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Bone in the throat, p.12
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       Bone in the Throat, p.12

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  "Hey, Steph," said Tommy. "How'd you do tonight?"

  "I would have done okay if it wasn't for those Canadians," she said.

  "They stiff you?" Tommy asked.

  "Just about," said Stephanie. "Five dollars on an eighty-dollar check."

  "You still shoulda had a pretty good night."

  Stephanie just shrugged innocently and called the bartender over for a drink. She ordered a Stoli Sea Breeze. When the drink arrived, she took a long sip, turned to Tommy, and giggled conspiratorially. "So, Tommy, I hear you're fucking Cheryl. Is that right?"

  Tommy's ears turned red. "Who said that?"

  "I heard from somebody," said Stephanie with a smile.

  "A gentleman doesn't tell," said Tommy.

  "So you are fucking her," said Stephanie, flashing an even bigger smile through abundant lips. She took another long hit on her drink. "So how long has this been going on, you dog?"

  "I still want to know who's been talking to you," said Tommy. "You tell me and I'll tell you. Was it the chef?"

  "Michael?" exclaimed Stephanie. "Michael knew—and didn't tell me? I'll kill him! I tell him everything that goes on on the floor . . . everything. And he's been holding out on me with something like this? Ooooh, I'm gonna kill him!" She finished her drink and ordered another. Tommy ordered another vodka for himself.

  "No, it wasn't Michael," she said. "It was Harvey."

  "Harvey?" said Tommy. "What the hell does he know?"

  "He called me in the office yesterday and asked me if you and Cheryl were bing-bonging," said Stephanie. "He didn't tell me. He asked. But that got me thinking about things."

  "That's how he said it? Bing-bonging? He said that?" asked Tommy.

  "Nah," said Stephanie. "He asked if you were seeing each other. Harvey's got serious hots for Cheryl."

  "You are fucking shitting me," said Tommy.

  "Nope. He loves her. He wants to get in her pants so bad it's not even funny. He's always mooning over her. Why do you think she gets all the good shifts? He's totally in love with her. Gonzo. Why do you think he had them put the cappuccino machine so low on that shelf? So every time Cheryl's steaming milk, he can look at her ass.

  "She does have a nice ass," said Tommy, lighting a cigarette. He was looking down Stephanie's leotard . . .

  "Can I get one of those?" asked Stephanie. "The whole place was bummin' off me all night, I don't have any left."

  "Sure," said Tommy. He gave her a cigarette and lit it for her. He leaned toward her and cupped his hand around the match. "Thanks," said Stephanie.

  "So, you have to tell me now. I told you. How long have you been seeing Cheryl?" she asked.

  "Why don't you ask her. I admit I've been seeing her, okay? Anything else you want to know, why don't you ask her," said Tommy.

  "Oh, I can't do that," said Stephanie. "I ask her that, she'll think I want to fuck you."

  "Stephanie," said Tommy, "you already did fuck me."

  "Oh, that," said Stephanie. "A blow job in the bathroom isn't exactly a torrid weekend in the Poconos."

  "Maybe not," said Tommy. He looked up at the bartender, who was hovering near them, and said, "Stop listening in on my fucking conversation, alright?"

  The bartender smiled. "Sure, Tommy, sure. Sorry."

  "He's the biggest gossip in the place. Like an old woman," said Stephanie. She leaned close to Tommy and whispered in his ear, "I hear he's hung like a hamster."

  The bartender moved away, shaking his head. Tommy took a sip of his drink. "So Harvey's got hots for Cheryl," he said, beginning to feel the effects of the vodka.

  "I told her to take advantage. She should get her teeth bonded. You know Rachel?"

  "That's the short one with the nose ring?"

  "Yeah. She had all her teeth capped and a couple a root canals and it cost her like fifty bucks," said Stephanie.

  "But, he's not practicing anymore," said Tommy.

  "He isn't. It's his partner who does it. Harvey can set it up. Rachel had a couple a drinks with him and bingo—movie star teeth."

  "That's really fucking squalid, man," said Tommy.

  "I wouldn't do it," said Stephanie. "Not for that."

  "You'd just tell Cheryl to do it," said Tommy.

  "I was kidding," she replied.

  Tommy finished his drink and ordered another. Stephanie snuggled closer to him. "Soooo," she said. "How long have you been seeing her?"

  "A couple months, alright. Happy now? I didn't want everybody in the place to know," said Tommy.

  "I think that's so cute," said Stephanie. "Restaurant Romance. Secret Affair. And nobody knew."

  "It's nobody's business," said Tommy.

  Stephanie ran her finger around the top of her glass. "I hear Harvey's going to bring in some musicians for brunch," she said.

  "I heard that too," said Tommy.

  "What do you think?"

  "I think I don't like it. Our paychecks are bouncing and he's hiring a bunch of musicians. I don't get it."

  "You see the fish tank in the window? What do you think of that?"

  "Oh, god," said Tommy. "That's a fucking abortion. I can't believe he spent money on that. That costs a lot of money. He's gotta pay somebody to come in and clean it, there's the chemicals, the pumps, the filters, the little bubblers. And it looks like shit."

  "It's hard to keep tropicals," said Stephanie. "I had a fish once. The water's got to be just right, you gotta check the pH all the time. It's a lot of work."

  "Business sucks, he's having a hard time making the nut, and he goes out and spends all this money on a bunch of fuckin' fish. Then he's gotta pay some fuckin mook to come in and clean it. I just don't see where we get any return on it."

  "He says it'll bring people in," said Stephanie.

  "That's what he says about every stupid idea he gets. 'It'll bring 'em in.' Buncha dead fish floating in a tank in the window, that'll really bring 'em in," said Tommy bitterly.

  "I don't mind them. I think they're pretty," said Stephanie.

  "The chef wants to poison them when nobody's looking," said Tommy. "He hates that tank worse than I do."

  Stephanie looked concerned. "He wouldn't really do that, would he? It's not their fault. The fish didn't do anything."

  "He says it reminds him of those seafood joints with the lobster tanks. You know, 'See 'Em Swim. Pick Your Lobster.' He hates it."

  Stephanie shuddered. Tommy could feel it travel through his body. "But, he wouldn't hurt the fish?" she asked.

  "No, he wouldn't do that," said Tommy.

  " 'Cause if he's gonna do that, let me know first. Maybe I can get Harvey to get rid of it. Maybe he'll let me have them. I'll take care of them," said Stephanie.

  "Stephanie, you're such a softie. This is a side of you I've never seen," said Tommy.

  "There's lots of sides of me you haven't seen yet," said Stephanie. "So, where's Cheryl? Waiting for you back at your place like the little woman?"

  "Yeah, right. Can you see that?" said Tommy. "She's out visiting her folks in Rhode Island."

  "Mmmm," said Stephanie thoughtfully. "How fortuitous." She slid her hand down Tommy's legs and squeezed his inner thigh.

  "Cut it out," said Tommy, not too convincingly.

  "You're blushing!" said a delighted Stephanie. She moved her hand up into his crotch and squeezed.

  She led Tommy across the empty dining room and through the waiter station. They stumbled drunkenly down the stairs and through the swinging kitchen doors. The cooks were all gone. Big Mohammed was the only person in the kitchen. He was mopping behind the line, listening to Egyptian pop songs on the cassette player.

  "Will he keep his mouth shut?" she asked.

  "Big Mo'?" said Tommy. "I think so."

  Tommy and Stephanie passed through the kitchen and down the hall to the dry goods area. Stephanie got up on tiptoe and unscrewed the lightbulb over the baking supplies. She grinned at Tommy and pulled a pair of sky blue panties with little pink stars down around
her knees. She kissed Tommy briefly, just brushing her lips across his, then she turned her back to him, hiked up her skirt and bent over, resting her elbows on a pile of fifty-pound flour sacks. Tommy put his hand up between her legs and dropped his pants.

  Twenty-Three

  Harvey left the office muttering to himself about the ice machine. It was broken again, and the ice company had shown up late with the bags of ice, just a few minutes before the end of service. Carol was waiting for him at the bar, well into her second Glenlivet on the rocks, and Harvey sat down next to her with a groan and gave her a kiss on the cheek that rapidly evolved into a longer kiss on the neck. He looked over at the bartender and signaled for a cognac.

  The group from Long Island at the corner of the bar had thinned out. Only four girls with big hair remained, talking to the bartender and giggling. The bartender interrupted his monologue and poured Harvey a double shot of Remy. He put the snifter in front of Harvey and returned to the girls. He leaned over the bar, one elbow resting on a pile of cocktail napkins, and continued flirting.

  "Will you look at that," said Harvey. "Those girls gotta be sixteen. This fuckin' guy is gonna get me my license pulled with this shit."

  "Why don't you say something?" asked Carol.

  "Oh, I'm sure they all got ID says they're thirty-two," said Harvey. "Fuck it. It's not worth it. Right now I got other problems." He continued watching the bartender nervously.

  "Bad day?" asked Carol.

  "The worst," said Harvey.

  "You look tired," said Carol, rubbing the back of his neck.

  "I am tired," he said. "Janis called me today. On top of everything else, I gotta get a call from her."

  "She wants money?"

  "She always wants money," said Harvey. "This is different. This is something new. I mean it's still money. It's still gonna cost me. It always does."

  "You just bought her a new pair of tits. What does she want now? Her ass lifted?"

  "It's my daughter. She told my daughter she could take riding lessons. Riding lessons! I'm late with the alimony, the child support every fuckin' time. She knows I'm getting killed down here, that I'm not makin' any money. She knows that. But she wants me to fork over so Sarah can take riding lessons. Of course I said I couldn't afford it. 'But it'll break her heart,' she says. All her friends go,' she says. Of course, you know she already told her she could do it. So I say, okay, how much is it gonna cost me? She says fifty a week for the lessons. Alright—I don't like it, I don't like it, but I can live with that, I have to . . . Then she hits me with the rest. You gotta buy the clothes, she says. You gotta get the pants, the shirt, the jacket, the little helmet. And the boots! You gotta have them made special. It'll hurt her feet you don't have 'em made special. You have any idea what all that shit is gonna run? You just watch—next she's gonna tell the kid that Daddy's gonna buy her a fuckin' horse!"

  "She's a beautiful little girl," said Carol. "If it makes Sarah happy, it can't be such a bad thing. The lessons I mean."

  "Jews don't ride horses," said Harvey.

  "When I was a little girl, I loved horses," said Carol. "I went riding sometimes. At camp."

  "Yeah, yeah, yeah, Little girls love horses. I know that. I know that. But Janis is gonna pack her off to some Nazi country-club riding academy bullshit where they probably wouldn't even let me in the fuckin' door. They probably use the fuckin' horses to run me off the green, I try to play a little golf there."

  "The place is restricted? You know that for sure?"

  "No, I don't know. The point is, she's doing it on purpose. To get to me. She's trying to make my little girl into some kind of Protestant or something. And she wants me to pay for it."

  "If it makes Sarah happy—"

  "Let's talk about something else," said Harvey, a sour look on his face. He took a long belt of cognac, made a fist, and pressed it against his solar plexus. "How was it at work today?"

  "The doctor screwed up," said Carol, lowering her voice to a whisper.

  "Oh," said Harvey, brightening. "I'm cheering up already. What did he do?"

  "He did an extraction yesterday. Old lady with an impacted wisdom tooth. He should have put in stitches. I told him so in a nice way. Just a suggestion. He gave me such a dirty look. So he packs her with gauze and sends her out the door. This morning, she comes in with a hematoma like you wouldn't believe. Today he puts in the stitches." Carol made a face. "I would have loved to say 'I told you so.

  Harvey groaned. "Lazy. The man is lazy. That never would have happened, I was there. I never would have let that happen . . . " He got up off his bar stool. "Let's go home. I feel like a sack of shit. I gotta get outta these clothes. Office is right over the kitchen, right up the stairs. The cooking odor gets in everything. I smell like Charlie the Tuna in these clothes. I wanna change. First, I wanna shower, then, maybe take a Jacuzzi, maybe get a nice back rub, maybe?"

  "Do I get a back rub too?"

  "Me first," said Harvey.

  Tommy and Stephanie emerged from downstairs and stood by the service bar. Tommy had a funny expression on his face. Stephanie was reapplying her lipstick, looking at herself in the mirror behind the bar.

  "I don't even want to think about what they been up to down there. This place is like Sodom and fuckin Gomorrah lately," said Harvey. He took a last worried look over at the bartender. He was still huddled with the big-haired girls, a portfolio spread out on the bar in front of them. The girls were oohing and ahhing and giggling, whispering comments to each other over the bartender's head shots.

  "Christ," said Harvey. "I hate actors."

  Twenty-Four

  Harvey lay on his blanket in the late August sun. The Long Beach train had just disgorged another load of passengers, and Harvey could see them swarming down from the boardwalk, weighted down with their coolers and their folding beach chairs and their newspapers. He wiped the sweat out of his eyes, turned off his Walkman, removed the earphones, and rolled over onto his back. Soon he was asleep.

  When he woke up it was two-thirty He looked at his watch and sat upright. He had been asleep for over an hour and a half. People were beginning to leave the beach. He shooed a few seagulls away from his blanket and reached into his bag. He oiled his back with an expensive French sun-treatment and rolled over onto his stomach. There was a baggie filled with dried apricots and nuts on the corner of the blanket. Harvey reached for it, reconsidered, and rolled back onto his side. He patted his belly a few times, pinched the fat below his navel, and got to his feet. He gazed up at Seymour's Clam Bar on the boardwalk, patted his belly again, and headed for some fried clams.

  He ate his clams with a tall draft beer on one of the benches at the end of the boardwalk. Tan, hard-bodied teenagers were playing volleyball on the beach. A large-breasted blonde with teased hair and a skull tattoo on her nearly naked butt stood talking and drinking out of a brown paper bag at the next bench. The three young men with her all wore the same thing: workboots, blue jeans, and no shirts. They were all heavily tattooed. Screaming eagles, coiled snakes, snarling panthers, skulls with top hats, and swastikas covered their chests and backs. An old man with an eye patch in a motorized wheelchair pulled up next to Harvey's bench and began throwing bread crumbs to the pigeons and seagulls. Soon there were birds everywhere. Disgusted, Harvey got up and walked back to his blanket.

  He lay on his stomach for a while, but the shadows were getting longer; more people were gathering up their things and heading off to the train station. Harvey checked his watch. It was three-thirty. He applied apres soleil to his face, chest, and arms and began to pack up. He put a pair of white linen shorts on over his bathing suit and a red polo shirt over his head.

  He found his Toyota sitting alone in the center of the parking lot. It was stifling inside, and the vinyl seats burned his legs below the shorts. He rolled down all the windows and put a tape on. Marvin Gaye sang about radiation underground as Harvey peeled out of the parking lot. Thankful for the breeze, he sang along with the t
ape, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. He drove past the train station and turned left over the short bridge to Island Park, then right onto a side street that ran parallel to the narrow channel between Long Beach and Island Park. There were a number of bars and restaurants alongside the waterway, their parking lots filled with shiny new muscle cars and rows of motorcycles. Harvey drove past a lobster wholesaler and turned into a small lot in front of a mission-style fake adobe structure. A cactus-shaped sign out front said THE MESA GRILL.

  He walked around to the rear of the restaurant to a wooden deck. There was a small, circular bar covered with a gaily striped tent. A stairway led from the bar down to a dock crowded with speedboats. Sunburned speedboaters bounded up the steps and into the crowded bar, holding beer cans in little foam-rubber coolers. Three chubby white men played reggae music on a small stage. Harvey edged his way to the bar, the smell of Coppertone and mousse thick in the air, and ordered a Sauza margarita on the rocks from a busy bartender. When he got his drink, he looked around for an empty table. Finding one in a back corner next to a bus-stand, he collapsed, perspiring, into a chair. An overworked waitress with a red face asked him if he'd care to see a menu, and he shook his head. He pulled a dog-eared copy of Gourmet from his bag and leafed through it while he sipped his drink.

  At four o'clock, a tall, thin man of about forty-five with a long, graying ponytail and a dark suntan emerged from the main bar area inside the restaurant. He was wearing a faded Hawaiian shirt, black Ray-Bans, jeans cuffed at his calves, and a pair of rope sandals. A thick, gold hoop earring gleamed in his tanned left ear. He came over to Harvey's table and sat down.

 
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