Like my personal lodgings, "The White House," (a designation of mysterious significance, as all of the cabins on the camp grounds were white) the dining hall was built entirely of wood. Unlike the camper's bunks and guest's quarters and waiter's housing, however, it was an impressive structure, large enough to comfortably accomodate six hundred hungry patrons. (Of course, the campers ate earlier than the guests, beause there was only one kitchen to serve both, and also, I suspect, because the camper's ruckus would disrupt the delicate process of geriatric digesiton.) With lacquered floors and panelled walls and a high-arched, slanting wooden roof supported by a visible network of massive beams, the hall surrounded and nurtured its occupants. It was a relic of a simpler age: pre-formica, hand-made, homey and personal, built long before profits became a priority.
It was this genteel enclave that greeted my indignant rage on this sweltering mid-summer's afternoon. I proceeded directly to my Station Two server, flipped open the draw and pulled one of my busboy's Marlboros out from under the tea spoons. Scanning my two active tables as I lit up , I immediately noticed that, while Phyllis was kind enough to set silverware for me, she had done an awfully sloppy job. I postponed my assignment (the "opener") and began straightening forks. Busy hands appeared across the table, depositing juice glasses by each setting.
"If I vere a rich man, ya ha biddy biddy, ya ha deedle biddy biddy bum." It was Kenny Siegel, Roger's younger brother, voluntarily at work completing my assignment, which on this particular day happened to be the dispensing of juice to all place settings. I worked in a very communal dining room.
Kenny was a relief waiter (that is, he covered other waiter's stations on their day's off), as well as court jester and resident sage. No doubt he knew of both my infraction and its consequences, and, sensing the possibility of discord, took it upon himself to diffuse the tension.
"All day long I'd sleep in da Vite House, if I vere a vealthy man--I wouldn't have to serve soup, ya ha biddy biddy, yidle didle deedle deedle dum," he sang, Tevyeloid, as he follwed me from table to table, dancing a hassidic jig as best he could with a rack of juice glasses under his arm. With his free arm half-cocked over his head and his heels kicking inwards, he resembled the carefree figures from the fictional town of Boiberik, captured on Tsip Waletsky's mural that decorated the far wall of the room.
"They gave me tea duty Ken," I moaned as we crossed paths by table eight.
The song continued without missing a beat, "Day and night just basketbul I'd play..." He put the rack down and stepped onto a chair. "Rogue would have to do whate'er I say," he bellowed, as the tune slowed and swelled to a crescendo. A small crowd of peshkies and busboys gathered by the edge of the incomplete divider between the two dining rooms to see who was causing the commotion. "All year long in Boiberik I' would stay, if I vere a vel--thy---man!" Scattered applause from the listeners.
With this he jumped high off the chair and landed on the floor directly facing me. The thud of his landing jarred the utensils on my table back into disarray. I asked, "Did you hear what I said?"
"Tea duty. I heard," he replied. "You know what Bocci? You deserve it." And with this he grabbed his rack and marched off to Station One to finish doing the opener for me. Like his brother, he was a stickler for the rules.
Righteous indignation from both Siegel brothers, I thought, this was my lucky day. I threw my cigarette butt on the floor and stamped it out. Malke, the hostess, would undoubtedly spot this morcel of filth and blame it on my slovenly, chain-smoking busboy, Billy Daitsman. So be it.
My watch read 12:30, the camp lunch was in full tilt, and I decided to join Dr. Heinbach on the bandstand. The bandstand was a small mobile platform situated against the far wall, opposite the porch, and between the entrance and exit doors between the kitchen and the two adjacent dining rooms. On it rested a piano, a podium, and, quite frequently, the head busboy, one Dr. Heinbach, occasionally known by his given name, Fred Richman.
As head busboy, it was his responsiblity to oversee the campside meals. He supervised the peshkies and the guest side busboys, (who also doubled as campside waiters). From the bandstand, he fielded complaints about tardy service, moldy bread, insufficient rations, and food theft. His vantage point was perfect for inspecting the girl counselors, and, therefore, waiters who had finished their pre-(guest) meal duties frequently shared his perch. During this particular lunch, he was alone.
Fred was a philosopher of sorts, a final arbiter of most disputes, the appeals court judge. Adept as he was at seeing the, "Big Picture" (...well, as big a picture as we could reasonably appreciate in those days, post-adolescence and pre-adulthood) his advice was often in demand. I pulled up a chair alongside him and sought his appraisal of my misfortune.
I didn't have to solicit opinions.
"You're an asshole," he said.
"Listen," he began, "You like your job, don't you?"
He prefaced his point with rhetorical questions. It was his style. You provided the expected "yesses" and "no's". It was the price one paid to hear the "Big Picture."
Steve Seidman, a delinquent peshkie, interrupted the preamble. "Fred, we've got a problem."
"No Steve, you've got a problem." Fred said. "I'll give you the solution. Now what's wrong." There was an antipathy here; this I would have sensed even if I were not a psychology major (which I was, during the off-season). Of course, Fred's response, if delivered with a slightly different inflection, might have been interpreted as a joke, a parody of the political hierarchy of the dining room staff. In this case, though, he responded in a terse and businesslike manner.
Steve was a conniving social climber who viewed his position as head peshkie as a vote of confidence from his superiors rather than the luck of the draw that it actually was. (As head peshkie, he served meals to the campers rather than refilling condiment bowls, and busing plates, and gopping tables--the fate of the common Peshkie.)
Steve eyed me suspiciously.
"Go ahead," Fred insisted, "Bocci's not a goddamn spy. Tell me what happened."
"Well," he began hesitantly, "Danny Cohen's bunk wanted more tuna salad. So, like, as I was heading back into the kitchen, I saw that there was a nearly full platter on Jane Buder's table, and, like, I grabbed it and brought it over to Danny. Shit, Jane's kids are yingste girls, I didn't know they like to kill livestock by burying peach pits in their food. So, um, Danny makes himself a sandwich, and, get this, he bites down, and he says he broke one of his teeth."
Fred turned to me and rolled his eyes. I said nothing. Steve's tale of tuna pits had thrown me back to my peshkie year, but I was loathe to share the details of my sordid misdeed with tampered livestock, as I did not want to affiliate myself with Steve.
"Danny's complaining to Rita right now." Steve said. He indicated the nearby staff table with the slightest of eye movements.
I looked over to the head staff table, situated just in front of the bandstand. Danny was, indeed, talking to Rita, who was the head counselor (was I the only camp employee who was not the head of something or other? Perhaps that was my problem). Well-proportioned, in her mid-forties, with shoulder-length black hair and penetrating dark brown eyes, she would have been stunning were it not for her sloping bulbous nose and nicotine stained teeth. Still, even with these prominent imperfections, she was a striking woman; she possessed a dominating presence as well.
It was just beyond the tip of that overly genreous proboscus that Danny was gingerly displaying a fragment of something, tooth maybe. I bit down involuntarily seeking reassurance that all of my choppers were intact.
Fred dismissed Steve, "Forget it, I'll handle it, finish serving dessert."
"Don't go away Bocci," he instructed, as he stepped off the bandstand and proceeded confidently to the area where Danny was registering his complaint, "I'll be back in a minute."
I watched in silent admiration. Rita was fuming. Fred was calm. Rita pointed to the chipped tooth which Danny held up as evidence. Danny offered it to Fred. Fred studied the item visually, but kept his hands in his pockets. Rita lit a cigarette and blew smoke in Fred's face. He stepped back. She stamped for emphasis. He calmly looked down at her foot and, in so doing, manipulated the confrontation to his benefit, reversing the age roles.
The din of three hundred campers and counselors prevented me from hearing the details of the exchange, but I knew Fred well enough to expect him to (1) allow Rita to blow of steam and then (2) to master the counter-offensive by blaming the mishap on the vandalous misconduct of Jane Buder's charges. Ultimately, he would conclude, campers were to blame, and therefore, the matter was not only beyond his control, but clearly not his responsiblity.
My interest strayed towards Marsha, the dance counselor, who sat at Rita's table. An enticing woman with sculptured cheekbones and an inviting, lustful laugh, there was an intoxicating allure about her, even at that moment, as she pursed her lips and deposited a watermelon pit in a monkey bowl. She was, at twenty-five, the most sophisticated and experienced woman in our midsts, (save Rita, who, a generation away and married, was clearly beyond consideration).
Marsha felt my gaze, I'm sure. Our eyes met. She smiled. I tried my best to will my face into a confident smirk; a bona-fide Sean Connery at his most self-assured, perhaps at the moment that Pusey Galore beckoned, in Goldfinger.
"Bocci, what's wrong?" Fred asked as he returned to my side.
"Nothing, just smiling at Marsha," I murmured through slightly parted lips, ventriloquist-like, not wanting Janice to overhear.
"That's a smile!?," he raised a single querying eyebrow, "I thought you had heartburn."
Marsha returned to her watermelon.
"Where were we?" he asked.
"I told you that I liked my job."
"Oh yeah, oh yeah, so listen," he proceeded. "How much are you making?"
"You know how much I'm making." I wanted to know whether he agreed with my punishment or not; maybe this restriciton on my evening's liberty was actually his idea in the first place.
"Okay," Fred continued, "Let's say you make two-fifty a week for what? Six, maybe seven hours of work a day. Easy work. Right?"
"So what? All I want to know is--"
"Soooo," he interrupted, "So, you have a cushy job in the country. You're surrounded by friends. There are plenty of women. You can get high as much as you like, and get into a good game of hoops whenever you want to--"
"Plenty of women?" It was my turn to interrupt. (I was still half asleep; my mind was working slower than his delivery.)
"If you're not too choosey," he replied, dismissing my objection. "Anyway, like I was saying, you have this great job in paradise, you work with people you like – listen, Bocci, employment doesn't get much better than this. You think you'll ever find another job that's as much fun as this one?"
A question that provoked some thought...before I could respond though, Fred rallied onward.
"And all you have to do, alllll you have to do," by this point he was dragging his words for emphasis, "is show up on time."
I had been looking out over the crowd as we talked, scouting tanned cleavages, slender arms, the soft, vulnerable spot where neck meets torso; a flicker of light danced off dental braces and drew my attention towards a sparkling thirteen year-old smile. Fred was reaching the crux of his thesis, his closing argument, the climax of his presentation, and I turned to face him.
"All you have to do is show up on time. Oh yeah, and remember your guest's orders, which any moron can do. And what do you do? You come in late not once, not twice, but three times in one week...THREE TIMES IN ONE WEEK!!!"
Fred was screaming now, a rabble rousing preacher, relishing the opportunity to make a dramatic point of what a fuck-up I had been. A few heads at the staff table turned in curiosity. I noticed Janice's startled expression and shrugged sheepishly at her as if we were both innocent bystanders at the scene of a house fire.
"WHAT DO YOU HAVE, GODDAMN SLEEPING SICKNESS? IS WORKING SIX HOURS A DAY TOO MUCH FOR YOU?" Fred boomed on.
Too much attention had been roused, and I was beginning to get embarrassed.
"All right," I said, poking Fred lightly in the chest to break his oratory spell. "It sounds like you agree with Rogue and Brad-- you think I should do a penalty tea duty."
He laughed -- snorted really. "Very perceptive, Bocci."
The big picture was clear: by unanimous decision, my tardiness would no longer be ignored. Fine.
Chapter III: Leibush Lehrer
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