By Michael Golub (EE72)

Chapter V: Station Two

Daits had just finished sweeping under table eight and joined me at the Station Two server to greet our guests.

"Tea dutus, captain Foofson, I presume?" he queried as he squatted in order to plug in the cord from our coffee burner. The outlet was positioned, quite unstrategically, in the floor directly beneath the server. Sparks flew and wifts of smoke rose about him as he jiggled with the plug. I stepped back.

As usual, saw dust (used to dry the floor on rainy days) had fallen into the outlet, creating a poor connection and a fire hazard. Daits swore at the kitchen steward, the electrician, the saw dust, and at yesterday's rain, as he twisted the plug into a precariously functional position.

He rose triumphantly and pulled a Binaca cannister from his pocket.

"You know Billy, one of two things is going to happen," I said. "Either you're going to get electricuted, and Doc Wolfson won’t have the equipment to save you as you lie on the floor steaming and twitching, or..." I stopped. Daits wasn't listening; instead, he was deeply absorbed in oral hygeine. It was not easy to mask the noxious bodily residue left by a pack of smokes before lunch. "Daits, are you listening to me?" I asked.

He pulled the slender cannister from the tar-stained cavern of his mouth, recapped it, and clapped a hand on my shoulder.

"What? I'm sorry McFoofson," he said, "were you talking to me?" As was his custom, after slighting someone, intentionally or otherwise, he became mirthful. Daits had a way of leaning back and peering at you through half-closed lids as he chuckled, an off-balance stance that made you think he might fall over backwards. In his life and his posture, Billy Daitsman seemed to defy gravity. How could you get mad at someone like that?

He was a chain smoking Brooklyn boy, a hard worker and a serious partier, less educated and more streetwise than most of us. In the three weeks that we had worked together I had come to appreciate his speed and efficiency. Although there was a sloppiness about his personal style, he was a superb busboy.

Furthermore, we found ourselves to be a highly compatible team. All waiter-busboy duos evolved their own nuances of communication and cooperation, using a complex array of nods and feints to indicate which table was ready for which course.

Daits and I subscribed to a fluid and flexible format. I did not believe, as did the more fundamentalist waiters, that the busboy was the underling to clear every plate and to serve every drop of coffee and tea, while the waiter was the overlord. If I had to pour Sanka, or pull a flanken bone out from under some patron's nose in order to expedite the conclusion of the meal, I sped to the task. Similarly, Daits occasionally served dessert, and less often, main dishes, if it meant that we could thereby proceed to the next chore more quickly. Some waiter's sneered at my utilitarian approach, but it worked for us.

Daits was also a superb schmoozer. He resonated to each guest's special interests: the grandchildren, the weather, shuffleboard, social security, Israel, bursitis, the Yankees, whatever.

To me, he seemed disingenous; that is, the alterior motive of establishing rapor in order to boost his (and by extension, my) gratuities seemed poorly concealed. But, for the most part, our customers took Daits' at face value, and whether his talk-show host banter was sincere or not, we both reaped the rewards when the gelt was dished out.

We didn't anticipate receiving any tips at the conclusion of this particular meal, as our guests were all staying through the weekend. Still, a generous tip, like a work of art, must be carefully nurtured from its inception. Therefore, as the guests hobbled and shuffled their way to our tables, Daits went to work.

Malke had deposited a new couple beside table six, and was sonorously clearing her throat to summon my attention. Daits was already at her side.

"Michael, Billy," she said, "meet Mr. and Mrs. Greenberg. They'll be with us for the week. I thought they would enjoy the company of your other guests at this table. Michael," she continued, indicating me with a loving pinch of my cheek, "is one of our brightest young waiters. He's going to be a doctor."

How humilitating. Best to get rid of Malke as quickly as possible, I thought.

"Malke, someone looks lost, over by the door," I said, pointing to Squeaky Schwartz, whom I knew from experience not to be lost but merely waiting for her glaucomatous eyes to accomodate to the indoor lighting.

Daits went into action. Having ceremoniously pulled out a chair for Mr. Greenberg, he was already engaged in an avid discussion about the construction of the dining room. Mr. Greenberg, apparently, was a retired architect.

I turned to Mrs. Greenberg, and was struck, at first, by her corpulence. Her upper arms, reavealed as they were by her sleeveless summer dress, hung at her sides like a pair of baby seals. She wore a liberal dollop of facial powder on each cheek, which, combined with a blast of pink eye shadow about the swollen eyelids of her plethoric face, gave her the appearance of an overstuffed harlequin doll. She reached up with her sea lion of an appendage and pulled me close, murmuring, "I'm glad to hear that you're premedical, Mitchell."

"Michael," I corrected.

"Yes. Michael. You see Michael, I have diabedes. And my husband..." she pointed to him with her double chin, and paused to make sure I registered his face indelibly in my mind, preparing to link it with the next piece of vital medical history.

I saw a frail, thin man, mid-sixties I would guess, with bloodshot eyes, sallow cheeks, and symmetric spurts of nasal hair merging with a salt and pepper mustache above a sliver of chapped lips. He wore a starched white shirt and a bow tie with matching suspenders. All in all, inappropraitely formal for our homey dining room.

I looked back. "High blood pressure," she hissed as if this were a curse that only I, the bright waiter with the healing touch, should be privileged to know.

"I'm sorry to hear that," I offered, for lack of a better response. Was she requesting a special menu? Apparently not.

"Don't worry, Marvin," she said, "we have medication." With this, she tapped her sachel of a purse, rattling the pill vials about.

I was eager to move on. I tried to mimic Dait's pinoche at seating the customer by positioning their chair for them, and immediately felt strangely awkward, like I was batting left-handed. I just felt ludicrous. (After all, this was not the Twenty-One Club. To me, waiter or not, Boiberik was, and always would be, summer camp.) Mrs. Greenberg, however, seemed pleased by the gesture. By the time she settled her saccharine girth on the fragile wooden chair, the other patrons had filled their slots about table six. I made the rounds.

Squeaky, (a.k.a. Mrs. Schwartz) so named for the high-pitched timbre of her barely audible voice, had dropped into her usual spot, the seat to Mrs. Greenberg's left.

"Hi Mike," she chirped, as she held a menu in her trembling rheumatic fingers. Her white hair was tucked neatly into an oversized purple-and-white plaid babushka. She wore sunglasses indoors, and I often wondered if she pretended to peruse the menu in order to maintain the illusion of independence.

"Hello Mrs. Schwartz. How was your morning?" I asked.

"Oh very nice, very nice," she responded in her lilting soprano. I went to Jacob Blank's Untern Boim Lecture ("Under the Tree" Lecture). And can you guess what he was talking about?"

I couldn't.

"Jewish asmation."

"What d'ya mean?" I asked, baffled. "Like cartoons? Or breathing problems?"

"Noooo." She giggled, and clutched my forearm, as if to steady herself against the silliness of her mispronunciation. Despite her fragile vulnerability, Squeaky had a delightful playfulness about her. She must have been pursued by hordes of male counselors vying for her attention back in the 1920s. "Jewish as-sim-il-ation," she pronounced deliberately. "A lot of Jewish boys are marrying shikse's. Did you know that?"

I did.

"It's very sad," she concluded, shaking her head from side to side as she looked back towards the mimeographed sheet on which the Thursday lunch menu was printed.

"Well," she said, her voice leaping to a higher octave to signal a transition to a topic of less gravity, "What do you have today that I can chew?"

As usual, there was very little she could chew. She had, on more that one occasion, pulled down her lip to expose the rotting lower front teeth for my benefit. I had recommended dentures, an idea that she rejected as too costly. I suspect she would have had to forfeit one (or more) of her cherished summer vacations at the Boib to purchase a set a choppers. And so she stuck with soup and eggs. Dinners, though, were a problem.

Beside Squeaky sat Mr. Fisher. Now he could afford much more than his own dentures, I judged by the silver-inlaid handle on the cane that he held in front of him at all times, even when sitting at the table (except when he was eating). He was, unequivocably speaking, a bastard. He had (Malke had informed me) amassed a sizeable fortune; a process which for many, including Mr. Fisher, seemed to generate a contempt for others less entrepreneurial. He let both Billy and I know that he was accustomed to being served.

Mr. Fisher had pulled me aside at his first meal to request seedless rye. "You see, son" he explained, as he engulfed me with cigar tainted breath, "I'm allergic to carroway seeds."

Sounded peculiar to me at the time, though it was not until I mentioned the special request to Dr. Heinbach that I learned about his probable hidden motives.

"Nobody's allergic to carroway seeds, Bocci," Heinbach informed me impatiently. "The guy probably has false teeth and doesn't want to get seeds stuck under the plates."

The next meal, I watched Mr. Fisher very carefully. Sure enough, he maneuvered his tongue and lips and jaw about in a manner that can only be logically explained by gum discomfort.

Lying about carroway seeds, of course, is no cardinal sin. But he disdained his position next to the infirm Squeaky and had made no effort to hide his sneer when Billy accidentally flooded his saucer in the act of overpouring his coffee cup. Through such behavior, we felt he had forfeited his claim to courteous service. We continued to fulfill our professional duty in his regard, but I did not dissuade Billy from his more unsavory clandestine tactics when delivering Mr. Fisher's food.

"Good morning, Mr. Fisher," I offered, uncomfortably, obligated as I was to disguise my true feelings.

"I'd say it's afternoon by now, wouldn't you, sonny?" He responded, without looking up, his eyes glued to the menu.

What do you say to a peckerhead?

I proceeded around the table to Mr. Friedman, a nonagenarian, whom rumor had it, was miraculously well preserved, both mentally and physically.

The previous morning, as I was drying my silverware and depositing it (compulsively) neatly in my server drawers, Rogue called over from his server, where he was completing an identical task.

"Hey Bocci," he had said, "good news. You and Billy are getting Mr. Friedman tomorrow."

"Why," I asked, poised in mid-fork, "is that good news?"

"Is he rich?" Daits called over his shoulder towards Roger as he lugged an overjammed bus box towards the kitchen.

"What's the difference?" I called over to Billy. "Fisher's rich and he's an asshole."

Fred pushed a broom in my direction. "Mr. Friedman is this old man. I mean, Bocci, really, really old...Ancient. He's a pruneface, wrinkles on top of wrinkles...He looks like the old Dustin Hoffman character from Little Big Man."

"And the amazing thing about him," Rogue chimed in, "is that he's still got it together. He's alert, he tell's jokes..."

"Who are you guys talking about, Mr. Friedman?" Brad asked from his Station Three server, directly behind mine. "He was at my station last year, Bocci," he added. "You're gonna love him. He's a really interesting old guy."

And so, prepared by this unanimously positive critique, it was with great expectation that I anticipated the arrival of this wonder of gerontology. He showed up for breakfast, very dapper appearing with a straw hat and a seersucker suit that now hung from his gaunt shoulders (but probably fit him well when he was a spry seventy). I introduced myself with a smile, and was surprised and disappointed by the grunt I received in return.

"What would you like to start off the day, Mr. Friedman?" I asked cordially, still giving him the benefit of the doubt.

"Prune juice" he bellowed. "...And make sure it's a full glass."

I promptly returned with what I considered to be a full glass. Now, it should be pointed out that the Boiberik kitchen's juice glasses were tall and slim, and very thick. Like old coke bottles, they held a deceptively small amount of liquid because of the volume taken up by the glass itself. Friedman may have recognized this; alternately, he may just have been a cantakerous old hoot. I set the glass down in front of him.

"You call that glass full??" he thundered in a voice that made Squeaky clasp her hands over her ears. "Why, you didn't even fill it to the top!"

He blasted me for incompetence for what must have been a full three minutes. Three minutes may not be a long time, but it seemed to stretch on indefinitely, in part because I was stupified by his constipated ravings.

Moreover, there was no set order for the multi-course breakfast meal at Boiberik. Each busboy and waiter ran to fetch grapefruits and juices and hot and cold cereal and fish and omelettes and French toast as the orders came in. Whichever team finished the preliminary cold courses and proceeded on with the hot orders fastest was able to get a jump on the other stations and thereby finish serving the meal first.

A hang-up like this, an irrationally irate customer, was a nightmare. I was saved only by Daits' resourcefulness. Overhearing this sustained fustigation, he dashed for the kitchen and returned moments later with an empty water glass and a pitcher full of prune juice. This placated Friedman for the time being.

Despite this setback, we were able to complete breakfast relatively early. Both Rogue and I finished our silverware before the other waiters and I joined him at table one for a cup of coffee.

"Were you joking when you said that I was lucky to get Mr. Friedman?" I asked.

"No," he answered defensively. "He's a great guy."

"Maybe he used to be," I said, "but he reamed me out over a goddamned glass of prune juice this morning."

"No shit?" Rogue replied.

"Well," I said, "let's hope that's his only problem."

At lunch, as I rounded table six, I peered down at Mr. Friedman's balding pate from behind. His straw hat had been carefully balanced on the narrow window sill behind me. As an elderly widower, pushing one-hundred, I decided that he deserved another chance to redeem himself, and elected not to hold the morning's outburst against him. I hoped that the prune juice had worked its magic, unlocking his bowels and liberating his true personality.

"Good day, Mr. Friedman," I said as I passed from behind his chair to his left side.

He looked up to his right and said, "Yes?"

I tapped his left shoulder. "Over here," I said.

"Stop playing games," he snarled.

Billy was watching my progress from behind Mr. Greenberg, and I looked over for commiseration. He joined me at Friedman's side.

"I've got a great idea Mr. F. How about a little prune juice to begin lunch?" Billy asked as he pulled the cranberry juice opener away from Friedman's place setting.

"Yes," the hoary viper croaked, "that would be nice."

"Prune juice, orange, grapefruit, apple juice anybody?" Billy called for the benefit of the table.

Mr. Fisher asked for a second glass of cranberry juice. Squeaky asked for hot tea. Mrs. Greenberg asked for sugarless juice for herself, saltless juice for her husband. The Abraham's, a benign elderly couple who sat to Mr. Friedman's left, held their juice glasses aloft and answered, "We're fine," in unison. Perhaps they recognized their important role as a mollifying influence at the table. They had already been there three days and had yet to complain. I had even mistakenly placed a Waldorf salad in front of Mrs. Abraham after she had ordered a Spring salad. She finished it without a peep. And the next day, to avoid making me feel awkward, she ordered a Waldorf salad, citing how delicious her lunch had been the day before. Guests like that were a godsend.

Table seven was empty. That wasn't unusual during a weekday, and although it meant that our gross income for the week would not be so hot, neither Billy nor I really minded. Serving two tables was disproportionately less difficult that serving three.

Table eight was one of four staff tables. Boiberik's guest side was top-heavy; that is to say, of the guest meals served on any given weekday, a large fraction were provided to non-paying customers.

Station Two's staff patrons included Jacob and Deena Blank, the Cultural Coordinator and Tea Duty Matron, respectively. They were joined by Mr. Ziggleman, the canteen shopkeeper, and whomever the guest entertainters might be, Ben Bonus and Mina Bern at this meal. Tsip Waletsky, the art instructor, also sat there. She didn't like the Bonuses, however, and so she took her business over to Station Three for lunch.

Ben and Mina, vaudevillians to the core, were not performing at the Boib that night. No, nothing so humbling as a weeknight show in the Boiberik theatre. They were merely (as they took pains to remind me, thrice, though I showd no interest) stopping by for (a free) lunch on their way up to the Nevele.

I viewed both Ben and Mina as over-preened, egotistical has beens who expected the royal Hollywood treatment and did not understand why my generation was indifferent to them.

Life was thier stage. No matter what they said, Jacob laughed uproarioulsy. Deena laughed politely as cigarette smoke filtered through her upper teeth and over her face, making her eyes water. I don't think she found Mina to be so funny, but I did catch her tweesed 'brows dancing towards the tan and worldly Ben on more than one occasion. On their last visit, Daits claimed that he saw Deena pass her unfinished portion of creamed herring to Ben. ( I have to question the veracity of this account, though, as Daits was prone to exaggeration in order to generate gossip.)

Ziggleman rarely responded to Ben and Mina's histrionics, or to anything else for that matter. Even coaxing a meal order out of him was like pulling teeth. He seemed to have lost his appetite for life. A short, squat, man with a rectangular head, he wore his few remaining black hairs long, so that they could traverse his crown from left ear to right. This strip of hair neatly complemented his black eyeglass frames. He was a caricaturists' dream, more a cartoon figure in my eyes, than a man. Yet there he sat, in the flesh, meal after meal, hardly moving, rarely speaking, barely chewing. What he did say may have been quite meaningful, for Jacob Blank frequently took great pains to lean over quite close to the Zig, hairy ear to dry lips, and he often nodded intently as Zig dispensed his mumbled wisdom.

Jacob Blank was a loaded pistol. His temper was fearsome, and once triggered, was unsuppressable. His face was dominated by shaggy eyebrows that arched high above his intent stare when he was in good humor, and a skewed lower lip that left one wondering whether he was smiling or scowling. He was facile with English, Spanish, Yiddish, and Hebrew, and often shifted spontaneously from one language to another while ordering breakfast, leaving his waiter (me) baffled.

I was told that he was the headmaster of a Hebrew school, though it may have been a Yiddish school, as reports of the Boiberik community's off-season (wintertime) activities were frequently inaccurate. In either case, that vocation partially explained his volatile nature, as his bellicose tirades might befit a man who frequently saw children disrespectful towards what he considered sacred.

I can't say that I respected him. At times, I was fascinated by him. As a rule, I avoided him, but I couldn't do that while I was his waiter, and so I asked him if he wanted soup, or borsht, or schav.

Mina interrupted. "Which has the fewest calories, darling?"

"Skip this course and you won't have to worry about calories at all, my shana Matza Ball," Ben said to her as he pinched a saddlebag of her rotund tuchus.

"Langerluch," she shot back, and proceeded to zing him with a Yiddish insult, which, judging by the hysteria evoked from everyone about the table, including Ziggleman, must have been quite ribald.

"Take the schav," I recommended, though I truly had no idea which of the three choices was least fattening. Schav looked like homogenized sputum. Not one of my customers had ordered it since it was added to the menu the previous week. I wanted to know if it tasted as bad as it looked. Mina was to be my guinea pig. She took the bait. Ben wanted split pea soup. The other three passed. Daits met me halfway as I walked back towards table six to get their orders. "Two borsht, three soups," he said.

"You figure out what's wrong with this Friedman guy," I asked?

"Foofy, he's ninety-fucking-eight years old. He's lost it."

"I guess so," I said, and turned for the kitchen.

Chapter VI: Stanley and Ben
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