By Michael Golub (EE72)

Chapter XIII: Squeaky

Another meal finished. All that remained was to wait for my guests to leave, collect their silverware, have it washed, then dry it and return it to the server. Some waiters, Brad especially, liked to set his tables for the next meal before leaving. With my sleeping habits, it may have behooved me to follow his example. But I preferred not to overlap one meal's chores with those of the next. Also, I was in a hurry to change and to get onto the court before the first (basketball) game was in progress.

The guests began to filter out. My station, the last to be fed, was the last to leave. Mina and Ben stopped by the server to say goodbye.

"You know," Mina said, after planting an unexpected and undeserved moist kiss on my cheek, "Ben and I are just joking with you. We do that with all the waiters. You're wonderful boys."

Ben extended a friendly hand in which two singles were palmed. I shook it, accepting the tip. He reached behind my head and gave me a paternal squeeze. A more touching farewell could not have been staged for a Bar Mitzvah. As they strolled towards the doorway, arm-in-arm, I shouted, "Break a leg," after them. Then I took an all-purpose rag from my back pocket and wiped the lipstick from my face.

I dashed over to table eight and began pulling silverware, my hands roving over the surface like magnets, dropping down to pluck a steel utensil from among the crumbs and bones (no fillet is perfect) and blueberry preserves and dirty plates and crumpled menus.

After tossing two unwieldy heaps into my silverware bin with a resounding crash, I repeated the task at table six . Squeaky lingered in her seat.

"Are you all right Mrs. Schwartz?" I asked.

"What?!" she said, startled. I must have interrupted an absorbing reverie.

"Oh yes, yes," she answered, with a wistful sigh. "I'm fine."

I didn't believe her, but I didn't want to probe. Even if I did want to probe, I was not sure of how to begin.

I left Squeaky with her thoughts, put the silverware bin on my tray, and took the tray to the dishwashing area of the kitchen.

Medulla Oblongota was busy loading the machine.

(Fred had coined his nickname. Medulla was a short, thin, black man with a shaved head and lively, protruding eyes that made him look like a nervous system. Even more than Leon, he played the role of the intellectual, always reading, and speaking with authority and expertise on a wide range of subjects. Like Leon, his bimmie status seemed like a cruel and unusual twist of fate.)

He accepted my tray and pushed it onto the conveyor belt of the delapidated and unpredictable washing contraption.

"Hey pal," he crooned in his relaxed, mellow way, "about that book you lent me-"

"You read it already?" I said, shocked and impressed that he had completed it. I had lent it to him that morning. The book was Freud's The Sexual Enlightenment of Children. Lending it to him was Fred's idea. Fred considered the man a genius, and wanted my opinion.

"Hell man," he answered with a shrug, "not much to do around here between meals."

"Yeah," I said, altough it was difficult for me to imagine a bimmie's life. For me, Boiberik was a highlight of the year. For them?

"Well," I continued, trying not to let the matter depress me (if the loneliness and isolation bothered Medulla, he chose not to show it) "what did you think of the book?"

"Some heady insights; keen obervations; Freud was a clever dude," he said, nodding appreciatively as he reached behind himself to pull the book from his back pocket. It was damp from the dank air the dishwasher's corner.

"But you know, man," he continued, "I think he may have overgeneralized based on his own cultural milieu."

Such criticism of Freud was standard. I wondered if Medulla perceived this shortcoming independently, or if he had read it elsewhere.

"Also, I think he failed to follow through in analyzing the longterm consequences of having to force the truth out of your ole man or ole' lady, ya understand what I'm sayin'?"

I didn't, but I was in a rush.

"Well, not exactly," I said, equivocating.

"Well, what I mean is-"

The dishwasher screeched, banged, groaned, and sputtered to a grinding halt.

Medulla raced around to its side, lifted a panel, threw a towel about his hand and reached into its steaming bowels to readjust my bin, flipped the panel down, and turned some knobs. The jalopy came back to life.

"Hey man, too noisy in here," he said, as he returned to the front of the dishwasher. "Maybe we can talk about the book this afternoon?"

"Uh no, I can't," I said, "I'm playing basketball."

"Cool, cool," he said, as Danny Pion stepped in front of me to hand Medulla his bin.

Medulla set the bin on a plastic rack and eased the rack onto the sliding hooks of the tempermental conveyor.

"Sorry," I added.

"Shit, pal, don't be," he said. "Sport is sport. What's good for the body is good for the mind."

"Uh huh," I responded, wondering who in Medulla's past had reinforced his philosophical bent.

"How about tonight then, after dinner."

"Tonight?" I echoed. I remembered the penalty imposed before lunch. "Can't. I have tea duty tonight."

"Tea duty? What's that?"

Maybe there was one advantage to being a bimmie.

My silverware emerged from the machine's other end, steaming and sparkling I didn't want to take the time to explain how tea duty worked, so I described it as succintly as possible, "It's hell."

He smiled supportively. "I'll catch you later then," he said, and turned towards the hissing and clattering mouth of the machine.

As I returned to my server and prepared to dry and sort the utensils, I noticed that Squeaky was still sitting by herself at the empty table. Even the tablecloth had been removed to reveal the unsightly stains and chips on wooden surface.

I sat alongside her.

"Mrs. Schwartz," I said gently, tentatively. "What's wrong?"

"Oh," she began. Then she deflated with a prolonged exhalation that would not have intimidated the smallest of candles. Again, she fell silent.

"Was is it? Is it your teeth? Are you having trouble chewing?" I really didn't know how to approach her problem, whatever it was.

"Yes, yes," she began slowly. "It's the teeth, and the eyes, and the joints, and the heart." She lifted her glance from the tabletop to me.

"You know what my husband used to say?" she asked.

I didn't know that she was a widow. If I had thought about it though, this would have been a reasonable assumption.

"What did he say?" I responded.

"He said, 'Bea, you have one choice: either you get older, or you die. And you don't want to die.' What do you think of that?" she asked.

What did I think of it? I looked at her, the fine white hair tucked under the flowered schmata , the pale, sagging skin of her face with a touch of blush applied to both cheeks to add a little color, those punky shades, the knarled fingers.

And I looked about the room. Danny and Harris were enjoying their eggs florentine. Kenny was humming the song, Tradition, as he dried his silverware. Daits flicked ashes about as he haphazardly swept our station. A brilliant afternoon sun threw warm rays obliquely across the vacant tables and chairs. The tranquility of the setting was pierced, now and again, by excited shrieks of the yingste girls cavorting on a nearby playing field.

This was, I concluded, a good place for Squeaky to be; and a good place for me to be.

"I think," I said, as I reached over and gave her bony shoulder a squeeze, "that your husband was right."

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