Breakfast at the Ranch
“Everybody, doors open in 5,” his voice calls out, heavy from the weight of his accent. Nobody pays any attention.
Stale sunlight pours through the oversized windows, which line the room. Waiters and waitresses styling the signature maroon polo and black cargo pants bustle by to check that each glass on their table is perfectly polished. Sergio, the robust manager, is not forgiving when confronted with an unpolished glass.
“No, cariña,” Sergio says to one of the waitresses, reviewing the glass under the light and shaking his head. “Otra vez.” She picks up her wet rag and resigns herself to rubbing the glass free of fingerprints.
I pretend to ignore Sergio as he checks my tables for unpolished culprits and wait for the nod of approval. I relax when he moves on without a complaint.
“Oh God,” the waitress, Maria, says. I follow her gaze out the oval window that overlooks the terrace and half-hearted gardens that sketch the outline of the driveway. Three buses unload the weekend guests. It is not unusual for people to come in groups to the Rocking Horse Ranch. Moral support, I assume. “It’s an old peoples’ weekend.”
I shrug, preoccupied by the clang of the bell in the distance and the familiar “Come and get it!” screamed at the guests by two of the waiters. Breakfast time.
She shakes her mane of tangled hair and her midnight irises focus on me.
“Old people don’t tip and so gross!” she explains. “And you make damn sure their coffee is hot, mami, because you won’t hear the end of it.”
Sergio calls for us again to line up to seat the guests. I don’t have time as my table starts to pile with a group of eight clucking women who seem to have come straight from the set of The Golden Girls.
I grab the handle to the coffee pot, and pause. Better bring the decaf. I replace the black handle with the orange.
Everything is buffet style, except for omelets. I stand next to one lady as she munches on a cantaloupe with cottage cheese and knits a scarf with the other hand. Her pink mouth stretches in a smile as I introduce myself, with lips as cracked as the Sahara in a drought.
“Honey! Has anyone ever told you? You are the spittin’ image of Molly!”
“Ringwald? Yeah, I get that sometimes.” Their popcorn heads bob in agreement at my uncanny resemblance to the 80’s actress – their own little breakfast club. I pull out my pad to change the subject.
They give me their egg orders and demand their decaf.
Hot, they remind me.
I ask them what their plans are for the rest of the weekend. Honestly, what do people do on a ranch getaway? My generic question produces a predictably generic list: swims in the lake, horseback rides and endless gluttony. One of them suggests nude swimming and they all burst into cackles of delight, but know they would never, really dare.
After I drop off my slip of egg white omelet orders to the chef, I make my way to stand against the wall and plaster on a smile as a new cluster of elderly folk claim their tables. The other manager, Katie, asks if I gave my egg orders to the chef. Her stomach bulges over the top of her belt, and a button is threatening to pop open.
“Old people are so adorable,” she coos. One of the ladies at my table, who I pick as Betty White, hears her and shares a look of disdain with the woman next to her. I stay quiet. Who am I to call someone with 50 years on me adorable?
Across the room, I notice an elderly man struggling to occupy the corner table. Waiters around him either don’t notice or don’t care. I worm my way through the littered floor of squashed grapes and abandoned napkins toward him. Two chairs, made from heavy oak, block his path and his knotted fingers scratch at the nape of his neck with what I can only assume to be frustration.
I move the chairs out of his way.
“Coffee?” I ask, as I make room for him to sit. He relieves his massive frame onto the chair and doesn’t answer immediately. Dressed in a pallid gray suit and glossy shoes only suitable for Sunday brunch, his chest heaves with exhaustion and he ignores me. A stuttered sigh later and I begin to wonder if he had even heard me. But, finally, he turns a milky gaze on me.
“He’ll be wantin’ decaf,” a voice aged with tobacco answers behind me. Of course. I could have guessed that. I make a note on my pad and repeat my question to the newcomer. He is sturdy, yet slight, and exudes an air of boyish confidence. He must have been a charmer in his day. For some reason, this makes me more uneasy than his silent friend.
“I’ll be wantin’ decaf too, sweetheart. Make sure it’s hot,” he wheezes. His eyes, level with my throat, are disturbingly blue, but one struggles to stay open. As I turn to assist The Golden Girls, who are making eyes at the pot in my hand, his snowy hand clutches my wrist.
“Ya know, I have a fetish for ponytails,” he says, licking each word. Oh my God. I am suddenly too aware of the end of my ponytail tickling the back of my neck. I breathe in the mixture of scrambled eggs and last night’s Old Spice.
“Can I tug your ponytail?” Without consent, he reaches behind me and gives a feeble tug. I throw a desperate look around the dining hall, but still nobody pays attention. The silent man turns his thick neck to watch the horses that graze in the paddock. A woman who favors purple paisley attire pushes her walker past me.
The old man, clasps his black and blue hands together and indulges in a toothless grin.
“Ahh, my wife hates it when I tug other girls’ ponytails,” he wheezes a chuckle, his skeleton hand still clasping my wrist as he sits. I force myself to stay polite, for the sake of my tips.
“Shall I get a decaf for your wife too?”
“Nah. She’s been dead for four years.”
He lifts the scalding mug to his cracked lips and sips. His hand trembles. Should I pretend to ignore?
I settle for an apology.
“I’m so sorry.” Even as the words come out, I am not sure if they are sincere. He ignores me.
He digs into his plate of sausage links and pancakes. Mouth full, he taps on the rim of his already suffocated mug and I top it off.
A hand squeezes my hip and Alex, a waiter, is next to me with a serving tray piled with The Golden Girl’s omelets.
“Hey you,” he says, with a crooked smile. “Thought I’d help you out. You looked like you needed it.” His eyes are mocking, and the same disturbing blue as the ponytail puller.
I silently relieve him of the tray and deliver the eggs to the ladies. I am prepared this time, with a fresh pot, when they hold out their lipstick stained mugs.
Decaf, they cluck. They noticed, by the handle, that I brought the caffeinated kind.
I finish their refills and stand beside a bus stand, topping off a mug every now and then as the room starts to thin out. The Golden Girls are one of the last tables to leave. They each grab my arm to say goodbye on their way out, pulling my face close to theirs. They all do that, I notice.
Maria helps me clear the table of their untouched eggs and empty half & half containers. Rolling her eyes and muttering aggressive Spanish under her breath, she snatches a broom and dustbin from the kitchen and begins to sweep away the muffin crumbs the ladies had carelessly strewn on the carpet.
I glance over at the corner table. Looks like Curly and Larry left.
“I’ll go start that table,” I say, and slip the empty bus bin under my arm. The plates and fork handles are sticky with maple and the table is littered with egg carcasses. My stomach curls as I gingerly pick up a stained, crumpled napkin and toss it in the bin.
The charmer’s coffee mug is left untouched and the lukewarm contents swirl like oil. Not hot enough.
Katie’s manicured finger calls me over. Maria’s eyes follow me, squinting at the object in Katie’s hand.
“Your table left a tip.”
She holds a pocket-sized manila envelope, containing a tip from The Golden Girls : $2.87. Maria screams a laugh as she looks over my shoulder at the amount. I pretend to ignore.
I slip the envelope into my apron, and continue the mundane task of scraping the crumbs off the surface of the table in preparation for lunch.
Kelsey Damrad is a writer and journalism student at SUNY New Paltz. Born and raised in Rhode Island, she hopes to move to a big city after graduation to pursue magazine journalism. Aside from her being in front of her laptop, her favorite places are on a mat in a yoga studio or in nestled in a corner of a library. Kelsey’s is infatuated with culture, people and the power of the pen. Her main priorities in life are to try new things, eat anything red velvet and start the day with a decent cup of coffee.