MAY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 5
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CRIS COHEN is a staff humor columnist for Renaissance Magazine. His work is also published weekly in three California newspapers and four online humor magazines.
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Stress in Numbers
Lately I've gone out to meals with large groups of people. I'm talking about the kind of numbers where not only do you have to drive to the restaurant in separate vehicles, but at least one of those vehicles has to be a full-length Amtrak train. Somehow this just happens. What starts out as a few people deciding to go get something to eat, quickly turns into a group large enough to invade Poland. And invasion is probably what the hostess is thinking when you first walk in with this many people.
HOSTESS: And how many people in your party?
YOU: Two hundred and thirty-seven. Can we have a booth?
The person who has the toughest job is the one who has to ask the hostess for a table, one roughly the length of a sailing vessel. This task is best given to whomever may have once worked as a grievance counselor. An even better choice is someone who has talked a man out of jumping off the ledge of a building.
This is because the hostess will often get a look of panic when you request seating for the equivalent of the entire Prussian Army. She may even start to sweat freely. What makes this such a traumatic experience is that she realizes that she will have to completely rearrange the seating chart. She may have to even build some tables by hand.
Because, really, the seating of large groups is cruel and unusual punishment for a hostess; they shouldn't have to deal with that. There should be some rule or ordinance to protect them, something that states that if you are a large group and you want to eat together, then you have to rent a hotel banquet room or, again depending on your group's size, an indoor sporting arena.
Along these lines, my friend Neal was put in a truly awkward situation recently. There were about fifteen of us trying to find a place to have lunch. We checked with two restaurants within walking distance of each other. Neal spoke to the hostess of one of the restaurants who, although looking distressed, agreed to put a table together for us. However, just as Neal finished the deal another group member walked in and told him the rest of us were in the process of being seated at the other restaurant.
It was at this point that Neal had to convey the heartwarming message, "Never mind." Personally, I'm impressed Neal walked back in and did this. Many people would have just gone into hiding, deciding to avoid the painful moment with the hostess and instead learning to live under an assumed name in another city. What Neal did was a sign of true bravery. Never mind those other extreme sports like sky diving, bull fighting, or working in a department store during a clearance sale. Telling a hostess, "Thank you, but we won't need that table for fifteen after all" is the kind of heroism about which they make movies. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they one day make a statue of Neal: a sculpture of him standing in front of the hostess podium.
Another moment of terror that often happens when you go out to eat with a big group is when the bill arrives. Inevitably someone suggests just splitting it evenly among everyone. Unfortunately there can often be a discrepancy between people's orders. For instance, there is often someone who ordered the entire right side of the menu. There is also usually someone who ordered a single slice of cheese. As a result, the cheese guy has a heart attack because he realizes that his one slice will cost him the equivalent of a custom-built motorcycle.
Granted everything usually works out okay, with everyone deciding to put in however much he or she owes. But for just a minute or two, the cheese guy is considering harming either himself or everyone else at the table with whatever is handy, even if that's only a sugar packet. Again, this is why it's important to never go out in a big group without a grief counselor.
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