Relished Restaurant Redux

I’ve worked in restaurants before, vowed never to return, and recently found myself in the warm, bitter pool of restaurant redux.

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in …”

Some things have not changed, like the genetic makeup of constituents:  the hostesses are attractive young girls and/or in/out gay men; the waiters are mostly younger guys with hopes to become something better or defeated and hollow versions of themselves fifteen or more years later; the waitresses are young, catty, and full of complaints (mostly about one another); the kitchen is stocked with those who can’t find a job that pays better; and, the dishwashers speak Spanish, some illegally working in the States.

Some things have changed, like the ability to leave with cash in your pocket (Now, the IRS, growing clever after decades of restaurants being in existence, ensure tips and gratuity are properly weighed and measured…); my youthful age; and, the dignity that went along with working at a restaurant while going to college and graduate school.

Fifteen years before, I just joked about crying myself to sleep over being a waiter in his early twenties.  Now, I actually weep before sleeping and dreaming of a better life beyond that of a busboy who makes minimal wages at thirty six.

One astute waitress recently asked, “Why are you here?”  The question carries so much weight that answering it sincerely would surely crush my ego along with my tongue that only had the patience and dignity to rest idle in my mouth contorted in a smirk.

It’s not that I believe I’m better than the $4.25 an hour I make aside from tips.  It’s just that the reality of the situation is a reminder that dreams do not come true and Mickey Mouse is probably just a fictional character created by a capitalistic entity fanatic about making money at all costs.

Maybe I’m just goofy or the world has turned my Cinderella ending into a smashed pumpkin filled with dirty dishes of the elite and barking commands of waiters who are significantly younger than I but above me in the restaurant’s visceral pecking order.

“This sucks,” may be an apt description of my present state and yet I feel there are further circles to descend and even more hope to abandon.  I’ve seen sightless gluttons described by Dante but maybe this hell won’t be over until I shine Judas’ Bordeaux glass a few more times.

There are fringe benefits.  I get to live vicariously through a younger cohort who has a way with the ladies of the house and reminds me of my former self who would be so proud to see me in my polyester tuxedo jacket, frilled bow tie, and long flowing apron that serves as a fashionable complement.

Also, I get to drink free limited amounts of espresso from a semi-cleaned press that makes the self embarrassment go down smoother. I’m sure it would taste the same if I was to order it while sitting on the porch, dressed dapperly, and joined by a beautiful young woman who respected me.

This is not a declaration of defeat.  Sometimes you are are up and sometimes you are an unknown sticky substance dragged along and discolored by the emotionless, endless trudging of life’s underfoot.

At least I have something to look forward to, what it will be like to be fifty and returning to the restaurant business for a charming third roundabout.  Wheeeeee!


~ 1 ~

From the most fair in eternity see

The lineage which you have left behind.

In mind fruits fall ripe with your memory,

Yet all secular suffers, left to find

Redemption in new springs lost in seasons

Rooted in presence never returned.

Causing natural sacrilege void of reason

And perjuring sin with question’s still burn.

Now, you take hand in every seed that is sown

And serve as muse to mend lines both formed and torn

From my heart that bleeds ink onto this page one.

Hear more of this endless effort forlorn.

For your return is beseeched by humble craft

And rage acquiesced til my pen breathes last.

A Class-ic Shirt

I’m not sure if I could fill his shoes but I wear my deceased grandfather’s shirt.  I took it from his closet after he passed.  I recognized it because he wore it so frequently, enough for relatives to chide him about it.

It was befitting for a man who mentioned he was a prince disguised as a pauper, who called a row home his palace.  He sat often enough on the edge of the couch to warrant repetitive taping.

I would think he was poorer than I, who lived over the bridge in the New Jersey suburbs and attended a high school with Mercedes, BMWs, and LandRovers parked in the student lot.

He had a lot less material than his handful of grandkids he waited on hand and foot.  He liked eating at diners, buying generic soda, and instructing my grandmother to ring twice before being picked up at the hairdresser (to retrieve the quarter from the pay phone).

He was poor enough to wear the shirt too often and rich enough to give to his kids and grandchildren more frequently.  He would steal my father’s utility bills and pay them with light heart.  He dressed himself in indigence so his family was endowed with riches.

I grabbed his shirt when he died without noticing the meaning of the tattered seams.  It would otherwise find way to goodwill and bought for a few cents by a stranger who was bankrupt in understand its essence.

I now wear his classic shirt understanding the class it took to fill it.  I am fortunate enough to wear his blue shirt but unsure I’ll ever be royal enough to fill his shoes.

He was a prince dressed as a pauper, rich in knowing pennies saved earned the expense of spending on something more important to him than himself.

The Matador

The bugle of war sounds attention to life.

Eyes fixed on the oncoming bull reaper,

The matador unfurls courage with a born gesture.

Surrounding eyes come to see awaiting death,

And either cry to hear cheers at last.

The custom suit of lights escapes the bull’s blind eye,

And ire, set in motion by movement, can’t be undone.

Color, spectacle to mask an impending end,

Dyes the cloth held tight but for a moment.

The charging animal rears its scythe-like head,

And void of emotion, changes the sport’s course.

Armed with observation of prior rounds,

The man plans and foresees victory.

With sticks crisscrossed across its back,

Planted by matador disciples, the bull

Stops its first pursuit for mortal survival,

While the reaper man christens his lance

With the beast’s still beating but voiding energy.

Well, That’s The One Thing We’ve Got

Yesterday (yet another) friend passed away.  As the story of most friends from high school goes, we lost touch in recent history.  But memories of him are like the freshly-cut grass adjacent to the diamond where we played high school baseball.  He was a much better player than me.  He had natural talent.

Friends’ reactions are as radical and varied as our personalities were back then.  Some make jokes his death was a planned hoax, to see if people still cared.  Others smashed empty bottles of freshly guzzled alcohol against the indifferent ground.  Me, I’m writing this…

“Halbert’s such a femme for having this CD,” Gary remarked as he placed Deep Blue Something into the carousel player.

“And yet, you’re playing it.” I sarcastically remarked in my head disguised behind an overgrown head of hair that was too far to fit in the seventies but close enough to the teen spirit of the nineties.

“Hey, what do you think about me and Marissa?  Do you think she would go for me?”

“Sure, Gary, I think any girl would go for you.  You’re a genuine guy and you have a personality most hope for,” I encouraged.

“Yeah, but I’m fat.”

Gary had a way of cutting through the oozy, grime of formality.  He had emotional intelligence in a time before my college Psych classes would introduce me to E.I.

A la my teen self, I was fiercely sensitive first and an optimistic-realist second.

“We’re all different shapes and sizes inside and out.  I’m sensitive.  Mook is smart.  John is strong.  You have personality.  It’s your strong suit.  Play the hand to your strengths.”

I was impressed with the agility my intuition awarded the response.  Later, I found it a blessed curse to allow my intuition to speak so freely.  Sometimes, it makes me appear genius, and other times, an asshole.

She said, I think I remember the film…

The mid-nineties ballad played through the speakers as Gary unabashedly echoed the lyrics.  Of course, I knew the song.  And, I kinda liked it.  But I was sixteen, and such things were not admitted.  Perhaps blanketed by a more audible shower stream or while driving in the car with the windows up, yet certainly not in front of another male peer.  Such an Achilles’ heel was better left covered in male snickers.

“Well, the other guys are downstairs. We’ll probably be leaving for the party soon.  Is your mom still going to pick us up out front?”

Oh, the irony of going to a party yet void of a driver’s license.  We’d later have Gary’s mom, a sweet cherub-faced woman, drop us off a quarter mile from the party’s front door, a safe distance from humiliation but close enough as not to make it appear we had to walk.

“Hold on.  I wanna play the song again.  Don’t tell anyone,” Gary urged.

“You have problems, dude,” I stated, yet not completely abhorred by the idea of hearing it again.  It had a good melody and it seemed to set Gary at ease about talking of Marissa.

“She’s going to be there with Stacy.  I need to think of something pimp to say now so it seems smooth in front of her.”

As mentioned, Gary was ‘people smart,’ a quality I learned to admire about him in retrospect.  Then, I just thought he thought too much.  Now, I know he had a knack for seeing what was not immediately observable yet emotionally palpable.

“Talk about her interests,” I advised.

It was a tactic I learned from being friendly with females.  Having girls talk about their interests was doubly-rewarding; you didn’t have to nervously peruse your brain for things to say, and you winded up appearing thoughtful and interested.  I may have been guilty of not talking to many girls, but I did know how to advise others on how to do it.

“She goes to dance class, and I’m pretty sure I overheard her mention being in a fashion show in a few weeks.  Talk to her about those topics.”

“Pensabene, you’re a genius!”

Gary was a natural baseball player but I was quite the Cyrano in the making.

As Breakfast at Tiffany’s reached its final crescendos (for the second time), Gary’s confidence filled with the air of my encouragement and lent wisdom.

“Thanks for listening, dude.  And, don’t tell anyone I put the song on repeat,” Gary sentenced me to silence with a steel gaze.

I won’t get to have those reassuring conversations with you again in this life, my friend.  But, I keep you in words and heart.  And, such a memory that fades only to rekindle like the grass lining baseball diamonds…well, that’s the one thing we’ve got.

Philadelphia Pretzel Factory

My grandfather broke me

Away from serialized cartoons

To bring his buddy to the pretzel factory.

It was fitted someplace in Philadelphia

But I can’t remember the location.

We got boxes and boxes

Filled with bags wrapped

For the households of our family.

Mine was the warmest.

They came straight out of the oven

And he let me eat them in the car

Where pieces of salt

Fell between cracks in the leather seats.

I’d hold his warm hand as we walked

To each house to deliver

The now cold pretzels.

I’d feel special I ate them still warm.

I forget where the factory was

But I think it’s long closed

Down so no one can longer find it.

Between salted tears

I find those walks still warm

Despite years of streets between.