Friday, October, 17th. 1997
We were on the other side of the dinner rush.
Most of the other waiters were gone, and only two of us, me and McCall, were still on the floor, and we were taking turns handling new customers and doing all the prep work for tomorrow.
The couple that just sat down, they looked so out of place here. A young couple.
I had a second to look at them through the mirror over the bar.
The guy was in an actual navy sailor uniform. Like, bell bottoms and everything.
And his date was so sweet. Pretty, but she kept looking around the room nervously.
She was intimidated!
And, this is gonna sound really rude, but you know how it is you can tell when poor people are dressing up, because nothing quite matches right, and everything is a little too worn out?
McCall is really cool once you know him, but he comes off like an eyebrow-raising dandy at first. I just didn’t see this table and him getting along.
I stuck my head in the kitchen. Yelled at McCall who was setting up salads on trays how there was a new two-top, and I asked if I could take it.
He waved at me and I went back out.
I approached the table. They were holding hands! Maybe related to the ring on her finger.
Yeah, I did the right thing by shielding these two from McCall. He woulda gotten the guy to buy an expensive bottle of wine that this table wouldn’t appreciate.
After my little speech about the specials and the unusual fish we had available tonight, I could see they were listening intently, almost like this was a test they had to pass.
I paused, leaned over a little, and I asked more quietly, if tonight was a special occasion, kinda like asking to be let in on the fun secret. At the same time, they both said “we got married!”
Turns out he is shipping out tomorrow morning, and it will be like a year before they can see each other, and even though they’re both only 18, they just got married an hour ago at the courthouse.
18 and married! Hell I’m only five years older than them, but it felt like two lifetimes since I was 18.
A few minutes later, back in the kitchen, while I punched in their orders, I told McCall about them. He looked out the tiny kitchen window, and in typical McCall alpha-bitch style, he said, “she’s pregnant.”
I said, “Be nice! They’re my cousins!”
“Cousins getting married, huh.”
The cooks shouted my ticket number and I brought out their plates.
Earlier, I had watched them get so stressed out trying to make sense out of our menu. So I pretty much had them tell me what kind of food they liked, then I picked for them.
They both looked awed by the dishes and they looked at me as if I were some kind of upper class guy. But I wasn’t. I was a ton like them, but I had spent the last several years learning how to hide it.
Incidentally, I figured out where they were from because I saw the guy’s keys on the table and his key chain had his high school name and logo.
I didn’t let them know I was from two towns over. Maybe I thought it would lessen the magic of the night. I imagined maybe if I said I knew where they were from, they’d feel like I was implying they didn’t belong in here.
I went back to the bar area and watched them through the mirror.
I played my life back to when I was 18. Penny and I had just realized we were both crazy about each other.
That was the summer where we used to watch all those movies at the discount movie theater and then eat chili fries after and then make out in her car. Best time of my life.
Those two — they got married at that moment. That’s not what Penny and I did though.
That summer of infatuation fizzled out eventually. I got really self destructive and she got really depressed.
We spent the next years in a painful loop of hurting each other and begging for forgiveness. Now she’s moved away forever and I have a memory that makes me wince.
When you get married, wouldn’t it be great if it froze that amazing feeling forever?
I envied those two. They didn’t know how to pronounce anything on the menu, I watched the girl eat the garnish as if it were a salad, and the guy nearly walked into the women’s room on accident, but I’d trade places with them in a minute if I could feel how they felt right then.
McCall came out of the kitchen to the bar with a rack of wine glasses.
He asked “how are my lottery winners?” using our in-house slang for customers that look like they can’t afford this place. I didn’t reply.
We both unloaded the rack. Then I realized McCall was watching them just like I was. I said to McCall how we both wanted to pick up the sweetness that came off the two.
Next McCall surprised me. He turned to Scott, the front manager, who was counting wine bottles. “Hey, let’s comp a bottle of champagne for table 15. Sailor just got married.” Scott looked at McCall, then I watched them lock eyes and play an invisible telepathic tug of war game.
Scott relented and McCall and I brought out this bottle for them. Fancy cart, ice bucket, etc. They were amazed by it all. And guess what — McCall was a marine! I had no idea. McCall used some code phrase and the guy looked up and they did some kind of secret handshake.
I gotta dig into this later. Marine McCall makes no sense! That dude teaches figure skating and goes to circuit parties.
Anyhow, back to tonight. They paid, they asked me to take pictures of them, and when they left, the guy thanked me with too much earnestness and vulnerability.
I said something like “Hey, take care of her, she’s really special” His face toggled between pride and happiness and innocence.
It was so heartwarming to watch them walk out together and get into a cab, both a bit tipsy, clinging tight, even though I kinda knew from experience that small town folks are shitty tippers.