Monday, November 30, 2009

The Piano

I had been quite diligent in evicting the myriad of going concerns that expected to drain money from my store without paying rent, but I had neglected the Piano belonging to a local music teacher. To be fair to her, she hadn’t actually expected to use my restaurant for the purpose of conducting paid lessons – she had just hoped I would let her use the building after hours, rent free, to conduct some piano recitals. I didn’t mind the presence of the piano as far it served as a nice piece of furniture, although I was a bit concerned that it gave off a bit of a coffee house vibe to the dining area.

Before opening I didn’t directly tell the piano teacher that recitals would be out of the question, but I certainly made it clear that such a thing would never happen if it interfered with my business. I assume she made no effort to remove the piano in the hopes that I would eventually agree to such a recital. Within weeks of opening she made her first request by telephone.

“Hello, Humbug Bistro,” I said, answering the phone.

“Hi, Heather?”

“Yes, this is me.”

“This is Julia, the music teacher,” she said.

“Oh hi, how can I help you?”

“I was hoping to have a recital at the coffee shop in three weeks.”

“Then you’ll have to travel back in time – the coffee shop closed eight months ago.”

“What do you mean?”

“This is the bistro, not the coffee shop. I’m tired of people calling my restaurant a coffee shop.”

“Well it is the town coffee shop – that’s just the way it is.”

“You were hoping to have a recital where?”

“Uhm,” she chose her words wisely, “yes, I wanted to use your restaurant for a recital.”


“On a Thursday night.”

“I’m sorry, I won’t have time.”

“You don’t have to be there. If we could just use the coffee machine then we could bring some donuts from the bakery.”

“I don’t think so. In all likelihood I’ll still be busy doing prep work for the next day and I’m not having a bunch of strangers running around. Who do you expect is going to wash the glasses?”

“Well we’ll mostly just be having coffee and juice – we could just rinse them out.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not only did this woman think my restaurant, with coolers and display cases full of food, could be used as some sort of community hall – she actually thought that the glasses could ‘just be rinsed out’ and left on the counter. I made it clear to her that she was well out of bounds.

“Could we use it on a Sunday while you are open? I understand you really don’t have any customers for your turkey dinners anyway,” she said, completely oblivious to the magnitude of her insult.

I bit my lip and decided to turn the insult into opportunity as I answered, “So your attendees would be interested in buying a turkey dinner to support the recital?”

“Uhm,” she stumbled, “I’m not sure that all of them would be interested in buying dinner. Usually we just bring in a tray of donuts from the bakery.”

“So you not only want to sit in my restaurant for free, but you have the nerve to suggest that I’m going to let you bring in outside food?”

“It’s for the children!” she exclaimed.

“Then I suggest that you and their parents start taking care of them. Perhaps you could start by securing a space for piano recitals. If you won’t pay for space for their recitals then why should I?”

I hung up in disgust. I can’t begin to convey the anger and frustration I felt. These people were completely oblivious to the idea that I was running a restaurant – they didn’t even seem to accept that I was the one paying the lease on the location. They truly viewed the location as some sort of town hall, and me as some sort of obstacle to them accessing what had become a public amenity. I tried to imagine what kind of nerve it took to phone a restaurant, insult the owner, ask for exclusive use of the dining room for free, an then suggest bringing in food from elsewhere. Just then I spotted a woman in the foyer looking at the menu. Then, to my rage, I realized that she wasn’t looking at the menu but, rather, she seemed to be pulling out the tacks that held it up.

As I ran to the front foyer I saw her using the tacks to put up some sort of sign over my menu. I pushed open the inner door and said, “Excuse me, can I help you with something?” in an extremely sharp tongue. The woman just looked at me and said, “Oh, no, that’s fine. I’m just putting up a notice about my quilting bee this weekend.”

“Not over my menu you’re not!” I yelled.

“This is a public notice board!” she blurted back.

“Like fuck! I lease this building and you can get the fuck out!”

“Who do you think you are?” she demanded.

“The owner, you cunt!”

“You can’t talk to me that way!” she proclaimed.

“I said get out!”

“Well if you want me to leave you can just ask.”

“I did just ask, now get the fuck out!”

“Fine then, I’m leaving!”

“Your feet aren’t moving!”

“You’re rude!”

“And you’re still here! What the fuck is it with you inbred, backwards, mouth-breathing fucking hicks? When you’re mad you’re supposed to leave without saying goodbye. You stunned cunts just keep saying goodbye without leaving. Get the fuck out of my fucking restaurant before I throw you the fuck out!”

“You have a lot to learn about Humbug,” she huffed, “We’re German and we don’t like people talking like that here and it’s rude for you to hog this board just for your menu!”

She turned and bolted before I managed to swing. I followed her out the door yelling. As she scurried down the street I screamed, “This is not 1950, you moron – and I did NOT drive into this fucking town in a fucking Delorean!”

I began to understand Marty McFly’s frustration at being displaced in time. As I stomped back through the dining room I became aware that I had actually had customers during this bizarre incident. Fortunately there were only about four or five of them but from their silence I could tell that they saw me as a dangerous outsider. At this point it didn’t matter. Somehow I had to find a way to establish ownership of my own damn restaurant. If that meant freaking a few people out then that was a price I was willing to pay.

I was completely confounded at how these hicks could somehow think I was out of place using my own damn cork board to put up my own damn menu in my own damn restaurant. How could they feel that I was the one who didn’t belong in a building that I paid the lease on? Hadn’t any of them ever been out of this town before? Even if they had never traveled, they must have watched television. They had to have at least a faint grasp at how things worked in the real world; otherwise they would all wind up getting arrested or beat up just about every time they took a trip to Cuspidor. There was just no way to explain their complete and total lack of any concept of property.

As I walked behind the counter and into the kitchen, Marty followed me.

“Wow,” he said, “that was fucking awesome!”

“Really?” I asked, “I thought I might have gone a bit over the top.”

“No way! They do this sort of thing around here all the time and they know that it’s wrong – but no one ever calls them on it. I think it’s great that you do.”

“How the fuck does anyone do business in this town?”

“Mostly they would just wait for her to leave and then go take down the poster.”

“You’re kidding!”

“No. They never ever confront someone like that.”

“No consequences, no conscience, I guess.”

“And oh my god,” he exclaimed, “that line about the Delorean was fucking priceless!”

“Heh, I’m surprised I even came up with that while so mad. The only problem is that these illiterate boobs probably don’t even understand what I meant.”

We both burst into laughter. Interestingly enough I never heard any fall out from that confrontation. Maybe it was possible that even Humbuggers had to realize that you can’t just walk into a restaurant and put up a poster over the menu. Not likely. It wasn’t until just after Christmas that the music teacher once again called to propose a music recital.

When she called, it quickly became apparent that some of what I had said had actually sunk in. She asked if she could have a recital on a Saturday afternoon after my lunch rush. She didn’t suggest that I close the doors to the general public but she did guarantee that there would be no outside food. She couldn’t forecast how many parents might want food or coffee but did ask if I could have some fresh baked muffins available. I agreed and asked her how many students there would be and how many family members attended per student, on average. Up until that moment, everything seemed like it would proceed smoothly.

She told me that she wasn’t sure of the numbers because the recital was to be for her students as well as the students of two other music teachers. The recital plan was starting to sound shaky. I told her to come up with the best numbers she could and call back. A couple weeks later, just as I was sautéing the chicken for the chicken cacciatore, Marty came into the kitchen and told me there was a woman up front who wanted to see me.

“Take a message,” I said, “the rice is about to boil and I don’t want to burn the chicken.”

“I told her you were busy but she said it was really important,” he said.

I turned down the rice and carried the heavy pan of chicken with me as I stirred, mostly to make the point to whomever it was that I was otherwise engaged. As I stepped into the front serving area a chubby little woman stretched her arm across the freezer in a gesture to shake my hand.

“Sorry, hands are full here.” I said, “What would you like?”

“Can’t you put that down?” she asked.

“It’s a hot pan, lady; you want I should put it on the freezer?”

“Well I was hoping we could sit down and talk.”

“I’m pretty busy here. Who are you?”

“My name is Dianne Bauer. I’m one of the music teachers having the recital with Julia.”

“That was for this Saturday?” I asked.

“Yes, and I was hoping we could sit down and talk about it.”

“In case you can’t tell, I’m busy cooking. This pan is starting to cool off.”

“But we need to talk about the recital.”

“Just have someone phone in with an estimate of the numbers.”

“Can’t you just have a coffee with me?”

“What is the matter with you? I have a restaurant to run here and I have to cook lunch!”

“I’m sure it won’t take that long. We should really get to know each other.”

”Hi, my name is Heather and run a restaurant that keeps me very busy. Now, how many parents will be coming?”

“Well,” she stuttered, “I don’t know exactly. I have nine students. Julia has twelve. I think Barbara only has five. A lot of times both parents will come, but I have one student who,” breaking into a Humbug raspy whisper, “is from a single parent home – but her uncle usually comes to watch her play,” and back into her sing-songy voice, “I’m just glad she has a good male influence in her life. Now, let’s see…”

I cut her off, “Lady! I’m cooking. Just estimate the numbers and phone them in. If you can’t do that by this afternoon then you aren’t having a recital here. Good Bye!”

I turned and walked back into the kitchen. Why did I need to know about single moms and male influences? This place just made no sense. How could she not understand that I was cooking? Surely she must have cooked lunch for someone at some point in her life. Even if she hadn’t ever prepared lunch for dozens of people she had to recognize that a hot frying pan can’t just be set on the floor in favour of discussing the irrelevant family dynamics of strangers. As I pondered these things, Marty stepped into the kitchen.

“You aren’t going to believe this,” he said.


“She started crying and left.”

”What?” I exclaimed.

“Yeah, when you walked back in the kitchen she just stood there looking shocked. Then her bottom lip started to quiver and then she just burst into tears!” he laughed.

“What the fuck is wrong with her?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but as she was leaving she said, ‘That woman is mean. Doesn’t she know that we’re good German?’ and then she really burst out sobbing and ran out.”

“For real?”

“For real,” Marty assured me.

“Well I guess she is good German then.”

We both burst out laughing. I have no idea what she thought I was supposed to do in that situation but apparently I had failed to follow Humbug protocol. I wondered how anybody got any work done at all in Humbug. Saturday came and went and I never heard a thing about the recital. The following week I called Julia and asked her to get her piano out of my restaurant. I tried my best to explain that I had no time to stop running my restaurant to plan recitals but she didn’t seem to have a clue as to why I didn’t take the time to sit down with her compatriot.

It took almost two more months for her to retrieve that damn piano. On one occasion she actually walked in with some movers during a lunch rush and expected to move customers out of the way and block the double doors wide open to the minus twenty weather outside. She was horrified that I stopped her and began to express fears that she was never going to get her piano back. There was a minute or two where I was afraid she was going to start crying like her friend. She never did understand why she had to retrieve the piano while the restaurant was closed but agreed to those terms because that was all I was offering. At some point she actually had the nerve to ask if I could just give her a key to the restaurant so she could get to the piano as soon as she had arranged to get some people together to help her. Without elaborating on how that conversation went, I’ll just say that it ended with her crying.

When she finally did make proper arrangements that included informing me of the date and time, I breathed a sigh of relief over the final eviction. The backward hicks of Humbug had one more reason to hate me, but they had one less reason to question my ownership of my restaurant.