Saturday, September 10, 2005

Home Again

“Hi, I’m Gizelle and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.”

Gizelle had glided to my table noiselessly and towered over me, an apparition in white and gold. Shoulder-length blonde hair framed a flawless complexion, high cheekbones, too-perfect white teeth, and limpid-pool blue eyes. She might have stepped off of the cover of Vogue or Cosmo. I didn’t realize that supermodels moonlighted in restaurants.

As the blood began to return to my head I heard Gizelle say through the fog something about drinks.

“Arrouh errg dahhhhh,” I mumbled.

Gizelle pivoted like a Marine on drill, blonde hair gliding through the air in slow motion (how do they do that?), chimed over her shoulder, “I’ll be right back with your drinks,” and sashayed into a shimmering mirage. Time seemed to slow as she faded into the distance. Step. By. Step.

How do they do that, I thought again.

“I’ll be taking care of you tonight.” Gizelle’s words echoed in my mind.

“Heh, heh,” I thought, “no, Gizelle, not tonight you ain’t. Tonight I’ll be taken care of by my two old buddies Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniels. I never drink alone, doncha see.”

I’m here in Scottsdale, Arizona for a few days and Gizelle is only one of many changes this old town has seen since I first set foot in it over 40 years ago.

Back then, the spot where I’m sitting at this very moment was open desert. I’d be sitting on a cactus, brushing scorpions off my jeans and wondering which was going to get me first: heat or coyotes.

Back then Gizelle would have been Barb and the conversation would have been a little different.

Barb would have been on break, sitting in a booth in the corner, taking a pull on her third cigarette, joking with the short-order cook, Junior. I would have been sitting at my table for 5 or 10 minutes before, with a great sigh, Barb would have pulled herself to her feet, brushed down her apron and ambled over my way.

Through a cloud of second-hand smoke she would have rasped, “What’ll it be, Hon?”

If I had replied with something even remotely like, “Well, I was hoping you’d take care of me tonight,” then I would have had a very short, but loud, conversation with Junior followed by a close encounter with Mr. Asphalt in the parking lot. Nope, there was no “taking care of” back then. You placed your order, ate your food and got the hell out. Ah, the simple times.

With the sound of little tinkling bells, the mirage reappeared and Gizelle glided down the catwalk to my table. Gracefully, she placed my Perrier and lime on the table, stepped back, flicked her hair and pouted.

“Thanks,” I said.

Gizelle brightened at this and proceeded to ask if I was prepared to order.

“Well, not quite,” I mused, “it all looks so good it’s difficult to decide.”

Gizelle earned an Academy Award pretending she had never heard that line before.

“What would you suggest?” I offered.

Gizelle brightened considerably at this, clapped her hands together and gave a little hop. She looked absolutely delighted that someone had asked her opinion.

“Oh,” Gizelle squeaked, “my absolute favorite in the whole wide world is the Kate Moss Salad. It’s sooooo yummy!”

Kate Moss, I thought, I don’t have a clue but I’m not about to ask, either. I’d eaten moose moss, man, I should have washed it first. And, I’d eaten Spanish Moss. That was a big mistake but tequila will do that to you, yes, it will.

“OK,” I smiled, “Kate Moss it is.”

Gizelle turned and pranced off into the mirage.

While my Kate Moss was being “created” by Wolfgang, I thought back to a little Mexican restaurant we used to go to when I was a kid. We went there often enough that one of the waitresses adopted us.

“Oh, my darlings,” Emily would gush, “it’s so good to see you again! Take a seat. Anywhere. I’ll be right with you.” Emily would bustle into the kitchen, double doors almost swinging off the hinges. She made a loud “WUMPH” when she hit those doors. Before the kitchen doors could close you could hear Emily barking instructions. “I need a basket of chips and I want ‘em fresh and hot! Right now! None of that broken crap you usually dish up. Hey, hey, hey, Junior, you shut your trap and gimmie the chips or I’ll smack you into next week…” So it went.

WUMPH! And Emily would be back, “Oh, my darlings, how ya doin’? Oh, you’re growing so fast. My no account husband, did I tell what he did this week?” Emily would scoot us over in the booth, sit down, light up a cigarette and take her break with us, spilling out all of her family’s trials and tribulations. Emily was such a sweetie.

Then, suddenly, as if stuck by a cattle prod she would leap to her feet, stub out her cigarette, and shoot back to the kitchen, cooing over her shoulder to us “Be right back with your order, darlings. Just a second.” And when she hit those kitchen doors -WUMPH- we’d hear “Junior, you bastard, where’s my order? I’m gonna kick you worthless ass…”

My reverie was broken by the sound of little bells. I looked up and Gizelle was gliding down the catwalk with my order in hand. She was radiant.

“Here you are,” she said breathlessly, “your very own Kate Moss Salad!” Then, unexpectedly, she leant over the table and whispered to me, “You know, I’ve never been able to finish one of these by myself. I’ll bring you a carry-home box, just in case.” Then she turned and disappeared back into the mirage.

I looked down at my Kate Moss. Single leaf of lettuce. Sculpted baby carrot set at a jaunty angle. In a deft move I rolled up the carrot in the lettuce leaf, popped them into my mouth and swallowed it whole. The lettuce was certainly lettucey and the carrot was the jauntiest carrot I’d ever swallowed whole. No doubt about it. Yummy.

Shortly, Gizelle appeared with my check and exclaimed, “Oh, you must have been hungry!” before she disappeared into the mirage one final time.

I stepped out into the parking lot and inhaled a deep lungful of bus exhaust. My stomach reminded me loudly that it was most unsatisfied at the course of the evening so far. I got into my rental car and headed off into the night. I didn’t know exactly where I was going, so I followed my instinct. Head for Old Town, away from all the lights. That’s where it will be.

Sure enough, I rounded a corner in an old business area and caught sight of a flickering neon sign: Mel’s Char Ho.

Mel’s Char House

I parked the car, looked up at the sign and saw that the “use” had burned out. “I know how you feel, sign, I know exactly how you feel.”

I went inside and stood by the cash register waiting to be seated.

“Just sit anywhere, Hon,” a disembodied voice echoed from the back of the room, “be with you in a sec.”

I pulled into a booth and checked out the plastic laminated menu wedged between the salt and pepper shakers. It didn’t take long to find what I wanted.

I heard footsteps and the voice was moving towards my booth. “Barb” stood there with her order pad in hand. “Ya know what cha want, Hon?” she asked.

I smelled a mixture of Camel regulars and Beechnut gum, or was it just Redman? I couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter. “I’ll have a large Sloppy Joe, Cole slaw and a bowl of pinto beans. With water.”

Barb was writing all this down. She looked up and said, “With what?”

“Water,” I said, then paused and changed my mind. “Make that a beer, no, make that a pitcher of beer.”

“You got it, Hon,” Barb replied, “Back at ya in two shakes.” She headed towards the kitchen.


“Hey, Junior! Gimme a bunnie ‘n’ a beanie ‘n’ a bowl of slop. And a bucket of suds! And make it snappy, you worthless, lazy bastard! Don’t make me come back there, Junior! You want trouble, I’ll give you trouble…”

The kitchen door closed and all I could hear were Barb’s muffled threats.

I leaned back in the booth and put my feet up on the opposite seat. Ah, it’s great to be home.


The Absent Minded Housewife said...

That has made my coffee a lot nicer. Thanks for the morning read.

MF said...

My mother was a waitress of the Emily variety, and had customers who wouldn't let anyone else wait on them :)

Whimsey's Sister said...

Thanks, Bill. Scouting is a wonderful world where you meet the best people.