Josephine and the Royal Court

I should really alter some circumstances to protect the innocent, but for you folks, the justifiable facts.

 

I once worked with the ugliest woman around. I mean hard and difficult to look at. Her name was Josephine and she was as mean as she was terrifying to gaze upon.

I was working as a dishwasher, scrubbing leftover eggs and hash browns off of cheap stone wear into a slop bucket. When the orders slowed and my station was clean, silverware drying, I could enjoy the acidic splash slicing tomatoes and oranges, prepping, washing lettuce and stacking the cooler.

The cook ran the wheel. Customers would come in, sit, order, and the cook received the request on the wheel. That was the intimate interface between diner and creator. Benny Smith was the coolest hood expelled from junior high, and he ran the wheel.

Benny was the rush specialist, meaning he was on shift during the busiest times. He understood eating and he danced food on to plates like a pony tailed Fred Astaire. Every waitress was his darling and every waitress cooed to his spatula’s finesse. Only the manager, the maitre de, fifty-five year old, married, cool as a cold turkey sandwich, Marge, could corral the fun loving antics of Benny. Benny was a mentor and took me under his wing, talking shop and girls between rushes. I first learned how to impress others using Benny’s modalities. He treated me as an equal—a clueless, naive, younger equal.

Occasionally, I was allowed to leave my boring disgusting duties scraping greasy plates, and assist on the grill. I learned to clean it, prep it, heat and cool it. The grill first, then the fryer. I learned how to warm the fat in the morning and strain it at night. Benny taught me how to look to the wheel when a waitress rang an order bell. She would spin the flap of paper on the wheel and wink an eye, then scream the customer’s meal out loud again in your face. All lipstick and hair. Tips were take home, with a cut for the cook. I never saw a cut.

Benny could stack up the orders during a rush, one, two, three, look ahead and plan a big whack of hash browns, bacon, toast, eggs, omelets—easy to mess up with picky local customers who complained to the owner if you screwed up. But Benny was never stressed. If a bus pulled up, he relished the excitement, he knew what you were going to order and had it cooking. Fast, steaming, good. That was the reputation of the restaurant, The Royal Court, a greasy, roadside saloon where my father passed the off hours drinking beer and whiskey. He got me the job. Someone lost a bet and I was the ante, or the debt.

Benny couldn’t work everyday. He was eighteen and needed a life. I lucked out and got to work with him on weekends. I also pulled week day shifts over the summer, and mingled well with the other cooks. They liked Benny’s style and I was a good student. As a reward for good effort, Benny taught me how to mix chocolate milk and cola at the soda fountain. However, Benny eventually earned a vacation. That’s when I met Josephine.

I recall her as very loud. She would yell in a wind weathered scrag that sunk my spirit if I heard her in the kitchen at shift start. The first time she saw me, she called me a scrawny kid. She told me I washed the dishes all wrong, and when I approached the wheel to take an order for fries, she yelled in her harpy screech, chastising me for stepping into her domain, ordering me to return to my sink and rags. I immediately despised her.

Nor was she easier to look upon. Five foot two, beady-eyes like little coal black iron pans, peering side-to-side from the crusty flaps and folds that encased her quarter ton hairy frame. She had a grey crew cut, flat top and bristle. She also clipped her eyebrows, with a hedger, so each one was a wide, cropped paintbrush. She looked sour, and hard, and all prune wrinkled. Gad, I imagined the customers reeling off of their stools if she approached the soda fountain for a drink.

Josephine made it perfectly clear, early on, that she was my boss. I was condemned to her rule for some evil deed I did in the past. Those were her words. And with my father, a hard patron in the off limits land beyond the bar doors made the prison secure. The only blessing, I had no financial obligations. Over a summer, I worked and saved. Worked, griped, and saved. I’m sure that I dreamed of her, the horrid pin-pointy-needle eyes hunting me as her looming, flapping, jowls craw and gurgle, running from her through gobs of half chewed eggs and soggy coffee toast floating in buckets. I was fourteen and impaled upon a horrible fate: Dishwasher, and working for the hag of the Royal Court. She requested me, specifically. My tormentor.

I was subjected to constant inspection, the silverware, the sinks and counters, the quality of my slicing and prep work. She began to prepare me lists. Benny didn’t use lists. He said, go look in the cooler and when we only have two trays of oranges left, cut four more, and so. I always knew what to do, and where to best avoid Josephine, but she had different cooking experience and informed me that she would have new and better tasks. Her ideas were terrible. Orders went out delayed. She got flustered easily—she yelled and complained that everyone was poorly organized. I ran around as she barked at me to bring more buns, toast more toast, and slice more tomatoes. She also made a rule, no more mixing chocolate milk and cola for staff.

Each shift became interminable. I was lost in the lowly forlorn of the unappreciated dishwasher. My work suffered. The dishes received complaints. Egg yolk was found on a customer’s burger and fries order. The owner spoke with me. My despising of Josephine became an obsession. The Royal Court was my imprisonment.

A gleam in my life at that time was the monthly National Geographic. Each year my aunt renewed a subscription for the betterment of worldly opportunities bestowed my brothers and I. They were coffee table centerpieces and the collection grew. One afternoon, in a welding flash of recognition, I flipped to the Jane Goodall edition to gaze upon the gorilla mugshot namesake of my nemesis: Josephine, a six hundred pound great ape adopted by the researcher. There was the gorilla’s wallet sized photo with a caption, Josephine, in ten point offset ink. Perfect.

The next day, a skillfully extracted photo from National Geographic was tacked next to the name of Royal Court’s Josephine on the time sheet. The first waitress to view the image nearly pee’d herself. Two more and the restaurant was abuzz. A waitress attempted to serve coffee in mid-heehaw and a customer had to inspect. Another cook spied the photo and waited to watch Josephine’s arrival. Who had the nuggets to post such an insult? A brazen act of defiance that all now cheered, but equally feared, in the wrath of Josephine. She would be livid. That was one damn ugly ape—with the name, too. The likeness was uncanny.

 

Thanks to you folks, for giving me a venue to exhale these experiences, so much we block from memory, and how our perspective changes. One of the jobs for the dishwasher was to haul the grease tub out to the big storage drums at the end of the rear parking lot. There’s was a bit of downhill slope and for a tired kid carrying a heavy, wide tub of grease, I was bound to spill a few drops. The owner took me aside one day and pointed to the oily sheen running down the back lot. Old Norm and his wife struggled, clawing at cars to make it in for Sunday buffet, sliding every second step. The owner told me to take extra care dumping the grease. Customers were complaining they couldn’t walk up to the restaurant from their cars. As we surveyed the mess, I saw nothing wrong. So what if there was a little grease? I was a myopic teenager. Today, I’d be out there with a scrub brush and a bucket of guilt.

Back to Josephine’s photo—she was not to impressed. Yeah, she laughed when she saw it. Who couldn’t? A placid ape staring back with her name printed for proof. She tore it off and we never saw the picture again. She never asked who did it. I felt I had made a deft Zorro maneuver on her attitude and she did loosen up. Her bark began to soften and she didn’t yell as much. I never thought she suspected me. I began to even feel a little sorry that I did it.

Nothing was said about the gorilla picture again until a month later. I came in to work, slightly late, but in good cheer. Josephine greeted me directly in the middle of the kitchen. She ordered me to approach, then suddenly wrapped her arms around me and hugged me like a rag doll. She would have kissed me with those two ugly, flapping lips if I didn’t slip away. Around us, the other kitchen staff and waitresses laughed. Josephine was acting unreal, joyful, like a human.

“You sweet, sweet, child,” she exclaimed, “I want to just kiss you.” I fought off her clammy mitts from my face.

“What, what?”

“Do you remember that stupid gorilla picture you tacked up next to my name?”

I had almost forgotten. How did she know?

“I know it was you,” she continued, “and it was pretty funny. I kept it and stuck it to my driver’s license.”

This all meant nothing to me.

“Three months ago I got a traffic ticket and today I went to court to fight it. I forgot about the picture on my license so when the judge ordered me to present it, I didn’t even look and just handed it to him.”

Josephine was beaming, I could just imagine.

“He howled. He couldn’t stop laughing—he said any person with that sense of humor doesn’t deserve a ticket—so he threw it out. No fine. No ticket. No points. All because of you, my special little dishwasher.”

She continued to thank me throughout the shift. Her attitude did change. She became fun to work with and we even tended the grill side-by-side. I may have even made her a soda specialty.

Josephine was one awfully ugly lady, but I learned to like her for her spark. I missed her when she moved on to a better gig than that greasy, old Royal Court.

 

Josephine And The Royal Court © 2011 Gaboo for Now.readthisplease.com. Read more Gaboo, click his tag.

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