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Category Archives: autobiographical

kitchen-4

Bill didn’t respond to Jim. This had become a sore spot, a bother, even a small worry that stuck sometimes in the back of Bill’s mind. Jim had been kicked in the head by a horse and was never right since. He always wanted that beer. He could never have it. Sometimes he hovered over and lingered by that knife sheath when he said something about that beer. This was the concern, that he would go off and grab a knife.

After Mary, Bea and Henry Lee had left, Bill sat on the milk cases. He stayed there as long as he could. He wasn’t inclined to get up. He didn’t want to do anything. He felt weary, and having felt this way before, he knew none of his drugs could do anything for him. So he sat. He smoked a cigarette. He drank a coffee that Lorraine had brought him when she’d stopped out in the hall. Lorraine, having seen how droopy he was, asked if he was okay. He said he was just tired, very tired.

He was on a second coffee when the orders started coming in. He asked Jimmy what he had when he saw Jimmy reading the first dupe. Jimmy told him stay sitting so Bill watched from the doorway where he’d positioned the cases so he could see what was going on. He could see the line and the pantry station past it. He could also see a little of the area before the line, this through the serving shelves. He couldn’t see the front kitchen door, but he could hear it open, and he could see the waitresses going into the pantry’s reach-in for salad dressings. When he saw a third order come in he got up. He hadn’t actually planned on it, but kind of instinctively he reached into his pants pocket and took out a Black Beauty. He popped it in his mouth and took it down with some coffee.

Bill and Jimmy started into their dance. They had four dupes, three deuces and a trey. Bill worked the broiler and cut the one order for prime rib. The rib looked really inviting and he was inclined to cut a slice for himself which he decided he’d do when they cleared the board. But they never cleared the board and even before seven, which was unusual, Tommy was in the kitchen setting up the expediter’s spot and calling orders.

Tommy called the orders straight through until Lillian relieved him. Amidst the steady, somewhat heavy but not excessive flow, Lorraine brought coffees for Bill and Tommy. Victoria brought sodas for the dishwashers. Marie made her own tea and kept herself busy on her station.

Lillian drew up her stool and Tommy showed her what was what. That done, he left the kitchen to check on the front of the house. In the switch over, Lillian had collected a handful of orders and soon as Tommy was gone she bellowed out her first “Ordering.” It was a string of items, one after the next, steaks and prime rib, fried shrimp and onion rings, two fried chicken for Grandma and a chef’s salad and shrimp salad for Marie.

The voice contrast and melody pattern was stunning. Tommy was quiet and sing-song. Lillian was raspy, sharp staccato and harsh. Bill, for his part, took over as much as he could, pushing Lillian to pick up as he wanted, as he needed. Lillian was less accommodating than Tommy or Drenovis, so Bill had to be more insistent.

On it went through the service, busy and rushed but not overly burdensome until the first lull after which, thinking it might all be over, they got positively slammed.

Pick up a copy of my published works here: Books by Peter Weiss.

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kitchen-4

Lexi stopped by just before she left to let Bill know that she had spoken with her friends and they were planning a wild girl’s night out. She said she was really disappointed, especially because they could have spent the night together, but she had made the plans a while ago and didn’t want to cut out on her friends. For some reason she made it important to tell Bill that no men were involved, only women, but she also let him know that that did not preclude any fooling around amongst friends. Bill said he was disappointed, but Lexi told him not to be, that she could arrange what he was thinking about with one of her friends whenever he wanted. She suggested it might be nice for his new year’s present. Bill said “indeed” to that notion.

Bea, Bill and Mary found themselves out in the hall when the dinner was all set up and everything was ready and in place. Grandma and Jimmy were inside the kitchen, Jimmy going down the line checking on everything, Grandma doing what she did in the back. Mary and Bea were in their civvies and just waiting to go home. They had not put on their coats yet. They were waiting to see if Henry Lee was coming up to go home with them.

The lunch had been good, quick-paced and steady all the way through. Dinner was anyone’s guess. So far for the week it had been relatively slow, but not dead, and it had been increasing steadily. Tuesday was much better than Monday, but that was a regular pattern. Tonight promised to be at least decent. A full complement of waitresses was working and that included Lorraine and Norma as well as Victoria and three others, two of whom were relatively new and still somewhat on probation. Being on probation meant being subjected to Drenovis’ whims as much as anything else.

Mary was tired and ready to crash. She asked Jimmy to make her three cheeseburgers with French fries to go, this so she didn’t have to cook when she got home. Ordinarily she did not take food home, but it was a perk for her and the cooks as long as they didn’t get piggy about it. Tommy didn’t care. Mary had told him up front and he said to bring them steaks if she wanted, but she was quick to let him know the kids would like the burgers better. So she sat on the milk cases and Bea on the now low stack of lettuce cases and they waited for both the to-go food and for Henry Lee, to see what he was doing.

Henry Lee had messed with Marie when she’d come in. Marie had a bruise on her cheekbone and that meant Mr. Marie had socked her one. He probably had cause because Marie wasn’t exactly the most faithful wife. No one there was faithful, husbands or wives or Bill, the husband-to-be. Both Bill and Henry Lee, because they’d discussed it, felt it would have been more manly for Mr. Marie to leave as opposed to beating her, but it wasn’t their call. Henry Lee had said that he wouldn’t beat Alfreda or leave her if she cheated. He’d said that paybacks were a bitch and he pretty much deserved whatever she did. He also said that he hoped she kept it in the family, meaning he preferred, and he’d said it this way, that it be with someone like you, meaning Bill, than someone strange.

“Tell me she ain’t said nothing to you never,” Henry Lee had said once to Bill. “And tell me you ain’t never thought about it.”

Bill had stayed silent.

Finally, getting impatient, after Jimmy had handed Mary the bag with the burgers to go, Bea got up and called down to Henry Lee for him to let them know what he was doing. Henry Lee told her keep her panties on, that he’d be right up.

Then they were gone, all three of them, and Bill sat in the hall alone.

“Could sure use a beer,” Jim the dishwasher said peeking his head out into the hall.

Pick up a copy of my published works here: Books by Peter Weiss.


kitchen-4

After the line was scrubbed clean Bill went down to the meat room to help Henry Lee cut meat. He had handed the steam table inserts over to the pot washer and told him to lay them out on the cutting board shelf for him like always. He had stopped in the back and made sure Mary had everything set the way she needed it.

Mary was coming back to herself more and more. With everything working on the stoves as it was supposed to be, she had time to sip a beer and lean herself against her counter to collect her thoughts. This was how Bill found her.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Getting better and better with every minute. My head’s getting straight and I’m tired but okay. How about you?”

“Same as always.”

“Don’t pay Bea no mind. She’s a little older. You know? Things was different for her.”

“She got something to say, she should say it.”

“I think she did. I think what she was meaning was that it ain’t personal to you. You a little bit different than the whites she talking about.”

“Maybe.”

“Better to let it slide anyway.”

“Maybe.”

“What you mean maybe? I’m telling you it’s better. We all entitled to our feelings. We all entitled to our likes and dislikes. Be better if we all understood each other and accepted each other even if we have hard feelings. Those bad feelings ain’t no good no matter which way they run.”

“They teach you that in church?”

“Yes. They do. And they teach us treat others as you want to be treated. Or, at the very least, treat them like they treat you, which means someone not good to you, you stay away from them.”

“Should I stay away from Bea?”

“Why? Cause she spoke her mind?”

“Guess you’re right,” Bill said.

“Damn right I’m right,” Mary said. “Now, you wanna come over after work? You can sneak in quietly while the kids are sleeping.”

“Naw. Thanks for the offer. I can wait for The Upper Room tomorrow night. I ain’t much for sneaking in around kids.”

“Well then take me downstairs in a little while.”

“Really?”

“Still got a little itch. And I know you want me to tell you my feelings.”

“I’ll be in the meat room,” Bill said.

“I like you,” Mary said. “I much more than like you.”

“I much more than like you too,” Bill said.

“You could show me. Actions speak louder than words.” Mary leaned in close to Bill and whispered in his ear. What she said shocked him so that he blushed. It also turned him on.

“That gonna scratch your itch?” he asked.

“Till tomorrow maybe.”

He was cutting Bostons, Tops and Supers when she came into the meat room. She didn’t hop up on the counter as she usually did. Instead she asked Bill if he would help her carry up a sack of potatoes and a few other things she needed from the storeroom. Bill said okay, of course, but he finished working on the Top Sirloin Butt he was in the middle of.

“Be right back,” he said to Henry Lee.

“Take your time, man. I know where you going. I’m gonna have you cover for me when Marie comes in.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Bill said.

They went into the party room and locked both the entry doors from the inside. When they were safely locked in Mary took hold of Bill and kissed him, hard and deep, almost desperately, Bill thought as it was happening. Then, when she’d kissed him all she wanted, she sat herself up on the bar. She’d never done that before and Bill found it interesting to say the least. Never taking her eyes from his, she began unbuttoning the buttons of her dress from the bottom up. As the dress peeled away, she spread her legs further apart.

“Come to mama,” she said.

Pick up a copy of my published works here: Books by Peter Weiss.


kitchen-4

Mary closed her eyes and put her head on Bill’s shoulder. She still picked at her sandwich and none of them had any inclination to get up and go back into the kitchen even though it was well past two.

“I didn’t do nothing either,” Bill said, continuing their conversation. “They trapped me and railroaded me into copping a plea. See. Injustice is blind.”

“We gonna have a color fight now?” Mary asked.

“Naw,” Henry Lee said. “We all the same at this table.”

“Are we?” Bill asked Bea.

Bea didn’t answer.

“Well, are we?” he asked again after a moment.

Bea had heard Bill the first time but she didn’t want to answer. She was old school, and in her mind, no, they weren’t all the same. It was different for Bill because he was white. That meant, in her mind, he could go anywhere he wanted, do anything he wanted. He didn’t have to look over his shoulder to see if the cops were coming after him just cause they felt like it.

“Love them little white boys,” she said. “Love the way they smell, the way they feel, the way they…”

“Don’t need to hear no more,” Henry Lee said interrupting her. But it was apparent she didn’t want to respond to what the real question was.

That real question was real. They all knew it was real just as they all knew they were better off not talking about it and just accepting the fact that God had brought them together, that God had brought Bill into their world for whatever reason He had done so. No one knew the reason. No one knew why of all the people in the City Hall Annex that day Bill had walked in, seen Robert in his workhouse blues and offered him a cigarette. No one knew why Bailey, the PO, had hooked them up, why it was Bill and not a different probationer who needed a job, and no one knew that Robert would recognize Bill as the kid who’d offered him a smoke and then take him under wing as if he were family.

Kismet!

“Don’t matter,” Henry Lee said. “I get tired of this crap.”

“What crap?” Bea asked.

“The color crap. You ain’t done so bad. And you ain’t complaining when he down there doing what you want him to. In fact, you old hussy, you like him doing that, don’t you?”

“That’s beside the point.”

“That is the point. Either you like him or you don’t.”

“You ain’t got to say nothing Bea,” Mary said. “Henry Lee right. We need to drop this discussion cause it don’t lead to no good. And don’t blame the boy for giving me drugs. Last time I looked, I’m almost old enough to be his mother. I got a boy who ain’t that far from his age, who calls him ‘cracker’ to me at home  and to him in his face when they working together. That’s the end result of this goddamn conversation, and the more we keep that up the worse it is for everyone.” She nudged Bill and told him let her up.

Bill slid out of the booth. It seemed clear to him, or kind of clear, that something had happened there at the table, something no one had expected or anticipated. He carried his lunch dishes with him into the kitchen and left them over by the dish machine. Mary followed behind him and did the same.

Mr. Jim had put everything on the stove that Mary would need for the evening meal. When Bill came around, just before he busted down the steam table, Mr. Jim told him all he had to do was wash baked potatoes and set them in the convection oven as usual. Bill acknowledged and then went to bust down the steam table and clean up the line.

Bea and Henry Lee lingered out in the dining room a bit longer. Mr. Jim, at two-forty-five, said good night. Just before he left, he told Bill to make sure he took care of Mary. Bill promised he would.

Pick up a copy of my published works here: Books by Peter Weiss.


kitchen-4

The heat was rising in Mary. The Black Beauty had perked her up some and along with Mr. Jim she’d started in on the afternoon’s work. But on one trip to the storeroom she’d stopped into the meat room for a drink of the bourbon. That had brought her down several octaves and she was thinking another Quaalude would do wonders. Or at least that’s what Bill found out when he sat next to her in their lunch booth.

Normally one of them would do orders, usually Mary, if any came in while they were eating. Sometimes Bill ran off to the liquor store while they ate too. Today, Mr. Jim stayed in the kitchen and worked ahead for Mary. Bill sat next to her and Bea and Henry Lee were across the table. Henry Lee and Bea were fooling around, kind of like kids did. They ate and then they slapped at each other. Henry Lee, in a fun mood, took a good feel of Bea’s hefty tits, but it wasn’t sexual at all, just a “so there.” But Bea reciprocated. She reached under the table and took a feel of him. He slapped her hand away. She persisted until she had copped a good feel. Then they took bites of their food and just slapped at each other.

Mary, very quietly, reached under the table and settled her hand in Bill’s lap. As she did so, she asked him if he had any more Quaaludes. Bill said yes, but he wasn’t giving her any. If anything, he told her, she could have another upper.

Mary got huffy. She nibbled on her sandwich, one Bill had made for her. She liked her roast beef well done on a hamburger bun with tomato and mayonnaise. Bill had piled the meat on and made what he thought was a grand sandwich.

“I ain’t too hungry,” she said as she quietly fondled him under the table.

“It’s the uppers,” Bill said. “Drink a beer and we’ll take some bourbon after we eat. But you got to eat. It’s time for you to be coming down off the stuff.”

“You shouldn’t be giving her nothing,” Henry Lee said.

“Just worked out this way,” Bill answered.

“We old school,” said Bea. “We drink, and maybe we smoke some weed. But them drugs you white boys do…”

“What you mean you white boys?” Bill asked.

“Well,” Bea said, “you white boys got money and you do all them drugs.”

“I look like I got money?” Bill moved Mary’s hand away from his lap and slid slightly away from her. “What you think? You think we all got money and shit? You think cause we white we can’t be poor?”

“Ain’t the same,” Bea said. “Even if you poor white, you still got opportunity. Blacks ain’t’ got no opportunity.”

“That’s bull shit,” Bill said. “I saw plenty of blacks at the university and they had plenty of opportunity, same opportunity as me.”

“That ain’t real,” Bea said. “Anyways your white pushers sell us cheap heroin and keep us messed up. We stay high, we don’t get uppity.”

“Ain’t nothing worse than an uppity nigger,” Henry Lee said. He laughed. “That’s what I was when I stabbed that white bastard. He started the shit, drew his knife thinking he was going to kill me. Didn’t work out that way. Didn’t matter though. They didn’t charge him. Only me. Only me and only I went to jail for it, for protecting myself. It was self-defense. And I lost my damn leg too.”

“You should have killed him,” Bea said.

“Damn right I should have.”

“Listen to you two,” Mary said. “Yeah, you should have killed him. And you’d have been in jail for life. Your kids wouldn’t know their daddy. You wouldn’t be getting no pussy from Marie.”

“Oh, you gotta go there, huh?”

“Look where you two going,” Mary said.

“Where we going?” Bea said.

Pick up a copy of my published works here: Books by Peter Weiss.


kitchen-4

No sooner than Bill had set up that first solo order did the kitchen spring into life. Waitresses came in one after the next with orders, several of them with multiple orders. One by one they handed Tommy the dupes then stepped over by Bea to pick up their salads. Bea was prepared and started on the next grouping of lunch salads as the waitresses depleted the ones she had set out ahead.

It was always better that Bea did the portions. Waitresses would give away anything for tips and they always had to be kept in check. Some of them, especially the ones Drenovis had taken advantage of, the ones who’d had to do their time in the back seat of his Riviera, were angry and took pleasure in giving larger portions. Not only did they get better tips, but they paid Drenovis back by cutting into the profit margin.

Tommy had to keep his eyes on this part of the business just as he had to make sure none of the cooks wasted anything. But waitresses and cooks here were different. Here, the cooks were all regulars. There was just about no turnover. They were all trained in-house for how things were done and their bonuses were dependent upon profits. As Mary had told Bill, they were a family and their livelihoods depended upon each other. So Bill had learned that if he messed up on a strip loin and got one steak less than he should have (sometimes he didn’t mess up, sometimes the loin’s angles were messed up), he made up that steak on the next loin. Not only was it a matter of money for the bosses and consequently the kitchen help, but it was also a matter of pride.

Mr. Jim’s reputation, in part, depended upon how good the cooks were. Mr. Jim, old-fashioned chef from the dining-car era on the first trains, was about as good as they came. Not only was he a gentleman, but he was an ace at anything that had to be done in the kitchen, from baking to prep work to meat cutting and carving. And because he was at the very end of his career, he had no qualms about teaching what he knew. In other kitchens later in his career, Bill would discover cooks and chefs who would never give up what they knew.

Tommy could tell Mr. Bowman what a  great job Mr. Jim had done in teaching Bill. Tommy could tell Mr. Bowman that not only was he capable, but he was capable of doing pretty work, making things perfect as they could be. A pretty plate with steam rising out of the hot items was the name of the game. And sometimes, just sometimes, a plate came together so perfectly that it was textbook worthy.

Personally, Bill did not understand that. He couldn’t figure why doing it the same way every time did not produce the same beautifulness every time. All the plates he made looked good, very good, in fact, but some were just plain beautiful. The more he attempted getting that beauty, the less he got it.

The lunch sped by almost in one big blur. Tommy stayed in the kitchen just about all the way through and Mr. Jim, doing what Mary ordinarily did, replenished the line items. He came around every so often to see what needed replenishing, but mostly he came to make sure that in the heat of the rush the plates that went out were as perfect as possible.

“Remember,” “Mr. Jim always said, “specially if it’s a touch off, make it look pretty and make sure it’s hot. If it looks good and the customer sees the steam rising up from the plate, you just about always get by.”

Pick up a copy of my published works here: Books by Peter Weiss.


kitchen-4

Bill waited until they were all out in the hall. Only Mr. Jim had stayed in the kitchen. Bea sat on her lettuce cases with her legs spread wide. Mary sat atop the metal milk cases, two of them stacked so she could be comfortable. Her legs were crossed at the ankles and her knees slightly apart. Henry Lee had cooked off some hamburgers and bleus and now they were hanging out before the first order came in. Tommy was already back in the kitchen. He was busy folding his towels to set them up to hold the dupes in place after he called the orders.

“Another damn day,” Henry Lee said.

“Another damn year,” Bea said.

“Lordy, I’m tired,” Mary said.

“What you got to say?” Henry Lee asked Bill.

“I’m glad I got a job,” Bill said. He was smoking a cigarette and leaning against the wall next to where Mary was sitting.

“You lucky you got a job, boy,” said Bea. “Wasn’t for Robert, you wouldn’t have no job.”

“But for the Grace of God,” Mary said.

“That old queen probably thought he was gonna bed you down,” Henry Lee said to Bill.

“Never even crossed my mind,” Bill said.

Bea and Henry Lee guffawed. Mary looked up at Bill then over at them.

“He’s a sweet naïve boy,” she said.

“You stupid,” Bea said. She and Henry Lee had another big, heavy laugh.

“She all messed up,” Henry Lee said. “Ain’t never seen her like this, out all night and taking them drugs the boy got. Kind of amusing when you come to think about it.”

“Yeah, it is,” Bea said.

“Up yours,” Mary said.

Mary was flush red in her face now, something Bill really loved to see. He’d told her so many times and many times he tried to make her blush just so the crimson would come out on her chocolate cheeks. Now it was out in full and he wanted to kiss her on every bit of it. Instead, he walked into the kitchen and got her beer. When he came back out in the hall, he handed the beer to her and told her take the upper.

“You think? I’m feeling so nice and dreamy.”

“Trust me,” Bill said. “Take it now and you’ll get through the meal okay. Then you can chill out all afternoon.”

Mary retrieved the pill from her dress pocket and popped it into her mouth. Henry Lee saw her doing this and shook his head. He looked at Bill after watching Mary swallow it down with her beer.

“You know she got kids to care for,” he said to Bill.

“I got it covered,” Bill said back.

“You better man.”

“Don’t worry. She’ll be fine.”

“She ain’t used to doing that shit.”

“Be okay,” Bill said.

“Ordering!”

They all heard the call from inside the kitchen. Bill and Henry Lee went in immediately and stepped into their positions on the line. Bea came a moment later. She walked through the line and goosed Bill as she by passed him. Bill would have goosed her back, but he was cutting the first order of roast beef from the top of the round. Those pieces of meat were slightly discolored from having been exposed and from being under the warmer lights too. Bill made sure to turn them over on the plate so only the fresh side showed. By the time he’d built the plate, it was beautiful: the meat nice and rare set on a slice of white bread with a bit of au jus covering it and parsley sprinkled over the au jus, mashed potatoes in a lovely ball with a dollop of bordelaise sauce ladled into a perfect nest in the middle of the ball and parsley sprinkled on them too, and a kitchen-spoonful of mixed vegetables right next to the potatoes. The meat was set so it could be eaten without having to move any of the side dishes.

Mr. Jim came from around back to inspect Bill’s work. “See,” he said to Tommy. “The boy’s getting damn good.”

Pick up a copy of my published works here: Books by Peter Weiss.