by Bill Bowler
part 1 of 3
Sia preparato tutto a una gran festa!
— Don Giovanni
“Hi, folks. I’m Ernie. I’m your waiter tonight.”
Some people think it’s strange when I introduce myself by name, but management tells us to do it. I forget why.
“So, whaddaya want, honey?”
“I don’t know. Everything looks so good! You order first.”
“I want the steak sandwich rare, french fries, and bring me some steak sauce.”
“And I want the health food natural salad. But I don’t want onions. Can I get the salad with no onions?”
What’s the matter with onions? I wonder.
“Sure. No problem.”
“Do you have Coke here, or Pepsi? I love Coke, but Pepsi upsets my stomach. If you have Coke, I want a Coke; but if you have Pepsi, I want ginger ale.”
“Sure, folks. Right away.”
En route to the kitchen, I make a brief stop. “Hello, ladies. I’m Ernie. I’m your waiter tonight.”
“Hello, Ernie. Before we order, tell me, is it possible for us to have separate checks?”
Extra work? Out of the question. “I’m sorry, ladies. It confuses the cooks.”
“Oh, that’s all right. It’s not that important. We’ll figure it out later. Are you ready to order, mother?”
She wasn’t quite ready, and I had things to do. Can’t stand around letting grass grow under your feet. I promised to check back with them and stopped by a third table.
“Waiter, what comes on a plain burger?”
“Nothing, sir. I can put something on it, if you like.”
“Well, I don’t want anything on it.”
“Very good. Right away.”
I deliver my orders to the cook and head back out onto the floor. A woman and a boy around six were sitting in one of my booths. He was nestled comfortably against her side, holding on to her arm and resting his head against her breast. He looked at me defiantly but in a friendly enough way.
“Yes, I’ll have a number 10 and bring him the fish.”
“He likes fish?”
She was obviously proud of him.
“...and he even likes vegetables.”
Junior was getting restless. With an expression of curiosity, he disappeared under the table. I could hear the conversation at the next table.
“...It’s true. Did you ever think about it? Jews in this country wield power incommensurate with their numbers...”
And across the aisle,
“...She doesn’t use deodorant!”
“How can you tell?..”
I notice the gentleman who ordered the rare steak signaling me.
“Waiter, this glass is cracked.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll get another right away.”
On the way, I pass some head of the household poking his finger in one of his kid’s faces,
“Stop that or you’re gonna get a whippin!”
The restaurant was filling up and we were starting to get busy. I stopped by another table, two guys about my age conversing in whispers and giggling, take their order, stop by mother and daughter to take theirs, deliver the steak and salad, and so the night began.
Sometime later this same evening, certain events began to unfold, a chain of events which I feel now could perhaps have been foreseen from the first. Seated alone at one of my tables was an individual of female gender in tight jeans and blond pigtails, chewing gum. As I approached, she glanced up at me apprehensively with blue eyes that restored my sense of well-being but also raised new fears. I felt like I was floating in the Mediterranean, rocking in the cradle; then for an instant I foresaw an ideal future and
The past is passed.
It was passing and passed fast
And couldn’t last...
Went through my mind for some reason.
“Hi. I’m Ernie. I’m your waiter tonight.”
I spoke sincerely. I wanted her to know how I felt. I was trying to figure out how I could lead up to asking her out on a date. She didn’t seem to be paying that much attention.
“I’m not ready to order. I’m waiting for, oh, here he is now...”
I looked around to follow her gaze, and a tall, muscular, grey-haired gentleman of large proportions was coming towards us. He was wearing a three-piece chalk stripe suit and patent leather shoes, and wafted of cigar smoke. His head and jaw were angular, like a cube. I came up about to his shoulders. He seemed shaggy, somehow, with thick whiskers. Probably had to shave twice a day, and the suit seemed tight around his chest and shoulders. He looked like a well-dressed bear. He had handsome features, but his expression was strained and his face was red, as if he had high blood pressure or something. I wouldn’t want to, but if you had to fight him, you could try insulting him and he might get apoplectic and have a heart attack. He sat down with the girl and grinned at her and his teeth looked sharp.
“Forgive me, Stella. I would prefer not to have kept you waiting, but I was unavoidably detained. Those fools give me no peace! But never mind, it’s not important. I’ve a good appetite.”
He turned to me, “Would you be so kind as to bring me a dry martini, my boy, and a soft drink for the young lady.”
I had no choice. I brought them the drinks and waited to take their order. Stella was reading the menu, and sort of leaning over, and I was sort of looking down, and I couldn’t help it. I sought in vain to exert my will, to control my impulses. Through no fault of my own, as a result of one of life’s inexplicable coincidences, dictated by fate, from where I was standing and the way she was leaning forward, I could see right down her blouse.
I didn’t want to look. I strove in vain to avert my gaze, but can the bee avoid the blossom? I felt what the bee feels. Stella had small breasts. Girlish. Whence this insane attraction? With a supreme effort, I tore my eyes away, looked up, and the old man was watching me.
“Yes, I ah, can I, ah...”
As if to the rescue, inquired this angel from heaven with a voice like a nightingale, like a murmuring brook, with a graceful and modest motion as she turned to face me directly, “What are the soups tonight?”
“The soups... The soups?..”
My mind was blank. I excused myself for a moment and summoned enough concentration to wait on them and didn’t spill anything on them or anything, but the whole time I was trying to calculate how I could speak to her alone and ask her out.
What should my approach be? I was certain that if only we could go out together somewhere for a drink and talk, we would understand each other. I felt I had to act. I felt I had to make the first move. In our society, the man has to be the aggressor, but it isn’t easy to break the ice. How do you explain your feelings to someone who doesn’t know you? And I wasn’t sure I could control exactly which feelings I was going to start explaining to her. From my expression and behavior, she must know what I’m thinking. It’s obvious, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything outright.
When I delivered the check, the old man reached into his pocket for his wallet. His hands were enormous and covered with hair. They rose to leave, and I watched sadly as my dreamboat sailed back out of the harbor.
At the end of the shift, I took one last look at my section to make sure everything was okay before leaving. I wouldn’t want one of my colleagues to come in next morning and find crumbs on the tables or the salt shakers half filled. It’s unprofessional. I wouldn’t appreciate it if it was me, though it does happen. One hand washes the other, but some people don’t care. Everything seemed in order, but I noticed a scrap of paper on the floor, picked it up, and began to read,
My Dearest Stella,
I realized I should stop.
Can you ever forgive me? How could I have left in such anger? Only now, since my departure, have I come to understand my feelings for you. I realize now my foolish suspicions were groundless. Anguish at our separation is my just reward.
Fortunately, these bothersome affairs, which already have too long detained me in this squalid excuse for a city, will soon be settled. I spoke yesterday with the Colonel. There have been reports of anarchy in the outlying provinces and he finds himself in particular need of several of our more sophisticated models. The Colonel’s personal misgivings with respect to the details of our arrangements were easily soothed, and he has agreed to act as our liason with the King.
I depart for home tomorrow. Tomorrow, my child, I return to ask your forgiveness, which I hardly deserve. All of my efforts here, all of my plans, life itself would be meaningless without...
“Oh! You found it!”
I looked up into Stella’s blue eyes. It was really embarrassing, but she seemed not to notice I was reading her mail. I felt new strength of resolution. Opportunity was knocking. I had nothing to lose but, sadly, I hesitated. I was powerless. Fear of rejection held my tongue. I’m incapable of action in certain social situations. It’s just as well. She probably lives with her boyfriend.
“You have no idea how angry Uncle would...”
I began to ask, and saw the old man coming towards us from the front door. He watched me hand the letter to Stella and looked at her in a manner I couldn’t interpret.
“I suppose the waiter found it,” he frowned, and handed me five bucks.
I looked at Stella, she smiled, and I began to experience a sense of relief and security, a release of tension, a sense almost of relaxation. He took her rather roughly by the arm.
“Please, Stella, it’s late. We must be going.”
Stella didn’t look all that happy about it.
“Okay. I’ll see you, Ernie.”
Now, I don’t want to attach too much importance to trivialities, but there was something in the way Stella said, “I’ll see you.” Somehow, I felt the way she looked into my eyes was a meaningful exchange. I kept thinking that she and I could get seriously involved. There are songs about things like this. I watched them leave the restaurant again. He looked like he was yelling at her, and she wasn’t arguing back. It almost looked like she was crying.
I knew my friend Lenore was tending bar across the street at the Cave Inn tonight, and I was wound up from working and the whole scene. It’s a common syndrome in our profession. You get off work and feel great physical fatigue, especially in your legs and feet, but your mind is racing. No chance of sleep for a while. Time for a drink. So I walked outside and across the street. As I entered the Cave Inn, I looked for Lenore behind the bar. She saw me and walked over when I sat down.
“Hi, Ernie. Say, you don’t look so good tonight. What’s the matter?”
I didn’t know it showed.
“Hi, Lenore. I’m really tired. I just got off work at The Oasis, and we were busy, and one of my customers put me in a bad mood. He was with a beautiful girl, though, and I fell in love. Are you jealous?”
“Are you kidding? Don’t tell me about it. Is this the same one as last week? She left with him, right? The old story. I’ll give you something to cheer you up. What are you drinking?”
“Bourbon and Coke.”
She poured a stiff one and put it down in front of me. I was thinking that Stella’s probably better off without me. I’m irresponsible. No commitments. For me, the pasture’s always greener. It’s just the conquest. But that might be over now. I could get emotional with Stella. Lenore looked great.
“Say, Lenore, is your boyfriend around tonight? Are you still living with that guy?”
“I knew it! What about us? Why do you fight it? Forget about him. He’s not good enough for you.”
“Very funny. I gotta work.”
And she walked off down the bar, smiling and talking to her customers. Most of them were men, and I saw a lot of lascivious grins that I recognized from my own darker side.
I was nursing my third or fourth drink, admiring the girls in the bar with increasing desire and watching the little dramas unfold, when one girl I was sort of staring at turned around and walked over.
“Got a match?”
What do I say? Not since Superman? I gave her a light.
“What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? Who’s that guy you’re with? Your brother?”
“You think that’s funny? What’s your name?”
“Ernest. What’s yours?”
The way she smiled, I thought I was hallucinating. I noticed her brother watching us with an aggravated expression.
“I’ve got to get back to my friends. Nice to meet you, Ernie. I come down here a lot. Maybe I’ll see you again.”
My bad mood was forgotten and I wasn’t even tired any more.
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Bowler