Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Friday, April 11, 2008

Through a Glass Darkly

"Beware so long as you live, of judging men by their outward appearance."
-Jean de La Fontaine

It began with a dirty glass. Upturned and encrusted with the pale remains of a milky drink, it greeted us last afternoon when we were led to a corner table.
Spouse and I had chosen to visit an Indian restaurant for lunch, after which he planned to leave me at Barnes and Noble for a few hours. We cannot afford the books there- a copy of Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' bore the baffling price tag of 40 dollars- but I enjoy browsing, collecting titles and often sitting and writing my own thoughts for a time.
We noted the dirty glass with uneasy horror and wondered what sort of place we had stepped into. Spouse was on a break from work and there was absolutely no time left to seek out another restaurant.
We had no choice but to point at the glass as the waiter set napkins before us. He silently collected the offending item, with, I thought I sensed, a tinge of melancholy, and glided away to let us enjoy the buffet. We decided to dismiss the glass from our minds and concentrate on the food.
The food was satisfying; I cannot say that it was particularly special but the meal was pleasant enough. We entered the restaurant shortly before noon, and expected the place to fill up rapidly. Two customers in before us ate and talked loudly at a corner table; otherwise Spouse and I were alone. Our waiter dashed in and out of the kitchen from time to time and filled up the pots with more appetising concoctions.
He refilled our water glasses. I said "thank you" and he responded with "you're welcome," which, sad to say, is uncommon in our area.
At some point in the time we sat there we began to notice things.
No other customers had come by and were not likely to do so, given the late hour.
The waiter appeared to be the only member of staff; perhaps as well as leading us to our table he was also the chef. He took our credit card with the briefest smiles when our meal was finished; he was the cashier, too.
That was all very telling. With no customers at all he probably could not pay for any staff and was forced to do the work of several people, including, I presume, dishwasher.
Suddenly a dirty glass became more than an ugly object; the fellow's sadness was not our imagination. He was attempting to do what he could with all that he had yet his inherent good manners remained a pivotal part of his day.
It is heartbreaking to think that his business might be collapsing, that he would have to dispose of the food he cooked with his own hands, that an otherwise perfectly fine place should be the first to disintegrate during an economic downturn.
We both felt badly for him and his livelihood, and were glad that we had not walked out after judging a restaurant by a single unwashed glass.


Pappy said...

Morning The,
I'm just getting around to my regulars. Wonderful story (as usual) and so true. Clean glasses can be misleading also. My wife and I sat on the balcony eating area of a costal restaurant and watched a young man cleaning the glasses at the tables in an adjoining restaurant. He was using a white dish towel to polish the glasses to a high sheen. The sun was hot and when his brow became covered in sweat, he took the towel and wiped his face and calmly continued with his chore. There you have it - the antithesis to your story. See you later.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

That's a great story- the lucky word for you, I think, is 'adjoining.'
"Clean glasses can be misleading also."- absolutely. Really just what I was trying to say :)

Barb said...

Thank you for the comment on my bog. I just spent an hour reading through yours. Lovely writing which I enjoyed thoroughly as I sipped my green tea. I'm adding you to my regular blogs and will check in often. Barb (

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Thank you for coming by, it's great to see you here. I appreciate it, and will be reading your blog too.

julochka said...

wow. such melancholy you captured. it worries me a bit that the economic downturn is manifesting in such a seemed like an abstract newspaper story kind of thing with a bunch of blah-blah about sub-prime mortgages and such, but this somehow makes it seem real!

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

It's palpable, at least where I live. Barnes and Noble was quiet, too. Our favourite breakfast cereal jumped a dollar and a half in price in the last year; a 20 lb bag of flour went from 6.99 to 18.99 in one month.

I saw cars on the road yesterday with more than one person in them. That's when I knew.

julochka said...

ok, it's not really a funny situation, but the thing about the cars is a bit amusing...i remember when i lived in arizona and there were carpool lanes on the freeway, there was actually a company selling a DUMMY you could set in the seat next to you so you wouldn't get a ticket for being in the carpool lane without a passenger. and this item sold like hotcakes!

i love all the other great blogs i'm finding through yours. you've definitely upgraded the time i spend in the blogosphere. :-) thanks for that!

Elderwoman said...

That's such a nice story about judgements and how we so often have to revise them. (Oh if only I could stop myself from making them in the first place; that seems to be my greatest lifetime challenge!) Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Beth said...

another beautiful story, you have a wonderful way of noticing small things and finding their significance. I always enjoy your posts and hope that you are trying things out on your blog and actually writing a book.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Julie, I never heard of that! Can't imagine how gullible people are, buying such idiotic things and making such companies rich.
I have found a number of wonderful sites through blogging and it's made my own life better!
Elderwoman, I'm sure we're all a bit guilty of being judgmental at times, nobody's perfect. The main thing is to try and improve and learn, which is what I'm working on.
Beth, your compliments do always inspire me :) I have always wanted to write a book- sometimes a novel, sometimes a collection of poems/essays, so maybe one day I'll put it together and it would be partly because of comments like yours. Thank you.
I'm not at all as observant as my mother- she misses absolutely NOTHING- but I do like to find the stories in seemingly insignificant things.

Please look around, explore my writing, leave a crumb:
I welcome comments and thoughts.