Locante’s Restaurant was a busy place during the dinner rush, from about 5:00 until 9:00 each evening. I began in the kitchen, washing pots and pans by hand, loading up and running all the dinner dishes through the big industrial sized dishwasher, then pulling them out and stacking them up, where the waitresses and busboys could get at them. It was a grunt job, but it was a job, and I was just damned happy to be working again.
When things slowed down a bit, I would observe the other workers. Some of the waitresses were really hot. Many were in their mid to late twenties, with bodies to make my teenage hormones go wild. They were nice, too, and mostly friendly. I decided I was going to like it there.
The busboys in that joint were some real characters. The two most conspicuous characters among them were Gordy and Tony. Gordy walked around like a prince, like he owned the joint, always with a dignified air about him. The others seemed to follow his lead on things. He also had a great relationship with the waitresses. That looked like a cool job!
Tony was the busboy for the cocktail lounge, which was a real status thing; plus, you had to be 18 to work the lounge, so he was decidedly older than most of the others, full of confidence and a great sense of humor. By the third day on the job, I began plotting how I could get out of the hot, sweaty kitchen and into a busboy jacket. I wanted to be like those guys! They got to work with all those pretty waitresses! That was before I’d learned how tips worked – more money to be made!
My fourth night was a Friday night, and the joint really got hopping by 6. One of the busboys got sick and had to go home, right in the middle of the dinner rush. Juanita, one of the top waitresses, came into the kitchen bitching about half her tables sitting waiting to be bussed, with a line of customers up front waiting to be seated. She was doing it herself, but falling behind on getting food to her customers. “They can’t find any back-up busboys? This place is spinning out of control. F**k me!”
“I’ll do it”, I exclaimed. “I’ll bus your tables!” She looked at me like I was from another planet, and said, “You can’t go out there like that. Look at yourself” - then she turned around, grabbed a busboy jacket from the hooks behind her, and laughed, “Here, take that dirty shirt off, put this jacket on, grab a tray, and start bussing. Just look for empty tables full of dirty dishes, stack ‘em on the tray, and bring ‘em in here. Start at my station, to the right as you go out the door, and keep working your way around the dining room.” That’s how I became a busboy. That night, I was both. I bussed the tables, then came back into the kitchen and washed all the dirty dishes. I was all over the place. I’d saved the day, on my 4th night on the job!
Juanita became my biggest fan there, and convinced the manager to move me out to the dining room permanently, as a regular busboy. “This kid knows how to work, Frank. Give him a break!” I quickly became a sought-after busboy. The waitresses all began to buddy up to me, wanting me to work their station. I loved the attention from these older, hot looking ladies, and I would do anything to please them. I busted my ass out there.
During breaks, everyone sat around at a table in the back dining room, eating, drinking coffee, and smoking. It wasn’t long before I took up the smoking habit, myself. It wasn’t so much to be cool, as it was just something to do while you sat around and talked. It was kind of like having dessert after you ate. You smoked. O.K., I guess it also made me feel older, like them.
The waitresses would flirt with you. You always knew it wasn’t real, it was just part of the play that you were a part of there, all good-natured kidding around, but it was very cool, nonetheless, having them cozy up to you like that. It made you feel important, having adult interactions with these older women. I would do anything for these ladies, and they knew it, so they showed their appreciation in a way they knew you'd appreciate.
During the day, at school, I was still the scapegoat of my regular crowd, the one they always put down, the butt of all the jokes – but, none of that mattered to me. At night, I was cool. I was becoming a man of the world.
On Saturday nights, after work, some of the guys would go bowling, shoot some pool, or play poker over at one of their houses. Whatever was happening, I was into it. They somehow managed to get served beer at the joint where we played pool, and since I was with them, no one ever asked me for I.D., so I got served, as well. I immediately developed a taste for beer.
I also loved the poker games. I usually broke out close to even, but one memorable night, I walked away with $125 in winnings, which I used to pay my junior year’s tuition at the Catholic High School. I thought Dad would be proud of me for paying my own way. But he questioned how I came into that much money, and when I told him the truth, he shook his head and said, “Oh, Pete – I always said you were no damned good, and now, you really are. That’s no way to live.”, and walked away from me.
Uggh. He really knew how to take the wind out of a kid's sails! But, I was still proud of myself for that accomplishment, even if the old man wasn't. I was paying my own way in the world. What could be wrong with that?