“May I please have an order of sausage patties, an order of bacon and some burnt coffee?” He says turning over the cup on his table. “Pork and coffee can start wars. HAVE started wars! But, you wouldn’t know that now, would you, my dear?”
“You told me this the last couple of times.” She sighs focusing on her pad and pen, then anxiously scans the dining area. “I haven’t forgotten.” Despite her apparent distraction, he really likes today’s unlucky waitress. She’s new to Lopresti’s and young-ish compared to the rest of the mostly ancient staff- a few well placed lovelies in the mix.
“I have? Well… I guess I get distracted by your pretty face.” He’s not looking at her face. He’s only looked in her eyes once.
“I’ll have that right out for you.”
“The pork or the war?” He quips at her backside as it disappears across the dining room, into the kitchen. And, what a backside it is. He wouldn’t know what to do with it if he had it, admittedly, but he loves to look. He watches her speaking with someone through the meal pick-up window. One of the cooks, a heavily bearded black man, appears in the rectangular slot, his luminous grin and eyes hover over a plate of steaming pancakes. His eyes and teeth pop, set in the hairy pitch of his face. He and the Bishop lock eyes for a moment before he disappears out of frame. The waitress, still visible at the opposite end of the slot, rolls her eyes and starts laughing. Her teeth sparkle, too, in the dull light of the kitchen.
Every day, the diner wait-staff play ‘NOT IT’ to figure out who has to serve him, breakfast or lunch. You may or may not wonder why such an ostensibly friendly, old man- an elder in the church- should be so vehemently avoided? The reasons can be boiled down to three. 1) He consistently smells of booze, moth balls, talc and bile. 2) He gets a little touchy feely, his eccentricities tending toward the blue and purple end of the spectrum. 3) He’s a lousy tipper. Regarding the latter, he often leaves some hokey adage or biblical misquote on a napkin with a couple of quarters. There’s conjecture as to the level of his literacy. One lamentable Viagra fueled afternoon, last year, there was heated controversy after he patted a Latino bus-boy’s butt in passing. It was, in truth, a little more than a pat. And Sebastián was in his late twenties, no longer a boy. Two younger waitresses and one waiter, a bitter old queen, commiserated and asked the owner of Lopresti’s, Bobby DiOrio, to banish him permanently from the establishment; but Bobby’s family has always been tight with Our Lady of Endless Contrition’s administration, of which Bishop Perkins is the eldest living pillar. And what a pillar he is. The blue hair old ladies love him. The old men are tolerant. The kids fear him like the good old priests of yesteryear. And, while Bobby didn’t appreciate this particular advance on his busser, the grievance was dismissed largely due to the fact that busser himself had filed no complaint. The others- those offended on his behalf- argued that it was because he didn’t speak English very well. When that didn’t work, they presented some half-baked argument using his protected class status as a central point. Bobbie found himself in a hard spot. So, he defended Bishop Perkin’s case based on the man’s age, his obvious signs of dementia and his standing in the community. He kept his desire to not make waves at Our Lady, and by proxy his mother, to himself. Hell, he grew up around the guy.
“I’ll speak to him. Just leave it to me. We won’t have any more of this.” Said Bobbie to the three offended people that witnessed the Bishop goosing Sebastián.
When Bobby approached Sebastián in the supply room about the incident- with translation help from fry cook Martín- the young man acted like he didn’t know what Bobbie was talking about. The two Mexican lads exchanged a few words, but mostly sliced their eyes back and forth from Bobbie to each other.
Martín shrugged. “I don’t think he understands what you want?” Bobbie made two more attempts to ask questions before Sebastián politely smiled, waving his hand as if shooing a fly, picked up a new bus-tub and scurried out to the dining room. “He says everything’s OK.”
“He said more to you than he doesn’t understand and everything’s OK. What else did he say?”
“He said, isn’t that how priests are supposed to act? What’s new?”
These reasons are also why the wait staff take some, shall we say, extra liberties in the construction of his meals.
Despite the unseasonably cool weather, Bland’s gluey skin beads and drools as he rises and removes his cashmere cardigan and matching flat cap. He gently hangs them from the hook on his high back seat rest, looks around and sits again. This is his spot- the same spot every day. It’s a bit boring but it’s… familiar. Comfortable would be the wrong word- comfort is a feeling he wishes he was more familiar with. God never meant for him to be at ease, apparently.
Today, as he waits for his breakfast, he ruminates on this: the average person spends 43 days on hold, five years waiting in lines, 92 days on the toilet and six months stopped at traffic lights during their lifetime. He hasn’t found statistics on how long an individual spends waiting to be nourished. That is, how many hours a body sits around waiting for the sustenance necessary for that selfsame body to continue waiting for things to happen. He repeats factoids and prognostications under his breath like mantras until whatshername brings the water and coffee. Automatically, and in increasingly loud, mechanical voice, the monologue that’s been unspooling in his head starts coming out of his mouth, gathering momentum like one of those crank operated record players. This trivia, with minor variation, bounces off the waitress as he blank-stares into her cleavage. For as much as he stares in the vicinity of her name tag every time he sees her, he can only remember her peach-like bosoms and his names for them: Terpsichore and Calliope. Names he’d heard long ago and never forgotten. Names far more complex than the waitress’ own name of ‘Penny.’
Penny’s her name. Penny penny penny penny. Currency. This is how he tries to remember, but whenever he summons his recall, only Calliope and Terpsichore appear.
“Penny, Penny, Penny… dear girl… we waste a lot of time, don’t we?” He says feeling her trying to break away from him too quickly. She can’t look into his eyes without feeling mortal embarrassment for him. It’s so painful to her, in fact, that she just avoids eye contact. When he isn’t fixated on her name tag, his eyes flit around the diner. If they land on hers, almost by mistake, they quickly dart the other direction. He’s avoiding eye contact too. She frowns deeply, creasing an otherwise smooth forehead. The mid-morning crowd’s filing out and the early lunch crowd’s filing in. Young professionals in clusters followed by more old men in sweaters, liver spots and golf shirts fresh off the course. Golden raisins, he thinks. He loves raisins… but not these kind. The quartet of plaidsters sits at the counter. They always sit there. He always sits here. They wave politely but never mingle. He’d rather endure his constant, debilitating loneliness than withstand the habitual salad days rehash, sports stats and obituary recaps. He doesn’t really like hanging out with ‘old farts’ even though he’s older than all of them. And, he detests golf. In truth, he’s both comforted and repulsed by the elderly waitresses and the other bloated, yet withered, men surrounding him. He gets on better with women folk anyway. The one man in the plaidster group he seems to genuinely like is Wally. Wally’s always here, irritably eating soup and toast. He doesn’t put on airs like others. Before Bland realizes it, his mouth has been running on about currency as it relates to time. Penny shuffles her feet, turning away, eager to seat folks and take orders because time’s wasting and lunch, for most of them, is a scant half an hour. “But…” with a gentle firmness, he grabs her arm, holding her in place. “… remember to keep on smiling… it doesn’t cost anything… it shows off whatever’s in your mouth…” he quivers, jowls atremble. “… warms up a cold face. Let’s see that warm face, Oh, turn on that warm face, sunshine.” She fakes a smile that looks like gas pain. “When you turn on a warm face the world turns on with you, you know.”
“I don’t know if I wanna deal with all of that.” She’s just being honest. “I’m happy being left alone.” Hint, hint.
The Bishop continues undeterred, his stale breath violating the air space. “Oh now. Such an inviting lass as yourself should never be alone. Besides… it’s your job to smile at the customers. Pretty smile. A real one this time. Come on. Just one. Smiling releases happy hormones…” he sniffs, his nostrils flare exposing little grey tuft explosions. She closes her eyes. “… and folks smell those pheromones changing on the breezes. When you’re reeeeeeeally open, you let the world know something. Something pure. Something goooood.” Her eyes narrow to slits. “… and the more learned among us smell those pheromones on the breeze…”
“I’m sorry, sir.” She interrupts.
“Huh?” She tugs her arm but he’s got a lock on her.
“Sir, let go of me!” She shouts, then looks around. Quickly regaining composure, she brushes a lock of hair out of her face, smooths her apron. “I’m sorry. I have to go set that table up for them.” She indicates another group of suited men standing at the entrance, waiting to be seated. “Your food will be right out.” She rushes to the front grabbing menus from the pocket near the register. One of the businessmen says something to her and she laughs a real laugh, those beautiful teeth and sparkling eyes. Of course she laughs for those jackals, he thinks.
Just then, his attention is swiped by a college-aged boy trailing behind the corporate types. He’s a hairy one, beefy, in basketball shorts and tank top. With his gaze never wavering from the lad’s loins, Bishop Perkins slowly lifts his cup and sips the coffee that has grown too cool. And, it doesn’t taste burnt! Did they actually give him fresh coffee? Fresh coffee just never has the impact that burner roasted brew does. He sips it again. There’s a slightly salty, musky aftertaste. He keeps the cup at his lips, drawing in more of the fluid, trying to figure out what, exactly, is going on with this coffee.