Thursday, September 25, 2008
“You win battles by knowing the enemy's timing, and using a timing which the enemy does not expect.”
I worked as a waitress some years ago. Although my week hours varied, typically my Saturday shift would end at closing time, which was one o' clock in the morning. I should say that my shift ended when the dining room was completely empty and thoroughly cleaned, and the hands on the clock had crawled to that revered hour.
Sometimes patrons would remain in the restaurant long past official finishing time, chattering idly and laughing with all the oblivious enthusiasm of people who generally conclude the night only when they themselves are exhausted, and who seem to think that their plates are set down and glasses refilled by fairies who never sleep.
Those, however, were not the most dreaded sort of patron for me. If only their tendency to sit for long hours had been as tiresome as things got- but there was worse to be wary of.
With the onset of midnight, tension routinely set in. My jaw would tighten, I would find myself sneaking furtive and helpless glances at the door, willing it with all my might to stay closed. I did that because I was terrified that the door to the dining room would open at exactly one minute to the precious hour- particularly awkward if the restaurant just happened to be empty and pristine and my soul was prepared for home. To see a customer at that hour, at that minute, was utterly lamentable and I had to struggle to be cheerful in the face of personal devastation.
My boss had determined that customers ought to be allowed to enter the building until the precise chiming of one o' clock and so I could never rest until the key had been turned, the door firmly bolted.
To make matters much worse, there were regular customers: three bedraggled, greasy fellows who made it their business to go to the restaurant every Saturday night at two or three minutes before closing time; who usually stayed for an hour; who sneeringly asked for the most complicated ingredients when most of the chefs had departed for home; who spoke crudely to the female staff and who turned my stomach not least because of their ill-timed visit. They certainly knew, after becoming frequent patrons, the particular closing time and they thought nothing of it except perhaps with humour.
How I hated to see their familiar figures sliding along the long hallway, their loathsome shadows trailing suspiciously as the men pulled open the door to the dining room, grinning with silent victory!
One particular Saturday night, the dining room was empty as one o' clock was drawing near. I could hardly bear to build up my hopes, so often had they been dashed. My heart pounded a little faster as the clock hands dragged themselves to the appointed moment.
At two minutes to go, I considered that I might faint, so much fate rested on the next seconds.
At one minute to go, with no customer in sight, I looked at my supervisor and silently willed her to hand me the keys of the front door. She did, after an interminable period, and I reached out for them as though my arm were encased in mud.
I exited the dining room and tore along the hallway, which was L-shaped and prevented me, woefully, from observing the front door until I turned the corner.
I turned that very corner, enormous set of keys in hand, and prepared to fly like the wind down the rest of the hallway.
Then I saw three dim shapes ascending the steps outside. I knew the fellows by their laughter, which repulsed me and turned my blood cold.
I could not travel down that hallway fast enough. I nearly let the keys slip from my grip, such was the level of sweating and fear. I was, I gathered, approximately the same distance from the door as the men.
I, however, still had the difficult business of locking the door: the rules stated that any customer must be allowed to sit and be served as long as he had entered the building through an unlocked door.
I thought that I might never find the exact key. Miserably, they all looked identical. The men were looming closer, suddenly aware of my presence beyond the glass and that I was intending to lock them out. They hastened ever so slightly and I sprang for the door, inserted the- joyfully- correct key with a hand that shook so much it was nothing but a blur, and turned the lock just as another hand made an effort to turn the handle on the opposite side.
The men thus discovered that their way was barred, and they all three threw up their hands at me as if to question the sudden obstruction. I flung my hands in the air just the same, as if to say how terribly, awfully sorry I was but orders were orders. I think that my smile, which stretched from ear to ear on a face that was literally numb with shock, belied the sympathy my outstretched hands offered.
I was ecstatic. I had won the battle against the three. With any other customers I might have felt a twinge of sorrow for the inconvenience but for those fellows I spared not a shred of remorse.
To the best of my knowledge, they never returned to dine in that restaurant.
Sometimes things work out: the right key fits in at just the right time; the minutes and the planets and the stars synchronise in perfect alignment that borders on magic.
Then again- it depends which side of the door we happen to be on.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 12:12 PM