Another story edited out of "DTRH."
One day my pot-smoking boyfriend Cole got fired from Farrell's, so I did what any co-dependent - I mean supportive - girlfriend would do and quit too. It was too awkward to work there anymore, what with everyone talking about us behind our backs and all (or so I thought).
Shortly after, Cole got a job at O'Malley's diner as a dishwasher. O'Malley's was a Connecticut landmark, consistently featured in CT magazine as having the best breakfast in the state. It was an old caboose, cramped and run down, with thirteen tiny booths and a wrap around counter. Each booth had its own jukebox which played classic rock like "These Boots are Made for Walking" and "Moondance." Orders were hand written on old fashioned order pads, and an antique cash register held the money.
The diner was conveniently located a block away from Cole's crappy apartment, so one night after dropping acid and running out of cigarettes we walked to the diner to buy some from the cigarette machine. It was 4 AM and the owner, Conor O'Malley, had just arrived to bake bread. Exhausted and annoyed he opened the door and stuck his head out.
"Hi Conor, can we buy some cigarettes?" Cole asked politely, overcompensating for tripping balls.
Conor mumbled something, held the door open for us, then shuffled back to work. I grew extremely self conscious, being so out of it in front of a sober person, while Cole became extra giving.
"I wonder if Conor needs any help?" he whispered to me. My heart raced with anxiety and I tried to disappear into the floor. "I'm gonna ask him."
Don't leave me here alone! I thought, but my mouth wouldn't move. I inserted my coins into the machine and pulled the Newport lever to give my body something to do, as Cole rounded the corner to the back. Classic rock played on the radio, but over it I heard Cole ask, "Hey Conor, do you need any help?" There was a mumbled response that I prayed was a "no," and Cole reemerged.
"Let's go," I said. "I can't be in here right now."
Safely back at Cole's we dropped another half tab and I continued to smoke cigarettes, shit my brain out and clean like a madwoman, while Cole read an entire science fiction novel on the couch. When the sun rose we decided we should try venturing out into the world again so, even though we were not hungry, we went to the diner to drink orange juice because allegedly vitamin C re-ups your trip. Again, we walked the block to O'Malley's and sat at table five, which was facing a mirror. Oh my God did I look like I had been up all night cleaning my boyfriend's crack den of an apt. while tripping on acid! Shit!
Cookie, a sixty-something year old short, stout waitress with white hair and a signature cackle, came over to take our order. I looked at Cole and he gradually, self-consciously started to laugh. He tried to suppress his laugh, which made it worse, so it started coming out of his eyes and pores. He somehow ordered, while barely being able to breath, his eyes watering and his face turning beet red. Cookie, completely annoyed, impatiently turned to me. Of course, I immediately caught what Cole had and began hyperventilating my order as well. Cookie walked away and we sat there, laughing and crying as silently as we could, until our food arrived.
After a few weeks Cole was given the extra responsibility of being the after-hours cleaning person. Which meant he had keys to the diner - and twenty-four hour access.
One night after smoking weed at Cole's apartment we went to the diner to sweep, mop and clean the grill. I don't know if it was the danger of possibly getting caught, the thrill of having access to this empty restaurant, or the fact that we were young and stoned, but being alone in that diner made us very horny. We started kissing in the dish area. The diner had a lot of windows so, although we were in the back beyond the flimsy Western half doors, we weren't entirely shielded from the view of passing cars. It was dark outside and light inside, which illuminated us and made the outside invisible, so there was no way to see if anyone was peeping in. Our kissing intensified and I think we both knew what we were about to do.
Cole lifted me onto the steel prep table and pulled off my shirt. I spread my legs and wrapped them around his as I undid my bra and threw it on the floor. I laid back on the cold table and his mouth traveled down my body. He crouched down, forcefully pulling off my pants and panties and diving into my pussy. When he came up his hard dick was pushing through his jeans and he took it out quickly and put it in me. He fucked me hard, both of us moaning as if no one could hear us. I almost came, it was so hot. Afterward we picked up our clothes, sheepishly grinning.
"I'll never be able to look at that prep table the same way again," Cole joked.
After a few months of employment Cole told me that they were hiring weekend breakfast servers, so I went in to apply. Conor, a disheveled and overworked "chef" by his own claim ("a chef is someone who can cook an egg a hundred ways") finally took a five minute break from doing everything himself and hired me on the spot. I would soon learn that this disorganized method of management was the way he ran his whole business.
I began that weekend. Conor had bought the diner from his uncle and had been working there his entire life. He started as an eight year old, helping his uncle scramble eggs and sweep the floor, then gradually took on more and more responsibilities as he got older. It was his whole life. He literally didn't know anything else. His method of "training" was to throw new employees directly into the fire. I began as an extra person on the floor. This was my first waitressing job, so I was extremely nervous and naive. I didn't even know how to greet a table.
"Uh, ok. Do you guys know what you want?" I asked a table of four who had just sat down. Four awkward stares looked back at me, as if to say, ‘No retard. We just got here.’ Triggered, I responded to their judgmental thoughts with a dirty look and walked away.
Madison Butski, an uppity twenty-something waitress, whooshed by me with a pot of coffee.
"You've got to see if they want something to drink first," she instructed. Oh, I thought, that makes sense. But Rich had beaten me to it.
"Coffees, gentlemen?" he asked the menu readers.
"I'll have tea,” one thankfully replied.
Rich Norberg, a bald Swedish man in his forties, would turn out to be one of the coolest dudes I've ever met. He'd say things like, “I've got to sit down and have a talk with myself," and, "If I were me..." He'd order "a pile" of scrambled eggs for his pre-shift breakfast and jokingly answer, "miserable," when people asked him how he was. He'd make homemade cards for people with a drawing of a cool-looking smoking guy on the front, no matter what the occasion. He loved beer, but would go "on the wagon" a few times a year and take up bike riding. He played guitar with Raskal, the alcoholic dishwasher, in a cover band that occasionally played at the Eagles Club. He was unique and hilarious.
Despite not knowing what the hell I was doing I was really enjoying my new job. There was a ton of busy work to be done and, as an ex busser, I was right on top of that. Bussing tables, making to-go coffees, cutting bread.This is awesome, I thought. I can just do this stuff and not have to take orders since I don't know how. I could fill nine hours with this easy!
But on my third day Bitch Madison sat me down.
"You've got to learn the menu," she barked.
Although I had been sporadically taking orders I had been summoned to the kitchen by Conor numerous times.
"This ticket is incomplete," he'd say, leaving me to run over to a menu to find my mistake.
His impatience triggered me. You're the one who threw me right on the floor without properly training me, I thought. What right do you have to get mad if I make a mistake? Of course I'm making mistakes! I haven't been taught anything yet! But being the people pleaser I am I would scurry to fix my error, then smile and apologize, not letting him see my hurt.
"1941 - how do you want your eggs? Pigs in a blanket - how do you want your eggs? Hash and eggs - how do you want your eggs?”
Madison impatiently pointed to the menu items with her pen as she continued.
"Fisherman's special - bacon or sausage? How do you want your eggs? He man - bacon, sausage or ham? How do you want your eggs?"
My eyes began to water and my face got hot.
"Ok!" I exclaimed.
She cocked her head and looked at me.
"You've got to know this stuff!" she said forcefully.
"Conor didn't tell me to learn anything. He said just show up here and we'll throw you in the water. You'll learn as you go. I didn't know I had to learn anything first. I thought I was supposed to learn as I went."
Madison stared at me, as if she couldn't believe how stupid I was. I took the menu from her.
"I will take this home and study it."
I pushed myself off the stool. She didn't seem done with our lesson, but I was.
"Tonight," I assured her, snotily.
That night I defiantly made flash cards and, in a focused, stoned haze, studied the shit out of that menu!
The next day I dove right in, approaching tables with faux confidence, taking orders as if I knew what I was doing. I double checked every order before I put it on the line. I was determined to excel. I really wanted everyone to like me.
Halfway through the shift I went to fill a pot with coffee from the double-sided urn, but it was empty. I tried the other side, but it was empty too! Oh no! An empty coffee urn on a busy Sunday brunch!
"You've got to make the coffee first," Madison chimed condescendingly, as if she'd been waiting for the urn to run out so she could snippily chide me for not doing something I hadn't yet been taught to do.
I watched as she took out the large basket that held the coffee filter and flipped it upside down into the trash. Then she pulled out a new filter and a giant bag of grounds, filled the basket, set it in the urn, swung the hot water faucet over it, and pushed the button. Hot water began to rain out of the spout as she placed the cover on top. Why didn't she just show me how to do that four days ago? I thought. Oh, right. Because she's an angry bitch.
No matter. I just held my tongue and kept on working. I started to feel really good about my job performance. The diner was always slammed from open to close and I felt I was really holding my own with the rest of the crew. There was never a minute to sit down. I kept busy for the entire six to nine hour shift! How could you fault that?
Well Cookie, the tanned old lady who had been working at O'Malley's for twelve years, apparently could find fault with that. She hated me from the word go. I was sure she thought less of me for coming in on acid that one time, but apparently she was just annoyed that her set schedule of Monday through Friday had been tampered with because Conor needed another strong server on the floor on weekends while I was still new.
After one weekend on the floor with Cookie I was taken off the schedule. No problem, I thought. I'll use this weekend for some “me” time. But the following week I was again given no hours. At this I felt hurt. Why don’t they want me to work with them? At three weeks of no work I got angry and called Conor.
"I'm gonna have to get another job if I'm not going to be given any hours here," I threatened.
"I'll make sure you're on the schedule next week," he promised.
The fourth week I went in on Friday, when the schedule was being written.
Kate, come here," Conor said in a fatherly tone.
He, Cookie, Rich and Larry, the angry but harmless short order cook, sat at a table, the unfinished schedule spread out in front of them. Conor beckoned for me to sit on his knee.
"We haven't put you on the schedule because we don't think you're strong enough to work weekends," he confessed.
My eyes filled with tears and I felt like I had been betrayed.
"But you said I was getting better," my voice cracked and my tears began to fall.
"You are," he back peddled, "But, Kate, there are a line of people standing at the register and you're cutting bread," he justified.
There were? I thought. I spoke up for myself.
"Well, I didn't know that. Why didn't anyone just tell me?!"
It was then that I realized that even adults would rather just avoid a problem than confront it. Cookie gave Conor a look. She could tell he was softening.
"You've got to recognize the customers, Kate," Conor continued. "The customer comes first. Cutting bread, making coffee, bussing tables - that all comes after the customer."
"I just didn't know that," I defended myself honestly.
"Do you think you can be more aware if I give you another chance?" Conor asked.
"Yes!" I exclaimed.
"Ok," he said. "I'll put you on this weekend."
I left there so proud of myself for turning that around. I vowed to become the best employee that diner had ever seen!
And I'll be damned if I didn't! The following day I grew eyes in the back of my head. I began to greet everyone the second they entered. As if to say, "I see you." I began using the phrase, "I'll be right there," so people knew I recognized them. My confidence grew. Turns out, people just want to be acknowledged. I could understand that.
I soon felt secure in my job and immediately grew cocky. One morning my father called to place a pick up order for my mother, my sister and himself. Three omelets and a large orange juice to go. When he came to pick it up I rushed to the register. I was sure he expected the friends and family five-finger discount, so of course I gave it to him and only charged for one of the omelets and the OJ.
“Twelve seventy five," I announced with a smile that said, ‘I got you.’
He looked confused as he slowly pulled a twenty dollar bill off of his stack of cash. I quickly handed him his change.
"Bye dad," I sing-songed, as I scurried back to work.
He slowly turned and left. When I got home to Gumma's that afternoon my father called.
"Kate, don't steal from Conor," he said flatly.
I felt like I had been punched in the chest. But I thought you expected a discount, I justified in my head. I thought you'd be mad if I'd charged you for everything! I got angry and defensive, but all I said was, "Oh... OK."
I started to feel like I was growing up here. In all honesty, I was. Madison Butski and I actually became friends. I learned that she also liked to smoke pot, so one Saturday night her and I and the third weekend waitress Stormy, a Jamaican ex body builder, went out.
We started at Madison's apt. where we smoked weed and cigarettes, then went to a TGIF-like bar where they didn't card and proceeded to get drunk. Then we hit up another bar where we continued to party until the early hours of the morning. These girls were hard core! I'm surprised I kept up, didn't puke AND made it to work on time and in one piece the next morning. That Sunday morning solidified our friendship as the three of us worked off our hangovers, still laughing and reminiscing about the night before.
A few weeks later Conor hired a new short order cook, Tara Carlo. Tara was a twenty-two year old single mother right out of culinary school. She was awesome! She was non-judgey, down to earth and a hard worker. She also didn't get along with Madison Butski, so since I'd had the same initial relationship with her I reassured Tara that Madison was just a bitch until you got to know her. We were instant friends. She also liked to get high, so we hit it off immediately, bonding over a post-shift joint and gossiping over the many characters of the diner:
There was Burt, the dirty old man with the gross beard and collection of tee shirts that all had holes worn through only around the nipples, who'd come in with hookers at 4:30 AM and never tip. For some reason, the most annoying thing about Burt was how he'd call me "young lady" even though he knew my name. There was Judge Geffen, who had been a friend of my family's for years, and his wife Sofia, the mayor. There were the various Wesleyan students who came in in their pajamas, hair egregiously messy so as to say "fuck you" to the man who dares impose a dress code on society. There were the crack addicts who came in for to-go coffees throughout the day, which made me wonder if maybe they weren't getting very good crack. There was Fabian, an alcoholic with Tourette’s who would shake his coffee all over the counter because he wouldn't take his meds. Poor guy. He ended up dead after falling out of a boat and drowning in the Connecticut river.
There was Gary, the angry guy who sometimes cleaned the diner after it closed, who sat at the counter smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee while muttering under his breath. He was a sad case. He was always really dirty and it turns out his parents used to burn him with water, so he was afraid of showers. After I learned that I started being extra nice to him. He had a really sweet heart beneath that hardened, defensive exterior.
Following the theme of filthy people who cleaned the diner, there was Richard and his wife Pat. Morbidly obese, sans teeth, and, as Rich would say, "on a mission to smoke some cigarettes," they sat at the counter taking up space, gumming free food and smoking until Conor would eventually kick them out.
"Your shift starts when the diner closes," he finally put his foot down. "If you want to come in to eat at the end of the day, before your shift, that's fine. But you can't sit here all day. I need the space for customers."
Good for you, Conor, I thought. But, sure as shit, their arrival time gradually began creeping up earlier and earlier until soon they were planted at the counter for eight full hours again. For some reason Conor just wouldn't fire them. I think he felt bad that they had kids. Those poor children! I had the life of a princess compared to those kids.
Tara and I gossiped about Conor and his bitchy girlfriend, Camilla.
I don't know what, if anything, Camilla did for a living, but she had five Italian sons, none of them Conor’s, and each one more fucked up than the next. There was D'Angelo, a drug addict/alcoholic who also had a son, Donatello, with his live-in girlfriend. Then there was Donnie, another addict who lived on the north end of Main street in the crack district, one block from the diner. The pair of them sporadically worked at the diner whenever they were out of funds. Conor, being the giving person that he was, always found a place for them in between their fuck-ups.
I hadn't been working at the diner very long when Cole got fired for breaking in and stealing the cash register. We'd broken up, so I hadn’t had any knowledge of this escapade and no one held me accountable. But now, as a free spirit of the diner, I could flirt with the other employees.
D'Angelo Sebastiani, Camilla's thirty two year old son, was working there at the time, and he responded to my coy smile with one of his own. The fact that he had a girlfriend didn't stop him from asking me to the movies one afternoon and, of course, I said yes. He picked me up in his red sports car and we sped to a matinee of The Rock. I was seventeen and had decided that I was not interested in being in a relationship. I was, however, interested in having casual sex with my friends, so this new fling was right on schedule. Soon after the opening credits D'Angelo kissed me. The theatre was fairly empty, and I had already seen The Rock, so we continued to make out for the duration of the movie. D'Angelo was very vocal. He moaned while we kissed, which was new for me and turned me on! He kissed my neck, which I loved, and moved my hand down to the outside of his jeans so I could feel his hard cock. When the movie finally ended we were both ready to explode. He drove us to the woods, took a blanket out of his trunk and fucked me. When we were done we lay there looking up, through the tree branches at the sky.
"That's beautiful," I said, referring to the view of the setting sun through the leaves.
He looked at me as if I'd said something brilliant, and replied, “Yeah, it is.”
A few days later I went to D'Angelo and his girlfriend's apartment where we fucked on the couch, right before she came home and made us dinner.
Our affair was brief, as D'Angelo was soon fired again for not showing up, probably because he was on a bender. Conor had suspected our affair, and I pretty much confirmed it without exactly saying so. He didn't judge. If anything, Conor was amused by the gossip and by my open nature.
"How's your love life?" he'd ask.
“Non-existent," I'd reply. "My sex life, on the other hand..." I'd say smiling. He loved that joke.
Conor had become a sort of father figure to me. And, as father figures in my life go, he said some inappropriate things to me at times.
"You want me to do anything for you while I'm down here?" He'd ask while crouching down to get something out of the bottom of the fridge.
Not knowing any other response I'd laugh and play along. "Hmmm... well..." I’d raise my eyebrows to hint at the response he wanted: ‘Yeah, you could eat my pussy.’
My senior year of high school I got my hair cut short. When I came into work the next day, Conor smiled.
"It's short, but not short enough," he smiled and moved in close to me. "I like it so short that when you're making love you try to grab it and you can’t grab a handful ‘cause it's so short." He grabbed two handfuls of my not-short-enough hair to demonstrate. I was so used to comments like this that they didn’t even phase me.
One day Conor asked me if he could put me on the line. It made no difference financially, as tips were split equally between the servers, dishwasher and line cook, but it meant he thought I was a strong enough employee to handle this new set of responsibilities.
"Martin Leviwitz is going on vacation and I need someone who doesn’t get flustered easily to work by me," he complimented.
"Of course!" I replied. The next weekend I became Conor's left hand (cause I stood on his left, ya see).
"Brie," he'd say, as a doctor asks a nurse for a scalpel, and I'd scurry to cut a slice to place in the already bubbling puddle of eggs. "Mornay sauce," and I'd put the bowl of sauce in the microwave. "Garnish and out," he'd hand me a plate with an omelet and home fries, which I'd dress with a few slices of fresh fruit and a side of toast before placing on the counter and alerting the servers.
After proving I was a worthy sidekick, Conor continued to split up my schedule with occasional line shifts as well. I felt like I'd been promoted. I'd earned another star in Conor's book.
I graduated high school in 1997 and Madison Butski and Conor planned a surprise graduation party for me at Elle Musket's, the restaurant/bar across the street. Most of the staff and even some customers were there to congratulate me with balloons and cards. Conor, exhausted from a long day of working, kept a proud paternal smile on his face as he paid the bill for everyone.
"Promise me we'll have a weekly phone call," he said when I gave him a long hug good bye. "Eight AM Saturday mornings. It's our standing date." And we kept it. During my month-long Christmas break I came home to Connecticut and he put me on the schedule. When I came home from college the following summer, he immediately offered me my job back full time.
I transferred colleges after my freshman year and was set to enter Emerson College in Boston for my sophomore year.
"Would you be willing to come home to work weekends?" Conor asked as the summer of 1998 neared its end. "I'd be willing to split the cost of your bus ticket home with you, if you would. I know you want to see your grandmother, and I know she'd love to see you…”
For the next two years I came home every Friday on a Greyhound, worked 4:30 AM - 2 PM Saturdays and Sundays, then got back on a bus to Boston Sunday night. I loved this routine! Holly would pick me up and drop me off at the bus in Hartford, I'd work my ass off, make bank, get to see my grandmother and friends, then head back to Boston for the week. I even got a second weekend job for a while working Friday and Saturday nights at Vinnie's, an Italian restaurant near Gumma's. Oh, the stamina of a nineteen year old!
In the summer of 1999 I decided to have a big O'Malley's company picnic / 4th of July party. I printed up fliers and posted them around the diner. Everyone was invited! Employees, customers, my friends from high school and the Academy. I started planning it in early June and people enthusiastically popped up from all over to pitch in.
"I have a big hot dog steamer," Rich said, "and Raskall and I will bring our band."
"I'll make my famous vegetarian chili," said Martin Leviwitz.
"I'll get the burgers and dogs," Conor offered. This was coming together so nicely! My own father even took the night off work and stepped in to man the grill!
Party day was a huge success! Everyone showed up! My parents played nice with each other, inviting the few friends they had. A huge group of my friends from the Academy carpooled, and everyone from the diner came! Rich and Raskall brought the rest of the members of their band and they set up in the driveway and played for hours! The weather was beautiful, the pool was full of people, it was perfect. I felt so popular and loved. I was touched that so many people came to the party I threw.
As soon as a car full of my Academy friends arrived I put out the offer. “Guys, you wanna smoke a joint?" The group of eight or so of us sauntered out to the far backyard, under the trees, behind a bush, near the pool. We stood in a conspicuous circle while I lit a joint and passed it to my left, then another and passed it to my right. Neither one had made its way back to me when I heard my father right behind me.
Oh my god, are you fucking kidding me!? I thought. He laughed.
“Don't let your grandmother see you smoking."
My friends laughed, relieved. He put his hand on my shoulder as if to say, ‘It's cool,’ and walked away.
”Really guys. No one thought to say 'Hey Kate, your dad’s coming’!?!" They laughed.
The last guest left at midnight and I collapsed into a deep sleep. At four AM I was startled awake. Our neighbors across the street were honking their car horns and yelling to wake us up. Through the bathroom window I saw our garage entirely engulfed in flames.
My father pounded down the attic stairs, prepared to rage at me for, what he assumed, were my drunk friends waking him up. But he saw the fire and bolted down the stairs and out the door.
I burst into tears! Oh my God! This is my fault! He's gonna beat the shit out of me! I thought as I hastily called 911. I ran down the stairs and saw my father speeding one of my grandmother's cars in reverse out of the driveway. My body shook and I sobbed uncontrollably as I watched my grandmother's property burn. I didn't know what had happened, but obviously this was connected to the party. My brain raced. Still attached to an outlet in the garage, a large extension cord lay in the grass on fire. The electricity, I thought. It must've gotten overheated. My father burst through the door, grabbed me in his arms and hugged me tightly.
"It's ok, Punkie," he comforted me.
What!? I thought. This is an out-of-character reaction. I was so stunned that it took me a minute to hug him back.
I heard Gumma enter the kitchen behind us.
"Ohh! Uhh!" she gutterally reacted until she was able to form the words, "Oh God!"
She started to cry and my father embraced her in our hug. I've never felt so guilty in my life. The sirens from the fire trucks grew and soon a dozen or more firefighters were dousing the fire from all angles.
"The cars!" Gumma exclaimed.
"I moved the Caprice onto the street," my father reassured.
"The other one?" she tentatively whimpered, referring to the Chevy my Da had bought years earlier to come visit me in Bensalem when I’d had walking pneumonia.
"It's gone," he replied. "You never drove it anyway," he continued under his breath, possibly to alleviate my guilt.
"All of our show posters!" my grandmother continued to cry.
My heart sank. My grandparents held onto priceless memories from shows they'd worked on. Props from various theatres had lined the interior walls of our garage. And now they were gone.
"The tractors!" my grandmother suddenly remembered.
"They can be replaced," my father said.
It took the firefighters hours before they turned off the last hose. My mother and sister had been awoken by the commotion and joined us on Gumma's back porch. The sun came up as we watched the firemen extinguish the last of the flames. I called Conor at the diner.
"I can't come in today," I regretfully informed him. "My garage burned down last night."
"Kate, I don't have anyone to cover you," he retorted. This was only the second time I had ever tried to call out of work, and Conor had given me the same line the first time.
Unfortunately, that time I had had massive food poisoning from his buckwheat pancakes and was projectile-ing from both ends, so he'd had to figure it out. This time, though, it seemed as if I didn't have as good of an excuse. So I got myself together and went to work.
“Kate! That was one helluva shin dig you threw yesterday," Rich exclaimed as I shuffled through the door.
"My garage burned down,” I replied.
"What!?" He laughed. "You're kidding! What happened?"
The rest of the shift I tried to solve that mystery as I told everyone who'd been at the party the story of how I'd awoken that morning.
"Maybe someone threw a cigarette butt in the garage that wasn't totally out," Rich guessed.
"That could've been me," Raskall admitted.
"It was probably electrical," Judge Geffen surmised. "That garage was a hundred years old."
A few hours into my shift, Madison Butski called. "Hey! Great party!" she exclaimed.
"My garage burned down!" I responded.
I started to tell her the story.
"Kate!" Conor's voice bellowed.
I looked at him as if to say, ‘What!?’ like a grounded teenager, and he stern-fully nodded to the customers who had just walked in. God forbid they should have to wait two seconds to be acknowledged! Anger spread through my body and I started to cry. I felt so disrespected!
"I've got to go," I said to Madison. "Conor's being an asshole.”
"I'll come in at the end of the day," my friend reassured me.
I wiped away my tears with my pride and continued working. Right before closing, Madison fulfilled her promise and came in. I told her the full story as I finished up work, and she drove me home. When we pulled into my driveway my guilt overwhelmed me. Nothing was left. Just a huge, black heap of burnt wood, and a barely recognizable skeleton of a car.
The fire Marshall determined that that the cause had been electrical. Too many amplifiers plugged into the old outlets. So, it was my fault. It was my party, so the fire had been because of me. But neither my father nor Gumma ever said as much to me. They had the mess cleaned up, the garage rebuilt and the tractors replaced. That O'Malley’s company picnic went down in history as having gone down in flames.
I graduated college in 2001 and thought I should get a resume building serving job, so I worked briefly at two four-star restaurants in Hartford. Although these restaurants were higher-end, my take home ended up being equivalent to O’Malley’s. After a year I asked Conor if I could come back.
"I'd love to have you back," he said genuinely, and pretty soon I was working six days a week - four on the floor and two on the grill - plus designing and printing the weekend menus and working the monthly event “dinner at the diner.”
Unfortunately at this time Conor was also employing his nineteen year old depressive, abusive son Colin. Colin went out of his way to make everyone miserable. He had a huge resentment against his father for divorcing his mother a million years ago and for "not being there," so he took it out on the diner. He was supposed to work the line, but he'd sit sulking in "Conor's booth" (table 13 - reserved for a stack of paperwork) leaving Conor to scramble to do everything on his own. When he would stand at his post, Colin would cough or sneeze on the food. He attacked Conor physically numerous times, walked out in the middle of his shift and insulted the customers. But Conor would never fire him. He'd say, "he's my son," and take his shit.
I tried to get along with Colin. I went to his house to design weekend menus with him, involving him in the process and smoking weed with him to loosen him up. He came with me to one of Puck's improv shows, but sat there stoically the whole time, refusing to have a good time. Eventually he enrolled in college and quit. Thank God 'cause I almost had to murder that little piece of shit.
Anyway, I was working overtime at the diner at this time, saving up for my big move out to LA.
"I'm gonna help you," Conor announced one day. "I'm gonna introduce you to someone who can help you once you're in LA.”
Kathryn Baldwin was chairwoman of the Wesleyan film department and a longtime friend of Conor's. One morning she came in for breakfast and Conor told me to take a break and go sit with her.
"Conor tells me you're moving to LA to become an actress," she said breaking the ice.
"Yes ma'am," I began rattling off my credentials. "I just did a Wesleyan thesis film, actually."
"I know. I saw it," she replied, and I realized of course she had. There had been a screening of all the thesis films not even two weeks earlier. Obviously, she had been there.
"You're very good," she said genuinely. "I've compiled a list of fifteen ex-students of mine who now live in LA who might be able to help you."
My heart skipped a beat. What!? I thought, and my hopes skyrocketed.
"There's Blake Russen, who directs General Hospital. Call him and ask him to have coffee with you.” She continued down the list. “Malcom Bruges will at least be able to show you where the good parties are, Carter Egonsci is a director with Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay’s production company, Brandon Dow is an independent director, writer and actor, Jessie Blackwell produced Chuck and Buck. Mention O'Malley's to everyone, and of course mention me. I'll give everyone on this list a call before you get out there so they'll know to be expecting your call."
I couldn't believe this was happening! This woman didn't even know me, but she was going way out of her way to help me because she loved Conor!
A few weeks before I left for LA, Conor gave me a goodbye present. The two of us drove together to a remote Indian spa in the woods. We shared a joint on the way, after our long day of work, then relaxed in a hot tub, and got massages - his treat. He gave me a wrapped gift. It was a black and white photograph of the diner that I had found while cleaning one day. I’d told Conor how much I loved it and he had it framed for me. That picture still hangs in my kitchen today. It’s a beautiful reminder of my roots. The place I grew up.