Fridays are busy. I like busy.
Fridays can be challenging. I like a challenge.
Fridays can bring out the best and the worst in everyone–both guests and staff. Sure, so what?
This Friday was a bit edgier than many I remember. Maybe it was because I had to train two staff members at the same time. Maybe it was because my best friend at work announced she is leaving (I feel like my right arm is leaving, too, by the way.). Maybe it was because winter is finally here–and there’s a wind chill factor.
Whatever. I was ready to pull every strand of my hair out by 12:30 p.m.
I muddled through it. The rush ebbed by 2 p.m. Although at my place, lunch only really ends when the dinner menus get shoved in the four menu boxes scattered around the restaurant and the lunch menus are retired. We see a pretty steady stream of guests throughout the afternoon, especially on a Friday.
So when you are crazed at 12:30, this does not bode well for good humor at 2 p.m.
At precisely 2:05 p.m., in walked the Big Boss. The Big Boss is a professional’s professional–he is the intense, serious guy who every restaurant needs, but doesn’t always have on staff. Sometimes, and always unintentionally, he almost makes an employee cry. This is not because he is mean, but because he comes across as so serious, so intense.
I really like the Big Boss. He and I get along incredibly well. I completely get his intensity, his seriousness. Because of it, his restaurant gets most everything right.
But this time, he had a tiny child in tow.
“Hey, who’s this?” I asked him.
He smiled an uncharacteristic grin. “Oh, this is my youngest son, Justin. My wife had to go away quite suddenly. I have to interview someone at 2:30. Is she here, yet?”
No, Big Boss who I adore, your 2:30 is not here at 2:05. Good Lord, if she gets here at 2:25, is that considered late?
“That’s fine. I’m early.”
I looked at Justin, marveling at his big blue eyes and perfect blond hair. He clutched a plastic zippered bag that no doubt contained his most favorite toys, the ones you bring when you are not yet in elementary school and facing an afternoon at work with your dad.
“How old are you, Justin?” I asked.
“Four,” he answered, clearly, succinctly.
Going on forty, he seemed to me. But so cute. The Big Boss and Justin wandered over to the bar to sit down. “Let me know when she gets here,” the Big Boss said as he walked away.
At 2:15 p.m., the interviewee walked in. No worries, I thought. You got this job, hands down, simply because you came in 15 minutes early. The Big Boss will LOVE this.
I walked her over to the bar, and she and the Big Boss exchanged handshakes. A moment of awkward silence ensued. “Hey, Justin,” I asked, “Want to help me with some chores while your dad has his meeting?”
Justin hesitated, looked up at his dad, who immediately nodded the archetypal “Go on, it’s okay,” parental nod, and suddenly a 4-year-old hand was clasping mine.
In that instant I felt a rush of emotion so intense, I had to pause and not move. I glanced down at the pair of round blue eyes staring up at me and my heart ached with seemingly simultaneous emotions:
* The memory of Restaurant Gal Son and Daughter so many years ago, when we’d cross the street, traverse a parking lot, or trundle through the mall. Those small hands, smothered by mine, never to let go until we were safe from the cars or crowds.
* The shock of realizing how long it had been since I had felt a small hand in mine, a hand given in total trust that I’d safely take him wherever we were going.
* The sweet sadness in knowing, that as much as I love my kids as young adults, I’ll never hold their hands like this again.
Justin seemed to know I needed a moment, and patiently waited for me to decide where we were headed next.
“Well, I have to change some menus. Want to help?” I asked him.
“Sure,” he answered. “I can help you.”
“Let’s go, then,” I told him, and we walked toward the podium.
Okay, great idea. But where to put the kid? We maintain a pretty formal foyer, and there is nowhere to sit other than a couple of chairs. And we certainly don’t change menus in this setting. But now I had a 4-year-old to contend with, the Big Boss’s 4-year-old, no less.
Time to break all the rules, I figured. What the hell.
“Okay, you can sit right here on the floor,” I gestured with my free hand. “I’ll bring the menus over and we can change them together. Sound good?”
“Sure,” Justin nodded, totally focused. And he carefully positioned himself cross-legged on the plush carpet.
I brought the first batch of menus over and stacked them next him. His eyes widened. “Actually, this is just the beginning,” I said. “But don’t worry, it goes really fast with two people.” He relaxed only a little.
After I had piled all the menus around him, I realized I had no place to work on the menus, either, unless I sat down on the floor with him. Well, since we were breaking all the rules, might as well break the ones no one ever thought of.
I sat down cross-legged next to Justin, carpet lint on the suit and staring patrons be damned.
I opened and stripped the menu panels, handed them to Justin, who stacked them very carefully next to him. Great kid though he was, I knew this would not hold his attention forever.
“You know,” I said, handing him another panel, “If you want to rip these old menus up, that’s fine with me. Then we won’t mix them up with the new ones.”
“Oh sure, I love ripping paper,” Justin smiled.
As guests came and went, my trainees manning the podium, I stripped menus and Justin ripped the panels.
“Do you think I should rip these up more?” he asked, totally serious.
“Um, I guess so,” I answered, worried just a little about the mess that might come about. “Just keep it all next to you.”
“Okay!” he laughed.
Pretty soon, heaps of tiny bits of paper were scattered all over the formerly vacuumed carpet.
“See, I really ripped it up into small pieces!” he eagerly showed me.
“You did! That’s great,” I told him. Well, given this was the Big Boss’s kid, I figured we had some sort of Get Out Of Jail card for this one. Or, I was sure going to need one.
Amidst heaps of paper, Justin and I found plenty to talk about and plenty in common.
“Do you have a favorite super hero?” I asked, remembering that most 4-year-old boys are obsessed with super heros. “My son loved Spider-Man.”
“My favorite is Superman,” Justin said.
“Oh, sure, Superman. He’s great, too,” I said.
“Does your son have a Spider-Man computer?” he asked.
I stopped stripping menus for a moment, picturing Restaurant Gal Son hunched over his desk, pounding out a final paper as a senior in college on a Spider-Man computer. Hey, never underestimate the powers of….
“No, but he used to have a Spider-Man costume. Do you have a Superman costume?” I asked.
“Nope. Just my Superman computer,” he said, tossing finely shredded menu panels into the air and watching as the pieces floated down onto the carpet.
We continued to work in comfortable silence, me stripping out old menu panels, Justin ripping them to shreds.
We worked for an hour like that. He never budged from his seated position, never tired, never complained.
“Want some lemonade?” I asked him, worried I had worked him to the point dehydration.
“I like lemonade,” he said. “But should we stop changing menus even if we’re not done?”
“Sure. It’s fine. We’ve already done most of them,” I told him.
Hand in hand we walked to the kitchen, where I filled a kiddie cup with lemonade and watched him gulp it down in seconds. Okay, good call on the drink break. I quickly refilled the cup, which he sipped more slowly. All good.
“Want to hunt for lost menus?” I asked him.
“Yeah!” he replied, with plenty of energy.
We walked every inch of the restaurant, looking in every box and corner and service area for menus I knew weren’t there, but what the heck. We chatted with bussers who tossled Justin’s hair, which made him a little uneasy, but he endured it. We waved to the chef and sous chef who waved back and high-fived. We said hello to the afternoon servers who stopped detailing their stations long enough to ask if Justin was my little boy. “No!” he laughed.
We returned to the foyer and cleaned up the millions of pieces of papers. I found a few intact panels and gave them to Justin, “So you can play restaurant with your friends, if you want,” I said, then realized playing restaurant was likely the last thing on earth he would want to do.
“Thanks!” he said.
At which point, the Big Boss and the interviewee appeared. “Thanks for coming in,” said the Big Boss. The interviewee nodded back and headed out the front door. “Hey Justin!” said the Big Boss, turning to smile at his boy.
“We got the menus done!” Justin told his dad.
The Big Boss noticed the few scraps of paper on the foyer floor that we’d missed. “Looks like you did,” he laughed.
Like I said, I like the Big Boss. And I love his kid.
“Thanks,” the Big Boss said to me. “Hope you got everything you needed to get done, done.”
“Sure,” I told him, winking at Justin. “I had the best help, ever. Bring him by anytime.”
Bring him by any Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and, especially, any tough Friday.
We’ll break all the rules. Then we’ll get all the work done.
Then I will thank you for a most wonderful two-hour break.