I began my working career at the ripe age of 16, and was always very proud of it. My mother convinced a good friend of hers, a middle aged, mustached and moderately paunched Greek man named Andros to hire me as a hostess at his restaurant, but I immediately started to think of myself as prime employable real estate, sought after by companies nationwide. That same notion of indestructibility still haunts me today, but at 16 and quite unpopular among my new American classmates, I was glad I at least had something to be proud of.
I was an awkward teenager, very thin and brittle looking, and at the time was slowly trying to wean myself off of padded bras and gel inserts. It just looked unconvincing – a walking stick figure with a sharp chin and pronounced nose, and perfectly round spheres protruding from a clearly defined ribcage. This, of course, didn’t stop Andros from being enthralled with me. When he saw me that first day at the restaurant, Chef Dino’s, his shockingly beautiful hazel eyes lit up like two votive candles in front of a Byzantine icon of a lecherous saint. His thick mustache quivered with delight in what should have been a disturbing manner for me at the time, but I was just so desperate for someone to like me, that I actually stuck around and let him show me around and brief me on my duties.
“Ah, hunnee, look at you! My God! Those beautiful eyes, those lips, AAH-HA-HA, you are like an angel!”
I stared at him blankly, waiting for him to regain his composure and actually teach me something about my job.
“Look at that soft skin of yours,” he cooed, “God, what I wouldn’t give to be young again and have a chance with a little minx like you!”
His tendency to refer to the Lord while verbally molesting his new young employee was unsettling, and perhaps should have been enough to make me walk away, slowly, without turning my back for a moment. I suppose I ultimately must have found his naïve, idiotic rambles flattering – or rather wanted to believe that it was my sheer beauty that provoked such outbursts. Sure, this man had a reputation for being a self-proclaimed womanizer, but I was the youngest one to ever affect him this way!
After saying a few more words about the possible color of my panties, and what a lucky guy my boyfriend is if I have one, Andros finally calmed down a bit and got down to business. It was my job to greet the customers, seat them in the appropriate section so that no waiter at any given time has too many more tables than the others, and to ensure proper operations in his absence. I would process all cash and credit transactions, close out the register at the end of the day, and lead the wait staff in setting up the salad bar in the morning, and dismantling it at night. He had the utmost confidence in me, and proved it by grabbing my hand and putting it over his hairy chest, which presumably contained his heart, which I was then to feel beating with excitement and joy. I mainly felt his wiry, partly gray chest hairs, and smelled his pungent cologne, but can’t recall much about his heart’s health and condition. I comforted myself by remembering that since he was charging me with so many managerial duties, he would most likely not be working with me every day, and prayed for the ordeal to be over.
I had found it strange that Andros was willing to trust a teenager to be in charge of his establishment in his absence, but after meeting the rest of the staff on my first day, I understood. They were all very nice people, my team at Chef Dino’s, but had all by that point reached a certain level of jadedness and emotional discontent that often prevented them from paying attention to, or talking about, anything but the numerous personal problems they were having. There was Sherrie, a white-haired woman in her 60’s who chain-smoked and lived with a flaky roommate and five cats. There was an older Greek gentleman only known by the name of Mr. Vassily with enormous ears and absolutely no neck. There was also Carlos, a petite, meek-mannered man from El Salvador who always had a dreamy expression on his fairly handsome face, but barely spoke a word of English, and then there was Christopher… Christopher was also from El Salvador, also had a problem with the English language, but whereas Carlos was polite, compact, and overall pleasant, Christopher was elongated, pale, hook-nosed and cheeky, with a mouth full of shiny gold teeth. I, of course, kept my opinions of him to myself. Christopher, however, found it necessary to express his feelings for me immediately, and all the time from that point on; usually with grand gestures like bouquets of red roses and poorly scribbled love notes scattered throughout the restaurants for me to find, written exclusively in grammatically unsound Spanish.
In general the clientele at Chef Dino’s was mainly senior citizens from a nearby retirement community. They would hobble or limp in, sometimes in optimistic groups of three or four or at least in pairs, but mostly taking sad and lonely tables for one, and after greeting them and finding them a seat they didn’t mind, I would watch from the bar as one of my fine waiters worked for their meager tips off of orders mainly consisting of coffee, toast, and the occasional Rueben sandwich. The restaurant actually had a pretty good menu of traditional Greek dishes, and other more substantial fare, but for the most part these old farts knew nothing of it, and the waiters all hated them for it. If Mr. Vassily wasn’t out on the dining room floor, or out in Saint Dino’s Cathedral, as I referred to it due to its long aisle between pew-like rows of booths which led to a small apse-like open area in the back with a few tables scattered about, he would join me at the bar for a drink, especially during Sunday brunches. I was 16, but that didn’t stop him from offering me beer or champagne, which I was only willing to accept in coffee cups, for fear of being discovered. He would grumble about how unfairly Andros treated him, something about disrespect and injustice, while pulling bottle after frosty bottle of beer from the cooler and gulping it down like a desert nomad who just stumbled upon an oasis. It was strange to see a man dressed in a black tuxedo-like suit, looking as dignified as a mad opera singer or impassioned symphony conductor, act like a street corner hobo, but I wasn’t about to complain. I enjoyed the feeling of boldness and power that clouded my head as I drank my contraband coffee-cup alcoholic beverages right in the open, in front of naïve old people catching the early bird special.