The Hidden years, 123 the busboy

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Sunday 16 August 13:15


The busboy

I had gone early to the Four Seasons. A man has to eat and I had breakfast there. It was the meeting place of truck drivers and people from the building trade. There were huge trays with scrambled eggs and bacon and you simply take a scoop  of it, the next stop was toast and then you filled a cup of coffee and looked for  a place at one of the tables in the smoking area, which was full of men still sleepy working silently their food down, after which they left again. Some stayed a bit longer for a refill and then disappeared on their way to work. You were helped quickly because the breakfast rush was short-lived and the Four Seasons benefited from it ,as many people passed the breakfast tables. I was there already the third morning, as I pushed my plate to an empty spot, I always began with, ‘Good morning, have a  good appetite.’ Anything and everything was muttered back. After a few bites I then asked aloud whether somewhere people were needed for any work whatsoever. Sometimes it remained silent because the table that you had chosen did not have time for nonsense questions at the beginning of their own miserable day. There was a strong solidarity between the men, everyone belonged there, because they all were in the same boat, they ate quickly and cheaply, and had no time for small talk.

A few times I had gotten a tip but when I went there later, the job was already gone or was yet to come with the next project. They didn’t even record your name and the fact that winter began to announce itself and people held onto their jobs and just tried not to go into winter lay off, made it tough going. It was a bad time to find work in construction. If you survived the winter than there would be in the spring once again a glaring shortage of builders. Even navvies were no longer needed, the days with ground frost had begun. I began to be angry with myself that I had been so smart with the plumbers and learned a lesson that I would cherish all my life. You only quit somewhere, if you have a new job in your pocket. With my last salary I could last for a while good but I was beginning to get worried.

After the third day I sat there downcast and when the area became depopulated, I picked up a newspaper from the bar and asked for a free refill. There I was desperately looking for work, with my finger, I ran down the ads with old coffee beside me. ‘Looking for work,’ said a friendly voice beside me. It was a waitress who was already quite old. ‘Actually,’ I said, ‘ I am.’ ‘Are you a bit handy,’ she asked? ‘What is called handy,’ I said, ‘I find myself sort of handy.’ ‘Well that sounds fair,’ laughed the woman, ‘we need a busboy, the former has given notice that happens quite often here, the coming and going is great.’ ‘I have a driver's license for cars and heavy duty transportation,’ I said, ‘but I believe you need  an extra note for a bus.’ ‘Ha, she laughed,’ that's a good one, I mean a busboy here, a real one. ‘ ‘You're losing me, I said, I only know one kind of busboy, and that is, or someone who drives the bus, or the conductor.’ You know nothing of the bar business, ‘said the woman as she sat down across from me and poured herself some coffee.

‘Would you please explain to me what a busboy does here, I asked?’ ‘Well it depends on the joint,’ she began, ‘it is an assistant for everyone from the cook to the waitresses.’ ‘Here every day we have a rush hour. I walk around with coffee and bring plates around with breakfast and keep the account. I have my own 'section', say, some of this space and the other waitresses have that as well. The busboy puts the plates and cutlery down before rush hour and cleans off the moment a customer is done eating and gets up. There are always customers who are upsetting things or messing them up, the busboy then jumps up with mop and bucket. Can you remember that, boy?‘ ‘Yes,’ I said, 'I can do that, I think. ‘


‘Beautiful,’ she said, ‘there's more. The dishes go into stacks and you scrape the leftover food off in a single movement, as the customers are gone, you take the dirty linen off the tables and put new linen down, which we do with a few people, left over food, into the cooling and you'll do the dishes. When the bin bags are full, then bring them to the container. it's work  where you don’t talk back, it is the lowest of the low. You are the helper of all. Before you do the dishes, which takes a few hours, you clean the toilet pots, it is unbelievable how men all piss on the ground or miss the pot, or poo leaving streaks. Just a bucket with chlorine through it and you’ll make everything clean again. Then you mop the floor. Only then will you do the dishes. You are then invisible to the new real customers. They come back in a clean restaurant, with fresh smelling toilets and clean table linen. I'm the one on this floor who calls the shots, so it is always, yes and no madam, when you adress me. Can you remember that? ‘ ‘Yes,’ I said, and I think if you give me the time needed I could be a good busboy. ‘ You’ve started all wrong, the waitress said, ‘that was and should have been, ‘Yes ma'am’. ‘ Yes Ma'm, ‘I said. ‘You learn quickly,’ she laughed. Want to know something else? ‘

‘Yes ma'am,’ I said, 'what it pays and what are the hours? ‘You do not earn much, but you also work only from 6 am's in the morning  to get everything ready to  let’s say 11:00 hours when the dishes are done. That equates to 140 hours per month, continued my new boss, approximately one dollar per hour Free food and you  join in the tips.’ ‘Are we talking here about seven days in the week, ma'am, I asked?’ ‘You're brilliant,’ she laughed, ‘Yes!’ What could I do ,? I did not have to think long. Compared to what I had earned it was a dog's tip, but something is better than nothing. ‘When don I start, Ma'm. I asked. ‘Now, she said,’ you’ll drink your coffee, then I'll take you to the kitchen, today it is trial period, you're doing the dishes and when you're done, you will not be paid, but you can have free food. ' ‘Ok come with me,' and she got up. The two folding doors, each with a round window in them, whipped open for her, as she went towards the kitchen. ‘So Jim,’ she said from afar, to a cook, ‘I have a new Negro for you.’

San Daniel 2015

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