Saturday, July 18, 2009

The bandwidths of human light

One of the things you come to notice about people through waiting on them is the nature of the frequency of their light as it falls within the natural bandwidth of humanity. In some people the light is free and clear, and these people are calm and easy to wait on, applying the right amount of thought into their dining experience. These are the salt of the earth, the bread that allows a waiter to keep his job without imploding or exploding from stress. In other people, the inner light vibrates not at the middle wavelengths of the band, but touches more frequently at the different ends of the spectrum. These are the people who are noticeable, and they stand out. The frustration they can create within themselves and intentionally bleed out colors memories of an evening. These are the people the waiter is obliged to remember fairly long after they have left, a memory not of right, just and easy, but of something wrong. They are people who cause one to look inward, and within, one finds a lesson.

Typically, they ask a lot of abrupt questions, in a manner out of place, out of tune with the tasks of the polite servant trying to help them. They appear as confused, aggressively so. They make it seem like it is the waiter’s fault that things are unclear to them in the shining and receiving bandwidths of light within, though the problem is of course within them and the habits they have chosen. And they are, ultimately, people who fault their own happiness, such that they will continually seek something than what they are given to have at the moment. These are people who tend to be materialistic. Quite often they are obviously wealthy, fancy, looking well-groomed. They are often people who fancy themselves as someone terribly important. They are not the laid back enjoyer kind of people, and one feels sorry for them, shaking a head as they depart unhappily and just as critically as they were when they came in, as if their lives were a matter of constant distinctions.

One would like to see such people have to wait on others, not out of punishing them through a lesson, but rather so that by waiting on people they would come to learn a lesson of the bandwidth of human light. One hopes ultimately that they would come to sense that sweet middle spot of the range of that light that is not only the necessary average and the mean, but the proper path to making an evening work that happiness might function. Or it would simply make their tendencies toward bitterness and disagreement more profound, and maybe not such a good experiment after all.

Perhaps this is what is meant by removing the beam in one’s eye, a correction in other words of the frequency within the bandwidth of the light within a person so that it is pure and unencumbered, strongly shining in the middle ranges of peace, joy and Corinthian love.

How’s the trout?

Idaho Rainbow Trout. It is cooked as it should be, on the grill for a hint of smokiness to the cleanliness of its flavors. Trout is trout, after all.

How’s the mussel soup?

As it should be, thickened with potato and just a touch of light cream, the mussels steamed mariniere-style.

Now what comes with the Proscuitto salad?

Baby arugula, hearts of palm, a balsamic vinaigrette.

A big man in a suit. Hedge fund type, with two women, one young and old. The women are often polite to make up for what complaining shits the men are. Maybe that politesse is close to the inner source of their beauty, one sometimes thinks.

Are you our waiter? What wine should we have?

They are the same kind of person, when you get them, when you’ve experienced them. They blend together, and leave the same sort of taste in your heart, and I could draw many pictures of such individuals and how they think themselves terribly clever and better than other people. They look for ways to put others on the defensive.

The guy looks skeptically, at the menu. What should he get? His face is not a happy one, offering an accusatory glance up at The Waiter. He wants to know what is the best. He must know. The wife is confused by him perpetually so that she too must ask questions, sympathetic to his range of bandwidth, otherwise she would melt, she thinks. Her femininity shines passively, and she seems to retain her health, resiliently, if stupidly.

Hooah, a lot of questions at this table, I say. Good for you, I add, as they seem taken aback I could ask my own questions and think for myself. I decant the wine, pour, head back to the bar where people are more happily occupied. Later on, the couple will leave down the stairs, their questions unresolved, about to mutter and glare, even after having had the bounty of the land, their fate, having been unloved as children.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Night at the Restaurant

I deal with people not as they are sick in hospitals but as they meet, as they court, as they talk and relax and enjoy the fruits of the vine and good food and the dining experience.

My night starts with a woman wearing white low cut tight short sleeve top and white jeans and white and silver heeled sandals tying at the ankle comes in on a breeze of stress. One could not help feel the stress as she wished to pass it on to someone else. She needs a glass of champagne, she declares quickly, without turning around. I see her face has been tightened up and in by plastic surgery, puffing her lips that attempt to surround, before I turn back to look over my set-up for the bar. The bottle of Windex is still sitting on top of the slate bar musing by itself, a lemon lying on a red mat that says Campari. It’s 5:25 and really we haven’t even opened yet. The last Wednesday I worked was a traumatizing one for the physical effort required to get through it. I ended up so exhausted that I had to lie down on a banquet, and there I immediately fell asleep, waking at 8 AM. I still have five minutes. I don't bother correcting her. “I can sit anywhere,” she ask, hurriedly. There are some reserved signs up at the tables by the windows. “Yeah, sure,” I say, watching her as she paces slowly around on the verge of sighing until she finds a free one and sits, to my relief. “Should I wait for my friend?” she wonders. “I guess I should wait. It would be rude. Would it be rude?” She orders a Kir Royale. Champagne proper, or house sparkling wine? Champagne. OK. I bring her glass over. “There you go, young lady,” I say. “Thank you,” she says, quietly, a bit less focussed on me, sitting back in her chair, a little lower, occupied with something now.

She sits and her date, a clean-cut man with round wireframed glasses probably younger than I strides up the stairs, comes and sits down comfortably and smiling in his suit. He looks the perfect banker or lawyer, slicked back hair. He orders a sparkling rose, familiar with the menu’s offering. Cerdon, vin mousseux du Bugey, a low alcohol offering from the Savoie, a sparkler not about the existential process of decay that is involved with the making of champagne from the acidic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of the chalky North, taking that juice and aging it so that as it dies it acquires interesting notes of yeast and buttery toast. Champagne is a food wine, the acid helping to break down a dish’s ingredients into its elements. This sparkler, featuring Gamay and a local grape varietal, of the older tradition of sparkling wine, and France is full of them, is about the fruit. At 8.5 % alcohol, you can, as I tell people, enjoy some and still drive the tractor around the vineyard all day without knocking the walls down or running over anyone. This time, I say nothing, no introduction to the gentleman about the wine. I just nod professionally, go back to the cooler, find the bottle with the pink label, tip it at an angle, and open the metal pressure saving top, with a whoosh, pour it and return. The lady asks for a lemon twist. The gentleman is gracious and as clued-in as he wants to be. It doesn't seem like he works hard. He is simply successful, or appears that way by some common definition.

I get them settled, bring her the lemon twist I neglected, and trundle back down the stairs to see if the chef has given the wait staff the specials for tonight. I’ll write them down on a small pad of paper, on which I will be writing down all my orders, everything from appetizers and entrees, to drinks, to dessert and coffee. The liquor room in the basement is open, the busboy putting cases of beer away, so I take the chance to reload on little cans of pineapple juice and a tequila that’s run low up at the wine bar. A couple bottles of sparkling water under my arm I head back upstairs to the dining room then around by the front door and up the flight of stairs to the wine bar, checking on the couple with flutes seated overlooking the steps as I trudge up them laden with this and that, an odd beer bottle sticking out of my pocket. As their talk proceeds they are both divorced and have been through complications.

“When I’m out in Middleburg, I don’t feel so stressed,” the divorced mother of young children pronounces in a higher voice freed by sips of champagne. There seems some sense to her, even as she travels in circles far beyond all the people I know. At some point she says what a predatory racquet divorce attorneys are engaged in. It sounds like she dated one, either that or a psychiatrist of some sort, who would pronounce weaknesses, prescribe treatment legal or pharmaceutical, all the while being the perfect destructive controlling male.

I’m putting bottles away into place when a vivacious woman in her forties passes the bar on the way to the bathroom. How nice, she says. Thank you. I can talk to people easily as long as they aren’t sitting down at this early hour.

Five minutes later she comes back upstairs with two other friends and they go sit at the table in the right front corner with the reserved sign, to which I go over pick up and put on another table. Oh, she says. No, that’s fine. I come back with three menus.

“Do you have any specialty drinks?” The menus first open page is devoted to them. “Wine,” I say, abruptly, half in mock grumpiness, half in real, as if to say, don’t order a fancy cocktail. It’s too early. I’ve got a long night ahead. I don't have perkiness or the confidence in my life's situations to match her simple moment before a new menu. Shame on me. I have a party from the Scientific Mission of the French Embassy coming to eat a fixed menu dinner back on the table clothed long table in the wine room, which is at the very back of the restaurant. They will be coming shortly. They will come and sit inactively and not paying much attention, making it hard to get an order out of them. I don’t need to be making cocktails, the menu of specialty drinks being quite capable of tearing the bar into disorder from three drink orders. If you’re serving dinner, rushed and harried anyway, wine is a bit easier, and even necessary for its simplicity, which guests seem to understand when things get really busy for a restaurant. I don't need fancy cocktails with six ingredients or any muddling on top of that pressure. A martini, fine, but otherwise, have a glass of wine or a Campari and soda and forget the gimmicks. If we were a place that made margaritas--I worked in just such a place--then you would know walking in the door. No, I'm not here to be cute.

The third of the party, a woman with arty glasses in her fifties joins the ladies in the corner, the initial one not unattractive. They look like New Yorkers, and talk about museum visits. “Smile,” the third one says to me, after I introduce and explain the menu and that there will be some specials from the chef tonight to tell them about. To which I say nothing. Sparkling water with lime, the initial and the second order, to my relief, and the third a Bistro Pigalle, a fruity rum drink with passionfruit juice and triple sec. (I won’t even remember pouring the rum later.) The first of the French, a jovial man I recognize, arrives as I retreat to the bar. His party joins him, and I usher them into the wine room. He is so perfectly what he is, pleased with his manifestation on earth just as it is, with his suit, calm smile, and thinning pate. He had a Chimay, one of the more alcohol laced beers there is known to mankind, last time while waiting for the rest of La Mission Scientifique de L’Ambassade du France.

The French, five of them, sit for five minutes, talking, as I check in on them, and recheck and recheck, offering water, showing them the menu’s wine list. They appear rather clueless, but relaxed, as if they were about to shrug as to why they were there and what they were doing, though soon they would start to talk and then it would all be quiet clear and enjoyable. Meanwhile the three ladies are doddling over the menu in the corner, cats toying with a captured mouse not ready to make any moves (until I am busy and trying to get somewhere) and the downstairs waitress has come up and marked some reservation changes and then brought up two who’ve had dinner downstairs. Then another couple comes up, and another guest, a cute blond woman in a smock sort of dress is sat by herself. Who these people are in relationship to the names of reservations I have written down on a sheet, I have no idea.

Back in the wine room I get at last an order out of the six French. At first two just order the appetizer, until I prompt them to order entrees too. I get a wine order also, from the bespectacled gentleman to my left as I face the table. He seemed impressed we had wines from the Languedoc, and I couldn’t agree with him more of their goodness and value. An Ermitage du Pic St. Loup, he chooses, a beautiful rustic barnyard and garrigue wine, the dust laden with rosemary and thyme and lavender, from a mesa-like geological formation rising formidably above the plain northeast of Montpellier in the Languedoc. The steep slope of the Pic allows the weed-like syrah gather good concentration of fruitiness in the abundant sunshine. The vines must toil their way down through the poor rocky soil deep with their roots to earn a living and sustenance, and this gives the wine much character, depth and minerality. This is a Kermit Lynch import, the famous Berkeley wine importer who loves that old school unfiltered wine making. These are not wines of surgical tweeks, nips and tucks. They are as they are. “This is the same guy who took care of Sir Lancelot when he went mad over Guinevere and forgot who he was and took to the woods, naked and scratched by brambles and living poorly on nuts and berries. Had to be nursed back to health, fed and restored by this hermit,” I tell them if I have time. “Same hermitage.” It’s okay to embellish a little sometimes. I did not have the chance to tell the French scientific community, but obviously we were on the same page of natural creation and wonder and mysterious processes that cannot be duplicated in a lab, as wine cannot be made under artificial circumstances. You have to open the door and let the yeast in, and things like that.

Okay, now three women have come in and sat down at the bar, and I am familiar with them from wine tasting night. They order a bottle of Sancerre rather than their usual Apremont, a light fresh white from the Savoie that is the least expensive bottle on the menu. They are World Bankers, and the one on my right hasn’t been back since I told her that I didn’t need her raising her arm and waiving at me semi-in-my-face as she sat there at the bar for service. “Well, that’s the only way I can get your attention,” she sputtered back at my American rudeness to her Gallic common sense of the jungle. “I will get to everyone in time, as I can.” She looks a bit icily at me, uncomfortable as she settles into her bar seat. It is a Canadian holiday and the thickly lip-sticked juicy earthy brunette tomato of the three is Canadian and the celebrating has already started.

The Brazilian lady is chosen as the taster. I open the cork and pour a small amount of wine, placing the cork before her, and she makes no notice of the glass before her until she is nudged. We share a joke about her happy Brazilian easy manner. I shrug. “You got the beach there, Jesus up on the hill…” imitating a relaxed look about, no need to stress out. We all have a little friendly laugh. Good.

I leave the bar to bring menus to two more, and three girls have sat at the couch, sat by the manager. (Earlier, he asked me how I was doing, as the usual handshake happens when he arrives, an important French habit. “Traumatized.” “About what,” he asks. “Last Wednesday.” “Oh, well, but I am here tonight, to send someone up to help you out when you need it.” “Good.”) Jesus Christ, I say to myself. The busboy brings up the appetizers for the Frenchies, and I get the order from a girl sitting by herself, or rather I let her taste three wines to see which one she might like from the list. I get the three-course order from the three ladies in the corner, the drink order from the two who will soon produce a little backgammon board, and two regulars from the IMF, a German couple drops down at the bar. Fuck. I get them drinks, a glass of Sancerre for her, Haut-Cotes de Beaune for him, in a big glass because he’s a regular. I tell them the specials.

The busboy comes over to me. The Frenchies were supposed to get salads to start with. I hadn’t read the little printed menu carefully enough. No big deal. Salads next. I go back to pour more wine and get a food order from backgammon, and then two more sit down, a gent from the neighborhood, jovial, in his suit, suntanned and with an air of wealth, good dining and travel. He’s joining a young woman--she came in first and I can't tell if she had a reservation or not--and it looks more like a date than business. I get the order from the German couple at the bar. I’ve sold him a ribeye. I go the computer to enter the order, and the screen’s information has a line through ribeye, meaning we’ve sold out on that. No one told me. Typically, we’ll be given a number, as in we have a certain number of Flounder to sell, and then it will be Grouper. Being upstairs, on my own, far away from the kitchen as one could possibly be given the building’s layout, I am left out of the loop on such things, and discover them, particularly when I am busy, the hard way, looking for the item in the cold back lighting of the PosiTouch computer screen. (You hit it with your fingers in certain spots and it does all number of things.) "I'm sorry, sir, we're out of the ribeye." I hand him the menu back. “I’ll have the cassoulet,” he says, with good Germanic texture touched by years of cigarette smoking. It's been a busy enough day for both of them, he's not so concerned. (And indeed, she has a little more wine than usual, or rather, doesn't say no to my periodic top-off.)

I pour a sip of champagne to occupy the jovial two-top seated in replacement for the divorced couple by the stairs, until I can get to them, then a taste of Sancerre. The girls have ordered their first round of drinks, which I think now I may well have forgotten to put on their check, and now they are ordering a good bottle of ’00 organic biodynamic Gigondas. Good call, I say. Now the three ladies at the bar have their first course. Backgammon has ordered. The three ladies of museum talk in the corner are happy, no wine, and I fire the second course and then the main. The two for a girl’s birthday, her twenty-second it turns out, the table reserved by the window have now come in and I have no idea what’s going on back in the wine room with the French, who may have undressed and began to dance around the table for all I know. I run down the two flights to the cave, and bring back the Gigondas to open and decant. Chateauneuf Du Papes are fruity. Vacqueras are elegant. Gigondas are rustic and powerful.

I get the order from the three ladies in the corner, and they seemed relaxed now, pleased, more or less with my guidance and command of the menu. “We’re going to be okay,” the woman in Philip Johnson glasses who told me to smile offers. Good. Now I psyche out what the blond woman sitting by herself would like.

A tall handsome fellow comes to the bar after the Germans leave. The maitre d’ manager comes up to him. It’s cozier up here, isn’t it. Damn. His pretty date arrives, another IMF type. I give a pour of Sancerre by the glass to the three ladies to keep them happy. I give the couple a tasting of Rhone red offerings. I go through a lot of glassware in a night, which all has to go through the washing machine and then towel wiped and polished to get the soap off.

At some point the busboy arrives with a washing rack full of glasses from downstairs. Later on, the downstairs busboy brings silverware. A trail of water grows on the floor after each visit. I almost slip on the cork floor as I go over to the computer terminal.

Now, getting to everyone is a struggle, but I’ve got things more or less balanced, everyone in place, now that the waitress from downstairs comes up and takes the dessert order for the French party back in the room. Thank God.

I’ve opened another Sancerre, this time for the birthday girl two-top by the window, after easing their wait for me with a pour of sparkling rose from the Camargue. The champagne house set up an operation in the marshy delta of the Rhone, and in the sand they plant a crop of rye in the early spring, so that sheep will come in between the vines, eat the rye and leave their organic material behind to improve the soil.

Everything is happening at once and simultaneously, a check for the ladies in the corner, a taste for the lady at the backgammon table to determine which of three is a crisp wine, the Muscadet it turns out, not the Sancerre, nor the Pinot Blanc. The woman by herself, she is pretty and blond in a pleasant middle European relaxed way, enough that one might have a quick crush over her, though I was just being nice and doing my job professionally when I poured her tastes of three wines she was unfamiliar with, she has been joined by a handsome woman of Spanish complexion. I take an order for a glass of champagne from her as I bend down to pour for the birthday couple, tell them the specials, asparagus soup, hot or cold, garnished with crabmeat, a salad with white anchovies, silverly little fish over mixed baby field greens with asparagus, another salad with goat cheese beignet over frisee, another salad with prosciutto and hearts of palm topped with nice dark green baby arugula. For entrees we have soft shell crab, a local delicacy, two of them, a little bit of flour and then into the sauté pan so that they get nice and crispy, yup, eat the whole thing, over swiss chard, with a lemon caper almandine, and a loin of antelope, seared and roasted to order, served with a gratin of Peruvian potatoes—they are purple—and a green peppercorn sauce, like Venison, but a little stronger.

Table 50, by the stairs, vacated by the first couple of divorcees, sat by my Canadian friend with date and loosened tie has gone for the Pinot Blanc by the bottle. Crisp, apply, no oak, aromatic, good with river fish. (If you pour enough tastings, the wines will speak for themselves for doing their jobs of food pairing and general pleasantness.) I am relieved to take their order, two of the salad specials, then the scallops for him, the soft shell for her. She is a big girl with a friendly personality. She too is wearing some white and something low-cut. She appears twice as broad as my first customer, about whom one could use the term high-maintenance, though, to her credit, I overheard her speaking about compatible astrological signs to hers. It is nice to see the world returning to some forms of ancient wisdom over practical matters. Even if it’s all bullshit, such wisdom can give us terms by which to find our likes and dislikes.

The three women in the corner seemed pleased now, as they have since I walked them through the menu while taking their order. They have eaten now, not had any wine, but one specialty drink, and now they have to get up early in the morning. I take their check presenter book. There is some cash in it, and a credit card for the balance. The check is something like $110. $80 is in cash, and the remaining $25 on the Visa. Only later on will I discover that the only tip we will have collected from this table, with the woman who suggested I smile, is the $4 left on the one credit card.

They have left—and they smiled on the way out—and now we have a table for the tall dark handsome stranger and his pretty date, for whom I have given a tasting of 3 Rhone reds. Theirs will be the table in the corner. The gentleman ends up by choosing the first of the three tasted, the organic red from the Les Baux de Provence, Mas de la Dame, the farmhouses painted by Vincent Van Gogh standing at the end of the drive when he was at the asylum in St. Remy, the Alpilles in the background. The painting is a colorful one, with reds and oranges and yellows, and a certain note of optimism that its creative force and executor had found his vocation, his God’s work in the vineyard of the master to complete with toil and honesty. It’s there in miniature on the label. (It is a missing painting in fact, as someone walked in to the Mas, the farmhouse, back in the fifties, took it off the wall and walked away with it.) And indeed the wine is charming, half Syrah, half Grenache, with hints of thyme. I am very happy with his choice, and bring the big Bordeaux glasses, the decanter and the little candle when I open it for him by which to check for sediments as the wine is poured steadily, in that the murkiness of the bottom will emerge first as a thin line visible in the clear wine as seen through the bottle neck, the candle placed underneath. This is such a friendly little wine that it would be something of a very minor sacrilege to pour them chlorine-aroma District of Columbia tap water, so I pour them still mineral water from a bottle, surely an extravagance on my part, but not one the boss should spiritually disapprove of just that I need to charge them for it.

And there along the entire length of the wall that rises above the staircase, is a reasonable facsimile of the scene Van Gogh painted in Night Café, the café of Arles where he sipped absinthe and played billiards somewhere inside, here the outside tables under an awning, a lantern that cleverly gives way to an actual lantern coming out of the wall in the right spot with one of those flickering orangey bulbs that looks like candle or gas light, the blank faced Munch-like form of a woman who is the waitress, and beyond the little café and the street it opens up on, some pines and the dark rising heavens above lit by stars. It’s a nice touch, I think, and it has soothed over some dull times and some late night exhaustion when Hunnish customers have overrun and pillaged and left us aching. It’s a painting that reminds me of something eternal in human habit, of a place provided to meet and enjoy company with someone else doing the work and the nice touches.

Two women have come in and sat at the table next to theirs, one older, one younger. I approach the table. Just drinks, I am relieved to hear. They look at the list of wines by the glass, and I show them the half bottles. “We’d like a dry red, with some earthiness.” Okay. The old dry red problem. What does dry red mean anyway? Dry refers properly to residual sugar content. It is applicable to whites, to sparkling wines, to roses. But to reds? Unless of course you are talking about a sweet red, which are of course a category of their own. “Dry is a poetic description that can be hard to nail down. French wines strive for balance, the fruit, hopefully concentrated, balanced with the tannins and the acidity, all in keeping with the wine’s body. Were it not for fruity tones there would not be corresponding earthiness, which comes with aging the wine.” So I’ll have them taste a few. “So basically Bordeaux can be earthy wines, the sense of cedar and pine pitch, hot rocks, tar, kerosene, campfire, pencil lead. And so can Rhone reds be earthy, with tobacco and leather and mineral tones.”

I return with tastes of Rhone, and Bordeaux, and walk them through some comparisons with the list of half bottles.

In the meantime I’ve taken an entrée order from the two women, the cute blond, and the dark one who is polite and very well-mannered and down to earth. The blond is debating between the tuna and the shrimp. I ask her what her blood type is. She is an O. “Get the tuna,” I say. “Better for Os,” I add, after elaborating what the general idea is of eating with respect to blood type and human history with respect to changing habits and diet. Os are the original top of the food chain. They survived by eating animal and fish protein. They have acidic systems, to break down this type of fair, and don’t need any extra acidity, as coffee and hard liquor are acidic. They came into existence before humanity had settled down to grow crops with cooperation, grains, corn, food stuffs that differently evolved blood type systems would process better.

Finally I the two women order the Gigondas half. “Good.” They liked the Cotes Du Rhone Village from William Harrison Imports. Grapes selected carefully from the terroirs of Chateauneuf Du Pape, Gigondas, and Rasteau, the up and coming Rhone appellation. I bring over the little decanter for demi-botteille. Its lines follow an organic curve. I clear away what I can grab of the four pairs of differently shaped wine glasses we have on hand, which makes it easier to keep track of the tastings one pours.

Now it’s become high time to clear the dinner plates off of the birthday table. I get the sense the guy is looking over at me from the corner. They have taken their time with their entrees, for her the beef medallions medium rare, for him the antelope, medium rare, good for you. (All these things the waiter/roving barman rolling out of the pocket in his food sport writes down in his little pad.) And time is passing before I can get back to them, so I order the chocolate tart, tarte chaud au chocolat, and get the candle, the match, the snifter to hold over the candle to keep it from blowing out, while turning down the lights, and off with the fans, just to avert candle outage, don’t forget a dessert fork or spoon. More racks arrive from downstairs, brought by the manager, a tall regal gentleman, and by the substitute busboy, whom we joke about by going, “the plane, the plane,” a la Fantasy Island, for his short stature and slick dark hair. Water has dribbled across the floor in the mouth of the bar I must pass in and out, in and out, everyone in each other’s way, as happens in bar service areas. The little tart arrives on a plate, with a circle of crème anglais, a blackberry on top. I light the candle and proceed into the dining room, until I am very close, a table away and then commence to sing Happy Birthday in a quietly operatic voice, as I would deliver Nessun Dorma if I could sing, and this is the first night it has ever occurred to me to use such a voice. And it comes off fairly well, because I am in the mode where I am in the moment and doing rather than worrying. “Well done,” I get from the gal with my Canadian pal.

And so the night goes on, as it’s getting on toward kitchen closing. I realize I need to eat, so I order a cassoulet, something easy enough for the kitchen given they are closing in ten minutes except for dessert. I should have gotten the veal cheeks osso bucco style, but I’m trying to lay off the pasta, and dish isn’t the creamy same with rice and not the oriechette pasta tossed with fresh basil, cream, parmesan and truffle oil. The dessert orders will be going on late tonight.

Somewhere after 10 a couple comes up the stairs, just after the Canadian leaves, pleased with dessert and the bottle of Pinot Blanc I left in the little table drawer they helped themselves to. The man ended up tipping me rather cheaply, in Canadian money as it were, but those aren’t the kinds of things I care about. It was over ten percent.

The couple enters and looks for a table. That’s how it’s been. Barely time to clear the table, and then on to the next thing. He is tall, and she is dressed in a colorful halter blouse and jeans, and perhaps they are Russian. They sit down and don’t seem too concerned by the menu Manuel has placed on the table, looking out for me. After a minute or so of seating, she stands and sits down on the man’s lap, her feet dangling slightly into the aisle, cradling her arms around his neck, and he is cool with that.

The three women at the couch in the middle order dessert and glasses of Mas de la Dam, as I’d poured a sip for them earlier, just to compare with their Gigondas. I am pulled in more directions. I get a dessert order off the two women next to the birthday, and they have taken notice of the amorous behavior from the couple seated happily next to them. “Yes, it is a bit hot in here,” or something like that. I’ve had a sip of wine by now, just to calm down and be more a part of the people, two more couples who have come to the bar. The blond is beginning to look cute to me. She reminds me of someone from the past. Perhaps she has Polish ancestry. “I put some sandalwood on, and it’s making everyone relaxed, I guess.”

Later, the dark one with Spanish habits waves me over to show me her Facebook page on her cell phone screen. There is a line posed as a question describing what is happening next to them, with “get a room,” as the conclusion. We smile and have a laugh together.

I ask the dark one where she is from and it turns out she is from Monterrey. I had a lovely friend once from the very same town. I mentioned her name. “She’s in Mexico City now, doing environmental stuff.” I turn to the blond and ask where she might be from. New Jersey. Well, I said, like a jerk, we should all take a road trip to Monterrey.

Meanwhile my irritation at the last couple to come in, now entwined happily at table 50, is vanishing. Back at the bar I make eye contact with the guy, as if to ask if I might be able to get them anything. “We need another minute.” Cool, I nod in deference. “Sure.”

I bring tea and espresso to the two women. The couple is quite happy. How nice someone is happy without my having to break my back. I bring them a couple small glasses of Mas de la Dam rose. “Here, taste an organic rose from Provence,” I say, after checking verbally that the young lady is twenty-one. She’s twenty-six it turns out. “Cool.” I haven’t disturbed them too much. And maybe they can gather I am not in disapproval mode, even as I allow the two women next to them act like prudes.

The night goes on. My cassoulet goes into the oven to stay warm, with a plate over it, to keep it from drying out. Manuel knows what to do. I will eat it as soon as I can, but that will probably be two hours from now. At the bar an intense man is sharing some insights into the world of journalism with a petit pretty young woman, cute as a button, who seems to have been an intern at a news agency where he is senior staff. The clock tells me that there is light at the end of the tunnel. A man joins the two ladies drinking the half bottle of Gigondas. He orders another one. Good. That’s why I am here. To sell things. That makes the boss happy, even if I give a few things away in order to read the customer and make them happy too.

I have one more thing to check on as far as the two women. And I cannot resist sharing one thing. “Actually I made out here with the lovely woman from Monterrey. But that was after the customers had left.” It was the truth. I didn’t go into any detail. Only the Mexican gal heard it. The blond leaned over, as I went away. “What did he say?” she asked her friend. And I could sort of tell, I wasn’t welcome at that table anymore.

By now, the 26 year old has climbed further up on the man, straddling him in the Javanese pod chair, her legs on each side of him, her shapely bottom, rising above the low cubic table of dark teak, as if she were preparing to lower it a bit more dangerously. And it looks like they are having fun. The busboy, Manuel, and I are too tired to pass any comment on it. A spectacle perhaps, but then it is just life, and we have seen much life tonight, from the Mission Scientifique, where one might expect Jacques Cousteau to arrive, to the botox woman in white, along to the two women with half Gigondas who’ve had dinner down in Georgetown at Nayla, the hip Middle Eastern restaurant, and who’ve been joined by the easy going fellow I took an immediate liking to. The woman seated or perched just so above the man in his throne just looks not so far out of place, and in the dim lighting and comfortable chair, organic forms playing off each other, an exhaling belly laugh of relaxation that comes before the long weekend of the National Holiday of July Fourth and the opening of summer, and if people are cool enough to mind their own business and not worry out of the wearisome habit of constant thinking, it just seems natural. I regret now not bringing them glasses of champagne.

The two women, New Jersey blond and Monterrey black, sorry, get up and leave unceremoniously after splitting the check and paying with credit cards. They turn down the stairs without a thank you, or a wave, or a nod, avoiding any further contact with me. They left a fair tip of 20%, but a thank you would have been the nice thing. I’d bought them a round, and didn’t charge for their tea and espresso, but then we forgot the cream, between the busboy and myself, not that I care about the cost as much making a gesture of thank you.

Now there are fewer people to worry about. The lovers aren’t bothering me, or demanding specialty drinks, the Frenchies in the back are long gone, tall dark and handsome and date have opted for port for dessert, thank god, and the two other parties of three will soon leave. The couple at the bar with the cute little girl being half I can handle. It’s time now for good sip of wine. The Les Baux de Provence red. Yum. Things finally are quieting down.

The place has cleared out more when the lovers at 50 rise from their position of dancing Shiva and Shakti, and I raise my glass, to cheers them. The man indicates he has left a bill on the table, and I wave sideways with a flat right hand downward. Not to worry, my friend. Go have fun. But he picks the bill up and so I wave thanks to him. Later, I go over and pick it up. It’s a twenty.

I come back to the bar and turn to Manuel, who’s polishing off the 642nd glass of the evening. Easiest twenty I ever made, I smile to him, and he laughs. He was cool, non-plussed about the lovers from Russian parts, undemanding as they were. They were in fact the only ones not to work me over, to demand a bit much.

After the last two left, and after I ate my cassoulet, I went down to the kitchen, to return my dirty plate to the steel dishwashing station with the suspended flexible spraying house like a miniature shower head and quick-action lever. A stack of dirty plates gave evidence to a malfunction of the dishwashing machine itself, like a little carwash garage, into which a rack of plates or glassware is slid, then the double doors dropped down and the button pushed to being the cycle. I was still hungry, but had no particular thing in mind. The chef, a great soul with a laugh to match, we could have shared a Guinness and had a laugh about it all, the kind of laugh one works hard for, but he is long gone. Where before had reigned action and movement and plates and the odors of cooking and the sound of order tickets printed, a little bell rang to notify the waiters and waitresses that food was up in the window, ready to be served, people, reaching, wiping, dodging, picking up and dropping off, now there was simple silence lit by overhead fluorescent bulbs, the tile walls and floors clean, the mats put away, the surfaces shining. The kitchen is a beautiful mystery to the curious and hungry.

There, in the walk-in cooler, on a middle shelf below the one for fruit tarts, in a stainless steel tray topped with plastic wrap, on a layer of damp newspaper, the soft shell crabs sat, stacked on top of each other facing forward. I looked down at them carefully in the cooling air, their eyes vacant and un-seeing, down-turned and depressed, their faces grim and sad, their little claws folded uselessly before them, as if knowing somehow that they could have been incarnated in higher form, but that their personalities and karmas made their crab state perfectly appropriate, and here at least were hints to the end of it. I tapped on one or two of them the strange soft blue gray back, to check for life, but none made any movement, nor raised a limpid claw in final hostility. They seemed resigned to their fate, and bore no struggle against the neighbor close by. Their work in the shallows of the Chesapeake to which millions of years of creaturely evolution had brought them, to gain sustenance, survive predators and rivals, to breed and perpetuate, had been brought to an end, and their eyes suggested a knowledge that their toil in their own vineyard producing the fruit of their own white tasty soft-shelled flesh had come to the harvest. Stacked upon each other in layers of two on top of two, on top of moist newsprint, topped with a clear industrial-sized Saran Wrap sheet, they were now destined to be clipped by scissors, turned on a pan of flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and then quickly to the sauté pan, the flames of a great black commercial range attended by several men rising upward to crisp their shells into a tempura-like crust, then to be placed on an oven-warmed pleasant Provencal yellow-orange-rimmed plate atop a judicious spread of swiss chard and a lemon caper almandine or a balsamic reduction, then out into the quiet yellow painted poor man's Cotes Basque dining room with a mural of Paris in the back coming outward from the corner.

I went back upstairs, put some things away, cleaned some, counted the money, did the report, changed out of my work clothes into jeans, and somewhere around two in the morning, after a long day, closed the door, mounted my bicycle and headed toward home. It was an easier Wednesday than the one preceding it. My defenses had not been so worn down by constant bombardment and difficult customers uncertain of what to order for dessert, the mixed berry tart or the bowl of mixed berries and whether or not to add whipped cream, whether or not we had any I couldn’t say, being so far away from the kitchen’s swinging door. Not by much, but by a measurable amount. At least I would make it out without needing to pass out and rest for four hours before moving on.

I am a waiter, a barman. I have traded away my time, and some basic skills, in order to make this living here.