If papas not happy…

Earlier this week I received two phone calls. One was from my boss at the restaurant, and the other was from a relative. Both were inquiring as to my availability on Easter.

As I weighed the pros and cons of each inquiry, I remembered the last Easter that I worked.

That day had been as busy as could be. The hordes of brightly colored pastel prints had continued unabated from the moment we opened the door. I had busily prepared hundreds of the holy trinity of brunch drinks; the mimosa, the Bloody Mary and the Ramos Fizz. As I wiped the sticky mess that each creates when made in volume, I considered three things:

• Mimosas are a good way to ruin champagne and orange juice.

• The most likely juice to be spoiled in a restaurant always seems to be tomato juice.

• I never, ever, drink any drink that has raw egg in it. One bad egg and you won’t ever either.

My musings were cut short by the sitting of an older gentleman at the bar. He sat at the bar conspicuously facing in my direction. Not because he wanted to face me, but because he wanted to face away from them — his family.

He feigned interest in the game on the TV and he even ordered a drink. Scotch and water — at 11 a.m. — but heck, Easter does mark the official end of Lent. Not that the drink really mattered because it sat untouched for as long as he was at the bar. The only thing that mattered was that he was upset. Upset about what? Who knew? But the people most likely to know approached him one at a time.

First came a tall young man, who bore more than a passing resemblance to the man. He approached cautiously. The young man tapped the older gentleman on the arm. No response. Another tap was followed by a violent jerking away of the arm. A jerk that reminded me that sometimes even an adult can act like a 3-year-old.

The young man retreated to the lobby where a small group had gathered.

Another attempt at approach was made, this time by a young woman carrying a tiny baby. The baby’s big blue eyes bobbled in its little head like glassy marbles. Its little toothless smile still wasn’t enough to illicit a response.

After several pleadings the young mother also made her retreat, shrugging her shoulders as she approached the rest of the family.

Tactics changed with the approach of a bonneted woman about the older man’s age. This time there was no pleading and no polite discourse. Instead there was enough finger pointing and cursing that any Easter penitent would have blushed deep crimson in their pastels.

Eventually the bonneted lady with the truck driver’s mouth also made her retreat.

The man sat unmoved. In fact he never moved, and he sat at the bar for the entire brunch. They made two more attempts to coerce his participation in the gathering, but still he sat. Finally, about an hour and a half later, the family once again gathered by the door.

This time they made no attempt to speak to him; they simply left. It took a little while for the man to realize what had happened. His realization coincided with this statement:

“I need a cab,” he said.

“Sure,” I said.

“And, this is for you,” I added, placing the tab for his family’s brunch in front of him.

“I told them I didn’t want to come,” he said quietly.

As I watched him make his way to his waiting cab I realized that sometimes the best thing you can do for a family gathering is not go.

The memory of this event inspired me to make my own decision. After which I had these thoughts:

When the dysfunction game in a family is fostered by the parents, eventually the whole family gets to play.

There is a saying, “If mama ain’t happy, then ain’t nobody happy.” Apparently the same can be said for papa too.

“A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell,” said George Bernard Shaw.

I’ll see any of you that wander down to the restaurant on Easter, because sometimes it is not about “having” to work, it is about “getting” to.


Originally appeared in the Marin Independent Journal and online at the San Jose Mercury News.