Saturday, September 11, 2004

I Am Straight

I headed to the walk-in for a refill of Italian sausage, as is my custom when the dinner crowd fades. I opened the door on The Former Jock and The Skinny Dude Who Has Facial Hair standing among the kegs, in the middle of a laugh about some shared secret.

The Former Jock pointed up to the cans of tomatoes on the top shelf and said "Yeah, I think we might uh, need some more of this stuff here huuhhhahahahuh.." just a second too late. I could see the lighter curled tightly in his beefy fist. The Skinny Dude Who Has Facial Hair snickered, then dropped a poker face real quick, saying "Right, I'll get on that shit then."

Laughter about canned tomatoes? Hanging out in the walk-in with red eyes, clenching a lighter? You figure this one out, inspector.

"Hey guys, it looks pretty slow out there," I said. "There's no tickets up or anything, but could I get one of you to fill this sausage pan for me? And, just in case you were wondering, you're not fooling anyone."

I re-stocked the line, cramming fistfuls of shredded mozzarella into the trays. Drunks come in for slices after about eleven o'clock, and I wasn't about to get caught off-guard.

I'd fully stocked the line and it was too early to mop. There was only pre-season football on both of the bar TV sets. Time for a smoke break. I don't actually smoke at all, but that's what I call going outside for a little fresh air and a cup of water. I stared through the sky deep orange cloud that passes for Norfolk's night sky, trying to see a star or a planet at least.

The Former Jock was working out a Greek with extra cheese when I got back. He looked up and asked in a hesitant, halting voice, "Uhh, hey man, are you straight?"

This wasn't what I was expecting at all.

"Apart from a brief secret crush in college, I'm pretty sure that I definitely dig chicks," I responded.

"No, I mean...are you straight, like..."

I feigned misunderstanding, just to watch him squirm a bit. Six years older than this clown, and he's sure I'm a vice cop.

He stammered it out. "NnnNuhNno, like, are you, uh, gonna like, are yyyou..."

"Nah. You're off the hook. You can't take a job in a late-night pizza joint if you've got a problem with people smoking the weed. That what pizza this late is for."

"Cool. Thanks, man." He gave me a big old sideways high-five that sort of turned into an approximation of a jive handshake. Neither of us knew what we were doing flipping our fingers around like that, so we dropped the pretense altogether. The Former Jock went back to filling his orders.

For some reason, the whole experience infuriates me. I'm still kind of mad as I write this. But I meant my sideways half-assed jive shake to reassure The Former Jock. Everything was okay. I'm cool. I was straight, wasn't I?


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