My wife: Sergeant-at-arms in restaurants
By By Robert St. John / food columnist
March 3, 2004
My wife Jill speaks her mind. I have always admired this trait of hers. Sometimes she has trouble holding her tongue. But for the most part she comes out on the better end of the deal clear conscious and all.
My friend, I will call him Jack, owns a restaurant. He is from the Middle East. He is an American citizen and one of the hardest working people I know. Jack regularly works 80 hour weeks. His wife and daughter also work in his restaurant.
Jack is a great American. He embodies the true American entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic. He came to this country as my ancestors did; in search of the American dream.
My wife and I frequent Jack's restaurant. One night we were in for a late dinner. This was in October 2001, just five weeks after Sept. 11. In those days there was a small group of frenzied, bigoted, ignorant and small-minded pseudo patriots who were giving grief to anyone who looked Middle Eastern.
Jack was working the cash register, busy with the late-evening rush. His daughter, who seemed to be waiting on most of the restaurant all by herself, seated us. We ordered the usual and discussed our plans for the next day.
Ten minutes into our meal we noticed Jack's daughter in tears. She was still serving tables, but sobbing lightly. I told Jill she was probably beginning to fold under the pressure of a packed house. No matter how experienced a server is, there comes a point in time when one can only do so much. I assumed she had reached that point.
After a minute of watching this, I called Jack over to our table. I asked him what was wrong with his daughter. He didn't want to answer. He asked how we were enjoying our meal. I asked again, and he said, nothing and that everything was fine.
Finally, my wife, who hasn't held her tongue since disco was en vogue, asked again. Reluctantly, Jack told us that he had just seated a table who, when he got out of earshot, and while his daughter was taking the order, mumbled, "There's nothing like getting seated by a terrorist." The daughter, who was waiting on the man at the time, said nothing. She kept serving tables, gritting her teeth, being as polite as she could, careful not to stir up any trouble in her father's place of business.
From the tone in Jack's voice, we could tell this had happened before. I was mad. My wife was enraged and working on her second shade of red. I told her to calm down. She ignored me. She asked Jack, "Who was it?" He avoided the question. She pried further. Finally, he gave in and said, without pointing, it was the man in the white T-shirt. She wanted to get up and confront the man immediately. Jack and I convinced her not to. She persisted. We insisted.
As a business owner, I sided with Jack. Jill eventually calmed down. I hurried through the rest of our meal and asked for the check. Jack's daughter handed it to us, still in tears, and still serving guests. I hustled my wife to the cash register. She was steadily eyeballing a man in a white shirt. She was the darkest shade of red, now. I let go of her arm to reach for my wallet and she took off. After 17 years, I know when I am licked. The mother instinct had taken over and there was no holding her back.
As Jack was ringing up the check he asked how everything was. I said, "Everything was fine, except for…." We both looked up at the same time and saw my wife, all the way across the restaurant shaking her finger in a man's face. A big man's face. He had on a white T-shirt, but it was the wrong white T-shirt! The real offender was seated three tables away.
My wife had her finger 6 inches room the nose of one of the most mountainous men I have ever seen. He looked as if he could have walked out of the restaurant and suited up for the Green Bay Packers. To his credit, he had a smile on his face. A lady sat across from him looking puzzled.
As if we had rehearsed it hundreds of times, Jack and I shouted, in unison, "WRONG TABLE!"
My wife looked crazed and baffled all at once. She paused for a minute, turned to the falsely accused man, who was still grinning, and said, "I'm sorry, wrong table." She then spun on her heels, quickly surveying the rest of the dining room shouting,"Where is he?"
I grabbed her arm, which was, by now, a third-degree red, and said, "We have to go." It must have been the confusion of going to the wrong table that puzzled her for a second and allowed me to escort her out. I threw a $20 at Jack and walked out the door, never prouder of my wife than at that moment.
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of the Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and Meridian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.