I made no effort to schmooze as I deposited the mains in front of my eager guests. As I placed Fisher's snapper before him, he immediately took note of the faded appearance of the brussel sprouts. "A little gray around the edges, wouldn't you say?" he asked with a disgusted grimace.
I made no effort to argue. Instead, I recited the list of alternatives, then dispatched Billy into the kitchen to get the side order of spinach he requested. And he was right, the sprouts had seen better days.
Squeaky studied her spring salad intently, like a child who had just opened her Christmas gifts, hoping to find enough soft fodder to satiate her appetite.
I did not even bother to visit table eight, and was thereby able to avoid yet another Yiddish punchline. Without asking if he should, Daits did the serving honors. We had worked together long enough to know when the other was dragging. When he showed up for meals so wasted that he spent the first fifteen minutes floating aimlessly in a fugue state, I bussed his openers and soup bowls, without complaint. At this meal, the prospect of a penalty tea duty, the mishap with the pea soup, and the encounter with Leon had combined to sap my energy. I was lucky to have Daits as a back up.
Anyway, I think he enjoyed playing the waiter role, pulling the top hat off the dish right in front of the patient to heighten the triumph of the pirogen, the tragedy of kasa varnishkas, or whatever.
With both tables served, I had a few moments to relax before dessert. I stood by my server and absorbed the dining room. The din of many conversations blended into a low pitched rumble. This white noise had an hypnotic ebb an flow, punctated periodically by a surge of laughter or a startled exclammation ("Guttenyu! "). The air in the room, barely stirred by a sparse complement of ceiling fans, was mildly uncomfortable. The blue patterned curtains diffused the rays of sunlight streaming in through the western exposure, tinting the curls of smoke that rose from the lips of the first few to light up after lunch. It was, all in all, as peaceful as communal dining can be.
A waving hand summoned my attention. It belonged to Myron Roberts.
I walked over to Harris and Danny's station, where he was sitting. Myron was Gloria Robert's husband. Gloria, in turn, was a guest office secretary, enjoying her first year of employment at the Boib. She was both competent and well-organized, and contributed and aura of professionalism to the historically chaotic.
She wore her hair pulled straight back, in a modified facelift. The style was so severe that she was the butt of speculative jokes about the nature of the torture device used to design her coiffure. Aside from this cosmetic nuance, she was quite attractive, with a flourish of lashes batting about emerald green eyes, and a girlish figure that defied her age.
One day, while my thongs were misplaced and I was tip-toeing my way across a gravel road towards the waiter's shower, holding a poorly wrapped towel about my waist with one hand and a soap dish with the other, Gloria happened acorss my path.
"Hello Michael," she said, matter-of-factly, oblivious to my pedal discomfort.
"Where are you going?"
(I said she was a secretary, not a Nobel Prize winner.)
"To the showers," I answered, "they're down behind the White House."
"Are they any good?" she asked, out of nowhere.
By this point I had stopped my gravel dance. I planted my tender feet in a bare spot of asphalt, from which to converse.
"Well," I said, "not really. There's usually not enough hot water."
"You know, Michael, I'm in cabin 14, right down the road. You can use my shower any time you want."
I was nonplussed. Gloria was married. She was twenty years older than I- at least. She probably listened to Frankie Valle. And yet, here was, in the flesh, inviting me to use her shower. Of course, this may have been nothing more than a generous, innocent invitation; but I was incapable of thinking that way at the time.
I had visions of the naive Ben (Dustin Hoffman), seduced and ultimately victimized by Mrs. Robinson. Still, I was profoundly tempted to accept her offer. Yet, I declined. Better in this case to live with my fantasies. Also, I entertained the feat that she my strap me into her hair-pulling machine, leaving me looking like a Jewish samuri. I thanked her and made my way to the safe, yet slimy, shower room.
Myron, her husband, was not nearly as robust and extroverted as his wife. The grapevine report had him recovering from a nervous breakdown, as well as unemployed. This latter status explained his frequent midweek visits to Boiberik. He was an ectomorph, and a nervous man, clearly someone who had yet to come to grips with the hand he was dealt. Moreover, his free floating anxiety was contagious, and it took a fair degree of self awareness to remain calm in his presence.
I strolled over to Station Four, where Myron was beckoning.
"Mike, Mike," he called out as I approached his table. "I wanted to ask you a question about last night."
"Oh," I replied. "Did you see the game?" (Boiberik offered no real entertainment to speak of after nine-thirty at night, save a piping hot glass of tea with lemon. For this reason, younger guests occasionally watched our staff basketball games.)
"Yes, yes, I saw the whole thing. I was just telling Gloria about how you got stuck with that foul call on the last play of the game."
I had mixed feelings about beating this dead horse. On the one hand, I felt vindicated, since an impartial observer shared my point of view. Conversely, because of the bad blood generated by controversies like this, I thought it best to forget the whole thing.
"Well Myron, what can you do? You win some, you lose some," I said insincerely but, I believe, convincingly. I felt like a mindless buffoon who spews out cliches to cover a lack of meaningful thought, but genuinely hoped to dismiss the topic without hurting Myron's feelings. Also, I knew that that table's waiter, Danny Pion would pass by any minute. And I thought it prudent to maintain the tenuous status quo between us. After all, we had to work in the same dining room for the next five weeks.
Myron was impressed by my magnanimity.
"Did you hear that Gloria? This fellow is slammed from behind in a basketball game, they called a foul on him, his team lost, and he brushes the whole thing off as if it were trivial. Boy Mike," he said, turning towards me, "You sure have a mature attitude."
Gloria offered a coquettish smile.
I saw Pion push through the kitchen doors, bringing out a tray of blueberry tarts. Telling the Robert's to enjoy their dessert, I left the table as Myron continued to sing my praise to anyone who would listen.
Tables six and eight were still shoveling down their lunch, savoring, or struggling, through each bite. I passed behind Phyllis Keningsberg as she grabbed the coffee pot from the Station Three server. She inspired my playful side, even during a disaster of a meal, like this one. I fell into step behind her, whispering in her ear as we walked.
"Here we are in the sloping foothills of the Adirondacks, at the famous Boiberik Resort Hotel International, following one courageous and indefatigable young busgirl as she endeavors to meet the endless gustatory needs of her customers ," I proclaimed softly in my best broadcast journalism voice, a cross between David Brinkley and Eddie Cantor.
Phyllis issued a delightful raspy giggle. "Mike, stop it, I can't pour coffee when you're buzzing in my ear like that."
The guests chose to remain oblivous to the peculiar sight of waiter chasing a busgirl around, his head poised by her neck, apparently seeking to plant a kiss, or to puncture a jugular.
"Reaching, grabbing, holding, pouring, returning. The inexorable rhythm of countless cups of steaming java provided over and over, three meal a day, seven days a week, eight weeks a summer." I droned on, hypotizing myself with the grating staccato rhythm of an investigative reporter, bombarding listeners with an overdramatized description of a mundane event.
Phyllis circled table eleven, and a pale woman with a lopsided wig asked, "Darling, where are my diabetic cookies?"
"I'll get them right away, Mrs. Horowitz."
"Diabetic, hemiparetic, osteoporotic, schizophrenic, hypoallergenic;" I couldn't stop. "She darts about, gracious and endearing, devoted and dedicated to the aged and infrim who seek the beacon of her shana punim."
Phyllis, reached back with her free hand to push me away.
I pressed ahead, possessed by the muse of logorrhea, no doubt, by this point, entertaining myself more than Phyllis.
"And just who is this miracle worker? This saint who places a request for unsalted butter above personal gain? Tis shining angel of gustatory delight, sent to earth by the good lord on the Succoss eve? This savior of the famished, who fell from the sky, landing on a bed of gebrotena kelburna brust? This holy vision of culinary pleasure, who mesmerizes her customers with ethereal beauty, even as she applies buttermilk to their parched lips. "
Phyllis returned the coffee pot to the burner and spun around. She reached up to grab me by the collar.
"Bocci," she screeched, her eyes watering. "I love you. But you've got to shut up now, or I'll kill you."
"All right, all right," I said. "I'm out of words, anyway."
"Hey Bocci," Daits called me from the foot of our server where he was manipulating the plug of our coffee burners, "Dessert."
Chapter XII: Three's
Station Two Home Page
Camp Boiberik Home Page