Young dude, blind man, blonde lady.
"What type of dressing would you like on your salad, ma'am?"
"Thousand Island, please." Gross, I hated Thousand Island. I hated old ladies too. But I had to do my job.
"Alright. I'll have your food right out for you." I scribbled a little "T.I." next to the third item on my notepad as I walked back to the kitchen. That old lady better tip well, I thought.
"Are you the kid?" I heard this as I entered the back office of Italiana, the small Italian restaurant in town. I was interviewing for a job. The voice's New York accent was glaring, a tongue I rarely heard in the South. "Yeah, I'm Taylor McCleven, nice to meet you." I was trying to be nice. The old man across the room just stared toward me; he was wearing dark glasses. I held out my hand in a gesture to shake hands. He didn't respond.
It occurred to me that he was blind.
"Music is garbage, kid. Your band won't make it." The old man continued to stare.
"I know we probably won't, sir. It's just for fun." I moved toward the chair in front of the man's desk.
"Are you sitting?" he asked. "Get your ass in the chair so we can talk like men, see?"
"You know what's fun, kid? Work. Do you like to work?"
"Nothing wrong with it, sir."
"Now that's what I like to hear. A six hour shift with no breaks."
"I can do that." It was only three days a week, after all.
"How much money do you want?"
"Uh. Minimum wage would be okay."
"Well what good are you? I'll give you ten dollars an hour and you'll do a damn good job, you hear?"
"Yes sir." I held out my hand again to shake.
"I'm goddamn blind, kid. How am I supposed to see your hand?"
"How did you see my hand?"
"I can see enough. Get out of my office, you're in my way." He moved toward the door, then turned around. "Hey, isn't Taylor a girl's name?"
"It can be both, sir."
He started mumbling and left the room.
I was cleaning a table for a family to sit in. I found a dollar. Great. The family had seven members, six of them female. The father looked like he was over-compensating for the lack of masculinity in his household. He had apparently worn a West Coast Choppers shirt to church, judging by the fact that he had accompanied his church-dressed family from the steeple across the road. Upon my inquiry, the females in the group ordered diet sodas to drink. In a burst of testosterone, the father ordered Mountain Dew. I decided to "accidentally" bring him Diet Mountain Dew.
My mother told me that Josiah Norton opened Italiano when she was a young girl. It was the most popular restaurant in our small town, and it was in her youth as well. He was blind since he had opened the restaurant, and he couldn't drive. He paid a large sum of money for the land behind the Italiano building and built a small house there. He had a very old car moved into it, and years later a fishing boat. No one had ever seen him use either of them. He walked from his house to his restaurant every morning, and walked back every night after closing. He never supported any local charities, never sponsored any Little League teams, nor allowed any live entertainment in his restaurant. He hadn't changed Italiano's menu, his own personal recipes, since it was opened. Yet customers steadily came, and Italiano made a name for itself in the area.
Members of Jehovah's Witnesses came to Italiano to speak with Josiah, and he sent them to the back door. He told one of the cooks to throw the trash out on them. A troop of girl scouts once asked to sell cookies in his restaurant. He told them he would only allow it if they gave him fifty-percent of their profits.
A woman sent back her sandwich five times because the bacon was too crispy, or, the fourth time, wasn't crispy enough. I weathered this hassle though, and the night was almost over with me pocketing forty-two dollars in tips.
The interior of Italiano was very cosy. It was dark with lots of wood. Wood walls and huge wooden tables, with purple and white tablecloths. An outer ring in the large room was elevated, with booths against the walls. The center part was better lit, with massive wooden tables lined up. They were almost always full. The building constantly smelled of garlic and wine, much too enticing for any non-eaters to handle. Waiters zoomed around the room, filling customers with a constant supply of garlic bread and sweet tea or wine. I loved this building since I was a kid, and even as a waiter it's appeal remained.
"These socialist ideas are ruining our country," Josiah told me.
"Got a girlfriend?"
"Good. Keep it that way. Just focus on your school and your music, or whatever. Women just drag you down."
"Were you ever married, Mr. Josiah?"
He paused. I was worried that I had touched on a fragile subject.
"I had a girl once. She left. Never did like women. Can't see 'em anyways." He chuckled.
Moonlight streamed through the window and the headlights from cars raced back and forth across the room in slivers of illumination. The digital clock read 1:45 am and the old man reached for it. Exhaustion pulled his arms down as he reached. His back ached. He removed his glasses and held the clock up to his face. He saw only blurs of scarlet amid the dark room, blinking steadily, showing him the time. He felt for the desk in front of him, and, upon touching it, placed the clock back down.
"Hey!" Josiah yelled. No one answered.
He heard teenagers driving around in the parking lot across the road, and their headlights continued to glare through the window. He could see little ghosts of yellow floating about. His office was flashing red, the digital clock boundlessly and tirelessly working. The colors brought him sudden memories of Las Vegas, where he had once lived. He imagined the frantic excitement and the colorful buildings of the Strip. He thought of her. Her yellow hair and red lips and dark eyes, the only parts of her he could see. His stomach churned as he imagined her touch on his arm. That one night, the finest night of his long, long life.
He felt himself in the kitchens of the Horseshoe Casino, washing dishes. It was 1950. The yelling and jeering of gamblers overhead felt almost real. Then he was with her, in a hotel room twelve stories above. She smiled and he could see it, her red lips glowing on the white face. He was a one-night stand for her, but she became much more to him.
He grabbed his cane from the floor next to his chair, where he always left it. His body ached from the busy night at the restaurant. He slowly stood and began the familiar walk home.
Josiah Norton, as I came to learn, was once the head chef of the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. He worked his way up from dishwasher, learning the trade. He learned to cook Italian very well and made a small fortune. No one knows why he moved to a small Southern town. Some say for peace and quiet, while others suggest that he ran from the law.
People in my small town tended to keep an eye on Josiah, because he was different. Kids always made up stories about him, claiming he was a ghost or an alien. An old woman, his neighbor, claimed to see a Rolls Royce, similar to his, pull up to his house late one night, right after he moved into town. An older blonde woman got out of the back of the car and spoke to him briefly, then left.
I was finished waiting tables for the night. The father never noticed that his Mountain Dew was diet. He tipped me eight dollars. It was time to go home, pockets full of tips. I ventured through the kitchen to find Mr. Josiah. I needed to ask him if I could take off from work tomorrow night for a band gig. He wasn't there. I opened the door to his office and found him sitting, asleep. His cane was across the room, leaned against the wall. His digital clock read "10:59 pm." I grabbed his cane and gently laid it on the floor next to his chair, where he would find it. I was careful not to wake him.
As I turned to leave, I noticed a picture on his desk. It was a picture of Marilyn Monroe.
I didn't know why he had the picture, but I wasn't in the mood to ponder. I shrugged and walked out cheerfully, thinking of the money in my pocket and my concert the next day.
Eight years later, my Mom called me to tell me about Josiah's obituary. That's when I figured it out. I wrote a song about it. The song was terrible, but I liked it.