Lucidity Was The Ninth Course

Another person’s iced tea caused a commotion | Jane Esaki photo

Another person’s iced tea caused a commotion | Jane Esaki photo

I had just paid for my food at the cashier, when from my side a paid-up customer approached and asked the cashier if he could get reimbursed for his soft drink. He had just discovered that the restaurant’s self-serve dispenser did not offer the iced tea he expected.

Other restaurants in the same Chinese fast-food chain offer a particular tea he liked, he pleaded with her. Instead, the lively, petite cashier tried to sell him on a chilled bottle of tea. He took that as a “no” to his question and stomped back to his table.

The questionable service and the unhappy customer left a bad taste in my mouth even before I ate my lunch. Maybe the cashier wasn’t wrong; she was just trying to make a sale. And she never said she wouldn’t reimburse him — he just jumped the gun and assumed that her response meant a “no.” Had he pressed on, she might’ve said “yes.”

In any case, she was just doing her job, wasn’t she?

The truth is, in business, the customer is often right. At the point of his complaint, he had not yet cost the company much money. It was just a matter of him returning an empty cup and getting reimbursed two bucks. No big deal. In hindsight, she could’ve just answered a quick “yes” and then offered a suggestion. The worst case is that he will say “no, thank you,” get reimbursed and walk off a satisfied customer. The loss of a drink sale is peanuts compared to his return business and word of mouth.

Of course, business is tough going these days, and perhaps managers are telling their workers to squeeze in the sales. But you would think that it wouldn’t hurt to offer a little humanity as part of a dining experience.

And humanity still did exist here, thank goodness. As I waited for my order, I walked to a table but noticed that it was not wiped down. I asked a server if I could have a towel. Instead, she did it herself, apologizing for the mess, saying they had been busy. I thanked her, thinking that now I can place the book I was going to read on the clean table.

The book, The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer, might serve as the perfect anecdote for me at the moment. So I picked up where I left off, a chapter titled “The Lucid Self,” about being aware of being aware in your daily life. It may be psycho-babble to some, but bear with me for a moment.

Singer says, “When you are an aware being, you no longer become completely immersed in the events around you.” He cited examples of lucidity, such as knowing you’re flying in the dream versus dreaming that you are really flying, or watching a movie and being aware of your surroundings versus being so immersed that you don’t realize you’re sitting next to a complete stranger.

The author’s example might’ve even included the incident at the restaurant. Both the cashier and the customer were immersed in their individual objects of consciousness and could not see a mutually beneficial outcome.

A server soon brought my meal, and I too found myself slipping into my own objects of consciousness: the salty shrimp with vegetables on chow mein and fried rice and the disturbing incident, all making for a terrible dining experience.

As I finished eating, the same customer walked by the cashier, asking her if he got her name right because he was going to call upper management. She looked worried. It was sad.

So she was feeling bad, he was an unhappy customer who continued to mutter his dissatisfaction on his way out, and I was an unwitting bystander affected by the negative vibrations. Honestly, I like to be immersed when movie-watching, flying in a dream or being engrossed in purposeful situations. But in the case of today’s gloomy episode, I chose to be more lucid.

As the page that’s now bookmarked with chow mein grease says: “As you pull back … this world ceases to be a problem. It’s just something you’re watching.”