Ralphie is, in a word, gross. He’s a big guy with dark hair. He is always unshaven and his clothes do not fit right. His hands are always filthy, his nails caked with dirt, looking like he just clawed his way out of a landfill. He usually has snot all over his face and he looks like he has not showered in months. He never gets a table, only sits at the bar. He is always carrying a newspaper and loves to watch sports on the TV. Mostly ESPN.
On the surface, this sounds revolting, right? Some filthy guy sitting at your bar that you have to wait on, that grosses everybody out and that other customers complain about because he is so unappealing to look at. Yeah. Welcome to my world.
But the intriguing thing about Ralphie is that he is not just some gross guy that comes in to the restaurant. He’s not stupid by any means, but there is definitely something “wrong” with him. I put “wrong” in quotes because I believe that everyone is the way they are supposed to be, and there is no “wrong,” but for the sake of putting it in terms that people will understand, I will say there is something “wrong” with him. He doesn’t speak. He yells incoherently and points to what he wants on the menu. You can kind of make out vague likenesses of words if you pay real close attention, but it’s very difficult. It sounds almost like when a deaf person talks, except much louder. I’ll admit, the first time he came in and sat at my bar, I was horrified. I had no idea what he was saying and I had to keep asking him over and over. I was beyond embarrassed. I felt horrible that this man was trying to tell me something and I couldn’t understand him. But after a few times, I kind of got the gist of what he wanted.
He usually orders coffee or a Coke. When you put it down in front of him, you have to hold the glass a certain way and do it very quickly, because before you even put the glass or cup down on the counter, he is reaching out for it, and he will touch your hand if you’re not fast enough. You have to walk away when he eats. Unless you have a non-existent gag reflex. It’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen. He has no manners whatsoever and gets food and drink everywhere, including all over his face. One time he sneezed…….I was mortified. As you can probably guess, he does not have the social skills or wherewithal to cover his nose and mouth when he does this. Thankfully, my fellow server Tony offered to clean it up, because I just couldn’t. He is a saint for that.
Now, it sounds like I may have described someone who is mentally challenged. I mean, obviously, he has the social skills of a 3 year old, but his mind is sharp as a tack. He will recite sports scores to you, tell you who is playing who on a certain day; it’s like he’s a walking sports encyclopedia (I just sang the Jiminy Cricket song in my head as I was typing that word…..) He is very good with numbers, and always pays in cash. If you give him the incorrect amount of change, even by a penny, he will correct you. And he always tips 20%. It’s the strangest thing. Sometimes he’ll disappear for a few months at a time, but he always comes back again. You’ll see him walking around Pasadena, or at Starbucks with his newspaper under his arm, talking--or more accurately--yelling to himself.
I have so many questions about Ralphie. Does he really work at Ralphs? Or did he just get his shirt with the Ralphs logo from Goodwill? And if he does work there, what in the world does he do? Not to be mean, but I definitely don’t want him touching any of the food that I consume. He’s filthy! Where are his parents? Where does he live? Who does he live with? How old is he? Was he like this as a child, or has it gotten worse or better since he’s gotten older? How does he view the world? Does he know that people are disgusted by him? And if so, how does that make him feel?
One of my co-workers told me that he saw Ralphie walking down the street once with someone who appeared to be his mother. She was holding his hand and had her head down, as if ashamed that this was her son. How must that feel? To have a mother that is ashamed of you?
There used to be a bartender that worked at the restaurant. I’ll call this bartender “X.” X does not work there anymore. X would be outright mean and blatantly rude to Ralphie on a regular basis. For no reason other than the fact that he was gross. While I totally get that, and share in the discomfort of having to wait on Ralphie (did I mention that we kept a canister of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes behind the bar and would have to put on rubber gloves and use them to clean up after him after every visit?), it somehow always seemed so wrong to me. What kind of soulless malcontent do you have to be to treat someone that way? Especially someone who’s “less fortunate” than you? I mean, yes, he’s disgusting, but he is still a human being, right? It broke my heart a little every time I saw X be mean to Ralphie. But, I was just as guilty, I never spoke up to defend him, or told X that such behavior was unacceptable. So, as my penance (no, I’m not Catholic…….I’m a recovering Catholic, so it’s still engrained in my brain….but that’s another story for another day), I try to be extra nice to him whenever he comes in. I try really hard to overlook the fact that he makes me want to gag, and I always smile and act as pleasant as I can. It’s not easy, but don’t I owe it to my fellow human beings to be kind whenever possible? And it’s always possible.