Wet cloth before dry cloth. I still remember because I am scrubbing tables in my own home now. Jack, my fellow waiter taught me that. More accurately, he shamed me into knowing things I should already have learned. Jack was from Armenia, and we often shared a late night shift. Closing up could be agony for waiters when the last hangers-on refused to go home. You had to wait out the stragglers long after the kitchen and bar had closed.
Missing the last subway would mean you were stuck with the infamous Yonge Street Rocket. This last bus went north all the way up Yonge Street making every stop along the way. The kind of people it collected was a snapshot of Dante’s Inferno. The bus driver looked straight ahead, drove, and hoped for the best. If there was somebody getting murdered on the bus by a mean drunk, he didn’t want to know.
Worst of all, I lived in an apartment in the Saint Clair West area. It was an eight mile walk from Yonge Street, at which point you prayed that it would not rain. If you were not tired from sixteen hours on your feet in a split shift, you were then. I remember once getting stopped and shaken down by the cops. Not sure how my story might not check out, since I was wearing a waiter’s uniform and was also slick with grease and honest sweat. Middle of the night with your feet spread up against a cruiser is nobody’s idea of a good time.
Hence, I was in a hurry to make the subway, but you could not leave until all the cleaning and setup was done. You had to vacuum crumbs, polish the tables, and then set up plates and silverware. Jack would not hurry at this. It drove me crazy. He would inspect his table area for everything being straight and uniform, and if there was anything smudged he would polish the silverware again. Then he would check me and let me know if he thought my cleaning was up to snuff.
We had some words about this. “What are you, Mr. Good Enough?” Jack asked me. He said, “Hey, I may ONLY be a waiter, but I’m a PROUD waiter. Let nobody ever say I do my job badly. You, on the other hand, you could use some improvement”. His words stung. I liked Jack a lot, and he knew all the best after hours places to grab souvlaki if you were famished after a shift and could not wind down. So, I reluctantly learned to do my job completely and let the thought of getting out take a back seat.
I don’t recall Jack’s last name. He moved on in the world or course. Much later on I met him. I was married, and he was getting married. He was now a real estate agent, and he seemed thrilled to see me. He slapped me on the back. We exchanged pleasantries. What sticks, is that I am sure I could recommend Jack anytime anyplace. He did a good job even when no one was watching. I am betting that he was a stand up real estate guy. I have seen the bad ones, and they are in it for a fast commission and not much more.
When I polish and set a table now, I remember Jack’s example. Wet towel, followed up by dry towel to polish. Don’t leave any smears behind, and don’t ever start with a dirty cloth. My girls don’t understand why I am particular when setting the table that things have to look good and be done properly.
In the course of time, I have also gotten better at some other things I really hate, like keeping track of paper work, and the details of some finances. The kids come to ask me now, because if I don’t know, I will find out. My youngest daughter got a job with the Canadian Census and I told her it may seem pedantic, but it will be some of the best training she gets in life, to chase down information completely and meticulously. To cross the t’s and dot the i’s. What is it Jesus said? “Every jot and tittle will be fulfilled”. He meant the tiny punctuation of life, was important, and if you don’t think so, it will come back to haunt you. It reminds me of one of my Mother’s maxims, “If it was fun, they would not call it work.”
So… in retrospect I am no longer Mr. Good Enough, the guy who looks at his work half done and calls it a day. I have seen much work over my lifetime, and I have observed this one thing. Being faithful in all the little things that look unimportant may be the best and most important thing you accomplish over a lifetime. It is the equivalent of a good reputation... the things others say about you. And I hope no one ever sees me go by, snickers, and says “Hey, there goes Mr. Good Enough…”.