A deep breath can help in demanding situations

“May I get you…” is all I managed to get out before he started ordering.

“I’ll have a hamburger, no pickle, no lettuce, mayo on the side, untoasted bun, between medium and medium rare — just a little pink — grilled onions, no fries, mixed greens instead, lightly dressed with a vinaigrette, but no garlic, and no salt and no pepper.”

“We have some specials,” I ventured.

“And a cosmopolitan, no cranberry, pomegranate instead, lemon juice instead of lime, no triple sec, in a wine glass, with a lemon twist, not a lemon wedge, but a fresh lemon twist, and use a potato vodka, just not Chopin or Blue Sky,” he continued before taking a large audible gasp for breath.

I counted — one 1,000, two 1,000 — before I turned to ring in his order, hopeful I wouldn’t I forgot any of the instructions. I had a feeling he wouldn’t be sympathetic to any mistakes.

“And a water, room temperature, regular tap — it’s filtered right? — with a lime twist, in the ice tea glass, no not that one, the other one, no, no, no, yes. That one.”

Needless to say, I then spent an inordinate amount of time at the other end of the bar. Eventually, duty called me back to his vicinity.

“I need another napkin. Do you have cotton ones? And a different fork, something smaller and I need steak sauce, not Worcestershire or Pickapeppa or A1. Do you have anything else? Also some aioli, but with lemon, and a side of barbecue sauce and some sea salt — if you have it — otherwise it has to be kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper and …”

Breathe, just breathe, I remember thinking. Not for him, but for me.

Sometimes, when dealing with the public it’s hard not to get sucked into a vortex of someone else’s making. If someone yells at you it’s hard not to yell back. However, in the service business, that will often get you fired regardless of who started yelling.

There is an old saying, “Never argue with an idiot, because then people won’t know the difference between the two of you.” Truer words have never been spoken. And not just in regard to idiots.

When working behind the bar people will pull you in a dozen different directions at once. Put the TV on, turn the music down, turn the music up. Where’s the restroom? Where’s the back door? Who’s the blonde? It goes on and on. The only way to deal with it is not to get sucked in.

A person can only do so much. It’s all about establishing boundaries. But doing so, graciously.

I once had a customer tell me, “You are responsible for my happiness.” To which I responded, “I just make the drinks. Your happiness is your own business.”

I don’t think she appreciated that.

But, once you put your happiness in someone else’s hands you have already lost the battle.

Speaking of losing battles …

“I need the mixed greens to-go, and the rest of the burger, too, but in separate boxes and separate bags. And I need …”

Thankfully another couple sat down, interrupting the never-ending stream, a stream I doubt that ended even outside of our doors.

“We have a few specials,” I said after I had let the new man contemplate the menu.

He nodded politely, so I proceeded to describe in tantalizing detail the several specials we were offering.

“I’ll have the fish special,” he said. “It sounds delicious.”

Mr. Bane had stopped talking long enough to glare in my direction.

“How come you didn’t tell me the specials?” he asked.

“Because,” I said, taking a deep slow breath, “you never gave me the chance.”

This then led me to these thoughts:

• “You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup,” said a man much wiser than I.

• “If you’re talking you’re not listening, if you’re not listening, you’re not learning, if you’re not learning you will not be knowing,” once said a woman, also much wiser than I.

• “Mouth moving, not listening,” is what I always say. And I’ll let you assign your own intelligence value to that.