My Dad came up from Pennsylvania to see a basketball game. He has season tickets. I go with him. After the game we stop at a diner alongside a busy highway for a bite to eat. My father orders chicken soup and a triple-decker sandwich. I have my diner usual matzo ball soup and a blue cheese burger with bacon. Now you know why I take Lipitor.
“So hows the job search going?” my father asks.
“It’s a slow time of year,” I say. “A few places are interested in me though.”
“I think after Valentine’s Day.”
“That’s OK,” I say. “Gives me more time for the book.”
“How’s that going?”
“I’d say I’m a little less than half way done.”
“I’m not sweating it,: I say. “I’ve been writing better stuff since I left the restaurant. The perspective I’m getting from not being there helps immensely.”
“I’ll bet,” my father replies.
“The bullshit at The Bistro was crowding me. Every time I’d sit down to write there’d be some problem at work. Fluvio was always upset, always calling me.”
“It was a busy place.”
I look through the diner’s plate glass window. Outside the sky’s completed its journey into night. In the distance the city’s spires glisten like unobtainable jewels. Cars scrabble along the highway like greedy red and white beetles.
“You know what angers me the most?” I say.
“Fluvio never said congratulations.”
“About the book deal?”
“Not once. When I told him his reaction was ‘Really?’”
My father’s silent. He lets me keep talking.
“He once told me Id never get a book deal,” I say, bitterness leeching into my voice. “That I was wasting my time. That no one cared about my stupid website.”
“He was wrong,” my father says.
He once told my ex that I’d never leave. That’d I’d end up working for him forever.”
My father shakes his head.
“My shrink told me Fluvio was saying those things to soothe himself, ” I continue. “That he said those things because he needed me to work for him.”
“It backfired,” my Dad says.
“Not entirely” I reply. “Now he’s getting along without me. In the end no one’s irreplaceable.”
“Well,” my father says. “Its good you’re out of there.”
“Fluvio has no respect for anyone,” I say, my words floating inside an angry fog. “He’s only nice to people if they can do or get something for him.”
“In the end that’ll bite him on the ass.”
Our waitress comes over. She’s counting through a wad of singles. She looks very tired.
“Can I get you guys anything else?” she asks.
“All that money yours?” my father asks jokingly.
“Yeah,” the waitress says roughly. “All singles.”
“Business slow?” I ask.
The waitress smiles wanly and gestures to the empty dining room.
“Its been like this all day?” I exclaim.
“All day?” the waitress snorts. “Try all week.”
“My son understands,” my father chimes in. “He’s been a waiter.”
“Really,” the waitress says, like she doesn’t believe him. “Where’d he work?
I tell her.
“Oh thats a fancy place,” the waitress says. “They treat you better in those places.”
“Not always,” I say.
“This place?” the waitress says. “God forbid you get sick or something. The minute you have a problem they let you go.”
“They’re only nice to you when they need something,” I say. “Otherwise you’re expendable.”
“Exactly!” the waitress says.
“It’s like that all over,”I say. “Trust me.”
“Yes,” she says. “It is.”
For a moment the girls eyes moisten and she sheds her tough waitress skin. The diner waitress is briefly replaced by a vulnerable young woman. I can tell by her accent shes a stranger in a strange land, working strange hours for strange people.
“My son’s writing a book about being a waiter,” my Dad says. “He’s always telling people I’m writing a book.
“Really?” the girl says to me, her face brightening.
“Yes,” I reply.
“Be sure to tell our side of the story.”
“Now can I get you gentleman anything else?” the girl says, her waitress persona reasserting itself.
“Just the check,” my Dad says. He hands the girl a ten spot. Its a thirty percent tip.
“Thank you sir,” the waitress says softly. “I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” my Dad says.
The waitress walks away. “Thanks for keeping up my waiter karma Dad,” I say.
“Don’t mention it.”
On my drive home I think about my time at The Bistro. Part of me knows Fluvio isn’t the Antichrist. He isn’t a bad person. Come to think of it, I’m not exactly an angel either. The man has his good points. But he was maddeningly frustrating to work for. I’ve come to realize that stress burns the years off your life like a ravenous fire. Working for Fluvio was stressful. Some of the stress was my own damn fault. In any case, I’m glad I’m out of there.
The air outside my car is bitter cold. I turn up the heater. As I drive towards my apartment the spires of the city begin to climb higher. I can make out individual windows in individual buildings. They dont look like unobtainable jewels anymore. Suddenly theyre within reach.