by Adam Kelly Morton
This was definitely my last shift at the Oyster Shack.
I was serving a party out on the back terrace. It was a double birthday: an older, Jewish guy named Mikey—who was short, but wore a long, brown leather jacket and had a sun-spotty bald head that was red and round like a three-ball—was celebrating with his protégé, a twenty-something, chubby, East-Indian fellow who was also (somehow) named Mikey. He wore gold shades indoors and a long, leather jacket, although his was black. Their entourage was a seedy, tacky bunch—cheap suits and flimsy summer dresses. Downtown Montreal in the summertime brings out the characters. They all drank and smoked, and I had a hard time keeping their glasses full and their ashtrays empty. By the time their dinners were ready to bring out, the forty-or-so of them were pretty trashed. I rushed out their oysters and lobsters to soak up some of the booze, but they were washing down their seafood with Sauvignon blanc. It was hot, and I was sweating, but I knew that they were likely going to provide a handsome night’s wage. I figured they’d tip at least twenty percent on a single bill that was going to be well over two grand.
I started clearing their plates, and when I got to my waiter station—arms stacked with dirty plates, used utensils, and discarded seafood—somebody had already loaded up my top-bussing bins with glassware. So the only way I could access the lower bins was to get down on my knees, which I did. I started scraping lobster carcasses into the little plastic garbage can, and tossing the empty, dirty plates into the lower bins. And there, on my knees, with someone’s garlic butter running down my wrist, I stopped for a moment to consider my two university degrees in theatre.
Clearly, I was not putting them to good use.
After dumping the remaining plates in the lower bins and wiping the butter off my arm with a rag, I headed back out onto the terrace. On the way, Mikey the Younger asked me if I could get him some straws. I grabbed a handful from the service bar and gave them to him. ‘Thanks, Son,’ Mikey said, which struck me as strange because I was definitely older than him. Meanwhile, Mikey the Elder’s much younger wife came over to me and said, ‘Excuse me, could you tell me where the ladies’ room is?’ I told her, and she said, ‘Thanks, doll,’ and touched the tip of my nose with her finger, making sure not to poke me with her blue press-on nail. The enormous diamond on her ring finger caught light shining down from the bar, and I think she winked at me, though I was momentarily blinded.
Back out on the terrace, the plates were cleared, new drinks—mainly rum and cokes—were served, and the party began doing lines of coke on the wooden tables. Mikey the Elder came over and said, in a one-hundred-thousand cigarette rasp, ‘Would you mind turning up the music out here?’
‘Sure,’ I said.
‘Good boy,’ he said, giving me a friendly smack on the face.
I went behind the bar and turned up the volume. The Eagles were singing about taking it to the limit, and a bunch of people on the terrace started singing along. Mikey the Elder’s wife appeared, tossed her blonde hair back and linked her arm in mine. ‘What’s your name?’ she said.
‘Mm. You’re tall,’ she said. I didn’t say anything. ‘You know, you’re my exact physical type.’
I looked out on the terrace, where the two Mikeys were hugging and singing. People were clapping. ‘Thank you,’ I said.
‘My name’s Ronnie,’ she said.
‘Thank you, Ronnie.’
She leaned in, smelling of booze and hairspray, and said to me, ‘Sweetie, when you’re finished your shift, why don’t you come back to our place? Have a few drinks. Maybe a little more.’
I was tempted. ‘I can’t,’ I said.
‘Because I’m working a double tomorrow. I need to sleep.’
‘Well, if you change your mind, Sweets,’ she said, and slid her hand down my back before walking away. I was pretty sure she got her hand all sweaty.
Drink orders kept coming. The service bar ran out of straws. At one point, I was outside wiping down some ashtrays and my fingers were turning grey-black and stinking of dead cigarettes. Mikey the Elder was standing nearby, sipping his rum and coke, surveying his scene, when a wizened, gnomish man—who was even shorter than Mikey—slinked up beside him and launched into a frenzied monologue that went something like, ‘Mikey you’re the fucking greatest and when I mean you’re the greatest I mean you’ve done so much for me and for Gina and you’ve given me a home I can call home and I’ve never had a fucking home of my own and you’ve given me friends and a means to sustain myself and for that you’re not just a good man Mikey you’re a fucking great one Mikey the Man and I owe everything to you and anything you want that I can give you Mikey Angel anything you want you name it and I’ll do it I’ll fucking take care of it and that includes anything for Ronnie anything she needs taken care of because nobody is going to fuck with you Mikey or with Ronnie or they’ll have me to deal with I’ll be on them like an ass on grass and I’ll do anything for you Mikey fucking anything you hear me, Daddy?’
The gnome had tears in his eyes. Mikey the Elder took him by his shoulders and leaned into him. ‘You know how much you love me, Joey?’ he rasped. Mikey the Elder then took his index finger, inserted it into Joey’s nostril, scooped, and sucked on the finger. ‘That’s how much you love me, Joey,’ he said. They both laughed and hugged each other. I thought about writing a play about them—something to do with urban life, addiction, and coping. But I had to change the ashtrays and forgot about it.
At the end of the night, around 1a.m., the party was moving on. I was standing at the terrace door. Ronnie held Mikey the Elder’s hand as they walked out. She winked at me. So did he. Mikey the Younger asked for the cheque and handed me his Amex Black card. I stared at it for a second. You could buy a small country with one of those cards. In all my years of being a waiter, I had only seen one—it belonged to a film star I served. The name on Mikey the Younger’s Amex Black was Manish Manthena. I went to the computer and rang up their bill. It was just over $4,500. I ran Manish Mikey’s Black through the credit card machine and tore off the cardholder copy. I handed it back to him in a billfold with my best pen. He quickly assessed the damage and signed. He handed the bill fold back to me and looked in my eyes through his gold shades. I didn’t dare open the bill fold right there in front of him. I shoved it into my waiter apron.
‘Thanks a lot, guy,’ Mikey the Younger said, shaking my hand.
‘Thank you, Mikey.’
He smiled, winked, and left. I had at least another hour of clean-up, and was not looking forward to having to come back for a lunch shift in the morning. I walked out on the terrace with a bus bin in my hand, and started filling it with used cocktail glasses, semi-full ashtrays, semi-sucked-on slices of lemons and limes, bar napkins, and many, many straws. I filled one bin, then another. I took a rag and wiped down all the tables, then filled a clean bus bin with salt and pepper shakers and tent cards advertising Malpeques for $2 each on Tuesdays. After clearing off the whole terrace and locking the sliding door, I walked over to the bar, where the light was good. I turned off the music, blaring AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way To The Top. I took the bill fold out of my apron and opened it.
They’d left me twenty bucks.
I stared at that little slip of paper for a good, long time, and thought about a lot of things. The main thing I thought about was quitting. It would be great to not have to come in tomorrow, and put up with all this shit. To actually pursue my dream of becoming a star actor, to devote myself fully to what I’m actually passionate about. Maybe to one day have my own Amex Black. Maybe meet a sweet girl. Maybe I’ll just go tell the Oyster Shack owners that I’ve had enough. I’ll be free.
But in fairness, the job does give me some freedom—to go on auditions, to switch shifts when I need to. The money is usually pretty good, and the work is usually pretty easy.
I know I said this would be my last shift, but I want to save up money to go to Hollywood, or New York. We’ll see how things go. I’m not ready to quit just yet. Soon, though.
Right now, I need a drink.
Adam Kelly Morton is a Montreal-based husband, father (four kids, all under-five), acting teacher, board gamer, and writer. He has had works published in Open Pen, Talking Soup, Pulp Metal Magazine, Danforth Review, Untethered, and Urban Graffiti, among others. He has an upcoming piece in A Wild and Precious Life, an addiction anthology to be published this year in London, UK.