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The Waiter Considers Psychoanalysis

“Have you ever been attracted to psychoanalysis?” asks Hilda Rubenstein, nodding her thanks to Philip as he sets a goblet of white wine before her.

“Are we speaking of undergoing psychoanalysis?” asks Philip, stepping back from the table where Hilda is dining alone. “Or studying the methodology?”

“Undergoing,” says Hilda, tasting the wine. “Oh you’re right, Philip. I love this. And for so long I thought Riesling would be too sweet for my taste.”

“Wine appellations often confuse more than clarify,” says Philip, pleased she likes the wine.

Hilda is Swiss, seventy-four, tall and sturdy with long silvery gray hair she always wears in a braid. A Jungian psychoanalyst, she has lived in Berkeley, California for forty years. Widowed nine years ago, Hilda’s one child, Tamara, is a playwright and professor of Drama at a university in Oregon, no grandchildren in sight. And though Hilda has many acquaintances, her husband was her best friend and she misses him.

Philip’s mother was French, his father Italian American, and he grew up speaking French at home, English in the outside world. He is forty-seven, childless, and has been a waiter for twenty years, the last nine at the famed Le Scélérat in Berkeley. Graceful and slender, with dark brown eyes and curly black hair, he has been serving Hilda every Wednesday evening for his entire tenure at Le Scélérat, and she is by far his favorite customer.

“To answer your question,” says Philip, speaking French with Hilda as they often do when she dines alone, “no, I have never considered undergoing psychoanalysis. Both the cost, which I cannot easily afford, and a preference for more body-oriented therapies led me elsewhere.”

“I would like to offer you free sessions,” says Hilda, replying in French. “Twice a week for an hour and a half each time. If this appeals to you, let me know.”

*

On a warm day in September, Philip and his sweetheart Lisa are picnicking on Baker Beach in San Francisco with their friends Marcel and Andrea. Lisa is thirty-nine, a massage therapist, Marcel is forty-four, a waiter at Le Vagabond in San Francisco, and Andrea, Marcel’s wife, is forty-one, a sous chef at Le Vagabond.

When Philip mentions Hilda’s offer of free psychoanalysis, Andrea, girlish with short black hair and tattoos of small flowers scattered sparingly on her arms and legs, says with a faint German accent, “Oh you must, Philip. What an opportunity.”

“Is she in love with you?” asks Marcel, who also has short black hair but no tattoos, his French accent not faint. “Beware, Philip. Transference and so forth.”

“She’s fond of me,” says Philip, smiling at Marcel’s characteristic skepticism. “She’s semi-retired and doesn’t need the money. This would be a gift to me and a fascination for her.”

“So much for the vaunted neutrality of the therapist,” says Marcel, staying in character. “The process is already compromised by your friendship.”

“She’s a Jungian,” says Lisa, her brown hair shoulder-length, her accent purely Californian, though she was born in Brazil and spoke only Brazilian Portuguese until she was ten. “They are not so enthralled by the Freudian insistence on the therapist remaining emotionally detached.” 

“Psychoanalysis,” says Andrea, who in the privacy of her thoughts is in love with Philip. “You’ll be analyzing your dreams with a dream expert. How fantastic.”

“And delving into why you chose to be a waiter,” says Marcel, arching an eyebrow, “rather than continuing your stellar career as a chef.”

“Oh I know why I fled the kitchen for the tables,” says Philip, enjoying the passing parade, many of the beachgoers naked.

“Why did you?” asks Andrea, sounding surprised. “I didn’t know you knew.”

“Nor did I,” says Marcel, looking at Lisa. “Did you know he knew?”

“Of course,” she says, smiling at Philip. “He has no secrets from me.”

“I became a waiter,” says Philip, with a meaningful shrug, “because I knew I’d be a good one and I’d still be in the restaurant business without the killing pressure of having to make three hundred perfect entrees every night.”

“But why not an actor?” asks Andrea, who thinks of Philip as a movie star who has yet to make a movie.

“I’m too shy,” says Philip, comically covering his face with both hands. “And I’m not much interested in acting.”

“But why are you so shy?” asks Marcel, affecting an exaggerated German accent. “Zis vee vill uncover in zychoanalysis.”

*

Stuck in a traffic jam on the Bay Bridge going back to Berkeley after their day at the beach, Lisa driving, Philip says, “I’ve decided not to accept Hilda’s gift of psychoanalysis.”

“Because?” asks Lisa, taking her foot off the brake to let her little car roll forward a few inches before she applies the brake again.

“Because,” he says, searching for the right words, “I think I may have become too important to her.”

“You’ve waited on her every week for nine years,” says Lisa, whose clients frequently fall in love with her. “And you enjoy each other.”

“Yes, and our enjoyment is enhanced by her not knowing all the details of my past,” he says, looking to his right as a turquoise Mustang convertible draws even with them, the driver a striking Latina wearing a sleeveless white scoop-necked T-shirt, her mop of curls bubble-gum pink, her companion in the passenger seat an enormous black and white hound.

Lisa gawks at the pink-haired gal and the giant dog and says, “Imagine being in a relationship with her.”

“If only her hair wasn’t pink,” says Philip, relieved not to be entering psychoanalysis with Hilda. “I have no problem with the rest of her.”

“Humor me,” says Lisa, playfully. “We’ll be stuck on the bridge for at least another half-hour. Imagine this bombshell is your wife.”

“I can’t imagine she’s anyone’s wife,” he says, smiling at the woman, which causes the woman to wave coquettishly.

“How old do you think she is?” asks Lisa, intrigued by the bombshell. “And what does she do for a living?”

“Twenty-five,” he guesses. “An exotic dancer, otherwise known as a stripper.”

“I think she’s thirty-two,” says Lisa, smiling at the woman. “Cuts hair in a hip salon.”

“Her muscular arms,” says Philip, admiring the woman’s physique, “speak of pole dancing.”

“Ask her?” says Lisa, hitting a button so Philip’s window goes down.

“Hi,” says the woman, just a few feet away from Philip. “Does this suck or what?”

“Yes,” says Philip, trying not to stare at the woman’s beautiful breasts. “We’re trying to guess your profession and how old you are.”

“What’s your guess?” she asks, pursing her lips as if expecting a kiss.

“Exotic dancer, cuts hair in a hip salon,” he says, wishing he could see her without pink hair and makeup. “Twenty-five and thirty-two.”

“I’m thirty-seven,” she says, giving him a sexy smile. “I make people happy. You want my card?”

“Sure,” he says, reddening.

“You two look like fun,” she says, handing him a bubble-gum pink card.

Now drivers behind them sound their horns.

“Thank you,” says Philip, glancing at the card and seeing the name Desea writ in vermillion.

“Call me,” says Desea, winking at him as she pulls ahead. “I love doing couples.”

*

The next time Philip serves Hilda at Le Scélérat she is dining with her daughter Tamara, who is forty, and Tamara’s partner Celine who is forty-five.

“How nice to see you again,” says Philip, bowing to Tamara who resembles Hilda to a remarkable degree, her dark blonde hair in a braid identical to her mother’s.

“Philip,” says Tamara, in a businesslike way, “this is Celine.”

Philip bows to Celine, a regal African American woman with glossy black hair in four intricate braids threaded with yellow wooden beads.

“A man of few words,” says Celine, making a comical face. “What’s not to like?”

After a bit more chitchat, supper is ordered, and Philip goes to the wait station to enter their order into the computer.

Now he stops by the table of another of his regulars, Miles Levinson, a blustery fellow in his sixties who Philip serves three times weekly, Miles fabulously wealthy and possessed of an apparently inexhaustible supply of younger women to dine with.

Philip arrives in time to replenish the wine glasses, Miles’s companion tonight a striking Serbian named Sophie. She’s wearing a red skirt and a black tuxedo jacket barely buttoned over her otherwise uncaged breasts, her red hair in a long braid coiled atop her head.

“This Marcassin Pinot is everything you promised,” says Miles, watching Philip divide the last of the bottle equally between the two glasses. “Shall we have another bottle, Sophie?”

Philip turns to Sophie.

I certainly don’t need more wine,” she says, yawning majestically. “I could go to sleep on this table right now.”

“Then no more wine,” says Miles, waving the thought away. “We’ll have cheesecake and chocolate mousse and I’ll have a large glass of sherry. You know the kind I like.”

“Of course,” says Philip, turning to Sophie. “Coffee for you?”

“You are a genius,” she says, kissing the air in his direction. “Why didn’t I think of this?”

*

Philip checks on Hilda and Tamara and Celine mid-meal, and Hilda says to Tamara, “Tell Philip about his part in your play.”

“Please,” says Philip, glancing around his section and calculating he has a long moment to tarry with them.

“Comedy of manners,” says Tamara, nodding approvingly as Philip refills her wine glass. “Barely masking the tragic, of course. Several key scenes take place in a restaurant, and I’ve modeled the waiter after you, though the only person who could ever do the waiter justice as I imagine him, is you.”

“I look forward to seeing the play,” says Philip, who often feels he is an actor playing the part of a waiter. “My friends and I very much enjoyed your play Jumbo Shrimp at Berkeley Rep last year.”

“Well actually,” says Tamara, clearing her throat, “I would love for you to vet the restaurant scenes. It’s crucial they be authentic. I’ll pay you for your time, of course.”

“Does the waiter appear in any scenes other than those at table?” asks Philip, gazing intently at Tamara.

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “He’s purely a functionary. But an important device.”

“Except at the end,” says Celine, nodding knowingly. “He’s not at the table at the end.”

“Oh of course,” says Tamara, chagrined. “The dream sequence. But he’s still a waiter. Only in a different context.”

“I’d be happy to vet your scenes,” says Philip, refilling Hilda’s glass with the last of the Reisling.

“Shall we have another bottle?” asks Hilda, looking from Tamara to Celine.

“Oh why not?” says Tamara, happily drunk. “It’s so good. And to think I always thought Reisling would be too sweet.”

*

A few days later, on one of his days off, Philip reads Tamara’s play Ziggurat and makes notes on the pages of the several scenes involving a waiter serving the main characters. He marvels at the way Tamara weaves the waiter’s minimal lines into the lengthy dialogues that occur in his absence.

“She uses his coming and going to create suspense again and again within the scenes,” says Philip, describing Tamara’s play to Lisa over supper at a Chinese restaurant. “Sometimes to set up punch lines, sometimes to give the audience a moment to wonder what the characters will say when the waiter departs. It’s a brilliant device, and she’s absolutely right, the more believable the waiter, the more thrilling the dialogue surrounding his coming and going will be.”

*

The next time Philip serves Hilda at Le Scélérat she is dining alone and he takes the opportunity to inform her of his decision not to enter psychoanalysis with her.

“I’m disappointed,” she says with obvious sorrow. “I was looking forward to getting to know you away from this setting where our conversations are so brief and we only seem to scratch the surface of things.”

“I, too, wish to connect with you away from here,” he says, replying in French. “Only not through psychoanalysis. And it occurred to me you might like to join me and a few of my good friends for supper at my house when I unveil the latest versions of recipes I’m working on for a cookbook I hope to publish one day.”

“Oh Philip,” she says, tears springing to her eyes, “I would be delighted.”

fin

Four of Wands

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The Waiter

Philip is forty-seven and has been a waiter in fine restaurants for twenty years. Handsome with dark brown eyes and curly black hair kept short, he is innately graceful and surprisingly strong for one so slender. Born in Connecticut, the middle child between two sisters, Philip’s father was second-generation Italian and twenty years older than Philip’s mother who hailed from Lyon, France and raised her children to speak French at home, English in the outside world.

At seventeen Philip got a job in the kitchen of an excellent restaurant in Manhattan, and three restaurants later, at the age of twenty-seven, having risen steadily through the ranks, he was offered the job of head chef at a restaurant of exceeding fame. The attainment of his lifelong goal caused a riot in his psyche and he abruptly left the kitchen for the tables.

*

“Help me, Philip,” says Miles Levinson, a hefty fellow of sixty-three with thinning gray hair and a deep gravelly voice who dines with his guests at Le Scélérat in Berkeley, California three evenings a week and will only have Philip as his waiter. “I’m torn between the escalope of salmon with Gigondas and the filets mignons of veal with lemon.”

“The salmon was caught this morning,” says Philip, who prefers not to make choices for his customers. “The veal is as tender as veal can be. Whether you would enjoy one more than the other I cannot say.”

“How politic of you, Philip,” says Amy Cavanaugh, a sharply pretty redhead who dines with Miles most Thursday evenings. “But if you had to choose one or the other, which would it be?”  

“The salmon,” says Philip, gazing at her and thinking This is my job. I play the part of a waiter who seems fond of the people he serves, when in fact I neither like nor dislike most of them.

“Aha!” says Miles, grinning at Philip. “I was leaning toward the salmon.”

Philip nods and returns his gaze to Amy.

“The veal for me.” She smiles archly. “If you will assure me the mignons are fabulous.”

“I assure you,” says Philip, taking their menus. “Your usual Caesar salads?”

“Yes, and a bottle of the Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux,” says Miles, choosing the most expensive white wine in the extensive wine list. “Divinely dry for the divine fish and calf.”

“Oh and a bowl of olives,” says Amy, bouncing her eyebrows. “Some of those naughty Nyons.”

“Coming soon to a table near you,” says Philip, bowing graciously as they laugh at his tired old quip.

*

When Philip was thirty-four, seven years into his career as a waiter, he moved from New York to Los Angeles where he soon became the star waiter at a restaurant with no name hidden in a windowless warehouse in North Hollywood, the clientele movie people and the very wealthy.

Tips were pooled at this elegant nameless restaurant, but the clientele got around this by secreting cash and checks in envelopes and slipping those envelopes to Philip at opportune times during their meals. In this way Philip made more money most weeks at the nameless restaurant than he made in a month as a waiter in New York.

After three years in Los Angeles, recently divorced and weary of the drab winters and hot summers and never-clean air, he moved to San Francisco, and two years later moved across the bay to Berkeley where he has worked at Le Scélérat for nine years.

*

“Philip,” says Miles, slurring his words after downing three large bourbons at the bar before being seated, “this my friend Marie.”

Philip nods to the comely brunette, her steel-rimmed glasses comically large on her exquisite face. “Welcome to Le Scélérat.”

“Miles says you’re the finest waiter he’s ever known,” says Marie, perusing her menu rather than looking at Philip.

“How kind of you,” says Philip, nodding to Miles.

“Allan was raving about the loin of lamb à la bonne femme when he finally seated us,” says Miles, waving to someone he thinks he knows. “Horrid long wait tonight.”

“Saturday nights are often problematic,” says Philip, repeating what he’s said to Miles a hundred times before. “I apologize.”

“Shall we just skip the menu and get the bonne femme?” asks Miles, fumbling with his reading glasses.

“If you wish,” says Philip, turning to Marie to see what she thinks of Miles’s impulse.

“Fine,” she says, sounding hurt, and Philip intuits she was hoping for more of a show from him before settling into dining.

“Miles always has the Caesar salad,” says Philip, thinking Don’t be hurt, Marie. There’s still wine and appetizers to discuss.

“Fine,” she says again, glaring at Miles. “Whatever his royal highness wants.”

“For the wine…” says Miles, leafing through the large wine list. “Oh shit. You’re out of the Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac? How did that happen?”

“So sorry,” says Philip, mildly. “The case went quickly. And though the Pauillac would have been ideal with the lamb, may I suggest the Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin? I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”

“I am disappointed,” says Miles, glowering at Philip. “Terribly. You’re absolutely certain you don’t have a bottle of the Pauillac stashed away somewhere for your special guests?”

“We have no guests more special than you,” says Philip, smiling warmly. “Except the queen of England, and she has yet to make an appearance.”

“Not funny,” says Miles, snarling. “I wanted the Rothschild Chafite Lateau.”

“My apologies,” says Philip, bowing. “How may we appease you?”

“I want to talk to Sandra,” says Miles, intoning the name of the famous owner/chef of Le Scélérat. “I’ve been coming here three nights a week seventeen years, since long before you were here and I resent being treated this way.”

“She will not come to the dining room,” says Philip, accustomed to Miles throwing the occasional tantrum, copious hard liquor the usual cause. “If you will accompany me, I will ask her to step out of the kitchen to speak to you.”

“Oh never mind,” says Miles, waving him away. “Just bring the fucking lamb and the crappy Chambertin. And bring us some kind of prawn something for appetizer. I’ll call Sandra tomorrow.”

“As you wish,” says Philip, nodding graciously and departing.

*

Married twice, Philip’s first marriage lasted two years and ended when he gave up his cooking career to become a waiter—his wife unwilling to forgive him for abandoning the dream she helped him attain. His second marriage lasted three years and ended a year after he and his actress wife arrived in Los Angeles from New York and she was cast in a successful sit-com and thereafter left Philip for a television producer.

*

Before heading home after a long Saturday night at Le Scélérat, and only because Sandra asks her staff to do so, Philip reports Miles’s displeasure to Sandra.

“Thank you, Philip,” she says, small and stout in her late sixties, her short gray hair colored to resemble dirty blonde. “He probably won’t call, but I appreciate knowing.”

Now they exchange looks of mutual admiration and Sandra adds, “He’s such an ass, but so very rich. You’re a saint to put up with him.”

“He doesn’t bother me,” says Philip, truthfully. “At his worst he is the faintest echo of my father.”

*

Philip rents a small cottage in the Berkeley hills behind the house of a longtime patron of Le Scélérat, and spends his free time taking long walks, playing the piano, gardening, browsing in bookstores, going to farmers’ markets, and refining recipes for a cookbook he’s been assembling for a decade, working title: Delicious Meals for the Somewhat Ambitious Cook.

He has two old friends living elsewhere with whom he corresponds by mail, and five good friends in his life now: Marcel in San Francisco, also a waiter, Marcel’s wife Andrea, a sous-chef, Fred, a landscape architect, Fred’s wife Joan, a professor of European History at Mills College, and Lisa, a massage therapist.

For the last two years, Philip and Lisa have been sleeping with each other two nights a week, neither wanting to ruin their friendship by embarking on a full-time relationship.

And every three weeks, Philip hosts a dinner for his five friends at which he unveils the latest iterations of his culinary creations.

*

“I want you to have this,” says Miles, offering Philip a pale blue envelope. “I feel terrible about how I treated you on Saturday night. Marie and I were scuffling and I drank too much at the bar, and… please. Take it.”

“Not necessary,” says Philip, shaking his head. “You were upset. I understand.”

Please,” says Miles, urgently. “It’s the least I can do.”

“Thank you,” says Philip, taking the envelope and turning to Miles’s companion, a voluptuous blonde falling out of a diminutive dress resembling a gossamer undergarment.

“Ah,” says Miles, grinning gigantically, “this is Beverly. Beverly, the aforementioned Philip.”

“He says you’re the best, Phil,” says Beverly with a thick southern drawl, her lips voluptuous, too. “You go by Phil or Philip?”

“Whichever you prefer,” says Philip, enjoying Beverly’s near nudity, a rarity at Le Scélérat. “Your first time here?

“First time in the good seats,” she says, smiling lasciviously at Miles.

“Tell us about the sole à la meunière,” says Miles, relieved to have everything right again with Philip.

Sole à la meunière is one of Sandra’s signature dishes,” says Philip, wishing Sandra didn’t use quite so much butter in the sauce. “And as you know, Miles, she only makes this dish when the sole is extremely fresh. She is serving it tonight with shitake mushrooms, Japanese eggplant, zucchini, and butter-boiled baby potatoes. Delicious and going fast.”

“Ooo yummy,” says Beverly, doing a little shimmy of excitement. “Lets get a couple of those, Milesy. Okay?”

“Yes,” says Miles, leafing through the wine menu. “Oh goody! You’ve got the Chateau d’Yquem 2015 Sauternes. Excellent. A chilly bottle of that, please.”

“Two Caesar salads?” says Philip, speaking to Beverly’s breasts.

“Ooo yummy,” she says again, and Philip is tickled by her lack of pretense.

“And we’ll want the perfect appetizer to accompany Sandra’s masterwork,” says Miles, handing his menu to Philip. “Surprise us. Will you?”

“As you wish,” says Philip, knowing perfectly well what Miles wants—broiled scallops swimming in white wine and butter.

*

Lolling in his bed with Lisa, neither of them working today, Philip suggests they have coffee on the terrazzo before wandering down to Solano Avenue for lunch, Chinese or Mexican.

“Mexican, por favor,” says Lisa, thirty-nine, a lanky brunette who was born in Brazil and came to California when she was ten.

“You know,” says Philip, sighing contentedly, “I think I’d like to move with you to a small town where we’d live in an old farmhouse and have a big vegetable garden and a dog and cats and you’d have your studio next to the house and I’d work a few nights a week at the best restaurant in town, even if that restaurant is only a steak house.”

“I’m getting there,” says Lisa, her hand on his heart. “Slowly but surely.”

Now she gets out of bed and pulls back the curtain on the sunny day.

“Nothing left to prove,” he says, admiring her naked at the window.

“Nothing fancy anyway,” she says, giving him a dreamy look. “Just love.”

fin

Just Love