I live in the South End, a.k.a. Boston's gayborhood (though, as the hilarious SouthEnder attests and I agree, it's rapidly becoming the pretentious-yuppie-borhood...but, what can you do?) I've lived here for a while now, and have worked in restaurants here for even longer, which means that here in the gayborhood, I feel quite at home. The gayness of it all is, by now, intricately woven into the fabric of my daily life. As such, I have developed a problematic habit:
I tend to automatically assume that all the men that I meet are gay. Period. And I am especially apt to assume this with men that I meet in the South End.
This has come back to bite me in the ass on several occasions, and it is always embarrassing. How exactly are you supposed to hide your shock when you learn that the harmless Mary who you thought loved you for your great fashion sense actually loves you for your body? How are you supposed to respond when he asks you for your phone number and whether you'd like to have dinner sometime? No matter how hard I try, I still can't think of a polite way to say, "I'm afraid I've given you the wrong idea. I thought you were gay. I was confused by the Dolce & Gabanna belt and the Gaultier cologne. Are you sure you aren't gay? I seem to have made a big, gay mistake."
I made a big, gay mistake at my waitressing job on Friday night. Now, before I even started working at Toro I understood that the crowd there was mostly straight, comprised for the most part of folks from the Back Bay or Weston or Newton who've come to the trendy South End to dine, or new-to-the-neighborhood Megans and Seans (to borrow a catchphrase from the SouthEnder) who recently relocated to the neighborhood because of it's trendy, artsy appeal. However, as with any metropolitan restaurant environment, the crowd is sufficiently mixed at Toro that I still wait on my share fair of gays each week. I am always relieved when they sit gay men in my section--it makes me feel right at home, and brings me back to my days as a waitress at Tremont 647/Sister Sorrel.
So, Friday night, around 10 o'clock, a very attractive guy and girl about my age sit in my section. They are friendly, cool, and well dressed in the casual version of designer clothes (the just-going-out-for-a-quick-bite-Diesels, not the I'm-going-to-dance-my-ass-off-at-Rise ones). The guy in particular is very well mannered and gentlemanly, and takes control of ordering and figuring out the very large menu for his female guest. As usual, I instantly assume, that he is gay, and imagine that he's out for dinner and to catch up with his best, girlfriend, who is pretty and fabulous and fun to shop with. Plus, he looks kind of familiar to me...maybe I used to wait on him at Sister Sorrel? In any case, the table orders fairly well, which indicates that they know something about food and that always makes me happy, and when they finish their cocktails, they share a very nice, delicious, and expensive bottle of wine that he picks out all by himself. I am charmed to see them treating themselves on their night out together, and think the girl is very lucky to have such a wonderful gay boyfriend to dine with when she's sick of her real boyfriend.
After their table has been cleared, I walk over to drop dessert menus and to pour off their wine. I have no intention of actually engaging my customers at this time, and am staring off into space like some sort of waitron-zombie as I pour for them. I am busy thinking about how hungry I am, how I wish this night would end already since I've been up since 6 a.m., and about the new play I am promoting, CONFESSIONS OF A MORMON BOY, which opens next week. Suddenly I realize the girl is talking to me: "I mean, what do you think about that?" she asks, sharply.
"Um, I'm sorry," I snap to attention. "What was the question?"
"What do you think about someone checking their blackberry every five seconds when you're out with them? When it's not for work, I mean? Don't you think that's just...rude???"
"Oh yeah, terrible," I say, without missing a beat. "I HATE that. Seriously. It's rude."
"I mean, how am I supposed to feel? You're sitting there, trying to have a nice dinner with your boyfriend, and every five seconds, he's typing away..."
"Ech, I'd be pissed!" I say. "I'd be SO pissed. I just think it's inappropriate behavior for the dinner table. In my house, dinner hour was a time you respected. There was no TV, no phone calls. I absolutely hate bad cell phone ettiquette! I think it's just plain rude. You know?" I say, turning to the gay friend. I expect to find him nodding, ready to chime in and say something affirmative & positive about his best girl friend, possibly that she deserves better from any man that is lucky enough to get to take her on a date...but he just looks up at me, sheepishly.
"Oh GOD," I say, "Is that you???" He just smiles a very uncomfortable, very sheepish smile. No, I think, It can't be you. You're her GAY boyfriend. She's talking about her straight boyfriend. But he is speechless, glancing back and forth between the two of us, wild-eyed, as though he fears he is about to be attacked from on all sides by an army of slighted, irritated girlfriends. Uh-oh. She is talking about him.
"I just feel totally overwhelmed by communication sometimes," I mumble, a feeble attempt at deflecting her anger, and restoring the neutrality of the conversation. The couple just stares at me, and I take this as my cue to walk away.
OOOOPS. He is NOT her gay boyfriend, he is her for real boyfriend. And now she is pissed, and I only made things worse. I can hear her going off on a rant, on a tirade even as I slink away, back towards the bathrooms, then run to the kitchen to hide. Oh man, did I just throw that guy under the bus.
I consider my situation for a moment from the safety of the kitchen. I'd love to try to right things for this lovely couple whom I've enjoyed waiting on so much. But what can I say? "I'm so sorry for the mix-up, sir! I really thought you were gay!" or "Sweetie, when you were complaining about your boyfriend, I didn't know you were referring to this guy, right here! He's gay! Let the blackberry thing go, honey, you've got bigger fish to fry!!!"
So, basically, I stayed as far away from that table as possible for the remainder of their dinner. And really, I felt awful. The gay-seeming-straight was such a nice guy: he obviously had money, but was not a pretentious prick about it like so many guys who have money. He was a real pleasure to have in my section, and their bill was fairly high for two-top. And in the end, he still left me a really big tip, despite the fact that I so obviously fanned the flames of his girlfriend's anger, and that there was no way he'd be let off the hook for this tonight. I even saw the poor girl wiping tears from the corners of her eyes as she left the restaurant!!! It just sucked. I wanted to give her a big hug, and tell her that I agreed with her and that it was wrong of her boyfriend to make her feel unappreciated by checking his blackberry every five minutes during their dinner, but that I was also pretty sure that he is a good guy who didn't mean to hurt her, and that it is obvious that he loves her very much...
Even if he is a little bit gay.