Monday, December 21, 2015
artist rita koehler “Xenia”
writer amy giacalone “The Kissing Waitress”
’ve been trying to get people to call me Kate instead of Katie for weeks, and nobody’s been listening to me. What did I expect? I’ve been working at this restaurant forever. I’m everybody’s kid sister. When I was sixteen, I was a hostess. When I turned seventeen, I started server training. At eighteen, I was running stations and late-checking. I turn twenty-one in two months; they’re starting to schedule my bar training. I’m already working on my six-count pours. I practice with an empty Triple Sec bottle filled with water in the kitchen drink station. It’s legal as long as I don’t pour real liquor. There’s a little spout to stick into the bottle, and then I take it by its skinny neck and hold it straight up-side-down: one, two, three, four, five, six. I can pretty much always hit one-and-a-half ounces, sometimes I go over. But Mike, who’s training me, just goes, “Pour them over. You’ll get better tips.” Mike’s one of my favorite people here, him and his girlfriend, Kelly. They’ve trained me at pretty much everything, so far. Everybody smokes outside by the dumpsters, in the old restaurant chairs from when they re-did all the tables two years ago, and he gives me a cigarette, too, when I go out there with them. Kelly is skinny and quick with dyed hair and dark roots that are growing out. She wears dark nail polish and dark smudgy eyeliner. I like her because when she smiles, she means it. Otherwise she would just not smile. Mike has one arm on the back of her chair, and the cigarette in the other, and he tells me encouraging things, like, “Don’t worry. You’re hot. You’ll be fine at bartending,” while Kelly rolls her eyes at him. Mike is pretty good-looking himself, with broad shoulders and dark hair, and he flirts with me like that, sometimes. But it’s really nothing. Trust me. Everybody flirts with everybody around here; I flirt with him when I want him to carry the ice for me. So I’ve been working on my six-counts and I’ve been studying a drink chart. Almost nobody orders Manhattans, or anything like that, really, but Mike tells me that the day somebody orders something and I have to look it up will be the most embarrassing bartending day of my life. It’s like an honor code or something. So I study Old-Fashioneds, Tom Collins, Rob Roys, White Russians, Cosmos, and French Martinis. Even though I already know how to open beer bottles. And I’m pretty sure that’s all there is to it. Anyway, I’m the mid on Mondays, because on Mondays we’re dead, and I’m a sucker. I get stuck with these shifts all the time. So I get in for the morning meeting, and Cathy, the manager, reminds us about lemonade, something about how to make it or something. I work through lunch and it’s awful, I only get one table to even turn over before the rush dies and I’ve got literally eighteen dollars in my pocket. The other servers clear out and then it’s just me and Mike at the bar, him doing the crossword puzzle, while I work on my pours. So it’s a shit day, and I’ve got shit money to show for it. I’ve already had, like, three cigarettes, and technically, I’m one of the non-smokers. And then at five, while the night staff is having their shift meeting, this couple walks in and sits in my section.
He orders for her. I think that’s why I start hating them. “She’ll have the bacon-cheddar burger, no onions.” He flashes me a big smile. I nod. “How would she like that cooked?” “Medium,” she says to him. “Medium,” he says to me. They’re sitting on the same side of the booth. The man is good-looking and average. Medium height, medium build, medium age. He’s wearing jeans and a green polo with a navy stripe across it. Brown shoes. He has crows feet that make him look like maybe he’s charming, when he smiles. The woman is pouty, in her late 30’s, in a black tank top with a white sweater. She’s all tucked up under his arm, like the side of his body is the only drug she knows. Kind of striped mahogany hair. Shiny cobalt nail polish. She spends all of her time staring into space, or staring into space and then whispering to him. The man has his hand in her hair, on her arm, on her neck. God only knows what her business is under the table. “Hi there,” he says with a quick half-smile that feels like an invitation I don’t want, “Two cokes will start us off.” I didn’t even get to run through my specials. I didn’t even get to introduce myself. Just, “Two cokes will start us off,” and that smarmy little smile. While his woman stares into space and nuzzles him. “Creepy couple,” I tell Mike, when I’m back over by the bar. I’m quiet, mouthing the words. I point my eyes to their table without turning my head. By the time I put in their order, other servers are on the floor, and other tables start coming in. They gather by the door and wait for the hostess. They take their sunglasses and hang them, bent, from the collar of their t-shirts, or tuck them away in purses. They pull cell phones out of their shorts and thumb through when they have to wait. The bigger groups make loud jokes, and the couples whisper snarky comments to each other. Everybody’s hungry. Nobody likes waiting. It’s not long before I find out: my guy’s a snapper, too. The next time I walk past to bring drinks to the family sitting next to them, he reaches his arm, bent over his head, like he’s on a bus or something, and snaps twice. When I turn, he flashes me that same, “Join us, would you?” smile and asks for a new coke with no ice for his lady. And while he’s snapping at me, something in me snaps back. I want to win. I want to win at this. I’m not even totally sure what this is. But this woman? She’s not winning. And I want to win at this. So I drop the drinks at fifteen (the family in front of him), and I come back over to the couple. I pick up her cup, and it’s all sweaty with condensation and her bev-nap is basically mush so I scoop that up, too. “No ice,” I say, “No problem.” And then I wink at him. And then I laugh. And then I walk away. At the drink station, I throw the gross bev-nap away, wipe off the condensation, and toss the old ice. Jessy’s leaning there with her arms folded. Her section is right by mine. “Both my tables are waiting to order,”
she whines. Jessy is a lot older than me. She looks like an Italian mama with soft, wide hips and her blondehighlighted hair up in a flippy twist. I tell her, “I’m trying to out-creep this guy at sixteen.” She glances over, “What does that mean?” “It means he’s a creep, and I’m gonna figure out how to be creepier.” She laughs, “Good luck.” Jessy understands everything. Jessy’s the one who showed me how you can add Worcestershire to any drink except Sierra Mist: it’s light brownish so only a few drops will blend right in. It’s so much better than spitting, when you’re mad at someone. And then, when they complain, they won’t even know how to describe it: “It tastes funky?” they’ll ask, like it’s a question. Bring them another with an extra dash of Worcestershire. Say, “Hmm, we just changed the tap…” Jessy says, “Once a couple left me their hotel key with my tip.” I make a face. “Ooooh, lucky you.” So I refill the coke with no ice, and no ice makes the straw float up all funny, but I try not to let it bother me. I bring the lady her coke and now she’s looking at me, but I have no way of knowing if either of them even noticed my rebellious little wink, because they don’t say anything. I smile my biggest, cheesiest smile and she smiles back. He smiles too, says, “Thanks, Sugar,” and I think “Sugar” is supposed to be me. So we’re all smiling at each other, things are great, and then I go, “Your food should be up any minute, guys.” And I spin away. Then we get busy. Jessy gets another table, fast, and all three of her tables decide to order at once. She’s a strong server, though, she brings out the trays like she’s a body builder, and passes plates out with onehundred-percent accuracy. Mike’s rail is full, and he barks orders at the runners to bring him food. He drops ice in glasses, and fills them right in front of guests. He walks around with two and three beer bottles hooked between his fingers, he blends margaritas and pours wine, and when a keg is out, he bends the handle and lets the foam run into a pitcher while he shouts to Cathy to change the Blue Moon. But with the customers, he’s keeping up a running commentary about the Sox game behind him. My tables fill up, too, and I’m hopping around like a little bunny, smiling, laughing, refilling drinks, all of it. “How is everything?” I ask a million times, “How are we doing over here?” We have these big multi-colored plates shaped like circles and ovals and squares. Everything in the restaurant is multi-colored. Every table has a blue or red light fixture hanging over it; the silverware rolls are secured with little yellow paper strips. On the walls we have all these colorful paintings of random crap. Even the servers, we’re all wearing various crayon-box colored t-shirts with black pants and black aprons. Mine’s pink. It has a v-neck, so it’s actually kind of cute. I wear little pearl earrings
that match. Every time I pick up a tray, I remember practicing with the trays, like a baby ballerina in the break room, the older servers filling it with empty plates and glasses of water. Find the center. Walk fast and steady. It’s still a Monday night, so no table is going to turn over more than once. And I’m cut first because I was here all day. This is my last push for dollars. “Let me get you another raspberry iced tea,” I say to an elderly lady who blinks at me through thick glasses. And my couple. They stay as nauseating as before, maybe they even up the ante a little bit. She gets her burger, he gets a steak medium rare. They feed each other. I mean, they feed each other with their fingers, they cut off little bits to pop into each other’s mouths. They stare into each other’s eyes. And every five minutes or so, he snaps at me again. “She dropped her fork, honey,” he tells me. She’s eating a burger, she doesn’t need a fork, oh and also, I’m not your honey—is what I want to say. But I’m like, “Let me get her another one!” with a flirty blink, and I touch him on the shoulder, before I whiz back with a fresh silverware roll. Because I can play the part. I can be that sweet little submissive servant girl. Ditto for extra napkins, a side of BBQ sauce, a bottle of A1 sauce, a bleu cheese stuffed olive (whatthefuck?) and “some of those tiny plates.” I literally bring him four tiny plates. Build a fort with them, asshole. I bend over the table to set them down and he literally just stares at my cleavage. When I stand back up, he looks me in the eye and says, “Thanks, Sweetie.” So I give him a hip swivel when I walk away. When he snaps at me again, it’s to ask me to “Be a good girl and bring them some chocolate cake,” for dessert. “Of course!” I say, loading their dirty plates on my arms, even the stack of tiny plates that they didn’t even use, “I’m always a good girl.” I dump the dishes at dish, scraping each plate into the garbage so I don’t piss off Tomas. I wash my hands. The rush is dying a bit, now. I ring the cake, and go back to the desert station to find Rafael, “Chocolate cake por favor y gracias!” and he says, “Anything for you, mamacita,” and pulls my ticket and puts it first. To Jessy, who’s standing right there, I say, “He just told me to be a good girl and bring him some chocolate cake.” “Ew,” Jessy says. “Right?” “I think I saw him pinch your ass, did he pinch your ass?” And I don’t know. I actually don’t know if he did or not, I’ve been so busy, so I’m like, “I don’t know! Probably!” And Rafael slides the cake up, and I grab it, and I blow Rafael a kiss, which he catches and smiles. And as I go out, Jessy jerks her thumb at my table and says, “Congratulations! I think you’re his bitch now!” and I just shake my head, uh-uh, no. “C’mon,” Jessy says, “Be a good girl, Katie.”
Jessy is hilarious. So I drop off the cake. They only need one fork, he says, obviously, of course they do, and I’m like, “No problem,” as I happily whisk the offending extra fork away. I go to the computer. I punch in my numbers, table sixteen, print check. It’s important that he doesn’t have a chance to snap at me again. The computer makes old-timey printer noises as the check pops out, and cuts off. I lay it face down on a shiny black tip tray. Then I take two mints… will they want to share a mint…? I decide on two mints, and throw them on the tray on top of the check. I pull a ballpoint out of my pocket and scribble on the back, “Thanks, guys! You’re such a cute couple!” with a big ugly smiley face. There we go. I slide the tip tray onto the table. And I’m not even sure why I’m doing it, it’s like I’m moving without my own permission, but I lean over and kiss my guy right on the cheek. “Here you go, sweetie-pie,” I say, “I’ll take this whenever you’re ready.” And for exactly one second? I win. In the next second, they react. He jerks his head back with a smile, touching his cheek with one hand. He stares at me. Suddenly I’m a different kind of creature, one he hadn’t thought of yet. And the woman! She’s laughing so hard. All of a sudden she’s, like, larger than life, pointing with her thumb over her shoulder and cracking up. No more staring into space for her. This is literally the funniest thing she has ever seen. “Henry!” she shouts, “Did that waitress just kiss you on the cheek?” Mike has his eyebrows raised already by the time I get to him. “Did you just kiss that guy?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” When I return to their table, it’s to swipe the guy’s credit card, and he’s completely entertained, “Now, what was that kissing business back there, Missy?” he jokes. He gives me his signature smile and raises an eyebrow. “I did come here with a date, you know.” “Oh,” I tilt my head, “Are the two of you together?” I laugh and grab his credit card. “Have a great night, you guys!” I say. I swat him on the shoulder. They leave me twelve on a thirty-dollar check. They make out in the foyer before they’re gone for good. They walk to their car draped over each other, like they’re drunk, and need the support, when in reality, I think they’re just trying to tickle each other and walk at the same time. The table at fifteen is a family of four. The kind of family that has a two-foot circle of mess around them. It’s hard to say where the mess even comes from, it’s just there. I finish cleaning up the kid’s sundae cups. I have a little bounce in my step now that the couple’s gone. “This is why we don’t let them have sweets,” the mom says. “They get h-y-p-e-r,” the dad says. “I’ll take this whenever you’re ready,” I smile, pushing the check towards them.
“Hey!” The mom jokes, “Don’t we get kisses?” “I want a kiss!” the little girl says. “Me too! Me too!” the little boy chimes in. I kiss them both on the cheek. The old people at the next table, I kiss them too. And the rowdy group of teenage guys. I’ve never made better tips in my life. When I spin past the bar side station, Mike’s face is pure joy and amusement. He holds both his hands up to the sky, like, what in the world, and he says, “Is this really happening?” And I say, “Shut up.” And he’s like, “Seriously, Katie. You’re gonna be suuuuuch a good bartender.” I throw a pen at him. When all my tables clear out, and I’ve kissed everyone and swiped their credit cards and finished my side work, I go in the break room. I steal a chicken finger from one of the late check’s dinner. Probably Julie, but fuck Julie. Who has she kissed tonight? Nobody. I count my money, and tip out Mike and the busboy, and then I go claim, like, half of the rest. I made okay money, considering. I spot Mike on his way outside. “You need a cigarette,” he points at me with authority, and I’m like, yeah, okay. So I follow him out and he hands one to me, and passes me the lighter. He can’t get enough of this story. “But why did you do it in the first place?” “I don’t know. He was making me mad.” “Why would you kiss someone you’re mad at?” “I already told you. I don’t know.” I cross my knees and tap my cigarette ash. Mike smokes like he owns the world, his arms and his legs take up space that belongs to other chairs, and he blows smoke straight into the air above him. He laughs, “I can’t believe you kissed everyone, though.” “Ha! My favorite was the old lady. It was the way she blinked at me.” “Not the table of guys?” “Ew, they were the worst!” I laugh, “My lips feel dirty!” And he says, “Well, then, stop kissing people.” So I kiss him. Here’s how I do it: I take the arm of the chair and reach over it with my whole body, face first. He tilts his head, and I tilt mine, and I kiss him right on the mouth. We both taste like smoke. “Don’t tell me what to do,” I say. “Geez,” he’s shaking his head, “Then can I ask? Can I ask that you don’t tell Kelly about how you just did that?” “Only if you do me a favor, too.” “What is it?” “Call me Kate instead of Katie.” He rolls his eyes, but he nods. And then we don’t talk that much more, but it’s not weird or anything. We’re just two people sitting outside in the dark, by a dumpster, under a bald yellow light bulb, smoking cigarettes.
Rita Koehler completed her MFA at Lesley University College of Art and Design (formerly the Art Institute of Boston). Her work is multi-disciplinary addressing the world of mass media and political hegemony through the psychological and theological worlds of inquiry. Koehler situates herself as artist in the debate of what constitutes an intelligible life-one that is speakable, has meaning, and is valued-by focusing on an ethics of non-violent representation. Koehler’s work has been exhibited throughout the country, notably Albuquerque, NM; Chicago, IL; Boston, MA; Orange County, CA; Long Island, NY; Fort Collins, CO; Indianapolis, Bloomington, and South Bend, IN as well as featured in Fraction Magazine and Focal Point. The body of work Rite of Ordinary: Interior Indiana is in the permanent collection of the Kinsey Institute Gallery, The Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, IN. http://www.ritakoehler.com Amy Giacalone is a fiction writer and playwright living in Chicago. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia College. Her play “Better” was staged by Bartleby Productions in 2012. You can read her work in Hair Trigger 36, 37, Bird’s Thumb, Goreyesque and Ghostly: An Anthology of Ghost Stories compiled by Audrey Niffenegger. LDOC is a free photography and creative writing publication distributed every first and third Monday at the following Red Line stops: Howard St., Belmont Ave, Lake St, 69th St, and 95th St. LDOC features a new local artist and writer each month, creating an accessible installment-based art experience for the Chicago commuter.
LDOC is currently fully funded by the 2015 Crusade Engagement Grant from Crusade for Art. www.crusadeforart.org
www.l-doc.org Submit - Subscribe - Buy Photos