When he went to collect the bill from the woman’s table, he realized that she must’ve slipped out while he wasn’t looking. As he grabbed the leather folder, he hoped that she hadn’t decided to dine and dash. When he saw that the bill was paid in full, he sighed a sigh of relief.
But instead of leaving him a tip, she left an obnoxious note. The disappointment was evident on his face as he started clearing the table, then he noticed the envelope. He wondered what it could be as he slowly opened it. He soon realized that what he held in his hand was nothing more than a dose of instant karma.
The day started just like any other for Armando Markaj. The 27-year-old was at work, serving tables at the extremely popular and busy Patsy’s Pizzeria in Harlem, New York City.
He was used to working long, hard hours to pay his way through medical school. He always prided himself on providing excellent service, always having a friendly smile on his face. But he had no idea that on this day, a woman on his lunchtime shift would test his patience like it had never been tested before.
A Busy Day
Saturdays were always the busiest at Patsy’s Pizzeria. Lines of customers had arrived from all over the city, waiting to enjoy the restaurant’s iconic pizza. Shortly after starting his shift, Armando had his hands full.
The restaurant was packed to the rafters, and just as his luck would have it, one rude woman and her daughter arrived and took a seat in his section.
Frank Brinja, the pizzeria’s current owner, was so proud of the establishment’s heritage. The restaurant opened its doors in 1933. On the inside, the walls are decorated with photos of numerous patrons’ famous faces and accolades, which they have collected over the last 86 years.
On this day, Armando noticed the woman and her daughter looking at the wall, relentlessly scrutinizing every detail while they awaited service. He quickly noticed their unhappy facial expressions, and he instantly knew that there was going to be a problem.
He quickly made his way to their table, introducing himself with a warm smile on his face, desperate to ease any tension. They quickly ordered two New York pizza slices. So far, everything was going just fine.
But just as Armando turned to walk towards the kitchen, the woman stopped him and asked a question he would never forget. Unprepared for confrontation, he had no idea how to respond to the woman.
The venom was evident in her voice as she asked, “Why are there so few pictures of women on the wall?” When Armando opened his mouth, desperately trying to find the right thing to say, no words came out. Was she being serious?
As he looked down at the woman, she waited expectantly, and that’s when he realized that her question was completely facetious. She wanted him to answer it. Foolishly, he decided to crack a joke instead and completely blew it.
Trying to laugh the situation off, he stammered, “Maybe women don’t eat a lot of pizza...?” Displeased with his response, her eyes narrowed and her expression turned sour.
It was clear to Armando that the woman was having a bad day, or maybe she was just like this. He had no idea. Whichever it was, she’d made up her mind, and now, he would pay for responding so flippantly.
Dwelling On It
He was flustered as he turned away and retreated to place the woman and her daughter’s order. He tried his best not to dwell on the mean-spirited woman. He couldn’t afford to, because there were many other tables that urgently needed his assistance.
The restaurant was so busy he couldn’t afford to entertain the woman’s nasty attitude. Difficult customers were something he’d grown used to as a waiter, but he had no idea how far she would take it.
Armando had learned to expect both good and bad customers. But sometimes, they could be downright rude. He’d been serving people for so long he thought that he’d seen it all, but he would soon learn how wrong he was.
Even when Armando prepared for the worst, it didn’t completely take the sting out of being stiffed by rude patrons. No matter how often he faced horrible customers, it still got under his skin, and this woman was no exception.
But Armando always made sure to try his best to give every one of his customers equally good service. After all, his livelihood depended on the tips they left him. He just hoped he wouldn’t have to face any more trouble on that day.
He expected an ordinary service that he would see a mixture of good and bad patrons. He never thought that the day’s events could take such a strange and drastic turn.
An Empty Table
After Armando had brought the two women’s steaming pizza slices to the table, he quickly moved on to the next customers who were demanding his attention. After a moment, he noticed the lady calling him back once again.
When he got there she looked him up and down and didn’t seem to be enjoying her meal. When they asked for the check, he was sure to deliver it promptly, but the restaurant was getting fuller by the minute.
Rushing back to collect the check after attending to another large table’s orders, he was surprised to find it empty. He only prayed that the women hadn’t left without paying.
If they had dined and dashed, then it would be taken out of his tips. He never thought it was fair, but those were the rules. But when he looked inside, the note he found was far more hurtful.
An Obnoxious Message
“Maybe women don’t tip either,” was obnoxiously handwritten on the receipt. Armando could barely believe his eyes. He felt anger rising up inside of him, but he knew he could never actually do anything about it.
With a heavy heart, he started to clear the plates when he noticed a white envelope underneath the napkins. He wondered what could be inside.
Chasing Her Down
Curious, he opened it up and peeked inside. When he saw the ‘Citibank’ logo appear, he didn’t stop to think. He ran out the door to chase her down. Despite everything the woman had done during his service, he would still do the right thing.
He looked around before picking a direction. If he was quick, he could catch up to her and give her back what belonged to her.
“I just pulled up the flap and I saw ‘Citibank’ and thought it was important, so I ran out to the street to look for her, but she was gone,” Armando recalled.
With the woman nowhere in sight, he opened the envelope to investigate further. Inside was a check for the largest amount Armando had ever laid eyes on.
The check that the rude woman had left behind on the table was for a staggering $424,000. Armando had a very big decision to make. If he wanted to, he could teach her a powerful lesson.
He weighed his options carefully. He had tried doing the right thing by chasing her down, but the more he thought about it, the less he felt she deserved it. She had been so rude so why should he go out of his way to find her?
What Would He Do?
On the one hand, he had the option to just throw the check away -- no-one would be the wiser. He could do it in the name of karma. Did he really have it in him?
On the other hand, that would make him just as mean-spirited as the woman who had ruined his day. He had a real moral dilemma that would decide the fate of the woman’s bank balance. What would you do?
After thinking carefully about his moral dilemma, Armando did what most of us would have done. He couldn’t do something as sinister as ripping up the check or throwing it away. He would do the only sensible thing on the table.
She had lost it at the restaurant after all. This meant that there was a third option that would mean that he didn’t have to be responsible for getting it back to her.
He called Frank Brinja, owner of Patsy’s, and put the check’s fate in his hands. “He called me immediately and hands me this check and I was like, ‘Oh my...’ I didn’t want to put it in my pocket it was so much money,” Frank explains.
He continued, “We thought for sure it was a billionaire or something who came in here, because who walks around with a check like that?”
Tracking Her Down
“Normally we just put things left behind in the lost and found box in the back,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to do that with almost half a million dollars,” Armando explained.
Frank tried to track the woman, whose name on the check was Karen Vincour, but didn’t have any luck. He then decided to wait to see if she would retrace her steps and come back.
Holding On To It
“We decided we would hold on to the check for a couple days to see if she would drop by or if we could find her ourselves,” he said.
So the restaurant kept the check safe in the vault at the back where the owner could go. This insured that nothing would happen to it. But what happened to the lady whom that check belonged to? Surely she missed it dearly?
Meanwhile, 79-year-old Karen Vincour was in a frenzy. Realizing that she’d lost her check, she frantically called her daughter, who proceeded to search through the household trash. Then, Karen began to retrace her steps.
She had to rack her brain thinking of all the places she’d been to recently. She was an active woman that went to many place every day, but would she remember how rude she was to the waiter at Patsy’s?
Calling The Cafe
First, she called the cafe across the street from Patsy’s where she had stopped for a coffee earlier that morning, then she decided to call the pizzeria, but was met with confusion.
“She said she had called Patsy’s and nobody knew anything about a check,” Vinacour’s real estate broker said in an interview. “I didn’t stop to think that maybe she called the wrong one.”
It turned out that the check for $424,000 was Karen’s life’s savings. She’d just sold her apartment, and the amount was the proceeds that she planned to use as a down payment on a new home. Her world felt like it was collapsing around her.
And when she called the bank to cancel the check, she got some devastating news.
Out Of Their Hands
“They said they couldn’t immediately cancel it because it was a cashier’s check. I would have to wait at least three months before they could even start the process, and only if someone didn’t cash it in the meantime,” Karen explained.
Without that check, Karen wouldn’t have a home. She had been staying with friends, sleeping on a different couch each night.
When Karen hadn’t shown up at Patsy’s to reclaim her check, Frank decided it was time to enlist professional help.
He called a local newspaper, and they were able to track her down within minutes. Just under half an hour later, Karen arrived at the pizzeria. And Armando was waiting to greet her at the door. But did she feel sorry that she had stiffed him so rudely?
“She was so happy and she was in tears,” says Frank. “But, the second she saw Armando, you could see she got a little shy.” She must have felt like a fool.
At least she had the sense to undo some of her wrongdoing by offering the hardworking server a finder’s fee, and apologised profusely for being so nasty. But Armando’s reaction surprised everyone.
Armando accepted Karen’s apology, but declined the money. “I’m happy for her, really,” he confessed. “Saturdays are pretty busy and I was very close to taking everything left on the table and throwing it out when I saw an envelope.”
The two of them finally met eye to eye. With Karen and Armando made up over some hot pizza, and then Frank showed her the photograph wall to prove a point.
He took her over and pointed out all the women’s faces that she had missed that Saturday, including TV host Barbara Walters, First Lady Chirlane McCray and former City Council Speakers Christine Quinn and Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Then, to drive the point home, he offered to do something else, too. “We joked with her and said we’d add her picture up on the wall,” he said, laughing.
A Happy Ending
Everyone ended up happy - Karen got her money back and Armando got an apology that he very well deserved. But do you think Karen will think twice about leaving a nasty note for her server in future?
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.