Thursday, January 27, 2005

I worked with I__ for several months. He had read the manual on the New York Italian-American stereotype and lived it to the letter. He was short but thick from constant weight lifting with his brothers. He had long hair held in a ponytail and the quintessential Roman nose. The brothers still lived with the parents along with a grandmother with whom we would share shots of sambuca. I’m not joking when I say he was the living and breathing generalisation of the New York Italian. Right down to the accent and frequent adjusting of his manhood in public. He’d tell me about the anti-immigrant bigotry he faced after his family moved to the south. That’s right even in the last two decades of the twentieth century there was still a demographic of southerners for whom the jury was still out on Catholics and southern Europeans. Yet even after being confronted with the blunt end of bigotry, an exceptional number of conversations began along the lines of ‘you know what’s wrong with those fawking niggers’. Yet, he was not a man beyond redemption, but nonetheless was a bizarre human being. I have several stories about him but as I recount them none of them would do much to improve the ball grabbing racist portrait that I have painted of him thus far. Please believe me when I say he was a great guy. With that I will tell you a few of my favourite I__ stories. We were waiters at a retirement centre. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but old people are like teenagers. Or wolves. If you get them in large packs, they become savage. They eyeing you for weaknesses waiting for the opportunity to lunge for any unprotected flesh. Old women are the worst. Besides a fatted lamb, a young waiter is the preferred prey of the old lady. Put a lone waiter at a 6 top of old biddies and the permed blue rinses will bob as they sniff the scent of fear in the air licking the salivation from their sharpened dentures. First they play with their victim batting back and forth between each other with inane questions like “What’s in the Spinach salad?’ The drink orders are then taken with exact numbers ice cubes and exact ratios of seltzer to blush wine are given which require a pipette to measure. This comes with feigned hearing loss that is maintained through out the hunt. Trust me. These devils with bad circulation are just fine. They gossip about other residents at the other tables in whispered tones that are heard without the need for clarification or repetition. Yet, when the poor young man who stands before them in an itchy tie and cumber bund, they have things like this to say.
‘What?’ ‘Speak up!’ or they say to one another, ‘I can’t understand him.’ ‘Yes. I know. I think he is Mexican. Look how dark he is.’ ‘Are you a Mexican?’ ‘No. My last name is Irish.’ ‘You sure? You look like a Mexican.’ then turning to one of their conspirators and say, ‘He’s a Mexican’ which is received with a confirming nod. Half way through the meal the poor waiter’s mind is addled. This sort of conversation continues during order taking. So, between making sure that granny Satan wants the chicken soup with the chicken strained out and replaced chopped up cube steak. No. She does not want the beef broth, as she does not like beef soups. but cube steak is beef. Yes. she says but its beef in chicken soup. okay. but during this conversation grandma Beelzebub is telling you her wine spritzer is too watery. It’s because you wanted ice in your wine and ice melts into water thus making your wine watery. This is when nanny evil incarnate shouts her order as she gets up to go use the toilet. The order incidentally is for a dish that is not on the menu. Another keeps asking if you have her extra portion of tartar sauce. Yes. I have that written down. Good. well. I changed my mind she says. I want cocktail sauce instead. Okay cocktail sauce. I don’t want cocktail sauce another will shout. Yes. I know she is having cocktail sauce. You are having the lamb. Am I? I don’t want that. Give me the menu. It is because of this that on occasion like the lamb that gives on last dying kick to the jowl of the wolf that is about to devour it that a waiter occasionally has a bit of sport with those spawns of hell with the senior discount.

Cube steak was a regular item on the menu, but I__ convinced them this was also a regular typo. It was meant to read tube steak. So, it happened that you regularly got little old ladies innocently saying they wanted a smaller tube steak, as the normal portion could not possibly fit in their mouths.

My favourite resident was miss Hyde. Aptly named as it happened. She could no longer walk. She got around on a scooter driven at top speed. This in itself was not so dangerous. What made this situation precarious was that it was well known that Miss Hyde bribed her nurse to smuggle in fifths of Vodka that Miss Hyde drank with youthful enthusiasm. Advanced dementia, severe drunkenness and only two teeth (one up. one down) in her head made Miss Hyde somewhat of a sight to behold. You would take her order or give her a polite greeting to which she would reply with yelled incoherent babble punctuated by obscenity. “BLARGGG GLARG France. GO TO HELL!” This did not impede I__ in the least where the rest of us would make such interactions with her as minimal as possible. He would hold whole imaginary conversations with her.

“Good day Miss Hyde. How are you today?”
“Grarg. NAAAAAAARG. Fuck!”
“Oh. Today certainly is lovely. Don’t you just love the spring?”
“Bring me a TRAAAAA. Now! Bastard.”
“Certainly. Would you like some fresh baked rolls while you look at our menu? I know you just adore the brioche.”
“Fuck off!”
“Excellent. I’ll bring you some immediately.”

And so on through out the meal.

On another occasion after a certain table of four old ladies had worked him over through out the appetizers and main course, I__ took the desert orders. One lady ordered a mint chocolate chip ice cream. As he left the table to fill the order, she called after him, “And don’t be so cheap. I want a good-sized portion.” She got her good-sized portion. We served ice cream in a glass bowl with a stem. It normally held about 2 to 3 scoops of ice cream. This time I__ put nearly a half-gallon of ice cream into the little cup. Like a circus bear on a tiny cycle, the ice cream remained precariously balanced. When he delivered this enormous, dripping, neon green dessert. The little old lady’s eyes popped out of her head. “Ohhh. My goodness!” Surprisingly she didn’t complain. She picked up a spoon and started to excavate away from the great mass before her.

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