The Lost Kids
The rest of the work week is all the same. Searing, basting, passing, yelling, oui-ing, peppering, white peppering (even worse). And then it ends, like it does every Monday, and I wonder whether I should drink it all away or go home, sleep, and get “more” out of my days off. And, like I do each Monday, I choose to go out, because Tuesday is never certain, as life goes.
I pull off my black socks in the locker room and put on my weekend socks of choice—indigo with green toes today. When you’re a cook, you develop little psycho rituals to try to separate life inside the restaurant from life outside. Mine is sock changing. I consider wearing black socks in the real world a sign of giving up, conformity, and loss of identity. I think Mr. Rogers was spot-on, although I don’t think we ever knew where he was coming from that he was so dressed up before the show…an affair? Was he cheating on us, his loyal viewers? Who can say…
I walk out the back door, and it’s raining. Not too bad, but holy hell—it’s warm for the end of January. I take off my hat and put it in my bag…wait, where is my purse? Goddamn it, it’s back in the locker room…I better go get it before one of the dish washers orders pizza with my credit card again. Fucking A. I turn around to go back in, and when I do, my heart jumps into my throat. “Surprise, biatch.” It’s Hem.
“Oh my god, dude, what the fuck are you doing here!” I jump on him, attempting to hug him and possibly squeeze the life out of him for scaring me like that. “I don’t get it! It’s you in the flesh! How? Why aren’t you in Paris?”
“The job I landed working with that paper sent my boss to New York on business, and he took me with him!”
“Of course. Naturally. Because why wouldn’t you be on a business trip a month after you started legally working in France…Only you, man. Jesus.”
“I know…Come on! Let’s go! I can already taste the Fernet. I really need a break from absinthe. I’m finally starting to like it, but it took weeks of faking it.”
“On that Stockholm Syndrome then?”
“OK, let me just run back in and get my purse. I’ll be right there.” I run in, and as I’m turning into the locker room, I see Don holding my bag. “Son of a bitch…Don, hands where I can see ‘em. There will be no pizza ordering today. Not on my watch. Jesus. I leave for one second.” Don laughs as I snatch my bag out of his hands and take inventory of my cards. “I know you stole my doubloons, asshole. I needed those for laundry, but whatever.” Ain’t nobody got time to fight for three dollars in quarters, and we don’t even have an HR department to speak of, anyway. Don walks back to the dish pit, pockets jingling, and I run back outside. “Let’s go, Nicholas.”
“Ay!” He hates when I call him by his first name.
“Niiii-cho-laaaaaas!” I taunt him to the tune of the Ricola commercial. He looks playfully annoyed, so I run toward the bar, continuing the chant, as he chases me. He can’t catch me, because he smokes too much and has terrible lungs. I, on the other hand, am designed for a quick getaway with my small, light frame and freakishly functional heart and lungs. I never work out, but I can run like a Kenyan if need be. When he looks winded after a couple blocks, I stop and let him catch up. “I assume you want to hit up The Nail first?”
“Duh!” The Nail is our favorite bar downtown. Before Hem moved away, the bartenders knew us as “the kids that come in and take down a whole bottle of Fernet in a night.” One has reputations to uphold in this life. You know.
“Can I get a double Fernet and ginger, please?” I ask the bartender. “Actually, make it two.”
“Keep it open?”
“Oui oui oui oui oui,” Hem teases me.
“Well who’s French now, motherfucker?”
“Gretchen, I haven’t seen you in here in a while,” the bartender says.
“Sorry—what’s your name? Have we met? I have a shitty memory. Slash I been drankin’.”
“Uh…I’m Tom…you gave me your number a few weeks ago and invited me to your friend’s holiday party. I couldn’t go, but I thought maybe we could go out sometime soon?”
“Awkward…yeah that sounds about right. Sorry, Tom. Nice to meet you again!”
“Well do you—“
“Thanks, Tom!” I lift my drink and walk back to a table with Hem, laughing. Poor Tom. Balding, ginger Tom who is probably just a few years older than us but looks forty and probably hasn’t gotten laid since junior year of high school. Hem giggles and pulls up a meme on his phone to show me. It’s two pictures of a scene in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet.” One is captioned, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks. It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.” And then the picture of Juliet is captioned, “I’m a lesbian.”
“Ha! That’s amazing. I could use a t-shirt of that. Anyway, tell me about your life! I can’t even believe you’re sitting next to me right now. This is the best thing that’s happened to me all winter.” We talk some, but soon Hem decides we should dance, and I can’t disagree, because the DJ has put on ’90’s music. We dance on, and then I feel a tap on my shoulder. Please don’t be Tom. I turn around to find three of my old co-workers from the hot minute I worked at a magazine after college. “Daryl! Hey, girl. What are you doing here?”
“We never got our shit together for a company holiday party, so a month later we decided to get drinks here and then go back to Hannah’s to continue the fun. We’ve been here like three hours already. Do you guys want to join? She lives like three blocks from here.” I’ve been to Hannah’s a few times, and it is close.
“Dude, this is Daryl, Hannah, and Izzy. I worked with them at PaperJam. Want to go to Hannah’s for a little?”
“Wait is this the girl you told me gave her cab driver a hand job for a free ride?” he whispered in my ear.
“Yes…Shhh! Not everyone knows she did that,” I grinned, knowing he was intrigued.
“Let’s go! These people sound awesome.”
“Alright, D, we’re in. Vámonos.” We walk to Hannah’s, and when we get inside, I am overcome with jealousy. This bitch lives in a huge two-bedroom apartment in Chinatown, and one of the rooms is vacant because her mom “uses it for business.” That means she stays there once a month when she goes out in the city and feels too drunk to go back to Staten Island. Must be nice. Hannah occasionally rents it out on Airbnb so she can afford drugs, but usually she just uses the bedroom as a crashing place for friends. I guess I could feel fortunate for that bit.
Hemingway decides he’s become close enough with Hannah after he establishes that they’re wearing matching Toms, so he takes it to the next level by asking if she has any blow. Normally, I would worry he was making an ass of himself, but everybody loves him from the get-go and never questions his sometimes brash idiosyncrasies. Of course, Hannah has a bunch of coke, since she was away last week and rented out both of her rooms.
“What can we do it off of?” Hem looks around for a flat surface, none of which seem to exist. You would think someone with money would have a table, but that’s not always so.
“Oh, here.” Hannah grabs her full-size mirror off the wall and lays it on top of Daryl and Izzy, who are passed out drunk in her bed.
“Well, that’s ratchet…but I guess we never claimed to have standards,” I laughed. Hannah hands us a rolled up $50. “Bitch, are you serious?” I unroll the bill to see what it looks like. Well, I won’t be seeing a bill this big in a while. C’est la vie. To me, it’s healthy to act old money when you’re really piss poor once in a while. It’s good for self esteem. I roll it back up and cut three lines. “You first, Frenchie.”
The drunken fatigue wears off, and then we do a couple more bumps. Hem turns on The Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps,” and we all get on the extra bed and jump around. “Mix your milk with my cocoa puff! Milky, milky cocoa puff!”
Izzy rolls over, knocking the mirror off the bed. “Ugh, guys…whyyyyy…”
“Iz, come on! This is your favorite song!”
“What? I hate Fergie…What are you talking about?” She looks confused.
“Izzy, we’re gonna go to Electrode. Wanna come?” Hannah asks.
“No…what the fuck? I’m so tired.”
“Come with us!” I shout. I don’t talk to Izzy much, because I find her mildly too attractive to hold a conversation with, but I’m not about inhibitions by now. I didn’t even know we were going out again, but I could continue the party. It’s only two thirty, so the club will be open another hour and a half. And it’s right down the street.
Hem is grinding his teeth around, and I really can’t feel my face either. It’s like you never really know you’re high until you’re numb or you see the sun come up. Or you’re dancing on a bed to Fergie. Well, I suppose that would make you either high or a sober twelve year old, but let’s not overthink things here. Surprisingly, and much to my excitement, Izzy is getting up to come out with us. She bumps some coke off her keys and tucks Daryl into bed. She has a meeting at nine tomorrow, so we don’t wake her up to join us.
“You guys are stupid,” Izzy grins, catching my eye as we walk out the door. Aha. This could be a good night.