When I was fourteen I got a job as a terrible waiter, at a pizza place near my house.

Saturdays were the best. Before early shifts I ate two fresh, warm Sicilian slices from the big brick oven. I'd spend the day helping to make dough, chop vegetables, and fold boxes. Late shifts began in the lazy afternoon hours. I had time to get the dining room ready, and I even learned a few things in the kitchen while we waited for customers.

One Saturday afternoon, two old ladies came in and asked for tea. They were my first customers that day, but I was ready. I poured water into two glass mugs and microwaved them. Put a Lipton tea bag on each saucer. Brought out the tea, milk, and sugar. Having tea at a pizza place is pretty weird, but we were officially a "ristorante". So.

A few minutes later, from the kitchen, I heard the old ladies calling for me.

"Waiter! This tea tastes like poison."

I didn't know what to say. What was it supposed to taste like? I didn't have much experience. So I apologized and consulted my boss, Nick.

Nick was a football player in college. He moved around the kitchen like a bowling ball. He could put his arm in the oven to move stuff around, and he washed his hands with scalding water. When he cooked, he looked like bombs had hit him and failed to do any damage.

"They said the tea tastes like poison," I said, not an hour after I had dropped a crate of portobello mushrooms in the back room and made Nick furious.

He smelled the tea. I mentally retraced my steps and wished I had thought to do so before talking to Nick. I did everything the way he'd shown me. The tea bags were new. The milk was fresh. The water was from a pitcher we kept at the coffee station.

"Did you rinse out the pitcher?" he asked.

"It was full already." I said.

"That was vinegar." he said. "You served them straight vinegar."


The rest is a blur. I think Nick and I laughed about it. Of course I gave the old ladies new tea, with water, and we didn't charge them.

I guess there's a lesson in there about being prepared, not making assumptions. Verifying the quality and condition of materials before starting a project. But every so often I just laugh out loud at those poor old ladies I poisoned.