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kitchen-4

Bill went in immediately. They were fighting over a liquor glass that had come in without being dumped. Bebe, the barmaid, never sent a glass into the kitchen with alcohol in it. Most of her bar glasses she washed herself. So this one must have come from a table. That meant it went from the table to a bus box to the kitchen. The only thing Bill knew for sure was that Victoria hadn’t been involved, meaning she wasn’t the one who had sent in a glass that had liquor in it. She was in the hall with Bill.

Apparently Mickey was collecting all such glasses and he’d been dumping their contents into his own glass. He’d been drinking this way all night and was pretty inebriated. Jim, the ex-trainer who was not right in the head, the one who went off slightly and gave Bill a hard time sometimes telling him he really he thought he was someone, had gotten wind of it and was pissed off that Mickey wasn’t sharing the booze. So Jim went at him, verbally at first and not too loud so that Bill could not grasp the situation. But the words had escalated and then gotten louder so that by the time Bill got in by the machine they were almost at blows.

Jim towered over Mickey and was a good ten years younger. To protect himself, Mickey grabbed a steak knife from one of the racks as Jim approached him. Seeing this, Jim turned to go to the knife sheath to grab a real knife, and he probably would have done so if Bill hadn’t literally stood in his way.

“Okay boys,” Bill said, “time to knock it off. You know that waitress went out to get Mr. Stevens. You’re both gonna lose your jobs if you don’t.”

“Get out of my way you little squirt,” Jim said. But he stopped short of pushing past Bill. He stopped so that his body did not touch Bill’s at all.

“Don’t get in the way of this,” Mickey said. “But I’ll cut it out if he will.” Having said that, he put down the steak knife.

“Look,” Bill said to Jim. “He put the knife down. So let’s let it be over.”

Jim eased up somewhat. He was tensed and on the way to crazed. He muttered something under his breath then turned away from Bill. Bill took out his pack of cigarettes and offered him one.

After Jim had lit up, Bill offered Mickey a smoke too. Then they all went out in the hall leaving only Paulie, the special needs kid, working on the dishes.

They were all in the hall when Tommy came in. Bill was standing in the doorway. Jim was by the back door, the door open now so the cold air could come in. Mickey was by the lettuce cases, close to the stairs.

“Something going on?” Tommy asked.

“Nah,” said Bill. “They just got a little behind at the machine and were having a tough time getting who was doing what straight. So we talked it out and took a little break.”

“Don’t need me here?” Tommy asked.

“We’re good,” Bill said.

“Okay then.” Tommy stopped over by the coffee urns to draw himself a mug of coffee before he left the kitchen. Marie was busy cleaning her station, beginning to wrap things that she thought would not be needed or used again for the rest of the night. She had watched the whole thing and was ready to run out for help if it was needed.

“I don’t want to hear any more shit,” Bill said to both of them. “I’m tired of this crap. And you,” he said to Mickey, “I see you drinking ever again, I’m firing you on the spot.”

“Okay, Billy boy,” Mickey said. “You’re the boss.”

“Really think you’re something,” Jim said.

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kitchen-4

After the day shift was gone, Henry Lee too, and when the night shift was settled in and waiting for the dinner rush, Lorraine came to Bill out in the hall. Bill was sitting where he could see inside, in case any orders came. He would have heard the bell, he knew, but he always felt better being able to see. Jimmy was standing by the screen door which he’d opened even though it was cold outside. He was leaning against the wall, one leg bent at the knee, his foot flush against the wall. He was smoking a cigarette, blowing the smoke out the screen door. Bill could see the steam-smoke of his breaths too.

“We never did finish our conversation last night,” Lorraine said.

“We can talk later,” said Bill.

“Good. I want to talk about the serious stuff, the deep stuff. We kind of got off the track. I want to hear about how you ended up here. Well I know that, but I mean the whole story. And if you want to hear it, I’ll tell you mine too.”

“I want to know why you’re afraid to go out with the guy you met. And of course I want to know about you.”

“Good. So we’ll talk later. I gotta go back out.”

While Lorraine was heading out the kitchen door into the front dining room, the first orders started coming in. Norma was working, Victoria too. No one thought it would be a busy night because it was cold and dismal, but the customers came and kept coming so that while there was never a big rush, the service was long and steady. Tommy came in to call orders even though Jimmy and Bill could have handled it without him. He watched everything, especially Lexi, who was also working. He watched her to make sure she was hassle-free and got more than her turns.

Only after Jimmy and Grandma were gone did Bill feed his friends steak. Marie ate a super medium, which was no big deal because Tommy wouldn’t have hassled her or Bill if he’d seen it. Grandma ate a top with two baked potatoes. Lexi and Lorraine shared a Boston medium-rare, and Victoria, the late girl, sat in the hall and quickly ate a piece of Prime Rib that Bill cut ostensibly for himself but of which he only ate one small bite. He didn’t even want that, but he ate it so he wouldn’t have to lie to Tommy if they were found out. As he always did, he trimmed away all the fat and cut it into pieces so Victoria could access it easily. He did the same with the baked potato, cutting it for her and smothering it in butter the way he knew she liked it.

“You know Lorraine has an admirer,” Victoria told Bill.

“She mentioned it.”

“We’re not supposed to go out with customers, are we?”

“That’s what I heard, what I was told.”

“He’s kind of cute. She told me he’s a school teacher. He comes in alone mostly, sometimes with his mother. They like to eat in a booth.”

“Well you seem to know a lot about it.”

“No secret. She told me all about it. I told her go for it and the hell with the rules.”

“She needs the job. No telling what Drenovis would do.”

“That’s not what’s stopping her. She’s insecure. Afraid.”

“I’ll talk to her.”

“Okay, but you can’t say I told you anything.”

“Course not.”

“Thanks for the dinner,” Victoria said.

He and Lorraine did not get to talk, not really. They had a few moments out in the hall, but just as they were starting to get to the things they wanted to talk about, Jim and Mickey got into it inside the kitchen over by the dish machine.

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kitchen-4

You always love your first crew. You never forget your first crew. Mary said this over and over. It was true.

Later in his life, when all was said and done and some forty-five years had passed, Bill could still close his eyes and see every one of those people on his first crew. Grandma kind of resembled his own grandmother on his mother’s side. She was fat, obese really, really, really fat. They had the same short, round bodies and oval faces. They had the same big smile that spread across their faces and the same ecstatic happiness when someone liked what they cooked. For Grandma it was her fried chicken, pretty much the best in town if not the state. For his own grandmother it was clam chowder, red or white, but mostly she made it red. His own grandmother, Fanny, had the deepest, richest laugh he’d ever heard. Grandma’s at Suburban was similar, even close.

Bea—what could he say? He could remember the first time he put his hand up her dress, how he’d felt her womanhood over her panties, how her panties had gotten wet from his pushing into them, how she offered, even promised to remove those panties. He could remember the panties. They were the thin-elastic-band panties, somewhat sheer back then, white and baggy sort of because she was fat.

Bea was taller than grandma and also fat, but not as fat or round as grandma. Bea smoked a lot. She played the numbers and the horses.

Bea was not nearly as dark as Mary. She was coffee with cream, pretty much exactly. She had those flared nostrils and broad lips and her nostrils flared even more when she was angry or when she had an orgasm. She liked her orgasms. They shook her whole being in a purely physical way, and she could have many orgasms if Bill took the time to keep working on her and keep them coming.

Bea wore those seventies, big-lens, dark-frame eyeglasses which she did not take off even when they had sex. And she had a deep, throaty voice, a cigarette-voice, one made more hoarse by the long years of smoking.

Her face was squarish. She had a square chin and high cheekbones. She could use those thick lips and she liked using them when it was tit for tat. She was all about Robert’s ‘what’s good to you is good for you.’ She made sure she got was good for her.

Bea had enormous breasts, udders with large areolas and thick nipples that she liked to have sucked. She made no bones about Mr. Bea not giving her any and about Bill being her lollipop. “Love them little white boys,” she said over and over, although Bill was the only one she’d ever had. She swore to that.

Marie was skinny and skanky. She had a horse face, kind of, and crooked teeth. She was ruddy milk chocolate with blemishes, and if crack had been out around then she could have been taken for a crack head. She had a long neck and long skinny arms and legs, runner’s legs without the muscle development. She could and did spread those legs. She had no breasts at all, none, even though she was a mommy. She was just about totally flat-chested, but good thing was she was not at all shy about it or apologetic for it. She was absolutely crazy about her small tits with dark marble nipples.

Marie talked like a speed freak, but she moved slow and worked slow unless there was a rush. She talked shit too, too much shit, and that would finally do her in. Wasn’t all her fault though cause she was being beaten by her husband and sometimes even smacked by Henry Lee.

Yup. You always remembered your first crew.

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kitchen-4

His fiancé told him that Tim told her that he was frightfully lonely, horribly alone, and terribly scared. His Assistantship at the university was safe for the time being, but he was expected to get his MFA within the next two years. The university could not guarantee him a position once he had the degree. That did not mean he would not have a job but it did not assure him he would have one.

“Poor boy shivered and wept all night long,” his fiancé said.  “All night. I stroked him like I was his mother, talked to him like his mother would. I assured him it would all be all right. I’m scared for him,” she said.

Bill listened. He listened while she went through all she had to say, and toward the end, when she was finishing up, she added on that she noticed he hadn’t been home. He explained about the late customers and how he’d stayed in Whitehall. He told as much of the truth as he dare, saying he’d stayed on Lorraine’s sofa, but that she didn’t need to worry about anything since Lorraine was an older waitress with two kids who were home. His fiancé reminded him that she knew about Lorraine and said it was okay, that she knew he was working hard and was tired and that the travel was hard, especially when he was tired.

And so it went. As it went, this one went over pretty easily and Bill was relieved. Tonight, for sure, he would hurry on home and take care of his business there.

Mary was waiting for him downstairs. She’d stopped in by Henry Lee and smoked a joint with him in the deep freeze. Then they’d sipped some bourbon and Mary told Henry Lee to tell Bill she would be in the party room. Henry Lee knew what that meant. He winked at her, and finally, just before she left the meat room he told her he was glad she was helping herself to some of the candy.

The party room was dark. Some of the neon lights from the signs behind the bar were on and provided shadows. The two red exit signs were eminently visible. Mary sat at the bar. She faced the door which opened from the hall where the employees traversed, the door nearly directly opposite the entrance to the meat room. Bill locked the door behind him and then saw that Mary sat with her dress on but completely open so he could see her bra and half slip.

First thing he did was go to lock the customer entrance but it was already locked. He made double sure then walked up to Mary.

“I locked it,” she said. “And I told Henry Lee keep a look-see for Tommy. Bea in a huff and I wouldn’t be surprised she do something to get us busted.”

“She won’t do anything,” said Bill. “She don’t want to have to worry about her getting busted.”

“Thought you were quitting her.”

“I am. I will. It’s a process that needs kid gloves.”

“I just don’t like her having nothing on me. She don’t care about you like I do.”

“I don’t care about her. But I’m crazy about you.”

“I thought pussy was pussy,” said Mary.

“It is. But you’re not pussy.”

“What am I?”

Bill looked to his feet and mumbled something he knew Mary could not hear.

“Say what?” she asked.

“I said I really care about you.”

“Sounded like you said you loved me.”

“Yeah, well, maybe that’s what it sounded like.”

“Come here,” Mary said, summoning him to her. She swiveled in the bar stool so he could access her easily and spread her legs wide so he could step between them. They kissed, softly at first and then more deeply, and then she held him to her, tight against her.

“Goddamn you,” she said. “Get us a time for The Upper Room.”

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kitchen-4

 Susan did it in her apartment on a weekend when her roommate was away. She did it because she was unhappy, because she didn’t know what happiness was.

Bill was thinking about this. He had been taking black beauties all day and he’d been smoking weed and drinking beer and bourbon. Henry Lee had taken a half hour to do Marie, and Marie had come up to Bill in the meat room before she went up into the kitchen to let him know there was plenty of her for him too. She reminded him that maybe Drenovis called Norma an anywhere girl, but that didn’t mean Norma was the only anywhere girl. Then she had winked at him and reminded him that Henry Lee was quite okay with it.

Bill didn’t say no and didn’t rebuff her. He copped a feel of her buttocks and this caused her to take his hand and move it how she wanted over her privates.

“I’ll get down on my knees for you later if you want,” she whispered in his ear.

“ I might take you up on that.”

“I hope you do,” Marie ran her tongue over her lips suggestively. Then she winked at him and headed on up to the kitchen.

Up in the kitchen, another day had gone by. For Bill it had been another drug-filled, substance-abusing day, just another ordinary kitchen day, one filled with the hustle and bustle of a super fast-paced job where your mind didn’t matter much, where your hands, your experience and your knowledge of the routine were everything. Mary and Bea were winding down, getting ready to head downstairs to change into their street clothes to head home.

Bea was sitting on her stool reading her paper when Bill came up. Mary was around back by her stoves. She was double and triple-checking everything, making sure all the bases were covered.

That’s where Bill went first, and first thing he did was force Mary into his arms so he could kiss her. He pressed her tight against the stoves, back into one of the two places back there where high-standing equipment and the low standing hood covers gave them a semblance of privacy, where being tucked in tight against the stoves made it hard for anyone anywhere in the kitchen to see them. He pressed her, forced her there, kept her there while he smothered her tongue with his and ground himself against her.

“Boy, what the hell,” she said amidst the kissing, but she did not try terribly hard to stop him from doing what he was doing.

“Boy nothing.” Bill reached up under her kitchen dress and found that she was not unreceptive to his touch. He also found that she was roused and desiring it.

“You better not leave me high and dry,” she said.

“Why would I do that?”

“Never know nothing till you know it,” said Mary. Then she pushed Bill away and looked at him. “You okay?” she asked.

Bill was anything but okay. Bill wasn’t anywhere near anything like being okay. Nevertheless, he smiled at her simply and told her he would take care of the baked potatoes and she should let him know when she was ready to meet him downstairs.

So his fiancé, it turned out, had spent the night in Tim’s bed holding him close to her and coddling him as if she were his mother. Tit for tat! Wasn’t so long ago that Tim had held her much the same way while he nursed her through that bad trip. Bill had not thought anything of their closeness then and he thought nothing of it now other than it was what she should have been doing. It was, after all, the right thing for her to do, the human thing.

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kitchen-4

Turns out his fiancé was with Tim over at his house. Bill wouldn’t find that out until later in the day when they finally did connect. Later in the day was more toward late afternoon after she had finished her classes and was home feeding the cats and getting ready to go out wherever she was going for the evening.

Later in the day for Bill was after he had done the prep work with Mary, cut meat and made hamburgers and bleus with Henry Lee, put up the lunch with Henry Lee and no other help, broken down and cleaned the steam table after the lunch meal, spent most of the afternoon in the meat room cutting more meat and the rest of it with Mary finishing out the prep work and setting up the line for the dinner.

He’d tried to call her several times. No answer each time. Actually this was not a bad thing because more than likely she would be the one who was apologetic. That was a good thing because in the end while she had nothing to be apologetic about, he would be let off the hook. He didn’t want to have to do any explaining.

Later on in life Tim would hang himself from a tree in Battery Park. This was after they had all moved to New York, not together of course. He would hang himself because he was unhappy, depressed, maladjusted—for lots of reasons, none of which was visible or even knowable to his friends, not even his closest ones. Maybe it was because he was lonely. Maybe it was because he didn’t have many boyfriends. Maybe it was because his career wasn’t going the way he thought it would.

Tim, Bill would always remember, somehow managed to let his long-haired, grey, Persian cat out the door. The cat, not one known for its smarts, never came home, probably could not find its way back. Not that this mattered in the scope of things because this was the same Tim who sat with Bill’s fiancé for two days while she was coming down from a bad trip. Bill had left Tim with her while he went to take a day’s work as a dishwasher at one of the campus restaurant dives. It was one of the crappiest jobs he’d ever done, but he finished out the day because they needed the money, all twelve dollars for the eight hours’ work. When he’d walked into the little kitchen’s even littler dishwasher’s area, the dishes and pots had been stacked up so high Bill almost had to stand on his toes to get to the top dishes. Still and all, he worked his way all the way down and left the area clean.

Tim was holding Bill’s fiancé in his arms when Bill walked in the door. They were in the bedroom and Tim reported that she had woke up about noon and had been in and out of sleep since then. Her eyes were still not focused and she was not speaking intelligibly yet. Stupidly, Bill and his fiancé had popped LSD before they’d gone off to a party and then at the party they had snorted MDA from a big bowl set on the dining room table. Bill would always remember that trip, one of the best of his life. But he would remember that trip more because sure as sure could ever be, her bad trip was the harbinger of the evil that hallucinogens were.

Susan hanged herself too. Bill would not meet Susan until he was late in his thirties. He would meet her at one of the last few restaurants he would work in. He would meet her and get with her, surprise, not so much because he wanted to but more because she wanted him to. Like many of the waitresses he had been with, he was good to her, kind and helpful.

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kitchen-4

Who followed what they were taught in Sunday school? In Bill’s case it was Hebrew school and he knew he was breaking The Commandments, particularly number six. He wasn’t thinking about this as he pulled into the Suburban parking lot just a few minutes after leaving Lorraine’s house. He was thinking about how he was starting to speed, how we was going to pop another pill in about fifteen minutes, how he was going to call home again sometime after seven when his fiancé should probably be up and about so as to get to her first class on time.

He was thinking about how he and Lorraine had not quite gotten to finish their conversation about what was really going on with them both, in particular about being afraid of everything all the time. At this point in his life Bill had no idea that it was GAD. He wouldn’t know about such things until it was already too late, already too late being after messing up just about everything good that was ever in his life. But then he would start to see that it was a stacked deck and that the stack was stacked against him and he didn’t really have much say in the matter until after he knew what the matter was. In this regard, he would come to discover some people were just luckier than others.

Mr. Bowman paid Mary more than he had to because he wanted her to work for him and he understood she had three kids to raise. No black man had ever offered her more than what the going rate was, or more than he had to for her work. In fact, every black that wanted her to work for him wanted her to accept less money and give sexual favors.

Mary was not one to work for less than she was worth, even though, like with Bill, as she would discover about him, it was hard for her to appropriately assert her own self-worth. Nor was she one to give it up. If Drenovis could not have been curbed, like the damn dog he was, she would have quit. She would have told him what to do with himself and just walked on out the door.

Bea tempered her some. Robert surely tempered her and spoke to her every chance he could at church. He reminded her that Mr. Bowman would deal with Drenovis and he would deal with Drenovis too. He reminded her that Yulie would not have wanted her to let such a low-life drive her out of town, and that if she did let him do that, then all the fighting Yulie had done on her behalf would have been for naught. It was only by the grace of God that Yulie had not killed Drenovis the first time he learned that Drenovis had tried to pressure Mary for some.

Lucky for Mary, that one time Drenovis had pressured her a little too drunkenly and a little too sloppily, his over-zealousness had caused Mr. Bowman to give her a raise. So she was pretty free of him now, for the most part, and she was making good money, and she was only bothered by the fact that she liked Bill a lot more than she should have and she knew it was all going to end in shit.

“Look at your damn eyes,” Mary said while they were downstairs changing into their uniforms. “You been home last night?”

“Not really.”

“Where you been?”

“Out.”

“Boy, what’s the matter with you? Bad enough you mess with me and stay out late when you know you should be home. Only lucky you don’t get busted for violating probation.”

“Bailey got that fixed mostly. And she wasn’t home last night anyway.”

“And that makes it okay?”

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