A Commonplace

What is a commonplace?

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30/9/2017

Sun, 13 Jul 2014 12:58:00

More Microfiction - Just One Look

Just One Look

It's a busy, successful Italian restaurant. One of the best. Had been now, for what? Ten years. You know how hard that? Is? Staying at the top of this business for ten years? You know how many chefs I've sobered up? You know how many waiters I've fired. Man I worked hard when Jimmy gave me this job. I wasn't - what do they say? I wasn't under any illusions. I didn't make it with this I was finished. Straight out of prison, who else was gonna hire me?

But Jimmy says to me "people go two ways in jail Bee, they be sinking, or they be swimming. What I heard you was swimming."

And I just nodded. Thinking, "crying yourself to sleep at night? But quietly so no one can't hear. Going crazy when you're in the cell? Shit scared for your life when you ain't. I dunno Jimmy. Maybe you're right. Maybe that is swimming. Jimmy did six months in juvie, thinks he knows about prison. But man, Jimmy's one dude I'm never gonna argue with. Especially when he's offering me this job. Restaurant manager.

I had no idea what that meant. I mean I knew it meant running things. But how many things? Waiters. Fucking waiters man. Give me, I'm serious, give me two good ones I could run the biggest fanciest restaurant in the whole fucking city. Oh yeah, all these guests getting excited about the chef and what does he recommend and the tasting menu and this and that. They don't know that anything that goes on their plate been put there by a Puerto Rican on half minimum wage. Yeah the chef puts together the menu, then has another large brandy.

Everything else is put together by Miguel and his crew. There ain't a name for Miguel in all those fancy kitchen titles set up. He's not a Comis Chef, he's not a Chef de Partie. But I'm betting there's a guy like Miguel in every restaurant that's doing serious business here in America. Damn I went to Jimmy's wedding outside a Florence, we was eating the night before in some fancy fish place, Il Latino, up in the Tuscany hills. And the kitchen door swings open and I get a look inside. If they ain't all Indian. And I saw him. We made eye contact for about 2 seconds. Then his eyes flick across to some pan that's flaring And Jimmy tells me his name is Shaheed. And I can tell straight away he's the Tuscan Miguel. Little Indian guy, actually Jimmy tells me all the best crews in Florence are from Bangladesh. With a little neat moustache and his grey sleeveless shirt. He aint wearing no chef's hat. He's not wearying any whites. But he's in charge. I could see it. Kitchen's boiling around him flames and plates and Indian guys running in every direction. But every now and again, he's just nodding, every now and again he's just saying something, real quiet but even in that kitchen he's getting hear. We just exchanged a look me and him. And I thought "wow" - this guy's good. Maybe even better than Miguel.

And the food man. The food was better than ours. I mean I hate to say it. But it was.

So ten years I been doing this man. And there's been ups and downs but on the whole we've done great. The restaurant's done great. It's done good for me, it's done good for Jimmy. And then one night. Miguel don't show. No phone call. No explanation. And when I ask his crew. Well. That's when it gets a bit strange. 'cos they all tell me they don't know where he is. Like they got together beforehand and decided on an answer, looking down at whatever they're washing or chopping. Normally, I'd expect them to be trying to be helpful, with a dozen different suggestions. Even If there's only six of 'em. Weird.

Then Kenny who looks after the waiters. He comes in and tells me - like it's no big deal, 'cos any normal night it wouldn't be that this new waitress Lucy, she'd only been here a week and tonight she didn't show. And that was that for her. But he was going to have to call Annie to come in on her night off. And something. I don't know. See then, that was the one time, I could have cursed fucking Jimmy. 'Cos he'd been here that afternoon when I was seeing waiters and waitresses. And you know, if it had been left to me, I would never have hired fucking Lucy. Why not? Ok, I'm gonna say it. Too fucking good looking. I mean, you know how many wannabe actresses we get working here? Thing was. This one actually should have been in the movies. Get black hair. Porcelain skin. And a body - see just talking about it, I'm thinking about that body. Even in that shapeless blouse and that skirt below the knee we give them.

Fucking Lucy. And that was what was starting to dawn on me. That's what Miguel might be doing. Maybe right now instead of supervising the amuse bouche. Fucking Lucy. Amusing his own fucking bouche.

No, Jimmy hadn't a been there, I wouldn't have hired her. Too good looking. Yeah, yeah, I know political correctness and sexism and feminism and all that. I know all about that. I read the New Yorker. We put it out with the papers Sunday morning when we do brunch. But something tells me these columnists writing for these fancy magazines never tried to get a seven-course tasting menu out to two hundred covers when they're missing the anchor man of their crew. Good looking women are trouble, in the restaurant business at least. The crew get sweet on them and give them little tit bits when no one's looking. The chefs date them and when they're dating the chef, well then there's no real need for them to do any work, so all the other waiters gotta run around twice as fast. And when they stop dating the chef, he's passed out drunk on a pile of flour sacks with a broken heart.

And all this is running round in my head while I'm talking to the chef and Tulo - Miguel's number two, but he's no Miguel, and we're agreeing we're going to change the menu to a bunch of old favourites that the crew could do with their eyes closed and I'm thinking. Maybe I'll get through this and fuck Migel. When Kenny walks in the kitchen with the phone and says "It's Lucy, for you, I think she's with Miguel."

"Hey Lucy!"

"Hey Bee." That's Mr Briani to you, you fine-featured fucking disaster or high heels.

"What's happening Lucy?"

"Sorry I couldn't make it in tonight Bee, I know it Saturday night and we're busy." We? There ain't no 'We' darlin'. "See the thing is, I was just over here at Miguel's this afternoon. We were kind of - hanging out - and all of a sudden, Miguel didn't feel so good.

"Really? Maybe it was something he ate?" She gave a little laugh at that. It was a mistake from me, I know. I was getting soft, it'd been a while since I'd had to deal with someone who dealt this tough.

"I don't think so, I think he's eating fine." Another little giggle. If I hadn't a been thinking about strangling her, I've got to admit she sounded gorgeous. What could you expect from someone like Miguel? Loyalty? He comes home every night to some fourth floor walk-up drench in his own sweat working for me. Sends half of what he earns back to his wife and kids in Puerto Rico.

"But whatever it is he's got. I think what Miguel's worried about the reason he hasn't come in, is that maybe he'll give to the whole crew." OK, so that explained the sheepish looks. Fucking bitch formed a union.

Maybe I did learn something in prison. I'll tell you, I played a lot of poker. And one thing I learned. The minute it crosses your mind you can't win. You fold. We did OK. That night. I could see it in the faces of some of the diners. It wasn't quite what they were expecting. They'd paid a lot of them for that one special night and their tastebuds weren't blown away. Maybe just rocked in their sockets. But I knew we couldn't go on like that for much longer. Word would get round. The critics would circle like buzzards.

Sunday evening we're dark. I mean Jimmy in one of his bars over on third. "Jimmy, I done good for you these 10 years" I say, "but now we got a problem. Let me explain what it is, and how I'm gonna fix it. Now if you want to do it my way. That's fine. If you want to let me go. Well, it's been fun while it lasted, and no hard feelings on my part."

Jimmy's a good guy. But I don't think he deals well with criticism. Not even implied. And so it turned out that exactly six days after Jimmy made an "executive management decision" and hired Lucy I was out of a job. In fact, we were all out of a job. Lucy, Miguel, his entire crew. And me and Miguel who'd been through all sorts together, well we never saw each other, or spoke again, though I know he's running the kitchen "L'Angolo Tranquillo" over on fourth and it's getting raves (I still read the New Yorker). And Jimmy, well like I said, he's a good guy, and he did another guy a favour and gave him a manager job straight out of prison, just like he did with me. But it didn't work out. And Jimmy now, well I guess he's got more pressing things to worry about than restaurants, what with the FBI. The restaurant I worked in ten years is up for rent and can't say I'm not tempted. Me? I made a few phone calls. Fast as I could, before word got round. To Jimmy's uncle Primo. I'd picked up just about enough Italian. Of course Shaheed had a cousin. Did you think there was any chance he didn't? Oh, I don't know if they're actually related. And I don't know what kind of trouble Shaheed would have been in if the Italians figure out he'd talked to me. But a contact is a contact Abul was his name. And I read a few of the reviews of the place he was working and course, he couldn't miss a shift and anyway I wanted to see for myself, so I went to see him in Minneapolis. Fucking Minneapolis where he was being wasted, him and his crew. And I felt sorry for the manager there. He was going to wonder what the fuck just happened. But what is it they say? Business is business?

And Lucy? I never saw her again. And if did. You'd see a fat guy who eats every night at the best French restaurant in New York, running as fast he can down the street in the opposite direction.