By Grace McDermott
I didn’t think I was putting myself in a position where I might be in danger when I first started working at the restaurant. I was just worried about whether or not people would like me. After all, I was a hostess, not a lion tamer. It seemed like a pretty easy gig.
Working night shifts were long and tiring. Nickelback would blast from speakers over my head along with a few different football games, the news, an infomercial, and a hockey game. A wide screen TV was mounted up on every wall right next to a poster with an obscure quote about alcohol or women on it. I remember reading one of the posters and having to do a double take. “A nice rack should always be handled with care,” it said, next to a cartoon of a voluptuous woman holding beer.
The smell of steak being cooked in a brown sugar glaze mixed together with smells of cleaning fluid, beer, and the puke someone had left in the bathroom. The walls were made of thick pinewood, along with every table bench and bar stool in the place. It was reminiscent of an old pub in medieval Europe. The lights were dim, making it hard to see details on anyone’s face. The bar was filled with drunken laughter and wandering eyes.
I would stand up behind a little podium made of thick pine, sticky with unidentified substances. The top was covered with a grubby slate of glass for us to write on. Sheets of paper covered in numbers and charts lay scattered across the glass along with stubby pencils for us to write with. Behind me was a stone top counter, with a wood stove on top of it that always stood cold and unlit. On top of the counter were stacks of disheveled menus stacked one on top of the other, covered in steak juice and beer. The lights were so dim it was hard to see anyone’s eyes as they came through the door. Past nine-thirty, the restaurant became more like a club, music blasting overhead and strobe lights forming patterns along the walls.
Next to me was the takeout station, connected to the hostess stand with the same pinewood. We were separated by one tall, thick wall of pine, often covered in checklists and extra beer menus. Stephanie stood behind the wall. She was the kind of girl who owned a room as soon as she walked in it. Everyone loved her. She was short, curvaceous, and Puerto Rican. Dyed magenta hair fell in curls around her shoulders. She didn’t wear a lot of makeup because she didn’t need to. She was good with people; she knew how to talk to them, unlike me.
“Hi, how are you?” I smiled as a man walked past. It was protocol. I was surprised when he stopped and leaned against the podium I stood behind. At first I thought he was attractive. He was young, in his twenties, with dark hair that was longer in the front and shorter as it reached the nape of his neck. He had a beard that framed his jaw line well, making his face look defined, even chiseled. He wore black dress pants and a black collared shirt that fit over his broad shoulders, his sleeves rolled up half way to reveal muscled forearms. He looked as if he had just gotten off work at another restaurant nearby. His eyes were blood shot, making the whites of them look yellow. As he leaned over me, slurring, I could smell the alcohol on his breath, making me gag.
“Hey, how’s your handwriting?” He smiled at me. He made me nervous. I didn’t like it when people leaned across the podium to talk to me.
“My handwriting?” I raised my eyebrows, surprised. “Oh I don’t know,” I stammered, “not that great, I guess.”
He grinned, “Well, hey, maybe you should practice. Try writing this, ready?” He handed me a pencil.
Is he serious right now? I was thinking to myself. I took the pencil from him as he began spelling out a name, Benjamin, and then a phone number. I smiled at him, still not completely understanding.
“Is that readable?”
He bent over the podium, studying his own name and number for a moment. “Yeah that’s not too bad, I can read it,” he said grinning, as he turned to walk away
“Who was that guy that just talked to you?” Stephanie bounded up to me.
Just then John strolled up to us and leaned against the podium. John was the one manager I was really afraid of when I first started working there. He was middle aged, no younger than forty-five, and stood over six feet tall. He was in good shape; he stood proud with his shoulders back as he walked through the restaurant. He wore a collared shirt tucked into his khakis. His hair was buzzed into a graying military style crew cut. Pockmarks and scars covered his cheeks. He spoke to us sternly, barking orders at us from time to time. He was like the obnoxious drill sergeant everyone feared and hated at the same time. Occasionally, he would speak of personal matters with us, trying to act as if he was one of us. Sometimes he would try to talk to us about his sex life, making us squirm in discomfort.
“Who was that guy?” he asked.
Steph and I both giggled, “Grace is getting lucky tonight,” Steph sang, laughing uncontrollably.
I rolled my eyes, “He said his name was Ben or something, he gave me his number.”
John laughed, “Ooh, are you gonna call him tonight?”
I forced a laugh, “Um, no. Not really into drunk guys who hit on their waitresses.”
John raised his eyebrows, “Oh, come onnnnn,” he smiled, “Mama’s gotta get some too.” As John walked away, I rolled my eyes to Stephanie, who shrugged.
The next time Benjamin came around to talk to me he was a lot drunker. Instead of leaning across the podium, where I felt somewhat safe still having the thick piece of pine separating us, he was now behind it. Next to me. I became nervous, fidgety; I didn’t know what to do as he breathed down on me. All I could smell was the beer he’d just been drinking. “Um,” I stammered, “I’m not sure you’re supposed to be back here.”
He laughed, “So what?” He brushed my hand with his own, as if he was asking to hold it. My eyes darted back and forth around the room. There was no one but us up here. He leaned into me, “Come home with me,” he whispered.
I laughed nervously, “No, I’m working.” I was backed into the wall with him pressed up against me. He was much bigger than me, having a good fifty pounds on me at least.
Just then Stephanie flew out of the kitchen, “Yo, back off,” she yelled, “what the hell do you think you’re doing?” I breathed a sigh of relief as the guy backed up, smirking. He looked like he was about to argue with her for a second, but then turned around and walked back towards the bar. “Yo, tell me if that guy bothers you again,” Stephanie yelled across to me as she disappeared back into the kitchen. I shivered, but smiled as a young couple came in.
“We’re just going to the bar,” they said as they walked pass me. I nodded back at them, still forcing a smile. As I watched them find a seat around the bar I accidentally caught Benjamin’s eye. As he smiled at me across the bar I immediately turned away, petrified he was would get up and make his way over towards me again. I hid myself behind the wood stove, busying myself with wiping down menus.
Just then, he appeared behind me once again, reeking of alcohol. He grabbed me, this time around my waist as I whipped around. He leaned over me, breathing alcohol directly into my mouth, his face leering directly above mine. I watched horrified, frozen in his grasp, as his face moved closer and closer to mine, lips parting ever so slightly. I positioned myself as far away from his face I could, closing my eyes tight. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I waited for the dementor’s kiss. He let go of me all of a sudden, and I saw Stephanie disappear into the kitchen out of the corner of my eye.
“Hey, listen,” he murmured, “I really want to see you later so call me ok?” I said nothing, but stood with my back against the wall, petrified. “You’re smoking hot, so like, you should like,” he slurred, “just come over or something.”
I started laughing at him without humor. “Yeah, or something,” I mocked him, but he didn’t seem to catch on as he smiled back at me.
“I’m leaving now but call me, ok?” I could see the desperation in his eyes.
“Right,” I muttered.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I felt shaky as I watched Benjamin leave, drunkenly leaning against the doors to open them. It was hard for me not to just go run and hide from him, every time I saw him coming my way. I hated myself for not standing up to him and demanding respect. I wish I could have pushed him off of me and told him to get out, but I also wondered if he would have just laughed at me. Perhaps he would have hit me. I might have lost my job, though would it be for a good cause? I wondered if I was the one who started that, if I was too flirtatious or lead him on. Perhaps it was my fault. I didn’t want to seem as if I was the whistle blower, that was the last thing I wanted everyone else to think of me as. I felt ashamed of myself.
Just then Stephanie appeared at the takeout station, out of breath. She leaned across the podium; her purple hair looked shiny in the dim lights, creating a contrast to the dirty restaurant. She looked concerned. “I just got John, where did that guy go?”
I looked down, “He just left.”
“Well John’s sprinting his ass up here right now I just saw him. He’s about to go ape shit,” she said. “What did he even say to you?” Just then John burst through the kitchen doors, panting.
“Where did he go? Where is he?” His eyes darted around the restaurant, his fists balled up ready to sink into something. I was taken aback. I didn’t expect him to be so angry.
“He just left, I saw him go out,” I replied.
“How dare he harass one of my employees, he left without paying his tab too,” John said loudly. A vein throbbed on his temple. “I’m seriously ready to beat the shit out of this kid right now, do you have his number?”
I rummaged through my bag, hurriedly. “Yeah, name AND number right here, just for you.” I handed him the little sheet of paper he had scribbled his number on. “What kind of idiot leaves his name and number, but then leaves without paying their tab,” I laughed. “How stupid can you be to do something like that?”
I was very angry as I looked back on the whole event. It made me angry that I allowed this man to reduce me to just a body. I found it disgusting that he expected that of me. What kind of lowlife was he, to treat me that way? I was also angry with the managers for doing as little as they did. I was especially angry at John, because I thought that he was there for me. He told me that that guy would never be allowed back in the restaurant again; however, a week later he was back. When I went to tell John that Benjamin had come back, all John said was “That’s fine. Let me know if he talks to you.”
I found it incredibly amusing that John seemed genuinely surprised when I gave him my two weeks’ notice that night. He didn’t seem to understand his own negligence at all. “But you were doing so great here!” He pleaded with me. Perhaps their loss of an employee would spur them to change. My biggest fear was that one of the other girls who work there would not be as lucky as I was.