Dining in Castle Vista was always chaotic.
The women that brought you food, it’s hard to even call them waitresses, we’ll call them servers, ran around the dining room making hundreds of unnecessary trips to the kitchen. There was no central spot with coffee in a carafe so that if several people asked for coffee the server would make many trips to the kitchen.
Nobody had a pad. It was like they were in the dark ages. The servers went around to forgetful people who often took minutes to decide on what to order, and said to them: What are you having Miss Johnson? Did Miss Johnson even hear the question? We have chicken or fish, the server said loudly.
Oh, Miss Johnson said. Chicken or what did you say?
Instead of writing chicken or whatever Miss Johnson chose, the server then moved on to the next table. Mr. Henry, chicken or fish?
Mr Henry: What comes with the chicken?
Now it depends on the server. Some servers knew. Others couldn’t be bothered.
Vera: I’m not sure. Let me check for you, Mr. Henry.
And server Vera makes a trip to the kitchen to see what the chicken comes with. Meanwhile she still hasn’t placed Miss Johnson’s order. And all the while, if you were unlucky enough to draw Vera, she’s complaining about the heat even tho the thermostast shows the current temp at 68F and most of the frail elderly diners are wearing sweat shirts or even jackets.
So Vera returns, tells Mr. Johnson what the side dishes are: usually mixed vegetables or leftovers with a new name from the day before. He takes an eternity and finally says, oh that would be just lovely. Thank you dear.
By the time Vera arrived at Beck’s table she had three unwritten orders in her head and was repeating them to try and remember.
Ooh it’s steamy in here.
Chicken or fish. Beck never took the fish. He just never knew what kind it was. The chicken could be fried chicken that was pretty good (a small piece) but it usually was some chicken cover with a thick disgusting sauce. He never asked for anything different such as potato chips instead of the mushy vegetable medley, because something always went wrong.
Once he had asked for two franks instead of one, by which he meant: two franks on one plate with the beans that came with it. Instead he received two plates, each with a frank and some awful home made potato salad that nearly everyone was afraid to touch. And no beans.
Raymond, who sat at the table with Beck (more on him later) opened his sleepy eyes, and said: Chicken. And can you bring me some salt?
There was never salt on the table, supposedly for health reasons but Beck and Raymond generally stockpiled the little red packets of salt for times when they weren’t given any. In fact they stockpiled ketchup, and hot sauce packets as well.
If you got what you ordered it was a miracle. In fairness to management, they did try handing out slips of paper with the residents name on it, so that the server could write their order, usually one word.
But somehow the slips of paper wound up getting lost and there was more grumbling from the servers as if the papers had magical powers and could appear or disappear at will.
So they liked to call it dining, but Beck (more about him as well) thought it didn’t rise to the level of dining.
Half the residents were either deaf, blind, suffering severe delusions, had memory loss or any combination of those and other illnesses. So you really needed not only waitress skills, and an organized kitchen staff, but training to deal with geriatric patients.
The women had none of these skills. Management’s answer, as usual was to make cosmetic changes. They bought heavy black shirts and silver ties for the servers.
Beck’s table companion was an ex-boxer who slept through most meals and for that matter, most days. He rested the side of his head in his long left hand, his eyes closed, and just about impossible to get a word out of him. Whether he suffered from his time in the ring, or as a sparring partner, or whether Raymond was going through Alzheimers (as more than half of the residents were) Beck didn’t know.
Raymond was a gentle giant. He was about 6 and a half feet tall with long arms, and if you believed him won all his pro fights by knock-out. He wasn’t much for conversation unless you happened to hit on some incident in his life from his childhood. He acknowledged your presence by wiggling his fingers at you and flashing a wide smile.
Then his head found it’s way back into his hand and he was in a semi conscious sleep land. Straddling two worlds at once.
The dishes were announced with complaints by Vera about how hot it was, and that as soon as the manager left, she was taking off the new uniform he was forcing the servers to wear. Stupid black uniforms, with wide silver ties, and it was true the manager left at 4pm on the dot, and the black shirts were removed. Around that point the temperature plummeted and if it had been comfortable it got colder.
If it was already cold, it got even colder and the people slowly began a chorus of coughs and nose blowing. Beck pulled up his sweatshirt hood.
Spike, at the adjoining table to the left of Beck zipped up his North Face jacket.
And as if it had never happened before, Raymond looked towards the door that led to the dining room which was always open, and said: Somebody opened the door.
Raymond lived in a perpetual Ground Hogs Day movie. But instead of each day repeating, each meal ran again without a change. For Beck, who had a filmmaker’s background, each meal was like a short, a one reeler. The same one-reeler.
Breakfast was like lunch, and lunch was like supper.
Beck explained for the umpteenth time to Raymond, who was beginning to remind him of Lenny from Mice and Men. One day he might get angry and lay someone out. Then go back to sleep.
Even the menu was repetitive. For some reason, there were always Swedish Meatballs. Why? Don’t ask.