The joint was all Bermuda shorts and surfboards, margaritas and cold brew, cheeseburger in paradise, even though it was really suburban Florida and the customers weren't coming in in flip flops off the sand, but after work or when the kids were in school or on their lunch break or on the weekends. But we did try hard to maintain the illusion and it was a busy place where we'd have a character lunch for toddlers during the day, a busy office happy hour party during cocktail hour, all the best Westonites waiting for up to an hour for a table at dinner only to top it all off with a live band starting at mid-night and rocking till 4am. You get the point, it was a rowdy place and we worked hard at being all things to all people. But the Tambourine Man? That's where I drew the line.
The first time I met the Tambourine Man it was on a busy Friday night, I was working by myself and we were on track to sell 18K and without a back up in the middle of rush, I was more or less pinned to the expo line hollering my way through the night, working like an animal to get the food out of the window and onto the tables. Of course any night can throw a curve and in my business they usually come when some angry customer feels they have to yell at the manager; "RIGHT NOW" and there's nothing to be done for it but heave a heavy sigh, realize while you're off getting screamed at by some ass hole for some petty reason, four or five other tables are going to get fucked up because you're not where you're supposed to be which means four or five other ass holes are going to want a piece out of you. You might as well kiss the night up to heaven cause its all turned to shit because some guy wants to lecture you about the fact that the eighteen year old waitress trying her best to wait on twenty five people at once hasn't had the chance to take away his appetizer plates yet and for some reason he deserves finer things out of life. But I digress, we were going to talk about the Tambourine Man, well he was sitting on table 33 a tall, thin well dressed, middle aged guy with a white pony tail and an educated accent sitting with two matronly ladies and a silver fox guy in a blazer with gold chains. Very good, he wanted to compliment the waiter so in this instance I have to take back what I said in the above paragraph, even though the guy was still a pretentious waste of time which needed to be spent cajoling cooks and bullying waiters in the kitchen to; "GET THE FOOD OUT"
Anyway, this was my first contact with the Tambourine Man which, had it ended there, would have been unremarkable. Now remember I told you that we had live music starting at mid-night with a big bar and a small dance floor? Well I was in the kitchen supervising the deconstruction of the grill for a deep cleaning when the bar-back came and advised me of a disturbance at the bar. I washed some of the grease off my hands and followed him up to where one of my bartenders was following The Tambourine man around the lounge. Let me explain; up on the small stage a lone guitar player was singing Cecilia by Simon & Garfunkel, wailing his heart out on an acoustic guitar while the Tambourine Man slammed a tambourine high in the air in a chaotic manner. The guitar player continued to sing while casting mute appeals with his eyes at the bartender who was unsuccessfully attempting to get the Tambourine Man's attention and other customers looked on like they were witnessing a car wreck, rubber necking on the highway.
Well I looked around for the people he'd been with at the table earlier in the evening but they were no where in sight so next I assessed the man himself from a little distance, he had that thick, glazed and determined look of the truly nuts, probably a lot of booze on board too, but also the type with whom booze serves to focus minor insanity, not sloppy drunk, just intense, nuts.....Only one thing to be done, I walked quickly up to the Tambourine Man and after a single, unsuccessful attempt to get his attention politely, I ripped the Tambourine from his hand and tossed it to the floor, he reacted in the manner of an intense drunk and went for me, but I'm a big guy and I know about these things so I sort of let him fly by me and when he was off balance I grabbed him from one side and my bartender, taking his cue from me, grabbed his other and together we gave him a gentle Bum's Rush out the front door. He didn't come back and I thought I'd seen the last of him, but it was not to be.
The Tambourine Man returned the very next afternoon and in the sober light of day explained himself, he was sorry and there was something about medication. The long and the short of it was; he promised to be good and could he return? What can I say? He seemed like a great guy, prosperous free spending well behaved, he even had a great fund of interesting stories from his life (He was a retired Airline Pilot). It went on this way for a while, a few weeks, everything was fine, then he started to act up, just a little bit at first then it became the whole Jeckle & Hyde thing and always with the Tambourine. He'd come in and be normal, by the time he left he'd be a raving lunatic and we'd have to throw him out then he'd come back the next day to make amends and he'd be so sorry and I'd feel bad and let him back in until one day I'd just had enough and I threw him out and told him 86, never again and he seemed to understand and months went by and I didn't see the guy and thought I was rid of him.
Now at this place the managers always wore khaki pants and a polo shirt with a logo of the place over the left breast and these we also had for sale along with a lot of other stuff at our little gift counter by the host stand. We also, like most restaurants had a secret shopper program where people would come in and eat and then write a report about their experience. Well about a month after we threw the Tambourine man out for the last time I got one of these reports which described the odd behaviour of the manager during table visits and it named the manager as me, as I didn't recognize the events described I denied them and upon researching the report found that it referenced events which occurred on one of my days off, so I kind of wrote it off in my mind and moved on that is until one night I was working, cooking behind the line because I was short staffed and one of the waitresses came to me.
"J.R.," she said, "You better come up front right away."
I looked up from the seafood stew I was cooking, "Why?"
"You just better come up front." She said.
Well I got up front and right away I saw a man in khaki pants, wearing one of our company manager polo's leaning in close, talking to a table, as approached I overheard him say; "If you don't like our hamburgers you can go someplace fucking else." He was saying it in an easy, conversational tone.
I spun the guy around and it was the Tambourine Man, dressed exactly like me, he even had his hair cut like mine. Creepy.......