Ken & Andi story (part one)
So here we are driving to the ortho today for my post surgical. I’m not supposed to drive yet, so Ken is driving me, it feels exactly like he first drove me a zillion years ago. He still drives with his hands in the middle of the wheel and one hand on the bottom, drives with his thumbs, like tha car is on auto pilot and he just has to nudge it a bit.
When I was a teenager, I was always wary of every driver, ready to jump out of the car if I had to. Sometimes I should have, and other times, I never should have never gotten in the car in the first place. Cars are strange, they become a second skin of the owner. It’s like you climb inside the person, their smells, peculiarities, their mini worlds. Ken’s world felt familiar and normal. It wasn’t cluttered or dirty. It wasn’t scented but it smelled good. The radio played what I liked.
We first met over fifty years ago. The first four of those years we met just twice, for a few minutes in passing.
In the late 60’s shortly after we arrived in America, and settled on the northwest side near Lawrence and Harlem, I began waitressing at the diner right next to the bank towers at that intersection. My mother was a teller at that same bank and Ken’s family and business banked there too. It was a modern popular bank in a good area of working middle class.
I didn’t like babysitting for pocket money, and felt lucky to get this job, so I could buy stockings and intimate things for myself that were considered non-essentials, so therefore not in the family budget.
All kinds of people came to “Mr. B’s”. I enjoyed the ethnic mix and the mood. People were generally happy when you fed them. Groups would come in, sometimes a pack of boys, I don’t think I ever saw one come in alone. Boys needed their buddies. Around that time Ken came in with the requisite pack. They behaved like all the others, full of themselves, making their little off side jokes, laughing, trying to be clever. I remember meeting him, but I remembered almost all my customers, and what they liked and how they liked it. They tried to talk to me, but I was swamped by a large Italian family gathering, and the boys left long before I was finished serving the table of ten.
I learned fast and became a good little server. I enjoyed the people and the constant movement. I especially liked my uniform, a front zippered polyester number in baby blue. It was a standard waitress top with nice big patch pockets to hold the order pad, and tips and things.
What I did not like was the owner. He was a pompous short man, with black dyed, greasy, hair curling at the collar. Thick platform elevator shoes and a proclivity for wearing pastel three piece suits.
He stationed himself at the front booth, right behind the register near the door, so all he had to do was swivel and squeeze his squatty little inflated penguin body up to take money. He had thick wet lips and strutted around with a toothpick hanging from his mouth.
The first straw was when he saw me make a salad that he deemed to be too generous. He grabbed it from my hand, stuck his dirty little mitts into it to throw half of it back into the bin, then told me to serve it. I was fuming, but it was his restaurant.
There were more straws, so I began to look for other work. I had previously worked part time filing checks in a bank north of my home, around Cumberland and Lawrence. In the basement of this bank was an insurance company. I got a part time job working there too. The pack of annoying young boys visit the diner again. One was hell-bent on showing off. He presents me with a business card. It reads Schielka and Sons, and says, “I’m the son”. I say. “I’m not impressed, I know who you are, I file your insurance”! and walked off.
Not long after that, the grubby little owner, again does something really terrible in my eyes. This time a customer ordered a piece of apple pie. I choose a new pie and begin to cut a slice. He takes it away and gets the previous pie pan which has the mangled remains of one broken piece in it. He dumps it on the plate shoving it together with his bejeweled fat sausage fingers and says “you serve this!” I said “No! They’re paying for a decent piece of pie and I’ll give them one, not this garbage.” He wouldn’t back down. So I told the powder blue three piece suited, girdled, rotund little greasy penguin “I Quit!”
I walked out, and the cook and a couple others followed me.
Ken was 18 Andie was 14
This song always reminds me of those years, there are many but this is the one.