ETCETERA/ Other People's Jobs: No 8 The Waitress

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The Independent Culture
IT'S BEEN a quiet night. In fact it's so quiet that a young man tackling a squids provinciale is making a discernible noise as he sucks slippery portions into his mouth. He dabs his lips with a crisp cream serviette; then lays it down, a crumpled flower. His girlfriend sits opposite, silently playing with her spare ribs. She nudges them through a lake of barbecue sauce with her fork.

'Quiet tonight?' I ask Alice, the waitress.

'Yes, but it will get busier if there isn't a jinx on us. I think something is going off there, in the planets, and it's only just showing up down here, now.'

'How do you mean, Alice?'

'Well, it's all the bits of metal they keep sending up into the sky; satellites and everything. You can only have so much metal whizzing around above you before things start happening.'

'Like what?'

'Like . . . ' But as she is about to tell me, the vaguest of tinkles is heard and Alice's ears prick up beside her neatly combed, piled and bunched hair.

'What's that?'

'Oh, that's just Misty, the chef. He rings a little bell when something is ready to serve. He believes waiting staff should be alert at all times.'

'I'll go,' says Simon, the head waiter. And he disappears behind a door which swings both ways, and re-emerges with something that steams. With a graceful smile and a bend he places a pizza mafiosa on a small table by the door where a solitary fellow is flicking through a Sporting Life and picking his teeth.

Simon comes over to us. 'Hello. Don't believe a word she says,' he tells me. 'You know, I keep this show on the road. Misty wouldn't be able to survive without me. I do everything.' His eyelids shimmer with a touch of gold powder. His dog-tooth trousers are immaculately pressed. 'Come on Alice. I know we're not busy but let's look willing. There's a table over there that needs stripping. And I want it stripped naked like I've never seen it before.'

We walk over to the carnage of a finished meal. A lone anchovy sadly curls round the lip of a plate. Four red wine stains mark the table cloth; they grow bigger as they near the table's edge like think-bubbles in a cartoon strip. Bits of green foil are scrunched into pellets and arranged round a guttering candle in a definite configuration, as if to demonstrate some problem of logic. Three strands of spaghetti trail from the rim of a wine glass. I point these out to Alice.

'Why are they there, do you reckon?'

'Who knows? You get the whole range of perverts in any restaurant you know. Do you want to hear a spaghetti story?'

''Well, er, yes.'

'When I started working here the weather was quite cold. One day a man came in with a long coat, like a trench coat. He was very clean though; presentable. Anyway, he sat at a table near the kitchen and I took him his order. The next thing I knew he'd opened his coat, undone his fly, and was spooning the spaghetti down on to his lap.'

'What did you do?' The table we're conversing above has been 'stripped naked' and now is fully dressed with a sparkling set of cutlery and a fresh candle.

'Well, Simon told him to please stop doing that but he wouldn't listen. So we rang the police. When they came he got up quietly, bowed to Simon, bowed to me, and was escorted out leaving a trail of spaghetti.'

Misty emerges from his kitchen and gesticulates furiously, his chest heaving under his smeared white vest. 'I cannot work when I am dry. I CANNOT work when I am dry,' he mouths, his forehead dripping.

Apparently, the pump which feeds the lager up from the cellar isn't working properly and the sustaining fluid that Misty and his pot-washers require refuses to be drawn up into the kitchen.

'Now you can see what I mean by jinx,' says Alice. 'Things like that are happening all the time. The wine cellar flooded last week. 'A natural spring,' the water people said. But just how natural is it? It's still flooding the cellar. Every evening before we go home we have to slop out. It's creepy down there.'

The Italian Abba sound-alike on the speakers is getting strident and a difficult customer is complaining loudly about the fact the restaurant doesn't take credit cards.

Difficult customer: 'This is ridiculous. We're supposed to be living in the 1990s.'

Alice: 'This, sir, is an Italian restaurant.'

Difficult customer: 'You're telling me.' He laughs, sticking his chin in the air, a fragment of ham stuck to it. Under these altercations a faint rustling sound can be heard: 'What's that Alice?'

'What?'

'Listen . . . That]'

'Oh, can you hear it? That's just Misty. Sometimes he likes to give our ears a harder test than the bell. So he claps his hands gently or knocks a piece of tin-foil against the extractor hood. Let's ignore him.'-

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