world, but not of it), but judging by your comment, I must have failed. So, actually you are agreeing with what I meant to say, not disagreeing with what I appeared to say but didn’t mean. How’s that for clarification? My gifts of communication are truly stunning, don’t you think?

English is my first language. Honest. ;o)

Your comments are a gift. Please know I read each one with gratitude.

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