Ode to My Nice Neighbor

She knocks at my door. I answer.

“I’m a bootlegger,” she said and thrust a gallon jug with a sunny liquor in my hands.

The homemade label says, “Limoncello. Enjoy!” The top looks like a jam jar.

“Cleaning out the house for my move. I found it in a corner, but it should be good.”

I hugged her, “Damn. Now I’m really sorry to see you go.”

She laughed and left just as quickly as she came. “… so much to do…”

“Thank you and good luck!”

I made a lemon drop martini before you could say “Lemonade.”

My dog, Jack, says, "Let them eat steak!"

Dogfucius say, “Love thy neighbor, especially if they make good drinks!”

Decisions, Decisions

“So, how about some pie, ladies?” I said as I set down a dessert menu. They both groaned and laughed with a huffing wheeze as I organized empty plates, scraped (almost licked) clean, into a stack. This after they exclaimed with wide eyes how huge the cobb salad and blue cheese burger with coleslaw looked.

“Oh no,” said Woman On My Left. “I’m so full! I couldn’t eat another bite.”

I gestured to some indistinct place around my kidney. “Well, you know there’s a special dessert space in our stomachs waiting to be filled, no matter how full the other side gets.” I smiled. “I’ll leave you with the dessert menu just to satisfy your curiosity. Besides pie, we have a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake that’s to die for.” I picked up their dirty dishes and walked away.

When I returned, check in hand in case they were ready to leave, I asked, “Are we having something sweet?”

Woman On My Left said, as if I should stop the presses for some big news, “We decided to share a slice of pie.”

“Great!” I chirped. “Which one?”

They stared at each other briefly. “What kind of pie would you like?” she asked Woman On My Right, frowning with concentration.

The friend deferred grandly. “I like banana cream. But, I don’t care. You pick. Pick any pie.”

Woman On My Left stared at the menu for a few seconds. “Ooh! How about Pecan?”

“Oh, I love pecan,” I said, hoping to rush a decision. It was a busy lunch.

Woman On Her Right’s face scrunched towards her nose. “Oh no. Pecans give me gas. I don’t eat nuts anymore.”

“Well, what would you like?”

“Whatever you like. You pick.”

Woman on the Left furrowed her brows and tried again. “Mmm, chocolate sounds good. How about the chocolate satin pie?”

“The chocolate satin here is amazing,” I said, not caring which pie they ordered. I just needed them to order.

“Oh, I don’t like chocolate. It still gives me acne–and at my age!” Woman On My Right chuckled at herself.

“Lemon meringue?”

“It’s my very favorite pie!” I said, trying not to sound pushy.

“Oh no, citrus makes my stomach acid-y. Gave up oranges and lemons long ago.”

They stared at each other some more. I stared too.

“Razzleberry?” suggested Woman On My Left.

“People love that pie. It’s especially good with ice cream,” I said.

“No, can’t do berries either. Those tiny seeds stick in my teeth.”

Pause.

“Well, what pie do you like?”

“Something creamy would be nice. I like banana cream. But really, pick whatever you like,” said Woman On My Right with a wave of her hand.

Pause. Woman On My Left’s eyes seemed to narrow around a knife point. “Shall we get the banana cream?”

“Oh, yes, that sounds good.”

“We’ll have banana cream.”

Random Customer Feedback

One of my customers recently filled out a comment card for The Pie Shoppe:

Food: “Fair”

Service: “Excellent”

Suggestions? “The environment is relaxing and I like the way the light comes in the big picture windows. The food wasn’t bad, just a little bland. Someone in the kitchen needs to be a little less generous with the grease. The music isn’t too bad either, just turn up the volume a little. Dawn was very pleasant and outgoing. Very knowledgeable about food. She made a lame date bearable. I need to be done with online dating. There may be Plenty of Fish out there but so many of them swim in brackish waters. This one needed to be spiced up more than the food. I may come back, hopefully with better company.”

Reading, Wine, and a Dog

“Would you like another Chardonnay?” I asked. My regular’s glass was a quarter full. He doesn’t like to wait long between glasses. It was late afternoon and not very busy at The Pie Shoppe.

“By the time you pour that glass, I’ll be ready,” he said with a smirk. He comes in almost every day. Roly-poly, balding, and bespectacled, he always sets up a hardback book from the New York Times best-selling fiction list on a reading stand to peruse while he sips four glasses of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay. Today he had two books, one two-thirds open on the stand and one waiting near his pudgy elbow.

“That’s a lot of reading for one Pie Shoppe visit,” I said.

“Oh, I read very quickly. I’ll finish this one and be a quarter way into the other one before I leave.” Later, it turned out he wasn’t bragging in vain.

“Guess the Chardonnay helps.” I laughed.

With his third glass, he expects a slice of cornbread. “Center cut. Please make sure it’s very fresh.” If he’s really hungry, he’ll order the turkey dinner or pot roast to be enjoyed with the fourth glass. It was a hungry day, so he ordered the turkey, extra gravy on the side, melted cheese on his veggies. “And I’d like to order a top sirloin to go.”

“That’ll be a nice lunch tomorrow.”

“It’s not for me. It’s for my friend’s dog. I’m dog sitting for a few months.”

“Oh. Must be nice to be a guest in your house.”

He laughed. “She is man’s best friend. I don’t know what to feed her.”

“I’m sure a pet store would have something.”

“Yeah.” He didn’t sound convinced.

“How do you think she’d like her steak cooked?”

“I think she’d like it medium rare. How do you think?”

“Well, I like my steak rare. You know, still mooing. But I’m not a dog.”

His face scrunched at the idea. “Maybe medium’s better. Yes. Medium.”

“Okay. It comes with loaded mashed potatoes. Do you think she’d like that, or maybe just a plain baked potato?” Loaded mashed potatoes come with bacon, chopped green onions, sour cream, and cheddar cheese melted together on top.

“Hm. I’ll take the loaded mashed potatoes. What are the veggies?”

“They’re the same veggies you get. A medley of yellow and green squash, carrots, broccoli and onion. You want that for her.”

“I think maybe she wouldn’t like the broccoli.”

“I can order it without broccoli.”

“That’d be good.”

“Great. Thank you.” I rushed off to place his order.

My dog Jack says, “Let them eat steak!”

As I gave him his fourth glass of Chardonnay, I said, “It’d be cheaper next time if you buy the whole bottle.” A bottle of wine is just under 5 glasses.

“Yeah.” He smiled. “But that would be so indulgent!”

You Can Come Home Again, Redux

Aiea Loop Trail: I found myself obsessed with tree roots during my recent visit to Hawaii. Small wonder, I think as I look back now. Our roots are our family and our home. Hawaii, with its unique beauty and culture, is a force within me, subterranean and hidden. Though I’m faraway, my family still nourishes.

Banyan trees have always been my favorite, with their exposed roots growing down into the ground, like water flowing into the earth. Growing up, roots which hadn’t yet reached the ground became swings, which we’d cling to like monkeys.

“Dawn!”

I had just returned from a long walk through my childhood neighborhood in Hawaii. I was standing at my parents’ mailbox, at the foot of a long uphill driveway, removing its contents for them.

The yard surrounding my family home is a wild forest of trees and shrubbery set into the hillside. After eating fresh pineapple, my mom throws pineapple tops into the yard and they flourish throughout. They now have more pineapple than they can eat.

A postal truck was parked nearby and the post office lady had had her head buried inside organizing her mail. I hadn’t paid much attention to her until she called my name. It was the last thing I expected to hear. I left Hawaii over 30 years ago and have had infrequent visits since, none of which included the post office.

A visit to Hawaii always includes a luau. My lunch here included kalua pig, lau lau, lomi lomi salmon, squid luau, chicken long rice, poi, and haupia for desert. In Hawaii, chopsticks are as ubiquitous as forks.

Another favorite is ahi poke (pronounced like Gumby and Pokey). Ahi is a type of tuna. The salad consists of raw tuna and various other ingredients, typically seaweed, soy sauce, ginger, and green onions. Since my childhood, the concept has expanded exponentially to include such flavors as California poke, inspired by the California sushi roll, and made with avocado and cream cheese. Our local grocery stores serve them out of their deli counters.

I turned my head to see an enormous smile in a wrinkled face. She was as small and fragile looking as my aging parents. Her lined face was tanned and blotched from a lifetime in the bright Hawaiian sun. Gray hair, short and frizzy, stuck out about her head. I vaguely remembered the petite, dark-haired, dark-eyed woman who drove up our long driveway to hand deliver large packages. Her brown teeth gleamed with glee as I returned her hello. “What a memory you have! I’m so impressed.”

“I can still remember you and your sister playing in the streets with the other kids.”

This stream runs through my neighborhood. It was a playground for my sister and me. It still murmurs with the fairytale magic inspired by my childhood imagination.

I looked down a street all at once lushly familiar and eerily different. My mind’s eye conjured a ghostly image of children skateboarding and her waving as she drove by. Like a skeleton with a new skin, the street looked the same, but many of the homes and landscaping were remodeled. I said, “All of my old friends have moved away. Almost no one is left here from the old days.”

Another tree with exposed roots, the hala tree is found all over Hawaii. The entire plant was used by ancient Hawaiians. The leaves were interlaced into hats and mats. Flowers smell sweet and were used as a preservative. The trunk yielded pipes and posts. Parts of the edible fruit were fashioned into paint brushes and leis. Punahou School, the alma mater of President Obama, uses an image of the hala in its school seal. More importantly, my sister teaches calculus there.

“Are you visiting your folks?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Where’s your sister?”

“She lives in Kailua.”

“Same as you?”

“No, I’m visiting from L.A. ”

My sister now lives by Ka’elepulu Pond. Its stretch of canal lends beauty to many backyards.

Her eyes widened with the kind of surprise I often see when people discover I left Paradise to live on the Mainland. “Why would you leave Hawaii?” they ask in tones suggesting my wanderlust is a sign of mental deficiency. I always answer that I can visit. When I do, so much is different.

The Ko’olau Mountains were the backdrop to bike riding, skateboarding, and kickball on my childhood street. The grey strip near the mountain base is the H3 freeway and didn’t mar the soaring emerald-green as a child. It’s an intrastate Interstate Highway, built with Federal funding to link the Pearl Harbor Naval Base with the Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps Base and fulfill national security needs. Though it’s an engineering marvel designed to preserve the beauty of its surroundings, and, at $1.3 billion, the priciest highway in our country, it’s also sore on my nostalgic eyes.

The plants grow wild in my parents’ yard. New highways are built and roads are expanded. The beaches erode and wash away. Houses develop further and further up the hills. Pineapple and sugar businesses go away and tourism steps up its game to replace them. Hawaii becomes like a woman who changed her style so completely as to be almost unrecognizable. I added, “My Dad’s not doing so well.”

Kailua Beach was my favorite beach. Once a wide expanse of white sands, it’s become a victim of beach erosion. In fact, all of Oahu and Hawaii suffer from disappearing beaches. The beaches in front of the famed Outrigger and Royal Hawaiian hotels in Waikik have to import sand from California, Australia, and other Hawaiian beaches to keep them alive. Locals complain about the coarseness and color of the imported sand. This hasn’t happened in Kailua and during high tide, the beach is all but gone, and the waves lap tragically at tree roots.

Her eyes became soft with sadness, but she smiled and said, “When people get old, they like to see their kids. I don’t see your parents so often these days. When I drive up the hill, I leave the boxes at the door. Don’t wanna disturb them.”

Geckos in the home are considered good luck. I like them because they eat bugs I don’t like. This visitor to my parent’s home, was roughly an inch long and has unusual markings. They’re usually a dull brown monotone.

Yet, with every visit, something small will happen, like a rainbow dancing in the clouds, and all I ever loved about Hawaii shines with her jewel tone colors in the salty sweet air. Here, the brilliant memory of my old postal clerk lets me know I’m home again. I hugged her spontaneously. “Thank you,” I said, then walked up the hill.

Sisters, smiling through tears. Airport departures are always poignant.

My Mom and Dad. Farewell, my beloved father. Though your brilliance fades like a setting sun, your spirit will forever shine in my heart.

Writer’s note: I am grateful to WordPress blogger, Adventures in Kevin’s World, and his blog, The Answer’s to Life, The Universe, and Everything. His lovely photo journal of his birthday trip to Alaska inspired me to enliven my story with images.

How to be a Tin God

The server schedule for The Pie Shoppe was taped to the wall above a trash can and a cart holding the bus tub. The noise of food dumped into the trash with a squish and plates dropped into the tub with a jangle resounded as I stared at my schedule for the following week. It’d been completely altered to my detriment. Instead of 4 shifts, I had 3, losing Sunday altogether. My lucrative Friday and Saturday shifts were replaced with the slower Monday and Tuesday.

“Shit!” I said to myself as Star Server slumped a half-eaten Cobb and clanged the bowl on the pile of dirty dishes

“What’s wrong? asked the man, who was younger than me by a few years and an excellent server.

“The Bald Man cut back my schedule. He’s punishing me.”

“Yeah, I saw that. What happened?” he asked, his voice tinged with anticipation for good gossip.

“The Bald Man and I disagreed on what’s fair in the world.”

“He’s gotta be right, you know. You can’t tell him anything.” Star Server also had impressive kissing-management-ass skills, which I lacked, and received whatever schedule he wanted.

“Yeah, well something got stuck in my face this time.”

I told him my story.

Employee rights?

About two months before, I had a family of five who paid their bill with a credit card. There was nothing suspicious about them: a mom and dad, two children and an elderly grandmother. It was a busy shift. They exited quickly. There wasn’t time to grab their bill book to make sure they signed the receipt before they left. Naturally, it wasn’t signed.

The Owner looked dimly upon unsigned receipts and assumed it’s entirely due to slapdash server lameness. Many times, people forget to sign credit card receipts. When I remind them to do so, there are awkward apologies on both sides: “I’m sorry, but I still need your signature.” “Oh! I’m sorry. Did I forget to sign? How silly of me!”

The assistant manager didn’t say anything when I closed out my sales that day, so I figured, with relief, nothing would come of it. Over a month later, as I was counting my cash at the end of a shift, the Bald Man asked to speak with me in the office. I walked back with trepidation knowing this would not be fun times.

The office was the size of a walk-in closet and it felt too small to hold the two of us. A table top, with a couple of metal filing cabinets underneath, rested against the full length of the side wall. A large safe was embedded in the back wall. The room felt cluttered and cramped.

After I turned over my sales for that shift, the Bald Man said, “The customer who paid this bill is contesting the credit charge.” He passed the unsigned receipt and a document across the table top. “We’re still talking to the credit card company, but we need you to accept responsibility for the charge should they side with the customer.”

What? I looked down at the document. It had a photocopy of the receipt for $68.60 on the top half. The bottom half said, “The Undersigned accepts responsibility for incomplete fulfilment of the Financial Transaction represented above as required by The Pie Shoppe, and therefore agrees to accept Financial Obligation for any unpaid Monies from said transaction. The Undersigned further authorizes said Company to deduct said Monies from the Pay Check of the Undersigned.” There was a line for my signature and the date, and another to print my name. I wanted to laugh, though this was no laughing matter.

I took a few seconds to think, still staring at the document. I took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry about the bill. I try very hard to make sure credit card receipts are signed. However, I don’t believe I’m responsible for the unpaid bill.”

The room was too warm and the Bald Man’s face scrunched into a frown. His dark eyes became shark-like and unpleasant to look at. He straightened his spine as he said, “Yes, you are.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You’re responsible for cash receipts. It’s the same as running a cash drawer.”

“It’s not the exactly the same as being a cashier.”

“When you collect cash and lose money on the floor, you still owe it to us.”

“I agree if I lost a twenty from my pocket during my shift, I’d still owe it to you. That’s beside the point. I’m not responsible for unsigned credit card receipts. ”

“It’s not beside the point. You walk around with your cash drawer. If you’re short, you owe us the money.”

“A cashier can’t be held liable for cash over or short. But you’re still arguing around the point. This is a credit card receipt.”

“Yes, they can and are. This is the point.”

“No, they can’t. Not legally. If a cashier is constantly over or short, you can warn them or fire them. Or train them to be better cashiers. But you can’t charge them.”

“Oh really? Who’s responsible for the cash, then?” I could tell he was mocking me.

“Who do you think is responsible? The Owner, obviously. It’s his business. He’s responsible for creating a system which minimizes mistakes. Mistakes are the cost and risk of doing business. I’m your employee, not your insurance company. If I wanted to take on risk, I’d start my own business.”

“As an employee, you’re responsible for ensuring proper payment.”

“I’m also not responsible for dine and dash. I can’t stand over my customers, watching their every move. There are other responsibilities that take me into the kitchen and away from the dining room. I’m not responsible for management of the whole system. That’s your job. Maybe you should pay the credit card bill.”

He stood up. “Don’t get smart with me.”

I stood up. “Smart? You’re trying to reach into my pocket to pay your expenses.”

“You’re responsible and that’s all there is to it.”

“I think the Labor Board might feel differently.”

His mouth twisted again. “Look, Dawn, we have lawyers to check with before doing such things.”

“I’m sure you do. I’m still gonna double-check before I sign anything.”

There was a long, charged silence. I broke it with, “Is there anything else you need from me?”

“No.”

“Alright. I’ll keep this piece of paper in case I need it. Have a nice night.” I rushed out, my stomach churning.

I finished telling my story to Star Server. “So I checked with the Labor Board, and of course I’m not liable. The Bald Man hasn’t brought it up again, but he did jerk me around on the schedule. Guess he figures I’m gonna pay one way or the other.” I rolled my eyes.

Star Server looked at me, his mouth pulled into a frown. “I think I would’ve signed the piece of paper.”

I looked at him and thought, of course you would’ve. “Yeah. Well, it’s not right.” I put on my apron and started wiping down the salad station.

My schedule remained that way until I was replaced as “bad server” by a couple of colleagues. One had lost his temper in a Bald Man confrontation. The other had called in sick and couldn’t find a cover for her shift.

At least when the Bald Man is petty, it’s with an even hand.

Charm Above Circumstance

Another boring day at the office?

The Pie Shoppe had another couple hours left before closing and I was feeling crabby. There were very few customers to wait on. Ahead on the to-do list was cleaning the server aisle, where sticky pie fillings and greasy pie crust crumbs managed to get onto everything. The unstimulating, corporately designed decor, with its drab brown tones and dreary furnishings, was weighing me down. I was bored and wanted to go home. Feeling sorry for myself, I greeted my new table.

“If your name is ‘Dawn’, how come you’re working at night?” His face was merry and the wrinkles around his eyes crinkled flirtatiously. He sat with two white-haired ladies.

“Working at night keeps me off the streets,” I quipped back, hoping my current crankiness didn’t put too much edge in my voice.

“Do you work late?” he asked.

“I’ll be closing the place.” Sadly, I wanted to add.

The older of the ladies asked, “What time do you close?”

“We close at 11 p.m. on Saturdays,” I replied.

“What if I came in at 11 p.m.?” she asked.

“I suppose if you walked in the door at 10:59, you’d get served,” I replied, still hoping my annoyance didn’t show.

“Yeah. With a bunch of spit in my food.”

“Ha!” I laughed in spite of myself. “There might be some surly spread on your burger and fries.”

The dry humor didn’t stop, especially with the gentleman. “I suppose I need to tap a spring to get more water around here.”

“It’ll be fresher and better tasting, then,” I said.

At the end of their meal, I accidentally gave them the wrong bill.

He waved me over. “There’s a problem here. I want to pay this but I don’t remember drinking a root beer.”

I apologized and gave them the correct bill. “You’ll probably like this less since it’s more.”

“I’m still waiting for my rootbeer,” he said.

“I’ll bring your rootbeer.” I smiled and winked. “And pour it over your head.” Their mirth was contagious.

“Dawn, go away, you’re no good for me!” He sang the oft-sung-to-me song charmingly off-key.

“Stop it,” said the younger lady, smiling. “You’re making her nervous!”

“It’s true,” I said. “I’ll go home and cry myself to sleep tonight.”

She said, “Well, tomorrow will be the dawn of a new day!”

They paid their bill leaving a generous gratuity. I didn’t see them come in so as they stood up to leave I was startled to see the gentleman struggle to set himself upright on two canes. His face twisted with pain as he balanced himself. Then he looked up, saw me, and instantly brightened, “You have a nice rest of your night, now.”

“Thank you. I hope you do as well.” I said.

He slowly lurched out of the restaurant with his two ladies tottering behind.

Who was I to feel sorry for myself?