“I need a butter knife, said Upset Waitress as she rummaged through my kitchen drawer, “In case I have to break into my house. I forgot my keys and don’t know if my husband left the house unlocked.” It’s weird down here–folks rarely lock anything.
She paused as she looked at the tarnished silver handles of my knives. “What is this stuff?”
“Hundred-plus-year-old silver flatware that belonged to my grandmother,” I told her.
“You don’t have any cheap, flimsy crap you eat dinner with that I can use?” she asked, incredulous.
I laughed. I am such a pathetic princess in her eyes. “It’s just me, UW, and I never use any cookware except when I baked you a cake you never ate, and barely any silverware since I rarely eat anything here except scrambled eggs on corn tortillas,” I tried to explain.
We had just spent an hour at the dog park, followed by another hour combing my tiny, beautiful beach that is mere steps from my house. Much to my shock, UW found a hardened sponge, a jellyfish, a bad type of conch that eats the good queen conch, a trigger fish, some other type of bizarre critter, and a cool kind of “grass” that hosts baby grouper and God knows what else.
UW and her son happily balanced on jagged coral rocks and trod through slimy stuff that had washed up on the beach, calling over to me every time they found another sea creature, while I huddled with Rouletta on a neighborhood-provided canvas beach chair. The pup and I definitely felt like the sissy city girls that we are, reluctant as we were to wade into the shallow, gently lapping Atlantic Ocean waters. UW and her son were the proverbial natives who knew it all and how to do it.
So not like me.
Earlier that day at work, a woman tourist whom I was serving kept staring at me, hesitantly smiling every time our eyes met. We were slammed busy at the time, and I could barely get her ice tea or her husband’s diet Coke to their table, even though they were seated up front. Her husband was talking nonstop on his cell phone, conducting business, and she was clearly uncomfortable in our cluttered, funky setting.
“I’m sorry,” she said as I punched prices into the cash register for another ticket, “I have to ask you something and you don’t have to answer. In fact, I probably shouldn’t even ask, but I am so….”
I had no time for delaying tactics. “Ask away, quick,” I laughed.
“Well, it’s just that you are, well, a lot younger than I am,” she began. “I mean, I know that makes a big difference, age, right?”
I had no idea what she was talking about or where the conversation was headed, but I needed it to go somewhere fast because I had five tables outside demanding mimosas and beer, shrimp po boys and mahi sandwiches.
“What’s up?” I interrupted her. “I’ll answer anything. But I have tables outside I have to get to in a sec.”
“Well,” she hesitated. “You are in incredible, I mean incredible shape! What do you do–exercise every day? Have a personal trainer?”
Ha! Yeah, right.
“First, I am not younger,” I told her, because she was likely younger than I was. “Second, I walk a few miles every day here just by working, and I run a few miles after work when I have the energy. I used to run every day. Not now!”
“But you’re just so fit,” she said softly. “I wish I knew how to get it back, get myself back in shape.” She looked down at her hands.
“Hey, I am just blessed with good genes that allow me eat crappy food and stay thin. It annoys everyone I work with, just ask them,” I laughed, trying to at once brighten her mood and disengage from her.
“It’s true, we hate her skinny ass,” chimed in my dreadlocked co-worker.
The woman customer smiled a little.
“Yeah, well just because you said that,” I said to my co-worker, draping my arm around her shoulder while looking at the woman customer, “I’ll remind you that I am actually trying to put on a few pounds since I moved here!”
Both my co-worker and the woman customer groaned and laughed.
I attended to the masses at the outside tables, serving up baskets of this and platters of that, figuring that this would be a day I’d make bank, for sure. When the madness subsided, the woman who’d wondered about my fitness status, was still sitting at her table with her husband. He was still on his phone.
“So, I used to be so much thinner, you know,” she told me, glancing down at her lap. Only now did I notice that she was wearing a black linen dress and necklace and pretty pearl earrings, as if she were headed to a cocktail party in upper northwest D.C., rather than getting ready to vacation in the Keys.
“Really?” I asked. She looked fine to me, beautifully highlighted and coiffed, with smooth, pale skin and eye makeup done just so.
Her husband glanced up and shushed her, pointing to his phone. She shrugged. “Sorry,” she mouthed to me.
I continued to serve other tables; she and her husband continued to camp.
Later, while he was reading a newspaper and seemingly oblivious to her, she said to me, “I bet if I lived down here I could walk all the time and finally lose this weight.”
“Hey, I’m off in two hours. Want to run with me?” I laughed. She smiled and said nothing.
I wandered outside to check on tables, smoke a few puffs on a cigarette I’d kept going forever, and enjoy a moment of quiet. A few minutes later, the woman and her husband came outside as well.
“I told you exactly what you should do, but you didn’t listen!” said the husband, clearly angry, but clearly a man who always shows his anger in a quiet, non-yelling kind of way.
“I know,” said the woman as she smoothed her linen dress, her head bent, her eyes looking down at the ground.
“Look, you’re going to have to fix it. You can do it, okay? I can only do so much,” he said, less angry, almost soothingly.
“You’re right,” she muttered.
“I have to use the men’s room,” he told her, abruptly walking back in to the restaurant, leaving her alone and standing near me.
“Hey,” I nodded to her. “You guys headed off, now?”
“I guess we are,” she said quietly.
I looked at her. She looked at me.
I knew exactly who she was. She knew I knew.
I willed her to make a break for it. She fought her tears.
She was just like me, once upon a time.