Notes on a waiter spilling stuff on me

The point here, I promise, is not to complain. The point here, I promise, is not to gripe about the times when we live or the loss of customer service or any of that stuff. Now, let’s see if I can actually write this in a way where I get to a point.

At lunch today, a waiter dumped two glasses of water and a Diet Coke on me. He did not do this on purpose, of course. He was bringing drinks to the table, put down one glass and then the tray slipped and the water and Diet Coke came down on me. You know the difference between the two Yiddish words schlemiel and schlimazel. A schlemiel is the guy who spills the soup. A schlimazel is the guy who has the soup spilled on him. I was the schlimazel here.

We’ve all had something spilled on us in our lives ... but I will say that I have never had that much liquid spilled on me at one time. It was something like a Gatorade shower after the Super Bowl. I mean, it wasn’t on my head -- it was on my hip and my leg. But it was a lot of liquid. I was drenched. My pants are still a little bit wet. The waiter who spilled the stuff -- I guess he was an assistant waiter or whatever and not the main guy -- offered a sort of panicked apology and then ran off to get the floor cleaned up.

At no point from the moment on did a single person from the restaurant come over to even apologize. But here we get closer to the point: I never expected that anyone would. I certainly never thought anyone would come by and offer to buy our lunch or offer to pay for the drinks or make some gesture like that. It seems like most restaurants somewhere along the way came to conclusion that offering free entrees or drinks after major screw-ups wasn’t cost-effective. But, in the end, I did not even expect anyone to come by and just say, “We are sorry, can we get you a towel?” I did not expect it, and it didn’t happen, and when we left the restaurant after paying the bill no one even said good bye.

I’m honestly not upset at all about this -- I really don’t care. I was wearing old jeans anyway. But there is something that has stuck with me, a reason I sat down to write this down. Nothing bad happened to that restaurant for acting pretty egregiously. Part of that is my fault: I didn’t complain, we paid the full bill, we walked out without saying a word. I’ll never go back there, but realistically I probably would not have gone back anyway. They treated a customer pretty disgracefully and, if you choose to look at it through a narrow lens, they didn’t lose anything.*

*I guess I could name the restaurant and that would provide at least a little negative press, but I’m not going to do that and, again, that’s not the point.

There’s something about this that fascinates me -- so often (maybe more often now than ever before, maybe not) doing the right thing, the honorable thing, the hard thing doesn’t seem to get you much. And doing the wrong thing, the slack thing, the lazy thing succeeds. That’s not how it’s supposed to go. Parents tend to teach that sooner or later cutting corners and failing to take responsibility for your actions will catch up with you. Well ... maybe it will, maybe it won’t. If that restaurant keeps dumping beverages on customers and pretending it didn’t happen, yeah, eventually they will probably go out of business. If they do it only every so often, though, they’ll probably be all right.

I think a lot about this stuff a lot as a parent. We have two great daughters, and we try to be very straight with them. There’s no “If you keep crossing your eyes they will stay like that” talk. We try to treat them like smart kids, which they are. Still, if there’s one lesson I try to get through to them it’s simple: Try your best. All the time. That means not saying you’re sorry for mistakes but doing what you can to right the wrong. That means doing extra work to make something a little bit closer to perfect even though no one else will notice. That means throwing yourself into the moment, even if it means a little embarrassment or a little extra hassle or going on alone.

The thing is, I can’t tell them that this is the way to success. It might lead to success. It might not. Someone who takes all the easy routes and makes all the excuses and works halfheartedly might get the job or the promotion or the contract or the successful restaurant. That’s reality.

But, without diving too deep, I guess my hope is that they will live for a higher reality. I guess I hope that they will do the right thing and the difficult thing for themselves, because there’s a sense of fulfillment that comes with living that way. I talk about this all the time: That’s why I love Bruce Springsteen concerts. Sure I love the music. But more, I love that he gives everything every show. You walk away knowing: That’s someone being true to himself.

Yeah, it’s ridiculous that having a waiter spill water and Diet Coke on me would lead me down this ridiculous thought maze, but I guess I do believe the our daughters will dump beverages on people in their lives in one way or another. I hope they are the kinds of people who do something about it. Not because it will help their business, because it probably won’t. No, I hope they do it because it’s right.