I have awkward carries. You’re supposed to lift trays above your head, support dishes on one arm, and hold utensils in the other. Whenever I start a new job waiting tables, people think I must be inept. I rest trays on my shoulder, juxtapose dishes so they always look like they’re about to succumb to gravity’s kiss. But they never do. I’ve never broken a plate, or dropped a dish full of food. I’ve lost a couple of mugs, but mostly because they came straight from a hot dishwasher, and then some idiot filled them up with ice and handed them to me, and the bottom fell out. Sometimes, I was even the idiot in question.
Tonight, my second night back at Kookaburra Canyon, several of the rookies asked if I needed help, because they thought I was on the brink of dropping everything. I’d just smile, and walk out into the dining room.
The weight of my life is distributed unevenly. I’ve got financial burdens lined up one arm, my failure to deal with my housing situation on the other. An urgent e-mail from my mother’s boyfriend is wrapped a little too tightly around my neck. I’ve got Ben dangling from one of my fingers. Celeste’s suggestion that I’m too focused on Ben is balanced precariously on my head. Surely, something has got to give.
As I walk out of the dining room, arms full of lamb and mashed potatoes, my boss (also a Ben) shouts “Sack smack!” and lunges for my testicles. I’ve missed working for a twelve year old. When I walk back into the kitchen, he yells, “Catch!” and throws a full pitcher of water at me, which I somehow catch. When he laughs and turns around, I kick an empty mug rack on wheels at him. It hits him in the shins and nearly knocks him over.
He knows I’m waiting for a call about my mother. That I don’t know if I’m overreacting to the boyfriend’s e-mail. So he’s fucking with me to keep me in good spirits, and it’s working. Everyone around me is yelling at each other and complaining to me “What’s the fucken deal? Salads are taking forever tonight. They’ve fucked up every order that’s gone through the kitchen tonight.” Not mine. The actual work part of my night was flawless. I didn’t make as much as I’d have liked, but it was nice out, and there was a Red Sox/Yankees game, so I didn’t expect it to be busy.
When the rookie server who’s been there three months tells me I’m not carrying things properly, and I’m taking too much time at the soda machine, and maybe I’m a little rusty at serving, I calmly turn and say, “While you’re back here complaining about how hectic things are, and trying to tell me what I’m doing wrong, I’m back here filling the ice machine, filling the bread oven, getting fresh mugs, and all my tables are happy, and I’m happy, so really, who should be telling who how to do their job?”
And at ten, I call Ben and ask him if he’d like me to bring any food home. And then I think home? Ben’s apartment, while it is where I’ve spent most of my time for the past month, isn’t my home. This is followed by Fuck, what am I doing? We’re not dating or sleeping together, yet I’m at his house almost every night, using his computer, keeping him up late talking, and slowly turning his asscat against him. And, let’s not forget, confessing how much I love him and how much it hurts that he doesn’t love me back.
As soon as I’m done with work, I grab my bag full of his food, and get on the subway. At his stop, I get off, buy him a pack of cigarettes, and something to drink. It’s 12:30. He is awake long enough for me to get in the door, but then immediately passes out. As I write a lengthy e-mail to my mom’s boyfriend, he sits bolt upright and says “Some day my hair won’t beehive when I lay down.” And then promptly rolls over and passes out again. How could I not love him?
I, unrealistically, expect everything in my life will work itself out shortly. I have a date tomorrow night with an emo musician who isn’t Ben. Despite the scheduler forgetting to put me on the schedule at Kookaburra Canyon, I’ve picked up every shift I could possibly work. Zuzu got my five month overdue check for the last school gig I did without the “Cash first, THEN performance” rule that I’ve had to institute, since every college and high school in the country seems to think it’s okay to keep poets waiting years and years for their checks, because hey, we all know poets are all rich beyond peoples’ wildest fantasies. Shit, Billy Collins owns half the state of Tennessee, and Bill Gates keeps calling Sharon Olds to ask her how she manages to handle her finances so well. If she can’t tell him, I will. The trick is to line one arm with dollar coins, and the other with hundred dollar bills folded into origami butterflies. Fold your stocks and bonds into the folds of your shirt. Stuff your assets down the back of your pants, and keep your debts resting on your shoes. It’s a hell of a way to carry yourself through rough times