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"One man's festival is another man's funeral."
                                My uncle Tasso

By the time you read this it will arguably be too late for you to respond meaningfully.  And maybe it’s best this way.  For more than being a cautionary tale, perhaps this story is a look into the heart of darkness that lives within us all, revealed with incandescent fury on a day that everyone in the food services industry dreads but few in the general public are aware of.

In the weeks leading up to this fateful occasion, countless restaurant managers have reconsidered their professional aspirations and moved on to something less stressful, like air-traffic control or detonating explosive devices for the local bomb squad. They know that in less than twenty-four hours, untold numbers of servers will lose their sanity, not to mention their self-esteem, on this day—Mother’s Day.

An ironic label—"Mother’s Day." It conjures images of a loving matriarch enjoying breakfast in bed as served by her loving offspring. But beneath that veneer lies the seed of a truth so harrowing it reduces grown men to slack-jawed stupor. They say you never forget your first "Mother." I proved the rule.

I couldn't have contemporaneously written about the events you are going to read about here given the nature of what transpired on that inglorious day. If my experience sounds like some great historic battle, remember that at least with war there is the prospect of victory. I wish the same could be said of this story, my story -- one day of dysfunction and drama unparalleled in the history of this great nation's eateries.

I was working at a large deli at Water Tower Place in Chicago. That morning the sun that rose over Lake Michigan burned brilliantly with nary a trace of warmth -- a portent of things to come. As I entered the building, a chill ran up my spine as I sensed something wicked this way was coming.

A half-hour before we opened, I peered through the floor-length windows that fronted the restaurant. Though I could see no one, I heard a deep buzzing sound -- killer bees, perhaps? Nothing that benign. It was the thrum of hungry feet on cold marble, relentlessly marching their way to a meeting with destiny, with brunch.

Brunch, an endless number of paper cuts to the hearts of waiters everywhere.

And Mother's Day brunch? The Bataan Death March with scones, a celebration destined to make you question your very existence, leaving you with the belief that pure evil exists. And it wants everything served extra hot, sauce on the side!

I'll never forget my manager's face that morning. He was a wizened veteran of countless Mother's Day past; an involuntary twitch that racked his body bore witness to that fact. I must have looked particularly fearful as I finished what felt like a last cigarette before confronting a firing squad of endless inane requests. Finally I said, "How bad can it be, right?" A rush of air escaped his clutched lungs as his eyes narrowed, glazing over with the memory of fallen comrades who were foolhardy enough to pose like-minded questions.

Then suddenly as if to banish meaningless inquiries forever, a sharp rapping sound now poured forth from the front of the restaurant. We rounded a corner to face the inconceivable -- the windows were lined with bare-fanged masses crowded up against the panes of glass, rhythmically pounding their bare knuckles on the glass, emitting a din that sounded eerily like empty tin cups on metal bars in a penitentiary mess hall. When we pried the doors opened, they cascaded in like fish shot out of white water rapids.

In that flash point moment, I lost consciousness. In fact, my dominant memory from that day is an indescribable blur of children's twisted faces. Like locusts, they swarmed everywhere, crawling under tables, evading feckless fathers, shrieking with glee at the mayhem they were inflicting. And to this day whenever I smell bacon frying, I have a vague memory of a woman grabbing the host by the collar, hoisting him off the ground till the tips of his shoes barely grazed the blood-stained floor, saying he had better find her a table for eight immediately or be prepared to join the monastery.

And at the center of it all, mothers of all shapes and sizes, basking in the toxic glow of a day born of atomic dysfunction. Think of all the issues every person has surrounding their mother -- now imagine every one of those people trying to remedy those issues in public, with you there as an uninvited but necessary midwife to the proceedings.

Call me cynical, call me Sisyphus. Just don't call me a waiter come Mother's Day. And if that's hard for you to identify with, wrap your head around this reality—Father’s Day is just a month away.  

Oh, the humanity...

Originally posted to TheSometimesWhy on Sat May 09, 2009 at 10:26 AM PDT.

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