Monday, July 17, 2006

Fear and Loathing in Lake Mohonk

We sat down at dinner, after a day full of decadent bliss - massages, eucalyptus steam baths, a dip in a mineral pool, calming tea, a bushel of grapes - in Mohonk Mountain House's luxurious dining hall. In our semi-formal dinner attire, we took a seat in the middle of the hall, surrounded by dark wood floors, thick beams, shiny silverware, other well-dressed patrons. We held hands over the table's linen and gave our drink orders to our young waitress. I felt hopelessly elegant there, rich and classy, in my cream-colored stilettos with my handsome boyfriend in his suit jacket. The whole day was positively lousy with romance, if for no other reason than it was a day of just Billy and me, indulging in things we never, ever get a chance to do. We chose our four-course dinners while I gushed to him over everything that we had done, over how enamored I still am of him.

The whole day was perfect, one non-stop festival of smooth pleasure. Our 7:00 dinner was the crowning jewel of our day. Except for one thing: The man sitting next to us.

He his party, four of them in total, followed the hostess to the table just to my right, and instantly began complaining.

"Well, I'm sorry sir, but that table is taken," the hostess said apologetically. Everyone there was friendly and accommodating, lending an extra air of luxury to the resort.

"We wanted to be seated at the window," the tall, portly man protested, his voice much louder than necessary.

"Tables are first come, first serve, sir." The hostess gave a smile that suggested both her regret and the fact that there was nothing she could do for him.

"But we have reservations."

"Everyone here has reservations," she reminded him. "So the table you get depends on your time of arrival. Had you arrived at your reserved time of seven, or a few moments before, we would have been happy to seat you near a window. It is, though, quarter-past, and that table has been taken."

"We'll wait then," he said gruffly.

"Unfortunately, sir, we are reserved for the rest of the evening. So I'll have to ask you to sit here. And I do apologize for the inconvenience."

"Fine," he said, throwing up his chubby hands. "I'm not happy about it," he warned, "but we'll sit here."

They took their seats, and the fat man took to entertaining his three dinner partners.

"Look at that guy," I whispered to Billy, tilting my head in the man's direction. "He started complaining before he even sat down." Billy looked at him, shrugged, and took a sip of his water. He didn't seem to care about our neighbor or his attitude, but I did. I was sucked in to the drama of their four-top.

I faded out of their conversation, irritated by the man's obnoxious demeanor, and back into a dialogue with Billy. Somewhere, when I wasn't paying attention, their young waiter arrived at their table.

The next thing I heard was this:

"I just need you to tell me," said the fat man, forcibly, "where this shiraz comes from. Is it Australia? Probably, it's Australia, but I need you to tell me where, in particular, this wine comes from." His chubby finger was jamming against the paper in front of him, his eyes glaring at the nineteen year old serving him.

The waiter advised that their wine list has the origins of each wine, but since the man was just looking at the waiter's notes, there would be no indication there. The poor waiter's booklet, with his orders from each table, the specials, and God-knows what else waiters keep in those things, was clutched in the chubby fist of the man, who I surmise must've strong-armed it away from the lad at some point during his specials speech.

"Yes, well, wine lists usually do have the locations." The condescension was unnecessary. "But I just need you to tell me where it's from." Apparently, the waiter was being quizzed.

The waiter reached helplessly for his book, to no avail. It was in the clutches of his customer, and would not be released until origin of each wine was given. The man began to flip through the different papers in the book, while the waiter stood over him, obviously overwhelmed by this man's gall. "I'll be happy to get you a wine list, sir."

"Forget it. That'll just take too long. My wife and I," he said, pointing to the hunched-over woman to his right, "will have the shiraz. I hope it's from Australia." He handed back the book, it being of no use to him anymore.

Again, I tapped Billy's hand and nodded my head in the man's direction. "Check this guy out, listen to him about the wines!" I whispered, this time with a ferocity in my voice that indicated it was worth paying attention to.

The man began to explain to his three bored guests the difference between various red wines. He was spelling shiraz a number of different ways, and explaining how each spelling indicated its place of origin. He capped off his impromptu wine class with something like "It's tough to go out to eat when you know so much about wine." He sighed, clearly feeling the burden of the wealth of knowledge he possesses.

"He probably just went to one of the wineries in this area," I said to Billy in a hushed tone, "and now he's an 'expert.'" I used air quotes.

"I bet 'he is,'" Billy replied, using his own set of air quotes and rolling his eyes at the guy.

The young waiter, who was starting to look scared and flustered, delivered the wine. We watched as the glass was set on the table, then as the man peered at the glass through squinty eyes. The waiter had begun to leave the table, for one of the many other tables for which he was responsible, when he was summoned back by the sausage-like finger of the man.

He lifted the glass and handed it back to the waiter with a look of disgust on his face so profound you'd think he found feces floating among his shirraaaazzz. "There's a spot on this glass," he said, the anger in his voice matching the disgust on his face. "What about yours," he said quickly to his wife, "check yours for spots, too." The wife just shook her head no. I wondered if she was embarrassed.

"I would totally spit in his wine," I said to Billy, now less anxious to lower my voice. There's a line between obnoxious and asshole, and this guy had a foot on either side.

When it came time to order, the waiter looked terrified. He just knew he was going to be subject to all sorts of questions. He was right.

"This seaweed salad. Is it real seaweed?" ("No," I said to Billy, whose eyes were glued, like mine, to the exchange at our neighboring table, "it's the fake stuff you put in fish tanks.")

"These wasabi mashed potatoes. What's wasabi?"

"Is this Angus steak very fatty?"

"This truffle dressing on the salad, what does it taste like?"

"How big is the sirloin?"

The waiter looked harried. He couldn't walk up to or leave that table without a million questions. I could sense his dread as he neared our section, aware that, no matter where he was headed, this man would summon him.

When the waiter wasn't standing right beside him, awkward and unsure, the man was busying himself by not letting anyone else at his table talk. He told story after story, looking to his wife for confirmation of each story ("Remember that time, in The City?") but not allowing her to actually say yes or no. The volume of his voice suggested his companions were hard of hearing, though they didn't seem to be. It seemed to me that he just believed he was very important, and that he wanted everyone around him to believe it, too. He punctuated his sentences with a shake or a stab of his corpulent hand, his too-tight-pinky ring reflecting the candle on their table. He laughed loudly enough to ensure that the entire resort could hear him, flashing his gold-capped rear tooth. His jowls shook with his raucous laughter, though those seated around him rarely did more than chuckle. He was clearly his own biggest fan.

When the waiter returned with the food and set it before each guest, the man questioned him. "Are you sure that's right? Because she," he said, pointing to the lady opposite him, "asked for no wasabi." He threw the word around like he was an old pro about wasabi, regardless of the fact that, moments ago, he had to ask what it was. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure," the waiter mumbled.

I leaned into Billy, stupefied by this man. "So how much gross shit do you think they put in this jackass's meal?"

"As much as they could fit."

"Do you think his wife in embarrassed? I bet he does this all the time. Probably, like, every time they go out to dinner, he asks a million questions and acts like an authority on everything. I bet she hates going out to dinner, and usually avoids it at all costs."

"Maybe that's why she's sitting like that," Billy suggested, pointing to the wife's body language. When not eating, she sat with her body angled away from her husband, her arms crossed in front of her chest. She looked dejected, resigned to sit next to this man. The other people at their table sat uncomfortably, picking at their food or wiping away the condensation from their glasses. No one wanted to make eye contact with him, as though doing so would inspire him to tell you something he thought you didn't know. But even though no one looked at him, he never stopped talking.

Once the meals were all placed on the table, everyone but him picked up their forks and began the picking process, where they push the food around, examining it from each angle before tearing into their meat and potatoes. He, on the other hand, took a moment to tuck his linen napkin into his shirt.

"I am now," I said to Billy, disgusted, "licensed to hate this ass. Look at him." We glared in his direction. "You're not eating lobster, mothafucker. You're eating steak. Is it necessary? The napkin in the shirt," I said quietly. There was just something about that maneuver that seemed so smug, so asshole-ish.

Suddenly, there was activity at his table. He was searching for the waiter, with vigor. "Chris," he said, because apparently they were now friendly, "you got that wrong," he said, pointing with his fork his wife's meal. His double chin was sadly highlighted by the napkin tucked into his collar and he was chewing a piece of steak as he spoke. "She wanted wasabi, and she," he pointed his fork at the lady opposite him, "didn't want any. Are you sure you got it right?"

"Yes sir, I am."

"Actually, I think we're all wasabi-less." He paused for a second, chewing and assessing the bite he was taking as he spoke. "You said wasabi was spicy. This isn't spicy."

"I'm sorry, sir, but the only one without wasabi was her meal," he gestured to the woman. He waited for a second, then nodded and went to move away from the table.

"One more thing!" cried the man, obnoxiously swallowing his wasabi-less bite. "Close those blinds. Thanks." He gestured to the windows that lined the entire dining room. Apparently, the supple pink sunset did nothing for his appetite if he wasn't sitting at a window actually appreciating it. "It's too bright in here." He gestured to the other man at the table. "He's got sunlight right in his face."

"I'm fine, really," said the man, shooing away the instructions.

The fat man looked at him, his napkin-turned-bib swishing as his head turned. "No you're not. You're blinded by sun." He turned his attention to the waiter. "Close 'em." And we went back to his steak.

It was seriously almost as if he was still upset about not sitting by the window, and in seeing the sunset light creep through the dining room, he saw his opportunity to ruin it for everybody else.

"I hate that guy," Billy seethed. We were now blatantly staring, and no longer keeping our voices to a whisper. "What a dick."

"I feel bad for the waiter," I said, glancing at the frazzled boy who was clearly falling behind on his other tables because of this guy.

I've heard tales of these kinds of diners, but I've never actually seen one in action. I surprised myself with how much I despised him. I wanted to throw my dinner rolls at him. I wanted to go over and tell him that nobody is impressed. I wanted to walk by his table, lean over his fat back and whisper seductively, "I hope you know that every waiter in here took turns spitting in your meal tonight, asshole."

We grabbed our waitress. Billy motioned her closer and leaned in. "Could you tell that waiter," he pointed at the young man as he scuttled by, "that we're sorry that guy at that table is such a dick?"

She laughed and asked why. We told her the abridged version of the evening. "And just tell him that we feel really bad for him, that we're confirming that guy really is an asshole. Tell him we hope he has a good night when that table leaves." I, personally, don't know how waiters and waitresses do it. I have so much respect for them. I worked for one day in a restaurant, and I couldn't handle it. I don't know how they keep their composure.

"That is so nice to hear," she said. "Sometimes you think it's you, you know?"

"Oh, it's not him," I said. "It's that guy."

"Yeah, we hate him," Billy added. "Just not as much as his waiter does."


anno said...

Oh. My. God. This is horrifying. But brilliant. A great story. Thanks!

Michele said...

What a jerk! The way you described him I picture him as some sort of mob boss, a Tony Soprano type. Maybe it was the pinky ring that did it

Tiffany said...

Oh my gosh! What a creep! I'm glad Billy said something (even third party related) to the poor waiter.

And you totally should have thrown a dinner roll. It could have just "slipped" off your plate no?

Liz said...

It never ceases to amaze me, the behavior of some people and the sense of entitlement.

Popeye said...

OK, I hate him now, too. Get his address. I've got this guy who owes me a favor. ..

God's gift to women (with really low standards) said...

The world needs assholes, though. They serve a purpose. That purpose is to make the rest of us look better. Well, not me of course, 'cause I'm perfect, but you know what I mean.