What Price Prosperity?

One of the skills that anyone in customer service must have in order to succeed is the ability to create a dynamic "to do" list in one's mind. This list, not unlike the stack in a computer's memory, may contain the simplest little items, e.g., "check on table A3; the wife has a scowl on her face," or "ask table F3 about new grandson." Yet as simple and easily achieved each of these items are, when looked at as a list, they can become overwhelming. It goes without saying that when managing this kind of "to do" list; a restaurant worker hasn't the luxury of the yellow stickies that our peers in offices utilize to manage such simple tasks. A PDA would merely be a cumbersome waste of time. The restaurateur's "to do" list is one which is committed to grey matter..

Last night, my "to do" list became so large some of the items vanished into thin air. Suffice it to say memory-related tasks are not my forte. I'd hazard a guess that my forehead shone in bright green letters the "out of memory" message that those of us familiar with the original IBM PC had become intimately familiar with.

The reservation book showed that we'd basically reserved nearly every seat in the restaurant for not two, but three seatings. It didn't occur to any of the employees cheerfully assuring the customers that their table would be ready at 8:00 that there were, perhaps, 40 or so other customers who'd already booked for that time (but staggering reservations, time-wise, is another story).

It was about 8:00 and the restaurant was filled with happy couples and foursomes enjoying their food and drinking cocktails, beer or wine. There was one particularly annoying table of two adults and two children, and about every five minutes the youngest child would let out a scream nearly high enough to break glass, and loud enough to be heard in the next County. The parents, God bless them, seemed completely fine with this behavior, and talked on as if nothing was happening, until my barmaid, in her infinite wisdom, suggested that the offending youngster be taken outside the next time he decided to imitate the howl of a banshee. This was met with applause from the table across the way, much to the chagrin of the noisy child's parents.

At 8:00 there were 40 college students in the banquet room (a few of whom tried to foist phony identification cards on me and were so very surprised when it didn't work). The overflow (it was this college's weekend to celebrate, I guess) occupied tables of 10-18 persons in the main room. The building maxed out at its capacity of 280 and there were people waiting in the foyer and the bar for tables.

A rite of passage for these college students is to order "umbrella drinks," potent potions based on rum and various other liquors mixed with lemon and lime juice and topped with pineapple juice. Now, these cocktails are very profitable. However, profit be damned when one must come up with, literally, hundreds of the complicated, labor-intensive beverages in the course of an evening.

At one point I looked up from my bartending chores and discovered a man who wanted to make my acquaintance. He was "Frank, The Jazz Horse," a good friend of our very own The Dead Guy. I'd asked this gentleman to see me on Sunday but he came on a Saturday night, assuming that a restaurateur, no matter how busy, would not be in the trenches with his workers but rather looking on and grinning with each ring of the cash register. He couldn't have been more incorrect in this assumption.

The good side of this story is that I begged an audition immediately, and sure enough, after a quick-change in my office, out came the gentleman, with Frank, an ingeniously crafted puppet of very large size, propped up next to him. He proceeded to elicit squeals of delight from co-eds, children and adults alike with his cheerful banter.

This is when the evening began to morph away from reality and become what some would've called a surrealistic black comedy. I, however, decided that I'd do my best to look like I knew what was going on, and just go with the flow.

When I was backed into by one of my very own staff, flailing around with a bottle of Heineken and a bottle opener, the surrealism began to resemble a bad acid trip. You see, I was carrying a precariously-loaded tray containing eight of the 22-ounce exotic cocktails, and despite my cries of "Ben, move- MOVE! he backed right into me. The glasses all fell toward me; saturating me with ice cold alcohol and all manner of sticky juices. After the contents of every glass (seemingly) had poured in my direction, the glasses scattered willy-nilly in an area of about 15 feet, all but one breaking to smithereens.

Applause and cheers from the college students erupted at the crash, the sound of which would be the envy of any Hollywood sound-effects artist. I ran to the kitchen, took the dish-sprayer and used steaming hot water to rid my clothes of the icy, sticky mess. So now I was still soaking wet, but warm and no longer smelling like a one-man cocktail party.

I guess that Frank the Jazz Horse took that as his cue to leave. I waved goodbye and he assured me he'd be in touch.

The icing on the cake, literally, was when a food fight broke out in the banquet room. One of my lovely waitresses said "I think they're getting married in there." I wondered why. It became obvious that she'd mistaken the throwing of cake for the disgusting custom that's emerged on the wedding scene of late. We've catered a number of affairs where the bride and groom cut the wedding cake and then proceed to smash the first two pieces into each other's faces. This is not the time nor the place to discuss my feelings of contempt for those who choose to spend their first married moments assaulting each other with baked goods, however.

When informed of my waitress's mistaken conclusion, this only served to heighten the verve with which the revelers hurled birthday cake at one another. Things settled down when I informed them that a $50 charge for overtime to steam-clean the carpet was going to be imposed on their bill.

By 11:30 the last few college students were making their way out the door. The regulars in our bar, who'd borne witness to the mayhem, looked at me as I entered and sighed "thanks to God for giving me the strength to endure this peculiar evening." The barmaid handed me a scotch, which went down like nectar, warming every corner of my tired body and aching joints. That glass of scotch (4 ice cubes only) tasted like the finest quaff I'd ever experienced.

It was at that time that I decided that we'd have no more thunderous evenings like this one. There was no use in trading my sanity for a few dollars.

As the relaxation poured over my tired soul and I handed my wife the keys to the car, I told her, "Honey, I know we made a lot of money today, but for our collective sanity I do believe that we'll have to put a limit on reservations in the future." She heartily agreed.

Tammy can you hear me...

I've been haunted by what seems to be a new series of dreams. These dreams are of a type I've tried to describe in the past, where it feels as if I am entering another world in which I "also exist" rather than any ordinary dream. They are far more real and vivid than even lucid dreaming can explain. The nature of them is such that I tend to wake up from them uncertain as to where I am. They also have a tendency to induce difficulty in my sleep patterns and an excessive desire to go back to sleep in order to rejoin with them, not so much because I enjoyed them or preferred them to the waking world but because I feel compelled to do so.

The original series of these "dreams" was the one that led me to Orlando, Florida, and to Tina. These were followed by a second series involving a card dealer who told me, over and over, night after night, about "the riddle of the three queens" and how it was important that I come to understand this riddle in order to understand myself. There have been other sequences since, mostly related to Rancho Nuevo, but the latest is quite possible the most unnerving and emotionally overwhelming series I have faced and they have only held court with me the past two nights.

On Friday night I was at my job, which is difficult to explain, but I'll just say it affords me an opportunity for several short hours of sleep on Friday nights in between my various duties. I fell asleep around two o'clock in the morning and awoke before five o'clock in a highly charged emotional state.

I was being led into a restaurant by someone I could not identify but felt that I knew and could trust this person. There was a feeling that I had died and was being brought here in death. I was a very dimly lit restaurant with a large bar in the center of the room and a number of tables surrounding it. It was dark and empty feeling. I asked my companion if Tina was there, which relates back to the first series of dreams I spoke of. This person said she was but there was no sign of her anywhere about. Then this person (I'm not even sure if the person was male or female) led me to a table in the corner. It was a table with two chairs, just one table removed from the large, dark plate glass window at the front of this establishment. There was someone sitting at this table with their back to me. I was offered the chair against the wall, facing this person. After I sat down, I recognized her immediately. It was Tammy, once known as the Third Queen, now known (in my mythology) as The New Muse. It was her, but she looked older and her blonde hair was now the color of copper.

The other unusual thing was she was wearing a very visible and very prominent (some things tend to be more prominent in dreams than others) name badge which had the name "Cherie" on it. She was wearing a dark brown waitress uniform with gold and red trim.

She was also wearing a lot of rather cumbersome looking jewelry, earrings and necklaces and other pieces that defied explanation and they all bore very strange symbols.

I remember we had a conversation, but did not remember anything that was said when I woke up in the middle of it. I woke up on the couch where I work feeling a bit unsettled and uncertain of where I was. It took several minutes to re-orient myself. Then I leaned over and grabbed the remote control for the television in the living room where I was sleeping on the couch and turned on the television.

Part of my job involves watching television with the sound off and the caption feature engaged. Before deciding to turn it off the night before and get some sleep I had been watching an old movie on one of those stations that only plays old movies. And so, when I turned the television on, an old movie was playing with the captions on. A woman was in the embrace of a man and she was whispering in his ear.

She was whispering, "My Cheri..."

I'm back in the dead guy vortex again.

I was a little bit shaky the remainder of the day, during the rest of the twenty hour straight run I put in at what is referred to in the press as my job and when I came home I started asking some questions of anyone I could think to ask them off, most specifically if there was any specific meaning to the name "Cherie."

I went to sleep on Saturday night and the dream continued, picking up, for the most part, where it had left off.

"I needed to be the reason you were there," she told me. "I knew you were the reason I was there."

This made sense to me, as I knew Tammy, regardless of her nametag, had often told me she had felt compelled to leave Rio Rancho, New Mexico, where she had grown up in an orphanage in order to find someone, although she never had any idea who that person might be. Not long after I arrived and began to tell my story and to fawn over Tina and give her manuscripts explaining in great detail everything I had been through and everything that brought me there, I also learned that Tammy had been taking those manuscripts and all my writings and pouring over them. While everyone else seemed to shrug and think everything was completely normal, Tammy told me reading what I had written made her cry.

And the dream became a series of flashbacks at that point. Memories of Tammy sitting at the bar listening to every word I said, hanging on every word came back. Memories of how she used to tell me I needed to tell her in advance of when I was coming down to the bar I called my church because that way she could make sure to wear shorts on those days came back. I remembered how she only ever went out drinking with the rest of the staff when someone told her I was coming along, and how she once insisted I carry her out to the parking lot when she was drunk because she "just wanted to know what it would feel like." I remembered many things, most of them pertaining to the fact that she was always doing everything she could to get my attention while I was constantly trying to figure out why Tina had brought me there. I remembered how I went through very difficult times in 1999 and how she would give me her pager number and tell her to page her if I needed her and how she would hold my hand when she knew I was upset and feeling hopeless, and how she saved my life in those days with the words that to this day remain my mantra, "If you give up then what are the rest of us supposed to do?"

And it wasn't just a crush. Tammy always understood everything I was saying and related to it, almost always being calmly frustrated with me until the day she all but screamed at me, "Why are you wasting your time on Tina? She isn't the only person here." She probably never imagined that statement would lead me, not to finally noticing her, but to having a month long affair with Christina.

"Am I dead?" I asked her in the dream.

"You can't be dead," she told me. "You're my immortal."

"I'm not an angel," I told her in the dream, for reasons I'm uncertain of.

"No, you aren't, angels die."

"What do you mean?"

"You'll see."

With that, her final statement in the dream, I woke up.

After leaving work I decided to swing by the bar I now frequent for a couple of beers. Along the way, I stopped at a gas station for cigarettes. Pulling out, and waiting for passing traffic to let me back onto the road, I glanced down to a memorial by the entrance to the gas station. It was one of those impromptu memorial things people set up for a friend or loved one who was killed in a traffic accident of some kind. There was a cross erected and it was surrounded by teddy bears and flowers.

The cross said, "Rest in peace, Angel."

I drove down to the bar and ordered a beer. The first song to come on the jukebox was "My Immortal" by Evanescence.

It is unsettling to be back in the vortex.

And for Tammy, if you are out there and you can find this, you need to know the last time we talked I was serious. I did not tell you I loved you because I was taking pity on you or your situation. It took me until that moment to realize how much I loved you and I still do. You mean much more to me than you realize, my Cherie.

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