by Dale Gershwin
EXONERATED!! ABSOLVED!! ACQUITTED!! And if that´s not enough for you: CLEARED!! EXCULPATED!! VINDICATED!! Paris waiters! All of em! (Well, leave us not get carried away. But...this PARIS MOMENT goes quite a way in letting off the hook generations of those guys in the long black aprons.)
I´m a runner and run the same route almost every day. As it´s rather long, I stop mid-way in a cafe near the Louvre to buy a can of juice. One day about four years ago I asked for a paper napkin. The waiter behind the counter, who by that time was with sun-rising regularity used to taking my ten francs, said I could not have a napkin because napkins were only for people who bought something to eat. All the while jogging in place to keep my heartbeat up, frantically checking my stopwatch and, by now, unable to open my eyes against the perspiration droppings for which I´d wanted the napkin in the first place, I proclaimed that he just lost a customer: I was about to boycott the place.
But I was cutting off my nose to spite my face. Since at the hour I´m out this is the only cafe open, what my brain was gaining in satisfaction my muscles were losing in hydration. So some weeks later, sweat still clouding my corneas, back I went to start buying my mid-route juice again, not daring to erode precious seconds of my mere minute-long break by even thinking of firing a new napkin-fight salvo.
Time passed. During a juice-stop a year or so ago, I saw that the waiter was in a relatively good mood so I told him how piqued I´d been at his pettiness about the napkin three years earlier. Though I´d long since become a daily fixture in the place, he didn´t do much more than grumble something and walk away.
But I kept going in every morning, same hour, same can of juice, same ten francs. Same stinging eyes. Same occasional remark from me. Same grumble from him.
Maybe because it was the first warm day in several weeks, the waiter seemed downright jolly. I asked how he was and he said fine--which should have tipped me off immediately as to the miracle about to befall. Suddenly, he began foraging in a drawer. I paid for my juice and just as I turned to walk away I realized he was plopping something down on the counter.
I doubled back and saw what it was: a napkin.