Stevie Wonder's Blind Waiter
"One may have good eyes and see nothing."
– Italian Proverb
In my late teenage years, during the early 70s, I worked as a waiter in a Greenwich Village hotel restaurant called, “Feathers.” Pop music star, Stevie Wonder lived in the hotel penthouse and would frequently dine in the main floor restaurant, usually for a late meal between his music composing. Blind since childhood, Stevie was congenial and always in the company of two or three friends, handlers or associates.
One late evening, Stevie sat in my section and ordered a large salad. I placed an empty plate in front of him and went to get the rolling salad tray, from which I would mix the salad with a bit of tableside showmanship. After mixing the salad greens and dressing, I went to pick up his plate. As I reached in his direction, Stevie grabbed my arm. Holding it with a firm grip, he turned to me. I could see my reflection in his dark glasses as he spoke:
"My man, V… You like me?"
I glanced at the other members around the table. Shoulder shrugs, raised eyebrows.
"…Of course, Stevie. You're one of my favorites."
He let go of my arm, picked up his plate and held it in my direction as if it were a mirror.
"Then why’d you give me a dirty plate?"
Now, I knew Stevie Wonder was blind. That was no secret. It also happened to be 11 pm, pitch black outside and here he was sitting in a corner booth of a low-lit restaurant wearing black sun-glasses. I assumed it was an odd joke. I played along.
"Well, it looks clean to me, Stevie …"
Stevie nodded his head from side to side with that familiar smile. He thought for a moment and then said, "That's because you're lookin.’ The difference with me, is: I'm feeling." He laid the plate flat on the table and slowly slid his fingers across it, stopping at several places as he traced a spiral from the outside to the center of the plate. "Here you go, right here…here…here too. This plate's got some nasty water stains.” He handed it to me. “Check it out.” Now, with a big smile, he tilts his head toward me and says, “You might need some more light."
Everyone at the table strained to study the plate with equal puzzlement. To confirm, I held the plate beneath the table’s single overhead bulb light at an angle. Sure enough, it was streaked with slightly discolored water stains perceptible only by close examination.
With highly sensitive fingertips as his "eyes," Stevie had managed to instantly feel what my 20-20 vision failed to notice.
At that moment, I was the one who felt blind.
Loss always has its compensations.
To find them we just have to see a bigger perspective.
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives