Working at the Llama I lived in constant fear of a few things. First, that my dress was see-through. Quite rational fear, I believe. Especially when you forget to pack a bra and have to make a makeshift one out of scotch tape in the bathroom. Second, that I would not recognize an important person by face and make some grave mistake, like ask the owner of the restaurant if he is planning on “joining us for dinner this evening”? (a previous host did in fact do this, poor girl). Third, that a guest would ask me a question to which I did not have the answer and somehow embarrass me or yell at me.
One night, one of these things happened. It was a moderately pleasant evening. I was wearing one of my standard outfits: a long black dress that I found in my closet and had no recollection of purchasing. I was re-setting a table in the main room of the restaurant. Typically, I can succeed at this task with minimal human contact. Due to my attire, most guests understand that I am not their server, nor am I a chef, and thus only concern myself with chairs and tables and plates and napkins. I don’t even mess with forks and knives. I only deal with crumbs and “good evening,” “greetings,” “hi there,” “would you like me to check that for you?” “have a good night,” and “yes let me take you to the restroom right this way.” But this particular evening, an old man got my attention, waving over to me although I was standing right next to him.
“What is that delightful dish over there?” He said, straining his neck and gesturing with his thumbs.
To my horror, I saw that he was pointing at a candle on the other table. A candle. It was now my job to find a way to tell him that the mysterious item of food on the other guests table that he was so fascinated in, was in fact, a candle. I needed to do this, in a similar way I have to suggest the elderly use the elevator when making the long journey to the bathroom: without deflating their egos. I brace myself.
“That right there?” I say slowly, gesturing with an open hand to the candle.
“Yes, yes, that, what is it?”
“Well, sir, that is a… well, that’s a candle.”
I had to just tell him. I couldn’t make something up in enough time. Not that I should have lied to him, but perhaps there was a better way to go about it. I try to ease the awkwardness of this exchange.
“Yeah, that is a candle. We put them on every table, ha, to brighten the table…”
“No. Not that. What is that over there?”
I look back at where he is pointing and watch as a server moves out of my line of sight. With even more horror than before, I see that he is pointing at the special, free-of-charge appetizer we give to special guests, quite frankly, not him, when people are celebrating a special anniversary or event and we have deemed them special. I consider this information in my head. How can I explain this to him without hurting his feelings even more? I have already insulted his intelligence by explaining to him what a candle was and now I have to explain to him that he is not special and doesn’t get the special free appetizer? Not to mention if I decide to tell him about the appetizer, I have no idea what it even is.
Moments like this I wonder what I am doing at a respectable establishment like this one. Not to mention someone with a job.
“I don’t know what that is sir. But the thing next to it… I know it’s a candle. Sorry.”
And I walk away, hearing his wife mutter to herself, “she doesn’t know?”
In the heat of the moment, I didn’t use my line: “allow me to connect with a colleague and get back to you.” In the heat of the moment, I froze like a lost lamb and insulted an elderly man. I am here to say, it is okay to freeze in the heat. We all do it?
One Reply to “An Old Man and a Candle”
Oh Lily, we’ve all had moments like that. And somehow they seem to happen AT the most inopportune moments. You are not alone, experiences like that happen to everyone at least once in their lifetime. Freezing in the heat is human nature. When we can learn from these little yet significant moments, that is when we can look back without embarrassment and retell the story and laugh.