Excuse me!

Excuse me!

Subbu was in confession mode. ‘I don’t like restaurants,’ he said

Subbu was in confession mode. 'I don't like restaurants,' he said.

'Why?' I asked. 'What don't you like about them? The food? The ambience?'

'All that's fine,' he said. 'They are not good for my health.'

'You mean the food is unhealthy?' I asked.

'Nothing to do with the food,' he said. 'It's the waiters.'

'Waiters? How do they affect your health? What did they do to you?'

Subbu thought for a moment.

'They remind me of the girls I used to have a crush on,' he blurted. 'That's' why they are bad for my health and my self-esteem.'

A stutter had crept into his voice. He was sweating.

'Please explain,' I said giving him a glass of cold water.

'You see,' said Subbu. 'When I was 14 and had a crush on a girl, I tried everything to catch their eye. But they would somehow avoid my searching eyes. These waiters behave in exactly the same way.'

'Dude,' I said. 'You're stretching things too far.'

'I go to fine restaurants and pay good money thinking they might pay me attention unlike those crushes,' continued Subbu. 'But no – when I seek out their eyes the waiters look at a fly on the wall. Sometimes I wonder if these waiters have been trained by my ex-crushes. I experience the same feelings of rejection. I become the gawky, rejected 14-year-old again.'

'Hmm,' I said. 'You mean no waiter looks at you?'

'Yes,' he said. 'All fifty of them hover around but no one looks at me. It's as if they have been trained to ignore me.'

'How do you manage to order then?' I asked.

'Order? Them?' he laughed. 'Plead is more like it. Since they don't look at me, I call out to them. Excuse me, I say politely. Everyone in the vicinity can hear me except these guys who are tuned into some other frequency. I clear my voice and go 'Excuse me' a little louder again. Everyone in the restaurant can hear me except these guys. Any louder, and I come across as desperate, and any softer, I come across as meek and incompetent. It's delicate. People look at me sympathetically while I alternate between excuse me, hey, pssst…, boss, brother, master, my lord, etc. It's stressful.'

'Too bad man,' I said. 'I didn't know you had such issues. What do you do next?'

'When they don't respond to my searching eyes and my pleading voice, I do the next thing,' said Subbu. 'I get physical.'

'You beat them up?'

'No,' said Subbu. 'I raise my arm first. Then I wave. Then I raise both arms in surrender. Then I discreetly fall at their feet and hold on tight. When they cannot ignore me anymore, they treat me like they found an attention-seeking adolescent and take my order. It's like I go there and pay for some sadomasochistic experience.'

'It does sound stressful,' I said.

'It is,' said Subbu. 'This continues till I get the cheque. Then a miracle happens. The moment I bring out my wallet, they look deeply into my eyes, wait for my every word and focus all their attention on me and my wallet until I have paid them half my salary as a tip. You know, I just don't get it.'


'The connection between these waiters and my ex-crushes,' said Subbu. 'Do you think they are somehow connected?'

'Don't know,' I said. 'But I have learned one thing.'

'What?' he asked.

'Why they are called crushes,' I said. 'They've completely crushed your confidence and self-esteem.'

'Excuse me,' said Subbu.

I ignored him. He was used to it anyway.

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