The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 6 no. 2


Baron Wormser

Rudinsky’s, 1953


In the back of my grandfather’s delicatessen
The waiters talked about the bad things.
Dropping dishes, that was more than bad,
It was a curse, a shame on the profession.
That’s what they called it, a profession.
Nowadays that means sitting through college
But there was a lot to it—you had to be swift,
And deft, you had to be strong, you had to be patient,
You had to be calm. Lots of qualities.

Like monkeys, diners did all sorts of things.
They weren’t just there to eat. The families
Maybe but the couples had other thoughts.
But the bad things—slipping was a bad thing,
Not adding up a check correctly, setting
The wrong dish down, forgetting to pour the water.
The waiters watched each other and looked out for each other.
They were mothers and brothers to each other.

Have you ever been on your legs for ten hours straight?
Do it for thirty years and we’ll talk about it.

The waiters knew everything there was to know
About the human disgrace (as they called it).
To keep their wits alert they bet on the size
Of a tip before a party sat down. They bet
On how many drinks, which desserts, sugar in
The coffee, how many trips to the can.
Clothes, eyes, manners, speech:
Everything was a fact and a hint—
One day or another, everything had happened.
Farters, no-tippers, complainers,
Drunks, check skippers, glass breakers.
It was a reputable place but people were
Going to be people no matter where they were.
Women stuffed pickles in their pocketbooks, 
Men grabbed handfuls of toothpicks.
The worst thing was a lady making eyes at you.
Only misery could come of that. One night
A fellow threw a plate of blintzes at a waiter,
“Bothering my girl, you lousy Jew.”
They shook their heads and made disgusted faces.

You could know everything, that was the funny part,
But it didn’t help. As in a dream you saw
It before it was going to happen but still it happened.
Like the Nazis or rain or when you go to get
The last piece of cheesecake and it’s not there.