Tag Archives: kindness

The O.G. of the O.G.

My friend Matt and I seriously love us some Olive Garden, and our friends like to poke and jab us about it.  You know what, though?  We don’t care.  We scoff at their ribbing and give each other a knowing shrug as if to say, “Haters love to hate.”  We are comfortable with basking in mediocrity.

So tonight was one of those famed O.G. nights, and there was a lot to catch up on.  We had a new waitress and we had to bring her up to speed:  1)  We need lots of extra vegetables in our salad; 2)  It’s funnier if you pretend to be our tour guide on the Tour of Italy; 3) We will ask you if you have ever known anyone to get married in an Olive Garden (because apparently this happens, who knew?) and 4) We also need lots of extra chocolate mints at the end of our meal.  We are a demanding duo, but we do it with a smile so that makes it okay.

This particular evening we were chatting with our newbie waitress, and we mentioned that she had a lot to live up to if she was going to be counted among the likes of our favorite waiter, Maurice.  Her eyes lit up and she said she knew Maurice, that he was in the restaurant tonight and that everyone was sad because he was moving to Florida.  Given this utterly devastating news, we had her send Maurice over to the table right away.  This was some serious business.

Just so everyone understands, Maurice is the kind of waiter you can banter with, and that is my favorite kind of wait staff of all.  He is not stuffy or stodgy, and he goes above and beyond to make his customers happy.  He is also, as the kids would say, “totes adorbs.”  He is probably twenty years too young for me, but even that hasn’t put him outside the realm of possibility in my mind as a future love interest – he just that cool. Or I’m just that cougarish.  Or whatever.  I digress.  My point is, Maurice is the man. We love him.

Tonight, Maurice made my night, my week, maybe even my month or year.  Upon greeting us, he gave us big, genuine hugs and proceeded to tell us about this news that he is moving to Florida.  He had been approached to go to the Orlando corporate flagship Olive Garden to be on a fast track for management. This was no surprise to me, because after all, the kid’s got it.  But then he said the most astounding thing.  He said that a couple of months ago, there was a staff meeting of all the Olive Garden staff, and the managers read aloud a Yelp review that I (yes, me!) had written.  The review was a mediocre review of Olive Garden (I mean really, it is Olive Garden) but a glowing review of Maurice.  He said, “I’m a pretty tough guy, but when they read that to me and all the staff I thought I was going to cry.” He said that restaurant reviews and comments come in on the corporate website all the time, but this was one of the first glowing reviews a staff person had received on Yelp, making it all the more noteworthy.

Maurice left our table and Matt and I looked at each other simply stunned.  Matt remarked that my Yelp review – a review I wrote in jest as a dare from another friend – might have changed this guy’s life. Now I can’t say that for sure, because Maurice is pretty amazing in his own right and was going places on his own without any help from me.  But someone else taking the time to notice his greatness and point it out? That probably didn’t hurt.

And so, on the heels of yesterday’s observations in Every Little Thing, I must say this:  Not only does every little thing we say matter, we must always remember that every little thing we say can be incredibly powerful, too.  Maurice – our Original Gangster of the Olive Garden – just told me so.

For the slightly more curious, feel free to read my Yelp review.

The Wonderful Walt

For years my brother-in-law had spoken of his co-worker Walt with such high esteem that his very essence almost seemed implausible.  Walt, it seemed, was the kind of guy who naturally elicited phrases like “salt of the earth” and “a good egg” whenever spoken of.  I had heard about him so much and in such endearing terms I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to relate when I finally met him.  I remember the first time I met him, too, and to compensate for my own feelings of comparative inadequacy I think I made a few cracks about needing to roll out the red carpet for the famous Walt.  But then I spent a little time with him, and right away I got it. No one had been exaggerating about Walt.

Over the years, I got to know Walt a bit, here and there.  There were the occasional gatherings at one place or another.  A couple of the gatherings were even at Walt’s house, and it was fun to peel back the layers.  This was a guy who had some serious interests.  Baseball, Coca-Cola memorabilia, rockets, robots.  So cool, I thought.  I need some interests.  How does that even happen, getting some interests?  I have no idea. But Walt had a bunch of ’em.

So fast forward a good two or three years, and several of us were assembled for my brother-in-law’s birthday at the Mineshaft of all places.  My friend and I were playing some of the silly games and drinking beers.  We were chit-chatting and making cracks at one another and doing what people do in those scenarios.  Walt popped by to say a quick hello and we did our cordial thing.  As he walked away, I said to my friend, “That’s Walt.  He is such an interesting guy.  He’s all into rockets and robots and all these fun things that I don’t get.”

My friend stopped cold in her tracks.  “Wait a minute.  His name is Walt.  And he likes rockets.  Is that what you said?”  I confirmed that indeed I had, and my friend put it all together.  She told me she was pretty sure he had been coming to one of our agency’s group homes on a regular basis for years to take one of the residents with mental illness to the hobby shop to work on model rockets.

We quickly called Walt back and he confirmed that yes, he had a friend who lived at Jackson House and that for years he had been helping with model rocketry.  He had initially met this friend at the local rocket launches and had quickly realized he was “different” from everyone else – and sometimes, sadly, he was not so well received by others in the group.  Walt took it upon himself to take this man under his wing and lead by example.  He didn’t just decide to help him at the monthly rocket launches and protect him from the scrutiny of others, he decided to get involved in a bigger way.  Almost every week from that day forward, he picked up his friend, took him to the hobby shop and spent hours with him working on model rockets.  He even arranged for the hobby shop to let them use a special room that was quieter and less stimulating.  As time went on, Walt got to know his friend’s family and brought them Christmas gifts each year.  He took phone calls at odd times and sometimes repeatedly so.  Walt confessed that he was pretty sure that he got more benefit out of the friendship than the man he had befriended.

It takes a lot to blow me away, and in my line of work I sometimes think I have seen it all.  But I hadn’t seen it all, it turns out.  I had never seen anyone do this.  Deciding to befriend one of our clients, without expecting anything in return.  Getting involved, and staying involved for years on end.  Becoming not just a friend, but an extended family member.  And doing so, for all of these years, so quietly and unassuming, without any call for recognition.  This, I thought, is the kind of human spirit we are all surely capable of, yet few achieve.  This is love.

Years more have passed, and I still see Walt every now and and again.  I always ask, and he always confirms:  he is still going to the hobby shop every week with his friend.  I have to admit, I look at Walt differently than I did in those first few years I knew him.  I look at him with a warmth and a respect on a level I don’t often feel.  He reminds me of the good in the world and makes me want to do better.  And while that kind of good just doesn’t happen every day, Walt has reminded me it should.