The tension at home didn’t rob me of my joy at work. I grabbed any shift they gave me, often starting at 6am, leaving around 12:30 or 1pm to walk the dogs, then coming back and finishing another shift around midnight or 1am. People were surprised to start the graveyard shift and see me from earlier that morning. I felt like an apparition walking the halls of the Hotel without much sleep or food. I didn’t care anymore if food was vegan or not anymore, I ate what could maybe pass for vegan and smoked cigarettes to keep awake.
We were all working a lot. The line cook was passing us trays of food and said, “Tired” instead of “Hot Pan”. The Bartender broke down in tears when we were finishing a service because she didn’t know when she would have time to see her child before she started school. It was intense. The single mothers would have to shell out money for babysitters or drop their kids off at the Grandparents and often seemed like they were stumbling around with the light out in their eyes. They were only half a person without their kids.
I was alive though. I tried to pull together the service with a couple of fuck-up teenagers working under me. I was grouchy:
“I need coffee, decaf and hot water for service. Can you please do that?” I asked Tate. He stood still a little too long, “Like now?” I punctuated. A few minutes later I stormed into the Back Hall shouting, “Coffee? I need coffee!”
Tate handed me a small carafe of black coffee. “This is for 60 people, are you insane?” He stared at me as I ripped it out of his hand. “Forget it, I will do it myself. Jesus Christ, you kids make me want to get sterilized.”
“Sorry …” Tate said softly. “Can I help?”
“I got it, it is fine.”
“Seriously. I want to help,” he said. At the end of the day, they cared what I thought and that was nice. I didn’t want to let the stress, the sleeplessness and the self-abuse poison my love for the job.
I took in everything about the Hotel knowing I would never see it again. The misspellings on the shelf and walls. The cute baker who rapped Eminem at 6:30am in pigtails. The 7-foot dishwasher who spoke loudly to himself as he scraped mediocre food off of dirty pans. One night, he grabbed me and hugged me tight. He hugged me so tight I couldn’t breathe, the man was freakishly large. “We love you, [StarFire]” he said.
The PM Dishwasher took a different approach:
“Hey, why don’t you ever answer my calls?” The PM Dishwasher asked.
“Because, I told you- I have no reception, man. I have to drive down the road to get my text messages.”
“Oh,” he said, “Well, I thought maybe we could go out sometime.”
“Hey, can I move in?” I asked.
“No, I live with my parents. No one can even come over there,” he said.
“How did you expect to take me out on a date then?”
“We could just drive around, you know … cruise ...” he said. I broke out laughing.
The Dishwasher, Chad and QB all said they didn’t have girlfriends, which I took for face value at the time. “Oh, he is practically married to the mother of his child,” Martin said one day about the Dishwasher.
“He is? He said they broke up several months ago,” I said.
Martin laughed, “... ok. That’s a good story.”
Chad was late one day and the PM Manager said, “I think his girlfriend is dropping him off.”
“I thought they broke up,” I said.
As Chad pranced in I said, “Hey man, you said you didn’t have a girlfriend.” He smiled and poured himself a Pepsi before disappearing.
There was no one in Skamania who really had a chance with me. Well … QB. He told me several weeks before that he broke up with the Belgian foreign exchange student who spent her last semester of high school in Skamania. They went to prom together. The hundreds of pictures on Facebook are just adorable. One day, while standing with his Mother out on a Brunch service she said, “And he is so good with his girlfriend. We are thinking of sending him over there to see her sometime next year.”
I almost said, “Oh, I thought they broke up” but I knew she was telling me so I would know to stay away. She never scheduled us on the same service and if another manager did, she would switch us around. It was frustrating because he really was the best food runner there. He grew up at the Hotel, not to mention he moved and thought fast.
When we were in the break room for my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and his glass of milk, I mentioned something about it. “I heard you were still together with your girlfriend,” I said.
“Who told you that?” he asked.
“Your mom,” I said. He grinned.
“You jealous?” he asked.
I held up my pathetic wheat bread PB&J, “That’s right … I am jealous of your high school, skype, long-distance relationship …” then I took a bite out of my sandwich. He smiled and turned away. “You are so sarcastic, [StarFire]” He said my name with a laziness, where the consonants were dulled by his country boy tongue. I liked it.
At the end of the shift, he would ask, “Are you working tomorrow?”
“Of course,” I smiled, “Aren’t you excited...” His eyes slowly rolled through my hair, down the nape of my neck, over my breasts and around my hips like fingers. He leaned into me, lifted the corner of his mouth and exhaled a puff of hot air. “Nah. Excited about what?”
I laughed. He walked away but tossed his head back to see if I was smiling, to make sure I got the joke. If I was studying the Banquet Service Orders on the wall, out of nowhere a hand would shove me from the back until my face and chest were planted against the wall. A hot slap across my shoulder. Once, he walked up and put both hands on either side of my face and dragged them across my skin. It took several seconds before I realized his hands were wet with dish soap. It was oddly intimate. “I can see your tummy,” he said when my shirt was untucked. We had evolved from a passing flirtation to some kind of head fuck.
While pushing my cart after a service, he came up from behind me down the hall, “I am comin’ for you, [StarFire] … you better run, I am comin’.” I laughed and pushed faster, trying to close the door into the Housekeeper’s side room before he inched his way through.
“I went up to the golf course last night and got drunk with someone. We had sex. Are you jealous?” he said. This was some one-line story he used to tell over and over again. At first I believed him simply because he was saying it out loud. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Ok.”
“Yeah, we went up with a bottle of champagne.”
“Now I am jealous. I love champagne,” I said. Later I would realize he was testing me. He wanted to know if I had any emotional attachment to him. It seemed silly at the time to think we were more than an attraction, or a playful flirtation- but he was feeling me out.
While folding napkins late one night he said, “I used to think your parents were really nice and everyth-ang,” he always dragged out the “ings” like he was plucking straw out of his teeth, “but after hearing your stories about them I started kinda noticing weird things. Like your Mom just let herself into our house the other day. I was asleep by the door, but she thought the house was empty. She didn’t even knock. She just let herself in and walked around. It was weird.”
“They are insane. I told you. I can’t blame them for the way they treated me. They are repeating patterns from their childhood. Both my parents came from broken homes. My mom was told she was fat growing up and they both went through a lot. They are just repeating what they learned but I wish they would be smart enough to break the cycle. I just don’t think they are that intelligent anymore. Why can’t they be better than their parents?” I asked. “I sometimes repeat those patterns too, but I am fighting it so I can … evolve.”
“Have you ever been hit in the face by a guy?” he asked.
I carefully folded the linen napkins in three parts as I was instructed on my first day, “Yeah.”
“YEAH!? YOU HAVE?” he almost shouted. He was still smiling, high on my honesty.
“Yeah, well once someone bit me in the head which makes me sound insane but there is no other way to put it. I mean … he bit my head,” I said.
“You look like the type of girl who stays in a room all day and read books but you have an interesting life. I just want to smoke a joint and listen to you tell stories all day,” he said leaning back with his hands cupped behind his red head.
“Why don’t you just say you want to fuck me?”
I huffed a little laugh, then we got up to walk to another Banquet Hall for something or another. “Let’s say I did want to fuck you, exactly what positions would you want to do?” I asked. Fuck it. I was leaving anyway.
“I only do one position … the Jackhammer,” he said. I laughed and wondered what it would be like to have the high school quarterback pound into me for a split second. “Nahh, I only know that because my friend was texting some girl he met off Craigslist once and she was asking him for the Jackhammer.”
“Ah, well, it sounds like it could have its appeal,” I said. We walked into the dark, empty Banquet Hall and I sensed he was nervous. His confidence fell out of his pockets and he was eager to get what we needed and leave. He frantically collected things and then stood a little too close to the back of the neck. I gave him a few seconds to stay there but saw that he wasn’t ready yet.
The more we worked, the more exhausted and the more emotional. One day, I asked someone to just slap me in the face. Everyone stood around grinning until QB walked up to me and planted a decent size slap on my face. The sting jolted my heart and kicked off the fatigue if only for a few minutes. “That helped,” I said.
“Can you help on my service tonight? Its for 50 people and I only have Chad helping me. With just him and me its like … you know … one and a half people on the service,” he asked one night.
“Yeah, I can do that,” I said.
“Ok, I will ask my Mom.”
We arranged for me to come back and pull another double on his service but when I came back to work, his mother shifted me off his service and put me on another one. There was some miscommunication and when QB found out I was moved he got very grouchy. “Chad says you were moved off my service. Is he lying?” he asked.
“No, I think I was,” I said. QB coldly turned away from me and wouldn’t talk to me for an hour or two. Then he started digging in on me. “Why are you always looking at me? What’s your problem? You are always smiling at me?”
“Give me a break,” I said at first- but his tone changed and it started tasting bitter.
“What is it? Why are you looking at me?” he asked.
“Don’t be an asshole, QB,” I said.
“What, you are always looking at me … its getting pathetic,” he said. That was my sore spot. “Pathetic”. Boys love calling me “Pathetic”.
“I don’t care what your problem is, you are just some kid, that’s all. Just some kid who lives in the middle of nowhere. Big deal.”
A wall of ice fell between us and as service picked up towards dinner he wickedly threw dirties down, “You looking at me again?”
I violently dug the hand shovel into the ice machine to fill up a bucket. “You are looking at ME! I am looking at YOU because YOU are looking at ME! You have been looking at me since the day I started!!” I shouted.
“Well, that’s because you are weird,” he said, fumbling.
“Well, I am sorry. There is nothing I can do about that,” I said, throwing everything I needed on my cart before making a dramatic exit.
“You were born weird,” he said again, a little stronger, with a smile flickering over his face.
“Jesus, get over it, asshole!” I said.
I knew his mother could hear us. Once in awhile she would hear me complain out loud to myself and answer my question or address my concern from the office. She heard me call her son an asshole but I didn’t care. He was being an asshole. From that point forward, whenever we passed in the Back Hall, I ignored him. The second or third time he stopped. “Good job, I know how hard that is for you.” I turned and smiled at him. He smiled back. We walked away to our separate services.
The next day at work, he was stocking wine glasses. “My girlfriend says you’re hot. She saw you on Facebook and she thinks you look like you’re in highschool. She wouldn’t believe me that you are some old lady. I knew that would make your day … stop dancing, you are embarrassing me.”
We went back to the old shenanigans. He would gently push me while I conferenced with his mother on a service. When I turned and kicked his feet, he giggled. His mother froze, widened her eyes and walked away. He would hold out his hand when I walked towards him so that my boob would collide with the palm of his hand.
After his shift that day, I watched him from the Back Hall walk to his car in the parking lot. There was a big window overlooking the entire employee parking lot, and he trudged to his beat up jeep with his uniform shirt pulled out in the front. I thought about massaging his cock until he melted in my hand. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him and realized I would never have a chance with him. We were running out of time.
“I just want to go home, get a massage and make love to a boy,” I said to the girls on my service.
“Oh, well that’s what I am going to do after this,” the chunky 18-year-old with bleached hair said.
“Are you fucking serious?” I said, dryly.
“Yeah,” she chirped.
“What kind of cruel universe is sending you off to have intercourse and leaving me to rot back here?”
“Maybe sex isn’t in your DNA,” she said.
“Honey, it’s in my DNA. Don’t worry about that.”
I came home to the Old Man that day and sat down in front of my computer to pound out a blog. I rubbed my hand over my eyes and slicked my greasy hair back before opening up a clean sheet of canvas to carve words on. The Old Man approached me and said, “You look tired.”
“I am working really hard. I will be out in 5 days, don’t worry,” I said.
“You have to take care of yourself. I can see rings around your eyes. Can I show you something?”
He walked me outside to his shed and led me to a clean, new RV parked in the barn. I never noticed it before. He made my dogs stay outside which bothered me but I was a guest and didn’t say anything about it. “This is my home away from home. I like to come here sometimes to just relax. Why don’t you pick out some music?” He pulled out a box filled with old cassette tapes. I extracted “The Best of Rod Stewart” and he plopped it in the player and it rung out on the speakers. “Go ahead, lie down,” he said.
I didn’t know what he expected or what to do. I was too tired to do anything but lie down. So I walked over to the bed and lay face down as he sat on the other end of the RV and watched. Rod’s nasally prose filled the stale air:
Stay away from my window
Stay away from my back door too
Disconnect the telephone line
Relax baby and draw that blind
Kick off your shoes and sit right down
Loosen off that pretty French gown
Let me pour you a good long drink
I thought maybe that was the wrong song choice. I didn’t want to fall asleep just in case footsteps led up to my bedside. Just in case I felt an old hand crawl over me. My eyes rolled back into my head and the smell of mildew on the pillowcase lifted as everything slowly receded to black.
I woke up and Brad, my 15-pound terrier mix, was rolled up in the bend of my knee. The Old Man saw I was awake, “He just kept waiting by the door so I let him in.” I softly combed back his long blond fur and looked into his eyes to see if he knew anything more than I did. His brown eyes were soft and alert, as they always are when we are away from home. I closed my eyes again feeling the fresh sweat from a nap in my hair and sticky veil of oil on my skin and face. I lay down again but couldn’t let my mind surrender the sounds of his footsteps, the pacing of his breath and lay still for another half hour or so.
I shot up out of bed and saw he wasn’t in the RV anymore. It was dark outside. I felt frantic to write, to apply for jobs in Los Angeles, to finish the book for my monthly annotations. Picking up Brad, I rushed out of the RV and swiftly jogged to the house, past the Old Man urinating in his own lawn, past the goat with his own Facebook page and the two dogs next door and I disappeared into my room to feel alone and safe again. I still feel badly about that. He was just trying to help but I didn’t trust him.
It was my last night shift with QB. While shuffling butter and creamer out of the fridge, I looked over my shoulder and saw him looking at me with this hopelessness. His eyebrows up and colliding into each other, pink and red in want. I never saw that look on his face before.
The dinner service was lit by candle and a powerpoint presentation. QB was food runner and I was a server, but I kept close to him knowing it was the last time we would work together. I asked if I could help him and he would look down and smile, “Thank you,” he said. “So, you said you would tell me if you would really sleep with me or not before you left.”
“I did,” I said, smiling. I didn’t feel pretty. My eyes were puffy. My hair was twisted in an unflattering knot on my head. I couldn’t stand my reflection anymore. “But it’s not quite the end of our shift so I can’t tell you yet.”
“Come on, you would fuck me. Wouldn’t you?” he said.
“I will tell you this …” he leaned in and I looked down to blush, “I like your shoulders.” The broad shoulders I often imagined pressing up against the inside of my knees, slithering as I was wrapped around him and pushed against the wall.
He smiled and looked hard at me, “That’s one.”
“And that’s … all,” I said.
“Yeah right, come on,” he said. We were constantly disturbed. There was always something missing or late for the buffet line. And the inevitable customer complaints, mostly about the bar not staying open long enough. Modesto, the Mexican line cook who gave me the ‘I Love You’ sticker several weeks before, was manning the fish station. A large, dead Halibut was resting underneath a heat lamp. Modesto cornered me, “You leave soon? I could come too. We could work together and help each other. Why not?”
I laughed and smiled, piecing together his broken sentences as QB pretended to masturbate behind his back. “I don’t think so, Modesto,” I said. “It would never work between us.”
“You toy with me! You toy with my feelings,” he said, disgusted.
“How do I toy with you?”
“You smile, you say you want to see movie and now you leave,” he said curtly before his face melted again with the pleading that I take him along. I realized that it wasn’t necessarily my allure. How could it be? I looked like shit. They all wanted to leave. California sounded like sunshine and smoothies, more people, more everything. They were trapped. I was free.
We worked the service. I was so exhausted, I was spilling wine and coffee. I was averaging 3-4 hours of sleep a day and working my ass off. My eye-hand coordination was for shit. Once I spilled half a pot of coffee all over someone’s dinner table. I still lingered at the end of my shift … to be with QB. We walked around each other, sometimes quietly, sometimes obnoxiously tossing insults. When I smacked his chest I could feel the rock hard flesh of an athlete and it always surprised me.
At the end of the shift, the PM manager promised everyone on staff (over the age of 21) a cocktail. I was the first released from the shift since it was a 17 hour shift. “What do you want?” he asked.
“Anything?” I asked.
“A vodka martini dirty,” I said. When he brought it to me I said, “I am going to take this and drink it in front of QB while he works.”
I marched into the Banquet Hall as everyone set up for a breakfast service in the morning. It must have been 1am by then. Pulling up a chair, I sat a few feet from QB as he folded napkins and enjoyed the martini. “What the fuck?” he said.
“It is my martini, beotch! Now get back to work!”
“She is already drunk from one martini,” he said to the others.
“Give her one more and she will be all over us,” he said.
“The only way I would be all over you guys is if I drank so much I passed out and fell over you,” I said.
“So there is a chance,” Tate said.
Someone was playing music off their phone and I danced a bit. QB was excited by it all; my slurred speech, my sloppy dance moves, my snarky banter. “She is getting drunk, get her another drink.”
“Relax, Junior,” I said, steadying the glass on my lower lip.
“I think Penny is hotter than you. I want to do Penny more than I want to do you,” he said. Penny is a 50-year-old bartender with heavy blue eye-shadow and hair blending the cherished styles of mullet and beehive.
“Wow, he wants to jump your bones … bad,” she said to me quietly on the side.
“I know,” I whispered back in delight.
After my drink, I had to leave. I had to leave the teenage boys folding napkins. The single moms complaining. The managers huddled quietly in the office pounding numbers and gossiping about each other. The dishwashers smashing dirty pots and pans into the sink, shouting at each other over the rush of hot water and a temperamental dish washing machine. The night man coming in, pale as milk with a bushy mustache and a little wink just for me. I would have one more shift there at the Hotel, but it was my last night shift and that meant something to me. I had to let it go. I had to let them all go.