Monday, August 30, 2010

Booted Out Of Restaurant Cringe

When recalling cringeworthy circumstances, I’ve discovered an unsettling pattern— that of damsel-in-distress.

Around the time my younger son, Brendan, was smearing poop all over his crib (summer 2007), he got us kicked out of a diner. I’ve been in restaurant settings where parents have let their kin run around like rabid dogs. I’ve heard crying, screaming, stamping, smacking. I’ve seen kids throw fistfuls of food at their families, at passing waitresses, and at innocent customers. I’ve wished that children would be ejected from restaurants. But I never thought it really happened.

It was a muggy August day. Brendan had just turned one. He had a big drool-drippy grin with a few teeth, and a new habit of shrieking. It was an irritating yet happy cry-- an affirmation that he had vocal chords, and that his high-pitched yelp caused a reaction. I cringed each time he crowed. Strangers laughed or threw dirty looks. I fantasized about creating and marketing a baby muzzle.

I had no prototype yet for the baby muzzle when out to lunch that day with my kids and my two cousins. We were seated at my favorite place in town--a small luncheonette with hearty food. I had spent nearly every Sunday morning of my Brendan pregnancy there enjoying greasy, magnificent breakfasts.

We ordered. The food took longer than usual. Brendan squirmed in his high chair. SHRIEK. Shhhhhh!!!! My cousins distracted him with silly faces and crayons. I figured the food was coming, and the antics would end once his chubby mitts hooked around grilled cheese.

“Just leave your drinks and leave!” a loud voice bellowed behind me. I turned to see the cook owner, red-faced. Confused, I looked from him to my cousins, and waited for someone to make sense of the scene.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“This is the worst kid I’ve ever seen. You’ve got to leave. Just leave your drinks and go.”

No one at the table moved. My cousins appeared baffled. Sure, Brendan had screeched here and there, but he was seated, giggling, happy, and hungry. We were all hungry.

The angry cook disappeared through the swinging kitchen door. Our waitress cringed. She avoided eye contact, mouthing that she was sorry as she wiped down the counter with a rag.

“Is he really kicking us out of here?” I asked, stunned. No one answered, except four- year-old Christopher, “But we haven’t had lunch and I’m hungry!”

The other customers watched as we shuffled out, cringing over their own dilemma: continue listening (uncomfortably) to the high notes of the famished baby or defend the group from mistreatment?

On the sidewalk, I wanted to vomit. As I buckled car seats and heaved a stroller into my hatchback, the humiliation gelled. I had just been hurled out into the street. My blood pumped crazily-- I could hear it pulse in my ears.

I punched the restaurant phone number into my cell phone and demanded an apology from the jerk.

“Apologize?” he snorted. “I’m not apologizing to you--- you need to go read some parenting magazines.”

I would have preferred a wasp fly into my car window and sting me.

I viewed Brendan in the rearview mirror and imagined visiting him at a baby reform school. He smiled and waved.

I argued with the mutant cook for a few minutes. Then I hung up and cried. I gulped and hyperventilated and batted tears and a runny nose with the back of my hand. I was a shitty mother who had a kid who needed a muzzle. I dialed my husband, Marty, at work. I’m not a big crier, so he immediately thought some horrible tragedy had occurred, like a car wreck. “What’s happened? Are you okay? Tell me….are you okay?” he sounded panicked.

I sputtered, cried, and huffed out the story. The line was quiet while I explained.

“What’s this asshole’s number?” he said, getting his Jersey-boy up. I wonder if he was cringing, weighed down by a wife who managed to complicate retail transactions in a quiet shore town. It was just about one year since the gas station incident….



  1. This guy was a POS. I would not eat at that place if I was starving in the streets.

  2. Tammy...your "letter" will be featured in part 2!!!!

  3. Tracy
    I think I am smiling but really angry (at the Cook!) so again I will await the second installment anxiously. Also agreed with first comment!!! KB

  4. The story reads even better than when you tell it and I am more pissed at that guy than I was when you told me the story...can't wait for the part two...I know what's coming;)

  5. wow-- if this was "curb your enthusiasm" episode the cook would get his comeuppance.

  6. I love Curb Your Enthusiasm...but am not thrilled that my life sometimes feels similar...