I arrive to work for my normal Thursday open to close shift, getting there at 4:00 and preparing myself to stay until we close at 11:00. I am the only server on Thursdays and I split the tips with the sole bartender. It’s a good system and I have no need of a food runner or busser. As I am mopping the floor (more like dragging a damp mop around the restaurant…), I see a kid knocking on the door of the restaurant. I assume he is selling candy bars for his basketball team and I do the same thing to him that I do to customers who want a fourth glass of water, which is pretend I don’t see them. He continues to knock and I think, “Damn, this kid really wants to sell some candy.” I ask our cook Juan if he recognizes the boy at the door and what Juan tells me chills my heart:
“Oh, that’s the new bus boy.”
Wait, what? Bus boy? When did this happen? Why do we need a bus boy and more importantly, how much do I have to tip him out?
I reluctantly go to unlock the door and he rushes in apologizing for being late. “I’m so sorry, sir. I don’t get out of school until 3:30 and I had to run home to change before I came to work.” With that, he zooms down to the basement to deposit his bag and begin work. When he comes back upstairs with his apron tied around his waist, he sees that I have already “mopped” the floor, something I have done every Thursday for months upon months.
“Oh, you already swept the floor and mopped? I’m sorry.”
Now, I’m not only pissed that I am going to have to share my tips, I am also pissed that I did something that I didn’t have to do. I go to find the manager.
“What’s up with the kid? We have a busser now?”
“Yeah, he’s training. Now that spring is here and we are about to open the patio, you’re gonna need some help. He’s 17 years old, so be nice to him.”
Seventeen. He is even younger than I thought he was. My mind is spinning as I think of how many things I own that are older than this bus boy; certain pieces of furniture, photo albums, my Birkenstocks, the t-shirt that I sleep in… I am depressed. I am old enough to be his father and quite possibly older than his parents are. I am going to have to share my tips with someone who is younger than certain bottles of scotch. He told me his name, but I filed it into the same part of my brain that stores the list of our bottled beers, so unless he writes his name down on the menu, I will never recall it.
When our shift meal is presented to us, I get my plate and head back to my usual spot ay Table 16. Like a puppy, he follows me and when he gets too close to my table, I look at him and gnash my teeth like an old poodle who doesn’t want to share his food. He obediently sits down at Table 15.
“Where did you go to school?” he asks me.
In between taking photos of my ugly shift meal for Instagram, I answer him.
“High school? It was in Texas so I’m sure you don’t know it. And I went to college at Hunter.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of Hunter!” he says excitedly. “I love school. Today we learned all about colors and shapes. And my teacher, Miss Stephanie, sang a song to us about the rainbow.”
I snap another picture of my shift meal and concentrate on which filter I should use.
“This one time? At lunch? This kid was throwing his food up and then catching it. Well, not throwing it up like vomiting, I mean throwing it with his hands into the air. It was so funny. But then Miss Stephanie told him to stop it. Then it was nap time.”
“Hey, I know my A,B,C’s, you wanna hear ’em? And I can jump high in the air too. Watch this!”
I look up from my phone and he is leaping off the booth and onto the floor. He does it three times and after the last time, he falls to the ground laughing.
“Man, I felt like Superman! But I like Batman better, don’t you? I mean he lives in a cave! I wanna live in a cave. But my mommy says we can’t live in a cave because Batman isn’t for real life.”
He continues his incessant babbling until he abruptly stops. His eyes widen and his mouth forms a pouty little frown. It looks like he is about to cry.
“Uh oh,” he says. “I think I just went wee wee in my Underoos.”
Finally, he has said something that interest me.
“I used to love Underoos. I didn’t even know they made them anymore, that’s awesome.”
He is not listening. Tears are streaming down his face and he is trying to call his mother on his cell phone, but his phone is one of these:
My point is: the new bus boy is a child! I work with a child.