There’s a new waiter at the Portuguese café I go to. And this is unusual because they don’t have a high turnover of staff here. These waiters tend to stick round for years, despite the long shifts they have to put in. And I find the whole process of getting used to a new waiter now quite unsettling. First of all he’s got a very unusual face, young but old looking and a curiously small head. It’s going to take me some time to get accustomed to that look.
And he’s wearing the waistcoat that all of the new waiters wear when they first start – it’s like starting secondary when in your first few months you always wear every bit of uniform that your parents were told to buy including the cap, and by Christmas, you’ve dispensed with the cap and you’ve stopped wearing the grey socks, and you’re wearing blue shirts instead of the compulsory white ones.
And for me its important to establish with this new waiter from the off that even though I’m a regular and in here every day, I don’t want to talk to him and I don’t want him talking to me. I’m here to write, to take stock, and primarily, to drink lattes. People ask me what I do with my life, I drink lattes. Do you work? Sometimes, yes I do. But primarily, I drink lattes.
I don’t want to put their noses out of joint by suddenly bonding with this new guy, when I don’t even know how long he’s here for...
If I start talking to the waiters and the other regulars, I lose all that. They know I’m a regular. They’ll ask me to look after their bags. They know I’m trustworthy. And the night before Christmas eve when I was in here writing a letter in an (unsuccessful) attempt to salvage my relationship, one of the regulars, drunk Steve, started speaking to me after ten years but I was confident that once he sobered up, he’d remember little of the conversation and sure enough, come Christmas eve lunchtime in here, he walked right past me.
So I’m very protective of that privacy I have in this place. I wrote my channel 4 show in here. I couldn’t have done that if I was yapping away with the waiters and going in for some banter. I wish they knew how good my banter could be. I’m a funny guy but I have to hold off on the banter. I can employ the banter in other areas of my life. But not here. This is a banter free zone.
But what’s worrying is that I’ve already detected early signs this waiter might be one for indulging in some talk. Maybe he’s trying to show the boss he can mix with the customers. He’s probably on trial and needs to impress but I’ve got to show him early that’s not going to happen, not with me. And also, the other waiters are observing. They’ve been here for years and I’ve never engaged with them and with the exception of the tiny, fiery one with the gang tattoos, they’re all stand up guys. I don’t want to put their noses out of joint by suddenly bonding with this new guy, when I don’t even know how long he’s here for. What if I bonded with him but his contract’s not extended? What kind of service would I get from the other waiters once this one’s gone? They’d have been thinking, “What did this guy have that they didn’t?”
I can’t talk to this guy. I musn’t.
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