During the summer, I was poor. It is still hard for me to understand why I was broke when I wasn’t paying rent and working all the time, but I was paying off my car, buying dog food and covering my storage units in Southern California. I cut out the alcohol and cigarettes because I simply didn’t have enough money. To keep my stomach from growling, I would boil spaghetti noodles and flavor them with black pepper and chili powder.
I didn’t mind. I was happy to have a house to myself and waited for the Old Man to come back. I studied and memorized the sound of different trucks that drove by. I grew familiar with the neighbor’s pick-up, with the occasional lumber truck and the various engines marked in distance from the driveway.
I wrote on my computer which took up most of his kitchen table, always hitting my head on the low hanging chandelier when I stood up and cursing it. The shower head was level with the base of my neck and I was too tall for the guest bed. I slept on the living room couch, getting stoned and watching “Golden Girls” until I drifted off in sleep under a handmade pink shawl and a blanket of dogs. The dust in the air triggered quite a few migraines, so I slept with a heating pad on my head and sometimes fell asleep in the Old Man’s bedroom where no ray of sunshine could find me.
When the hours at work picked up and a good deal of us worked seven days a row at the Hotel, I rarely slept. I would work 10-12 hours, go home and read as much as possible before falling asleep. Once in awhile, I would squeeze in an intense writing session for school or the blog, just to keep me from falling too far behind. There was no time to see Matt, the 25-year-old I went out with twice before. I texted him that I was busy but really wanted to see him, hoping he would understand. He took it as a brush off and stopped texting me. Occasionally, I would remind him of the end of my work week or the day after a school deadline. We stayed in touch and made a date on the one day I had off.
Driving down to Vancouver, I paid for a bikini wax at Priscillia’s with the same violent waxist, this time she brought in another girl to train on me. They hotly discussed the art of torture in foreign tongues, holding me down by my clitorus as each strip tore more and more out of me. The new girl would then rub at the pink, raw area making the pain last several minutes longer than it should. I would have been annoyed and frustrated had I not been laughing into my hand. It ended with each woman pulling apart an ass cheek and ripping hair out of my butt. I thought I had to ask for that service … oh well. It just needed to end.
I texted Matt on my way back to Skamania and he cancelled our date for no good reason. I get it, he needed to prove that he wasn’t available only when I was available but we never had a chance to see each other again. If I could do it again, I would like him to show me all the things he promised- hiking trails, dirt bike riding, shooting guns, Panther Falls just so I could have really had a Skamania love affair. Like everything else in my life, all was pushed back so I could work. Work. Work. Work. And that is all I did for the rest of the summer.
My love affairs were all flirtations at work. The men at the hotel were now comfortable with me. Two of the dishwashers flirted with me, one a pudgy, dough-faced 24-year-old who wore skull handkerchiefs around the top of his head like an aging rock star. The other dishwasher was a 7-ft tall guy with small nubs growing on his face, spacey teeth, no hair but always wore a baseball hat. He would get intense when he was overwhelmed, but kept himself in check around me. The dishwashers always helped me, and I helped them. I racked dirty glasses up for them when they were swamped, I organized the dirty dish line so they wouldn’t have to, I took back the clean dishes and snuck them desserts. They never forgot that. When we were out of glasses or dessert plates, they took care of it for me on the spot. They were never rude or curt with me like I had heard with the others.
There were a few line cooks that would stop everything when I walked past so they could smile and wave at me. One of the cooks was a Hispanic who didn’t speak clear English named Modesto. No one could understand what he said, and after giving me long mumbled instructions I would say, “No one can understand what you are saying, Modesto.” Everyone in the kitchen chuckled. When I dropped something in front of him, everyone stopped to look and I said, accusingly,“Modesto!” He thought that was hilarious, so anytime I dropped anything back in the kitchen, which was often enough, I shouted “Modesto!”, even on his days off.
One day he asked me out while working an omelette station. “You want to go out, I take you. Give me your number. I call. When you off?”
I dodged giving him my number while his was poorly printed on a paper towel. “I never give you again. You lose! Not give to you again,” he said.
“Ok,” I said. When it got busy, he cornered me, “You work very hard. Why?”
I laughed, “I need the money …”.
“Why am I so happy when I see you?” he asked. “I guess you fell in love,” I said. He smiled and gave me an “I Love You” sticker that is still taped to the back of my phone. I flirted with all of them, and when Modesto felt like I was blowing him off he would say, “You say you want to see movie, I can take you to movie but you no call.”
“I still haven’t seen a movie! I am really busy with school and work, I can’t even see the boy I was seeing,” I said.
“It’s ok …” he always said, with palms out, “It’s ok … you busy, I busy, I make time. You don’t.”
Once, on payday, he followed me to the one grocery store in town and offered to buy my groceries. I refused until he offered to buy me vegan ice cream. I let him buy me a box of Soy Delicious ice cream sandwiches. On the way out, I had had maybe 5 hours sleep and 500 pages to read, he followed me to my car, “You don’t call, I buy you ice cream, why not stop by and watch movie at my house?”
I turned, “I don’t have the emotional capacity for this conversation right now. I have to go home and study. But thank you for the ice cream!” I was exhausted. My hair sloppy and in my face. My eyes puffy. I didn’t even have the stamina to masturbate, much less make out with anyone (if you know me, you understand what a grand statement that is!).
The graveyard shift included two middle-aged men who were so pale, they looked blue. The one with a mustache would always say, “There she is!” whenever we crossed paths, whether it be at the end of a night service around 2am or at the beginning of a morning service at 5am.
The In-House Dining guy was tall and good looking. Once he chased me down the hallway, “I have a question for you,” he said.
“Yes, I am single,” I said, smiling. He laughed then said, “I have my eye on you.”
The real relationships were with the couple men I worked closely with. Every morning, I saw Martin, the 58-year-old Banquets server who managed the department for the first 15 years the Hotel was open. He took a back seat and demoted himself to server so he could relax with his wife, work on his house and build for retirement on land in Hawaii. Of course, this came with criticism towards the new management. “Don’t tell me what I need to do when I am holding two hot pots of water. I need you to get out of the way, not tell me what to do. Hello? Half my life was spent as a waiter. Hello? Culinary degree? You know … now get the fuck out of my way.”
Martin always smiled when we worked together. My inappropriate jokes and off-key singing always made him happy. We would work services together as a two person team, and working with someone who is good, who is really good, made all the difference. You develop a rhythm. One works on food, the other on service. You anticipate each other’s needs, nodding in understanding from across the room. When you finish, you close the doors to the Banquet hall, pour yourself a glass of something and crash down together on an empty table and talk. It was more fulfilling than having sex with a boy I picked up at a bar.
“I set up a coffee station and put the garbage by their knees so it wouldn’t knock in to them too hard when they filled their coffee. Not too hard. Now, they still left their empty sugar packets on the table next to the coffee. So I put a small container on the table for garbage. I came back to refresh the station, and there are still empty sugar packets on the table next to the container. So I take a sugar packet, rip it open and drop it in the container so they can see … hello? … that is where you put your garbage. Didn’t matter. Didn’t make one bit of difference,” he said.
Tate and Harry, the cousins in their late teens, were breaking down the ballroom arguing about who could bench press me more times. Harry was so impassioned by it that he dropped to the ground and did a backwards karate flip back up to his feet. It was ridiculous but it made me feel pretty. Gary, the 6’5 Native American steward who was large, quiet, worked a lot of shifts but did as little as possible, suddenly threw a chair across the room. “Are we going to start throwing shit? This place makes me want to throw shit,” he said. It was such a break in his soft spoken character that I fell to my knees crying in laughter.
I loved breaking down a wedding after hours. We would put dance music on the speakers, stuff our faces with what we could and all tease each other until we were too tired to stand anymore. Tate loved making me laugh but didn’t understand half the things I said:
“I need one more water goblet out there,” I asked.
“A what?” he asked.
“A water goblet?”
“What the fuck is a water goblet?”
“A water glass … like now!”
“Why not just ask for a water glass, Jesus, don’t use old woman talk. Why not ask for a spot of tea while you are at it?” he said.
When we were packed with weddings and conferences and dinners, we ran low on basic supplies like linens, plates, silverware and glasses. While Tate was checking all the 16 oz. glasses for water stains, he made a comment, “That party sucked. It was faggy.”
“That’s derogatory,” I said as I grabbed a rack of his clean and polished 16 oz glasses away from him, “so I am taking your rack of clean glasses as punishment.”
“Wha? … You talk funny,” he said. The other teenage girls laughed and looked at me sympathetically, as if I should be sensitive about having a broader vocabulary. The truth was these kids had no kind of education whatsoever.
“I know I nod my head whenever you talk to me, but I don’t understand half the words you say,” Kelly once said to me.
“What is the context? What is the root word?” I said.
She once asked me what 36 plus 7 was when polishing champagne flutes for a wedding. “What is 6 plus 7? Carry the 1. Do the work,” I said. And they did, with some reluctance but overall they just needed positive influence.
“I don’t like that you know more than me,” Tate said once, at the bussing station, “I like girls that know less than me.” I laughed, “At least you are honest about it.”
Harry was less in touch with himself. As he worked there more, he grew more moody and more talkative. It was difficult to understand his low rambling. I gave up towards the end of the summer. I walked into one of the banquet halls to help Gary fold napkins and caught the end of a Harry monologue, “My sister only eats ramen. That is the only thing she eats. And she never washes dishes, so there is nothing but ramen packets and pots on the sink and on the stove and I say to her, ‘Why don’t you eat something more than ramen?’ She says she doesn’t care. Girls are the messiest. My sisters especially.”
Harry was called away and Gary came up to me and under his breath said, “That all started from asking him how his day was. I am never doing that again.”
Shueman, the gorgeous Houseman out of high school and already trapped in his hometown relationship, would walk past me in the parking lot and smile. His sleeves rolled up over his shoulders and the curve of skin over muscle. I smiled back. That was the quietest love affair.
The one who paid me the most attention, who I looked forward to the most, was the Quarterback fresh out of high school with all the promise in the world. He would alternate approaches with me. One day he came up to me and gave me an indian burn on my forearm. “I could have made that really hurt,” he said.
“I am in my sexual peak,” I explained, “If you are going to shove your ass in my face, I am going to grab it. That is just the way it is.”
We would still play the flip each other off game. Finding new ways to pop each other the middle finger while embedded in an average day of service. If I was looking for parking, and past him in the employee lot, I would push up my heart-shaped sunglasses with my middle finger. If I was walking by and casually talking to someone else, sometimes I would turn to look down a short hallway or room and see QB standing there, stoic, with his middle finger erect.
Once we got our schedules, and QB was polishing glasswear, I walked out and said, “Do you want to see what shifts I am working? I know you do,” holding up the schedule with two middle fingers.
He refused to look at me, “I don’t have to look at you to know what you are doing right now.” I cackled and turned to walk away, catching the eye of his mother, our boss, watching us with concern.
“You are so immature for 44,” he shouted after me.
After that, we were never scheduled on the same service together unless another supervisor shifted things around.
The next day he handed me a wood fan left behind from a wedding. “I got you a present,” he said. When he handed me the fan, I kept it in my pocket all day until I saw him walking towards me. I leaned up against the wall, pulled it out and fanned myself. He would grin at me, like a man not a boy.
It was ridiculous having a young, tall, redhead follow me around with insults and indian burns, but it made me happy. If I walked in for night shift, he would see me, turn his head and cover his mouth as he smiled. When he found out I was on Facebook, he reviewed my profile eagerly and read some of my posts, “The first rule of bike club is there is no bike club,” he said chuckling, then held his hand up to cover his face. “You are stupid,” he said. I could see the smile through his fingers and wondered if he really had a crush on me, or if I was just a conquest like the other girls in town.
“Please don’t tell me you are going to get some girl pregnant and get stuck in this town like everyone else,” I said once, between lunch and dinner service.
“My mom wants me to have babies,” he responded.
I rubbed my temples and he gave me that squinty look of confusion before giving up the smile. “God, that gives me an anxiety attack. There is a whole world out there. Go find it. See things. Fall in love with other girls. Then come back and have babies,” I said.
“What did you do before this?”
“I was in the film industry?” I said.
“Production, Distribution, Web Producer.”
“It seems like, I don’t know, you are too good for this job or something…”
“I decided I didn’t like working for assholes. I prefer to be here, in the walls between the assholes.” I studied his face to see if he knew what I meant but realized he was still too young.
He asked about my writing program, what my specialty was …”Creative Non-Fiction” I said.
“What are you writing about?”
“Did you put me in your novel?”
“I did,” I said, grinning and walking alongside him. He turned to look at me and gave me that look, that unforgettable, sexy look men give me when they find out I have written about them. Hope. Curiosity. Satisfaction. I try to remember those faces once I disappoint them.
We walked into the linen closet together for table cloths. “Your eyes are blue today, I thought they were green the other day,” I said.
“They are both, depending on what mood I am in.”
“Come on …” I said.
“No really, an optometrist said I have a very rare eye color he has never seen before.”
“In Skamania County,” I dismissed.
“They are rare, you have never seen eyes like this before in your life,” he said, getting close to my face and holding his eyelids open until the white of his eyes popped out at me. He leaned into me so much, I took a step back. He pulled back and looked down on me. This 18-year-old child looked down on me and I smiled wondering if I would kiss him in the linen closet. That would be bad.
We walked out into a hallway, perpendicular to the Back Hall.
“I know you want to fuck me, why don’t you just come out and say it? I am tired of this cat and mouse game. Lets … get it on,” he said, pressing his hands on either side of a cart so I could see four years of football in his forearms.
“Don’t talk to me like that,” I said, spinning around with my nose in the air like a Jane Austen character. I walked a few feet down the hall until I was in the light of the Back Hall and saw Martin. “Only Martin can talk to me like that because his eyes don’t change color.”
“You want Martin?” he asked.
“Are you jealous?”
“Yeah,” he said. I used to hate men that loved young women, especially young teenage girls. I can tell you, as an older woman, there is something wonderfully fascinating about how alternately earnest and silly young men are. They don’t know how to use people yet. They only know they want something, and if you are lucky, that something might be you.
He would follow me down the hallway and tug at a loose curl, “Your hair is so funny, [StarFire]. You have it tightly wound up in buns, and there is always hair that is falling out.”
“It wants to be free,” I responded, as he delicately released my curl so it could bounce back into a wild spiral.
I sang to myself, all day long. On any given day I would sing Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” or “Makin’ Whooppee” on a wedding service, or switch over to Cake, the Stones, the Doors, whomever. Usually, QB (the Quarterback) would walk by, bobbling his head and giving that grin. My singing voice is horrible, but it always put most people in a good mood. While bussing, in off-key and complicated scale I sang David Bowie’s “Golden Years”:
“♫ ♪ Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, (high here) angel,
Come get up my baby . . .,
(deep here) Run for the shadows, run for the shadows, run for the shadows in these golden years … ♫ ♪” I sang.
“You should become a professional singer,” he said, sarcastically.
“You know, I have actually heard that before,” I shot back. He grinned, mouth closed, ears spread, freckles danced. I loved the banter. Every day was like Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. It wasn’t just the back and forth, it was the fucking potential in that kid. When we worked a service together, he was always on top of the food, the set-up, the details of the banquet service. Despite the fact that I was one of the best servers on staff, he still rode my ass about clearing plates and filling water glasses even if I was the only server allotted to his 40 guests. I respected that. He was a leader and he wanted his service to be as smooth as possible, no matter how perfect it already was. The visiting supervisor, who took over some of the supervisor shifts during the busy season (since we were already understaffed) called us the Dream Team. We were good together, and he wasn’t afraid to tell me what to do.
“I know you want to sit on my face,” QB said before ducking into a service.
“And do what? Read a book?” I called after him.
“Fuck you!” he said, with that freckled middle finger popped up at me from a distance.
All day I heard about what small tits I had, what a flat ass I had. “My tits are perfect!” I proclaimed in my defense.
“Gary has bigger tits than you,” he said. Gary giggled and I narrowed my eyes.
“The breast pockets on this uniform diminish my bust line,” I said.
The next day, I wore a white lace tank top underneath my work shirt so I could show him my figure. Little did I know when showing up that day QB forgot his wedding uniform shirt and was given the only one available in a woman’s medium. He kept complaining about the shirt being tight in his armpits, stretching his arms out from the small cotton sleeves. When he wandered into my empty banquet hall, tables were dressed but not set and lights were dim, I heard him complain, “I can’t wear this. It’s too tight.”
“You have a woman’s medium? I have a men’s medium! That’s all they had when they gave me this uniform. Wanna switch?” I suggested.
“OK,” he said.
“I have a tank top on today, this is a happy coincidence,” I said, proudly, knowing he would finally see the shape of my breasts.
“Well I don’t have an undershirt, so keep your eyes closed. I don’t need you getting all wet when you see my chest,” he said.
Alone, in the soft light of a wedding to be, we both unbuttoned our tops in front of each other. I closed my eyes for the most part, not because he asked me but because I was shy. My eyes cracked open for a second and I saw the perfect curves of his pectoral muscles. “Eugh, shit, I saw your chest. My eyes are burning.”
“Shut up . . .” he said softly.
I took off my shirt with my eyes still closed and handed it to him. I cracked open one eye and saw him smiling at me with his uniform shirt unbuttoned and hanging loosely off of his broad shoulders. My heart sped up. I felt a little sweat tickle my arm pits. My smile wouldn’t fade. I closed my eyes shut again and felt him take the shirt from out of my hand and replace it with his.
He walked behind a high stack of chairs to button up the new shirt. I turned away from him but circled back to him. Again, I saw the soft light on his perfectly sculpted body before turning away in embarrassment. “My breasts are perfect, huh?”
“Yeah … what a waste,” he said, looking down with a smile.
The visiting supervisor walked into the room to let us know some minor detail of service and broke the tension in the room. As I buttoned up, he professionally explained what he thought we needed to hear. I looked down and nodded, feeling his eyes on me. It annoyed me. My tank top was for QB, not for him. The smell of Old Spice and Freckled Boy rose out from underneath the shirt.
All day I could smell him and it drove me mad. Later, when I went to the bathroom, I found a perfect tear drop of moisture in my panties from his scent alone.
I had to remind myself he was a kid. I had to remind myself what it was like to be 18. How scary adults were. How new everything was. How exciting it was to think someone older was attracted to you but how paralyzing it was when sex was set into motion. I looked at him, I took the slaps on the back, the punches to the arm, the sarcastic insults and hidden smiles, and I reminded myself that he was just a kid.
Our eyes would often meet and I would replicate his expression, a squinty smile, a quizzical look. “Why are you looking at me like that?” he always asked.
“Because that is how you are looking at me,” I said. “When you look at me with that squint, it looks like Luke Perry. Do you know who Luke Perry is?”
“No, I don’t know who fucking Luke Perry is,” he said, walking past and dragging a handful of ice along the exposed skin of my hips peeking out from underneath my work shirt. The chill ran up my back and plucked my nipples. I turned to look at him with an open mouth and sparkle in the eye wondering if he knew how erotic that was.
“You gonna let him get away with that?” a 60-year-old Houseman said, walking towards me.
“Are you kidding?” I asked. “I encourage it.”
One night on an evening service with Tate, we all sat down to eat whatever food was left over. With me, being vegan, the only food was green beans with almonds. Snore. QB and Tate ripped into the pork loin and discussed sex as if the only educational tool available to them on the subject was the internet. I sat next to QB and Kyle was seated at the table across from us.
“My brother took home this whore, remember? And he fucked her in the next room,” Tate described.
“Do not refer to her as a whore. I won’t tolerate that language,” I said.
“But she was! She was a stripper!” QB said.
“That isn’t a whore. You should refer to women with respect. I mean it. I won’t talk to you two if you use ugly words to describe women.”
There was silence before the flirtation was back on the upswing. Tate and QB spoke not-so-cryptically of tag teaming me, as I stuffed my face with green beans.
“Do you know what an Eiffel Tower is, [StarFire]?” Tate asked.
“I know what the Eiffel Tower is. What is an Eiffel Tower? A sexual position?” I asked.
Tate giggled and QB shook his head in dismay. “Shut up, Tate,” QB said.
“An Eiffel Tower is when two guys are on a girl and high five over her,” Tate said.
“God, you kids make me sad. Sex is better than internet porn. I hope you have the opportunity to figure that out,” I said.
“That’s stupid, Tate,” QB said.
There was a silence, and Tate stared at me and QB. We all sat, eating in silence.
“Do you want me to get [QB’s Mom] out of the house for an afternoon so you can fuck QB?” Tate asked.
I felt my cheeks burn. “No,” I said, “Why would I want to fuck QB?”
“Because you do,” he said. I refused to look at them and said, “I don’t want to fuck him.”
“Yeah, you do,” QB said. The testosterone in the room made my breasts sore. Heat rushed into my pants and I leaned back, coolly, wiping my mouth. “You wish,” I said.
Later, when we put away our dirty plates and cleaned up the empty tables outside in the dark, QB rushed in after me and leaned up against the table. His face was close to mine and in a whisper he said, “I know you want to fuck me. When the day comes that you and I fuck, and that day will come, you will . . .,” he stopped and thought about something to say, “you will say I have a great physique. That’s what all the girls say.”
I stared at his face in the night. I could only make out the line of his jaw, the dulled red of his hair in the moonlight, the pulsing forearms holding up his weight on the table and the smell of meat on his breath. I smiled at him, “Will I?” I said.
“You will,” and he walked away.
That night I went home, aching for a man to take my purse out of my hand, feed the dogs, rub my feet and make me tea before opening my book and starting in on notes for school. It was cold at night and in the morning since the Old Man left because I didn’t know how to use the wood burning furnace. I laid there and I thought of him, the boy who prodded me all day. The boy who tugged lightly on my curls and covered his smile with his hand when I walked in to start a service. The boy who didn’t back down from the banter and paid attention to everything I did.
Huck, an ex-lover from writing school, accused me of falling in love with all my characters. In a way I do, writing about them becomes as intimate as sex. Here I sit, with a splash of whiskey and a computer in a dark corner of another person’s kitchen, typing down the words and images of a boy who tried to seduce me and I feel more alone than I did a few hours ago when I started writing this.
He was just a kid, right?