The following is a micro-essay that first appeared on Twitter, which I’ve edited and pasted here in its entirety. Here are the others, in this, my series of micro-essays:
“Now, my straw reaches acroooooooss the room
and starts to drink your milkshake. I… drink… your… milkshake!”
—Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood
Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds is a shit tipper.
I know this because for a brief moment in time I waited tables at a (now-closed) ‘50s-inspired diner in Redondo Beach, California, and at said diner, on my first day of training, I saw the man, Donald Gibb, in the furthest-back booth, a behemoth of a man hunched over and wearing a too-tight leather jacket, wild long hair, a beard, the same beard you can see him wearing in pretty much every movie he’s ever been in. And yes, you do know this man: Beyond his most famous role in Revenge of the Nerds, he starred alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport, and has had bit parts in way-too-many-to-name TV shows and movies. He’s iconic, in his B-movie kind of way, and me, a fan of Nerds, of Bloodsport, recognized him instantly.
“That’s Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds,” I whispered to my trainer, a wiry guy from Virginia that had been trying to “make it” in Hollywood for years, his slight drawl indicating he had been trying, too, to eradicate any accent he had come to La La Land with.
This job was, in hindsight, weird and awful: a poorly-run diner that, in addition to the usual greasy fare, had an impressive and head-of-its-time “health menu” that lured in an eclectic crowd (at best). (I will never forget that, yes, they did have a jukebox, but hardly anyone put in money for it so it would cycle through the usual Oldies fair and then, randomly, the entirety of Beck’s Sea Change. How’s that for mood-setting.)
Anyway, I said, “I’m a huge fan. That guy’s great!”
“Well, just so you know, he doesn’t pay for anything. Ever.” Virginia Guy was serious, filling his apron with straws and napkins.
“[Manager/Owner] just told us, Ogre ever comes in, he doesn’t pay. No one with Ogre pays, actually.”
I looked over and realized, then, who was with him—eight additional adults, no children, and they looked hungry. I didn’t recognize any of them as actors (I’m good like that), so assumed it was family, friends. I didn’t press, and off we went to give our spiel as if he hadn’t been here before (I’d learn soon enough his trips in were frequent, frequent).
Virginia Guy turned it on, introduced me, the new waiter who was training, read off the specials. Ogre didn’t really meet our eyes, had his slightly lowered to match his hunch, his massive puddled forearms on the Formica table. After the talking stopped, Ogre looked at everyone at the table individually, whispered to them, then, menus set down, seemingly ordered half of it. No one looked at us, or each other, everywhere but us. But Virginia Guy took it down, smiled, and I smiled and followed him back to the prep area.
One of the diner’s specialties was milkshakes, thick ones. And this would be my trial by milkshake. Virginia Guy told me to make the three that Ogre ordered for the table. I had only made one that day, previous, only one ever, to be honest (and under great supervision), and Virginia Guy left to smoke, so here I was, alone at the milkshake station, a busy Saturday, no one giving me the time of day.
See, you ever make a really good milkshake? It’s a messy affair, ingredients flying everywhere, your hands get messy, your polo shirt-as-uniform gets messy, hair, too, all of it. It takes effort, especially when adding in Oreos, not trying to grind them too much, leaving some crunch, but when you’re done, when it’s there, thick and piled high, when you can turn the tin upside down and see none of it spill out because of its thickness, you know you’ve done something pretty neat: transformed milk and ice cream into something else altogether, a caloric dairy nectar bomb.
Somehow—somehow—I managed to make the milkshakes, and, since Virginia Guy was still gone, I took some initiative and went to the table by myself. As I approached, balancing them carefully on my tray, the group, who were otherwise engaged in some sort of conversation, stopped, watched me. Ogre, that 6’4” beast of a man, looked up only once, at me, through me, then back down, quiet, waiting. I dropped them off, smiled. No one talked—no one said a thing. I hovered a moment. “Anything else?” I asked. Ogre shook his head, couldn’t say a thing, didn’t even grin.
Later, reeking of Parliaments, Virginia Guy yelled at me for bringing the milkshakes out. “He’s a special client,” he told me. “A special customer. Have to treat them with respect.”
I apologized, and we moved on. Ogre and his crew devoured everything—every last bite. And when it came to the bill, as had been foretold, there was none. A polite exchange of pleasantries, Virginia Guy telling Ogre he was “all set,” and he and I retreated, watched as Ogre and his crew hunkered out into the night, not looking back once.
Back at the table, waiting for us: a few dollar bills, crumpled, yes, and paper-weighted down by the ketchup bottle. I was angry. “How can he not leave a good tip? We just gave him like fifty bucks of free food? And it took me so much energy to make those milkshakes.”
“It’s the arrangement,” Virginia Guy says. “Besides, I try to be cool so maybe he’ll think of me, get me a part.”
“Ogre? He hasn’t been in anything in…who knows how long.”
“It’s LA. You never know until you know.”
I spent the rest of the night—back at home in the one-bedroom I shared with a friend from college instead of working on my “screenplays” I was sure would make me rich and famous—thinking about this, absorbing the whole situation. This guy, who happened to star in a couple of hit things, decades old, even then, entitled his way to free food whenever he wanted. And everyone just thought it was okay. I mean, who wouldn’t want that, but me, being on the other end, couldn’t fathom—thought it was wrong. Thought he should know better.
I worked at the diner for about six months and did wait on Ogre a couple more times, and yes, every time, a shit tip, but I started wondering if, maybe, he was doing it on purpose. Maybe he was saying, in his own way, “I’m not going to give you a leg-up. I’m going to make you work for it the way I had to.” The last time I waited on him he came in alone, same booth as always. He ordered, among other things, an apple pie milkshake made with real apple pie blended in. It took me nearly ten minutes to make it just right. When he left, like clockwork, a couple dollar bills waited for me. He had barely acknowledged me, left only when I had been back in the kitchen looking for another order. So, yeah, maybe this guy—not king of the world, not by a long-shot, a guy I’d later learn would open up his own bar in Chicago (still open, I hear)—is teaching me a lesson about perseverance, about working hard for what I want in life. Or, maybe, probably, Ogre thinks 5% gratuity is enough.