Dear Harry…

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Hey, Harry, it’s me, Cindy.

We know each other, though probably not well.

You’ve been coming around to the island for at least ten years, maybe more.

We’ve run into each other  in several island businesses.

You were always the customer; I was the service person.

I’ve helped you find what you needed at the hardware store; I’ve waited on you many times at the Lodge; I believe I’ve checked out your purchases at the grocery store; I think I served you at the deli, perhaps at the Old Rectory Restaurant, and maybe even at the Shamrock, when I was serving breakfast there.

My point is that we have a bit of history.

From that history, you could gather enough information to know that I work hard at doing a good job, no matter what job I’m doing, and that I always try to keep my customers happy. I’m actually kind of famous for it, on this little island.

Beyond that, you don’t really know me, anymore than I know you.

We know each others names and faces, and say “hello” if we meet on the street.

We’re, I guess, more like long acquaintances, rather than friends.

You probably don’t know, for instance, that I am college-educated, qualified to teach at university level. You may not know that I successfully wrote and then administered a good sized grant for our school here on Beaver Island. Or that I teach art classes at the school.

You may not be aware that I’m an artist but, yes, I am, university-trained in painting, printmaking and ceramics. I have work in a half-dozen permanent collections, and about the same number of galleries.

That’s okay. All of our encounters have been with me serving you. You know what you see.

You may or may not be aware that I am a self-supporting woman, without a partner to help with expenses. Don’t worry; I am proud of my ability to take care of myself.

You probably don’t know that in the last two and a half years, I lost two siblings and a parent and that in many ways I’m still reeling with the sadness. That should not concern you; I manage my grief, continue on through the sorrow, and it doesn’t affect my performance at work.

You are no doubt unaware that in just this last week, my grandson was hospitalized for a serious (thankfully treatable) condition, one island friend died and another was given a dire diagnosis, my aunt continues to fight a lung infection and I got into an argument with a dear friend. These things all weigh on my mind, but they should not bother you.

You probably know I am no longer working at the hardware store, but I doubt you know the details.

I turned sixty a month ago. You may be able to imagine how difficult it is to put one’s self out there in new and unfamiliar jobs…especially at this age. That is my problem, not yours.

One thing you should know – not that it should make a bit of difference to you – is that a server in a restaurant makes $2.75 an hour, plus tips. That’s not a wage we can take home, you understand. Because tips are also income, subject to all the same taxes and with-holdings as the wage, our pay envelopes generally just hold an accounting of which government agencies our money has gone to, but no check.

I know there is debate about tipping in general. Some people insist that the servers should be paid solely by their employers, and not depend on the generosity of their customers. The other side of that debate suggests that if that were the case, food would be so expensive, no one could afford to eat out. I don’t know the answer, but I depend, for my survival, on the system as it is.

“TIP”, I have heard, is an acronym for “To Insure Promptness”. Whether that is true or not, we all understand that good service warrants a good tip, and that sub-standard service can be penalized by withholding part or all of it. As there is also debate about what the correct percentage of the bill a good tip should be, it’s all understandably unpredictable.

Even at that, you surprised me last Saturday night, Harry.

We both know how it went down. At table #7, you and your wife were in an ideal location to see all the activity going on in the restaurant. We had quite a few “walk-ins” in addition to the several reserved tables, and two large groups of eight or more diners. There were two servers, BethAnne and myself; we were both obviously busy. Simon was alone in the kitchen, manning the salad station, the saute pans, the grill and – when time allowed – acting as dishwasher. Ray was the host, over-seeing the dining room, but he was also the bartender. He was navigating from one area to the next, assisting and trouble-shooting wherever he could be of the most help and – when time allowed – acting as dishwasher.

I greeted you both, told you about the specials, and took your drink order. I entered it into the computer; Ray prepared the drinks. When he saw that I was tied up with my large table in the back dining room, he delivered the drinks to you, bless his heart. None of us want to watch ice melting while drinks wait at the bar. I went back to your table, acknowledged that you had your drinks, and took your food order. I entered the salads into the computer.

There may appear to be pauses, or lapses in movement,as I relate the story… but you know that’s not the case. I had other diners in various stages of their dinner at tables right in your line of vision. I had a large group in the dining room directly behind you. No-one was pausing for any reason. This time of year, with less staff, we do our own table-clearing; and re-set the tables with linens and silver. With drink in hand, you could easily watch all the activity from your corner table.

I was delivering salads to my large group when your salads came up. Ray delivered them, so that you’d have them in front of you with time to enjoy them before your main dishes arrived. Again, I went to let you know your food order had been placed and that I was glad to see you had your salads. “I certainly hope to see more of you this evening,” you said, “so far we haven’t seen much of you.” I apologized, explained how busy we all were, then teased – as I thought you were teasing – “You’ll have to give Ray the entire tip, if this keeps up!”

Well, I was distributing meals to nine people in the back when your entrees were put up in the window, and out of the goodness of his heart, not wanting your good food to languish under the light for even a couple minutes, Ray delivered them to you.

You were clearly angry then, not wanting to talk to me about whether your meals were done to your liking, not wanting to talk to me at all. You turned away, scowling. Again, I apologized, explaining that our goal was always to get the food out to you as quickly as possible, hot and freshly prepared. You continued to look away, your face set in a frown. I didn’t have time to do more grovelling; I had other customers.

Now, the bottom line is, you were served good food in a timely fashion. Your drinks were cold, salads fresh and entrees hot and good. That is our goal, and what all of us work together to achieve. We were successful, though it perhaps didn’t happen in exactly the way you thought it should.

When I approached you later about dessert, you refused, and curtly demanded the bill, which I provided. You gave me your credit card; I ran it through, and returned with your receipts. You signed, then you and your wife went in and sat at the bar. From that stool, you watched and scowled after me for the next hour.

I cleared your table, and went to the computer to apply the credit card charges. In black lettering under your signature, you had written, “NO SERVICE – NO TIP!!!” Underlined three times. In the line where the tip belonged, you had put -$5.00…and in your total, you had deducted that five dollars from the cost of your dinner!

I have been waiting tables for over thirty years. I have been over-tipped and under-tipped. I have been “stiffed” on the tip. Never have I been “docked” from my own money until now! This is a new one on me, Harry.

Now I am still learning, every day, new things about myself…but some things I know. In whatever job I am doing, I always strive to do the best job possible. I don’t always succeed, but it is never from lack of effort. If I disappoint anyone, it is an even greater disappointment to me. I truly want to please. Everyone. Always.

When I tell you about my personal difficulties, it is not to gain your sympathy and it is certainly not to provide an excuse for not doing my job well. I still insist that you were given good service! It is only so that perhaps, the next time you choose deliberate and unnecessary meanness, you might stop and think that life itself might already have given that person a beating, and you could save yourself the trouble.

One thing has become very clear in my mind, having experienced so much death in the last couple years: Life is Short.

We all have a very short time on this earth to provide the information that we will be judged by and remembered by forever after.

I hope that you gained enough satisfaction from your treatment of me, Harry, to justify how I will now think of you.

Personally, I want to be known as someone who is thoughtful, generous in spirit and kind-hearted. I try to make sure that my words and actions stay in line with those goals.

I am making an exception to that, Harry, in writing this, because I so badly want you to know that, though we don’t know each other well and have never been friends, I never thought unkindly of you. After your actions of the other night, I will now and forevermore think of you as a big asshole.

I hope it was worth it.

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65 responses »

  1. CINDY! That is excellent–as a former waitress for years; and years ago–one never forgets characters like this….self centered and thinking the whole world revolves around them….Its rare, but sometimes I still see it in the job I now do….its unbelievable how some people think…This is excellently written, and I have hopes that this somehow finds its way to this lovely man so maybe he can see what an asshole he is and maybe THINK (if thats possible for him) before he decides to treat someone else like this.

    • I think this is something that every server…maybe every person in any service industry…identifies with. We’ve all encountered people like that, and we never forget them. They could be full of good works in the rest of their lives, yet we will always remember the way they treated those people that they decided were less important than themselves. Thanks for reading, Linda, and for being my sounding board the last couple days!

  2. Cindy,
    it is early Monday am and you made me smile, then laugh! I do know you and I can be very confident Harry is an “asshole”.

    You gotta’ figure out how to get this into the NewYork Times or at least the Traverse City Record Eagle.

    PS: Hi Linda!

  3. Wow. I’ve never been a waitress but I’ve always been very sympathetic to their positions. The thing about this story is, as you pointed it out, Harry got excellent service. I don’t get it. But, like you, maybe Harry’s got some things he’s dealing with and he took it out on you. Wrong to misdirect like that, but you probably shouldn’t take it personally. Unfortunately, whether you take it personally or not, you’re out some income, and that sucks. I feel like coming to the island and going to your restaurant just so I can give you a big, fat tip! You deserve it ~ hang in there!

    • Sara, you make some good points. The bottom line, for me, is that a service position is not a “whipping boy” position. We all go through our daily lives with issues and burdens to bear; we have no right to take it out on those we deem to be less important. It’s not about the money (though, of course the money matters),but the deliberate nastiness. Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments!

  4. I am Cindy’s ex mother in law she worked for me and alway’s did her job and maybe you Harry were upset with some one else so you took it out on somebody who could not defence herself at the time because she was working or maybe you should’nt of had that last drink God is the one who will judge us but Cindy is kight you are an asshole and i bet your wife didn’t have a wonderful time i would have left you sitting there

    • Pat, thank you so much for your vote of confidence! I think this is something every server – or anyone who has ever worked in that capacity – can relate to. Thanks for reading, and for your comments!

  5. Wooo Hoooo! You tell em Cindy, In the restaurant business we call what you all did that night “teamwork” doesn’t matter who gets it there as long as it gets where it should in a timely matter. Only thing I can think of as I wait on people like Harry is Wow, his life must be pretty shitty to have to treat me so badly. Some people come out to eat I swear, merely to destroy another persons night. In my career I have had a few Harrys and when I mess up I apologize try and do better next time. But I have had one in particular that after hearing how bad our food was for over five years came in and said ” I have a new restaurant and it’s great ” and my reply to him was “Well, if it is in fact so great then why are you aren’t you there?”That was the first time the man was speechless in all the years I had waited on him. But he no longer told me how bad the establishment I worked in was . 🙂

    • I think there are just a select few people that think “server” equals “whipping boy” and that all of their hardships and grievances can be taken out on us, because they are reaching into their own pockets for our livelihood. We’ve all encountered it in one form or another. Thankfully, most customers are kind and gracious, appreciative of the good service. I hope that holds true for you, too, Sweetheart. Thanks for your comments, Kristy!

  6. I especially love how your daughter and former ma-in-law weighed in with comments and I agree with les van alstine re: your post needing wider readership—actually, I hope Harry reads it!! LOL! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

  7. Cindy- Having worked with you in several restaurants on the Island, you are the embodiment of someone who has a “servant’s heart”. You’re also one of my personal heros. Please, please post this on the forum, and as Les said, The Traverse City Record Eagle, NY Times,etc (I’ve got some industry rags that you should send this in to). You should mail it to Harry! (I think I know who you are talking about).

  8. I wish I knew your Harry!! I want to make sure I never accidentally smile at him at the post office, Shamrock, or elsewhere on the island!! What a total jerk!

    • I’m starting to feel sorry for him, Edie! He did hurt my feelings, no doubt, and I felt justified in putting it all out there…but I am stunned with the number of people that are furious for my sake, or because they recognize this behavior in people they deal with. Thanks for your support, and your kind comments!

  9. So sorry this happened to you Cindy. You are truly one I think of with a servers heart. Mostly encountered you at the hardware and way back when you worked at the Shamrock. One thing that sticks in my mind was how , no matter who was asking what of you, you would say “Absolutely” and dash off to fill the request. Too this day, at the Marina, when I want to give a friendly cheerful reply, I say “Absolutely”, and think of you.

    • Oh, thank you, Pat, for your kind words! My only intent was to put it all in writing so that I could quit dwelling on my hurt feelings. Little did I know I’d have such an army of supporters! Thank you!

  10. Terrific writing, Cindy. I was steered here by my cousin, Kate Karlek Fischer, and certainly sympathize with you. Unfortunately, there is always a minority of sourpusses and grumps who get upset if they aren’t the center of the universe, always. Hang in there and don’t let the bastards wear you down!

    • Thanks, Rod, for your thoughtful and understanding comments. It’s fortunate they – the grumblers – are the minority. Most people, and certainly most of my customers, are great. Thank you for reading!

  11. Cindy – having worked with you as a fellow server, I know you are one of the most hard working women around. And having been a server in many places as well as walking in some fairly extravagant circles because of my other job, I can tell you it is comical how where you are, and what you are doing will often determine how you are treated, and it is fairly sickening. I would work one night in a restaurant in New Jersey and the next night sing a concert at Lincoln Center, and the change was never so apparent.
    The quote that has been circling around Facebook and other places about artists being the most dangerous types of people because they walk with all levels of society is true – we know the truth, because we see it every day. Fortunately as most have said those people are in the minority, but keep preaching sister. Everyone is carrying around their own stories of sorrow and hardship. It is how you react in spite of those hardships that shows who we really are as people.

    • Martha, thank you for this. I’ve received an unbelievable amount of support from so many good people…I am absolutely amazed! I’m also stunned at how many people have similar stories; this really struck a chord. Thank you for reading, and for your comments.

  12. Cindy, I can not believe that happened. To a people-pleasing sweetie like you. OK, I can believe it happened. People can be assholes (I liked typing that word just now.) But mostly I like how you took your hurt feelings, your sadness, your anger, your humiliation, your gumption and your resolve and made something creative out of it. You wrote one heck of a story, one that many of us can relate to–whether we’re the servers or the served. I think, secretly, this man truly wanted your company and your Presence. His obnoxious behavior was a cover-up for his sadness that you were not available. Not excusing him, mind you!

    • Yes, I think you’re correct, Kathy, about his reasons. That’s not unusual…many people go out to restaurants with an idea of service that goes beyond just having someone else cook their food, and place it in front of them, especially in the fancier establishments. In that aspect, because I was unable to be there, I was a disappointment. I understand, which is why I was full of apologies and explanations. I do feel that this was some of my finest writing (and thanks for your compliments) and that makes me a bit nervous. I’d hate to be that hurt, angry and frustrated on a regular basis, just to get a good story! Thanks for reading, and for your comments!

  13. Cindy, I have been coming to the Island for almost 31 years and over that time have had the joy of being waited on by you not only in the resturaunts but also at the hardware store. I can say I always felt better after each time. Your tip on plumbing holds true here on the main land and I give you credit when I use it….”if you’re doing plumbing, it’s usually five trips to town.”

  14. I hope writing this was at least cathartic. It know it was a crummy incident and it’s unfortunate that it happened, but the bright side is you got a really well written piece out of it! I thought it was great, and your passion was palpable. I don’t like to curse, but I have to say, Harry sounds like a total douche bag.

    • Writing this was, in fact, cathartic. In fact, everybody else is now angrier at Harry than I am! I hope I don’t have to be that close to breakdown to write well on a regular basis! Thanks for reading, and for your comments!

  15. Having worked with you in the past, I know the kind of worker you are. You must have been really pissed off to rip Harry a new asshole in front of God, the universe, and all mankind. Touche’

    • Well, first of all, Jeff, I was much more hurt than angry, but both played a part, I’m sure. By the time I published this, I was pretty much over it. I wasn’t thinking beyond my very modest group of readers…only about a half dozen islanders…certainly not “God, the universe, and all mankind”. It has kind of taken on a life of its own, though…pretty scary.

  16. Cindy, my other half and I owned a restaurant for several years. We dealt with some pretty miserable customers so I feel your pain. One lady complained because she ordered a “wedge salad”, which, of course, is a wedge of iceberg lettuce with dressing and croutons poured on top. Delicious. She told us she’d been on this earth 72 years and this was the first time she had to cut her own salad. No tip for the server. If you could see me my eyes are rolling 😛 Take heart some people when handed the loveliest of roses, only notice the thorns.

    • I hear you! In my experience, most customers are great, gracious, understanding, appreciative and generous. And I certainly don’t mind the occasional curmudgeon! Sometimes, though, it’s just too much. Thank you for reading, and for your insightful comments!

  17. Harry might read this, but I doubt he’d see himself for what he really is. Sorry you had that experience. My husband and I had the reverse happen. The maitre d’ treated us poorly. He got a tip … but it wasn’t our usual 20 percent.

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

    • You’re right, he had a bit of a different opinion. This certainly struck a note of commonality, though. Many people noted similar encounters…which is a shame. Thanks for stopping by!

  18. Cindy, you write SO well… Anyone that has ever had to serve clients or customers in any capacity knows how tough it can be. I’ve always particularly admired waitstaff; it requires a unique blend of grace, skill, strength, prioritization, and communication skills. You’ve NEVER been anything less than pleasant, professional and helpful in any situation I’ve encountered you in. It seems to be common practice in many restaurants that more than one waiter may serve you, particularly when the place is busy. How horrible your cheery disposition and abundant apologies were met by such callous treatment. Hope “Harry” does realize just how unpalatable and uncalled for his behavior was.

    • Thanks, Duane, for reading and for your kind, supportive comments.
      I think many of us here on Beaver Island have had similar encounters with people we serve in one way or another..
      Certainly anyone that has waited table found commonality here. I could hardly believe the number of comments I received!
      Thanks, again, for your generous compliments.

  19. Holee! Well, as you said he definitely got the message. Hopefully all of the other “Harrys” out there got it as well! Meanwhile there are so many things that’d work as a fitting side dish here – like, especially when you “ass u me”… but Amanda Marshall probably said it best in “Everybody’s Got A Story…”

    Now who can read the mind
    Of the red-headed girl next door (mm)
    Or the taxi driver who just dropped you off
    Or the classmate that you ignore
    Don’t assume everything on the surface is what you see
    ’cause that classmate just lost her mother
    And that taxi-driver’s got a ph.d. …

    • Oh! I love this poem! Back in Catholic school, we had a story of one of the saints who carried a raggedy beggar across a river, not knowing it was Jesus himself. It was a good lesson. We should treat every single person with as much kindness as we can. We just don’t know where they’ve been, what they’ve experienced, or who they are. Thank you for reading, and for your comments!

      • Thanks for the reminder… And what was that other thing he said? “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”
        *sigh*
        I guess if loving one another was easy then we’d all be saints…

      • Yes, and with my luck perhaps Harry was Jesus, himself, in disguise, and instead of turning the other cheek, I wrote a nasty blog about him. Drat! Even more time in Purgatory!

      • LOL!! More likely one of life’s lessons…
        Say, d’you think this is what they mean by “mindfullness”?

  20. This is the best post that I have read-ever. It should have made “freshly pressed or ironed” whatever, wordpress calls it. I have seen some of the most absurb and inane, non-sensical writings of my enitre life make “freshly pressed.” How does one get to freshly pressed anyway? I would love to see this printed there. But really it should make a newspaper with a name. It is so well written with every word that is an exact statement of what went down and of all the proceedings. I so hope that somehow this man got a copy of this. But it is more than likely that if he were to actually read this he would throw it in the trash after the first paragraph or two.

    Ass holes ass butts are everywhere. I hope that for his sake and yours that he never sets foot in the establishment again. In his mind you were/are the typical waitress who/m he see as much less than himself. I have learned to call his type of person “one who has a sense of self entitlement.” This kind of person is the kind that I would just as soon spit on.

    Writing all of that down I hope helped in some way to rid you of some of the hostilty.Frankly if it had been me I would have been tempted to spill something on his head swollen head!

    • Thanks for reading, and for your comments. Freshly Pressed or not, this one piece went to 13 countries on five continents, and was be far the most widely read of anything I’ve written. It certainly struck a chord! Harry did see it, and it did elicit an apology (a bit half-hearted, but I accepted it) from him.

      • Thanks for the reply. Of course he would do a half-hearted stab of an apology. He should have put the 5 bucks back in your pocket. I have no use for people of his kind. After they screw up royally the first time then I am finished. Some people get a second chance and after that they are kicked to the curb. But for you, well it is a different matter. If he happens to drop in again when you are there and it is your job then I reckon that you have to suck it up and be nice.

        PS: I am glad that post was well read.

  21. Cindy, I’ve been reading through your blog just now and came upon this. There’s nothing I can say to add to all the other comments, which are great too. It’s a wonderful piece that deserves to be published for a wide readership. You speak for so many who work hard and smile through hardship in spite of the callousness around them. Art and writing does help to keep us sane sometimes.

    • Oh, absolutely! in fact, once I write out all the hurt and frustration, I’m pretty much over whatever upset me to begin with. When the whole world seems to be holding me down, the studio – where I can still imagine no boundaries – is my salvation. Thank you for reading, Martha, and for your generous comments!

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