The boy's hands grasp the miniature Nintendo—plucking away at the screen with a tiny
white stylus. "Put that away while we're eating David." No answer from David. The
mother stares intentionally at the boy. But the boy continues to play. His mind wrapped
in saving the universe. The mother's intent wanes. Her eyes are dark around the edges
as if this isn't the first time this event has occurred. It's cyclical. Day in and
day out. Her clothes show this too. Faded and warn—they were once nice. Years at the
office and years of dealing with this boy have faded them. She was a secretary at
one point—you can tell by the pinstriped skirt, a little too short for her now, as
her legs have aged and withered slightly. Lost in her world of work before being promoted
after a scandal of some kind. The boy doesn't seem to take notice of this. The things
his mother had done to make sure the Nintendo could be in his hand.
Baseball pennants line the walls with the purpose of showcasing a lineage. Movie posters
too. Old newspapers. Old photos of celebrities. Old as in, taken long ago but printed
yesterday. It's clear this place hasn't been around long enough to see any history,
but the atmosphere is slapped on with corporate enchantment. Posters hang crooked.
Pennants are awkwardly out of date. The Kansas City Athletics. The Seattle Pilots.
History invented by a posh young girl in the head office. A young girl who works out
early in the morning because she wants to avoid a rush to the elliptical at the gym.
A girl who wears her hair in a tight ponytail at work because she just never has enough
time to make herself up in the morning. She's a low-level PR-rep, but she has big
dreams. "Sure, now it's just the decorations at a restaurant," she tells herself,
"but next it'll be bar, then a stadium. I'll be big news, she tells the mirror every
morning, big news." The wood-paneled walls were chosen specifically to engulf the
light. To make the darkness overwhelming and slightly uncomfortable. The halogen glows
and gets eaten by the walls, keeping the patrons eyes on their food. Easy in and easy
The boy continues to play when a stack of fries covered in cheese and bacon arrive.
My waitress is a darling little thing, feeling sorry for the man without a family,
eating a burger at the bar, pretending to watch soccer while reading the news on his
phone. "You need anything else hon'?" Hon? No dear, you don't speak like that. You're
inventing history now. Your history. You've been here so long you think a man eating
a burger by himself in a family restaurant means he needs to hear your Southern-Midwest
inspired hon'. I don't. If we were in the Midwest—the real Midwest—it'd be endearing.
Here it's pandering. Your shirt's not tucked in either. Your boobs aren't big enough.
Your hair's not big enough. It doesn't work. You're not old enough to call me hon'.
Your history is no more real than the story the walls are trying to tell. "No, thank
you." I mumble. She's probably a college freshman. Maybe a sophomore. Her parents
probably cut her off after she moved in with her boyfriend, now she's stuck working
nights while trying to get her degree in psychology. She's warn-out looking, but still
manages to be friendly—or rather, she's managing to do the job. Hon'. Hon' is the
dictionary here. It's a requirement of words used to address the patrons. Hon'. They
originally had sug' as well, but found it too inauthentic when coming from the mouth
of a 20-something college girl. There aren't any men on the wait staff as far as I
can tell. The most attractive of the men are behind the bar, the rest hidden away
in the kitchen, listening to heavy metal and smoking joints out back.
Glancing up from my phone I notice the boy continues to play. Somehow he's managed
to eat the fry basket. His handheld is probably covered in grease now. The screen
is probably glistening, making it impossible to see Mario as he jumps his way through
life. His mother has given up and resorted to a gin and tonic.
Another family arrives and sits in a booth behind the boy and his mother. They weren't
escorted there—they walked in the door and just sat down, like savages. Or regulars.
They seem like regulars. None of them even glances at a menu. Two kids, two parents.
The dad starts lecturing the boy on the history of Bill Murray, whose headshot is
looking down on their table. "Ghostbusters," he tells the boy, "is one of the greatest films of all time." The boy nods his
head, clearly interested but unsure of how to respond. Should he ask if he could watch
the movie? Should he just take his fathers advice? At 9 or 10, the boy is just starting
to learn the about disobeying or not believing his parents. He's not sure what to
think about Ghostbusters—it sounds good to him—but parents aren't to be trusted. His sister sits quietly and
stares at the backside of the menu—a black and white maze demanding to be colored.
But she's too old to color menus. "12 years old," she thinks to herself, "and I still
have this kids menu." When will she be a grown up? Maybe never, she worries.
The waitress returns with the check, her eyes already glazing over now our dealings
are nearly complete. I force a smile just as she does the same. Sliding my credit
card into the slot I place it back on the edge of the table, wondering why she walked
away so quickly. A lone man at the bar, laughing to himself while staring at his phone.
Alternating his eyes between his tiny screen and the larger one showing soccer. It's
strange there aren't tables for one. Or even two. It's booths and four-tops. The tables
already adorned with the correct number of placemats and forks wrapped in paper napkins.
The restaurant is built for evenly constructed families.
The mother and her son get up to leave. The boy's eyes never leave the screen. She
stumbles a bit, either from the drink or legs pushed into sleep by her too-tight stockings
and crossed legs. The boy is covered in grease. He glistens as he walks past--actually
glancing away from his screen to peer at mine. The mother's eyes remain on the door,
unfaltering, ready to leave.
When the waitress returns she again asks if I'll need anything else—a formality—a
forced response to my exit—the bill is already essentially paid—but still open enough
for one more drink, one more basket of fried food. "No," I reply, "but thank you."
Still waiting now. My credit needs to be verified. It'll be time to tip soon, so I
begin cataloging the experience.
Was seated at the bar by a young boy and told my waitress, Denise, would be with me
Carla, my waitress arrives within 25 seconds of me opening the menu asking if I'm
ready to order.
The menu is wrapped in faux-leather and has a grease-proof glossy coding. Menu items
range from a variety of "poppers" to steaks the size of my arm.
I order a burger with bacon, a beer and a side of fries. I am asked to repeat my order
once and the style in which I want the burger cooked twice (medium) because there
is some type of rumbling in the restaurant regarding the game shown on TV.
While the boy and his mother are distracting to my dining experience in their own
right, the bartenders insistence on asking me what I thought of the last play after
anything remotely interesting happens on the television is worse. He eventually gets
the point and moves on to an older man at the bar and bothers him—but glances back
at me occasionally with questioning eyes.
After finishing my beer I am immediately asked if I'd like another. At no point, I
realize, have I ever been asked for identification.
After finishing my second beer I am asked again if I'd like another. I say yes, but
wonder when my food will arrive.
Another waitress, Jan, arrives with my burger, which is well-done and has a side of
How many waitresses does it take to serve a lone man at the bar, I wonder. What happened
The second I take a large bite of my burger, Carla appears to ask if everything is
okay. Her eyes immediately notice the onion rings. "Fine," I say. She does not remark
that I didn't order onion rings. Did I order onion rings? Maybe I did. Either way,
I enjoy onion rings and the only reason I didn't order them to begin with is because
she asked me, "fries okay with that?" as opposed to, "what would you like for a side?"
Maybe she knew I wanted onion rings.
Carla returns a second time asking if everything is okay. "Yes," I reply, nothing
significant has changed. I wonder whether or not to mention my burger is slightly
burnt, or that I could use more ketchup. I do not say anything else as she has already
Immediately after finishing my burger and while still clearing off the onion rings
Carla attempts to take my plate.
Curiously when I am actually finished with my meal and ready to move on Carla is nowhere
to be seen.
Check comes. Payment is given.
A tip must be calculated, which is why I have made this list.
Carla is clearly in need of money more than me. I am not forced to work in this restaurant,
and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. However, I am unsure how I can express this with
a dollar amount. Perhaps if I tip too high she'll think I'm coming on to her, but
if it's too low I'll be seen as a bad guest. I decide on 25%. It might seem a rather
large sum, but on the same token it is not nearly enough for the task of instructing
other people to deliver food to me.
I wonder if she'll notice I left her a good tip. I want to stick around to see here
reaction to it. I want to see if she smiles, frowns, even notices. I can't though.
I have to ease out of the barstool and make my way for the door. Backwards glances
at the check. She's waiting for me to leave in case my tip is too low. She'll crack
if it's too low. She did everything right. She followed her orders and gave me the
best damn service possible at this restaurant. I want to see here face but she won't
approach the table while I'm still here. I can see her glancing at the table, glancing
at me. Our eyes lock for a second—we both avert them immediately.