I am certainly not the oldest waiter in the United States, but I am the oldest one at my restaurant. My appearance may fool some into thinking that I have only worn my apron for a few years, but a closer inspection of my pores and wrinkles reveals that honey mustard runs through my veins and waiting tables has been a part of me for far too long. Recently, I saw the look of shock on the face of a co-worker when I mentioned what year I graduated from high school. It was that realization that I was older than his dad and now he felt inclined to call me "sir" and he no longer wanted to talk to me. It hurt me real bad and had my feelings not been numbed by Chardonnay, I may have produced an actual tear. Imagine my joy when I heard that we had hired a new server who the bartender had described as a "nice older lady." Finally, someone older than me!
I envision a little old lady with grey hair in a bun coming in through the front door using her walker. She has her spectacles hanging on a chain around her neck and she has to ask me every three minutes how to ring in a burger using the fancy computer machine. Her Life Alert bracelet is her only jewelry other than a brooch that she uses to hold her shawl around her shoulders. She has ten cats and feeds them caramel squares that she unwraps during movies. She doesn't have a cell phone because they seem like a fad and she still remembers what it was like to wait tables during the Great Depression. She has had two hip replacements and one artificial knee surgery. She steals sugar packets from the caddy before filling them up and she always microwaves the coffee for her guests because she knows what it's like to have coffee in a restaurant that's not hot enough. Her hosiery goes only as high as her knees and they support her calves in order to keep her varicose veins in check. The hearing aid she wears must be turned up as high as it can go while at the restaurant so that she can hear the orders and she constantly tries to turn the lights brighter to make it easier to see past her cataracts. She has an AARP card.
She is scheduled to come in at 7:00 to finish the shift with me. At 6:55 I look up to see a woman coming in to the restaurant. I immediately dismiss her as my new co-worker because she has neither a cane nor a hunch back from a lack of calcium. She is attractive with a pretty smile and her dark blond hair pulled back in a loose pony-tail.
"Hello, table for one?" I ask.
"Oh, no I work here. My name's Dawn and I'm supposed to start at 7:00 tonight. I'm a little early."
She smiles revealing pretty straight teeth and not the dentures that I expect.
"Oh, you're Dawn? I heard about you. Welcome." I force a smile.
I have been misled. This woman is clearly a decade younger than me. Why was she described as a "nice older lady" if she is younger than me? How the hell does the bartender describe me to people?
"Oh, him? Yeah, he's this old man who has been waiting tables since dinosaurs were on the menu. He seems young but only because he wears clothes from American Eagle Outfitter and has big hair. If you look closer, you can kinda see that the whites of his eyes are not that white and if you stand near enough you can smell the senior citizen on him. You can tell that he shaves the hair that grows out of his ears because there's stubble on them and he's always referring to TV shows that I have never even heard of like Good Times. He thinks he's young, but he's not. It's sad, really. Really sad."
The rest of the night goes by with me making small talk to the new girl. Inside, I am crushed because I know I am still the oldest person at the restaurant. I am even older than the owner. I console myself with a glass of wine but consider switching over to a sherry because it seems like something old people would drink. I punch out and shuffle out the door, head low and mood lower. I am still the oldest.
I get home and smother my face in wrinkle cream and dye my roots. I curl up on the sofa with a good Agatha Christie book and watch a rerun of Murder, She Wrote. The afghan I knitted in my sewing circle keeps my feet warm (for my circulation is poor) and I try to stay awake to watch the news at 11:00. I have a snack of buttermilk and cornbread and finally go to bed at 11:15 and dream about The Golden Girls.
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