Learning Restraint

Sometimes I just have to bite my tongue.

Once, a long time ago, when a waitress asked me if everything was OK, I told her “No — look at the mess in Bosnia-Herzegovina! My God, it’s humanitarian disaster!”

No one in the room, including the waitress, thought this was funny. Or they didn’t know what I was talking about — I always have to consider that possibility. The people at my table were embarrassed, for me or the waitress, I wasn’t sure. In any case, the incident taught me to keep my mouth shut when these stupid thoughts occur to me.

So tonight when the checkout guy at Trader Joe’s asked me if I’d found everything I was looking for, I did not say “True enlightenment? No, I haven’t found that yet. But I will continue my quest, thank you.” I said,”Yeah, I guess so,” or something like that.

Everybody was happy, and the checker grinned and asked “Paper or plastic?”

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18 Replies to “Learning Restraint”

  1. Yeah, having worked in various forms of the service industry for many years, I can tell you that I have heard every possible “funny answer” to questions like “Is everything okay?” and “What can I get you?” and “How are you doing?” etc.

    And I have to say that I hate that scene in Five Easy Pieces. I know it’s supposed to be one of those “Jack sticks it to The Man!” kind of scenes, but how in the hell am I supposed to buy that “The Man” is a tired 60 year-old woman who’s probably been a waitress for most of her life? Boo on that movie.

  2. Ron – That’s a famous scene, and I knew about it for about ten years before I actually saw it. Now I’ve seen it several times, and I think it’s a classic.

    kStyle – A little bit of small-town nosiness, right there in the big city.

    vikkitikkitavi – Jeez, it’s hard to type your name right. I’ve learned my lesson. I just try to be amiable and friendly with the servers these days. But you’re wrong about that scene. That waitress was snotty. She had no good reason to present so many obstacles to her customer, and she deserved Jack’s smackdown. Coffee shop civility has to go both ways.

  3. Yeah, I could sometimes feel bad about the “mistreated” waitresses of the world, until I think of some of the people I’ve known (slightly or otherwise) who were friendly and helpful and who raked in the tips. When people become unsmililng automatons in their jobs, shit happens, even though not all of us have a great writer handy like in the movies!

  4. I say, do not stop with the wiseguy shenanigans! If I were a waitress and ran across your type, I’d feel lucky because it would break up the monotony of the boring old, regular responses.

    Now, that being said … most people in my everyday life look at me when I say something like I’m from the planet Neptune. And I don’t even say anything *that* complex.

    For example, in the last election, I was leaving the community center and ran into a neighbor. He said, “You voted, huh?”

    And I said, “Yep, hopefully we’ll get rid of Cheney, that evil, rotten so and so…”

    And he looked shocked — perplexed — possibly on some sort of drug where the memories of the previous four years had been erased from his mind, and said, “Why would you ever say that?”

    Sooooooo. I understand why you feel the need to give up speaking to anyone.

    But, don’t. You’re too fun. Not that Bosnia is fun. You know what I mean.

    And come to think of it, I think you and Steve Kuusisto would get along really good. Here’s a link to a post of his I love. There are tons more. You should spend a little time over there reading. I think you’d get a big kick out him.

    He would definitely appreciate your quick responses.

  5. Ron – No doubt about it, having a writer would spice up these encounters. The waitress (or bank teller, or whomever) would get it and recognize you as a kindred spirit. You’d form a fast friendship which might lead anywhere, and everyone in the room would look at you in a whole new, admiring, light. Come to think of it, a team of writers would be good. Background music, too.

    Elusive Blue Toothpick Girl – You think you can just switch identities back and forth like Supergirl? Well, OK. Bring it on.

    The crux of the problem (not my problem, but the one vikkitikkitavi seems to have) is determining who deserves a putdown? I say Bobby’s waitress in “Five Easy Pieces” was asking for it, but maybe she’d just had a run-in with an arrogant, self-important assistant manager over just this type of thing, and she was gunshy and trying her best to save her pathetic job long enough to pay for her daughter’s surgery. The guy at your polling place would seem to deserve a virtual bitch-slap, just for asking someone walking out of a polling place on election day if they were in there voting.

    I mean, where do you draw the line? If you always give ’em the benefit of the doubt (as I seem to be doing lately), are you not guilty of bleeding heart political correctness? But if you are always up in everybody’s grill, you might just be an insufferable boor.

    Pardon me. I’m having an angst attack.

  6. Well, I’ve never heard you speak — never heard your *tone.* So, you’ve got to get that right *tone.* Kind of serious, but kind of jokey at the same time. One can sound jokey, even when talking about Bosnia. That great mix of seriousness and jokiness that makes people *want* to hear more.

    Hey, you know what? Just be yourself. And I really doubt that the true Larry Jones wants to stifle himself.

    No one’s ever going to remember, “Yeah, everything was fine.” But, I’ll bet that waitress remembers your Bosnia remark. She may be thinking about it right now for all we know!

    **** ’em if they can’t take a joke. — Remember! You’ve got to be jokey!

    And you’re right, neighbor man was a total Rocket Scientist that day as we were coming out of the community center.


  7. I’m not saying that the waitress in 5 Easy Pieces wasn’t being a bitch, I’m just saying that harassing waitresses, even cranky ones, is not really a valid form rebellion against the system.

    If you’re going to be a rebel, which Nicholson’s character in that movie clearly longed to be, why not leave the waitresses and the store clerks and the ticket takers of the world alone, and sweep china off the table of someone with some power to affect what you’re rebelling against?

    That’s all I meant.

  8. Blue Girl – I’ve heard myself speak (on recordings) a lot, and it never sounds like me to me. Come to think of it, it always sounds not as jokey as I intended.

    vikkitikkitavi – You’re right, and in the context you posit, you get the last word. My days of Rebellion are over, though, and sometimes stuff just happens between two people. I’ll think of you and try to keep it light next time.

  9. This reminds me of a game I like to play on annoying people called “Obtuse answers to everyday questions”. This weird lady that could have been my mom came on to me at a new bar on Friday. When she started trying to play footsie with me and asked me “What is it that you do?”, I drunkenly replied “I think of ways to make the elves disappear.” She left me alone after that. Mission accomplished.

  10. I’m with Vikki. partly because I’m having no trouble imagining her boss, who doesn’t like special orders and who gives her shit if she tries to take them, and meanwhile he’s grabbing her ass and she can’t afford to give up the job, and here’s this privileged kid who wants to show how special he is, at her expense. Jack annoyed the everyloving crap out of me when I finally saw that movie and realized that he wasn’t really a Rebel, he just played one for fun.

    On another subject completely, I am EXTREMELY tired of hearing “like a rolling stone.” For some reason, it’s getting huge airplay on every radio station across which I run lately.

  11. Narya – “Oh, you’ve been to the finest schools all right, Miss Lonely, but you know you only used to get. . . juiced in them. . .

    They’re not playing it in LA, but I wish they were.

  12. Everybody was happy, and the checker grinned and asked “Paper or plastic?”

    You know, we have a nasty little supermarket that happens to be the closest to my flat. Whenever I’m there and they ask me something dumb, I usually reply, “No, but that’s only because I buy a little as possible in your store.”

  13. I have to highly recommend against making a habit of biting your tongue. Not only can such lead to some serious constipation, eventually you won’t be able to reply at all! Teh Tongueless Tell no Tales, don’t ya know…

    Besides, you be so witty, Larry! I’m with ET, errr, BG; let ’em look at me like I’m crazy. It really is their loss, IMO.

    Kvatch, excellent!

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