Rule of life: Keep it real

It was yet another slow night at the restaurant, and I was beginning to think I was going to go home with just enough money in my pocket to buy a KFC Snacker and possibly a Tootsie Roll Pop for dessert.

See, although I do make millions of dollars as a columnist for The Chronicle, I also have had to work as a server to help pay my way through college.

The problem with being a server is that you never know what your income will be. Sometimes it can be busy, and you’ll make good money, and sometimes you’ll serve one old lady your first two hours and make peanuts.

Well, it was one of those “peanuts” nights, and so I was pacing monotonously in the back room hoping for tables, or at least to get sent home so I wouldn’t feel like I was wasting my time.

The minutes continued to pass, and I began to think about what I should write my next column on, when suddenly the hostess interrupted my train of thought by exclaiming, “Hey Matt, you just got sat?it’s a four top. Oh, and it’s Karl Malone.”

At first it didn’t register-and since the hostess isn’t a native English speaker-my brain thought she said, “Oh, and it’s garl ma-home.”

I thought, what is “girl my home?” So I looked out on the floor to find out what she was talking about and saw a giant of a man seated in my section-Karl Malone! Not girl my home!

The Mailman himself was sitting in my section! Massive memories flooded my mind of all the years I sat at home in Idaho, watching my favorite player light up opposing defenses?well, except for those pesky Bulls’ defenses.

When I grew up, I was the biggest Jazz fan in Idaho, and as a boy, I had always dreamed of meeting Karl Malone. And now I had my chance.

Surprisingly, I became very nervous. I didn’t think I would, though, because I had spent many nights last year interviewing NBA players at Jazz games for The Associated Press, so I was accustomed to being around high-profile people.

Through those experiences, I realized they’re just everyday people-maybe bigger people, but people, nonetheless.

But this night was different. This was my favorite player. And I knew this would be more personal. And only to add to my nervousness, this was only my fourth night as a server at this particular restaurant.

I did a quick self-talk and repeated to myself, “He’s just anybody else,” several times, and then I walked out and greeted him.

“Good evening, how are you tonight?” I weakly asked Malone and his wife.

“Great! How are you? And what’s your name?” Malone responded.

I was surprised he didn’t recognize me, I mean, after all, I am a writer for the fifth-largest daily newspaper in Utah.

“Matt,” was all I could squeeze out, and I think he noticed how nervous I was acting.

Once he noticed my anxiety, he started to treat me very kindly, and he did so throughout the rest of the time he and his group ate in the restaurant.

I decided to not bother him about telling him how much of a fan I was and talking about his career, but rather to just allow him to enjoy his meal.

As the night went on, I began to realize how silly it was of me to get so tense. I thought of how I could have been more comfortable and joked around with him, or at least have more of a meaningful conversation with this person I spent so many hours of my young life rooting for.

But then I also thought to myself, “You know, Matt, you are an adult now. You’re just doing your job, and he’s just a car salesman living his life, coming in to enjoy a nice dinner.”

He really was just any other guy. A very pleasant and bighearted guy, but he was just another guest I was serving that particular evening.

There was no reason to be nervous, perhaps excited and grateful for the opportunity to serve one of the top 50 NBA players of all-time, but no reason to be uptight.

And yet again, life taught me some lessons.

People are just people. Things don’t become a big deal unless we ourselves make them become a big deal.

And in case you’re wondering, when it comes to tipping, the Mailman delivers.