My fatigue saunters in on legs of strong coffee. Thankful for the warmth of the cinnamon-drenched backroom, I hang my backpack over the hook and secure my apron so Foster’s Donuts faces front. No sensible human belongs in front of a timeclock at six O’clock, yet here I am.
My boss Phillipe mutters “morning” as he passes, a tray the size of Texas weighed down by buttermilk bars in his arms. Before I can get my lipstick on, bells jangle at the entrance, signaling customers have arrived.
Thom and Douglas—veterans of the Harbor Country Club—spend their mornings eating fritters, chain smoking and comparing golf scores. Their daily ritual is really about reliving their golden days from forty years ago. Both widowers wear their loneliness like raincoats they remove and shake out before entering. Thom thinks I don’t notice him tilting his flask into their coffee mugs. But I want them to keep tipping, so I say nothing.
I’m eighteen—just two months after high school graduation—running between two jobs so I can get my braces by December. This seems normal to me in 1981, because my friends’ parents all work in factories or the city’s waste management department, and none can afford orthodontia. Some of my classmates wore braces—the college-bound ones who took special classes—but they weren’t exactly friends. They’re all snotty elitists, but for some reason I still want to be one of them.
Every morning I banter with the customers, because the better the banter, the bigger the tips. I stash every other paycheck into savings, and all of my tips. Two years from this coming December, I’ll have a smile like Brooke Shields.
Around six fifteen, the sunburned, peeling surfers start arriving. When I hand them their cinnamon rolls, I try not to stare at their early-morning erections. But on these foggy Oxnard mornings, they practically poke your eyes out. Come to think of it, maybe they tip generously because I stare at their erections.
Sometime around seven, Delores slips in through the back door. My coworker and I call her Delores the Whoress. My married boss can’t blink and breathe at the same time when she’s around, advertising her goods in see-through blouses. Last time she arrived for their rendez-vous wearing gin-blue eyeshadow, by seven-twenty the gin had emptied into the bowls beneath her eyes.
They think no one hears the thumping coming from that back office, or notices Phillipe’s crimson face when he returns. The dead giveaway is his inside-out apron, wearing the Foster’s logo facing his beer belly. Their affair wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t adore his wife.
Bless her heart, Rosie remembers the employee’s birthdays and brings us bouquets from her garden in the spring. She pitches in at the shop at inventory time, and reeks of sunshine despite her disfigurement. One of the regulars once said her face twisted like that after a stroke, which makes no sense because she’s barely forty. The same customer said Phillipe was faithful before Rosie looked like that. Fucking Bastard.
Thom and Douglas motion me over to tell me they’re going away for a week. An old buddy of theirs died, and his memorial is up north somewhere. Thom’s eyes are glassy and I detect a slight swaying, and I think it’s awful early for that. Douglass lights a Salem and waves goodbye while Tom hesitates at the counter. I wonder if I should call him a taxi like they do in the movies, but I’m only eighteen, and for a teenager to do that for an elderly person…it doesn’t seem like my business.
As Thom waltzes out, my eight-thirty pockmarked surfer holds the door for him. He’s in sweatpants and a cotton Mexican hoodie that hangs low, so I can’t see his crotch. I ask him if he wants the usual and he nods, yawning. The white paper bag crinkles when I set it on the counter. He peels off a wad of twenties and a generous baggie of pot tumbles out. I politely turn my attention to the coffee maker as if scrutinizing its contents. When I turn back the donuts, the pockmarked surfer and his fifteen-to-life side business have disappeared, and a crisp twenty smiles at me on the counter. I’m not sure if the money is for the cinnamon rolls or my discretion, but I don’t care.
I watch him leave, and through the window spot a former classmate: The God of Broad Shoulders And Blond Curls. Perfect smile, and definitely middle class. I never have the nerve to greet him, although I know his name. He’s yawning and stretching, making his shirt rise to expose his abs. Jesus. I’d give my right arm to lose my virginity to him. Both arms if he’d tell me I’m beautiful while we’re doing it. Who cares if I’ll be armless for the rest of my life? I can live on the memories until menopause.
Ah well, he’s getting into a car with some other guys. Just as well, I look like shit today. Phillipe bellows from the fryer to pay attention just as two dozen still-gooey maple bars slide off my tray to the floor.
I go through the motions of wiping counters, counting change and restocking the cases until nine-thirty. The sweet perfume of lilies makes its way through the smell of burned coffee, announcing Rosie’s arrival. Through the hum of the oven fan and the customers’ chatter I hear her ask why Phillipe’s apron is turned inside-out. Sleazebag, I think as his muttered excuse is swallowed up by the ding! of my cash register.
I zombie-walk to the timeclock, glad that another shift is over. The glass door’s jangling announces my exit, the fog tires of fighting and surrenders to glaring sunlight, and I wonder if there’s time to shower the smoke, sugar and lies off me before heading for job number two.