“Aunt Angie’s on Eighth”
"I'll be right with you, sweetie," said the woman behind the counter as she rang up a customer, tended to a phone call and checked on a batch of chicken winglets in the fryer -- all at the same time.
I looked around the independently-owned establishment. It wasn't much by way of aesthetics, but it had a definite home kitchen feel to it. I don't know if that was intentional, just more affordable or a combination of the two.
A sign on the opposite wall saying "Follow Your Dreams" caught my eye. Below it was a picture of the proprietress in front of the store on what I assume was taken around the time she opened. Both the sign and the picture were surrounded by several local "Best Of" designations and a few congratulatory citations from local luminaries.
"Do you need a menu?" Angie asked.
"Yes, thank you." I responded as I walked toward her.
Angie handed me a menu and I took it from her hand. She smiled warmly and took the wings out of the fryer. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her scoop some potato salad into one compartment of a plastic takeout container and place a small cup of hot sauce into the other compartment.
A man walks into the restaurant. He waves his hand to get Angie's attention and points to the postcards in his hand once he does. Angie nods and points to the waiting area where a bulletin board is filled with flyers and postcards that cover up the top of a long narrow table.
"Have you decided?" Angie asks as she places the chicken wings into the plastic container and places it in a brown paper bag with napkins.
"I'd like the catfish plate with collard greens and potato salad."
"Anything to drink?"
"For here or to go?"
"Pick a table and I'll bring it over in about ten minutes," she says with a wink and a smile.
The eatery was largely empty save for two men at one table and a young family at another. I looked around for an empty table near an outlet so I could plug in my dying phone. The only one available hadn't been bussed yet. Regardless, my priorities were such that since the table was large enough for me to push the dirty dishes aside and still eat, that is the sacrifice I would have to make in order to recharge my phone.
"I'll be over there in a minute to clear that table," Angie said to me. I looked over at her and smiled, which she returned with a curiosity as to why I would choose to sit at a dirty table.
"You don't mind if I plug in, do you?" I asked.
Angie rang up what I presumed to be my order. "You're a paying customer, so you technically own about ten minutes worth of electricity."
"I never thought of it that way."
"I hadn't either until just now," Angie admitted. "Your meal comes out to ten seventy-five. Do you want to pay now or after you eat?"
"Do you have a preference?"
"Yes," she answered with a smirk.
I chuckled to myself and got up to pay the bill. I pulled eleven dollars out of my wallet and handed it over to Angie. "How long have you been here?" I asked.
"Thank you. It's a dream come true."
I pointed blindly behind me. "I saw."
"Happiest day of my life -- so far," Angie added.
A woman rushed into the eatery. She was wearing a black smock. Her hair was immaculate and she smelled of shampoo. "Thank you for putting this together so quickly, Angie. It's been back to back to back. This person was late and that person had a hair emergency. This is the first time today I have had five minutes to leave the salon. Who's the cutie?" the woman said as she grabbed the brown paper bag and rushed out just as quickly as she walked in.
Angie checked on my catfish in the fryer. "Another couple of minutes," she said as she walked by me to my table to clear the remaining dirty dishes.
"What were you doing before?" I asked Angie as I walked back to the table she was clearing for me.
"I spent about ten years working a series of administrative jobs after high school. I hated them all. About five years ago, I started working up a business plan for my own restaurant. I researched how to put one together, then spent the last three years tweaking it, fine-tuning it and making it as unrejectable as possible." Angie paused for a moment with a grateful smile on her face. "It's funny how rejectable unrejectable is -- especially when you're dealing with the banks," she added with a chuckle.
Angie rushed the plates into the kitchen beyond the swinging doors and then rushed back out to take my catfish out the fryer. She set the basket on the basket hanger to let the grease drain as she prepared my plate. The phone rang again. She started to answer it but decided against it. A passerby knocked on the window and waved. She smiled widely and waved back. With a pair of tongs, she carefully took my catfish out of the fryer baskets and placed them onto my place. On her way back to my table, she took a can Dr. Pepper out of the refrigerator.
"So how did you finally get the funding?" I asked as she placed my meal in front of me and sat down in a chair on the other side of the table. I got up to get a fork, a napkin and a straw.
"It's a funny thing about those jobs you hate," Angie continued as I sat back down at the table. "I was working a reception desk when a local client came into the office for a meeting. It was a disaster of a day with delays, reschedulings, missed flights, double-booked conference rooms, lost hotel reservations and a general state of airheadedness throughout the office. I managed to work all of that out but when the restaurant I ordered lunch from didn't deliver that client's meal with everyone else's -- I got my ass handed to me. The client was mortified. As she left, she gave me her card and said, 'there are places that treat good people better than that.' Now I was not one to take risks with my life. Shit's hard enough without adding uncertainty to the mix. But it's a funny thing about certainty. It doesn't exist. Yet something told me to call her. And so I did. The very next day. She told me they were pulling their business away from the company I was working for. She gave me a contact at the investment firm that would be handling their business going forward. "
"So they hired you?"
"No. That interview did NOT go well. I called the client, told her what happened, apologized and thanked her for the lead. She laughed and told me that she didn't give me that contact for a job. She told me I was an entrepreneur -- that it was written all over me. I told her about the business plan for my restaurant. She told me to send it over to her. I just continued working as if I had no idea what was going on. That client called me a nerve-wrecking week later with a few modifications and told me to meet her and an Account Manager from that investment firm for drinks after work."
"..And the rest his history."
"The rest is history," Angie confirms proudly. "I have never worked so hard in my life, but I love every minute of it."
"Can't ask for much more than that."
"Well, I would like to be in the black soon," Angie says with a laugh. "But the dream doesn't end with its fulfillment. I'll leave you to your meal. Enjoy."
I looked down at my meal as Angie walked away. I took a bite of the catfish. Score one of Aunt Angie. I took a bite of the potato salad. Two points for Aunt Angie. I took a bite of the macaroni and cheese. It was really good, but I had ordered collard greens.
“The WOACA and I”
I was walking north on Broadway in Oakland to drop off a resume for a position like many others I have applied for that I am perfectly capable of doing but probably won't get hired to do. As I was walking by the 19th Street BART station, I was stopped by a woman of a certain age (WOACA) with a young child.
"Excuse me, sir."
"Yes?" I respond with a little hesitation.
"I hate to bother you but if I give you five dollars, can you watch my little boy for a moment?" She asks me as she looks around. "Where is he?"
I look around for a moment and locate him a short distance away playing with some rocks embedded in cement.
"There he is."
"He wears me out. He's always running off. Can you watch him for a moment?"
"Sure," I respond with a chuckle.
"Thank you. I need to go to the store down the street and pick up some...'survival' to smoke later," she explains.
I let out a bigger laugh. "I completely understand. Have at it. I'd be more than happy to watch him."
"Thank you. I'll be right back."
The little boy stops playing in the cement embedded rocks to watch the WOACA walk off. There's a hint of concern on his face. He goes back to playing, but with a bit less fervor.
"She'll be right back. I promise," I say to the little boy. "She's just going to the store. Do you want to come hang over here by this tree with me? Or do you want to sit down with me over there by the rocks?"
The little boy doesn't answer but gives me a look that lets me know he knows I'm not going to hurt him. Still, he keeps his distance. For a moment I ponder the possibility of the WOACA not coming back at all and me getting stuck raising this kid. I start planning how I would orchestrate that magnitude of hurdles.
"What's your name?" I ask.
The little boy doesn't answer, but he does make his way closer to me. Since he didn't provide a name, I decided to call him Philemon -- don't ask me why. I kneel down to his level -- as low as I can.
"How old are you?"
The little boy doesn't answer, but he apes me by kneeling down.
I put up three fingers. "Are you this many?"
The little boy nods.
"I used to that many too," I inform him with three fingers still up.
The little boy looks at me dubiously as the WOACA returns.
"Whew! Thank you. I'm going to need this."
"See, I told you she was coming back," I say to the little boy.
"I can't tell you how grateful I am."
The WOACA starts to hand me a five.
"Absolutely not. Please keep that. It was not a problem."
The WOACA starts to sit down on a nearby retaining wall while the little boy starts playing around a nearby tree. She introduces herself to me and I to her. We shake hands. She tells me that the little boy is her great-grandson. I was taken aback because she hardly looked the age to have one.
The little boy was wrong about his age, though -- or he would have just said yes to anything just to get me to stop asking questions. He was actually two instead of three. And his name was Marcus instead of Philemon like I had in my head. The WOACA went on to tell me how she was temporarily raising him. She notices Marcus starting to get restless when he lays prostrate on the ground.
"Are you ready to go?" she asks Marcus.
Marcus nestles further into the ground.
"He's getting tired. I'd better get him home."
The WOACA walks over to pick him up. "C'mon, let's go. We're going to go home now."
I help the WOACA pull Marcus up to his feet. Marcus leans against me -- presumably as some sort of a hug.
"He likes you."
I smile at the WOACA and look down at Marcus.
"I have a nephew your age."
The WOACA takes Marcus by the hand.
"Alright, let's go. Say goodbye to Terrence."
"Good bye!" Marcus says, looking up at me before running off.
The WOACA points in the other direction. "We're going this way, Marcus."
Marcus turns around and runs back toward us. He stops and looks at me as if to ask if I was coming with them.
I point in the other direction. "I'm going this way," I tell him.
Marcus sadly pulls at the WOACA.
"It was nice meeting you. Just so you know, I wouldn't have left him with just anybody. You can't trust everyone. But you just had a trustworthy face."
"Thank you," I say, smiling widely. "He's a cute, sweet kid."
"Thank you. Well, you have a good night."
The WOACA and I hug.
"You do the same. Take care," I say to her as we come out of the hug. "I hope to see you again soon, Marcus!"
The WOACA waves at me one last time as she and Marcus head off in their direction and I in mine.
“The Roommate Motherload”
I recently moved to San Francisco and for the first time in seven years, I have a roommate. Though I had my concerns about entering into such a situation after living alone for so long, my new roommate Jackson has proven them unfounded. I want to live with him for the rest of my life.
Jackson is a tall, well-built, affectionate, pierced and tatted up multi-sexual Jesus freak with spiked hair of varying colors. We took an immediate liking to each other -- both on a spiritual and physical level. But he doesn't want to sleep with me. He claims this is because he respects me too much.
Sometimes I hate being respected.
I questioned him on this point and he told me that he dates for sex, not for relationships. He admitted that if he had to choose, he would rather have a relationship with me beyond our current friendship. Therefore, making man sex (as he calls it) with me would come from dating, which he doesn't want to do with me because it would not lead to a relationship with him, which he feels he might could want to have with me.
It's disjointed but somehow makes perfect sense -- to me and people like us who don't make much sense at all.
So Jackson dates frequently - men, women, transgendered (in either direction) and cross-dressers (in either direction). They can be tall, short, fat or skinny. They can have blond hair, brown hair, graying hair, silver hair, red hair, blue hair, green hair, orange hair or yellow hair. They can be black, white, Latino, Asian, Indian, Native American, Eastern European, South American, Scandinavian, Australian, Spanish, French, German, Pacific Islander or anything in between.
"I love people, I love sex and I love Jesus," he said to me when we first met. "And if Jesus manifested himself in the flesh today, whether he's copper-toned, bronze-toned or a pothead, I'd definitely want to have at him."
I love blasphemy.
Unlike a lot of your Jesus freaks, Jackson tells you where he stands on Jesus
and his faith but leaves it at that. There's no judgement.
"There couldn't be," he claimed.
There's no converting.
"There shouldn't be," he said.
There's just unconditional agape love.
"As it would be in heaven," he concluded.
He also confessed that he likes to listen to, as he calls it, "his Holy Jesus music" while getting ready for his bartending shifts.
"It helps prepare me to face the people," he explained.
Then there was the red alert. Do NOT call him Jack. I tend to shorten people's names but I'm glad I didn't make that mistake with him. Jackson is open, low-key and lackadaisical about everything except that. He wouldn't tell me what happens when people call him Jack by accident or otherwise, but he showed me a picture of the "Jack Face" that hangs above the doorway outside his bedroom. It was a bit scary -- Clair Huxtable meets Walter White.
Jackson inherited the house we live in from his grandparents. He used to work in construction and occasionally still does it on the side so he was able to spend some time remodeling the house before renting it out. What once was a single-family home that his grandparents raised his mother, aunt and uncle in now has three separate units on three separate floors.
A young family with a toddler rents the two bedroom, one-and-a-half bath unit on the bottom floor that has its own washer and dryer. He and I share the two bedroom, one bath unit on the second floor and there's a top floor studio that is currently vacant.
"I had to kick the previous tenant out because he fell behind on rent. It's the only time I ever get physical -- that doesn't involve sex."