The Big One

Louis comes running up to me. He doesn’t look good.

“I think I’m having a heart attack,” he gasps, clutching his chest.

Its five-thirty on Wednesday afternoon. We have no reservations. Three waiters are scheduled to work the floor. The odds are Louis won’t make a lot of money tonight. Most servers, if they’ve been in the business long enough, accept they’re going to have their share of bad nights. It’s an old waiter axiom you have to be here on the bad days to be here for the good days. But not Louis. When he thinks the Bistro’s going to have a bad night he always tries scamming out early, usually by employing some kind of somatic complaint. Sometimes it’s low blood sugar. Other times it’s high blood pressure. Tonight it’s a myocardial infarction. I hate to sound cynical but……….

“Oh my God!” I yelp factiously. “A heart attack? Sit down Louis.”

“I don’t know whats happening,” Louis pants with labored breath. “All of a sudden…”

I go through the pantomime of putting Louis in a chair and feeling for his pulse. It’s strong and steady. He’s not cold and clammy either. True, I’m not a doctor. But Louis isn’t much of an actor either.

“I’m going to call my boyfriend,” Louis wheezes. “He’ll pick me up…”

I cut Louis off and buzz Fluvio in his office.

“What?” Fluvio barks.

“Get up here,” I say. “Louis is having a heart attack.”

“Now wait…” Louis says.

“I’m gonna call 911,” I say, starting to punch the digits.

“Wait!” Louis says, clutching his chest.

I pause before pushing the final button.

“Are you sure you’re having a heart attack?” I ask.

Suddenly Fluvio appears from nowhere. He ran up from his office in the twinkling of an eye.

“What’s the matter?” Fluvio says. “You having a heart attack?”

Louis looks at me. He knows I’ve got him.

“I think I’m feeling better,” he says.

Fluvio and I exchange “He’s full of shit looks.”

“Well Louis,” I say, “I don’t want a subpar waiter on the floor. Go home.”

“But I’m….”

“Call your boyfriend and have him pick you up,” I say, patting him on the shoulder. “It’s OK.”

“I think Ill just walk back to my place,” Louis mutters.

“OK Louis,” I reply. “Whatever you feel’s best.

Fluvio and I watch Louis leave.

“So, “Fluvio says. “I guess he really didn’t want to work tonight.”

“I guess not.”

“But a heart attack?” Fluvio says. “Even for Louis that’s a bit much.”

Sometimes Louis’ leaving early works for me. Occasionally he misreads the night and the other waiters and I make extra money. Sometimes we don’t. But no one employs the I’m sick routine more than Louis. I wonder if he was the school nurse’s mascot grades K-12.

“Fluvio,” I say. “Did you ever hear of a comedian named Redd Foxx?”

“Who?” Fluvio asks. I’m not surprised. When Sanford and Son was on the air he was a teenager in Italy.

“When Redd Foxx’s TV character wanted sympathy,” I explain, “He’d grab his chest like he was having a heart attack and shout, ‘This is big one! I’m coming to join you Elizabeth! I’m coming honey!’”

“So?” Fluvio asks.

“Red Foxx had a real heart attack on the set one day,” I say. “Everyone thought it was an act. It wasn’t”

“So what happened?”

“Redd Foxx,” I say, pausing dramatically, “Had The Big One.”

“He died?”

“He died.”

Fluvio’s quiet for a moment. Then he says, “Louis better stop crying wolf. One day it may be for real.”

“My point exactly.”

Saroya and I work the night without Louis. It’s busy and we clean up. As I rake in the cash I feel a small twinge of sorrow. I’m glad Louis didn’t have a heart attack.

But I really miss Redd Foxx.


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