Friday, March 20, 2009

Neighborhood Jim’s


I take a razor out of my back pocket and slice a hole in the side of a trash bag. A bunch of rice spills to the floor. Some slimy stuff sticks to my wrist as I dig into the bag.
I pull out two rolls in the palm of my hand. I take a bite out of the bread and begin to chomp away, barely able to breathe. Dough climbs up my gums and sits above my upper teeth like a mouthpiece.
My untied Nike laces float in a puddle. I tear apart more bags and empty trash all over the loading dock trying to find more scraps to quiet my stomach.
Two large hands dig into my shoulders.
“Get off me!” I scream.
I am pulled into the backdoor of the kitchen and thrown onto the floor into a pile of wet towels. Door slams. Lock clicks.
“I’m sick and tired of you coming to my loading dock and making a mess of everything!” Blue veins emerge on the large man’s forehead. Pockets of perspiration begin to leak through his white shirt.
“I have had to work overtime to clean up your messes. I even had to call an exterminator from all the animals you’re attracting. For weeks you’ve been emptying trash all over my property turning my restaurant into a complete pigsty!”
I stare at the fat man, sweat drips off the sides of his face like he just finished playing a pickup game.
He stumbles toward me, picks me up by my sweatshirt, my legs like jelly as he tries to stand me up.
“Stop hiding from me,” he screams. He pulls the hood off my head.
“A girl! I am being terrorized by a girl. I don’t believe this!”
He drags me out of the kitchen like old laundry and plops me down onto a stool, spins me around. I stare at the old Knick players hanging on the wall of his diner. Frazier. Monroe. Reed. All of my grandfather’s favorite players.
“Pretty nice joint you got here.” I say. B-Ball is my favorite sport too. I play, I mean, I played on the freshman team. Starting point. How come you don’t have any of the new Knick players up there?”
He speaks with his large back facing me.
“They haven’t earned the right to be hanging up there yet,” he grunts. “Overpaid bums.”
He turns around and drops a plate of scrambled eggs and toast on the counter, I catch the fork before it falls on the floor. I bite the toast, fit about half of it in my mouth, try to slide eggs through the side.
The fat man places his hairy hands on the counter close to my plate.
“So, what’s your name, what’s your deal?” asks the man.
“Cali.”
“Why have you been making a mess of my place for the past few weeks and driving me crazy? Why are searching through my garbage for food?”
“Just am,” I mumble, spitting out a piece of egg.
“Look, don’t make me call the cops on you. What’s your story?”

“Man, I just don’t have a place to stay right now, ok? I live, I lived with my grandfather. He died a few weeks back and the rest of my family is trying to make me go live with my crazy uncle in Florida.”
“Parents? Friends?” he asks.
“Well, I never knew my mom. I guess she left when I was young, to be a singer or something, I don’t know. I was raised by my pops until he died of lung cancer when I was 6. I’ve been living with my grandfather ever since. He used to run a joint just like this in his younger days down by the Garden. And my friends? They’ll rat me out, please mister, don’t call the cops!”
“Look, until we figure things out, maybe I can help you out.”
“There’s a cot in back where you can stay. You can earn your keep by washing dishes. I could use an extra pair of hands around here, my back can’t carry as much weight as it used to. As long as you agree to stay out of my way, I like to run a tight ship. Don’t touch anything I don’t tell you to touch. Just stay back here in the kitchen and we won’t have any problems.”
I roll the sleeves on my hoodie up and dip my hands into soapy water. I wash pan- after-pan and plate-after-plate until my back feels like it is going to snap.
I work with the fat man all day and all night until there is no food left to serve and no customers left to feed.
The fat man, worn out and covered in grease, looks as though he wants nothing more than to get the hell out of Neighborhood Jim’s for the night. He throws his apron on the counter, locks the front door and flips the sign so that open stares him in the face. He puts on his hat and jacket, gives me a glance before he leaves.
“Have a good night.”
I mop the now glistening brown floor and take out the trash. I smirk because I now know which bags contain all the good scraps. I hose down the loading dock until the concrete is darkly drenched.
I make my way to the register. Ding. I start with the ones and work my way up to the 20’s. The poor stupid fat man. I place the money in a brown paper bag and slide it into the pouch on my sweatshirt, pull my hood over my head.
I grab cushion off the cot and leave the same way I was dragged in.

………………………………………………………………………………………………
Ten years later I enter Neighborhood Jim’s through the front door for the first time. I sit on the same stool at the same spot on the counter in my suit. A large man flips pancakes on the grill. I notice a picture of Patrick Ewing hanging on the wall next to Frazier, Monroe and Reed. The large man turns around.
“What can I get ya?” he asks.
“I’ll take the scrambled eggs and toast please.”
The large man makes motions with his arms like a magician. He drops a plate of scrambled eggs and toast on the counter. I finish quickly. I stand up and slide a wad of cash underneath the empty plate.
My heels echo as I walk towards the front door.
“Hey, you have way too much money here lady.”
“It’s just my way of saying thank you for making the best food in the city.”

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