Hoboken, NJ, Summer 2005 —
When he hired me I learned I could walk around with a tray. I could learn
to live with inebriating kitchen heat, swigs of tequila to pass the eight dollar hours
and ten dollar hours, whites left in plastic bags on backs of hooks at ends
of shifts, black flies, lunch rush, dinner rush, the slip out back for a cigarette, a joint,
the wait for the produce man, the beer man, everything arriving in white trucks.
I could learn to ask “qué pasa?” to dishwashers with missing teeth and missing limbs,
take rides with delivery boys to Jersey City,
brown paper bags of roast chicken and wasabi mashed in the backseat,
The other girls: older, two kids, slipping twenties from the register into back pockets,
steaks in backpacks in self-righteous desperation, or younger than me and skinnier, not eating
the gnocchi, the fried squid, the sandwiches, crying open-mouthed in the bathroom
when their boyfriends dumped them over text message or
the boss told them, “stop fucking up my restaurant,” which he told us a lot, his anger
rendering us immobile with floors still to sweep, bottles of Diet Coke
to move from cardboard box to refrigerator, customers waiting
for chinois chicken salad, lattes, beer batter crab cakes, butternut squash soup.
I torched the crème brule and my left knuckles,
scooped gelato into round balls in round bowls.
The cooks let me stay late for Heineken and cashews, I watched them
play with knives in calloused hands, holler hard from their throats,
Spanish pop staticky and loud. But it was the boss who I wanted to like me,
strong arms, terrifying in his brutality,
capable of anything, legs propped up in the office, hurling angry words
into the mouth of his telephone,
or in the kitchen shouting his demands, clanking pans and browning butter,
captain of the deranged ship, delinquent with a crew of the delinquent.
When it was slow he’d tell me to punch out and bring me to the green park
across the street for a fatty and the view of Manhattan. We’d
walk along the Hudson, summer riding our backs, or lie in the grass
on our bellies and watch frisbee games,
jagged sun, and he’d tell me he felt no guilt
about emptying the safe and leaving for Mexico.
I was seventeen and high and when he touched my arm
it seemed the most magnificent thing, to be wanted by
a man of want so volatile and fanatical and wretched, so
bloodthirsty it threatened to consume us,
the restaurant’s orange awning across the street, city
across the river. We lay in its
belly, together, waiting.