My first son was born at home thirty-two years ago when I was thirty-three. In an attempt to reinvent myself after six years of teaching followed by six years of waiting tables, I broke all the common sense rules of getting ahead. I was so Be Here Now / in the moment, at this time in my life, so into my belief that I had somehow been anointed, that I sold my house, quit my job, burned a decade’s worth of unfinished manuscripts in a fifty-five gallon drum, stowed a few cherished house hold items (Bob Dylan records, a blender, a dozen or so artworks) with my sister-in-law, and yardsale-ed the bulk of my (i.e., our – me and Marcia’s) belongings. Zen-ing out we called it, this approach to a less-is-more lifestyle. In search of a new home in some other place, we planned to hit the road for a year or so in my van with the money I had made on the sale of our Washington Park home and live off of the interest of the owner-will-carry loan I’d made to the buyer. So to celebrate my wife’s twenty-fifth birthday, the first three months of our son’s life, and our seeming good fortune, we went on a waiter’s holiday of sorts to a neighborhood restaurant, The Plum Tree, on Pennsylvania Street. We hoped to eat the best food Wash Park had to offer at a place outside the envelope of our new parent lives.
We arrive at The Plum Tree with a pocket full of cash and baby in arms. Among the happiest people in the world we could be counted as we approach the front door of The Plum Tree. I’m so fucking happy, in fact, that the first hint of unwelcome-ness encountered I let ride, although I tuck it away in my “un-pleasantries” file, when we are told by the maitre d’ that the restaurant is not yet open. “We open at five; you’ll have to come back then.” Well. I’m not into jewelry but I do wear a watch, a Timex inherited from my father a dozen years ago, and it lets me know that it is four fifty eight, almost four fifty-nine as the second hand is half way around the dial. It’s not so much the information imparted that I find off-putting, but the antagonistic and authoritarian tone of its delivery. This maitre de apparently is clueless when it comes to any notion of “friendly service.”
“Well, we’ll be back in a minute,” I deadpan to the grump of a host, adding, “I understand you have no liquor license but we can bring our own; so I’ll just spend the next sixty seconds procuring a bottle of wine from the liquor store across Bayaud and return when you are open,” careful to exaggerate the pronunciation and longevity of the two syllables, “O” and “pen.” My disdain is now rather transparent, as the maitre d’s strict enforcement of The Plum Tree’s hours of operation has moved his gracelessness from the “un-pleasantry” classification to one of aggressive, hostile prissy-ness.
When we return from the liquor store with our wine (a couple of bottles of Louis Jadot’s Beajoulas Villages – the same wine we drank four years ago during the first night Marcia and I spent together (it was the only red wine in Laramie that I could find that had a cork!) - I can’t help but notice the maitre d’s continued unwarranted incivility when he attempts to seat us in the completely empty restaurant at a back two top by the bathroom doors. Ignoring his request to follow him I direct Marcia to a corner four top by the front window where I spread our belongings - wine, Marcia’s serape, diaper bag, and my Stetson Panama – about the empty chairs. When the maitre d’ realizes we have not followed him his sigh of disbelief is as audible as is the clatter of fine china, silverware, and crystal made by me as I gather up the two unnecessary place settings and slide them to the side of the table top to make room for Passion, our infant, upon his removal from the Snuggly Marcia wears. Upon his awakening, propped up in my arms upon the French linen of the table top he beams as only a recently changed, breast milk fed, well rested baby can: beatifically. His cooing signals his appreciation for the newness of this environment. Most things outside our Pearl Street residence in his young life are “firsts.” Similarly, this is our first time eating out with him.
Soon a waiter arrives, a nice enough fellow, who seems unaware of the maitre d’s lack of appreciation for us. A bus boy removes the extra place settings as the waiter opens our Beajoulas while detailing the evening’s specials. We order extravagantly as, after all, we are on a waiter’s holiday, something I let our waiter in on, going as far as to mention I’d just resigned my position as head waiter at Denver’s premiere seafood establishment, The Boston Half Shell, in downtown Denver, a remark which is overtly code in the waiter world signifying that we are brothers of a sort and a great tip is in the offing, information that is not lost on our waiter as he quickly returns with a second round of warm bread without our asking. As I’ve said we are on a waiter’s holiday and it is Marcia’s birthday so we have ordered sundry appetizers, soup and salads, all of which we enjoy before we order our entrees.
Soon my Timex tells me it’s six and now the restaurant starts filling up with both walk-ins and reservations. A party of eight is seated next to us and I can’t help but notice that the maitre d’ pays them especial attention, addressing some by name, leading me to believe that they are regulars enamored of the trendy Plum Tree. With feigned aristocratic formality, the maitre d’ asks if he should inform their waiter that, as usual, they will be having two of every appetizer on the menu, all this while unfolding the napkins that sit fanned across the dinner plates which he places on the laps of all. When he turns away from the table to return to his station at the door and looks inadvertently in my direction, my smirk and glare shamelessly inform him that I found his fawning to be as pretentious as it was shallow, reminded, as I am, of every ass kissing insincere suck-up I have ever met. It’s amazing what an aggrieved countenance can reveal.
Soon our main course arrives: veal scaloppini for me and shrimp saltimbocca for Marcia. The smells are so flavorful that I ask that our waiter compliment the chef on our behalf. The plated presentation is as beautiful as the food is delicious. Unfortunately, I do not get to finish, because as I attempt a second bite, my reverie is ruined as I become aware that the maitre d’ is addressing me with a fervid hostility bordering on verbal assault. “The smell of shit, sir, is pervading the restaurant; please remove your child to the restroom.”
I look at Marcia. She is aghast and knows the maitre d’s assertions to be a lie as not two minutes before she had breast-fed Passion under the cover of baby blanket and serape and had Passion’s diaper been fouled, she would have known. In fact, she knows he’s not even wet his diaper, and this she silently mouths to me. “It’s dry.”
I stand abruptly and turn to face the maitre de behind me. I announce to him most poetically, “I am deaf to all but truth and hence know not a word you’ve uttered. Let’s try again. What did you say? Perhaps I can read your lips, their lies.”
“The smell of shit, sir, pervades my restaurant. Remove your baby to the bathroom or yourselves from this restaurant!” Time dissolves as does place. I am everyman who has ever suffered prejudice, be it for any reason, great or small. The spirit of an angry Metamora in the person of the tragedian Edwin Forrest overtakes the waiter on a waiter’s holiday. All indignities ever suffered at the hands of titled aristocracy inspire my next moves as I ask, “You mean I do not get to eat this food?” And as the maitre d’ responds “That’s right, now leave my restaurant,” I clear the table where I sat of wine and water and their respective glassware, my veal and china, bread and bread plate, forks, knives and spoon, and respond, “Well, if I don’t get to eat this food, then no one will.”
Needless to say, my host is speechless and agog as I turn to address the other diners in the room. “Excuse me, but I can not abide his lies. The smell of shit does not pervade the room, just the odor of his lies and his foppish pretentiousness. Come on, have we not the right to eat here, or are children simply not welcome among such young professionals as yourselves. Please, tell this man he’s crazy. What have we done that we should be ostracized as he would ostracize us? Please stand up for us, the family that we are.” No one does. All return to eating, ashamed or embarrassed to take a side in this most inane confrontation. None know of our maitre d’s earlier passive aggressive actions. I look to Marcia who has put Passion in the Snuggly. She intimates with eyes and tilt of head that she would like to leave. I agree as who knows what could possibly come of my sitting back down to eat at an empty table. To punctuate my position that it is Marcia and I who have been wronged, I clear Marcia’s setting as well. I leave a fifty-dollar tip for our waiter who stands dumbfounded at a nearby table without asking for the check. Because Marcia’s wineglass did not shatter when I swept it to the floor, I mazel tov it with my left Birkenstock in a dramatic mockery of a goose-step. Its conversion from stemware to a thousand shards makes an explosive noise similar to a gunshot, a sound which is followed by the swinging kitchen doors exploding open and slamming against decorative hammered copper of the doorway’s border through which passes a gentleman I take to be the chef given the professional carving knife in his right hand. Marcia and I make our way to the front door slowly as the chef surveys the room, paying especial attention to our empty table surrounded as it is by broken china, shattered glass, splattered wine, silverware, and upturned, uneaten scaloppini and saltimbocca. We soon exit not without the help of the chef’s left hand that pushes on my shoulder, so forcefully, that I stumble almost knocking Marcia and our child to the sidewalk. The restaurant door can be heard being locked behind us. Upon arrival at my van we catch our breath and turn back to look upon The Plum Tree, the upscale trendy little eatery where we had hoped to celebrate. The chef stands at the front door, still holding his carving knife and glowering. Given the crimson glow of his countenance and the fogged lenses of his eyewear I deduce that he’s as mad as I am - me for the indignity I’ve suffered; him for the havoc with which I countered his maitre d’s obvious prejudice against children.
Marcia opens the side door of the van to stow the diaper bag, but before she can close it I ask her to give me Passion’s diaper. Still under the influence of my anger I am short with her when she asks “Why?”
“Just give it to me. I’m not finished with The Plum Tree. Just give me the diaper and trust me. This is not over. In fact, please go next door to the Health Food Store and bring some people out. I want witnesses for whatever is about to go down.” Marcia lays Passion on the mattress in the back of my van and changes his diaper. She gives me the unsoiled cloth diaper, which I affix with a rubber band to the end of a folding umbrella that I carry in my van’s side door. The umbrella is the staff of the cotton diaper flag that I will carry into battle. I fearlessly approach The Plum Tree waving my white flag of surrender, a visual proof that the maitre d’s assertion that Passion had filled his diaper with something stinky was bogus. My body language as I waive the diaper at The Plum Tree’s patrons through the window is obvious in its demand that I receive an apology from someone, that at minimum, further discourse is required.
And then out he comes, the chef. He no longer holds the carving knife but the language of his hands says that he wants to strangle me. But as he approaches with his hands raised neck high, I poke the diaper in his direction. It is a comedic dance we do as he feigns and lunges and I parry his advances with a wag of the diaper to his face. Around and round we go as I counter every move he makes, diaper to face with every lunge. Our unrehearsed ballet lasts more than a minute before he rushes headlong with accelerating speed into me, knocking me up against the side of my van. In my heart I know I’ve Charlie Chaplin-ed him and he’s assaulted me. A half dozen witnesses stand on the sidewalk outside the corner heath food store.
He’d like to slam my head against the side of my van but all he can really do, given the people on the corner, is threaten me. “Set foot in my restaurant and I’ll kill you,” he says, to which I reply, “The only way I’ll ever set foot in your restaurant is for you to buy me the dinner I did not get to eat.” He turns to leave and as he does, I remove the diaper from the umbrella and throw it at him. It unfurls like a parachute after passing the zenith of its trajectory before ensconcing his head like a manta ray its prey. Upon its landing he reacts as if he’s been shit upon. His head dances like a hanged man’s in an attempt to remove the cloth without using his hands. His comedy is as sad as mine had been ballet-like.