WHATEVER YOU ARE WANTING!
Not that I would know anything about that.
It turned out the Sicilian gentleman did not know where Sri Lanka was, or what several of the spices were that the more English-able of the two gentlemen was trying to explain to him. So I jumped right on in.
After all, I know everything.
Two days later I was hired, after a fifteen minute interview with the boss of the restaurant. Bookkeeper, cashier. And also sane individual who could calmly observe, answer questions, interpret, represent, make sober decisions. We call it a khazanchee, that being the man that guards the iron cash box.
In the mountains of the North West Frontier Province, I would've been equiped with a Lee-Enfield rifle. Here in San Francisco, a severely Dutch attitude was considered sufficient.
As general factotum and supercargo, I was the one who went to tables to explain to customers that the service charge had been added for THEIR! OWN!! GOOD!!!
It had actually been added because the waiters had recognized the customers as being cheapskate Europeans, English, or Indians, and rightly feared being stiffed on the tip - "snnnff, we're French, and we do not tip in France, snnfff!" - and the waiters also knew that I was quite capable of brazenly overruling any objections that there might be.
Customer: "The chicken, it was not as good as it is in Hyderabad..."
Me: "But you ate absolutely ALL of it!"
Customer: "The achar, we usually expect that to be provided free..."
Me: "The menu says that it costs three dollars, and I know you saw the menu!"
Customer: "The chapatti was not so hot..."
Me: "Which one? You had over two dozen of them!"
Customer: "The owner usually gives a discount..."
Me: "The owner isn't here, but I am!"
As for English people, and the information that Indian food in England is infinitely better in London than in San Francisco, I am so very sorry, but this isn't London, it is San Francisco - are there any questions?
What many Europeans, English, and Indians, fail to understand is that tips are not optional - the staff NEED that money to pay their rent, and they really aren't living high off the hog. Five gentlemen working full time and living in a studio apartment is not the lap of luxury by any standard. A family of four in a Tenderloin one-bedroom? That really does not qualify as excessive comfort.
This is San Francisco. We are one of the most expensive cities in the world. And you are paying far less for your dinner than if the place was run by white people with snooty French accents. So stop being such a miser.
I also answered the phone. One of the most memorable conversations went like this:
Indian caller: "(Sigh)... I am keenly wishing to speak to mister Singh"
Me: "Which one?"
IC: "(Sigh)... It would then be mister J. Singh."
Me: "Which one?"
IC: "(Sigh)... Jack Singh."
Me: "Are you desiring to converse with Jagdeesh Singh, Jagtar Singh, Jagmohan Singh, Jagjeet Singh, Jagvinder Singh, Jangjit Singh Aluwalia, Jangjit Singh Bangi, Jagroop Singh, or Joginder Singh?"
IC: "Oh for Ram's sake, just let me speak to mister Patel!
Me: "Do you mean Ashwin Patel, Mantoo Patel, Harirambhai Patel, Parteeb Patel, Anirud Patel .....?"
Once down at one of the city offices, at very nearly five o'clock, I tried to ask the counter-clerk (an Indian, coincidentally) a question. Before I could even finish my sentence, he slammed the window down, snapping: "what everrr you are wantinggggg, we are NOT havinggg!"
I often felt like I was channeling for that fine gentleman while working at the restaurant.
VENKY IS IN THE HOUSE!
Many of the people who called did not wish to speak to an Anglo. An Anglo just would not be able to answer their questions, nor understand what they were calling about. They insisted on speaking to the manager.
We did not have a manager. We had a headwaiter - who did not want to talk to them. We had a chief clerk down in the basement - who did not want to talk to them. We had a head chef - who would not want to talk to them at all.
And there was myself. I had answered the phone because it was right next to the cash box. But they did not wish to talk to me.
Very well then. I shall go get the "manager".
Put phone down, take a breath, pinch throat, and stare up at ceiling while picking the phone back up.
"Hallooo, this is Venky (Venkataraman) Injinir, I can be helping you pleez? You are vanting, yes?!?"
Almost always this led to a phone conversation that was satisfactory all around. Their questions got answered (did I already mention that I know everything?), reservations for small family parties of fifteen hundred people were made, dietary preferences and food-taboos were noted, and whatever they were wanting, was truly and indeed very much being had.
The only time it didn't work was when the owner's wife called.
The first time Venky (Venkataraman) Injinir answered, no problem. She never even wondered why some outrageously-accented South-Indian was working among all the North Indians.
She asked to speak to her son, I passed the phone, and thought no more about it.
Second time, she and Venky (Venkataraman) Injinir had a delightful but brief conversation about how there is no apam or murungai at all to be had alas in San Francisco, but aam ka achaar almost as proper as in Chettinad, heavens to betsy! Then her son came on the line, and I hung up.
Her son later informed me that I was a very exceptional sort of Tamil, obviously of good family. His mom was exceedingly pleased that they had managed to find such an exemplary Madrassi.
The third time, I had a cold. After a few minutes she exclaimed "Atboth, is that you!?!?!"
Without another word I handed the phone to her son and went into the kitchen to have a fit of the vapours.
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