His suit doesn’t fit and he’s sweating like a tropical storm. This massive marshmallow of a man taps his foot, fiddles with his tie and runs a finger round his collar. First date? Not at lunchtime. This close to a coronary it can only be business. Life threatening, earth shatteringly important business, for my Mr Mallow.
Men like this only go one of two ways: They’re sweetness and light, or they’re as polite as haemorrhoids. “What do you want?” he snarls as I arrive at the table, sweat fleeing him like a burning building.
“I just wondered if you fancied a drink, sir.”
“Yeah Yeah,” he says. “Get me a beer.”
“We have Peroni, Cruz Campo and...”
“Look,” he says, finger wagging. “I’m waiting for some very important guests. Just piss off and get me a beer, will you.”
My working life is filled with this. People who make me want to stab them in the throat with my corkscrew and spray their blood around the room like a bottle of popped champagne. These people think waiters are below the social strata that require niceties. Perhaps it’s the service charge? They’re "tipping", so I have to stand there and take it like his miserable, beta-blocked wife.
I pop his beer on the table just as the "very important guests" arrive. Wedged into their seats, they all order beers and contemplate the menu. Mr Mallow? He’s not so good. I can hear him shamelessly begging for his corporate life: “But you said before... You promised if I sorted that out… You swore you’d let me give it a go...” And blah, blah, blah. Not looking so buoyant now, are you mate? Mr Mallow’s up shit creek with only a turd for a paddle.
“Why aren’t you Spanish?” he asks aggressively as I clear the table. He’s trying to be funny. Half our food is Spanish, so I should be too. I get this all the time. “What do you mean?” I ask innocently in my West Country twang. “Why aren’t you Spanish?” he heckles me again. Nothing raises the spirits like taking abuse from Eric Pickles’s much more obnoxious brother halfway through a Bikram yoga session. I look down and give it to him straight. “Well, the thing is right, neither my mother, nor my father, is from Spain.”
He looks uncomfortable. He shifts in his seat. “But this is a Spanish restaurant,” he says, looking to his companions for approval. “Why. Aren’t. You. Spanish?” BANG! That’s it, I’ve had enough. My arm flies into the air and I plunge my corkscrew deep into his neck... No. No, I don’t. I just stand there, looking vacantly into his eyes.
“Look sir, you’re being a little rude. I mean, do you think you have to be a car, to work in a car factory?” Silence. The guests start to smirk and then to laugh. Mr Mallow begins to laugh. Soon we’re all laughing and he’s clapping me on the back.
He’s a new man, sweet as you like. A big smile rides all the way across his fat, clammy face and it even sounds like his meeting’s improved. I can hear him saying: “Oh yeah, definitely. I won’t push her around any more, I’ll be nicer, I promise. Thank you.”
Nice as it is that it’s all working out for Mr Mallow, I can't shrug off that "piss off". I stand, surveying the restaurant, plotting my revenge. As a waiter there are only a few weapons in my arsenal, but – if used right – they slap like Mike Tyson. Maybe I should hit him with the old Decliner. Nothing sows the seed of doubt quite like the Decliner.
Once someone puts their pin number in the card machine, what's to stop me taking it back and quickly pressing "Cancel"? I say: "I am so sorry, but your card’s been declined." I let them try again, and again, I hit "Cancel". They shake and they squirm and panic seeps in. I can continue this interminably and, if I’m feeling really cruel, I can make a lot of tutting noises, pull a "wincey face" and gesture at one of the other guests in a way that says: "Come on now, let's stop this. Can't you pay?"
When it comes to it though, I can’t do it to him. It’s satisfaction enough to know it’s possible. The waiter’s Trident, swimming silently beneath the sea, never emerging. And Mr Mallow might just keel over and die and I don’t want that on my conscience. He’s probably good to his wife and he might even do a bit for charity at Christmas.
Clutching the bill in his pudgy little hand, Mr Mallow looks up at me.
“Yes. Yes it is.” I tell him.
“And what about the lip?” he asks with a wry smile, tucking a crisp £20 under the bill. I put my hand on his shoulder, turn to walk away and tell him that it’s not lip, it’s wit and for him, it’s free.
Follow Max on Twitter: @lunchluncheon
Illustration by Thomas Slater.