The Other Silver Key – part 5
Towards the end of August, when the worst off the heat and humidity had passed, and thoughts of the impending new school-year signaled changes, not only in the weather, but in the emotional atmosphere (back-to-school meant that older, more sedate tourists would be replacing the wild crowd of college kids in town, a change of demographics which would also be reflected in the restaurant staff), we hired a waitress with trouble written all over her. Elmer and our dining room manager (a harsh and Puritanical woman named Carol, whose judgement of character was only slightly more attuned than Elmer’s) had interviewed her and concluded that she would be perfect; Carol, of course, because at that time of year, with young staff picking up and leaving on a daily basis, only the sleaziest or most demented-looking applicants were turned away, and Elmer, typically, because she was hot. “Wait’ll you see her, man,” he said, “she got all this flame-red hair tied-up on her head, eh, and from what I could tell – she covered up pretty good for the interview – she got a killer body. Tall, long legs, and….and these green eyes, eh, you know could make you crazy.”……That same day, Father Ed, who had been running racks of dishes through the machine and damning young and innocent souls to eternal perdition for over a decade, announced he was giving his two-weeks notice. Elmer took it hard; as irritating and crazed as Father Ed had been, he’d always shown up on time and took care of business. We’d all miss him, and so we cajoled him with the promise of free drinks into joining us post-shift at our favorite local tavern. Omari, who had been spending a lot of his off-hours down in his basement crash-hole, pouring over whatever was in that damned book of his, agreed to join us.
From around 11 PM until ‘Last Call’, the ‘Thirsty Whale’ was packed with restaurant-pirates winding down and exchanging horror stories from the evening’s dinner service. In a stroke of luck, we walked in just as another group was leaving for the next watering hole down the street, and snagged their table. We tidied up the table a bit so the barmaid for our section would have an easier job of clearing it for us, and when she finally appeared, with her usual smile and smartass remark, we ordered. I got my usual bottle of beer and double kamakazi (Sweet Barb the Barmaid didn’t bother to ask), Elmer ordered a double Wild Turkey neat and a draft beer, Omari, a top-shelf cognac, and Father Ed said that seeing as how they were free, he’d have a full-bore Long Island Iced Tea. No one was playing on the one-man bandstand by the front window, but I recognized the guitar and amp, and winced. They belonged to the odiously-upbeat and nerve-wracking Johnny “Muffin Man” Jerzyack, the only act in town which I studiously avoided. The low-point of our non-relationship came one night several years before, on my birthday. It had been a hideously out-of-control dinner service, filled with shouts and curses and agonized, despairing moans of helplessness as one after the other of us behind the line fell deeper and deeper into the weeds. The snowball had been edged over the slope, and there was no way to slow it’s ferocious momentum. The kind of shift that demands an immediate infusion of alcohol; by the time we had cleaned up what looked like a battle-zone in the kitchen, and made my way to the Thirsty Whale, I was deep into a funk of put-upon self pity – it was my birthday, and I was a physical and emotional wreck! I stopped dead in my tracks in front of the bar. The Muffin Man was just finishing up a set!….I had a deep need to be nowhere but on a barstool in the ‘Whale with a stiff drink in my hand, so I walked in, thinking to find a spot at the far end of the bar. Instead, a guy at the bar got up to leave and I immediately grabbed his barstool…directly in front of the little bandstand! There was nowhere else to sit, and I needed desperately to sit. Perhaps I could pound down a few Kamikazis to steady my nerves before Jerzyack returned from his break, when I’d have to decide whether to stay or leave. I drank. He returned. I was too exhausted to move. I thought about what a miserable fucking birthday it had been. The doofus got back on stage and strapped on his guitar, not ten feet from where I was sitting, and with a shit-eaten grin on his pink and clean-shaven face, and gleefully announced: “It’s a very special night, folks…there’s someone here, near and dear to my heart, who is having a special birthday.” (wha?! what-the-fuck?!) “I want to dedicate this song to him.” (??!!)…and he began to sing” “Happy Birthday to ….ME, Happy Birthday to ME!”…..It sent me over the edge, and I stumbled out of the bar in a blind rush, howling like a madman.
We’d been there about an hour when Omari suddenly jumped up and shouted, “Vanessa!”….he’d spotted someone at the far end of the bar, and immediately began winding his way through the crowd to greet her. A few minutes later he appeared at our table, accompanied by gorgeous woman with long legs, sparkling green eyes, thick, flowing red hair and intricate, beautiful tattoos on her bare arms….”It’s her!” Elmer gasped, “Our new waitress!”