Sunday, April 09, 2006

Dr. Smartt

I just posted this to Black and Whites:
Dr. Smartt would come in two or three times a month, usually during the week, and he would always order the same thing: two veal chops, mashed potatoes, two caeser salads, to go. He'd sit at my bar and have a couple of martinis while we put his order together. After a few times, I recognized his car when he pulled up and I'd try to have his martini ready and waiting when he arrived (easy on Tuesday, tough on Friday night!): Bombay Sapphire up with a twist. As a long-time bartender, I respect people who order martinis with a twist -- dirty martinis are for posers and vodka-drinking bankers who want to impress their friends rather than enjoy a quality cocktail. Over the years, Dr. Smartt and I got to be friendly. Around Halloween, I'd slip a piece of the chef's homemade pumpkin cheesecake into his to-go bag. Or maybe we'd have some soup left over from lunch and I'd bag up a couple of bowls for him. He always paid with a credit card, an Amex Gold, and he always tipped in cash: exactly $20.
Around Christmas, the restuarant was in dire straits, the chef had literally gone crazy (manic-depressive), the servers were fleeing, the kitchen staff's checks were bouncing. The end of the road was upon us. Dr. Smartt came in and I told him he didn't want the veal chops, I'd seen three go back to the kitchen that night. I said that I'd had the boloniase for lunch, and it was great, he should try it. He assented, and when I brought his order out I told him that it looked like this might be the last time we'd be seeing each other, as the restaurant was slated to close. I bought his meal, and told him it had been a pleasure knowing him and that we really appreciated his patronage.
He sipped his martini slowly and said, "Have I ever told you about my days as a waiter?" I was astonished. Here was this rich, successful, well-dressed DOCTOR, and he'd been a waiter? He went on,"I put myself through medical school waiting tables. I married a woman I worked with, and she's my wife to this day. She has multiple sclerosis, and she's damn near bed-ridden. She always loved her job as a waitress, and she kept working in restaurants even after I became a surgeon and she didn't have to work. She's the love of my life, and she's dying. I've been coming in here for three years and getting food to go because she isn't well enough to come eat out with me. And when I bring the food home, she always asks, how was the restaurant? What were they doing? Were they busy? Who was at the bar? And I try and tell her what I saw, because I know this business gets in your blood, and I have great respect for the people who can do it for a career."
I was blown away. I told him to just take the food, it was on me, and I gave him my card, and told him to call and find out where I'd moved on to. He said, "You know I won't do that." I said, yeah, I know, but it was worth a try. He pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and laid it on the bar-top and said, "Merry Christmas. Don't save this for Christmas gifts, spend it on yourself."
And he left. I never saw him again. The restaurant closed two months later, and I moved on. His wife died last year, I saw her obituary in the local paper. What I didn't tell Dr. Smartt is that my wife has MS, too, but it's the remitting-relapsing type, not the chronic-progressive type that killed Mrs. Smartt. I took his hundred dollars and spent fifty at a bar that very night, buying drinks for the kitchen staff, and the other fifty I wrote a check to the National MS Society.

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