Recently, when my sister Vivian came to visit me at my new beach pad, she brought me the most unexpected housewarming gift. It was one of the few original, unpublished copies of my first joke book, “Serving Up Some Funny Adult Menu.”
The collection of jokes that I had personally acquired over all my years in the restaurant business. Back then, it was titled “Unoriginal Jokes From A Waitress.” (Everything Dirty Enough To Tell At The Breakfast Table.) I had been sharing and soliciting jokes at the Diner for years. I finally published the joke book he had heard about for the last 10 years.
However, it wasn’t until after the loss of my dear friend, Papa Ralph, that I forced myself to “put my money where my mouth was” and get it done.
Papa Ralph was a regular customer at the Diner, and his family had been dining there for decades. He usually came in alone, in the middle of our Sunday morning rush. A super friendly man in his mid-80s. A bonafide clown by trade, he lived most of his life in New York City and always complained about missing his chance in Vaudeville.
From day one, I loved him. He was always happy and funny and full of positive energy. I found him refreshing. Bossman, on the other hand, was not as fond of him. He appreciated his balloon animals and magic tricks when entertaining his guests while they waited to be seated. But, sad to say, my boss did not appreciate him wasting space on busy Sunday mornings once he was sitting. Unfortunately, Papa Ralph liked to come in and read the entire Sunday edition of The New York Times while drinking cup after cup of coffee for hours.
I remember one time when I first started working at the Diner, and Papa Ralph was seated in my section. He had gotten up to go to the bathroom, leaving his booth empty and looking uninhabited. His cup was dry, and it appeared that he had left. I immediately cleaned off his table, neatly folded up his newspaper, and assumed he was gone.
Wrong! He was in the men’s room for a good long minute, and by the time he did come out, I had already resat my booth. So, he came back to the table, and of course, his paper was gone, his coffee cup was gone, and strangers were sitting in his spot. For the first time, he did not look like a happy camper.
I felt terrible. I had no idea he was still in the building. All my coworkers watched me every step and never once told me he was in the restroom. My boss found it quite amusing. He had been looking for a way to get Papa Ralph not to stay so long for years. Now, I just made it easy for him to get his way finally. Or so we thought.
Yes, Papa Ralph did cause a minor stir after being evicted and realizing there were no other available seats in the restaurant. But when he realized the long line of patrons waiting to get in to eat, along with my look of devastation for being the bad waitress that booted him out, he smiled. Then, he tipped me extra (according to my coworkers) and assured me that all was well. “No foul. No harm!” He stressed, trying to excuse my mistake as his own. Then, he made a clever joke about being a “great magician who can change himself into a group of total strangers.”
The following Sunday, right on time, Papa Ralph showed up with his newspaper in his hand and a smile on his face. I was thrilled to see he came back. Bossman, not so much. However, Papa Ralphs did realize he didn’t need to read the entire Sunday paper while drinking numerous cups of coffee. Instead, he would leisurely just read the sports section and then move along so someone else could eat.
So what else was also different about that day? When Papa Ralph got up to go to the bathroom, which I was sure to watch this time, I noticed he had put something in his coffee cup before you walked away. Nosey as all sin, I had to run right over to the table and see what he had done. Sure enough, my little inventor must have gone home the week before with a mission in his head. The avid golfer and mastermind decided to make what looked like a flag in a hole on the golf course. He neatly cut a triangle-shaped piece of paper and glued it to a wooden stick that read, “DO NOT DISTURB!”
Sure, I was the one that was silly enough to bring it to the attention of my boss. I thought it was adorable, but my boss did not. He did give him points for his ingenuity while kindly suggesting he visit the restaurant on a weekday when he wouldn’t feel so rushed. (Hint. Hint.)
After that, everything went back to friendly as usual. If Papa Ralph needed to excuse himself from his table, he’d put his “Tee Time” device in his cup, and we’d know not to remove his stuff. This way, he could come in and sit comfortably without feeling like he will get kicked out. Even better, I learned that even in adverse or uncomfortable situations, positive outcomes are always possible if you try.
Laugh on. Peace out.
Lisa DeMarco is a columnist for Villages-News.com and the author of “Unoriginal Jokes From A Waitress.”