Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

The Dead Sea This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

The first time I ever heard “I’ll Shoot the Moon”, by Tom Waits, was a cool Saturday night in July. I was elbow deep in dishwater, doing the closing- out dishes in the back kitchen at Rocky’s Café, my first real summer job.
My coworker Alex was an interminably old soul, a 23 to my 16, and nothing if not eclectic. After our bosses left for the night and Brandi, the waitress, turned off the neon “OPEN” sign in the café window, it was a cherished weekend tradition for Alex to plug his iPod into the beaten-up stereo system sitting on top of the pot rack, and for my education to begin. He’d scroll through his extensive music library for a moment, tall and tan and concentrated, a hand on his thin waist as he focused entirely on finding the best songs to introduce me to that night. It could be Russian punk, Frank Zappa, or Baroque classical. More often than not, though, our nights were filled with the whiskey-and-cigarettes wail of a perpetually heartbroken Waits, plinking away on a drunken piano, as we washed, swept, mopped and scrubbed the work of the day off of the stainless-steel counters and cheap plastic cups.
Alex would get a small crooked smile whenever he found a song he thought I’d like, and he’d direct me in a soft almost-laugh to stop whatever I was doing and listen. I always would- it was always worth it. So there I stood, stock still, arms immersed in soapy gray water, while the applause and jazzy first bass notes of the song wafted out of the speakers. There’s something about the live version of a song, of any song, that’s better than the original... This one was no exception. As Waits’ trademark growl strained into existence, rolling with the playful saxophone accompaniment and the whoops of stray audience members, I knew I liked it. And when the band dropped into the background and Waits began to improvise in his rumbling sandpaper bass- “Ohhhh, baby. You know I love you. You know I love you, so why don’t you caaaaalllllllll me? You know the number. How many times have I given you my number? And still you don’t call me…”- I knew it was a favorite.
I stood like that, listening intently, for all four minutes and 24 seconds of that song, my back bent awkwardly and my hands pruning and the rest of me not really caring at all. As another round of applause signified the end, I straightened up, dried my hands on one of the hundreds of dishrags lying around, and met Alex’s eyes. He laughed out of a crooked grin and said, “I know. It’s a great song.”
…Alex always knew what I was thinking.
Our friendship was born out of exchanges like these. Not all of them were musical. We shared our penchants for astrophysics, good books, strange trivia; in other words, knowledge. Anything to fill our brains, keep our minds off the sometimes-numbing kitchen work and onto the more remarkable side of the Universe. I remember the day after the Higgs-Bosun particle was discovered, I almost burnt the spaghetti sauce because we got so carried away talking about it. Alex could ramble on for hours once he got started. He’d tell me about his time living in a tent commune, and I’d tell him about my close encounters with the rest of the world. Sometimes I felt small and petty talking to Alex; he always had mad stories and interesting things to talk about, always had a great bit of information up his sleeve, whereas I was forever casting about for something half as incredible to say, hoping he didn’t know it already. I don’t think he minded, though; he listened enthusiastically to whatever I had to say, often supplementing and "speaking of"ing.
As the long days of summer grew shorter and the sun set through the grimy kitchen window earlier and earlier, my concern for the survival of our relationship deepened. I knew I'd have to quit in August to go back to school, and all this would stop. No more bulls****ing over dishes, inventing new sandwiches, talking relativity as we minced and washed and talked the summer into oblivion. No more nightly music education, no more hitching a ride home with him and Brandi (not only the waitress, but his beloved girlfriend of two and a half years) when my parents couldn't get me at two in the morning.
About a month before I left Rocky’s, I got embroiled in a relationship with a boy I knew my parents would disapprove of. To make a long story short, they grounded me from basically everything except my job, and, being a 16-year-old girl with my priorities slightly askew, I was crushed. I turned into a nervous train wreck, counting the days to my stepdad’s return home from his job across the Cook Inlet, and my ensuing punishment. In the kitchen, it showed- I’d fight back tears over the dishes, there was no joy in anything I created, I didn’t laugh or joke around with the line cook. In retrospect, it was a petty thing to be so upset, but I was.
The only person who could cheer me up was Alex. He’d see me frowning at my concoctions and make jokes- “Hey, I know this place is a veritable wonderland, but there’s no need to get so damned excited, Morgan!” On a particularly stressful afternoon, we were all exhausted, the orders and dishes ceaseless, he caught me muttering under my breath, “S***’s crazy. Everything’s crazy.”
“You know what’s really crazy?” He said, leaning back on the pizza counter like there wasn’t a million-mile-an-hour dinner rush happening and gesturing with the coffee cup he always carried around. “The Dead Sea. Nothing grows in there because it’s so damn salty. And it doesn’t have anywhere to flow, so it just evaporates, which makes everything even more concentrated…” He went on about the Dead Sea, which was so completely irrelevant to the situation at hand that it removed all stress from my mind immediately. The simple fact that there was so much crap going on outside of my life that was a thousand times more interesting seemed to make my petty worrying evaporate like water in the Dead Sea itself, and it was Alex, waving his arms around to emphasize points, pausing to take sips of his coffee, so enthusiastic about whatever he happened to be talking about at the time, who made that apparent every day.
James Boswell once said, “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” The final drop in our friendship came on the hardest day of my summer. It was the day before my stepdad would return home for the first time since I was grounded, and I knew I was in for some serious punishment. I couldn’t concentrate on anything; frustration and worry radiated off me in waves. I tried to keep to myself so as not to spread the ill mood, hunched over the dishes and scrubbed with all my might, fighting back tears of teenaged concern. Then a soft voice behind me said my name.
I took a long time turning around, knowing my face was probably streaked with mascara and crumpled with dread. When I did, Alex was standing on the other side of the stainless steel counter, motioning for me to come around to his side. I figured he was going to reprimand me for being so foul and grumpy, take me aside and ask me to please stop ruining the atmosphere for everyone else, tell me that my potato salad tasted like bitter tears- something along those lines. So I took my time moving around that counter to face him.
“What?” I asked pathetically.
“Come here,” he said. He was standing with his arms open, waiting patiently, like it was perfectly normal to be so kind to someone so pitiful. Mentally kicking myself for even needing it at all, I stepped forward and hugged him. To feel that someone cared for me and forgave me for being so ridiculous and miserable was a greater gift than any anecdote Alex had ever shared with me. I whispered “thank you”, he said back that I’d be alright, and it was understood that I was to be better after that. And I was. I let go of him reluctantly, washed my face, and got on with my life.
Just like that.
Ultimately, Alex has taught me that there’s a whole universe out there to explore and know and learn about. I have unlimited potential for growth and wisdom, and it’s silly to waste it on worry. And even after the season ended, school started up again, and I left Rocky’s with the memories of the summer tied fast to my ribcage, Alex and I remained friends. Our lives continued- I regained trust with my parents, Brandi broke his heart, I made and lost friends and he lost and found jobs, and through it all, he’s been there for me. And I hope I’ve been here for him.



Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!




Site Feedback