Once another waitress told me that Alex tried to get her to have sex with him. He cornered her in the walk-in freezer and pulled a wad hundred dollar bills out of his pocket. One thousand dollars. One date, he propositioned. She said no.
Alex owns two successful family restaurants in metro-Detroit. The kind of places that serve rice pudding and tapioca to appease their large senior clientele but still have gourmet specials every night of the week. He is a strong Albanian man and like other strong Albanian men I have worked for, the only woman he does not objectify is his daughter. He is a good businessman. He is friendly with the customers and will sit down and have dinner with the regulars. What a charming man, they say to me. If you only knew him like I did, I reply with a fake laugh.
Kim has two children. Her husband was laid off by Chrysler. She helped me with a school fundraiser once and my uncle is her physical therapist. A half hour after her Sunday morning shift ends, Kim walks out of Alex’s office reapplying her pink lipstick. If you look closely, you can see the dirt smudged on the knees of her pantyhose.
Alex has four children. His wife suffered from a brain aneurism and he was able to start up the restaurants using money from successful lawsuit against the doctor who botched her surgery. She suffers from chronic pain and sometimes has trouble remembering things.
Alex’s oldest son is Tony. He comes in to work as a line cook from time to time. His second daughter will be born soon. Her mother is different from her sister’s. He is twenty-three.
One Saturday Tony came in looking red-eyed and sweaty. Tony’s so strung out, one of the other waitresses whispers to me. I didn’t know what strung out meant.
Tony forgets to put a slice of American on my cheeseburger. I come back to the window.
Hey, Tony. I need some cheese on this burger, please.
Goddammit, can’t you see I’m fucking swamped back here. Get the hell out of my window.
This is loud, but not alarming. Cooks have said worse to me.
Tony, I just need a slice of cheese on the fly, please.
Alex overhears and intervenes. Get her some cheese. Nxitoj!
Tony’s spatchula slams into the grill with a metallic clamor that rings in my ears. They begin to scream at each other in Albanian. Customers at the bar look up. Alex looks violently angry. If Tony were not his son, Alex would have hit him. You can see the hostility reverberating in his clenched fists. He would have hit him.
Te qifsha! Tony spits at his father. Tony’s eyes are even more red and his face is even sweatier. He storms out of the kitchen and allows the momentum of the heavy back door to punctuate his absence with an exclamation point.
I look at Alex’s face as he stares into the grill. In the wrinkles under his eyes, you can see the anguish of a parent who is loosing his first-born son. He runs his hands through his balding black hair and walks back to his office without looking at me.
I walk back to the table and tell them, I’m sorry. We’re out of cheese.