Pro tip from a waiter: don’t enlist the staff in your wedding proposal. But if you do, do it right.
A five-top is seated in my section: a middle-aged married couple and another middle-aged woman who are—through some combination that I can’t quite figure out—the parents of a young couple in their early twenties.
I’d been triple-sat (three separate parties seated at once) and was pinging around from table to table gathering drink, appetizer, and dinner orders. One of the women at the five-top told me that the younger guy—already standing at his chair— wanted to speak to me in the lobby. Usually this means that someone wants to tell me about a birthday surprise or that they want to cover the tab at the end of the meal. Routine stuff.
So I grabbed the menus from the table and walked slowly towards the lobby of the restaurant.
I could already tell that the guy—a kid, really—had some sort of malfunction. He was muscular but his movements were small and unsure. He was young, but he tried to put off the aura of an authority figure. The effort he put into being an alpha male was spent inefficiently. Much was wasted, but he still carried some of the demeanor of an alpha—just the less endearing qualities.
“Hey boss, I need you to do me a biiig favor.” He reaches for the pocket. Jesus Christ … not … a … “So I have this.” He produces a tiny blue box with some sort of silver cursive writing on top. Instinctively, everything sucks up into my body. This guy’s life is in this box.
(Side note: you can call me homie, man, dude, buddy, pal, asshole, prick, but please don’t call me boss, chief, or hoss—especially if I’m not your boss, a chief, or especially large. Those terms are so wrought with passive-aggressive condescension.)
So I have the guy tell me twice how he wants me to surprise his girlfriend with this thing. At dessert, I’m to come from the table’s blind side, present everyone else their dessert, and then swoop in from the left with a plate of juicy, scrumptious diamond ring. I’m to slink off into the background like Carson from Downton and, as he said it, “wait for her to stop crying or screaming or whatever and then bring her dessert.” I noted that the young man bore grand illusions of how this was all supposed to go.
I become filled with both anger and pity—which combined into a certain hastiness, as if I was so resigned to my plight that I just wanted to get it on and get it over with. I felt like I imagine a Death Row inmate feels in the moments before his end. I felt anger at the guy for a couple of reasons. First, I asked to have the ring box to put in my pocket. He moved towards handing it to me but then hesitated, pulled back for a second to hold the box up next to his ear, and literally said to me: “Dude, I’m a Marine, I will kill you if you fuckin’ lose this ring.”
(Another side note: is it possible to tell the seriousness of a threat by the location of the word “fuckin’’’ in the sentence? Is “I will kill you if you fuckin’ lose this ring” more of a threat than “I will fuckin’ kill you if you lose this ring,” or is “I will kill you if you lose this fuckin’ ring” worse? I think the sentence Gung-Ho Greg leveled at me was at about a Defcon 3. If you ask me, the closer towards the front of the sentence that the ‘fuckin’’ is placed, the more serious the threat.)
But yeah, don’t ask me to do you a solid-bro and then threaten my life. Though I was pissed at the threat, I felt that it was a function of his inability to articulate himself and just scoffed and said “Dude, I’m not going to lose your ring,” and grabbed it and walked away. He was about to propose to a girl at a second-tier Italian food chain. He needed my pity more than I needed to vent my anger.
I was also quite angry that this guy had roped me into this little domestic affair at all. Handle your own business, tough guy, was my feeling. G.I. Joe wanted me to do some of the heavy lifting for him because he wasn’t creative enough to think of something that wasn’t now a parody of a cliché of a tactic for proposing marriage. He was leaning on me to help him out of his jam. Plus, while the guy did leave an OK tip, the proper etiquette would have been to slip me a twenty for my ring-bearer services right up front and then tip according to custom at the end of the meal. After all, you pay the church or the preacher or the retired Justice of the Peace when they officiate your wedding; you don’t ask one of the busboys at your reception to perform the rites.
I’ve seen my fair share of marriage proposals at my restaurant. It’s always an eyesore. The women I work with will rubber-neck around the crash scene. Anymore I just hang my head and scoot through the crowd to avoid giving the couple the attention the young proposer seeks. Sometimes the guys want the servers to put the ring inside a piece of tiramisu. Maybe something to do with the ladyfingers—who knows? The guy gets down on one knee—wallowing in macaroni bits and other pieces of refuse—and goes through the motions.
The public proposal is a weeny cop-out anyway. Besides the Marine using me to do his leg work, the exhibition relies on the presence of a crowd to compel the woman to say ‘yes’. It’s safety in numbers for the young man and puts unfair pressure on her. I’ll be in this boat soon. I don’t plan to ask for help, but if I do, I’ll at least invite you to the wedding.
A version of this story appeared in WORK Literary Magazine.
Image credit: base2wave/Flickr