Setting: Boston, Massachusetts – Back Bay to be exact – January 1996.
It was a frigid winter Saturday afternoon when Captain Larby, his girlfriend Greenhair (because the dorm shower water turned her blonde hair green), Dr. Little (our best friend next door), and I decided to venture out into the city for some lunch and shopping. Our favorite little haunt was a cafe that I cannot bring myself to name (I’ll call it simply Cafe), wedged halfway between BU and Northeastern at the end of Newbury and Boylston. It was a hip cafe full of health food, vegetarians, vegans, hippies, bohemians, and we felt cooler just walking through the door.
Either Dr. Little or Captain Larby got credit for finding that place and Larby was eager to share it with Greenhair. Fast-forwarding a bit, at the end of our meal, the decision was made to put Greenhair in charge of handling the money and calculating a tip. I don’t recall what her major was, but it was apparent that she was better equipped to handle math than two Political Science majors and a Psychology major. Nevertheless, we were all actively involved in making sure we left the waitress a good tip. Afterall, we dug that place and wanted to return many times. So, Greenhair left somewhere in the vicinity of 18% to 22%, we bundled up for the freezing temps outside, and were about to cross Mass Ave for Newbury Street when the unspeakable happened.
Our waitress, who had not even put on a coat, came running outside, yelling, “Hey! Hey! Hey you!” We all turned around and my first thought was that one of us left something inside. Dr. Little, bringing up the rear, had the misfortune of being closest to her, so she grabbed his hand, put some coins and a couple of $1 bills in it, and hissed, “Here, you take it! It’s not even 10%! You obviously need it more than me!” After taking great pleasure in reciting her lines with great vengeance and furious anger, she ran back into the Cafe.
Dr. Little stood there, arm outstretched, frozen. It was as if the waitress had placed tarantulas in his hand and he was afraid to move a muscle. We all stood there. It was 18 degrees outside, but we were burning up with embarrassment. I don’t know how much time passed before someone spoke up, but it felt like a long, long time.
Greenhair was positive that she had left an above-average tip and we were all sure that we had given her ample tip money. The only explanation was that the waitress mixed us up with another table. That is the only logical scenario. When we returned to our dorm that night, Dr. Little deposited the two $1 bills and assorted coins on a shelf in Captain Larby’s and my room. It was January. That money remained there until May or June when we decided to give it to our favorite bum, Jazz Man. It was blood money and we felt that even if we used it to buy a bottle of water, that we would choke on it and die.
None of us ever went to the Cafe after that. Until, that is, I revisited the Cafe two years later. That was a pseudo-date with the immortal Jamm Murph, who I never saw again after that day. (I need a moment…)
What makes me bring all this up and relive this painful memory? Swedish Girl and I rented Waiting (starring Ryan Reynolds, Justin Long, David Koechner, Anna Farris) over the weekend. In that underrated, and actually entertaining, film, is a scene where a redneck patron leaves a pathetically small tip. The waiter runs after him, placing the money in his hand, and recites almost the exact same words that the Cafe waitress screeched at us. Is there a script that waiters and waitresses are given that covers them in the case of all sorts of restaurant incidents? I had to pause the movie, catch my breath, and tell Swedish Girl the story of the Cafe.
In Waiting, the patron complains to the manager that he was insulted and degraded by the waiter. But it didn’t even dawn on four naive college freshman that we could have complained to the Cafe manager. Instead, we tucked our tails between our legs, slinked away, and whenever we happened to have to cross the Cafe, we looked away and hurried our stride as if we were passing the Boo Radley house.