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The Restaurant MAG
Old Jane worked the grill every day that summer. She juststood there and sang "American Pie" along with the radio in herscratchy, strained voice. I would roll my eyes and go back to peelingsyrup-drenched pancakes off plates or refilling salt and pepper shakers. Jane wasdefinitely not the friendliest. She was one of those down-on-life, baby-boomerwash-outs who hated her job and fantasized about the construction workers hangingoff the building next door. She made me sick, seriously.
And then therewas Sue (or Suzy, as everyone supposedly called her when in reality she onlycalled herself that), who made salads. She always talked about her son who wentto this dumb college no one had ever heard of. The worst part was that sherambled on in a voice that sounded like she had shoved erasers up her nose whenshe was eight. She wasn't the brightest person I ever met.
Then there wasthis other old lady who sat in the back of the kitchen every morning until oneo'clock just sucking on a cup of coffee. Every now and then she helped withrolling silverware. She had a strong form with a crumpled brow that came neatlyto rest on her eyes. She looked like she had been one of those "Rosie theRiveter" types; I could just see her covered with grease and sweat, her hairtucked under a red bandanna. She never said much, but you could tell she was asweet woman, despite her appearance. It turns out she was actually the boss'smother, which surprised me.
The boss, Karen, was a stuck-up b***h no oneliked. I mean, I like everybody, and here I'm calling her a b***h. She drove aneon yellow Volkswagen Bug to work every day with her French poodle ridingshotgun. I'm serious. She looked like one of those rich jerks from some movie.She was so out of touch with normal people (not that anyone who worked at therestaurant was exactly normal). She had a way of ticking people off. She probablyknew it, but she did it anyway. She did it to me a lot because I was only 16 andshe probably thought I wouldn't do anything. She was right, too - for the mostpart.
One Friday afternoon Karen told me she needed to see me at the endof the day about some very important business. I stood outside her office runningmy finger along the door frame as she talked on the phone to some guy named Chadwho was probably one of her paramours. I know she saw me standing there, but shecontinued talking and twisting the cord. Finally she hung up and swung around inher chair, only to give me this innocent look. I just stood there and took it.Man, I was a gentleman to her.
"Chad will be busy tomorrow and can'twalk Shanzi." What a horrible name, even for a poodle. "I was hopingthat you could walk her for me." I gave her a vacant stare. It boggled mymind that she would consider that "very important business." I mean,the dog could go without a walk for one day.
"Oh, fine. I'll giveyou 20 bucks!" She blurted, really annoyed. I guess she was hoping to get meto walk her dog for free. I would have too, if she had been any other person inthe world.
"Sure," I said. It was the only word that came tomind.
"Good. You can come in and get her at the end of your shifttomorrow." She twisted back around in her chair and started doodling. It washer way of saying, "Okay, kid, you can leave now."
The next daywas Sunday, which meant getting ready for the after-church rush. I hated waitingthat. It meant loads and loads of dishes for about three hours. No breaks. It wastruly a dishwasher's nightmare.
I saw Karen's mom trudge in and sit downin the back of the kitchen. A waitress brought her a cup of coffee, whichnormally lightened her mood. Today, though, she was lifeless. I felt like goingback there and talking to her, since I wasn't doing anything at the moment. Thenfrom behind me I heard a waitress plowing through the kitchendoor.
"Everyone hold onto your arses. They're comin'." She had atray full of dishes for me. Church must have gotten out.
While I wasscrubbing away Thousand Island dressing and fermented hash browns, I watched theold woman with her coffee. The entire time I'd worked there, I had never talkedto her. I didn't even know her name.
Sunday morning trudged on. Sue wasworking on some salad beside the sink and didn't even have all her disgustingyuppie hair up in her hat. It made me sick. She was blathering about her son,something about him being on the dean's list. I watched Karen's mom tread acrossthe floor to put her mug in the sink. I watched her turn, which was followed bythe dull splat as the salad hit the floor. I almost choked. If there's one thingyou can be sure of, it's you don't want to make Suemad.
"Jesus!" Sue's voice rang in my ears."What the hellwere you thinking? Get outta my way. Now I gotta clean all this up." Karen'smom just stood there.
"Sorry, Sue," she was almostwhining.
"Well, what were you thinking?"
"It was anaccident!" I yelled. My fists were clenched and I was sweating like amadman.
"Yeah?" Sue hissed, "Well then you can clean upthis mess!"
I didn't argue. I won't go into my whole life story, butI definitely needed that job. Karen's mom returned to the back of the kitchen,took a giant cauldron of potatoes and started slicing them. Maybe she wanted tomake it up to Sue.
After I cleaned up the salad I went back to pearldiving. It was getting close to the end of my shift and the flow of dishes wasdying down. Whenever I didn't have anything to do I was supposed to findsomething, so I went back to join her. She peered up from the cauldron andsmiled.
"Hey, I wasn't busy so I thought I'd come help youout," I offered.
"Thanks," she looked me over for a fewseconds, sort of like she was trying to make sense of me.
"Uh, noproblem." I picked up a potato and started slicing.
"No, really,thanks." Her eyes were getting glossy, and I wondered if she was going tocry. It sort of scared me. "There are a lot of different people who work inthis restaurant ... but you don't belong here."
"What do youmean?" I stopped cutting my potato.
Her aged eyes looked into mine."Some people become bitter in life. I just don't want to see a young, caringperson like you become that way."
I thought about what she said. Ithought about Jane singing "American Pie." I thought about Sue's son atcollege. I thought about Karen's neon yellow Volkswagen Bug, and I even thoughtabout Chad.
"You know what? You don't belong here either," Isaid. She smiled a pure, simple smile, and went back to cuttingpotatoes.
That day I didn't wait outside Karen's office and I didn't walkher French poodle. I didn't even scrub down the grill like I always did rightbefore I left. I just left. I walked out the door, looking forward to all theplaces I would go, and things that I would see, thanks to the wisdom of onegentle old woman.