A colleague of mine got fired from Toro last week. He was accused of withholding tips: not a lot of money, just a $20 here and there, a barely noticeable transgression. Management eventually began to notice, and he was fired immediately, for stealing.
I know the evidence management assembled stacked up to suspicious activity, otherwise this waiter wouldn't have been fired. But were they sure he was stealing? Could any of us be 100% positive? All servers have 15% nights, full of bummer tables who short-change us. Could we prove it, beyond doubt's shadow, that it wasn't some kind of accounting mix-up?
Yesterday we had our semi-monthly all-staff Cleaning Day, where the waitstaff, barstaff, and backwaiters come in for an hour on Saturday afternoon to clean the restaurant. They feed us and we sit and chat for a while, then we clean. Armed with swiffers & brooms, we crawl around on our hands and knees in search of dust-bunnies and stray forks and knives and whatever else hides behind the banquets in the restaurant (Cinthya once found a single, lonely high heel shoe.) We dust and polish and generally make the place look spic and span. What, they don't make you do this in your office?
Anyway, knowing we'd all be there, the recently terminated employee showed up. He walked in while we were busy scrubbing away, and asked us to stop for a minute and gather around: he had "something to say" to everyone. Oh Jesus, I thought. This can't be good...
The kitchen staff stopped prepping. The front of the house staff stopped cleaning. We all formed a wide huddle around our ex-colleague, and prepared to listen. The air was thick with tension--you could have cut it with a Chef's knife.
"This won't take too long," he said. His voice quivered, filled to the brim with potent emotion. was it anger? Frustration at being accused of such a thing? Was he going to tell us all to go to hell? Uh-oh, I thought, here we go...
Then, he apologized. His speech was neither long, nor particularly eloquent. But it was one of the most heartfelt, moving apologies I've ever received. A writing teacher would tell me "show, don't tell," here but I prefer to keep the words private, out of respect for his own sense of pride and because I suspect he occasionally reads this thing.
I continue to feel amazed by the waiter's bravery and vulnerability in that moment. I think about how hard it is for people to admit when they've done something wrong or made a mistake, even when that mistake isn't deliberate or hurtful. This waiter's mistake was deliberate. It hurt all of his fellow waitstaff directly, purposefully. And still, he walked in there and stood up in front of that whole room, and apologized. It was totally the right thing to do.
I know I'd never have the balls to do that. I'd choose to live with my sin, by turns justifying it and being torn up inside by it. I'd spend the rest of my life vowing to redeem myself when guilt kept me awake at night, and wiping my mind clean of it the next morning with freshly scripted excuse, before I came clean to a room full of people like that.
The waiter left immediately after saying his piece. We all sat there, jaws on the floor, staring at one another. The girls were crying, the boys looked uncomfortable. Our managers took turns saying managerial things to bring closure to the circle. Moments later, we were cleaning again.
I hung back for a moment with Cinthya, my Mexican co-worker. We sighed and looked at each other.
"Everyone makes mistakes," she said, shrugging as she wiped tears from behind her glasses.
"I know," I said. "We all do. We really do. What a confession."
We were silent for a moment. Then I said, "Cinthya, I have a confession to make. My hair is not really blonde."
"I know, Kitty, I know," she said. "We all do. It's okay."