When things like this happen, positive things with happy endings, your friendly bartender often wonders why they do. Is it chance? he thinks to himself. Is it fate? he wonders further. Is there something else afoot which makes things occur? In short… what makes “A” lead to “B” and then come out “C”? For I know we’re all a part of the script, each with his own free will, but I wonder sometimes just who is doing the scripting...
The storm was pounding the streets and cars with no relief in sight, except for the protective canopy offered by an awning. Our awning. So she ran under the canopy, brushed off the excess water that had eluded her flimsy umbrella, then turned and noticed the restaurant looming behind her. Our restaurant. It was ten o’clock in the morning and the place was closed.
Should I? she thought, deciding whether or not to walk down the stairs. Or do I wait til the rain lets up and keep on moving?
Earlier that morning she had taken the subway down from the Bronx in hopes of finding a job, a job to supplement her higher hopes of college, and this was her second stop on her soaking wet quest. But in this case it wasn’t a choice but merely an accident. Like I said, we had an awning.
So, after a moment or two of deliberation, the young woman made a decision. She walked down the stairs, put her face to the window where she caught a glimpse of a bartender cutting fruit (Tom, our convivial day man), then noticed a doorbell just to the right of the door. But instead of pushing the button which would kick things into gear, she suddenly turned and ran back up the stairs. Why? Who knows? Perhaps in addition to a cold, wet head she’d suddenly acquired a case of cold, wet feet. But then something made her stop and reconsider this. (Was it “B” summoning “A” to move on to “C”?) So she walked back down the stairs and rang the door bell.
What the hell is this about? thought Tom looking up from his surgery, catching a glimpse of the girl who was ringing the bell. That poor little thing looks like she washed ashore, he mused. He then walked from behind the bar and opened the door.
“Can I help you?” he asked, observing this sweet young waif with the big brown eyes.
“Maybe,” she said, “I’m looking for job.” She spoke with a Spanish accent in high pitched tones. A little girl’s voice. A voice that passed through a smile as wide as the moon.
“What kind of job?” asked Tom, smiling right back at her.
“I don’t know, anything. I looking for anything.”
“Hmmm,” he muttered, “do you know how to make salads and sandwiches, Miss?
Bigger smile! “Sure, I can do this… I can make a sandwich and a salad.”
At the first stop she had made that day in a restaurant a few blocks away, she was offered a cashier’s job she didn’t want to take. It wouldn’t pay enough. So this was a nice step up and a lot more challenging. And her eager eyes reflected that.
“But have you ever done it in a restaurant before?” pressed Tom.
“Ah, no, not in a restaurant, Sir, but I know I can do this!” And Tom believed her.
“Well come on in and dry off,” he said, “and let me find the boss and see what we can do.” Then he opened the door and escorted her in where she took a seat near the bar and awaited her interview. Still dripping wet.
“Hey, Boss,” barked Tom into the intercom line to the office, “there’s someone down here I think you might want to meet.” Tom had a good feeling about the girl even though she had no experience, and figured the boss would see and feel the same thing. And the timing was perfect.
For it turns out that just the day before our owner had placed an ad on Craigslist looking for a “garde manger”, which are fancy words for “salad man” but entails much more than salads, so the timing couldn’t have been better if this young woman planned it. It was just a matter of whether she could do the gig.
Then later on, after talking at length with the lady in charge (our congenial boss, the owner) the girl had managed to spin her magic once again. And I know this sounds kind of corny, dear reader, but again it was this girl’s sweetness that did the trick. My boss later told me that. Coupled of course with the eagerness she showed and the confidence this girl exuded, not to mention the fact that she wanted to go to college. It was all just good stuff!
“Okay,” said the boss, after they’d finished the interview, “if you’re free today we can start you out right away. How does that sound?”
That smile again. “Oh, wow… that sounds great, you mean I have a job?”
“For now, yes, but let’s see how it works out. The guys in the kitchen will show you what to do then after that you’re on your own, fair enough?”
“Oh yes, very fair,” said the girl. “Very, very fair, thank you very much!”
“You’ll also be learning desserts as well, how does that sound?”
“That sounds fine,” said the girl, “that sounds great! I’d love to learn how to make everything I can here.”
And it was when she was learning desserts that I first met her. I was walking through the kitchen, tying on my apron, when I noticed her working on something in a spinning bowl. In earnest.
“Hello,” I said, (glib as ever) making my way to the bar to begin my shift.
“Hi,” the girl shot back, with a great big grin. Then she added, “Good luck!”
Huh? I thought. “Why?” I said, realizing no one had ever said that before. On my way to the bar, that is. Especially in a restaurant kitchen where the usual theme of discourse is ball busting.
“Umm,” she hemmed, almost blushing, “you know, like have a good night, that’s what I mean.” And I knew right then what Tom and my boss had seen in her. And felt. Just a wide-eyed kid as sweet as can be, unjaded as yet by what this business can do to you. And I’m a sucker for that.
“So tell me what you’re doing there?” I said, watching her stir and spin that bowl of something.
“I’m making my very first chocolate mousse,” she said, as proud as she could be, “I just hope it turns out okay,” she added with a frown.
“Well then good luck to you,” I echoed, “let me know how it turns out after you’ve finished.” Then I made my way to the awaiting mob buoyed beyond belief by our brief encounter. Which wouldn’t have happened, it occurs to me now, if it hadn’t been raining that day and we didn’t have an awning. Or she had decided to make a left instead of a right on Madison, and… well, you get the picture… “A” simply led to “B” and ended up “C”! For she now has a job and she’s on her way to college. And almost just as important, dear reader, we now have this nice ray of sunshine beaming in our kitchen. You should see that beautiful face underneath the dumb chef’s cap!
So why did I write this story, I hear you asking? Well first let me say why I didn’t write it for those of you who might think it, I didn’t write it so the girl would read it and take it as some kind of schmooze. She doesn’t even know that I do this blog, nor does anyone else in the kitchen, so these words will never make their way to her psyche. And just for the record… I have neck ties older then her so let’s get real here. No, I wrote this because too much of what we see is cynical, smart-ass and cool, especially in the restaurant business of late where some people think they’re stars, so it’s nice to champion the opposite whenever it comes along. Opposites like sweetness and honesty, thoroughly devoid of agenda, especially when they happen to come along quite by accident. Or is it fate???
See ya’ next week-end, dear reader, have yourself a good one!
PS: The chocolate mousse was a hit, by the way, as were all the desserts she’s attempted, so I guess that makes Miss Sunshine a hit as well!