Wishing, Hoping, Waiting… Tables.

I started my summer in the closet, and today, that’s where I ended it. We all wish for these beginnings and endings because in a way, it’s comforting; there’s a start and a finish, and that’s something that we can count on, and as life goes on those moments start to dissipate. Everything becomes much more blurry than what we were counting on. We had a period we spent in diapers, and then we stopped. Growing up, there was a period where I would only eat my hamburgers plain, and even though I have a distaste for most red meat these days (because I’m Jewish and pseudo-health conscious), I’ve learned to put actual sauces and vegetables with my sandwiches. Another period complete. So there’s quite a comfort that I ended up in the closet, again, as this summer draws to a close. It’s cyclical and familiar, but I was in the closer for two very different reasons.

When I started this project, I was hiding in the closet because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know the people I worked with, and I didn’t care to. I wanted to make money, and when I wasn’t sure what to do, I would retreat to the closet and turn all the disinfectant bottles forward, count the aprons and rags, etc. And today, I hid my going away presents behind those same aprons and rags: a card from my boss, a penis shaped balloon that had “cum see me soon” written in sharpie, a sperm shaped shot with some milky mixture inside, and a can of V8 to represent a Bloody Mary that Paula said we would always share together. And though I should have been laughing at the absurdity of the gifts, or possibly even repulsed if I were the uptight kind, as I stuffed it all on the back of the shelf, I started crying. And then I couldn’t stop crying… crying in the closet–nothing I’m too unfamiliar with.
And it shouldn’t surprise anyone close to me that I was crying; much like the end monologue of arguable the best MTV movie ever released, Varsity Blues, “Billy Bob cries because Billy Bob is a crier.” I’m a bit of a Billy Bob. And as the small icon on my computer shifts from Aug. 3 to Aug. 4, my stomach drops a little bit more: not because I’m scared of the city that I’m going to or because I’ll be essentially homeless when I leave for it in five days, but because of what I’m leaving behind. My hometown, my family, my friends… my restaurant.
As I began my final night of waiting, the first table I picked up was one of my favorites: a man and his wife with these two little ginger nuggets. They come in regularly, so I watch for them. And then the rest of the night is a giant blur of random faces throughout the night. The two old ladies at the table near the window, the woman and man who took their spot whose catfish I dropped on the floor, the family who invited me to sit down… so I did and proceeded to prop my feet up. If for just a moment, they’re all special, important. I get their food, and we exchange some funny words–I try to make a joke, and most of the time, someone laughs. Then as we start to close up, someone comes in, and of course, they want an appetizer. Then they want the actual meal, and then their kid drops a full Diet Coke on the ground. But tonight, one of the last couples out was the two old women that Marsha originally referred to as “the whores of Seymour.” They asked me about moving, and in the middle of sweeping, I decided to sit down. And though I would say that I’m never fake, for one of the first time, I actually have a real conversation with a customer. They warn me again about all those black people in DC and how they castrate white people like me. I tell them as long as they’ll pray for me, I’ll do my best to come back and visit. I walked them out to their car, and the one with orange tinted glasses tells me that she knows people up around the White House. She’ll give them a call.
And once the open light goes off, I wipe down the tables and start sweeping, which I’ve never been good at. Paula usually comes by and unties my apron or grabs my ass; Megan pretends that she doesn’t like me, even though I know that there’s a soft spot there. Marsha’s gone home at this point, devastated by the loss of a local politician. Marsha loves Dick, and by Dick I mean Richard, and by Richard, I mean Richard Montgomery. Doris is still complaining how the new girl never cleans out the tea holders correctly, and Mike’s ignoring everyone while he counts the money. And last but not least, Eleanor follows behind, somehow finding more dirt on the floor than what I swept up to begin with. It’s a snapshot–this picturesque family that I didn’t ask for but somehow managed to stumble upon.
And like most teenage boys in a nuclear family, I play my part and pretend like I’m there for the money, which in part… I am, especially when this all started. To avoid leaving, I put all the jelly holders back on the table for breakfast; I double sweep a couple of places I’ve already swept, I clean the bathrooms. Once I finish up everything I’m supposed to do for the night, I realize that it’s probably the last time I’ll throw my apron in the “this apron smells like shit now” container, and like clockwork… for the second time in one shift, I’m standing in the closet, crying. I wasn’t really sure why it was happening again, but it was tear after tear falling from my face, as if I were about to leave my actual family. So I pull myself together and finally commit to leaving. Eleanor hugs me and tells me that she’ll see me soon, and I say my goodbyes. Then I drive home, pretending it’s something I’ll repeat for the rest of my life.
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