Crumpled socks and a brilliant reminder

Overpowering complaints and demands that fill my ears, one man’s theory reminds me smiling is better than going bald.


The restaurant business can pretty much suck. Guests snap at me if we have no available booths, demand to see a manager if they don’t have enough ketchup, and are often just downright rude.

“I’m sorry, let me see what I can do for you,” I say with a smile, amazed at such graciousness in our society. Ha.

After encountering approximately 874 inconsiderate customers one night, I was on the brink of tearing all my hair out. Really, what was even the point of trying to be nice? I was fed up with being friendly and getting nothing but ungrateful demands in return.

But just before I went home sporting bald patches on my head, an elderly man walked in alone. Ankle socks crumpled above his scuffed white sneakers, and a bright plaid button-down hid underneath the waist of khaki shorts. Before I could take him to a table, he stopped short and looked at me with tired eyes.

“Can I share a theory with you?” he asked.

Well, I thought, this could be anything from the moon conspiracy to a theory on why sweet potato fries are the superlative side choice. Skeptical but curious, I nodded.

Ups and downs are inevitable. But we can do the best we can to balance them out, at least with a constant smile.

“So I know you know that everyone has ups and downs,” he started. “And for some people, each day has small ups and small downs. It balances out. But for others, one day will have crazy highs, and the next day they’ll feel way at the bottom.”

He used gestures to explain, painting high mountains and low valleys in the air. At first I thought his motions were a bit absurd, but his eyes showed how desperately he wanted me to understand.

“Those people who experience great times only to be torn down the same day with hard struggles, it’s madness. No one should go through that. Do you think it’s possible, to live like that? You can’t be pulled one way then pulled harder another, then expect to be emotionally stable when you try to sleep at night. There’s no way. So, my theory is this: if everyone had a better understanding of highs and lows, knew how to handle and how to accept them, happiness would go up and depression would go down. Imagine a world like that.”

Okay, so that wasn’t about the moon, let alone sweet potato fries. Temporarily speechless, I did as he suggested and envisioned that world.

“It would be beautiful,” I finally said. “I just wish it was possible.”

“Maybe it is,” he shrugged. “Ups and downs are inevitable. But we can do the best we can to balance them out, at least with a constant smile. Remember that.”

As he followed me to his table, I thought about how right the man was. All too often we encounter delightful times, then in the blink of an eye, everything seems to crash and burn around us. I wondered what twists and turns he was going through in his own life.

On this roller coaster we all ride, the track is steeper for some and bumpier for others. And if I’m at a peak enjoying the thrill, someone else – maybe one of my friends, my family, or a guest at work – could be stuck in a dark tunnel. As we hurtle in all different directions, a smile is the one thing I will always have the ability to share, and help someone get back on an upward incline.

Who said theories were just for science class?


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