by Jon Pine
It’s that time again – the year is winding down, a new one will start soon, and thoughts naturally settle on reflections of what was, mixed with hopes of what will be. As a self-employed photographer, the last couple of weeks of the year tend to be kind of a melancholy time for me. I’m often so busy I don’t really have a chance to get into the holiday spirit.
So, Grinch-like, I start to hate the “c” word – Christmas. “Can I get it in time for Christmas?” is the standard question. I want to say, “Sure, you can have it in time for Christmas, if you ordered it two weeks ago when I told you to!”
But no, I bite my tongue, and I rush it, and work late, and drive the 60 miles to the lab to save a day on shipping, and scramble to get out-of-state orders to FedEx before it closes.
One year, I even had a woman tell me that I ruined Christmas because her order didn’t arrive on time. Never mind that she waited until the absolute last minute to order reprints from a portrait session that took place months before. And never mind that she lived in such a remote location that, unbeknownst to me, FedEx can’t get there overnight.
I ruined Christmas. That’s gotta be right up there with the meanest things you can say to a person. Sigh.
So forgive me if I’m not in the cheeriest of moods right now. For me, the holidays mean a lot of sucking up and tongue-biting – two things that really go against my nature. Which brings me to this little story:
A few years back, I found myself working on New Year’s Eve, shooting formal portraits of well-dressed, well-heeled couples at a tony Florida country club. Actually, I had already put in a full and busy day, so by the time I got out of there – shortly after midnight – I was tired, cranky, and most of all, hungry. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and that lack of sustenance was giving me a nasty headache.
So I stop off at Denny’s on the way home. After a short wait, I am seated at a booth. The only restaurant open at that hour, it starts filling up fast with booze-drenched New Year’s Eve revelers. And of course, Denny’s, in its infinite wisdom, only scheduled two waitresses to the night shift.
As I pore over the menu, I hear a raspy voice behind me start reading the menu aloud: “Oh look, the Heartland Scramble! Two scrambled eggs with bacon, country-fried potatoes, green peppers…”
When I say she read the menu, I mean she read the entire menu. Every. Single. Item. In that raspy voice, like fingernails on a chalkboard!
Every word – “Moons Over My Hammy…” – every syllable – “ham-and-egg-scram-bled-sand-wich… – began to radiate up my spine like small electrical charges. “Served with hashbrowns or French fries…”
A clearly frazzled waitress arrives with a glass of water, takes my order and bustles off to another table full of rowdies. The raspy reading continues: “You can build your own Grand Slam! Pick any four items and make it your own…”
So I turn around and shoot her a glare that I hope will say, “Do you mind?” But she and her companion are oblivious. The raspy-voiced woman is 50-ish, a little disheveled, dressed in faded jeans and a black T-shirt with some sort of biker emblem on it. Her silent but patient companion is in his 30s, also kind of unkempt, wearing a raggedy gray hooded sweatshirt. A far cry from the ritzy couples in tuxedos and gowns that I had just photographed.
“Trailer trash,” I’m thinking, my mood darkening even further. My stomach growls. “Where is that damn waitress with my food!” I look around to see if there’s an empty table I can move to, but there isn’t. And still, she continues: “Two thick slices of our Fabulous French Toast…”
Seething, I turn around again, prepared to vent my spleen on the raspy-voiced woman and her rumpled companion, and then I notice. I see. I understand.
And I am ashamed.
The rumpled companion is blind. And the raspy-voiced woman is reading the menu to him.
As my eyes fill with tears, I suddenly realize that at that moment the raspy voice is perhaps the most beautiful sound in the world, and I can’t seem to get enough of it: “Three scrambled eggs with Cheddar cheese, two bacon strips, two sausage links…”
My food arrives, but I’m having troubling eating because of the lump in my throat. I make a New Year’s Resolution to be less quick to judge, less quick to anger. To continue biting my tongue.
Because I don’t want to be the guy who ruins New Year’s Eve.
© 2009 Jon Pine