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An Iowa City Life: “Barramundi at Sunset”

An Iowa City Life

An Iowa City LifeBy Ben Evans

I have this policy, you see. It’s probably the third strictest policy I have, which means that it is a relatively big deal. If I see a celebrity, which I define as anyone I have seen on a screen or read about in a published work, then I treat them just like anyone else I see on the street. This is a nice way of saying I treat them like anyone I don’t give a shit about. If they give me a smile, I give them a look to say, ‘Can I help you with something?’ If they shoot me a glance to see if I am looking at them, I roll my eyes and think that they are too vain, which is almost always followed by my internal disc jockey playing ‘You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.’

I am use to this game, a matching of wits if you will, since I worked at one of the ‘premiere’ restaurants in the west side Fort, which hosted its fair share of local celebrities, state senators and such, news casters with large, slicked back hair, lawyers who have the idea that everyone would be in jail if not for their existence. ‘Important patrons,’ Boss would say as he motioned to the door with his wine bottle. ‘Go give them some TLC.’ What he really meant was go do what you do. It is as if treating celebrities like people is a secret technique that only I have discovered. An ancient art that Boss thinks I have unlocked. Marty is really the only one who knows what I do at the table.

Marty was my replacement, the guy I had to train before I went back to the City. I started off not liking the little prick merely because he was, of course, another cock in my hen-house. Most of the night staff at the Bistro are women. Not just women, but beautiful women. Top notch, high-caliber, special reserve women. And then there were the five guys: Boss, French, Christian, Francisco, and me.

Boss and French alternated hosting, Christian and Francisco were in the kitchen, and I was the lone male working the floor, amongst those women. The thought of another guy I barely knew taking my place was horrifying. What if he didn’t carry the dishes down for Chich? What if he didn’t make Isabel coffee? What if he didn’t fight with Monica? What if he didn’t fold napkins for Lidia? All these were necessary for the night to go well; but, of course, my true concern was what if he were better than me at all the above. If I found that he was, I had pondered about taking him out back and shooting him, but found the idea to be impractical as I was sure to get blood on the button-up white shirt that French had loaned me while mine was being cleaned.

As it turned out, Marty was just as worried as I was and the relationship evolved with ease. I told him that Chich was pregnant and that she should not carry anything up and down the stairs. I told him that Isabel needed coffee because she came straight from working at daycare service in the east Fort. I told him that if he didn’t fight with Monica, then she could not properly vent about annoying customers. And I told him to fold napkins for Lidia because then she will bus your tables faster. He seemed to understand easily. The complexities of the staff at the Bistro were simple if you took the worldview that waiters are people instead of a job description. This I suppose is how I look at celebrities: as people rather than the superficial roles they play in society. I told Marty this, he nodded, but didn’t truly understand until we took our first table, which was family of important patrons. ‘Go give them some TLC.’ Yes, Boss.

To understand what happened next, you have to understand that my policy is strict. Crazy strict. Like pre-Vatican strict. I knew everyone at this table, yes, because they had given uber amounts of money to my high school and had appeared on almost every local news channel to tout the donation. So we could build a new vocal music building? So the high school could put air conditioners in every classroom? You don’t walk in two minutes before a restaurant closes and expect me to have a table ready for you unless you have a reservation.

Marty looked at me, ‘Christian said we aren’t supposed to seat anyone past 8:00.’

‘Good thing it’s 7:58, then.’

‘Seriously?’ Even Marty knew that if we sat a table past quarter till eight, we would be closing around ten thirty to eleven. Eh, whatever, we could deal. So I went up to them, and politely asked if they had a reservation.
The Father motioned to Boss, ‘We’ll take a table outside,’ while the son behind him whispered to his sister mockingly, ‘He must be new.’ We’ll call the son Plaid Shorts. I am not quick to judge someone unless he or she crosses me, or I just dislike their general disposition; but with this exchange, I immediately pigeon-holed them as snooty. I knew these people. These were the kind of people who think their ranch dressing is important. Actually, these are the type of people who stick up their nose when you offer ranch dressing as a choice, then ask for it when the vinaigrette ‘is not to their liking.’ These are the people who expect to have their coats taken at McDonald’s. Snooty. It was then stamped on their permanent file that resides in the file cabinet in my mind.

They were sat outside, just as they had asked, demanded really, their ugly faces in stark contrast to the fantastic sunset in the background. The Bistro is truly beautiful in the night and early morning. Windows are everywhere allowing you to see the sun rise and set; but it’s really the light the filters through that gives you the feeling that life may in fact be worth people like this. The Snooty. I commented on what a beautiful night it was, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the Father mouth to Plaid Shorts, ‘fruit cake.’ I would have passed this comment, let it fly into the air and disappear if he would have just said fruit. We have good fruit at the Bistro, and, maybe, you know, he was looking forward to it; we do not, however, have fruit cake. He was referring to me. I do not mind the odd question, ‘Are you gay?’ or the misconception, ‘Oh, I thought you were gay!’ These is a common misconception, because, I’ll admit, I’m a bit more, um, interesting than the stereotypical male. I am a bit of a fashion whore, my hair takes fifteen minutes to do, and I actually don’t mind shopping or a good RomCom. In most instances, I take the social commentary as a compliment: the thought that I am fashionable and enthusiastic is quite an ego boost. What started my fuse on this ‘fruit cake’ comment was the lack of creativity in the noun. The word fruitcake makes me think of high school banter or the odd brick of dried apricots on Christmas. These are the people who are funding my sister’s high school? To think of their fingerprints on the walls of a vocal arts building is too much to handle. Without the fruitcakes in that building, there would be no program.

We carried on the charade, them being the picky customer, me being the doting waiter. Soup du jour or the garden salad, ma’am? How would you like that cooked? Oh, I agree, but unfortunately, I don’t set the prices. You are certainly right, it has been a long night for me. That glass is dirty? I apologize, let me get a fresh one. Then it came to Plaid Shorts.
‘What is barramundi?’ A simple question, and a fair one: barramundi is a fish that I didn’t know existed until we introduced it to the menu. Barramundi is a fancy word for a fancy trout. It is a fish caught primarily in the south Pacific region, light and fluffy, with an extremely flaky texture. We pan sear it with a little salt and pepper and then broil it.

‘Is it good?’ This was the second click back on the hammer of my gun. I hate this question. If you are in a restaurant and you ask this question, realize that you are stupid. Everything on the menu is good; if it was not good, we would not have put it on the menu. If you ask me if you would like a certain thing, then I’m going to say ‘Yes, absolutely,’ in order to sell it to you. If you approach the menu and say, ‘What’s good?’ I’m automatically going to point to the top three most expensive items. I want a big tip, this is how it works. It was not a problem when Plaid Shorts asked it because this means that I could turn it into a joke and get more points on the server scale. Maybe go from fruit cake to adorable fruit cake. It’s what I call an ‘appeal to the table.’ It tells people I’m on their side, I’ve been in a place where I’m unsure of the food, and I want to try new things but am unsure if I should. So whenever someone asks this I go with, ‘It is amazing! Absolutely delicious! Best fish in town! (Dramatic pause) Of course I’m paid to say that, but it is actually pretty good.’

They didn’t find it adorable. No snicker, no ‘oh, that’s true, I’m an idiot for asking.’ Nothing. No points on the scale. Still a fruit cake. ‘That sounds fine,’ he said. Okay. I’ll move on. I gave the order to an impatient chef, told Chich to make a water run, and noticed that it was already 8:15.

When 8:30 came around, the table’s food was ready. Marty and I took the four plates out promptly, making sure they were not cold and so that the presentation could be complete with the fusion of smell and sight. By now, I had realized that my tip would be next to nothing for this table, maybe a ten percent bounce, so I kept my mouth shut and tried to scrape for twelve percent by being a doting peasant who knew his place below the grand aristocracy that was before me. I made sure all the drinks were full, the unnecessary plates were off the table, and let them eat in peace. By the time I got inside, the beautiful women were beginning to clear tables, put dishes away, and prepare for the morning staff. So compassionate, these women: putting in extra work so that others would not have to do as much and merely ease into the breakfast bustle. I, of course, still had a table, so I was to make sure they were taken care off, taking up the duties of water runner and in-game maintenance. Every fifteen minutes, I went out and made sure their water was refilled and their food was fine and everyone was enjoying themselves. This is when they had to announce themselves as royalty of the Fort.

Every want-to-be celebrity has to do this; people who are insecure about their importance, so they have to educate people about their significance in the community. ‘I founded this group,’ or ‘Anyone should know that I did this thing,’ usually subtly dropping their name so you can put two and two together. This is innocent and sometimes interesting to learn something new about the world around me and be connected to self starters or open-minded politicians. Not so with Plaid Short and the Father. Not so. The Father wanted me to know his name. He wanted me to recognize him. He wanted me to remember him.

‘I know you, don’t I?’ he asked while I was removing his plate.

‘I’m not sure, sir.’

‘Yeah, you went to my son’s high school,’ as if his son owned the high school and was gracious enough to share it with me and the rest of west Fort’s youth.

‘I probably did.’ I did and I knew it.

‘Yes, I know your sisters’ names. You use to live on Foster Drive. I know your family very well.’ No he didn’t. I knew he didn’t. He had never been in my house. He had never talked to my mother. He had never seen my sisters. It was very strange.

‘That is weird.’ I said this without realizing it. It was very slow and seemed to be thought out, but it wasn’t. It was a cocktail of my fight or flight response and my need to get a large tip. I tried to recover. ‘I don’t know your family,’ I stuck out my hand, ‘I’m Ben Evans.’

‘I know,’ the Father said. ‘We’re the Joneses.’ I’m calling them the Joneses. They are not the Joneses. ‘Oh, well, nice to meet you,’ I looked at everyone at the table. They all had the same look; the look that said ‘who are you?’ ‘where have you been?’ and ‘get out of my sight, you worthless pig.’ It was time to get their bill.

‘I’ll go get your bill,’ I faux smiled. The Father wasn’t ready.

‘The Barramundi,’ he grasped for something.

‘I’m sorry, sir?’

‘The Barramundi was terrible,’ he settled into this idea. Plaid Shorts pipped in beside his dad, agreeing, ‘Yeah, just terrible.’

‘I apologize, sir. I’ll make sure that is deducted from your bill.’

‘I can pay for my meal!’ he raised his voice.

‘Absolutely, sir,’ I was about to lose it, just throw one of the plates at him and be done with my night. Screw the tip, screw the job; I would elect to become a hobo, live under a bridge, and make baked beans off a trash can fire. But I kept my cool. ‘Once again, I apologize. I’ll talk to my chef about it.’

‘I want to speak to your boss,’ which translated to ‘I’m going to get you fired.’

‘I’ll send him right out.’



I told Boss what had happened and he went outside. I knew I was going to get fired. I knew it. I was toast. The adorable hobo. Shit. Stupid celebrity policy. Stupid. Kiss ass. Always kiss ass. Stupid. The family had been billed and Boss walked them out. As the Father walked by me, he muttered something to Boss about my attitude. Plaid Shorts smiled vilely in my direction. I know the axe was coming. The door shut. My heart began to pump too much blood. Boss came over to me, shaking his head. ‘Rich people are so weird,’ he said. ‘He didn’t even know what Barramundi was.’ I laughed. I love my job.