Friday, November 17, 2006

favourite waitress

I don’t need another admirer. Slobbering drunks, squandering their miniscule paycheques. The calculated arrogance of wannabe kingpins. Ignorant frat boys rehearsing for a lifetime of buffoonery. So easy to drop these people into tight little categories. No, I don’t need another admirer. Not here. Not them. Not now. Not ever.

A waitress hears things. A lot of stupid things. Oftentimes, not very nice things. Piggish remarks from loutish losers in their one nice shirt. Their going out shirt. You can spot it as soon as they walk in, all stiffened gait and awkward poses. Soon, one beer turns to six and the loud-talking begins – and everyone’s a winner, then.

“Hey, sweetheart – ‘nother round here?”

Sweetheart. I’ll never play sweetheart to any guy who would wear his sunglasses indoors. I toss him a nod, and—

“What time you off, anyway?”

“An hour after close,” I say, hurrying to scoop the empties from the table.

“You busy later?”

But the desperate words are spoken to my back as I rush away to the next batch of washouts. I don’t hear him when he calls me a cunt – or at least I’ll pretend I don’t this time.

To the bar now with a tray full of empty glasses drained by empty people. Finding humour, I’m mentally checking off all the things these guys do wrong, ignoring the Five Tips For Picking Up Your Favourite Waitress:

1. Don’t be a drunken idiot – I see enough of these. Stand out by not standing out. If I have to pick you up off of the floor, tell you to put your pants back on, or clean up your puke, you are getting anywhere with me. Seriously. You know what they say about first impressions, right? Well, I’ll tell you right now that you’ll do best to just not make one at all – let the losers around you be the ones to highlight your strengths, making you look good.

2. Compliment. Don’t tell me I’m hot – I already knows this. It’s my job. You’ve got to tell me something that I don’t hear thirty times a night. However, if you insist on mentioning my looks, just tell me that I’m pretty. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of that. I can’t stress this enough, though: forget about using those lines you’ve got stored away. You’re dealing with a professional, here. A girl who’s heard everything you could possibly throw at her. Don’t even try to be cute.

3. Tip well, but not too much. You’re not trying to buy me, here. You want me to know that you’ve got class, but that you’re not slimy. Get it? I’ll be impressed because you know how reward me for my services, not because you know how to use a bank machine to fill your wallet with twenties. A buck on a drink tells me that you appreciate my hard work. Five bucks on a drink tell me that you’re hard up.

4. Be witty – and by witty I don’t mean sarcastic. Everybody knows that sarcasm is just a dull man’s wit. Release your inner Oscar Wilde. Make me laugh. If that means verbally trampling on your mates, calling them out for acting like complete cretins, then so be it. You’ll be saying the things I wish I could, and the things I would if I wasn’t on the clock.

5. Finally, ask me to breakfast. Waitresses love breakfast. We work late, closing the bar until well after three in the morning, so we tend to work up an appetite. Invite me to that all-night diner you know about, the one tucked away down a quiet side street downtown. Chances are, if you followed the other four rules above, I’ll reply, smiling, “Sure, pick me up out front a little after three.”

I was once told that if one ever gets to the point of thinking she is better than her job, then she has reached that critical point where she needs to quit. Well, I know that am better than my job. I am better than this cage, and I am better than the beasts which reside within. But I’m trapped here by a steady flow of tips from the idiotic masses. See, it’s the money which has me donning this fake hair and fake smile night after night. These fake clothes, this fake perfume. It’s not me. None of it is.

A waitress hears things. A lot of weird things. Oftentimes, outright bizarre things. Cryptic remarks from that strange, strange man down at the end of the bar. The one in the wide-brimmed hat, and too-short pants. Shirt opened a little too far; chest, a little too hairy for my tastes.

“So, I’m barrelling down this ravine in the backseat of a taxicab in Bujumbura – or what they call a taxicab anyway, the car being over fifty years old and driven by a man who could only have been its original owner – and we’ve got at least three cop cars behind us.

“I’m yelling at the driver: ‘Speed up! Speed up!’ – but of course he doesn’t understand a word of English, so he begins to slow down. Just as he slows to the point where I think I could survive a jump from the moving vehicle, I pop open the door and suddenly I’m tumbling out into the night, through the brush, and into the tree line, still clutching to my chest the item I had gone there for – the Crown of—”

Suddenly, he turns to look at me, having noticed that I’ve sidled up alongside him with my empty tray in hand.

“Well, hello there, sweetheart,” he grins with perfect white teeth. “Another round for me and my friends, here?”

Sweetheart. Yes please. Those eyes. Sweetheart – I guess it’s all in the deliverance. “I, uh, yeah, I – I’ll bring them right round,” I stammer. I’m about to spin on my heel, my face aflush, when I’m caught off guard again.

“Say – you busy later tonight?” the strange man asks.

“No,” I chirp, barely audible.

“Good, then I’ll pick you up round three o’clock,” he says. “Having a little thing back at my place. Some drinks, some stories, you know the rest.”

I’m not sure I do know the rest, but I’m game. I’ll be there, waiting for him a little after three. I’ll be there and I don’t even know why. Just now, I’ve surprised myself – but it’s a good thing I like surprises. Just another reason, above and beyond the money, that I stay at such a crummy job. A girl can learn a lot about herself living in a cage of beasts.

Monday, November 13, 2006

in obscurity

I am afraid of the dark. Even then, crawling my way through the void, that deep dark cavern, I was more than a little terrified. Water dripping on the back of my neck. Things brushing – crawling? – on my face. Cramped, with little room for movement, legs begin to seize up. Back spasms with each twist. Arms grow so weary. With each yard forward, a new stage of the fear was realised: with each yard forward, I was one yard further away from safety, one yard further away from the light.

I am afraid of the dark. Yes, even then, I was afraid. Of the darkness, of what my eyes could not see. Of the unknown, of what my hands could feel but not recognise. Crawling through the darkness, my fingers clawed at the dirt and rocks towards the artefact. I hoped. Even then I was drawn to the strange and unfamiliar even while I was frightened by it. That untried and unusual. That indefinite nothingness.


Flash to six months earlier and a time of light – breakfast in the stone portico of a tiny cafĂ© in Colmar. She sat sipping weak coffee, and I sat gulping strong Alsatian wine.

“Any progress?” she asked, knowing full well that I would know exactly what she meant. Her eyes shone with genuine contempt, something true, a sentiment so real bubbling up from within.

“A little,” I said, ignoring the hostility. “I’ve a general location in mind. Details in the documentation are sketchy at best, but at least I’ve my maps.”

“General location,” she snorted. “You say this as though it’s a good thing. And those maps – what good will come of them if all you’ve got is this general location?”

“A little triangulation,” I said, finishing off the last of my fourth glass of Silvaner. A wine fine, elegant, and strong – just like her. “A little trial and error. Some guesswork—”

“Guesswork!” she laughed, the mockery tinkling out past perfect white teeth and red, red lips. “You’ll never get by on—”

“Educated guesswork,” I corrected. “Remember, I’ve a general location in mind. I’ve narrowed it down, at least.”

“This location,” she said, accepting another tiny cup of coffee from our young server, “will it see you leaving the continent?”

“Would you like it to?” I asked, arching an eyebrow in jest.

“I’ll tell you what I’d like,” she replied, “I’d like to see you actually enjoy a glass of wine for once, rather than swilling it down as though it may be your last. It’s not even noon yet.”

I laughed, twirling a fresh glass slowly atop the table. “Yes, this new adventure will see me leaving the continent – but I should think that I won’t be gone for a long time.”

“When will you go?”

“The day after tomorrow.”

“So, we’ve tomorrow then.”

“Yes” I admitted, “we’ve tomorrow. I was thinking we could spend the day up in the Vosges. Beautiful this time of year, I think.”

She didn’t respond, choosing, instead, to stare vacantly into her coffee cup. Anxiety welled up from her clear blue eyes. Unease pulled tight her fine lips. Hate made her grow suddenly old. She didn’t respond – she didn’t have to. She knew that the next day would be our last together. She knew, as I did, that I was a leaver. All the time, I left. It’s what I did. I was actually really quite good at it. Notorious.

“Don’t you think you ought to be prepared,” she suddenly snapped. “Don’t you think you ought to think things through, plan things out a little further, before you throw yourself blindly into something?”

The morning fell away to lazy argument, as my cares were washed away in a sea of Silvaner. The sun rose, and the shadows played their usual games, slipping silently from one side of the portico to the other. All the while, we sat. All the while, we sat, frozen in argument, wasting our second last day together. Choosing the easy comfort of hate over the complicated awkwardness of love.


Crawling through that cave six months later, I was almost wishing that I had decided to bring along those spare batteries for the flashlight. Almost wishing. Hands blindly grappling at rocks on the ground, feet scrambling in the dirt, I was almost wishing, then, that I had been a little more prepared. But a year’s planning! What more could have been done?

I am afraid of the dark. Then, as ever, I was afraid of the dark and the secrets it concealed. Inching my way through that pitch black tunnel deep within the ground, I tried to think of nothing but the potential end result. Me, achieving my goal. Me, clutching that ghoulish article in my hands at long last. Me, somehow finding it in that swirling eddy of soggy darkness.

Thoughts flashed quickly from darkness to light and back again. From inky caves to sunlit porticos. To her and her advice. Think things through, she said. Plan. Prepare. Organise. But all of the maps and charts, diagrams and graphs on earth can not help the man who is determined to lose himself. I know that as well as anybody. I, the man who will brazenly act on the first tip, following the whispers of a stranger in a backwoods inn. I, the man so crazed for knowledge that he will cut his life short to get at it. I, the man who will leave his spare batteries behind just because.

Suddenly, my fingers met the fingers of another there in obscurity, and I desperately grappled my way up a sinewy, dead arm, its hardened, ancient flesh like lacquered rope. I tried not to think about how close our faces really were as I reached a twisted neck right about where it should have been, and felt the dull cold of a braided strand of precious metal.

Her face, right next to mine. Though she didn’t breathe, I imagined that I could feel her breath on my cheek, escaping from the gaping dead maw of her petrified head. Cloves. I could almost catch the scent of cloves whispering from her mask of death, skin pulled taut, lips pulled back, with rows of hideous yellow teeth. I didn’t bring the extra batteries for my flashlight because I didn’t need to see this. I didn’t need to see her expression when I pulled the necklace from her long, lifeless neck.

Friday, November 3, 2006

the curse of tlaxacuhlta (movement)

Kinesiologists will tell you that to engage in a run is to engage in little more than a controlled fall. Well, I like to apply the same logic and say that to live is to engage in little more than a controlled death. Each day we make a thousand tiny choices which enable us to keep on living. That’s all life is: a systematic flipping of switches allowing our lungs to keep breathing, our hearts to keep beating, brains to keep thinking, legs to keeps moving.

But what happens when we accidentally – or intentionally – flip the wrong switch? It’s not always instantaneous catastrophe. No, oftentimes a singular instance of flipping the wrong switch can bring us close to death, allowing a fleeting glimpse of the other side. We trip, we nearly fall, but we manage to stay on our feet. We keep on running.

Me, I like to experiment a little. Change things up. We decided to leave that evening, renting a car and driving all night from Texarkana to Laredo. Agamen didn’t sleep. He couldn’t. He just kept looking over at me every fifty miles or so, trying to project his worry onto me.

“What do you think we will find in Mar del Mar?” he asked at one point.

I glanced over with an easy smile. I could only see his wet eyes flash in the moonlight.

“We’ll find truth in Mar del Mar,” I said. “We’ll stare a four hundred year old curse right in the face – and we’ll be better men because of it.”

We drove in silence through Dallas and then Waco, until we hit Austin and the questions started again.

“What will you say to it, this curse?” Agamen asked. “What will you say when we are staring this curse in the face.”

“I’ve questions, Agamen,” I said. “I’ve questions. The same questions that are going through your worried mind right now.”

“But what if, what if we do not speak its language?” Agamen pleaded. “What if we get there, what if we come face to face with the curse of Tlaxacuhlta, and we are unable to communicate?”

I drove awhile, pondering this. I drove awhile, my jaw clenching and unclenching, with the answer to Agamen’s question tumbling through my mind, the answer which I was unable to expel from the confines of my skull. Fear is the universal language. The curse of Tlaxacuhlta will have no trouble understanding us.

We cruised through San Antonio, and after driving a total of six hundred miles across Texas, we pulled into Laredo a little more than nine hours after we set out. Knowing I was unable to bring the rental across the border, I ditched the car and we checked into a derelict motel for a little sleep.

I lied awake for a time, listening to Agamen toss and turn in the next bed over. The poor fellow was positively beside himself with worry and unable to sleep.

“Agamen?” I said.


“You need to not worry so much – everything’s going to be okay.”

“But I am not so worried right now,” Agamen insisted, rolling over again, hard, on squeaking bedsprings.

“You’ve been fidgeting for fifteen minutes,” I pointed out.

“It is this bed – I think it is infested,” Agamen whinged. “It feels like bugs are crawling all over me.”