Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.
-- T.S. Eliot
'I just got word that the pilot's being picked up," said a voice behind me. "Which one was it?" I asked David; he had a clearer view of the three people seated at the table adjacent to ours.
"The blond in the jacket," he said, referring to the 20-something guy with bleached bangs spiked with gel, wearing what David had earlier dubbed an "offensive" navy pinstriped jacket over meticulously faded jeans, his eyes hidden behind '70s-style pilot glasses. Across from this aspiring "somebody" was a 30-something woman whose heels were as tall as her skirt was short, and, at around 50, a veteran Angeleno who dressed down his Rolex and pink Armani silk shirt with a pair of tattered brown sandals.
"Gag me," I said, pointing my index finger at my open mouth for emphasis.
"Yeah, I know," said David, punctuating his comment with a dramatic eye-roll.
"Are you ready to order?" We hadn't seen him, but there he was, watching us expectantly, a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye that hinted at familiarity.
"Uh, yeah, I don't mean to be annoying, but last time I was here you guys had an awesome cheese plate. I don't see it on the menu," I said.
"Right, it's on our cocktail menu," answered our waiter, whose entirely white ensemble was glowing vibrantly against the creamy mocha color of his skin.
"Can I still order it?" I asked.
"I thought you wanted the steak," David interjected. "How 'bout I order the steak and you can have a bite? Then I can have some of your cheese."
"I don't think that's going to work -- I like my meat burnt to a crisp and you like yours with a faint echo of 'Moo' on its lips," I answered.
"I have an idea," offered the man standing over us. "We'll fix you up a cheese plate and we'll cut the steak in half before cooking it -- his half medium rare and your half medium well."
"Really? That would be wonderful," I said. "But if it's too much trouble for the chef, or if he's hesitant, really, don't bother, we'll cope, it's cool."
"Yeah, we don't mean to be so much trouble," said David. "We're happy either way, really."
Smiling that familiar smile, the waiter disappeared from our view as quickly as he had appeared, and David and I relaxed into our chairs. Business and pleasure often take us on day trips to L.A., but every few months we like to make a weekend of it. This was our second visit to the Avalon, a hip, mid-century-style hotel tucked between residential and commercial streets in Beverly Hills.
Keeping our eyes locked on one another so as to continue our communication in silence, David and I resumed our eavesdropping.
"No, the Tropicana Bar is where the premier party is going to be. The guys at my office said the CSI after-party is somewhere else, but I'm going to go to both, and probably a few more. I mean, it is Saturday, after all." This from the woman. I raised both of my brows at David to say, Yes, darling, do go on, we want to know every detail of your dance card , and he responded with the succinct one-brow lift that agreed, with no small amount of derision, Tell me about it .
The woman shouted, "Excuse me! Yeah, excuse me!" and waved her arm wildly above her head; our waiter, who was a tall man, was at her side in four swift strides. "I distinctly asked for my avocado to be on the left side of my plate," the woman whined. My eyes widened and my face formed the question, Is it too taxing to turn the plate around? David nodded in agreement and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
"I'm so sorry, Madam, we'll fix that right away," said the waiter.
"And he wanted his salad finely chopped. Didn't we tell you that? I mean, I've already watched him re-cut those greens four times!"
"Yes, Madam, my apologies. I'll be right back." The waiter whisked the plates away and disappeared.
Our meal arrived, the steak and cheese to both of our liking. From behind me, I heard, "Meg Ryan was here last week, you know." This from the bleach-haired kid David had dubbed the Wannabe Brad Pitt. Any restaurant in L.A. is only as current and trendy as its last celebrity visitor. The woman and apparently mute older man shrugged indifferently and "Brad" blushed, most likely searching his memory for news on someone who might impress his dining companions.
Our waiter returned to check on us. "How do you deal with it here?" I asked him. "Everyone's so on ; they all seem like they're trying to sell something."
"Well, I've learned that the ones who are really doing stuff aren't the ones talking about it," he answered, before flashing that smile and disappearing once again.
I picked at the remaining cheese in front of me and thought back to when I lived in L.A. As a shmo with friends in low places, I know it's not that hard to show appreciation for the work that these people do. Too many people, longing to feel important, mimic the ill-mannered behavior of those who are famously allowed to get away with such antics, as though doing so will somehow earn them the same status. I would rather be a "nobody" who is remembered by a few people for being kind than a "somebody" who has a reputation with millions for being a dick.
"Is there anything else I can get you?" I was getting used to our waiter's materializing-from-thin-air bit.
"No, no, just the check when you get a chance," I answered.
Two minutes later, another waiter placed a giant, caramel-covered brownie on our table.
"Oh, no, we didn't order dessert," David told him. Looking confused, the guy began to turn away, brownie in hand, when a man who suddenly appeared by his side stopped him.
"No, that's correct, put it back," said our waiter. Then, to us, he added, "It's on me."
"What? You're rewarding us for being difficult and demanding problem customers?" I asked, bewildered.
"If this is how you treat troublemakers like us, then you better brace yourself for how we'll act when we come back for dinner," David said jokingly.
"Really, it's my pleasure," he said, and vanished without giving us another opportunity to protest his generosity.
David and I were baffled. Our bellies were full from steak and cheese, but we did our best to make an appreciative dent in the rich chocolate brownie.
"That was weird," David said between bites.
"Yeah, it's not like we're rich or famous. We're certainly not Meg Ryan. And here we were being all demanding and shit. Make sure you calculate this into the tip," I suggested.
We continued to chip away at the brownie while listening to the conversations around us, and I could see by his face that David's train of thought was traveling down the same track as mine. "People here must suck so much that you're rewarded, even if you're difficult, for simply being nice about it," I said.
"Just think of the kind of shit these poor guys who work here have to put up with every day," said David. For a moment, we contemplated this in silence.
"I'd go postal. I couldn't do it. I mean, I don't even have to interact with them directly and I want to slap every face in here," I said.
"Yeah. This weekend's been fun, but I'm looking forward to being back in San Diego, a safe 200 miles away from all these industry people," David said.