By David Kaplan
The late afternoon April sun gave the green awning over the outdoor seating a golden glow. Erik had just finished arranging the placements on table 35. It was his preferred spot to sit during breaks. He would have some coffee and a pastry and let his mind go blank. The two-hour pre-dinner setup time was so relaxed and orderly. He loved the routine. Most of his co-workers thought differently. They were restless. The manager’s thick, calloused fingers would tap out figures on a 30-year-old calculator that printed out receipts on translucent rolls of paper. The ink looked like it hadn’t been changed in 30 years either.
On this day, Erik took a small plate of pasta and a small glass of the house red and sat down at table 35. It had four seats and he took the far one and looked out at the other patio spots.
The table was situated in a corner. Erik’s back was against the planter with hedges that rose 7 feet high. It made it look like a garden in the middle of the block on two-way Karemin Street. A light breeze wove through the close-cropped brown curls that were graying at the sides.
He leaned against the rough the beige brick wall and took a sip of the wine. Andre, the new waiter sat down facing him without preamble. Erik didn’t look up from his pasta. It was pappardelle with short rib ragu with castelvetrano olives. It was barely warm and Erik was determined not to be distracted.
“They don’t respect us,” Andre said, lighting a cigarette. Even though it was outside, the restaurant had a no smoking policy. Andre’s round, jowly face was red and he was sweating profusely.
“Who?” Erik said, sucking in the sauce from the corners of his mouth. He didn’t look up. His eye focused on the olive that slipped off his fork.
“Everybody! The customers—” Andre turned his head to the glass doors and saw the manager was gone—“and the owners.”
“So what else is new?” Erik said, rolling the pasta around his fork and stabbing at that stray olive.
“I hate this. Every day, some smart ass sits down at this table and tries to make the small talk. Just order already! I got six other fuckin’ tables, ya stabooch! God damn it! They always ask, ‘So, are you an actor or what?’ Or what! I’m fucking waiter, just order the Caesar salad, you stupid son of a mangaroni.”
Andre seemed to just make up Italian-sounding words when he complained. He was from Jersey. He would be fired by the time the summer comes.
“I thought you were an actor. I saw your commercial last night. You were good.” Erik hated the commercial.
“That’s not the point! God, you’re so… ”
“Yeah, you’re jaded.”
Erik shrugged. Andre flicked his cigarette over the hedge and made a point of scaping the chair away from the table. He leapt out of the seat without another look and went back inside to find someone else to complain to.
Erik opened his phone slid his finger up to reveal a text from Natalie.
“Hey!!!!!!!!!!!! Guess wutttttt!!!!!!”
What, Erik typed and hit send.
“I got the part!!!! Bring home wine to celebrate!”
“Why don’t you meet me here at midnight? I have the table.”