Apropos of Nothing II:

A periodic series in which I practice irrelevancy, but hopefully not boringness (if you want that, go here), and numbering with Roman Numerals. Can you ever get enough practice at that?

Just so you know, don’t expect any sage advice, or morals to these stories (unless of course you want to provide a moral in the comments!), mostly me probably embarrassing myself. Enjoy.

The That’s Not a Pen Edition

Don’t let the name fool you, Crystal City, Virginia isn’t really a city.  Just South of the Pentagon, it’s populated by high rises, all interconnected underground, and teeming with defense contractors. The people spend their days in the hermetically sealed air-conditioned buildings.  A cross section would look like an elaborate granite and steel ant farm. Which didn’t really matter because, as far as I could tell in 1987, hardly anyone actually lived there.  The tens of thousands that arrived each weekday morning for work, left for their real towns and real homes, soon after the bars closed down the free happy hour buffets each evening.

I had nailed a waitressing position at the Crystal City Marriott to pay for my stay that summer in Washington, D.C.  It was the summer of the cicada on the east coast, and my first full summer away from home in Oregon.  I just turned 20 and had been away to school in California for two years, but I’d always returned to the security of home each vacation.  Now, I was renting a house in Arlington with one old friend and two new ones, and working in Crystal City, a bus transfer and metro ride away.

The big money was in dinners where the tabs were higher, and money flowed freely from expense accounts, but I was scheduled for lunches.  The work was fast-paced yet uncomplicated, if you worked hard you could make decent money.

These lunch guys, and they were mostly men, were on a tight timeframe, so you could turn over tables quickly, and they were, most of them anyway, decent tippers.   Occasionally though they’d leave you a Denny’s Sweep – just a few coins that you had to sweep off the edge of the table with one hand into the outstretched palm of the other.

The restaurant staff was like a mini-United Nations.  Two of the other waitresses and the bartender were Ethiopian, the manager was Iranian, one busboy was Afghani, another Thai.  There were workers from Bangladesh, Peru and many other parts of the world.  The funny thing was they thought I was exotic because I had been living in California.

As the summer wore on, the days blended into one another, unremarkable.  The suits started arriving around eleven and the last left at about two in the afternoon.

One day, I had a difficult section, with a large six-top and a half a dozen deuces.  Between requests for ketchup, iced tea refills and making change, it seemed I was running more than normal.  Maybe it was just that I was grumpy with cramps and had to go to the bathroom.  Usually, I’d try to go before the lunch rush, and not again until after things had slowed down, but I wasn’t going to be able to wait.

On my way out the door, a gentleman from the six-top waved me over.

Oh for God’s sake, this better be important, I’m about to pee my pants.

He was sitting at a table of clones.  Six professional men in their mid-forties, with short dark hair, and dark, slightly rumpled suits.  Only their ties were subtly different from one another.

“This pen doesn’t work,” he said shaking it back and forth in the universal gesture of pens with no ink.

“Oh sorry,” I mumbled, willing my bladder to remain crimped shut.

I handed him another pen from my apron pocket and waited for him to take it so I could get to the bathroom.  He didn’t.  I shifted my weight, and restrained myself from throwing the pen at him and running for the bathroom.

I looked at him, and then at each of the men.  They all were staring at my hand.  I followed their eyes and saw that I wasn’t offering him a pen, but instead my Super Plus for heavy flow days Tampax brand tampon.  It felt 20 degrees warmer as a bright red flush of embarrassment filled my face.

“Uhhhh, that’s not going to work, is it,” I finally blurted, handing him a real pen from my pocket.  I turned and quickly made my way to the bathroom. I hid out as long as I could, but soon the need to earn tips from the other tables outweighed my mortification at having to face the six businessmen and my co-workers and I left the safety of the bathroom.

When I walked back into the restaurant, I did so at a slight angle, turned enough that I didn’t have to look at the table but could see it in my peripheral vision.  It was empty, and had been re-set already.  Next possible crisis averted, they were gone.

“Congratulations!” shouted the manager. Oh great, let the teasing begin.

“What?  Why?” I said a forced smile appearing on my face.

“You must have given those guys some great service, because this is the single-largest tip anyone has ever received here,” he said, thrusting the credit card receipt in my face.  Apparently the men had felt the best way to assuage everyone’s embarrassment was to give me an outrageous tip.

My hourly pay average just skyrocketed.  It was almost enough to make me want to carry a tampon in my apron pocket at all times.  Just in case.

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