Friday, February 16, 2018

A Little Tale of Ordinary American Life

When Jaylin and his dad moved to Timberline, Dad couldn’t get work, and spent most of his waking hours drunk. If Jaylin said anything critical, Dad would threaten to punch his face in. He’d say something like, “I’ve gotten over losing your mama, so losing you wouldn’t be a biggie.” Jaylin was big and strong, but Dad was a monster. He’d won the Strongest Man ni Town competition at the big annual Fourth of July party in the park back in Sistoquoc three of the last four years. The year he’d lost, it was because he got so drunk that he showed up for the final heat 45 minutes after the judges had declared that Rick dude the winner. 

Jaylin got a job washing dishes at the Timberline Diner on Route 3. It hadn’t really been a diner for years. It served good local wines, had a young chef who’d been to one of those culinary colleges, and was written up in the little magazines that came with the Sunday newspaper. Jaylin found that he lost himself in the steamy clamour of the kitchen, and was able to forget about his mom dying at 41 and Dad being an asshole. 

The place’s owner saw that Jaylin was a hard worker and promoted him. He became what the owner called a junior waiter, which turned out to mean busboy. Jaylin wasn’t able to lose himself lugging plastic tubfuls of dirty dishes back to the little pockmarked Salvadorean who’d replaced him as dishwasher, and  was pretty sure the waitresses (none was a dude) were cheating him. Jaylin wasn’t good at math, but was pretty sure that $3 wasn’t 15 percent of $45, and that you didn’t figure out 15 percent by dividing by 15. The only waitress who didn’t snarl at him when he asked if she was sure she was doing the math right was Lucy, the youngest and hottest, not that any of them was exactly Pam Anderson.

She was hot enough for Dad, though. He finally got his drinking under control a little bit, and got a job as mechanic. When he came in to see Jaylin at work, Lucy was his server. He asked her out, and it must have gone pretty well because she started giving Jaylin a bigger portion of her tipe — at least until he made the mistake of pointing out how much less than Lucy the other waitresses  were paying him. They started treating her like she had a disease they might catch if they were nice, and Lucy, whom Dad had dumped in the meantime, started giving him a hard time in front of them, probably trying to get back in their good graces. 

Jaylin dropped out of school, went through a tweaking period of his own, and pulled himself out of it in large part by moving to the city, 12 miles away, and beginning his own career as a mechanic. When Dad found out he was working on “Jap” cars, though Jay worked mostly on Hyundais, he gave Jay a hard time. In Dad’s view, Asian-manufactured products in general and cars in particular were responsible for America’s economy having been in the crapper before President Trump got elected and started fixing everything. When Jay pointed out that most of the cars he worked on were actually made in the USA, Dad accused him of having a smart mouth. Jay began dating a girl, Laniqu’a, who worked at the Subway around the corner from his garage. 

On their third date, they went to see the new Tom Cruise movie at the big cineplex on Elm, and then to a pizza place one of the other mechanics had told Jay wasn’t bad. There was a really awkward moment when their server turned out to be Lucy, looking a little worn-out, but still pretty for somebody in her thirties. It was awkward for a minute, but then Lucy seemed to decide to treat Jay and his date just like any other diners. It occurred to Jay to give her a hard time, and to get her to take his calzone back to the kitchen, but at the Timber the servers had all made a point of spitting into the food of diners who annoyed them, so Jay too pretended they’d never been waitress and busboy. Laniqu’a, not yet 17, and one who’d been taken to a restaurant exactly once before in her lifetime after her older brother's confirmation, was very impressed by the two of them knowing each other. Her new boyfriend had been places, and seen things!

Their bill, which Lucy presented on a little silver tray with two stale chocolate mints, came to $21. Jay had a phone with a calculator app, but didn’t use it. He left Lucy a wrinkled dollar bill, a quarter, two dimes, and three pennies. 

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