“Lobito!” The Line hollers at me when I walk into the kitchen. Translated, my nickname means little baby wolf; it has something to do with my facial hair, something to do with my prominent canines, something to do with my projected manhood.
With much pointing and some choice Spanish, I explain to them the ridiculous special order at twenty-five: Linguini Gamberoni, no linguini, sub rigatoni. No sun-dried tomatoes, sub roasted veggies. No queso. No grilled shrimp, sub sautéed shrimp al olio. Rapido cunado.
They shake their heads at me for this, but I can do nothing, no way to explain, the space between us glacial, absurd as the whole Michoacan, a rift borne of the fact of their labor for hourly minimums and the fact I can collect in one six-hour service what most of them will after four twelve-hour days. They can’t be sure of this, but after each Saturday service, when the house lights come up and they sit out of their smocks at a corner table, most wearing colorful, second-hand athletic jackets of teams across America, they wait for Octavio to pay them and watch him tip-out us servers first, and they are no fools to the cash that passes between us. Cash exudes a mood, the more of it the thicker.
Later on I stand at the shelf when the order is plated and the Line slides it at me with a contemptuous, over-and-done-with flick of the wrist. I run it myself, drop it below the customer. He gapes down at it and then looks up, scowling as if I just kicked his wife in the face.
I ask, “Does everything seem to be prepared to your liking?”
“This is far, far too much food,” he explains.
I tell him all our portions are large, and he tells me he doesn’t care.
“Take it away from me and bring back a third as much. I’m not paying for quantity,” he says.
In the station I try to do it myself—I don’t want the Line to hate me again—but I can’t get the shrimp to stay put, and with an ordinary dinner fork, can’t plate the linguini with the right whirl, and after thirty seconds on the new plate it’s cold.
I push the doors open and they see me with it, the wreck, jogging back to them.
“Lobito!?!” they cry, betrayed.
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.