[Editor’s note: Heeb is thrilled to introduce “Inside the Mind Of The Last Jewish Waiter” – a new, semi-regular column from David Manheim, the kvetchy brains behind the web series sensation “The Last Jewish Waiter“. For more from David, visit thelastjewishwaiter.com and follow him on twitter]
Ok. It’s Sunday morning at Katz’s. The store is empty. It is bright, and there is air to breathe, but few customers to serve. Our early breakfast is all tourists, mostly Europeans, usually a dry bunch in general, with some exceptions. They all get ‘the breakfast special’, eggs and potatoes, pancakes, or french toast. They all order bacon and are shocked we don’t have any.
In these moments I often suffer fits of rage. Sometimes I suggest they go to the diner down the street and come back for lunch. No one ever takes me up on that.
I’m often at my most disagreeable in the morning, because my brain has to acclimate to another grueling day of Jews and Dominicans, Fries and Cole Slaw, cheap Belgian tourists, and annoying-yet-sweet women from Michigan. Even though I’ve done this for almost five years now, I still pretty much start each day in hostile denial of my circumstances. It takes me a few hours to warm me up to my lot in life. Really what it takes is for the store to be busy, my station to be bursting at the seams, and my needing to just do the job!! Once it’s busy, I ‘go limp’ and zen-waitering is reached; My horrible neurotic mind disappears, and I am replaced by the job. It’s a real Bruce Banner/Hulk moment.
I can’t believe there are no waitering superheroes.
Anyway there was a point to this story. It’s breakfast and I’m with my first customer. Actually it’s my second table/ third customer. He is alone – a middle aged super mild mannered English guy. I love the English, usually. They’re often really funny (well, some are at least).
To be honest I think it’s the accent. The English accent at Katz’s is always funny to me. So out of place. These English are like Americans, in that there are several varieties which are usually boiled down to financial status. Poor people are always the funniest. They are just about always the cheapest too, thoughwhen you get a bad tip from poor people you’re just like. “what the fuck, they’re poor…”
Anyway this guy was a straight up genteel middle classed Englishman. Like the ones who Roger Waters talks about. ‘Hanging on in Quiet desperation is the English way” That’s this guy.
“Good morning,” I say.
“Good morning,” he says in a good natured way.
“How many people?” I ask, but I’m pretty sure that it’s just him.
“Oh. Just me,” he says sheepishly.
“Do you know what you want?”
“No. I’ll have a look,” he says, finding his feet.
“Ok. I’ll be back.”
I walk off to finish cutting pickles. Cutting pickles is my usual waitering side work. I have to cut a bucket of sours and a bucket of half sours before every shift. It is tedious, but if the pickles are nice, and the knife is sharp it can be very satisfying. Quartering crisp sours, and bursting, bright green half sours can be a very peaceful meditative process.
Simple times…Cutting pickles…Zen Waitering….
I look up and see my Englishman is looking at me. I put down my pickles and start to walk over to him.
“Are you ready?” I ask. My mind is centered and calm.
“Well I want breakfast, but I’m having a hard time with the menu,” he tries to explain.
My tranquility has been rattled.
“What do you mean,” I ask, still mostly centered.
“I don’t know, I just find it confusing.” Instantly, I am agitated.
“What do you find confusing about it? It’s a menu.” My anger doubles and triples. Our menu is pretty straight forward, food items and prices. One page.
“Well, I just don’t understand this…Jewish Menu.”
This finishes me. My brain explodes, as if there’s a campfire in my skull, snapping and burning.
“What’s so fucking Jewish about this menu?” I rise.
He bugs out. I see something has definitely snapped in his head too. He starts to twist uncomfortably in his chair but he says nothing.
“Do you see Hebrew? Is there a Torah portion on it? Please tell me what is so fucking Jewish about our menu?”
I feel like a Jewish Robert De Niro.
He gets up. “I think I’m going to leave.” He is trying to gather himself.
He leaves, and I say nothing. Usually in these moments I feel guilty, but this guy really got me mad. Seriously, I am angry right now thinking about it.
The moment he leaves, I feel triumph. I’m a civil rights advocate fighting to change the world, one anti-semitic table at a time. I am a hero, the waitering superhero I knew I was always meant to be. He gets to the door, when all of a sudden the usual feeling hits me smack in the face: guilt. My achilles heel, my kryptonite. Immediately all I can think is: “Fuck, I really have to try to curse less as the customers.”