Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lest ye be judged

It was 1992, and I was a waitress in Chicago. Bill Clinton was campaigning for president, and finally, people like me were beginning to feel like our long national Reaganomic nightmare might soon be over. Most of the people I worked with were excited about the idea of giving Bush the Elder the heave-ho, after all, waiters are, by and large, very sensitive to the injustices of the world. We’re like the princess and the pea, only the pea is some douchebag in an Armani suit who snaps his fingers at us and leaves 8%.

One woman I worked with, however, missed no opportunities to rail against the politics of helping those less fortunate. She grew up in Hawaii, and had only recently moved to the city of the big shoulders. She wasn’t native Hawaiian, she was Hawaiian sort of like Bette Midler is Hawaiian. And she was a tiny thing, maybe 4’10’’, or 4’11”? I’m 5’9”, so it’s sometimes hard for me to gauge the height of people who don’t clear my bra straps. The restaurant where I worked was known for its outdoor patio, and there was a homeless couple who would stand on the sidewalk on the other side of our prep station and beg for bread. We called them George and Martha, since they were prone to very nasty public spats about which one of them should be getting up off their ass and procuring them some alcohol. Still, the waiters developed an affection for them, and once a night, one of us would toss them a bag with a small loaf of bread and a few pats of butter.

The managers were well aware that we did this, and offered no objections. Even if they weren’t crazy about giving away product, they realized that the sooner you got rid of the couple, the sooner you got rid of their smell – a significant factor when trying to encourage the appetites of customers. Also, in those days, in the wake of trickle-down, the streets of Chicago were swarming with homeless people. They were everywhere. Everywhere. We considered ourselves lucky to have only taken on two of them.

But the little chick from Hawaii would never give them bread. She would yell at them to leave, which would trigger George, and especially Martha, whom I’m pretty sure suffered from Tourette, to yell back, causing huge scenes and once, necessitating the presence of the Chicago PD to move them along. You’d think that after causing a completely unnecessary ruckus like that, little Hawaii would’ve learned her lesson, but she didn’t. She continued to be surly to our adopted homeless.

One day, I came in for my lunch shift and found the guys in the kitchen talking excitedly in Spanish and laughing. I asked them what was going on, and they told me that the Hawaiian chick had come in through the back gate, and had surprised George in the rear courtyard stealing a cantaloupe from the crates of produce that had just been delivered. They told me that she grabbed the cantaloupe and tried to wrestle it away from him. He fought just as hard to hang on to his stolen booty, and Hawaii started screaming, which caused the guys in the kitchen to come running out the back door, thus scaring George away. Needless to say, the kitchen guys thought the whole incident nothing short of hysterical.

Later, at the waiter meeting, the manager told us that we should never confront a thief in that manner. That it was dangerous. Ms. Hawaii was unrepentant, however, and announced after the manager had left that she would do it again if the opportunity presented itself.

“Why do you care?” I said to her, “It’s not your cantaloupe.”

“He was stealing,” she replied, “I’m not going to stand by and let someone steal.”

“He’s homeless. He was stealing food. He’s hungry.”

“I don’t care, he should get a job then.”

“Are you serious? He’s sixty years old, at least. He’s got half his teeth. He’s covered in sores. He’s addicted to alcohol. He’s barely coherent. What kind of job should he get?”

“90% of homeless people are homeless because they want to be.”

“What? Where’d you hear that? Convenient Theories for Republicans Weekly?

That made her mad.

“People choose to be homeless. They don’t have to be.”

I had just read an article in the Trib about Chicago’s homeless, so I knew she was full of shit. “Sixty per cent of the homeless on the streets of Chicago right now are from downstate, and are here to find work because the farm economy is collapsing. Many of these people are trying to make it off the streets. Many of them are on the streets because they’re mentally ill and cannot get treatment.”

“Yeah, well, most of them just don’t want to work. They’re lazy.”

“Really? Tell me, do you have any original ideas about this issue at all? Or are they all your daddy’s?”

I remember she turned beet red and stomped off. Even though I felt like I was picking on someone half my size, I didn’t feel bad about it at all. Look, I don’t care if someone’s a conservative, as long as they can speak intelligently about why they feel that way. And if someone is old enough to be out of college and in the working world, they are old enough to be able to see that world for themselves and formulate their own opinions, instead of spewing whatever pre-fab hate their parents had filled them with before setting them loose on the rest of us.

After that day, whenever I worked with Ms. Hawaii in the indoor dining room, I would arrive for my shift early and move all our supplies to the very highest shelves in the station. So every time she would need a creamer, or a sugar ramekin, or tea, or extra napkins, or bread plates, or coffee, she would have to ask me for it. I would walk into the station, and she would have this fake-friendly smile plastered on her face, and she would ask me to please get something down from the high shelf for her.

And here’s the best part: I was never anything but completely accommodating and gracious about helping her out. Never was there one hint of gloating nor any bitching about being asked so many times during my shift to assist her. I was so nice to her, I don’t think she ever had any idea that I was also her tormentor. I was positively charitable.

Yeah, it was fun, but it accomplished nothing, save for inflating my already healthy sense of self-satisfaction. Because as unpleasant as it was for her to have to constantly ask for help from someone whom she knew full-on loathed her, I don’t think it made her a more humble or compassionate person.

I don’t know. I could be wrong.

I thought about the Hawaiian chick today, as I heard one of the owners of LA hangout El Coyote plead with gay activists not to boycott her restaurant. I don't know, it was something about the way she spoke, like she could not even believe that her tidy little world might not be exactly as she saw it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

See, this woman from El Coyote had given money to Prop 8. She had done it because she’s a Mormon, and her church asked her to give money, and the way she expressed it, was what the church asks, you do. Whether that answer is honest, or merely self-serving, I have no idea. Apparently, she didn’t know her donation would be made public. In any case, she was found out, and now, now that she’s been found out, now she’s sorry about it. Now she is pleading with her gay clientele to excuse her and to continue to come to her restaurant and give her their hard-earned dollars, even though she has given her hard-earned dollars to the stripping of their rights.

She wants forgiveness. She wants it badly, although not badly enough to promise a contribution to the anti-8 movement. Because, again, her church would not approve. But above all, she doesn’t understand what she did wrong. She doesn’t understand why everyone is looking at her that way. All she did was what she was told to do. She says she loves the gay people who are her employees and her clientele. And she says she is following her faith when she helped to take rights away from those same people. What’s the problem?

She doesn’t understand what the problem is.

And she’s not alone. More and more people on the list of donors are finding themselves and the companies they work for being scrutinized due to their support of 8. Boycotts have been threatened against their businesses by gay people. They have been called bigots by gay people. It seems that gay people think themselves fit to stand in judgment of them.

Can I hear a “how dare they,” anyone?


I didn’t think so.


SkylersDad said...

When we had Skyler and attempted to start going to church, we were told it was best not to bring him because he was too loud and made the other fine folks uncomfortable.

Fast forward to grade school and middle school, and the girl who was always most accepting of him, and never judged him was the girl who had two moms.

Dad E said...

Your story about tormenting "Hawaii" remains me of your story about pouring regular coffee (instead of their requested) decaf to the blue haired ladies that would leave a $1 tip after staying at the table for a very long time.

Your need to achieve justice is, among other things, funny.

Dad E said...

er, reminds me.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

If I lived out there I'd boycott them too. Damn Mormons.

SFNative said...

I'd love to boycott people here for hatred towards gay people or anyone else who isn't their same race, religion, whatever.

Unfortunately, that's everyone here in East Podunk.

Doc said...

"All she did was what she was told to do."

I seem to remember hearing this at the Nuremberg trials too.


GETkristiLOVE said...

I wonder if it ever occurred to the restaurant owner that if she's that afraid to stand up or say no to her Church, for fear of what may happen, then it's time to find a new Church.

dguzman said...

You never cease to amaze me, Vikki. Keep raising that bar on writing, babe. You're one of a kind.

BTW, there's a hunky pic of Al Gore on my bloggy....

Anonymous said...

Wait, what exactly do Mormons know about Mexican food?

Johnny Yen said...

It never occurred to me that the contributions might be made public. That's awesome. I have a feeling it won't just be gay folks boycotting.

This whole thing didn't do anything to decrease my general hatred for organized religion.

Dave said...

You're playing both sides! *Sean Connery accent*

Grant Miller said...

I second what Kirby said. Hope all is well in California.

SJ said...

I love the short bitchy woman story. Being gracious while secretly tormenting always roolz. Oh, and fuck the Mormons.

Some Guy said...

If you're waiting for the green light from me to write another awesome post, here it is.

I hope the Mormons didn't put one of their Mormon hoodoo spells on you.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to worry about you. Are the fires affecting your neighborhood?

Mnmom said...

My first visit here!!

Hawaii could have been taught a very serious lesson by you. When she needed help to reach the taller shelves, you should have told her that she's just choosing to be short and could grow taller and reach those shelves if she really wanted to.

Screw the Mormons, and the bigoted horse they rode in on.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Hey guys, I'm okay. The Sylmar fire never got closer than about 10 miles away. Unfortunately, the wind blew all the smoke south right into North Hollywood. I had a vicious sore throat that developed into the WORST COLD EVER. I'm working on posting tomorrow, though. Thanks for thinking about me.