Page 68: The Customer by Will Carter

The Customer by Will Carter

I want you to know that your empty water glass means nothing to me. When you snidely request that it be filled, I smile without my teeth. And when I pour tepid tap water into your glass, the one that has your oily fingerprints all over it, I’m really telling you to go to hell.

Your napkin fell on the floor? You don’t need another one. It’s linen, and it’s not dirty. But now I have to throw it into a bulging garbage bag, and somewhere in midtown a woman will need to use an extra teaspoon of poisonous detergent when she throws the squares of fabric into an industrial sized washing machine. She wonders why she keeps getting sick, why her skin feels so dry. And for eight hours a day, forty hours a week, she watches the discarded napkins tumble and tumble in a frothy concoction.

Ketchup? Hot sauce? Butter? Salt? Pepper? Did you take one bite? Did you taste the gourmet food prepared by a chef who has worked in a kitchen for over twenty years and spent all last week trying to balance the taste of the sea bass with the smoked tomato butter? I promise you it doesn’t need salt, pepper, butter, hot sauce, or ketchup. Especially not ketchup. Your palate needs to get out more.

I want you to know that when you don’t finish your Steak au Poivre crusted with white, red, and black peppercorns, or the dry-brined chicken with currants and farro, or the wild mushroom gnocchi, or the duck fat roasted Brussels sprouts, or the yellow curried mussels, I sigh heavily and scrape it into a growing heap of rejected cuisine. A heap located directly beside ‘Linen Mountain.’ I can’t decide which I dislike more, the clean napkins waiting to be washed, or the gourmet food no one will ever bother to eat.

I want you to know that even though we masquerade as an uppity Parisian establishment, the prep-cook is from Burkina Faso, one line cook is Peruvian, one Venezuelan, and the other Senegalese. The head chef is a squat athletic type from Boston that used to skateboard. Oh, and we barely passed our health inspection, but you’re still paying twenty-three dollars for that ratatouille.

I want you to know that we talk about you when you’re not around. We discuss ways in which we can convince you of our collective prowess, because ultimately it’s all a big game for us, to see who can steal the most money out of your pocket. The bartender has an exceptional talent for this. He never sang backup for Jill Scott, he was not the first gay, black model to grace the runways of London (he’s never even been to London), and he absolutely was not in Rwanda during the genocide. But I see that you just tacked an extra five bucks onto his tip because his stories dazzled you so. Bartender: 1, Customer: 0.

Can you tell that we’re all either drunk, high, coming up, coming down, hungover, jonesing or in the process of scoring? Really? You can’t? Shit. I thought it was obvious. The next time the manager comes to your table and blames the slow service on the computer system, just know that it’s really because your waiter was too wasted to remember to fire your second course. Or that he was getting stoned out back.

Alright, maybe I’ve been a little unfair. You just want your money’s worth, and I just want your money, as long as it’s around eighteen to twenty percent of your bill. But isn’t that the problem? Money? You savor the combination of the sweet currants with the brined chicken, but you practically choke on it when I drop that innocuous black book with a little white slip peeking out of the top. And once you’re gone and I pick up that book, I hold my breath when I glance at the total, and my net happiness hangs on the number you scrawl on the little line that says “Tip.” You’ll know exactly how I feel if I tell you “take care” instead of “have a wonderful evening.”

For a moment, we both forget the woman in midtown hurling loads of linens into an industrial-sized washer. We forget the prep cook from Burkina Faso who just enlisted in the army so that in four years he’ll be able to go to college (he was fired recently for reasons I won’t go into). We forget the people who haul the sea bass from the ocean and gut it on deck but have never tasted it soaked in tomato butter. We forget the chain of events that eventually produces that burst of serotonin you’re paying for each time you sit down to dine. We forget the people at the bottom who make you feel like you’re at the top.

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