Happy Birthday to Me?

Thank you to my dear friend Timmy Brown for this incredible portrait.

Today is my birthday. It certainly isn’t the birthday I had envisioned a few weeks months ago when I had anticipated stopping by The Donut Pub on 14th Street on my way to work to get a couple dozen sugary treats to celebrate with coworkers. Even during a year when there isn’t a global pandemic, I tend to opt for smaller birthday celebrations. Years ago, I gave up meeting large groups of friends at bars and restaurants to celebrate because the stress of divvying up the check proved to be too much for me. This year, with New York City still being under a lockdown, it was easier for friends to understand why I didn’t want to gather en masse. Simple birthdays are my favorite and this year will be just that: a birthday cake made by my husband and an obscenely large plate of nachos for dinner with an even larger pitcher of margaritas.

I won’t say it’s feels comfortable having people wish me a “happy” birthday today because there are so many people in this country and our world who have so little chance of being happy right now. We have lost over 100,000 people to COVID in the United States and anyone who says it’s “just a flu” apparently doesn’t seem to understand that the flu might kill 60,000 people over the course of a year and that’s with a vaccine available. COVID has killed nearly twice that many people in just four months. How many of the families of those victims are happy right now? Few of them.

The people rioting in Minneapolis over the murder of George Floyd and others protesting in Louisville, Kentucky over the shooting of Breonna Taylor are not happy today. They shouldn’t be. It’s a disgrace what’s happening to people of color in this country, senselessly being killed by police officers for no good reason. Don’t they deserve happness?

Hong Kong seems to be is losing their autonomy from China, twenty-seven years sooner than the agreed upon time and those citizens are standing up for what they know is right, protesting and rallying. Are they happy to be looking at a very different kind future? No.

It’s my birthday, and rather than be happy, I choose to be grateful this year. While I am sad that yesterday I was laid off from a job I‘ve been at for nine years, I’m grateful that I can still pay my bills and mortgage. While I’m disappointed that I can’t go to my favorite Mexican restaurant Rosie’s on the Lower East Side for birthday margaritas, I’m grateful that we have all the makings for  pomegranate Mezcal margaritas right here in our apartment. While I’m wistful about not being able to go the New York Botanical Gardens during my favorite season, I’m grateful that my friend Kendall brought me a bouquet of flowers today and placed them at our door.

This is an odd birthday to be sure, but everything in our world is odd right now. We can’t control what’s happening, but we have 100% control on how we respond to things. So rather than be sad, disappointed or wistful, we can choose to be grateful. And maybe, just maybe after a couple of margaritas and a slice of chocolate cake with pink sour cream frosting and sprinkles, I might allow myself a tiny bit of happiness. There’s a lot going on right now and finding happiness isn’t the easiest thing to do. Happy birthday? Maybe. Grateful birthday? Abso-fucking-lutely.

Kathy Hill Goes Off on Red Lobster Employees

As restaurants across the country struggle to re-open in a way that’s safe for employees and customers while still being economically feasible, tensions are running high for everyone involved. A simple scan of the Chili’s facebook page is chockfull of complaints from people upset about how long they had to wait for curbside pickup and how the food was cold or incorrect when they finally got it. Never mind that these workers are doing their best in a bad situation.

And then we have this video of a woman named Kathy Hill who straight up went off on Red Lobster employees after she waited three hours for her food.

Bitch Kathy must have really wanted some of those cheddar bay biscuits, because I can’t imagine waiting three hours for anything except maybe Splash Mountain at DisneyWorld if at the end of the ride I was greeted with a tsunami of tequila. Granted, three hours is a very long time and I can understand why Kathy would want a refund. Hell, I would have asked for that refund after 45 minutes. What Kathy fails to comprehend is that throwing punches at people isn’t going to get that refund processed any faster. We see the staff forcibly removing her from the premises, but it’s not until she tries to slap someone that things goes really bad. I’m especially impressed with the guy who grabs Kathy’s hair in order to keep from being hit again. I’m also surprised that her dry ass hair didn’t  just break off in his hands. If Kathy ever does get her food from Red Lobster, I would suggest she uses some of the grease for a hot oil treatment for that haystack on her head.

Customers need to understand that restaurants that are doing curbside pickup are doing so with a greatly reduced staff. They are working while wearing masks and gloves which makes the kitchen feel even hotter than it already is. This is a new era and there are a lot of kinks for them to figure out; it’s not easy. Some of those workers are only there because if they say no to the job, their unemployment insurance will be yanked away from them. They have no choice. Kathy does have a choice. In fact, she has three:

  1. She can stay at home to make her own Mother’s Day meal or get someone in her family to do it for her.
  2. She can accept that restaurants are fucked up right now and that wait times are possibly unbearable.
  3. She can go fuck herself. (I added this third option after a reader suggested it.)

There you have it, Kathy. You say you were assaulted, but by the looks of the video, you did your own fair share of it. Your refund will show up, but anyone who owns a credit card should know it doesn’t happen immediately. It takes some time. In the course of the next 3-5 business days while it is being processed, think about how you yelled, screamed, spit at, hit and abused minimum wage workers who have been deemed essential just because you fell like you deserve some crunchy popcorn shrimp for Mother’s Day. Also, wear a fucking mask if you’re going out in public. Not wearing one makes you look like a self-entitled asshole who only cares about herself. Oh, wait.

If You Are Still Working Right Now: Thank You

I would like to take a moment from my very busy day of eating tortilla chips for lunch and counting down the minutes until it’s acceptable for day drinking to thank the essential workers who are at the front lines during this pandemic. Obviously, we have to thank the healthcare workers, doctors and nurses who are battling day in and day out doing their vey best to help as many people as possible, but I also want to thank the employees at the grocery story and the pharmacy and the people who are still delivering packages and the men and women at the bank and gas stations and pet stores and yes, even the liquor stores. (Here in NYC, liquor stores have been deemed “essential.” I’m not sure that vodka is really a necessity of life, but I’m glad someone thinks so.) Every time I step foot into one of these places, I have my mask on and I do my absolute best to get in and out as quickly as possible, going early in the day and trying to maintain distance between myself and any other customers. What I realized a few days into wearing a mask is that no one can tell that I’m smiling. I’ve tried “smizing” but my glasses are usually fogged up so it probably goes unnoticed. Of course I always say thank you to these essential workers ringing up my groceries and/or Aperol, but without a smile, it doesn’t seem as sincere. After years of forcing a fake smile at work, it seems impossible that I would miss smiling, but I do. I really do.

Every night at 7:00, my husband and I open the kitchen window of our third floor apartment and hang out dangerously far to applaud these essential workers. An unknown neighbor who lives in the building behind us plays Frank Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York” and we sing along with our neighbors, some of whom are banging on pots with wooden spoons or clickety-clacking some other kind of noisemaker. Our window allows us a view of five other buildings, and each night we look forward to this moment of appreciation and connection. We see two men on their fire escape, wine glasses in hand who always wave to us. In another building, a mom with her two daughters comes out each night to clap, high kick and dance. The youngest, no more than two years old, likely has no idea why this is happening and she might even think the applause is for her. A building away we see another woman, probably in her late 60s or early 70s who always climbs out on her fire escape to clap and wave. Every night is a little bit louder than the night before as we all take this daily moment to say thank you to everyone who is still out there working as so many of us are jobless and not even sure when we will ever go back. I know the accolades are for them, but I also know that the opportunity to connect with others is for us. Neither me or my husband have jobs right now and this daily activity is part of our routine as sure as breakfast, lunch and dinner. For those three minutes and twenty-four seconds that Frank Sinatra’s voice carries over this tiny section of Sunnyside, Queens, I am smiling again.

Hopefully, this nightly ritual of rabble-rousing is uplifting for those it is intended for. It’s probable the random cheers from New Yorkers isn’t as important as the PPE the nurses and doctors are so in need of and a grocery store worker most certainly would rather have a pay increase than hear me warble out a few Kander and Ebb lyrics each night, but it’s all some of us have to give. Thank you to everyone who is still working, whether it’s at a grocery store, hospital, bank or otherwise. If you’re working in a restaurant doing takeout or still dealing with full service dining, thank you. I’m grateful for the opportunity to order a pizza every now and then for one moment of normalcy. Your efforts might go unnoticed by some, by I truly believe that most of us appreciate it. Until we can all go back to work, you are the heroes. You are the ones who are helping the rest of us survive and you deserve a lot more than a smile you cannot see and people yelling out their windows. But for now, it’s all we can do. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I Guess Waitstaff is Disposable When it Comes to COVID-19

On the first day of restaurants outdoor patios being reopened in Colleyville, Texas “so long as physical distancing is maintained between tables,” a waiter wearing a face mask takes orders from diners eating on the outdoor patio at Rio Mambo Tex Mex.

Today is the day that restaurants in the state of Georgia have official permission from Governor Kemp to reopen their doors for business and potentially spread COVID-19 all over the damn place like it’s mayonnaise on a piece of Wonder bread. Last week he opened up nail salons, gyms, tattoo shops, and bowling alleys which makes total sense because whenever I think of a place that’s clean, sanitary and full of socially responsible people, my mind immediately goes to bowling alleys and gyms.

Restaurant owners will now decide if they think it’s safe enough to open today and if it will even be worth it. After all, is the dining public is ready to dive back into the coronavirus pool? Sure, I would love to have some fish tacos and margaritas at my favorite Mexican restaurant, but at what cost? And what about the servers? They don’t get to decide if it’s safe enough. That choice is taken away from them when some greedy asshole boss decides to reopen the restaurant. Servers that were collecting unemployment along with the other 26 million people in our country suddenly having to give it up and put their own health at risk so that someone can have some damn buffalo wings. It’s completely unfair that employees who have been laid off from their restaurant jobs will now have to either go to work or turn it down, possibly leaving them ineligible to collect unemployment. It’s like being stuck between a rock and hard place except the rock is making less money than you did when you were working and the hard place is making no money at all. I feel entirely grateful that my restaurant has made the decision for me that I do not work. While it is staying open for takeout only with limited hours, the owner is doing all the cooking and his son is taking the orders over the phone and putting them all together. If I lived in Georgia and my boss asked me to go to work today, I’d be scared to go and even more scared of losing my unemployment benefits.

I saw a photo of a restaurant in Texas that recently reopened their patio and it upset me to the core. It shows a one solitary waiter who is wearing a mask surrounded by happy-go-lucky customers all crowded around him blissfully shoving food into their uncovered faces. We all know the masks don’t protect ourselves, they protect others in case we’re infected. So this sever has to wear a mask to keep all of his customers safe but what’s protecting him? Bill and Sally McFuckface can show up to the restaurant, possibly infected but asymptomatic and spew their germs all over the server just so they can satisfy their urge for a chicken mole burrito? And then, when the server gets sick, he’s the one who pays the price. Hmmm, it’s almost like restaurant staff is disposable. Imagine that.

I’m sorry to my server friends in Georgia who have to go to work today. I know some of you are looking forward to it and are completely okay with it while some of you are worried. Most experts agree that it’s too soon to reopen the economy and just because Governor Kemp thinks it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it is one. I mean, even Donald Trump strongly disagrees with him about reopening, but this is the same Donald Trump who last week was encouraging states to reopen as soon as possible, so what the fuck? I hope your restaurant owners and managers all determine that a little more time is needed before you have to strap on your aprons again. Hopefully, they have more sense than your governor does. And if you do have to go to work today, please be as safe as you can.

 

The Day I Get To Go Back To Work

Dear Diary,

Today was the day I had been looking forward to for so very long: I went back to work at the restaurant! It never occurred to me that I would miss my apron as much as I did, but these have been trying times that have changed my perspective on a lot of things. Walking the three blocks from my apartment to the restaurant didn’t feel like it used to. There was no dread or hesitancy, just joy in knowing I would see all my regulars again like Ann and Jerry and Mildred and John. The bartender and I actually hugged when we saw each other and we breezed thought the opening sidework like it was nothing. I wiped down the tables and made sure they were all perfectly aligned with each other so when customers came in, everything looked neat and orderly. The candles at the center of each table even seemed to shine brighter than I remembered. The silverware and glasses, polished. The menus, wiped down. The sugar caddies, full.

My boss let me create a playlist for opening and at 5:00 I turned it on. The first song was that Hawaiian/ukulele version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” followed by “Another Day of Sun” from the movie Lala Land and after that was “Happy” by Pharrell and then “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles. I don’t even like the Beatles, but that song seemed too appropriate. Every single song for the next five hours was positive and jubilant and it made me remember how powerful music can be.

All of our regulars came out tonight. It had been weeks since I had seen or heard from Kevin and there was much relief when he showed up and took his regular seat at the end of the bar. Kevin is an older man who has health issues, so he had been in my thoughts a lot lately whenever the news would tally up the latest number of people lost to the virus. None of us had Kevin’s cell phone to check in on him and it was easy to think the worst, but there he was drinking his chardonnay and ordering salmon with an arugula salad as if nothing had ever changed. It was the busiest Thursday night our restaurant has seen since Valentine’s day fell on a Thursday a couple of years ago. Every single customer was happy and grateful and every tip that was handed to me came with a warm smile and gratitude; they were so happy to go out to a restaurant again and be social, surrounded with people. What I don’t think they understood is that I felt the exact same way.

I timed the playlist out perfectly and at 10:00 closing time, k.d. lang’s version of “Hallelujah” began to play. I took a moment to survey the restaurant and appreciate my job. I’m not ashamed to admit that my eyes welled up just a teensy bit. By now, there were only two tables left and I don’t think either one of them noticed that the next song was “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music followed by “Leaving on a Jet Plane” which was then followed by NSYNC belting out “Bye, Bye,Bye.” Yes, it was time for them to go, but I didn’t even care that they were still sitting there talking and laughing. They had both paid their checks, so I did my sidework and let them be, filling up their waters as needed. By 10:25, all of my customers were making their way out of the restaurant. I cleared the tables, full of bliss and satisfaction. “Don’t You Forget About Me” began to play over the speakers and I knew I never wanted to forget this night when the world finally seemed normal again.

xo,

darron

Applebee’s Customers Need To Calm Down

The world is a glorified shit show right now with the entire global population struggling to protect themselves from Covid-19 and figure out how they’re going to pay their bills since basically everyone is unemployed right now. Be that as it may, there are still customers out there who are going to the Applebee’s Facebook page and complaining about their experiences and then complaining some more when they don’t hear back right away. Since the Applebee’s corporation is no doubt up to their ears in spinach and artichoke dip and a myriad of other issues, I thought I’d do them a favor and respond to some of their customer complaints on their behalf. You’re welcome, Applebee’s.

First we have Ann:

Ann, I’d like to remind you that there is a global pandemic happening right now. I’m sure that whatever occurred at your local Applebee’s was tragic for you, but there are bigger fish to fry right now and I’m not talking about their double crunch shrimp or blackened tilapia. That you haven’t heard back from Applebee’s yet about your overcooked burger or a overcharge on your credit card is not surprising since Applebee’s is trying to figure out how to take care of their employees and keep their business afloat in this unprecedented time. Maybe they just haven’t had a chance to reply to your email yet because they have been going through thousands and thousand of enquiries from people asking how to file for unemployment insurance. Perhaps you can just climb off of your high horse for a couple of weeks and realize that the world does not revolve around you. Calm down, Ann. Give Applebee’s a chance to prioritize their emails and I’m sure yours will eventually float to the top like a wet turd in a dirty toilet.

Now allow me to move on to Jen:

Jen is very upset that the 25¢ buffalo wing promotion is not valid for takeout and delivery. Jen. Girl. That promotion is clearly to get customers into the restaurant so they can order beers and cocktails and other food. It’s not so that you can drive up and buy 100 wings for $25 and then feed your quarantined family for five days. Maybe the TV commercial didn’t specifically mention that, but it’s probably because they assume people have half a brain in their skull. And maybe they haven’t had a chance to reshoot the TV commercial to make it more clear because they’ve been busy dealing with laying off thousands and thousands of employees. Jen, rather then using your precious time to complain about the lack of cheap 25¢ food, why not use the time to wash your hands and stock up on pasta, dried beans and toilet paper. News flash: there’s a global health emergency and no one cares about your need for buffalo wings.

This concludes my customer service interactions on behalf of Applebee’s. In this crazy time, we all need to figure out what we can do to help one another and I figure I can help Applebee’s by explaining to some of their customers that their problems just aren’t as big as they think they are.

Stay safe, everyone.