Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How Are You Feeling?

American poet Maya Angelou is credited with saying, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

In case you don’t believe it, I’m here to tell you it’s true. And it may not be good.

I have been blessed with wonderfully supportive people in my life who are nicer to me than I thought I deserved. Unfortunately, it seems I remember with the most detail the people who made me feel the worst. Maybe the foul aftertaste lingers so I’ll know to avoid them in the future.

Last fall, I was at an outdoor market where I recognized a woman from my past. We’d had an encounter decades ago when I was in college and working as a waitress.

I must have served hundreds, probably thousands of people in several stints as a waitress spanning six or seven years in four different restaurant/bars in four different cities. I remember exactly two of them, and neither of them fondly.
It's all about choices.

One was a nameless, faceless man in a private dinner club who called me a “tart” after I failed to procure him a pack of cigarettes from the vending machine. Before he handed me the money or even told me which of the six or seven or ten brands he wanted, he found himself in an argument with his lady friend about his smoking. I wandered off during the debate to check on another table. When the smoking lecture finally concluded, he flagged down a waiter and repeated his request, “because the little tart over there wouldn’t do it.” 

The most memorable dining customer was one of those local celebrity types you read about in the paper and can recognize on the street, but may not have met in person. She was a realtor and city councilor. The time I waited on her, she sat with two other people in a booth and ordered “an Irish Coffee” in an Irish-themed pub restaurant where we served Irish Coffee four different ways — with Jameson’s Whiskey or with Bailey’s Irish Cream, and with the liquor and the coffee in a tall dessert glass topped with whipped cream, or with the coffee in a regular mug with the liquor in a separate glass.

I asked all the questions. Jameson’s? Bailey’s? Tall mug? Whipped cream? She provided answers which I wrote down for the bartender on the beverage side of the table’s order card the way it was done in the dark ages before table side iPad ordering. At the proper time, namely, as soon as the bartender finished making it, I brought the coffee concoction to the table and set it on a cocktail napkin in front of her. She glared and me and hissed, “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?” And I recited back, “Irish Coffee, Jameson’s, tall mug, whipped cream.” With her eyes blazing she snapped, “THAT is not what I wanted. I wanted coffee. In a cup. With a side of Jameson’s. And some creamer. How did you screw that up?”  I recall that one of her table companions who had witnessed the entire lengthy coffee ordering process gave me a sympathetic look as if this wasn’t the first time he’d seen this.

After an apology and statement that I must have heard her incorrectly, the drink was replaced with the other version. Later, she was not satisfied with her dinner, and I was a nervous wreck because at one point, Mrs. Sunshine looked at me and said, “If you hate your job so much, maybe you should get a different one.” I wanted to say, “If you hate your life so much, maybe you should get another one,” but arguing with customers even if they deserved to be told off was certainly grounds for termination and I needed my job to finance my car payments and gas.

Besides, my chosen job was mostly fine, it was her and her meanness I couldn’t tolerate. She made me so mad by choosing to be a witch that I finally chose to visit the storage room and punch a wall, partly to relieve my anger and mostly because I couldn’t actually punch her.

And thirty years later, even though it was unlikely this woman remembered our restaurant incident and didn’t know me from an ant on the ground, when I saw her at an outdoor market, I remembered. I veered off in another direction as quickly as I could.

Now I’m rolling back the tape and hoping I am not residing in someone’s memories in a similarly unpleasant manner. But I’m afraid that due to some unfortunate choices as a much younger person I might be.

Originally published April 1, 2014 on