Billy Takes a Spill

Late Tuesday night, I walked past the play kitchen, which is piled high with fake food, plastic dishes, an assortment of papers…and Billy. Billy the Gnome was perched high atop a pyramid of Stuff Nobody Cares About. As I brushed against the range, Billy’s plastic body bounced along the hardwood and eventually halted against the leg of a chair, and … well, let’s just say you could hear the collective gasp a mile away.

Everyone gathered around his tiny little plastic gnome body as if it were a crime scene along the shoulder of a country road. Before you knew it, someone (I think it was me — the whole scene is such a blur) scooped him up before the dog could get to him.

We’re not sure when or how Billy made it to our home, but he has been a strange little fixture for many years. He tends to lurk on shelves, dresser tops, kitchen counters, and all sorts of places, which makes him sort of creepy, but in an OK sort of way. As a tribute to Billy’s latest spill, I offer a rerun of a story from more than two years ago…

Little Gnome Facts: A Restaurant Review

While working late Wednesday night, I received an invitation to take a break and come enjoy a late-night snack at a little eatery that just happened to be located just one flight of stairs from my home office. The proprietors had just closed after a long opening day and graciously extended their hours for their weary mom. Their diner, The Little Gnome Café, had been in the works for well over two days, so they were weary themselves.

At the entrance to The Little Gnome Café is a small chalkboard, listing the establishment’s hours (an ambitious almost-12-hour workday). On top sits the restaurant’s namesake, a miniature plastic gnome named Billy.

I thought I had lost my way because directions weren't really clear. But good signage is always a plus.In this case, it led me directly to the restaurant's front door.

I was greeted at the door by my waitress, who was sporting a pink apron and a wide grin. She led me to my table and said something to me, but ZoeGirl was playing at top volume from the CD player on the dresser.

“What is this? A bar? I can’t even hear myself think.”

“Let me turn this down.”

As the music softened, I became more comfortable. The seating was adequate, but taller patrons might have to sit side-saddle, as their legs probably wouldn’t fit under the table. I chose to sit about two feet away from my plate so that I wouldn’t cramp up.

My waitress brought me a menu — the pages were not bound, causing mild chaos as they were shuffled out of order. My waitress sort of lost her point of reference. I recommended a staple, or perhaps a simple binder. She rolled her eyes.

I ordered coffee, a bagel with cream cheese and chocolate-dipped strawberries.

There was another clumsy moment, after I placed my order. I asked my waitress, “Do I hand you the menu, or does it go between the napkin dispenser and ketchup bottle, like at Waffle House?”

She rolled her eyes AGAIN and said, “Just give me the menu, Mama.”

Snippy attitude. That will cost her when it comes tipping time.

A small fight broke out in the kitchen about whether the bagel was actually a biscuit, and words flew. I asked if this was The Little Gnome Café or Hell’s Kitchen.

A simple place setting and an elegant napkin ring go a long way toward spelling h-o-s-p-i-t-a-l-i-t-y. The colorful menu might strain an older pair of eyes, but I found it delightful. A clear report cover would be a fine addition, as it would protect the pages from food splatters. But what do I know.

The coffee cup was unusually small, the bagel was void of cream cheese, and the strawberries were naked. So I registered my complaint with my waitress, who gently explained that I would have to use my imagination. Then she brought me a dirty plastic knife with the imprint of make-believe jelly on the blade.

“There you go ma’am. And please use your imagination.”

“I’m imagining I won’t catch a virus.”

I munched and munched.

“So,” I asked. “Have you had many customers this evening?”

“Well, yes, Daddy was in here earlier.”

“He was, was he? He sure didn’t tell me anything about it. Just gallivants around town, never telling me anything. Did he leave you a tip?”

“He didn’t bring his wallet. He didn’t even wear pants.”

“Didn’t wear pants? What kind of place are you running here?”

“He was wearing a t-shirt and underwear.”

“I don’t like the sound of this at all. You should consider posting one of those ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ signs on the door.”

From the play kitchen, I heard a faint, “That doesn’t say anything about pants.”

She may be kitchen help, but she was right. “Well, maybe you should make a sign that says ‘no pants, no service.'” I think management is taking it under advisement. And well it should. That sort of thing could really hinder business opportunity and growth. And appetites.

I wiped my mouth, pulled at my waistband and sent my compliments to the chef.

“Here,” I said to the waitress. “Take this imaginary $5. Use the extra as a tip to go toward some sort of janitorial service and get this place cleaned up. You’ve got toys EVERYwhere.”

Out of nowhere, I heard a shout from the play kitchen, where the associate was moving plates and bowls around in the plastic sink. “We handwash all our dishes!”

I took a sip of cold coffee and told my waitress, “If I had known that, I would have taken my business elsewhere. Sink water doesn’t reach an adequate temperature to kill E. coli and salmonella. The health department would have a heyday with this place, you know.”

As I stood at the door of The Little Gnome Café, I offered one last gesture of my appreciation to my hard-working hostesses.

“You know, I’ll be glad to sign a black-and-white glossy of myself playing the guitar. I could sign it with a Sharpie, if you have one, and then you can hang it on the wall behind your cash register.”

Again with the eye-rolling. Good help is so hard to find.