Monday, October 9, 2006

The Lecture Is Mightier (and more painful) than the Sword

If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em. ~ Harry S Truman

My late father ... heh, heh, that's funny because he was never on time
for anything.

Ahem. My late father was a profound talker. Regrettably, I take after him to some extent, although people who think I ramble on should be grateful that they never came up against dear old Dad. He loved to tell stories about his past, and I plead guilty to doing the same. I could hardly deny it to anyone who has read a few entries in this anthology.

Of course, that means there are billions of people that I could deny it to, but if I go there, I'll get depressed.

The thing is, the stories I tell, whether here or face to face, have a fair degree of truth in them. Oh, I might exaggerate slightly for humorous effect (if you didn't notice the humor, I'd rather not know about it, thank you), but there is some real basis for the tales I spin.

In Dad's case, as I grew older and began hearing some of these stories over and over ... and over and over, I began to notice that they were sometimes radically different than I remembered hearing previously. This was particularly noticeable when he was telling the story to someone who hadn't heard his tales before. On one occasion, I expressed surprise at what I knew to be a significant alteration in one his stories. He looked at me in that time-honored way fathers have of looking at offspring they feel they should have sold to the gypsies when they had the chance. While I may not have been the brightest bulb on the tree, I knew when to shut up.

Dad was a restaurant manager and a pretty good one, at that. His employees really toed the line. I know this, because I worked for him. Unlike many guys working for their fathers, I didn't goof off, and he didn't cut me any slack that he would cut for any employee. That was okay because he was a fair boss. The other reason I didin't goof off was that I feared The Lecture.

Growing up, I had gotten a couple of these. It wasn't that they were brow-beating tirades or anything of that sort. No, it's just that they were the longest, most boring, most repetitive recitations of boyhood excellence that one could be forced to endure. Oddly, these talks didn't jibe with some of his other stories of being a world-class rebel as a kid, but I quickly learned that bringing that up was not wise. You never knew when the gypsies might turn up.

Now, I could be misremembering, but, while I certainly lectured my kids, I think that I kept it short and sour. And I didn't go on about what a saint I was. I did use the gypsy threat once in a while, but the kids stopped buying into that years ago.

Anyway, I knew that doing a crummy job would earn me a new version of The Lecture that I just didn't want to hear. Still, I did have the misfortune to endure parts of it one night, although it wasn't being directed to me.

One thing that made Dad a good manager is that he addressed any employee performance issues quickly. If a waitress or a busboy was doing a poor job, they were going to be told as soon as possible. He also never chewed someone out in front of co-workers beyond a couple of curt words and then only if the person was really messing up. Later, though, they would have "a little talk."

One night, I was doing kitchen duty, washing the dishes and pots, and doing the general cleaning up after closing. On a week night, I could normally finish up within a half-hour after closing. Just about closing, I heard someone tell a waitress that the boss wanted to talk with her. Now, I knew this woman was not the best of waitresses; she was slow and occasionally messed up orders. After she left the kitchen, I noticed the other employees talking in hushed tones, but they weren't looking as though they felt sorry for the poor soul. They were sort of cackling.

So I started cleaning up, which involved getting stuff from the dining room, so I went in and out of the kitchen a few times. I noticed that Dad and the waitress were seated at a table. He was talking quietly and calmly to the woman, who was nodding in agreement. I thought, well, that doesn't look so bad.

I finished the cleaning up, changed out of my kitchen clothes, and went out to let Dad know we could hit the road. When I went out to the dining room, I was expecting to go to Dad's office to collect him. Out of the corner of my eye, though, I saw that he and the waitress were still at the table. He's got to be done soon, I figured. Just to make sure that he knew I was ready, I waved at him. He smiled, waved back, and continued talking.

I sat down at another table across the dining room, with a sinking feeling, because I could heard something of what he was saying. He was going on about his days working in restaurants in his youth and how he had worked hard and did all the right things, and blah, blah, blah. This went on for over an hour. With the time I had spent cleaning up, this poor woman had been hearing this stuff for nearly two hours.

Lordy, I thought, this must be a violation of some sort of labor law.

Finally, he stood up, and I have seldom seen such an expression of palpable relief as I saw on the waitress' face. I've never seen anyone released from prison, but I suspect the expression must be similar.

As we were heading home, I finally asked him what on earth he had been beating that woman over the head with for two hours.

“I was just letting know what she was doing wrong and how a good restaurant employee should work.”

“Yeah, but what was all that garbage about you working in a restaurant kitchen washing dishes and bussing tables when you first came to this country. You never worked in a kitchen until you and Mom ran that tavern. And then she was the one in the kitchen all the time.”

“Poetic license. You know, sometimes you need to make a point.”

“A point! You ran her through with a spear about a dozen times!” Hey, it was after midnight, and I was tired.

Tired as I was, I realized that I may have crossed a line, but, to my surprise, he just smiled sheepishly.

“Maybe. But, I'll bet she does a better job ... or quits.”

As it turned out, she did do a better job, but I think she knew she wouldn't be able to keep it up. Within a couple of months, she moved on to greener (and less demanding) pastures.

Thank goodness. Neither one of us could have sat through another session.

No comments:

Post a Comment