Crapped out on the Delayed Postage Front

Barney came walking back into the living room from his kitchen holding a sandwich baggie and a bottle of cheap scotch. “I’m gonna teach that fuckin’ post office a thing or two about losin’ peoples unemployment checks,” he announced.

He took a pull off the bottle and his entire body trembled as he swallowed. I don’t think he’d been entirely sober since he’d been fired from the restaurant eight weeks ago. He handed the bottle to me and I had a tug off it as well. Nasty shit, but effective. Sometimes being a cheap drunk is the best you can do.

The whole thing started with a psycho on table 23. It was girl’s night out, and she and her friend had come in for dinner smelling of designer perfume spiked with an air of pretense. No big deal. I dealt with her kind on numerous occasions during any given shift. Pretend that they’re the center of the universe for a couple of hours and they’ll feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth, leave you a phat tip and be on their merry way to torture some unsuspecting hormonal hard-ons at the club across the street.

Everything started out just fine. After working their way through two overpriced Grey Goose cosmos apiece as well as a Brie appetizer and Caesar salads, they had both settled in to a nice glass of Chardonnay while waiting for their entrees to finish cooking. The food runner delivered their food while I was telling a four top about the nightly specials. After writing the four top’s orders down, I turned to make sure everything was okay with the two resident princesses.

“Ladies, is everything cooked to your satisfaction?”

Crickets. Nothing. Silence so deafening a pin hitting the ground would have registered on the Richter scale.

After standing there waiting for a response for what damn near seemed forever, she thrusted her plate in my general direction without looking at me and said, “This is absolutely, positively the most disgusting thing I’ve ever put in my mouth! Tell your chef he’s lucky I’m giving him a second chance.”

I resisted swinging at the softball she lobbed toward me regarding the history of what had been in her mouth. “I’m so terribly sorry, Miss,” was what I went with instead, taking the offensive Halibut Beurre Blanc with Haricot Vert Almandine from her and escorting it back to the kitchen.

Now here’s the deal about sending food back to the kitchen. If we fuck something up, we’ll own it as the day is long. If your New York Strip comes out medium well instead of medium rare, it’s our bad and we’ll fix it no questions asked. Hell, we’ll even throw in a complimentary cocktail as an apology while we recook the damn thing. If, however, you order the escargot and throw a fit when the chef sends out snails, then you basically deserve the taste of the dishwasher’s snot you’re enjoying with your chipotle mayo when the refire hits your table.

Barney, our executive chef, was in the weeds. Dinner orders were rapid-firing out of the printer faster than the expeditor could get them hung and the entire kitchen crew was beginning to get that deer in the headlights look they wore when they found themselves knee-deep in the shit without waders on. The restaurant was full and we were on an hour wait, which meant the kitchen was walking the tightrope between getting everything out perfectly within a reasonable amount of time or crashing uncontrollably into the abyss of 45-minute cook times and pissed off patrons. It was the critical time you sometimes see in the back of the house when success depends on everyone working in zen-like cohesion, and the slightest unexpected curve ball can potentially capsize us toward comping copious amounts of food and giving away our profits just to keep people happy.

So I wound up and threw the curve ball.

“Hey Barney,” I yell over the kitchen chaos. “I need a halibut refire for 23 on the fly!” In restaurant linguistics, “on the fly” means I need the motherfucker as soon as yesterday. It’s the one phrase that invariably sends already semi-stable line cooks over the edge and takes temperamental chefs to the brink of grabbing butcher knives and running through the front of the house with thoughts of slicing and dicing. On the fly orders cut directly to the front of the production line, meaning that the poor slob who’s already been waiting five minutes too long for his filet mignon gets elbowed back another half step, risking pissing him off as well.

Barney looked up at me, sweat dripping from his eyelashes. “What the fuck? What the hell was wrong with it?”

I showed him the partially-picked-at fish. “I dunno, man. Don’t hate the messenger. This chick says it’s the worst thing she’s ever put in her mouth.”

Barney picked up the halibut, briefly examining it before slapping it back down on the plate, scattering the beurre blanc overboard and splattering onto his chef coat. “Goddamn puta madre! I’ll give the fucking b***h something to put in her mouth!”

I write the refire ticket, hand it to the expo, and Barney works his pissed-off magic, getting the new entrée out in record time. The runner gets it to the table, and away we go for round two. As is customary, I wait until she takes the first bite before approaching her to make sure the second time’s a charm.

“Miss, is everything to your liking this time?” Now, 99 percent of the time guests are satisfied with recooks. Whether it’s correcting a genuine kitchen fuck up, a server who ordered the wrong thing or placating a control freak who wasn’t going to be happy with the first thing that came out no matter what, the majority of customers are genuinely appreciative of the second effort and move forward with their dining experience from there.

Enter the other one percent.

The air around her was heavy with the weight of pretense. “I’m not sure where you found your chef, but maybe you should send him back to Denny’s where he came from,” she huffed while holding the second halibut out for me to rescue her from.

At this point I had to jump in and try and save the poor entitled b***h from herself. “Miss, may I ask what exactly about your meal that isn’t to your liking?”

She sighed so heavily I was amazed she had any oxygen left to speak with. “My dog eats better than this, that’s what the problem is! You tell your chef I’d be embarrassed if I was to let this sort of crap come out of my kitchen!”

“Perhaps I could recommend something else that might be a bit more to your liking,” I suggested.

Oops. Crossed the line on that one. At that point her face turned bright green, her eyes bulged from their sockets and her head began twirling uncontrollably 360 degrees round and round until it resembled a rickety carnival ride like the ones you find during the summer in the parking lots of discount shopping malls. She spat blood, dripped ooze and puked bile – all in my general direction. “Look here waiter, I know what I want and what I want it to taste like, and this isn’t it! Now you take this back and tell your chef to make me the halibut just like it’s described on your menu. And I don’t intend to pay for it by now, either.”

“Yes, Miss. Right away.”

I was about to enter Dante’s lost 10th circle of hell. I walked the second god-forsakenly awful halibut back to the kitchen and deposited it directly into the center of the ring of fire. I knew that the words which were about to exit my mouth were going to have potential brimstone-esque ramifications, but I was caught in the purgatory between oh shit and fuck me with a pitchfork with no chance of redemption in sight.

“Uh, Barney… I gotta refire on 23. She says it tastes like dog food.”

It took two line cooks and a pantry chef to restrain Barney from going out into the dining room and introducing himself to the ladies on table 23. This was after he had thrown the second returned entrée across the kitchen, shattering the plate it was on against the wall. It was also after he had a meat cleaver wrestled from him and a rolling pin knocked out of his hand. The last thing I remember hearing as I was walking back out into the dining room was, “Tell that goddamn b***h I’m gonna send her out a halibut she’ll never fucking forget!”

I was refilling the coffees on table 24 when it went down. Right after psycho bit into her third halibut, she let out a scream while spitting her food out on the floor next to her table. I turned around and saw that she had stood up and was pointing down at entrée number three. “OMIGOD THERE’S SPIT IN MY FUCKING FOOD!” She proceeded to throw up over what was left of her food, sending the rest of the diners around her into a standing frenzy of their own wondering if they too had been nibbling on some wayward rogue phlegm. Psycho’s girlfriend started crying and screaming too as her dress was covered in halibut vomit, and several surrounding patrons threw down their napkins on top of their plates in disgust and left without paying while the GM ran around trying to prevent the entire restaurant from going up in flames.

You’ve got to hand it to Barney — he was a man of his word.

Since his dismissal, he had been calling me several times a week leaving messages on my voicemail stating his desire to get together so he could apologize to me in person. I knew better. What he was really doing was scrounging for juicy tidbits about the state of the restaurant, how the lawsuit with psycho was progressing and whether he was going to be held financially liable for the thousands of dollars it cost the owners to buy off the other patrons that night to keep them from suing as well. Against my better judgment, I finally agreed to meet him one day after work after about two months had passed in the hopes that he’d stop calling me.

When I showed up at his apartment he answered the door in his boxer shorts and a stained t-shirt. He hadn’t shaved in what looked like a week, and I couldn’t really be sure when he had last set foot in a shower. He was drinking cheap scotch straight from the bottle and was ranting and raving about how the post office kept losing his unemployment checks. Paranoia was closing in on him, sending him a little closer to the edge than he inherently already was.

He took the plastic baggie into the bathroom, and several loud grunts later emerged with it filled with what appeared to be several freshly birthed turds. “Those bastards think they can go around fuckin’ with people’s unemployment money…Well, I’m gonna teach ‘em a lesson they ain’t never gonna forget, that’s for sure!”

He opened a drawer in his coffee table and began rummaging around through the disorganization. “Fuck, I know it’s in here somewhere,” he bellowed. After several more moments of random shuffling he announced, “Ah ha, found it,” and held up a lint-covered postage stamp. He licked it, lint and all, and stuck it to the poop-filled baggie. “I’ll be back in a sec,” he told me as he headed out the door to the street side mailbox that sat in front of his apartment complex where he planned to deposit it.

I sat there by myself, not entirely sure how to feel. So I did what any sane man in such a quandary would. I took another pull off the scotch bottle, lifting a silent toast to not having yet gone off the deep end entirely myself as well as to the regularly scheduled five o’clock mail pickup.

Terry Everton is a cartoonist and “wage slave.” Read other articles by Terry, or visit Terry's website.