Life In Crystal Beach
Episode 9: Becoming a Hero


I think the people who live in Crystal Beach are unique. But I guess most people who choose to live on the coast are different; not different as in odd, you know, but different from inland people.  It’s been said that water has a calming affect.  That must be true because most of the people who live near it seem to move a little slower, take life a little less seriously and are content to have less.  The old saying is true, “If you want to make a million dollars and live at the beach, you’d better have a million dollars when you move there.”  Almost all of the people I know who live in Crystal Beach are kind and considerate.  Of course you always have those few assholes that are going to be assholes no matter where they live. You find those people scattered around everywhere. They’re always neck deep in shit and the shit they’re in is always everybody else’s fault. You know the kind I mean, eternal assholes.  There aren’t many of those in Crystal Beach, just a few. 

In contrast to the residents, we have a shitload of tourists: hundreds of them. As I’ve mentioned before, Crystal Beach is a popular tourist destination especially in the summer.  Some of the residents would rather that we weren’t so touristy but they forget that if we weren’t we wouldn’t have a gas station, a hardware store or a grocery store. In fact, there aren’t enough people who live here fulltime to support any businesses at all except for maybe a liquor store. Everybody needs a liquor store. But I’ll have to admit, that even though we need the business, there is a downside to tourists.  What I’ve experienced is that some people lose all respectability when they leave home.  You know what I mean? They seem to transform into this rude, loud, gross creature that doesn’t give a damn about anything. They litter, destroy property and pretty much assume the character of a goddamn slug, leaving a trail of gooey slime wherever they go. Those are the tourists who give tourists a bad name.
Since I work as a bartender at the Tiki, I’m in a prime position to be exposed to these assholes more than most people in other professions. Give a little alcohol to a badass and he quickly becomes a dumbass! Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. During tourist season we are blessed with our share of thoughtless morons and since even a moron has to eat, sooner or later they end up at the Tiki. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the restaurant business, you need to know that there’s something that every bartender and waitress worries about: check-walkers.  Depending on the restaurant, in some cases the waitstaff is responsible for the total amount of the check if a customer walks out without paying.

I feel the need to stop the story here and share a brief but really cool experience that I had while I was at college.  You see, I never had a penny when I was at school.  If I found a nickel on the sidewalk I had increased my cash-on-hand 500%. I was always broke.  Now, in case you’ve never been there let me assure you that it’s harder than hell to get a date when you don’t have any money, you know? I mean, you might convince a girl to sit in the park and talking once in a while but sooner than later you’re going to need to come up with some cash to keep the relationship growing, you know what I mean? Well, I had this roommate who was suffering from the same financial curse that I was.  We were both broke, but we’d met these really great looking girls and we desperately wanted to take our relationships to the next level, which we hoped had something to do with the bedroom, or at least a little backseat romance. So we devised this plan, this con that we thought might have a chance of actually working.  Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and probably a frequent cause of incarceration. So, here’s what we did.  We talked the girls into a double date.  Then we pooled our resources to come up with enough money to buy this really cheap man’s ring.  Back then, you could buy cheap but gaudy jewelry at convenience stores.  You know, they had a glass case that contained knives and one that had this jewelry-looking shit.  I think the ring cost us about seven bucks.  So, anyway, we made the date for the night that there was a big football game at the college.  You know, the local team plays its biggest rival-type shit. Then we picked the fanciest restaurant in town. It was also the only nice restaurant in town so it was sort of a no-brainer. We picked up the girls early in the evening and headed for the restaurant.  After we got seated, we had a couple of drinks, then we ordered dinner, complete with appetizers, of course. Now it’s important for you to understand that our entire plan depended on having a big group come in after the game.  Unfortunately, we didn’t anticipate that the game might go into overtime which it did. Consequently, when we finished eating dinner there was still no crowd.  We didn’t have a choice, we had to stretch our meal. So we ordered dessert.  After fifteen or twenty minutes, dessert was over and still no crowd.  We were beginning to get a little panicked. Overtime! I mean who could have guessed? It’s just a fucking football game.  Toss a coin for Christ’s sake and get it done! So, anyway, we ordered after dinner drinks, much to our date’s displeasure.  They were stuffed with steak and cheesecake and they wanted to leave.  However, they were no longer our main concern! With the amount of our check if this con didn’t work we figured we were facing prison time!

Finally, as we were finishing our brandy and our dates their fruity drink with whipped cream and chocolate swirls, the game crowd started to arrive…started! What we needed was a large group of boisterous football fans consuming mass quantities of booze. We didn’t have it.  We ordered another round of drinks.  By now our dates were not only ready to leave, they were beginning to talk about getting a cab.  We promised we’d only have one more drink. They complained. We ignored. At last a large group took a table not too far from us and ordered booze.  They were obviously on the winning side of the game and they were out to celebrate;  just what we needed.  Unfortunately, with all of the booze we’d consumed, I was having trouble seeing straight much less remembering the plan!  By the time we finished our brandy the group was going strong, drinking heavily and getting loud.  The time had come. 

My roommate took the girls out to the car.  I had lost the coin toss so it fell to me to pull off the con. The plan was that if I didn’t come out of the restaurant in ten minutes, they would leave figuring that I’d been caught. My heart was pounding and I was sweating like a man facing the gallows. I slowly slid out of the booth with the check in one hand and the cheap ring in the other and started walking toward the table where the celebration was in progress.  The older man at the end of the table was occupied with telling a story. When I arrived at the chair where the older man was sitting, I stopped and bent down and acted like I was picking something up.  The old man was still telling his story when I interrupted him.

“Excuse me.” You could tell he was irritated at the interruption.
“Yeah, what?” he barked.
“I just picked up this ring that’s been laying underneath your chair.  I’m going to take it to the cashier so I’d appreciate it if could you sort of wave when I point in this direction so she’ll know where I found it?” I was holding the ring out so he could see it.
“Let me have that,” he said as he grabbed the ring out of my hand.  Great! At this point the whole con could have gone south.  If he’d claimed that the ring was his, I was screwed.
“Cheap piece of shit,” he remarked as he examined it.
“Yeah, but somebody probably thinks it’s special,” I said sincerely. “Do you mind?”
He handed the ring back to me. “No, just go on.” He picked up his story where he’d left off.  What an asshole!  So, I had gotten over the first obstacle.  Now on to the cashier.

As I approached the counter I put the ring back into my pocket.  The cashier was busy. That was a good thing.

“How was your meal?” she asked mechanically.  Of course she really didn’t care how my meal was.  If it had sucked she wouldn’t have given a damn.
“It was fine, thanks. Say, my family is paying for my check they’re at that big table over there.”
I turned back to the dining area and waved.  The big man didn’t see me at first, but then he looked up and gave a quick gesture. She looked at me suspiciously. For a minute I was afraid that she might walk over to make sure that they were indeed paying the bill, but since there were several people behind me waiting to check out she took the check, marked the number of the table where the group was seated and nodded. I turned and walked toward the door. Shit! It had worked!

When I closed the restaurant door behind me, I almost tripped over myself getting to the car.  I jumped in, gave my roommate a high-five and took a deep breath.  We looked at each other and started laughing.

We were both so ecstatic that we didn’t even try to score.  I mean, this ecstasy, this euphoria was far beyond intercourse!  We took the girls home and went out to celebrate with a couple of beers that we charged to my roommate’s parent’s credit card. What a night! If you’re going to walk a check, do it with class!

Now, back to my original story.  That night was a pretty busy one at the Tiki. I guess it was around 9:00 so customers were busy trying to get their orders in before the kitchen closed at 10. The waitresses were doing the best they could to keep up.  I had just clocked out for the night when I noticed that Megan, one of our best waitresses, looked upset.  I asked her if something was wrong.  She told me that a table of four had just walked out without paying. I told her that I would see what I could do.  She handed me the check and told me that one of the guests was a stocky fellow wearing a Houston Texan’s ball cap.  As I walked outside, I saw the group talking in the parking lot.

“Excuse me.”
The stocky guy was also ugly.
“Yeah? What?” I could tell that he was a little inebriated by the glaze over his eyes.
“I think you forgot to pay your check. I’m sure it was just an oversight.” Bullshit! They walked out on purpose but I didn’t want to come on too strong.  Some guys get really defensive when they drink. I showed him the check.  He looked at it as if he could actually see it in the dark parking lot.
“Not mine.  We didn’t have any of this stuff.” He handed the check back to me and started to walk away.
“Look, the right thing to do is to pay your check,” I said a little more forcefully, although not too forcefully because my voice tends to go higher when I get excited and I sound a little bit like a girl. “It’s $43.84 not including the tip.”

He stopped and turned around.  At this point I’ll have to admit that I was reassessing my involvement in this precarious situation.  I mean, I’ve always dreamed of being a hero, I just never had the guts to make the dream a reality. You know, you can wake up if things get bad in a dream but when you’re already awake and things get bad you’re up shit creek! It was obvious that he was thinking about what to do next.  I stood my ground.  After all, everyone has a conscience, maybe even this asshole. As he walked back toward me I knew what I had to do and I was resigned to see it through no matter what.

When I walked back into the restaurant all of the waitress’s eyes were fixed on me.  I smiled as I approached Megan.  Her eyes lit up when I handed her the check and enough cash to cover the bill and a 20% tip.  She gave me a hug.  For the first time in my life I was a hero.  All of the waitresses gave me a smile.  I felt like a boxer who had just beat the shit out my opponent.

That night I poured myself an especially tall glass of scotch and selected an especially large cigar.  As I sat on the deck, I pondered the evening. What a feeling! I was a hero, a champion. Yep, it was the best fifty-three bucks I’d ever spent!