It was Saturday night. The company owner, Benito, was taking the whole crew to dinner to celebrate us getting five customer compliments in one day.
We met at The Branding Iron, the fanciest steakhouse in town. I wore dress pants with a long-sleeved, button-up shirt — as well as a gray tie.
Crew Leader Carl wore ripped jeans and an oil-stained Benito’s Landscaping Service T-shirt.
“Perhaps you’d feel more comfortable in this, sir,” said the maître d’, offering a navy suit jacket.
“Are you kidding?” Carl said. “Why would I want to wear that scratchy thing? It’s short-sleeve weather tonight!”
“I … yes sir.” The maître d’ shook his head and led us through the crowded dining room to a round table. The room was dimly lit, with wood paneling covering the walls. Classical music played overhead, and a tall wax candle flickered atop the table.
“Check this out,” said Stan, one of the younger members of the crew. He whipped his finger back and forth across the flame.
“Big deal,” Carl said, frowning. “Anybody can do that.”
He reached across the table to stick his finger in the flame, but his hand grazed the candle and knocked it over. Wax poured everywhere, and the tipped-over flame singed a hole through the tablecloth.
Stan threw water to put out the fire. Smoke drifted from the candle’s snuffed end.
A young waitress approached our table. She looked at the scorched tablecloth and frowned. “Um … can I bring you drinks, gentlemen?”
“Yes!” Benito yelled in his thick, Italian accent. “I want wine!”
“Very good, sir,” the waitress said. “Would you care to consult the wine menu, or shall I recommend a bottle?”
“Red wine!” Benito yelled. “Just bring red wine! Not white! Red!”
“Red wine,” the waitress said, squinting as she wrote on her pad. “Right.”
“I’ll take a Coors,” said Crew Leader Carl.
“Coors,” said Stan.
“Coors,” said Francisco.
“Coors,” said Juan.
I smiled. “Just a club soda for me. Thank you.”
“Very well.” The waitress sniffed, writing down the drinks. “Are you gentlemen ready to order, or do you need more time?”
“We’re all having steaks!” Benito yelled. “T-Bone steaks!”
“Yes, sir,” the waitress said.
“And make mine well-done!” Benito said, clenching his hand into a fist.
“Oh.” The waitress bit her lip. “Sir, the chef prefers to cook the T-Bones medium-rare.”
“Well, the chef isn’t eating the son of a bitch, is he!” Benito said, pounding his fist on the table. “I am! So tell the stupid bastard to leave it on the flame a little longer!”
Diners at the neighboring tables glanced over. I folded my hands and stared at my lap.
As the waitress left, an older man at the table beside us started coughing. His wife patted him on the back.
“What the hell!” Carl said, snarling. His voice echoed across the restaurant. “It sounds like a goddamn sanitarium in here. What’s wrong with that yakking codger? He swallow his dentures, or something?”
The man’s wife glared at us. The man continued to cough, his face red.
The waitress brought our drinks and set them before us. As I lifted my glass to take a sip, it slipped from my hand and toppled onto on the table. Club soda and ice splashed everywhere.
“Oh, great!” Carl yelled, leaping to his feet. “My crotch is soaked! Look at it! Look at it!” He jiggled his hips like Elvis, for effect.
Everyone in the dining room turned to gawk at us.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, my face growing warm.
“You muttonheaded dipstick!” Carl yelled, standing and furiously scrubbing his crotch with a napkin, as if he were polishing silver. “We can’t take you anywhere! You should be ashamed of yourself, embarrassing us like this in front of the boss!”