From my apartment it’s four Chicago blocks to Luna, the Italian restaurant where I work. I store my uniform there beside a chest freezer in the basement, where it hangs from some exposed piping that drips on me while I change. A pair of beat, black sneakers, black pants and a black shirt.
Everybody else stores their things in either one of the two single-occupancy bathrooms, locked in a shallow utility closet loaded with jugs of bleach and toilet paper. Space is of high value at Luna. The bar bisects the front and back dining rooms, each holding about fifty people and always at capacity on the weekends. We’re popular and in Lincoln Park, a neighborhood filled with thirty-year-olds who’ve done things much differently than me, and Octavio, the owner, packs them in, as many as he can, every which way save stacking them on top of each other. Once, there had been a sort of server room where we could change and store our things, but Octavio paid some illegals to tear the drywall out and now two extra four-tops fill a tiny alcove he identifies to customers as the grotto.
I haven’t changed in the bathrooms in a long time. No longer can I bear climbing into my pants and hearing the strain of the locked doorknob as a customer tries unsuccessfully to enter. It makes me hyper-aware of myself—a grown man in stocking feet, dressing on the cold, checkered tile of a bathroom not his own, beside a toilet that has embraced countless asses. I’m twenty-nine, and with the exception of hotels and locker rooms, it seems there’s a point at which a serious man no longer changes clothes outside his own home. But then again I sort of believe in the saying, Don’t bring your work home, so I keep everything at Luna, only in the basement. The drops that drip sometimes burn my skin, but rarely.
Dressed and behind the bar, I’m wiping detergent residue from wine glasses when a fish man named Geno in a black leather jacket three sizes too big drops off a sleeve of halibut. While he waits for Octavio to get his checkbook, he asks for a Coke and likes my face.
“I remember waitin’ tables,” he says. “Wait a couple tables, snort a couple lines, make a couple hundred, screw a couple women.” Like a grocery list he recites.
He keeps talking. Parking meters. Glovebox mouthwash. White Nylons. Cats. Subjects as random as God’s love. He’s hungry for everything. Minutes later, he reaches across the bar and presses his cell phone to my ear so I can speak to his wife about the Catholic high school I graduated from twelve years ago. She wants to know how it shaped me, they’re thinking of sending their boy. Geno wants him there but the wife isn’t so sure. Her voice is loud enough that Geno hears it, and when she asks me if I go to mass on Sundays, Geno whispers, “Jussayyes, jussayyes!”
I tell her I never miss it.
Geno is pleased. He takes his phone back, presses it against his clamshell ear. “Yeah, he’s twenty,” he says. He lifts his free hand at me and makes a wobbly gesture, as though to say moreorless, sure, whatever. He blows me a kiss.
John Kersey lives in Chicago with his wife and their daughter. He teaches creative writing at Elgin Community College. More work of his can be found in the Fall 2012 issue of Fifth Wednesday Journal.