Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Badges We Wear

It was a Friday night. We had a packed house, packed patio and 40 people waiting in the foyer. On nights like this I tend to become robotic, just going through the motions as fast as possible.

"Hi, my name is Jack! I'll be your server tonight. What can I get you to drink?"

"Have you found something you'd like to eat or would you like a few more minutes?"

And yada yada it goes until I drop the check, ring in the tip and wipe down the table. I was just hitting my stride when I look down under a recently vacated table to find a girl scout badge lying on the floor amongst the smashed fries, chips and crayons. My first reaction was to grab it and run out the door, but I had been slow to clean the table off and knew these people were long gone. I was initially upset simply because the little girl had left a badge she surely worked hard to earn. It must be important to her.

As I climbed in to my car later that night and drove the long quiet country roads home, I got to thinking about the badges we strive to earn throughout life and how easily they are tossed carelessly to the wayside. It may not be something physical like a "World's Best Dad" pin but a title, position or even a relationship. It's something we're all guilty of. We work so hard to achieve certain goals or make promises we intend to keep and yet, are so easely distracted. How many people shed their badges of honesty and integrity and neglect the God given morals we should be pinning proudly to our lapels? How many have hung their uniforms of responsibility turning their backs on life long commitments? I looked out into the darkness ahead, seeing only the 30 feet my old headlights could illuminate, and promised myself to cherish my achievements and stand by what I believe in. After all, we can't afford to leave pieces of who we are behind when we don't know what the future holds.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Caught In-between

Seeing as I'm not yet a parent with children coming home from school and no longer a college student with classes to take, I frequently find myself working those long lonely in-between hours. These are the times when people have everything in the world to do except eat. Lunch is hardly digested; dinner is still defrosting. I usually spend this time pushing a broom hoping on the off chance that a wrinkle in the daily grind sends a wayward diner my way. Those hoisted off their tracks always have a good story to tell, most of which involve the peculiar circumstances that led them to eat at an Irish themed sports bar at 3pm on a week day.

On this afternoon, I was wondering why the whole restaurant wasn't full of booth seating when a reflection of sunlight moved in an arc across the dimly lit dining room. I turned in a Pavlovian manner to greet those responsible for opening the door and breaking the monotonous stupor I had fallen into. Three men were walking in: an older gentleman and what appeared to be his two sons. The man was in his late 50's and the sons no older than 25. I made the joke that they could sit wherever they could find a place. They laughed and chose a table near the back. This is when I realized we have tables because its not masculine to sit in a booth with other men. After a short discussion on what we had on tap they settled for two beers and, to my surprise, a long island iced tea for the youngest son. As I walked away I heard them heckling him for not ordering a tall, dark mug of Dos Equis manliness.

When I returned with the drinks I started small talk with them to find out their story. It turns out the boys were on road trip from Houston to St. Louis when their transmission went out. The dad then came to the rescue. It wasn't long before I learned they had ridden the MS 150 bike race in Fort Worth, hiked a 26 mile four day trail through the Appalachian Mountains and gone deep sea fishing. They had done all of it together. I retired from their table wondering what it would have been like to have a father like that. Instead, my parents divorced when I was two and my dad had been come and go over the years. Mom remarried twice but the only thing I learned from these stand-ins was how not to be a father and husband. When I think about this concept it always reminds me of the poster of Thomas Edison in my high school science classroom. Edison stood holding a glowing ball of light over a quote that read, “We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb.” Thanks to my father and his successors, I feel like I could make a pretty damn good light bulb.

Monday, January 2, 2012

For Better Or Worse

I have always sworn I would never get married. Just wasn't in the cards. Yet, in the last year I have really started to want something more. Maybe not the white picket fence, minivan sort of marriage but I definitely long for that better or worse kind of bond. However, I realize that my lack of motivation thus far has led to a somewhat meager existence that isn't deserving of any respectable young lady's life long dedication. Especially not the one I have picked out. Her parents realize this too and are very vocal with their opinions, but that's another story.

Everyday, I stand at the front doors greeting people of all shapes and sizes. I can tell their moods by their speech, facial expressions and even body language. Giving people a Holmes-esque superficial rundown has become almost second nature and, children exempt, married couples are the most fun to read. I recently overheard someone talking about a Shauna Niequist book and how she relates life to seasons. I believe the same can be said for marriage.

As newly blossomed springtime marriages walk through the door the extent of their commitment is not readily apparent and can only be validated by checking her baby soft ring finger. Judging by the size of that diamond, Watson, I'd say they're fresh out of college. They sit, never in a hurry, holding hands across the table. Sweet lovers do love the spring... Maybe I played ball against him in high school or went to college with her brother. They come and go leaving little impression on me except the sad realization that people my age can pull it off. It was just a lover and his lass. As the newly weds evolve into parents, things get more interesting. They walk through the door each with a kid in hand barking commands like they're leading a team of sled dogs. They always need a high chair...or two, or three, and always have a baby on the way. These tables, or families as you may call them, are entertaining and allow me to bask in the radiance of a chaotic summertime marriage. Dad always has jokes, Mom never thinks they're funny and neither has quarters for the claw machine. As the leaves turn the nest empties and things slow down. These couples walk in with an accomplished grace about them. They always have some wisdom to impart and after short conversation the crease in their brow tells me their concern for me is real. There are very few things in life I appreciate more than the encouragement they give. A blanket of white then covers the heads and purifies the love of those who, by now, have stayed true to their vows through better AND worse. Despite the name, a winter marriage is the warmest and most comforting season to wait on. These, however, are only the observations of one who accomidates the needs of these people for a single meal of one day.

In the midst of these unconfessed changes in my feelings towards marriage my mother gave me a terrifying surprise. It was Christmas morning and I had been warned that, since money was tight, I wouldn't be getting anything big. This was fine by me. I never liked people buying me things anyway. My younger brothers passed out the presents "ooh-ing" and "ahh-ing" every time they saw their name. I opened one box to find Queen Anne's chocolate covered cherries. I had gotten these every year for as long as I could remember. Next a holiday assorted nut mixture. Then some bamboo bowls. This went on until I only had a small cylinder shaped tin left. I opened it and dumped the contents on my lap. It contained a ring box and a small note. I turned over the note to find,

"27 years... for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health. Your PaPa wore this ring as a symbol of his love for your Granny."

I looked up and mom said, "I feel like it's time for you to have this now. I know you don't say so but I think you're ready." I got up to hug her as tears fell down both our faces. There it was. I didn't know what to think. The person who knows and loves me more than anyone felt as if I was ready to take up the same responsibility my PaPa did when he stood in front of God and everyone else and vowed to love Granny until death did them part. And it did. Granny was only 42. It was only summertime.

And so now I ask myself, "Am I ready for this?" Or is this a part of life I can be content just waiting on...

How are you doing today? My name is Jack and I'll be your server.

For the majority of my life I have been entirely content with doing the bare minimum. I stumbled through college bouncing from one major to the next. I had no realistic future in mind: no dream job, no dream car, no dream girl. I wanted little to nothing from life and this is reflected in what I now have to show for it. The frailty of my will peaked in the beginning of 2006 when I heard The Fray's song "How To Save a Life" and decided I was going to be a doctor. The short of the story is I'm now 25 with a biology degree and a ton of debt.

After graduation I applied for several jobs in the area surrounding where I wanted to live all to no avail. "We'll contact you soon," they'd all say, but they never did. I eventually broke down and applied to be a server at a local sports bar and grill set up. Not a bad gig, but not at all what I wanted. I had always enjoyed helping people whether it was volunteering at the church, tutoring kids or just helping someone move. It gives a simple complacency not many things can. However, every time I put that referee jerzee on, tie my apron and walk past my diploma, which I have duct taped to the wall, it takes a little more out of me. You might be wondering, "Why would it matter if you never wanted anything from life?" Well, recent events in my life have changed that. Yeah, it's mostly a girl but several other things as well. And so now I find myself stuck in a place where I'm waiting for my life start while I wait on people enjoying theirs...