Monday, May 15, 2006

Sing To The Woman You're Going To Marry Day!

Tonight's shift at Pancho's� is going to seem no different than any other. It'll be the same after-work crowd trying to get drunk enough to ask the new temp if she wants to take a walk out back. The same parents on date-night who eat in a tomb-like silence. The same loners watching the game at the bar, and the same families who were sent over by the desk attendant at the motor lodge across the freeway. Like every night, you'll pray that nobody has a birthday. Lucky for you, your prayers will go unanswered.

She'll take a seat at 9:30, alone at a table for two in someone else's section. Her yellow dress, her brown hair, the way she clasps both hands around her plastic collector's PanchoStein� of beer, all of it at once will slam into you like a truck. But you'll get a hold of yourself, you'll go about tending to your customers, and you'll watch her table out of the corner of your eye to see what sort of man will be lucky enough to take that seat across from her. You'll only hope you can keep yourself from socking him in the lip for making her wait.

9:30 will become 10:15 and she'll still be alone, eating without whatever fool stood her up. You'll be dying to go over there and say something to her, but the hockey game on TV will have drawn a crowd and you'll be busy lugging appetizers to the bar tables. Until she gets to dessert.

"Birthday at 14," Janice will tell you.

Your soul will barely start to sink down into your socks before you remember where 14 is.

"14? You sure?" you'll ask.

"The lady sitting alone," Janice will reply. "The motor lodge sent her over. She told me it was her birthday right in front of Pete. I gotta get a candle and then we're singing."

Pete's the manager and he already cut Kevin's shifts when Kevin failed to gather the wait staff to sing the Pancho Cucaracho Birthday Song� after being informed of a birthday in his section. On any other night, singing happy birthday to a customer would make you want to run out the back door of the restaurant to the nearest armed forces recruiting office. But tonight it feels like the chance of a lifetime.

You and Heath will trail Janice while she carries the sundae sporting a lit candle to table 14. At the table, the lady in the yellow dress will smile at each of you, and then she'll hold her eyes on you as you begin clapping and bouncing on your knees while singing her song.

(to the tune of La Cucaracha)

A Happy Birth-day! A Happy Birth-Day!
A happy, happy birthday to you!

Eat spicy sal-sa! Drink margari-tas!
A happy, happy birthday to you!

A Happy Birth-day! A Happy Birth-Day!
A happy, happy birthday to you!

Wear a sombrer-o! Dance the meren-gue!
A happy, happy birthday to you!

You'll stop singing there, even though there are four more verses in the song. Your fellow waiters will continue singing and clapping, occasionally sending a glance your way. They'll see you staring down at the lady in the yellow dress. They'll see her staring back at you, with a look on her face that could mean tears might come at any given moment.

You'll start singing again. But not their song.


Janice and Heath will stop their singing and stare at you. The lady in the yellow dress will be smiling now. And yes, one tear will rest on her cheek.

The restaurant will have been quieted during the Pancho Cucaracho Birthday Song�, and your interruption will keep them quiet, providing a perfect silence save the muffled sound of sports announcers coming from the TVs in the bar. You'll sing it in the best voice you have, which isn't especially stellar. But tonight you'll feel like you could reach the back row of an opera house.


Now Janice and Heath, and many of the customers at their tables will join in.


Through her smile, she'll tell you her name. "Mary," she'll say.

The entire restaurant will erupt in unison: Maaary! Haaappy Biiiirthday tooo youuuuu!

Everyone will be applauding wildly except for you and Mary, who will continue to stare at each other and smile. When the noise dies down and Janice and Heath leave the table, you'll tell Mary your name and what time you get off. Mary will tell you her room number at the motor lodge and she'll say that she'll be awake when you get there.

At the motor lodge you'll learn that Mary's birthday is not today. She is familiar with the policies at Pancho's�, so she lied to her waitress because the only way she could think to get you to come to her table is if you were forced to sing her that horrible song. You'll sing Happy Birthday to her again in four months and two days.

Happy Sing To The Woman You're Going To Marry Day!