Sunday, March 16, 2014

Reputation

A few months ago I attended an advanced screening of a war movie with Mark Wahlberg. A friend came up to say hello just before the film started, with a female companion I barely knew. "I hear you're a bad tipper"- she uttered as they were leaving. Apparently a friend of hers heard it from another friend who worked at a restaurant I haven't frequented in seven months or more. This comment got me pretty upset and for perhaps twenty minutes of the beginning of the film, that I was invited to see a few weeks before the general public instead of following the plot, I've been trying to figure out who this mysterious person who had waited on me may have been, if there was ever a time that I didn't leave a 20% gratuity which is what the custom here dictates and what I always do and what kind of a person would point out customers and gossip about them. But for the life of me- I couldn't remember. Especially since the server was apparently male and I only recalled waitresses that work them, most of them my friends in real life. Given how badly servers tend to be paid in America, and I know how my friends struggle I just tip them what's expected. And it's not up for debate if I liked the person or how they handled my order, was my food hot or cold or tasty or slimy, or even if they were particularly helpful. Most of the time  at that place you do wait forever and the staff tends to ignore you. And don't even bother to ask any details about your meal. It doesn't matter. You tip regardless. I was very hurt when I heard that comment precisely because- it simply wasn't true. And not only did it ruin my night, but I also knew this is how rumors get started. I'm one of the most recognizable people in this town. I'm simply the guy in the yellow wheelchair. And I'd like to think I'm likable and fair. But everywhere I go, people are more likely to remember me. So I try to be extra careful about what I say and what I do. I try to give people as few reasons to talk about me as possible. Had I lived in New York City I would just go to a restaurant three blocks down and never go back to a place where somebody looked at me the wrong way. But this is Gainesville. This is a small town. If you stick out people remember you. It took me many years to build a reputation. It takes a few seconds, a sentence, no more- to trash it. All this time when I've been trying to establish myself within this community. For the most part staying out of people's way. If I'm here to be a lawyer, I better act it. Act my profession and my age. And never do anything that would make my family ashamed or disappointed.  And mostly I want to be able to enjoy my meal and not have to wonder what the server really thinks of me.  And not only will they think it. They will remember me. And tell a friend. Who will tell another friend, who will then take it upon herself to ruin a night I was waiting for. Misunderstanding for sure, but it's small things like that unaddressed and unexplained that linger the most.

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