The universe may not be watching you, but the waiter is always watching – Marine Independent Journal

Jeff Burckhardt (IJ photo/Frankie Frost)

Frankie Frost Archive / IJ

Jeff Burckhardt

Papers began to pile up at the front door. The man in a brightly colored, short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt wore a Patagonian bottom jacket over it, with glowing colored sleeves jutting out from the jacket’s deep earth tone.

Falling is sad as well as improvisation. We still want it to be summer because seasons inevitably fall into winter.

A man hovers around the perimeter of the group sitting at the bar. He and a woman walked into the tavern at about the same moment, always a little ahead of her.

He actually walked along the bar, apparently assessing the stay of these seated guests. However, he also apparently failed to consider four other people standing at various points around the bar who also wanted seats. Being blissfully ignorant is one thing, being blissfully rude is quite another.

“Does anyone leave?” He asked after two passes. “I want to eat.”

Unfortunately, he said it loud enough for everyone to hear. I warn people all the time – the easiest way to convince someone to stay is to make them feel like you want them to leave. This is true in parking lots, grocery stores, and especially in restaurants and bars.

I had never encountered anyone after hearing such an exclamation say, “You know what, you can have my seat.” Not once in my 30 years behind the pub. I’ve often seen people offer their seats to someone who didn’t ask, but the act of asking first precludes the desired outcome.

I pointed to the four people who stood closer to him than me in waiting. I also pointed to the woman who arrived a little behind him.

“I didn’t see them. But I’m in front of her.”

It’s strange how some people easily identify things for their immediate benefit but often seem oblivious to the things that move them away in class.

We say in the bar: “Let the game come to you.” Squeezing, squeezing and complaining doesn’t speed anything up. In the end the game came.

“I was here first,” he said to the woman who had arrived just a little behind him as he stood before her to the seat closest to her. This was a strange thing to say and do when there were two seats available and two people waiting. Some people are incredibly concerned with their immediate perceived situation, not in the eyes of everyone around them but in the eyes of some inner voice that always seems to motivate bad behavior.

“Sure,” she said, evidently being a bit put off.

Once he got what he wanted, he looked at her. She was about the same age, was elegantly dressed but not overly dressed, and was not wearing a wedding ring. They could have been male and female sides of the same coin. They would have made a cute couple, except for one thing.

“Can I buy you a drink?” He asked after a few minutes.

“No thank you.”

“Sorry about the seat issue,” he began to explain.

She simply shook her head. And when another seat on the other side of the bar opened, I got up and moved there.

He looked at me.

“I think chivalry is no longer appreciated,” he said, and the irony of that phrase completely missed.

I once watched a man push another man for no reason and then he turned to me and asked, “Did you see that?” In a tone and manner that indicated that it was the other man’s fault. Only when I said, “I did,” did he begin to realize that maybe I didn’t see things the same way he did. And when the police arrived, it really hit the house.

It was the same with this guy, because he started explaining and then continued explaining for the rest of the evening. When he finally sat down at the bar – alone – he asked me a question.

“What a good night to come here, you know, to meet the ladies.”

I replied, “Next Thursday should be good.”

Leave me these thoughts.

• Being “right” can be horribly lonely.

• Guilt often lies in the interpretation, especially the unwelcome long explanation.

• A real man is always a gentleman, not just when he thinks he can get something out of him.

• Our doors are closed for a private party next Thursday. Maybe I knew it and maybe I didn’t.

• The universe may not be watching you, but the waiter is always watching you. It is their job.

Jeff Burkhart is the author of Twenty Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender, Vol. I and II, Barfly Podcast host on iTunes and award-winning waiter at a local restaurant. Follow him at and contact him at

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