Dreaming of La Sal

A serial novel by Michelle Curry Wright


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Chapter 6 – A cliché by any other name

 

When Max called Mimi on Sunday, she’d sounded somewhere between asleep and stuffed up. Fearing he’d intruded on her and possibly on someone with her, he apologized too much and avoided the subject of dinner, which he was supposed to cook that night.

“Are you okay?” he’d asked, and there had been a moment or two of silence. “Yeah,” she’d answered, “But I’m just barely okay.”

She had, in fact, awakened with a  bad cold and an an echo chamber for a head. “I seem to have come down with a bad cold, Max,”  she told him. “Maybe you can fix something spicy for dinner. That is, if you you’re not too paranoid about people with colds being in your house.” She herself would have been, had the situation been reversed.
Max, however, was simply relieved that he had not intruded, intrusion being for him as bad as being caught with his pants down. “No, of course not,” he said with composure, certain that he could not get a cold from such an attractive person. What time do you want to eat? Seven?”  They agreed on seven and each spent the day looking forward to dinner with the brave apprehension of people newly interested in each other.

Mimi, hurting from the inside out, draped a down quilt over herself, turned on all the heaters, and drank ginger root tea — a remedy she believed in — while contemplating recent events. Feeling too heavy to move, she could neither turn on the music nor the TV; and in moments like these, people used to the constant stimulation of sound, and images, and simplistic plots  relish the silence they cannot otherwise bring themselves to enforce. Sure enough, filtered sunlight fell on the carpet in lovely patterns, and free-form blotches from leafy plants on various perches. Nero, a curled-up shiny heap, lay placidly in his favorite chair. The plink-plink-plink of a leaky faucet accompanied the silence gently in this otherwise quiet home.

Caught in a  web spun entirely of the present moment, Mimi stared out the window. In an instant framed by watery light and a leaky faucet and dotted by the colors and shapes she glimpsed outside — the red bumper of an old truck, the branch of a cottonwood tree, bare and brown — she felt too full to speak or even open her mouth. With sadness and stillness and joy, she sensed the unity of life in a vision lasting all of five seconds. Maybe less. Receiving this gift gratefully, Mimi likened it to a kiss brushed across an  unsuspecting cheek, which in turn blushes and then returns to its norma color. A sigh heavy with satisfaction and pain both escaped her lips.

She wondered if you had to be tired to have these moments occur, why she couldn’t feel as calm and in touch on a regular basis. Having done yoga on and off for ten years now, she nevertheless couldn’t keep a routine down and therefore never made any progress toward suppleness or enlightenment. She had known that meditation would help her focus better than anything else but refused to be diligent. She felt she deliberately thwarted peace and enlightenment in every way possible.

And knowing that TV was everyone’s worst vice, she still turned it on with much the same frequency and guilt as other addicts reaching for that first Coke or doughnut or cigarette of the day. Once on, the barely audible high-pitched sound and the bluish color confirmed her suspicions that the whole package of television was unsafe and unsound, that it somehow toyed with energy fields around it, including that of any human stationed in front to it.

Therefore, Mimi O. O’Rourke, guilt-ridden, managed to read more than most people in an effort to override TV demerits accumulating against her. She had lost much of her desire to pour over the “great literature” which had consumed her college years and instead read popular novels — not trash, mind you — and magazines. And anything she could find that had to do with faith-healing, the brain, the mind-body connection, her most current pet subject.

A couple of years back, Mimi had done the new age thing – read dozens upon dozens of books, had gotten readings, gotten Rolfed, gotten regressed. And then, one day, she’d given all those books back to the local bookstore. Fifty-two books. Not that any of it was wrong; but while eating vegetable dumplings and spicy tofu, she’d had a vision, so to speak. Biting into that steamy dumpling, she’d realized that simplest truths were the greatest and the most difficult. Love,. Kindness. Self-knowledge. The orientation towards products, just its sheer volume, was confusing her. Crystals, cards, biofeedback devices, nutritional supplements, tapes, seminars, jewelry. Mimi , unable to sense the one for  her, was compelled to do each a little bit. The new age, a candy shop to someone like her, wasn’t helping her clarify life, simplify it or find its truth. Would a double-terminated crystal balance Mimi’s chaotic mind?  Would zinc and Spirulina help her reach the higher levels of consciousness and love? Would balancing her body balance her mind, or did that only work in reverse?

So, she’d given the books away and started doing a little more yoga and a little more meditating, vowing to be tempted by quick and easy answers to the great questions of all time.

Mimi, an impatient but smart woman, now believed in belief systems, the mind-body and mind-reality connection. If you believed zinc would help you  — at a level more profound than the conscious mind’s — then it probably would. Medical professionals could only see this in terms of the proven placebo effect; but many, including Mimi, knew it reached far beyond this. Belief is where it all began. Mimi’s problem was that with this knowledge came the choice of what to believe in; and beliefs themselves were much more difficult to arrive at than the mere choice to have them. It helped to have cultural bonds, or conviction, or pure desire, or even hardship. At least for someone as confused as Mimi.

She regularly came to the conclusion that a light heart and a clear head, love, and laughter should be the basis of a good life; but regularly she slipped back into the haze of being critical and impatient and confused. In trying times, the truth would shine through like a lighthouse beacon for a  boat on stormy seas. She would have convictions and count her blessings. And then back on relatively calm waters  she would reconvene with the distracted self. This was the nature of her life, and, possibly the nature of the lives of many others her age. Maybe many others period.

Here on the couch on this Sunday, she felt herself slide back into the real world from that brief and startlingly clear view of all of life that had peered in through the window or that she had perceived looking out of it. She grabbed a stack of catalogs and indulged her head cold with comforts she could rely on. Nearly everyone in the middle of nowhere loved window shopping by catalog. Her favorite was a catalog called Distinctive Gifts, which, today  was honing her in on a gag gift for Anna Kidd whose birthday would be coming up in December. Resembling a Walkman, this inexpensive device was a sound magnifier. In the guise of listening to music, one could actually listen in on conversations. She would have to love it.

Mimi turned down the corner of page 27 and picked up more catalogs. Organic foods. Fresh flowers. Cotton clothing. Lingerie. She thought of Max. And in breaking the spell of the catalogs, all of her other thoughts flooded back. Last night’s fiasco at Farfalle. Anna and Rory. The professor.

She got up to use the bathroom for the tenth time — the downfalls of tea drinking on an empty stomach — and on her way back picked up the professor’s letter and re-read it. He had never before mentioned anything about expecting letters from her. This struck her as odd, but being as she had already written him and the letter was en route, she displaced the thought. Tomorrow, she would stop by the real estate offices and pick up their listings for him. She didn’t particularly want him here that was the thing; and she had to mentally shifted gears, conjuring ways to discourage him. Maybe the prices would be enough to ward him off. Why would he want to come to a place that was crawling with the high and mighty? Maybe he just didn’t know. She made a note to tell him, and put the letter back down.

On the subject of Rory and Anna, she was irked. Anna, the ever calculating and orderly, had been positively girlish. They had met later on at The Buckeroo and talked about Dove Creek, as a matter of fact. Rory had put things on hold with the condo thing going on; and Eddie Market had told her on the sly that he would help her acquire it if Rory didn’t act soon. This she could not understand: why a shrewd realtor like Eddie would disregard a god-send of a client like Vermillion. She had continued to puzzle over it until she felt Eddi’s hand squeeze her knee, and being ticklish there she had jumped, letting out an “Oh” that lifted the eyes of most of the people around her. Eddi, the cad, had smiled with the greedy look of men about to be fed. She on the other hand, had excused herself, and gone to the bathroom to be alone.

Remembering all this all too clearly, she picked up the phone, against her better judgment, and dialed Anna’s number. After the ninth ring, knowing that Anna would have answered by the second or third, she replaced the receiver. “Oh god,” she said ou loud. “The dirty deed has been done.” If she had been Catholic, she would have crossed herself. Being lapsed and a heathen, however, she went to the refrigerator and removed the makings of what would become a large cheese sandwich. Later, she would feel bad about all the dairy, especially with a cold, but now she felt only the primal need for fat. Nero trotted in on cue and sat down abruptly next to her, intent upon a scrap of cheese and ready to put on his most earnest and soulful look to get it. “Here,” said Mimi to her dog as he caught an impossible toss. “You might as well have some animal fat, too.”

Mimi was a vegetarian, and usually felt guilty about some aspect of this, just as she felt guilty about most other things. Cheese comforted her but she felt she should ultimately give it up as well; soy cheese really wasn’t that bad, even if it did melt like plastic. And she adored soy milk. Her reasons for vegetarianism were simple and had to do with animal rights. All during her twenties she had intermittently given up flesh for various reasons – disgust, poverty, health — but had never before felt the choice to be such an irrefutably moral one. Now the choice was made for life.

She was not, however, the kind of vegetarian who spent all day cooking whole grains and vegetable stews; in fact, a lot of the vegetarian choices did not taste that good to Mimi. She did eat plenty of vegetables, especially in salads, and dined regularly on beans, potatoes, pastas, breads and stir-fry. She felt if whole cultures could survive on corn, squash and beans, like the ancient Anasazi did, she did not need to eat tempeh four times a day, or add soy flour to every loaf she baked. Happy with her choices for food, she rarely even craved butter or cheese except when sick or unhappy.

However, this particular cheese sandwich tasted good, and she topped it off with a few corn chips and salsa. Nero, sensing that he would receive no more, had retired to the living room and had it to himself now. The house Mimi lived in, last of a dying breed in a town rapidly gentrifying, was big. Palatial, for one person, in fact. Rent, ridiculously low, was paid gratefully and lovingly each month. Two bedrooms, a large bath, living room, big kitchen, workroom, and plenty of storage space. The house had been hers three years, and it bore her signature markings:comfortable furniture — almost at the expense of beauty, books lining every shelf on every wall of every room, and framed black and white photos on the remaining wall space. plants hanging and perched everywhere, with a table in the kitchen devoted exclusively to african violets. Each room was painted a different color, from an antique-y yellow-orange in the living room, to royal blue in the kitchen to forest green in the bathroom. The colors somehow soothed her.

Sleepy from lunch, Mimi moseyed back to a beckoning couch where her eyelids drooped, then dropped completely. she breathed through her mouth and snored lightly, quickly falling into the half-dream-state of daytime sleep. Within ten minutes, the phone was ringing, and Mimi, rudely awakened, bolted up. The phone, without fail, interrupted her naps. She snatched the phone and answered urgently, as if answering an alarm clock ringing in her ear.

“Hello???” Unsure of where she was, Mimi simply acted on instinct and waited for the trembling of her body to stop, gripping the receiver with two hands. Instead of hearing Anna’s voice, which was the only one she ould fathom — had she been dreaming of Anna? — she heard the hiss of long distance.

“Mimi?” She heard an unfamiliar male voice and tried harder to wake up, a nearly impossible task since these things cannot be rushed. “It’s Michael Hanratty. I hope I haven’t interrupted anything. You sound as if I’d just awakened you.” He paused, and Mimi again groped for consciousness. “Michael Hanratty?” she repeated. “What a surprise. Can you hold on for just a second?” Confused but coming back to her senses, she continued, “I need to blow my nose.” She let the receiver plunk down and raced for the sink where she doused her face with cold water and reached for a paper towel with which to blow her nose. “The professor,” she mumbled to herself, pulling on her bangs. She picked up the receiver again and held it tightly to her ear.

“I have a cold and I actually was napping. But if you hadn’t called, someone else would have.” She affected breeziness.”The phone always, always rings on those rare occasions when I nap. Anyway, um, What’s up?” She hadn’t spoken to him in, how long? Three years, at least. He sounded just exactly the same, though, and if she’d been awake she would have recognized the voice instantly.

“Well,” he began, “I take it you received my last note. Or have you?” His voice was neither deep nor high-pitched, but extremely conversational and even. The kind of voice that could tell a story well, without over dramatizing. “Yes,” answered Mimi, aware now  of the sound of her own, rather high-pitched voice, “and I was  I was going to pick up some listings from the realtors in town tomorrow and send them off. Prices are kind of high here. I was wondering if you really realized how much the town’s changing. Movie stars and stuff. Big bucks.” Mimi’s role, next to the professor, was to represent popular idioms and culture. She saw all the new movies, watched TV, and read new novels, and had dutifully reported on them to this man who felt more at home without a TV, without movies, and without any books written after the turn of the century. He even spoke without the laziness of the common woman or man, without the limits of a vocabulary wanting in adjectives and verbs. He never said “like” or “um.”

“How bad it is?” was his question now, said with a certain amount of aversion towards a distasteful subject. As if he were checking on an accident victim or something.

“That depends,” answered Mimi, surprised that he would express any tolerance toward conspicuous consumption, “on who and what you find tolerable.” she paused. “The tabloids have taken to calling local businesses for inside information. Million-dollar homes are becoming common. Celebrities are building next to other celebrities. Realtors are living like no one has lived before. But then, that happened on the Vineyard, too.”

“And that’s why we sold our property on the Vineyard. I had no idea it was coming to that in Telluride.”

What article had omitted to mention that land values had tripled in five years and that the rich and famous were barging in? “Well you can see for yourself what’s available when I send you the stuff.” Mimi was amused at the notion of having the professor in her town. Amused and slightly annoyed. It did give her an edge of some sort: this amused her. The annoyance came from the idea of mixing past and present together in an unruly psychological mix.

“I called for another reason, though, Mimi,” he was saying now. Her nose had begun to drip again, profusely, and she excused herself again, relieved at the change of subject.

“So what is the reason you called, then? asked Mimi, more plugged up than ever and sounding like a commercial for cold medicine. “Not that it’s not fine just to talk to you after so long,” she added. Michael Hanratty chuckled and admitted it had been a long time.

“You’ve been writing me letters for quite some time,” he began. “About ten years.” He’d cleared his throat, and Mimi was sensing something weird. “Yup,” she answered. “Alotta letters.” Had someone stolen them, or had he lost them, or worse yet, and some student read them all?

“And a while ago, you started with this cliché business. How our life and lessons could all be summed up in terms of the truth of cliché. All those clichés and how they applied to you. That’s been going on for nearly five years.”

Mimi, biting her lower lip as slimy liquid continued to drip from her nose, had no idea what this was about. “Clichés, yeah,” she answered, sounding like a snotty-snowed hood. “I’ve always like them. They’ve never gotten their due except in old popular songs, country western songs and romance novels. Personally, I’ve felt the need to elevate them, bring them up to a more interesting level, one of truth and irony both.”

She had acquired the intellectual tone and caught herself. “Excuse the lecture,” she said, and shifted back into the popular idiotic. “What, are you all of a sudden interested in the lowbrow?” Mimi, unable to reach the paper towels, pulled off a cotton sock and blew her nose into it. “If the professor only knew,” she thought, and had to catch herself from laughing aloud.

He replied slowly. “It’s not just me, Mimi. You see, a friend and I were talking about ex-students and I happened to mention we’d had a long correspondence and the theme of your letters. This friend, a former professor, had become an editor at one of the LA publishing houses. He wanted to read a few, intrigued by the cliché idea; and not thinking you would min, I let him. To make a long story short, he wants to publish your letters from the last five areas. He likes them.”

Mimi felt a rush of some exquisite chemical in her body and her nose cleared instantly, as if by magic. The only other time the time this happened was during the hay fever season and a moment of intense sexual fulfillment. “Of course, you have a perfect right to say no,” he went on. “I realize it could be offensive to you that I showed anyone at all those letters, and for that I apologize. Quite honestly, I got a little excited myself.”

“Publish my letters? Mimi echoed, suddenly feeling as though the world held nothing but opportunity for her. “Oh my god. Shit. Let me think about this. Let me think.” But she couldn’t think of anything except herself on David Letterman being funny and being famous. What would she wear? Would Letterman like her? Could she give advice to others writing letters for fun and profit?

“He said something about some quite popular illustrator doing the cover as well as a few drawings for the inside. He wanted to call you himself, but I felt that wouldn’t be appropriate.” Michael Norris Hanratty was at this time trying to get a sense of Mimi’s silence. “Do you have any thoughts or gut reactions to this? I know it must come as a shock.”

“Shock?” Mimi echoed. “Yes. Pure, unadulterated shock. The real shock being that the book is already written and all I have to do is give my permission to some publishing house. Very very shocked. I never  thought of myself as a writer, and now all of a sudden I’m being told I’m a writer. I mean I know that writing is something I can do if the subject is just right and if my heart’s in it. but I never even thought about my letters that way. This friend of yours, does he know what he’s doing? I mean does he know a good thing or not? Does he talk big and do white drugs — or can he be trusted?” She was talking fast now, losing her breath, on the verge of collapse.

“Syd’s been in publishing nearly ten years. He’s told me about his projects, but frankly I never paid much attention. You know I don’t keep up on this kind of thing. I think it could be very interesting for you; and I think you should talk to Syd. Syd Renoir. Odd name, and an interesting fellow. used to teach American lit, the modern stuff. Plays Mahjong. Half Jamaican.”

Mimi was racking her brain trying to remember a Syd Renoir. “Did I ever know him”? she asked, beginning to doubt her own memory. But the professor answered, no, he’d been a colleague at UCLA. This was a good sign, for some reason. Maybe he was worldly, and sharp. “Well, am I supposed to call him up or what? The whole notion of suddenly becoming a published author was making Mimi feel that her shirt had just ripped open to reveal another set of tight-fitting clothes, including a  the letter “S” emblazoned  on her front. Her ego jumped two sizes. Unsure of how to behave with a bigger ego, however, she continued on in her old way, sensing an ill-fit somewhere.

“No,” answered the professor to her question. I told him I’d call you and if the answer was “yes,” he could call you himself. Will you be at home tomorrow?”

Mimi answered yes, she would in fact be reading magazines and doing her nails by the phone all day. And at a loss for words, she began to thank him for her lucky break. He interrupted her. “I won’t say it was destiny, but I would call it fortuitous. This may even free you from looking for investors for your café.” She’d forgotten all about her plea for money. She wondered how much writers got paid.

“I’m totally thrown off-balance by this,” she admitted to him now shaking from the coming down part of those bodily chemicals, “But I like the feeling. Maybe I will make enough  for the café; because, you know, it has my name all over it.” The café might be hers, and she could be its famous owner. “It kind of makes you famous, too, though doesn’t it?” she asked him, not knowing his reaction to fame at the hands of a non-intellectual former student with a conversational writing style He didn’t answer right away, and she guessed his reasons. “Oh, so you get to remain anonymous?” It was an accusation to which she added, “How fitting.”

He laughed at this, half-triumphant, and with this release of tension, they dropped the subject at hand and exchanged brief and superficial news of their lives.

The actual relationship had changed, but somehow this had not deterred her from writing to him i the same way for all that time, with the same tone. As if her were an unchanging and impartial observer being amused by stories of her and her life. As if the relationship — or lack thereof — was the one constant in a sea of variables. Now she thanked providence, life, the universe, that he was alive and that she had not altered her letters to suit the reality of their friends. Which, at this point in time, had  nothing going for it except time itself. Did she even know the man anymore, she wondered.

Maybe not. But at this moment, she loved him deeply, profoundly, unabashedly, nevertheless.

At the end o  a fifteen minute conversation, she promised to send the real estate package, and he promised to write more letters. “Geez,” she said aloud practically talking to herself, “I’m not sure I can write to you anymore, though, in the same way. I mean, I’ll be so self-conscious; how would I do it?” Horrified at such a thought, and concerned that she might have trouble documenting her life in her own way as she’d one for so many years — something she found necessary in making her own life interesting to herself– she became silent and felt her face tense. Her almond-shaped eyes squinted in search of an answer.

“No,” she finally pronounced, “I’ll have to keep on writing just as though this never happened. you’d think I wouldn’t have any problems after ten years.”

Bidding each other good-bye, Mimi hung up the phone and felt her body humming with a new vibration. The letter-writing vibration. The free money vibration. The vibration of being on top of the world, of confidence, of spending money, of living it up, of not having to live it up. Yes, of having a cup of semi-caffeinated coffee with cream — even with a cold. What cold??? The very same vibration of good fortune got bigger and bigger, and before you knew it, she was bouncing on the couch, boing, boing, boing, hands free at her side, face lit up with this new self she had become, smile rubbery from the up and down g-force changing her face with each bounce. A book. Money. La Sal. Junction. Beans. Boing.

“Please, oh great impartial power above, let this be a true dram. Let this unfold as if it were all written out by someone before I was born. Let me flow with the river.” Even prayer was her friend now.

After she had bounced a while, having urged Nero to join her, which he did without needing any motive for enthusiasm at all, she bounced back to a sitting position and felt the blood rush to her face. The head cold, temporarily forgotten, came back, throbbing, in a head that felt three times its size. “Maybe my head has actually grown to three times its size,” she said, feeling once again a surge of ego.

Powerful force. She wondered — nervously — if she could handle it.

By six o’clock, Mimi was soaking in a tub as she let thoughts of success wash over her like the sweetest balm she had ever know. “Nothing has changed, girl,” she lectured herself with her hands on her hips in the water. “How can one little incident make you feel so damn good?” She felt that if she were truly advanced, there would be no great highs and lows, there would simply be a good life, unaltered by the tides of emotion. But it was a high tide in the tub for Mimi, and she knew it. “I’m no Buddhist monk; I’m a writer!” She let her wind-up dolphin go and it circled her breast three and a half times before petering out.

“And it takes all kinds to make the world go ’round.” This she truly believed, even more so as time passed. “Which will be my next cliché, Nero.” Hearing his name, the black beast approached the water with, yes, enthusiasm, and licked Mimi’s bare shoulder. Unaccountably, Mimi sneezed in response to this particular sensation and her eyes teared. She slumped, giving in to the sneeze. The warm water, lightly Epsom salted, combined with the sneeze, had finally relaxed this small person whose adrenaline supply for the month had been released in one afternoon She removed herself from the bath at twenty to seven and began to dress for dinner.

Agonizing over what to wear, she settled eventually, as she frequently did, on basic black. Faded jeans and a loose black cotton sweater. Black underwear (why not?). Silver earrings and Chanel No. 5  Expensive perfume, what some would consider an appendage to diamonds and pearls, was a weakness for Mimi. Various scents recaptured certain times of her life, and through her nose, she re-lived them. It had all started with a giant bottle of Diorissimo, given to her as a gift at age sixteen. That bottle had lasted years and now  represented those same years in her mind. From the backs of cars to driver’s ed class.

Chanel, on the other hand, was summers in New York when all she could smell was steamy garbage and her own Chanel. Other smells did the same thing in more mysterious ways. Comforted by the smell of Ivory soap, she’d figured out her grandmother must have used it because it brought her dimly to mind every time she squeezed a puff of soapy air from the bottle toward her nostrils. The smell of libraries activated her gut like coffee did other people’s. Smelling crayons made her want to cry. Whole books were written on such subjects, and she felt she had a good understanding of why.

By 7:04 p.m., Max’s dinner guest was knocking on the door. He reached down to check his fly, and finding it zipped, opened up the door. Nearly frozen, bone-dry air from outside collided with the warm and savory air from within at Max’s threshold. Where these two air masses met, so did Mimi and Max. He welcomed her, hs face shocked by the cold; and she inhaled deeply and smiled.

“M-m-m-m-m,” was all she said as she stepped inside the cozy trailer. It had been a while since a man had cooked her dinner.

 

 


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Chapter 5 – Dinners and Diners

 

Saturday night at Farfalle was a busy night, but not during the month of October. Mimi O. O’Rourke dressed competently, donning the black and white as she had hundreds of times before, but without the anxiety she felt during “the season.” She felt compelled, each night, to make a statement in her attire, even if it meant a much broader reading of the rigid guidelines.

Tonight, her pants were black but hugged her like paint; her shirt was white but had the snaps and cut and satin piping of a cowgirl shirt. The tie was black but flecked with tiny mustard colored pistols. She wore black Converse tennis shoes. Looking into the full length mirror, she winked at herself and at her version of rule-bending. A holster would have been a nice touch, she thought to herself. Something for the guys at work to laugh about.
Mimi had several such outfits — variations on a Chinese theme, a forties theme, an Indian theme — but rarely completed the look to the extent she had tonight. Tonight, to vanquish her boredom, she would enter stage right and entertain her friends with her western wear. Why not? Business would be so slow that they would spend half the night eating, reading the newspaper, and folding over napkins. They would close early and drink wine for an hour. She would come home no richer than she had left.

While piling her hair on top of her bead and searching for a chopstick with which to skewer it – an off-drifting of sorts into the Chinese theme — she noticed that her stack of mail on the kitchen table and realized she had not sorted through it. She shuffled impatiently through the half dozen letters. A doctor bill for the removal of a wart. One hundred thirty-five dollars. Three pleas for money from various animal rights groups. A glossy postcard from what looked like the South Pacific. Though beckoning, the image was awash in cliché. Palm trees saying in the warm winds as the last embers of the setting sun smoldered on the horizon. “Having an easy time,” it said on the flip side, “getting to the roots of existence. It can all be reduced to three things. Surfing. Sex. The setting sun. My advice to you? Learn to surf or life will never have meaning. Love from afar, B.”

Emmonds “Bobby” Marone had chucked everything a few  months ago for the simpler and more selfish life of a surfer. Mimi had laid into him without pity for this childish and irresponsible move to paradise. She had been jealous of his single-mindedness and critical of his motives. But as she stared at the perfect palms and true-blue sea, she let her lips curl up. Okay, so he was a fun lover and somewhat of a jerk. But from afar, she could take his loony advice and hear of his adventures. From afar she could send him a postcard and sign it, “love from afar.” From afar, he was not a threat. Because from afar she had figured out that even though he had written “surfing, sec and the setting sun,” he was still searching for some elusive, some pestering thing; and this point, this specific and critical point she could understand one hundred percent. “Maybe surfing and may not, Bobby,” she said aloud to the postcard. “We’ll see.

On the bottom of the pile, after the credit card bill, which she refused to open at this time, was a letter with her name typed on the front and no return address. It was postmarked Palo Alto, California. “Oh my goodness,” said Mimi to Nero, her dog, who had sauntered in for the evening meal, “it’s from the Professor.” This was not in answer to her letter that she had just mailed a few days earlier. No, their letters had crossed en route. “He never writes to me just out of the blue,” muttered Mimi, her brows knitting themselves together into a cable stitch. “What the heck could he want?”

She ripped open the letter and pulled out a thin sheet of writing paper, the corner of which she had ripped along with the envelope. Torn and thin, almost translucent in the light, the letter was short and written in heavy but even fountain pen. Like everything else about the professor, it appeared learned — like an artifact from the denizens of the jaded-but-tasteful-and-intelligent people. She stared at it, briefly, without reading it, drawn to his piece of frozen-in-time, his world.

“Dear Mimi,” she read. “We decided this summer during the hot days on the Vineyard that we should like to have another place in the mountains. Your very town was featured in the Examiner last Sunday, and sounds charming. And not too crowded, yet, we hope. Is there any chance you could give us the run down on prices and possibilities? We have a small house in mind, and don’t mind old and in need of care. We are certainly wiling – and insistent – that you accept compensation for any help you might give us. Let us know how you feel about all this. Yours, M.” And there was a P.S. “Isn’t it about time I received a letter from you?”

“Of cours,” thought Mimi as she glanced at the clock, “Now he wants to buy real estate — typically without ever saying the word itself — in my town. In desperate need of escape from this encroaching possibility she was happy to see that she had only one minute in which to get to work. This was about the time it took her to get there. She dropped the letter and grabbed her wine key and pad, as well as her clean white apron, and she headed out the door, determined not to think about Michael Norris Hanratty, alias The Professor, nor his perfect life and perfect family, until later, after she’d had a few beers.

Mimi arrived at Farfalle, the Italian world for “butterfly,” at 5:01, and began by hanging up her jean jacket and doing a little dance in her western wear for the guys in the kitchen. “Dig the bow tie,” said the dishwasher, “Really dig the bow tie.” Other comments followed, which pleased her, even if not what you could call complimentary. “Hey,” said the owner and chef dropping the h” as if permanently stuck  in another time and place — New Jersey, say, circa 1950. “We’ll just have to call you Dale Evans tonight, right? Yeah, that’s it. Dale Evans.”

And then it was done: the kitchen had one joke to latch onto and grind into laughing dust over the course of the night. In this, they were all agreed: if one joke could be agreed upon, they would all happily keep telling it and using it until it was completely and utterly spent. They habitually did this with David Letterman spin-off type jokes; and the cruder, the better. Mimi naturally knew this and didn’t care: better they should amuse themselves at her expense than not amuse themselves at all. Tonight, she would be the martyr for the cause, and dozens of cowgirl jokes would be made behind — and in front — her back.

“So what’s the reservation book look like,” she asked, more as a matter of course than as a real question. Humey, the pasta guy, answered on an up-note. “Phone’s been ringing off the hook. We got 45 and it keeps on ringing. Big party tonight for that guy who bought the old bank building. Special apps. Crabmeat ravioli.”

“Forty five reserVAtions?” repeated Mimi, at this point used to only five or ten. “Well how big is the big party?” She could hardly believe her ears. She could hardly believe she would be serving people in her cowgirl get-up and stared down at herself as if she had already spilled down her shirt.

“Fifteen people,” answered chef Lloyd. “Excuse me, fifteen cowpokes for you, little lady.” Ignoring this remark, Mimi, horrified, persisted. “Well where are all the other people coming from?? I mean who in the hell is coming in to eat tonight, in the dead of off-season?? Who??” She looked down at her Converse All-stars and thought about rushing home to change. But there was plenty of work to be done and the other waiter had not shown.

“Oh, what the fuck,” said Mimi shrugging. “They’ll all have a show. Now where is Howard, that dippy dipshit.”

The restaurant business was a bastion of truly foul language. Used on a pervasive basis by one and all, it relieved the steam which built under pressure as the night wore on. The cooks and kitchen staff boiled over with bad language and tool pleasure in its sheer badness. Waiters, kind and solicitous in the dining area, once behind the swinging doors would fall back into more four letter words and ugly phrases than anyone, even the cooks, would think possible. Catharsis is the word that comes to mind, and kind of liberation from servitude.

Mimi prided herself on being able to cuss with the rest of them; and even the male waiters would stand back when she let loose. Howard Moss, who was used to Mimi and even liked her, nevertheless looked at her as if she were possessed by a demon when she went off into one of her rampages. As he swung himself jauntily into the kitchen, Mimi could not spare him.

“We have 45 fucking rezzies tonight, Howard, so get that stupid shit-eating grin off your face. The bread’s still at the bakery, the butter’s not whipped, we have to do flowers and the buster hasn’t been coming in ’til six lately. Oh, and I look like a goddam replica of Dale Evans except that I’m scowling and pissed off and ready to murder someone.” Luckily, Mimi was not hate-able when she was mad; people simply got out of her way and listened with curiosity to the fervent yet somehow false craziness coming out of her mouth. She continued, “No one I know better be coming in tonight, that’s all I can say.” Her movements got faster with her mood and she began to whip the butters. “‘Cause they’re not gonna like what they see.”

She promptly forgot about Michael Hanratty, aka “The Professor.”

At 6:06, Howard and Mimi had miraculously finished nearly all the chores, except for fetching the bread, which one of the cooks volunteered to do, presumably to get some fresh air and undoubtedly to smoke a joint. As the rest of the crew appeared — the busser, another diver (dishwasher), the bartender, and the female half of the ownership team — Howard and Mimi donned their aprons and asked for the specials.

“Okay, specials everyone,” Lloyd clapped his hands together as if calling a large group of children together. “Gather ’round for the specials.”  With any audience, he would perform; this time he was using a lisp and gesturing wildly with his hands.

“Tonight, as an appetizer, we have a lovely insalata de pesce. A scallop, mussel and conch salad with fresh cilantro and roasted tomatoes. Served on a bed of baby greens with a lemon rind vinaigrette. Eight dollars and twenty five cents. Crabmeat ravioli for the old bank bozos only. Questions anyone? Oh come on. Okay then I’ll quiz you goons if you’re so smart. Where are the mussels from?” He pointed at Mimi.

“Mimi stand up and tell the class where the mussels are from.” Mimi and Howard were, of course, the only ones present, and the former could not keep herself from smiling. “They’re from a mussel group not far from the gluteus maximus.”

And so it went with the specials for another four or five minutes, until Howard noticed that people were beginning to assemble in the bar. “We’ve got to light the candles,” he said, gesturing towards the door of the dining room, “Live bait in the bar area.”

He stood up and brushed himself off, straightened his tie, his pants, pulled on his mustache with his fingers and left Mimi and Lloyd still sitting. “Shit,” said Mimi, “I just wasn’t mentally prepared for a large crowd. Got any advice for me tonight Floyd?” Floyd was the pet name she had given him.

“Yes, doll,” answered Lloyd, back into the Brooklyn dialect, “always.” He was chewing on a swizzle stick, a pernicious habit picked up on the heels of his having given up nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, and snuff. The devotion to the swizzle stick was nothing short of Bugs Bunny’s to carrots, and it had the same look to it. “To thine own self be true,” he said, swizzling. “You got on the right outfit, now be true to it; I want you to go out there and I want to you make like you’re holdin’ up every table. Take ’em for everything they own. That’ll make me rich, and it’ll make your outfit look less ridiculous. We’ll both be happy.” He laughed at his own sense of comic timing and headed for the kitchen to argue with his boys, to push them around, and to be their god. For quite honestly, Lloyd was not only funny as hell, he was exceptionally talented in his domain.

At this point, the first table had arrived and Mimi wondered if a third waiter would be called in; it would be one doozie of a night if she and Howard had to wait on sixty plus persons. She heard Howard go into his extra formal wait rap and headed for the bar to ready herself. She re-wound her hair, put on some lip gloss and tested out a testy smile in the mirror. “Howdy pardner,” she practiced and lifted her hand up, old-movie Indian style, they yanked it down. “What am I doing?”

Howard just then stuck his head into the back room. “Mimi, you just got two deuces, and the wines by the glass have changed from last week. The soda gun’s dead and Joshua’s in a pisser of a mood.”

“Sounds real good to me,” she said and headed out for round one. “Hello,” she heard herself say to the first couple. “Cocktails or a glass of wine before your meal?”

“Just water, thanks,” was the response from both tables. Not a good sign at the beginning of the night, thought Mimi, who in matters of waiting tables had become quite superstitious. But the time she had gone through the specials, they had shaken their heads several times while staring not very discreetly at her attire. “Do you have any creamed spinach?” the woman asked, pretending to scan the menu as if everything in the world should be on it somewhere, and presumably in alphabetical order.

“I’m afraid tonight we don’t,” answered Mimi, beginning to hate this woman whose sweater was too pink, too tight and too acrylic. Good reasons to hate, yes indeed.

“Well, do you have anything leafy and green then. My nutritionist says I should have plenty of green vegetables.” Mimi could sense that Pink was ready to make it very very hard. “We serve a salad before dinner. Maybe you’d like it made larger.”

“No, no salad; cooked greens. They have to be cooked” She pursed her lips. “Okay then, just bring me the veal parmesan. Extra cheese. And I’ve changed my mind about the cocktail. Rum and diet Coke with lime, very little ice, extra lime and squeeze it hard.” She closed her menu as if resigning herself to the worse of two possibilities for the evening. No greens and an alcoholic beverage after all. The husband fell in right behind, permission having been obliquely granted to be in a bad mood and therefore to order against the doctor’s orders.

“Filet of beef well done, sauce on the side. Does it come with potatoes?” He had ordered the Filetto de Manzo, filet of beef, served with a pink peppercorn sauce and roasted tomatoes with anchovies. Potatoes were not mentioned on the menu. “No, sir, this particular dish is not served with potatoes.” Mimi stretched her mouth to insinuate the slightest of smiles.

“Do you know what I’d like,” he began. “I could really go for some scalloped potatoes. Do you suppose,” he began conspiratorially, “the chef could whip some up for me?”

Oh god, thought Mimi, save me from people who ignore menus entirely, whose sole purpose in life is to test the patience of those forced to listen to them. But “I’ll check and see,” is what came out of her mouth, thinking of the rage of the kitchen staff, the indignation. “Let me fetch your cocktails.” The word “fetch” was not one she often used, but tonight it slipped out as she could not help but picture dogs fetching bones and maids fetching milk buckets.

There were plenty of people in the bar to bother Joshua, the bartender, but she called to him loud enough to get his attention. “A rum and diet double-lime, and a double Crown rocks.”

He was already in a bad mood. “Write it down,” he said and returned to those flocking around him. She had gotten three more tables for a total of four and had only been to one. “Shit,” she said, as she swung open the doors to the waiter station and kitchen. “I’m getting fucking slammed already and my first table wants scalloped potatoes. What do I tell the a-hole on a stick?” she posed this question to all the cooks, who each had their own response.

“Tell ‘im to fuck off.”

“Ask ‘im if this looks like a steakhouse.”

“Tell them you are not Monty Hall and this is not Let’s Make a Deal.”

Lloyd, however, surprised her with his response. “Hey, Humey, we still got boiled potatoes?” The response was positive. “Tell the live one, sure we’ll make him is goddamn mother-fuckin’ potatoes. We’ll make them for his whole goddamn family if he wants.” He said this amicably, as if wishes were commonly treated as commands.

Mimi wasn’t sure. “You’re kidding, right?” You could never tell with Lloyd, whose mood changes were notorious and flawlessly dramatized. “No, doll, we’ll give the sucker potatoes.” He chomped on his swizzle stick and added emphatically. “Just because we want him to like us.” A creed in the church of Farfalle, this oft-repeated phrase was spoken with as much derision as with conviction. “Right,” said Mimi, who headed out to deal with three tables at once, just like she did in the re-occurring nightmare that occupied her in her sleep four nights out of five.

In the nightmare, it is ten o’clock and all the other waiters have clocked out. All of a sudden, the dining room is full, everyone waiting for service but none of them capable of making a decision. People are chatting with each other, chatting, chatting, chatting, CHATTING. Mimi cannot get a single order and the kitchen wants to close. It is eleven o’clock and no one will order. Everything is her fault. Panic. End of dream.

In real life, her whole body began to tense as she played out the part of assembly line waitress. “Our specials tonight are… Our specials tonight are… Our specials tonight are…” The place was filling up rapidly and another waiter would not be coming in. She and Howard bumped into each other and compared notes briefly.

“What is the hell is going on? Where’s the other waiter?”

Howard had a knack of remaining calm in the dining room no matter what the situation. “We’re doing it alone tonight, Mimi. The tips will be bad but there will be a lot of them. One thing though: we’ve got to stop with the sections and just alternate tables or we’ll never get through this. I’m serving salads before apps and I’m not peppering. Just bite the bit. And pour yourself a shot of Rumplemintz whenever you need it. Joshua was gracious enough  to hand over the bottle. It’s in the ice machine.” This was an unusual gesture marking an unusual night.

That might help, thought Mimi, in about an hour when she had cleared the hump. Meanwhile, her scalloped potatoes were ready and the kitchen was screaming her name. “Pick up this food,” she heard as she passed through the swinging doors,” Before I cut off your head and shite down your neck.” Ah. Lloyd had crossed the good mood line and entered a frightening parallel universe of obscenities and cruelty and blood-chilling anger. He was dangerous now

Picking up her food, she realized why the terrible switch from affable to murderous. Julia LoBosco, the female half  of the ownership team and  ex-wife to Lloyd LoBosco, had removed all the tickets from “hold” and put them on “go.” In a snit, she was as amazing as Lloyd was; and this, her gesture, served her reputation well.

“Sonofabitch,” murmured Mimi under her breath. “Now we got two raving lunatics in the kitchen, one at the bar, and a whole dining room full of assholes.” She approached the table grateful for her scalloped potatoes and put them down, perfectly browned,  proudly. “Those are scalloped?” pink woman pricked them with her fork, as if to dissect them. She was kept from further comment by the heaping mound of veal parmesan placed in front of her. “Oh my gawwwwd,” she said appropriately and placed one hand on her cheek. “I guess I’ll have another rum and diet with dinner. No, he doesn’t need another Crown Royal.” As the husband readied a protest, pink woman retaliated. “No. You don’t.” Mimi left them arguing about his allotment of alcohol and grabbed the bus person. “Marti, I need water on three, bread and butter on four and seven and I need for you to dessert this table,” she pointed backwards. “When they’re done.” He gave her a sour look. “I’m doing stuff for Howard right now.”

Ready to kick him in the balls, she nevertheless stormed away, mentally  lowering his tip out from now until eternity, and rushed through the tasks she had asked him to do. It was not even 6:30. Of her six tables, two had young children who were screaming. She felt responsible for the screaming and death with it by sneaking an early shot of Rumplemintz. In thirty seconds, she felt her whole body slow down and was able to watch the scene with a near amusement that she otherwise could not muster. It would pass but she could enjoy the fleeting bemusement in the moment, couldn’t she?

People ate their veal and their chicken, their cheesecake and their tiramisu They waited a bit longer than usual for their food, but they didn’t complain much. The children in her section finally shut up and the parents drank more wine. One man wanted to know if it was always this noisy. A different couple played with each other’s feet from the Bombay martinis to the Frangelico. Pink woman ate so much she was blaming it on her husband: “Why didn’t you help me with this instead of making me eat it all?”

And even though it was busier than Mimi thought possible, this did not prevent the cooks from finding out about each and every big breasted woman to walk into the place. How did they do it from the kitchen? Did they have a spy working the dining room Joshua maybe

“Get a load of the Bombay mangoes on table eleven,” she’d heard Humey say, and one by one they’d gone to the swinging doors to look through the windows. Ay car-r-r-r-ramba,” chirped Lloyd, apparently back from the land of the livid. And the rest of the crew all slipped into their simulated Latino cat calls, apparently cued by strains of La Bamba coming from a portable radio sitting on the shelf. It was oldies night on the one radio station in Telluride. Lloyd would certainly be singing all his favorite rip-offs tonight, including one of Mimi’s personal favors, “My Dreams are Wet” for “O-we-mo-way,” and “Raspberry Puree” for “Raspberry Beret.” And Julia would certainly come in at some point and switch it off, and then the kitchen would certainly slip back into anger until someone would innocently switch the radio back on.

Mimi watched Marti, the bus person, more commonly known as the “bushel,” come through the swinging doors and physically held onto his shoulder forcing him to pay attention to him. “Read my lips, Marti. I need your help. Can you check the bread and water on all the tables you have ignored all night.” She moved her lips accurately and added the magic word. “Please, goddamnit.” He didn’t answer but made a show of grabbing the water pitcher. “Worthless piece of shit,” she muttered.

Realizing that she had forgotten to get some drinks for the movie star and girlfriend at table eleven, she sped out of doors, making a bee-line for the bar, a worried look on her face. They were complaining types and she preferred not to go home feeling as thought she were a failure at waiting tables. But halfway through the dining room, she slowed way down, nearly causing a collision with Marti coming up fast behind her, and let her mouth drop open when she saw Anna Kidd with Rory Vermillion, laughing together and drinking clinking cocktails, a living advertisement for the Black Label good life. They had not seen her yet; and with this in mind, she tucked her head down and continued on.

“Oh,” she said, reaching the bar, an “oh” that contained the premonition of a bad mood returned like a boomerang to the head. “Whaddayaneed,” Joshua hit his fist on the mahogany bar, affecting an old black-and-white western, presumably for her sake. Now HE was in a good mood and she had soured completely. “I need a drink strong enough to put someone to sleep for ten or twenty years, and I need it delivered to table eight, the gentleman, if a term can be used so loosely.” she looked up at Joshua who was grinning at her, and added, Lillet, rocks, orange times two for the movie star and his lovely long-nailed sharp-toothed date please Joshua.”

“Ooooohhh,” answered the bartender, “Long nails. Ooooohh.” He poured the drinks fast and she delivered them faster, pausing to ask if the bi-coastal movie types if they had decided on dinner. “We have and we haven’t,” began the man wearing black – in varying expensive shades — from head to toe. Black shirt, black jacket, black jeans, black boots. Silver bolo. Diamond pinkie ring. Ahhh, the pinkie ring gave the whole thing away: this was his Santa Fe look thought Mimi, struggling to feel on the offensive. He’s from Pinkie Ring World, but he’s learned to look Rodeo Drive “Do you have some questions then?” she queried pleasantly. “We do and we don’t; it’s more of a request,” he answered. His hands were some of the hairiest she had ever seen and with them he tapped the menu on the table. “The lady here eats nothing but grilled shrimp, in terms of meat, and I don’t see any grilled shrimp on the menu…” he let the statement trail off as he pretended to search the menu. “Here we go again,” thought Mimi.

“We have grilled shrimp with butter, lemon and garlic, “Mimi began, pointing to the first item under “Pesce,” but was interrupted by the Texas blond sitting beside him. She wore stretch pants, similar to those made popular in the sixties wi, with a big buckled belt, an angora sweater and cowboy boots.

“I like shrimp just grilled; no butter, no garlic, no lemon. Plain. A little cocktail sauce would be nice. And I’d like a triple dinner salad, dressing on the side.”

She said this to her man in black who then repeated the entire request verbatim to their waitress. “We can grill the shrimp plain,” ventured Mimi,’And a large salad is no problem”

Texas flashed her teeth, big white ones, and sipped her Lillet with content. Now it was his turn: “I’ll have  an order of the Clams Casino to start, extra bacon, and then for dinner bring me the Veal Marsala. Does that come with pasta? Well, then extra pasta.” This customer wanted to feel that he was coming out ahead: if you charged for the extras, he would complain; this much Mimi knew. She  headed for the kitchen wondering if that bottle of Rumplemintz was still there.

On her way, however, she had to walk by her friend Anna, who at this time had seen Mimi and flagged her down. “Hi Mimi! she said with one-strong-cocktail enthusiasm .”We wanted you to wait on us but I guess being so busy we didn’t have any choice” She looked over at her date as if waiting for Mimi to acknowledge him. He was looking more relaxed and super-cool hobby rancher than she remembered, and she acquiesced.

“Hello,” she said, smiling more easily than she thought she could have. “Hello, Mimi,” he said. “Looks like you folks got a little busier than you expected.” Scrutinizing him,Mimi wondered how he could now this. How could he know how busy they had expected to be? “Why?” she asked him, raising an eyebrow and pulling on her bangs.”Do we look completely out of control?” She glanced around the restaurant for signs of strain, but it didn’t look that bad to her.

“No,” he answered her, “Not that at all. Anna told me that all the restaurants had been really slow. We decided that instead of a quiet dinner at home, we’d have a quiet dinner out. But it’s not really that quiet.” He looked over at Anna, as if it were a funny and private joke, and Mimi felt the bile in the back of her throat. “Oh really?” she asked, a little pointedly. “And whose quiet home were you going to dine at?” She still didn’t approve of this man for her friend — who was far too old-spirited for him. “Anna’s?”

Anna interjected, sensing that heads would soon butt. “No, at Rory’s condo. He just contracted for the condo he was staying in, one of the Columbia condos. It’s really pretty nice; good views, sun. The kitchen’s better than mine, too.” Mimi looked at this mustachioed man next to her friend and noted the monogram on his white shirt. Anna, the ever-composed, was acting like a child with him! They’d wanted to dine at home together. Next thing, she would be leaving a toothbrush there and wearing his sweaters, baggy on her, to the grocery store.

“Does this mean,” Mimi asked, looking Vermillion directly in the face, “That you won’t be going after the land at La Sal Junction?” She wanted to pop the bubble of romance around them and slap them with reality. “Snap out of it,” she wanted to say to Anna Ortiz Kidd, who was fast on her way to becoming mush. Her question came out harsh and insensitive, but Vermillion seemed not to care. “I’m not through with it entirely,” he answered. “Oh, I see,” answered Mimi, suddenly thinking that she’d better get back to the kitchen. “‘I’ve got to go,” she gave them both a pained look and practically sprinted toward the swinging doors.

It was Howard’s turn to get the third-degree in the kitchen. “It said RARE on the ticket, goddammit,” Lloyd was screaming as Howard Moss scratched his head. “And that’s how we cooked it. Rare. Now if you have some problem with the way WE did our job, Howard, you tell us what it is. Because from the looks of this ticket and that steak, we did do our job correctly. On the other hand, if YOU made a mistake on the meat temperature, then it’s your own fucking fault. It’ll take at LEAST ten minutes to cook that to well done. For the poor sonofabitch who likes meat burnt to a crisp.” Whispering, Mimi asked Howard what had happened, and he explained to her that two people had ordered steak and he had written the “R” for rare down in between them, forgetting to mark the “W” on one of them. Now the man at his table who wanted the well done meat would have to wait ten minutes forms food and he was angry.

Later, Howard had told Mimi the grim details of the drama..  The man in question had signaled him over to the table after everyone had eaten half their dinners. “Is this what your restaurant calls “well done?” he’d asked, obviously ready to rumble. “Oh, no sir,” Howard had answered, sensing that he’d made a terrible mistake.

“Well, I ordered my meat well done, mister waiter boy, and I got it raw. Now you go into the kitchen and ask those cooks if it looks well to them.” He’d complained to Julia, she’d apologized profusely, given him his money back and made Howard pay. Lloyd had pulverized Howard, then had felt so bad he’d started lecturing everyone on people who order meat well done and how idiotic they were. Howard, purely as an at of self-preservation, had gone bar hopping later that night.

 

By nine forty-five it had quieted down some, though several regular late diners showed. This caused Mimi, Howard and Martinis to rage against  them in the waiter station while trying to begin clean-up. “Assholes!” said Mimi. “Why can’t they come in before a quarter to ten every night?” One of them, she’d noticed with annoyance, was that busybody realtor, Eddie Masket, who’d planted himself down at the Vermillion table with Rory and Anna. On her way to the bar to hand the Rumplemintz bottle back to Joshua, Eddi flagged her down

“Mimi,” he called out as if being reunited with a long-lost relative “Can you join us for a little after dinner cocktail?” she could have sworn he had winked at her – and in spite of her best instincts blushed crimson. A positive intimate look lingered on his face; and Mimi, too full to dislike and wonder at this man’s presumption of being attractive to all females — his gall — shook her head and muttered something about not every socializing with customers. “We’ll, then, why don’t you meet us later on at The Buckeroo for a night-cap?”

Was he staring at her chest, or was it her imagination? She quickly shifted her gaze over to Rory and Anna who looked at her with all the innocence of those involved in a  world of their own. “Yeah, Mimi,” echoed Anna as if coming out of the haze. “Can you come out later?” Now something was weird: Anna had definitely winked at her. Everyone was winking.  Were Eddie and Anna in cahoots against Rory? Was Anna telling her something about Eddie? Was Eddie insinuating that two love birds should have two more as company?

While pondering these things in the split second or so it took, she heard part of her name come out of the swinging doors as they opened. The sound was not a happy one, and she rushed off thinking that possibly the ice cream on the figs what she had ordered ten minutes ago had begun to melt. Sure enough.

“Someone…” Lloyd was orating. “Would someone please take this goddamn dessert out the goddamn door so that the goddamn customers can drink some sweet cream — that USED to be ice cream — with what USED to be fresh figs?” Disgusted at the melting heap, he summoned more gestures to make his point. “As a matter of fact,” he said, seeing Mimi, “Why don’t we just put them under the heat lamp” — which he did — “To speed up the inevitable, the inevitable being that the kitchen will be required to make another dessert because no one seem to be around to pick up anything.” To conclude, he removed the thoroughly ruined dessert and let the whole thing slide off the plate and into the trash, a gesture that bespoke only too well the forthcoming moral to the story about to come out of his mouth: “Who cares about something as petty as profits. All we care about here in the kitchen is making the customers and the waiters happy. If we can’t do that, we can’t do shit.” He left the room, heading, Mimi knew, to the bar for his twelfth glass of Coke on ice and his millionth swizzle stick.

Approximately one and a half hours later, the evening came to a close despite all feelings that it would never end. Julia LoBosco was happy that her ploy to speed things up had worked, at least in her mind, and that they had done upwards of sixty-fie dinners. Sitting at the bar with a glass of expensive white wine from a bottle someone had not finished, she went over the dinner tickets one by one, checking or errors. “We pulled it off,” she said breezily, “Thanks to a wonderful kitchen and two great waiters.” Now at the end of this nightmare, she could praise the praiseworthy while counting her money.

Marti Printz, chief nuisance of the night, re-set tables furiously in a thoroughly unmade dining room, throwing knives and forks down, flinging bread plates like frisbees and scooping up dirty linen as if pad by the piece to pick it up. Howard and Mimi were amazed by such ardor in Martinis and put the question out to him as one moved chairs and the other vacuumed. “Hey Marti,” called out Howard above the roar of the Hoover deluxe, self-propelling mode, “You got a date tonight”

Marti, too focused to slow down, shot them a disdainful look and continued to fling, to toss, and to scoop. “Date,” mouthed Howard to Mimi. Mimi smiled and felt the pleasure of this singular sensation. Had she smiled all night?

Howard Moss, having decided to hit the bars, was feeling a little better about the man with the meat episode. He owed $22.53 but had successfully shrugged the money off. Abuse, however, was harder to overcome and he was hating Lloyd with all his might. “Lloyd can be a real prick,” he shouted to Mimi, not caring if the whole kitchen heard. “Yep,” she yelled back in agreement completely.

But Lloyd had gone on to the eleventh hour with gusto and was singing in the kitchen as he put away his knife set lovingly. “Isn’t it romantic?” he crooned the Gershwin tune as Humey and all the rest of them Cloroxed the counters and disinfected the floors and scrubbed the burners. Apparently the pulled tickets, the meat episode, and the melted ice cream were all behind him now. Lloyd never had any trouble sleeping, because the things that came out of his mouth were the things that might had kept him up had they remained locked within. Others, however, suffered the consequences of this chronic oral diarrhea. Mimi, now used to the “chop off your head and shit down your neck” comment, had once been so offended and frightened by it that she’d had dreams of this talented chef running through slick and darkened streets murdering people just for the fun of it. Precisely in the way he’d described.

After the money was counted and all the appropriate parties tipped out — kitchen ten percent, bar ten, bus fifteen — Howard and Mimi each ended up with ninety-two dollars. Howard paid what he owed and raced out into the night for retaliatory drinking

Mimi, remembering now that she had said she’d meet Anna and company at The Buckeroo, had a Junior Mints (Vandermint and Rumplemintz) for strength, and headed out in the blackness wrapping her muffler around her face as she felt the bite of the cold. Stars never seemed so clear and hung in the air like hundreds of bright pinholes, letting the light seep in as if from another, a more brilliant, dimension.