Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I Can't Eat Fortune Cookies, and Now You Know Why

I cannot eat a fortune or almond cookie. When I worked as a parking attendant at a Polynesian restaurant in Malibu, I was given no actual cooked food, but allowed to dash in and help myself to as many cookies as I deemed necessary to keep my blood sugar at a level appropriate for parking cars. I deemed a great many cookies necessary.

Not too many years before, Ed “Kookie” Byrnes had made car-parking seem extremely cool in 77 Sunset StripAll these decades later, I marvel at people having entrusted their cars to someone like myself, a callow, if dark-complected, little twerp who’d had his driver’s license for barely a year. When the main lot, that just outside the restaurant itself, filled up — and it would fill up quickly — I would have to take the cars across PCH and park them behind a lumber yard. (In those days, Malibu wasn’t wall-to-wall boutiques ’n’ bistros.) Take your gleaming new Jaguar XKE across a busy highway though I’ve been driving only 11 months? No problem! 

A quarter was a reasonable tip in those days. Only those trying to impress their dates gave us dollars. I parked Johnny Mathis’s car — he was accompanied by four androgynous young men in nearly identical velour turtlenecks — and the TV star Dean Jagger’s. Mr. Jagger wasn’t sufficiently impressed by my generous assessment of his performance as the principal in my favorite TV drama, Mr. Novak, to give me more than a quarter. We had to turn in our tips at night’s end anyway.

You might imagine that the sexiest woman whose door I ever opened had arrived in a Caddy, at the very least, but in fact it was a Ford Ranchero, a working man's car, perhaps an electrician's, or a carpenter's. She seemed to be wearing a bullet bra, and wearing the hell out of it. She leered in that way of women used to being gawked at by men. For several weeks thereafter, she supplanted Brigitte Bardot in the fantasies I savored during those special private times. I cursed my lack of a knack for woodworking. 

Because we were forever competing to make ourselves seem cooler and maybe even a little dangerous, I told my one friend in the world that I stole wantonly from the cars I parked, but tthe most to which I ever helped myself was a stick of gum. I got into other mischief, though. Sometimes, if someone tipped me a dime, or nothing at all, I would say, “Fuck you very much,” mumbling the first word, as I closed his door after him. Remarkably, I never got punched in the nose. At other times, great hilarity would accrue to someone coming out of the restaurant on a busy night and identifying himself as the owner of a black Lincoln Continental. “Big black Cont!” I would shout, hilariously, to a colleague on the other side of PCH.

One night I found myself working with a new partner, a youth with bad skin, furtive eyes, and a great deal more self-assurance than you might have expected from someone with his dermatological problems. A new Corvette came onto the lot. He announced that he’d park it. Neither he nor the Vette was ever glimpsed again. 

One of the students in the adult literacy program for which I volunteer — Clemente, from Guatemala — is the only parking attendant I would dream of allowing anywhere near my car. Having been one, I know what these people are capable of.

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