I get a job bussing tables and making deliveries at a café in the Village. They play music I’ve never heard before and everyone steals PBR from the fridge and smokes pot in the walk-in freezer and when it’s time to close, we just walk around the restaurant with lit cigarettes hanging from of our mouths.
My second week, I make a delivery to a stodgy building of old ladies and dentist’s offices on Fifth Ave above Washington Square. The doorman shuffles me to the service entrance on the side of the building, like I’m a gypsy asking for change. The idea that I am unsightly or dangerous makes me feel like a man because not many things do.
I’m waiting for the building super to buzz me inside and a handsome man smiles at me from across the street. The door still isn’t opening and he walks over and he is less handsome, but still smiling.
“You live here?” he asks.
“Making a delivery,” I say.
“Where do you work?” he asks.
“Café on University,” I say. He is moving in close and I’m looking at the ground and the door buzzes. I smile over my shoulder as I step inside because it feels like the perfect ending.
An hour later, I deliver to a building two blocks east of the stodgy one on Fifth. The apartment door opens and it’s the guy who was handsome from across the street. I look down at his order: two muffins and a large coffee. $9.67. Just under the minimum, only sent out because the lunch rush is over.
“Come in,” he says with a smirk. It feels more like a command than an invitation.
“It’s $9.67,” I say from the threshold, pretending not to have heard.
He laughs and shakes his head, like I’m the one who’s being ridiculous. He gives me eleven bucks. I get back to the restaurant and write his name and address on the “WE DON’T DELIVER TO” dirty napkin tacked over the phone.
I’m making a delivery to an apartment on Varick Street. It’s summer and Manhattan feels like the inside of a toaster oven, but the restaurant is packed and our boss is hosting, so all the busboys are fighting over the deliveries. I’ve been working at the café for about a year and people ask me where things are and what night which trash cans go out.
The door opens and it’s a man in a pair of shorts with his shirt off. His body is chubby with muscle, but he looks like he’s been awake for several days. His left eye is purple and swollen shut.
He invites me inside for a glass of water, but I wait for it in the hall. He tells me he’s an author and hands me an autographed copy of his book when I say I don’t believe him. He tells me a bug bit him on the eye in Fire Island, but he’s talking too fast and I know it’s staph infection from when I used to be in Crystal Meth Anonymous.
$12.17 and he gives me a twenty and tells me to quit my job. We both laugh and I tell him he’s “a nice guy,” which isn’t exactly what I mean, but I don’t want to say much more than that. It seems to embarrass him and he looks uncomfortable when he says goodbye. A few years later, I read that he “died suddenly” in the apartment on Varick Street and I feel glad that I told him he was nice.
I’m working a morning shift and my boss has promoted me to work behind the counter and manage. I get to pick the music and kick hobos out of the bathroom and get yelled at when things are sloppy or awkward.
My customer crush, Giovanni, comes in with his newspaper. He only ever gets 9-grain toast and answers “How are you?” with his food order. Everyone else hates him because he always asks when his toast will be ready and asks for more butter than we’re supposed to put on the plate. But I think he is mysterious and beautiful and I always smile more than he ends up leaving in our tip jar.
One day, I decide to start a conversation. He smiles up at me from his newspaper, but his English is so broken that I need to nod for a while after he’s spoken and repeat it in my head for complete clauses and words I recognize. I bring extra butter so he doesn’t need to get up and I ask where he’s from.
“My mother, Brazil. Germany from my father.”
“So where did it happen?” I respond. “Brazil or Germany?”
I think I’m being sassy and fun, but his face is a question mark, repeating what I’ve said for words he can recognize. I tell him to enjoy his toast and go back behind the counter and start to join the rest of the counter in groans when we see him walk in with his newspaper.
Photo: Physique model, Tom Lauren (morphodite)
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