As a waiter, Manuel was a marvel. While reciting specials and fielding menu questions, he dispensed information with the rote confidence of a Rhodes Scholar. When it came to taking orders and delivering the goods, he neither wrote things down nor screwed things up.
It was at a chain Mexican hang in Scottsdale's Old Town that I took notice of Manuel's talents. A favorite day-off destination for my ex and me during our years together, we always felt fortunate to draw a seat in his station, and came to see his service as a cherry on the sundae of our Margarita Mondays.
"Is Manuel here today?" I asked a hostess, the last time we paid a visit to the place.
"He sure is." She gave us the good news, and then whisked us off to one of his tables. In no time, Manuel appeared, and with one of his trademark moves, spun his service tray on a fingertip while telling us about the day's food and drink features.
"But I'm guessing you folks will be having your usual," he guessed right, at the end of his short and sweet schtick. "Two double Cadillac margs, one no salt, and some house salsa macho for your chips."
I never needed to say a word. But there was something I had to do.
"My back teeth are floating; you know what I want," I consigned my order to the Mrs., before sliding out of the booth with a line borrowed from Cheech & Chong's Pedro and The Man at the Drive-In.
"Why can't you ever just excuse yourself without going into detail?" my then-better half miffed. But as we know, ladies; it's a basic tenet of the boys-will-be-boys bill of rights: Give me bathroom humor or give me death.
On the other hand, as funny as bodily functions are, even we guys have our limits, and I was about to literally rub elbows with mine. Snugged up to a urinal, I suddenly found myself with company. Manuel stopped in, stepped up to the neighboring receptacle, and started doing his business beside me. Proper men's room protocol prevailed. No pleasantries were exchanged, no eye contact was made. Still, and try as I might, I couldn't ignore what Manuel was openly dangling in plain- if somewhat peripheral- sight. For some reason, Manuel's service tray had found its way into the restroom with him. And now, midway through our mutual pit stop, I couldn't help but notice it tucked under his arm, touching the porcelain trough itself, and taking God only knows how many hits from the backsplash that's a fact of number one-going nature in the world of men's stand-up bathroom fixtures.
While I "finished" before Manuel, I waited, pretending I hadn't. Trying to get a grip on what I'd just witnessed, I stood there holding on to the hope that the man would somehow grasp his own misstep and drop the damn tray in the trash. Had he, I would have let myself go right then and there to applaud, and all would have been forgiven.
That didn't happen. And for the record, Manuel didn't even wash his hands.
I made my way back to the table horrified, not knowing what to do next.
"I haven't ordered," the Mrs. informed me. "Manuel hasn't been back yet."
"I'm guessing he will be in a minute," I shuddered at the thought. Sure enough, he was; with drinks and chips in tow. On that tray.
"Two double Cadillac margaritas, one no salt, and salsa macho for the chips. Are you ready to order?" Manuel, back to business as usual, never missed a beat.
"Honey, trust me," I turned to the Mrs. before anyone had a chance to say another word. "Manuel, sorry, but we've got to go."
I pulled twenty bucks from my pocket and plunked it on the table. My wife, worried that there was something seriously wrong, turned near-frantic in a hurry.
"What is it? Are you sick?" She needed answers. And judging by the look on his face, so did Manuel.
"I'm fine." I reassured the Mrs., before turning to Mr.Whiz Kid. "I'm going to take my wife's advice, and just excuse myself without going into details."
We got up and left. I told my wife what happened the minute we got into the car. At home, we discussed it. It came down to either washing our hands of the situation, or saying something. In the end, I phoned the restaurant and spoke with a manager.
God knows, there's much to be said for minding your own business. On the other hand, it can be a piss-poor excuse for looking the other way.
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