First Day at Work

I can’t sleep Monday night. I’m afraid I’m going to oversleep and show up late to the restaurant. So I manage to sleep three hours, have no chance for my morning shower, and get there at 6:59 a.m. Since I’m staying at the guesthouse, my key actually (and thankfully) opens the front door of the boutique hotel.

It’s not magical though. It doesn’t open the restaurant.

So I punch in at the clock puncher and wait at the front desk.

There’s no one at the front desk, and I don’t know why. I’m the only one in the lobby. There’s some lounge music playing softly in the background. I strain my ears and can hear the words: “When I close my eyes, I only see you.”

That’s all I can make out. Everything else sounds muddled.

I take out my beginner’s Sudoku book. Actually, I do like 4 Sudokus. I like the easy Sudokus because they make me feel smart. It’s great for my self-esteem. I highly recommend getting your hands on a a “very easy” or “easy” Sudoku book if you have self-esteem problems and can’t afford therapy.

Time is now approaching 7:30 a.m., so I decide to go get the keys myself from the guesthouse, where I was told the keys were. Why the keys are located at the guesthouse and not at the boutique hotel where the restaurant is actually located is beyond me.

Sometimes you just have to accept things as they are. I believe some people call this faith.

I open the restaurant, turn on the lights, the air conditioner.

When I enter the kitchen and turn on the lights though, the whole place smells like Seabiscuit had taken a vainglorious dump.

I look at the floor and see dark water. It’s covering about half of the restaurant’s floor. In fact, it’s covering the entire area where the coffee machine is located. I’m too tired to actually begin to think about what’s going on.

So I go out to the bar, sit, and wait for customers to come in. Ricardo is nowhere to be seen. But strangely, Yabdiel has not arrived yet.

I wait…and wait…and wait. At about 7:50 a.m., an American man from Chicago strolls in.

“Can we have breakfast?” I think he’s using the “royal we,” since I see no one else. Then again, perhaps he hears voices, and he’s asking for coffee for him and the voices that populate his brain. I’ve learned not to judge. I’m here to serve.

“Um, the chef hasn’t arrived yet, but I can make you coffee if you like,” I say as brightly as possible.

The man’s very white face turns very red very quickly.

“Listen, you tell that chef to get his act together. It’s 7:50 a.m. When is the restaurant supposed to open?”

“7:30,” I reply, realizing too late that it was a rhetorical question. I feel my face getting hot. I know I’m blushing now. Even my ears feel hot. I feel like I’m back in Catholic school, and I’ve been sent to the principal’s office for throwing spitballs at the boy I had a crush on.

“Right, 7:30 because that’s what the menu says. This is unacceptable. You tell that chef to get his act together.” Chicago contorts his face into some kind of crazy, deranged stare.

“I agree with you completely, sir. May I make you coffee? It’s on the house, since no one’s here.”

I’m not charging this guy. He has made a very valid point, and he’s actually as angry as I am. Why is no one here? What the hell is going on?

“Good. I take my coffee black, and my wife takes it with milk. She would like a cappuccino, please. She’s very particular about her coffee.”

My eyes widen in terror.

“I’ll be back in five minutes,” he says and walks out.

A cappuccino…she’s “very particular about her coffee”…oh shit. A black coffee, which means black coffee, not espresso, which is what the machine produces. I had asked Ricardo the day before about how to make PLAIN black coffee, i.e., coffee that was not an espresso.

He had just stared at me as if I had asked him to solve the Theory of Everything.

So now I’m just well, fucked, and I know it.

I bravely enter Seabiscuit’s stable and start grinding coffee beans. I put the ground coffee into the thingy, press it with the other flat thingy, and when I try to stick it into the coffee machine’s thingy, it just won’t stick. It just won’t.

The most I can do is make it hang lopsided.

Seabiscuit’s stench is unbearable. I love horses, but the stench is unbearable.

I try and I try and I try. I believe in trying. If you try, at some point, things will work out. Or so I was told in kindergarten.

The thingy won’t stick to the coffee machine. I am running out of time, patience, dignity, honor, and cortisol.

So I run out into the lobby, and I find someone mopping the floor.

“You! What’s your name?” I scream.

The man looks up, with sleepy eyes, “Héctor.”

“Héctor, I need your help. Do you know how to make coffee?”

He pauses and cocks his head. “I can try.”

I take him by the arm and lead him into the kitchen. When he enters the kitchen, he physically recoils.

“What the hell?”

“I know, but no time for that,” I say. “Here,” I hand him the thingy loaded with ground coffee. “It’s not clicking into place in the machine, and this guy from Chicago will be here any minute for his two coffees.” My forehead is damp, and I feel my underarms getting wet. Hell, even the space between my boobies is getting drippy.

Héctor quietly wages war on the machine. He tries making the thingy with the coffee stick to the machine. He tries various angles. He tries his right hand. He tries his left hand. He takes both hands and shakes the German machine.

Nothing. He looks off into space. And then:

“Could it be that you overloaded it with coffee? You know, you put too much in it?”

I look at the thingy. It’s brimming with Puerto Rican coffee. I take it and dump the coffee. I fill it up again, this time with a lot less coffee. I hand it to Héctor.

The thingy clicks into place. I put two coffee cups below the thingy and click the only red button I know. The machine roars, and coffee starts dripping into both cups.

I feel my eyes tearing up.

“Thank you,” I say hugging Héctor.

“No problem,” he replies with a smile, revealing perfectly aligned teeth. “We gay guys know how to make coffee.”


He doesn’t answer my question and quickly walks out of the stable.

I pour milk into a stainless container and start steaming. The sound coming out of the phallus steamer is furious. I make sure the milk froths. I keep touching the bottom of the stainless steel container to see how hot it is. I don’t want to burn the milk, because I’ve burned milk many times in my life, and it tastes like dried-out guacamole.

I pour the milk for the wife’s “cappuccino.”

I’ve essentially prepared a “latte.”

Then I make another batch of coffee so I can make sure Chicago’s “black coffee” is FULL of black coffee. In fact, it’s going to be full of three shots of espresso because I’m running out of time.

I clean the outside brim of the cups. The German machine has decided to spill coffee all over the cups. I hate coffee stains on coffee cups. It just makes it look so unprofessional, you know?

I place beautifully tiny-shiny stainless steel coffee spoons next to the coffees and head out with my two trophies, triumphant, just like when Seabiscuit beat War Admiral back in 1938.

I place the coffees on the bar counter and wait. It’s now 8:15 a.m. Clearly, Chicago said 5 minutes to scare the shit out of me. In fact, I feel a bowel movement coming. So I rush to the bathroom. My irritable bowel syndrome is working up again.

I come right out and sit behind the bar.

It is now 8:20 a.m.

Suddenly, Chicago bursts into the restaurant in a tornado of madness.

“Here are your coffees,” I say with a smile. It’s hard to smile when you have braces.

“Which one’s the black one?”

“This one,” I point to one of the coffees.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, sir. That’s just the machine topping the black coffee with the crema,” I say proudly. I had read all about coffee machines the night before since I couldn’t sleep.

“Crema?!? As in CREAM?!?”

“No, sir. Crema is the thin layer of brown-like foam that forms at the top of…black coffee.” I know that crema is the foam that forms at the top of espresso, not black coffee, but I just don’t give a damn anymore.

“Ah,” he says, and for the first time he smiles. “Nice.”

But the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.

Chicago touches his wife’s cup. “This is not hot. This is is cold.”

I touch the cup. He’s right. Oh shit. How am I going to heat this up now? Microwave it? No, that would be gross. Plus, I know there’s no microwave in the kitchen.

Shit, do I have to make another coffee?

Right at that moment, the executive chef strolls in. He’s wearing a dirty purple shirt, khaki bermudas, and flip flops. He still has eye poop stuck to his eyes.

Chicago narrows his eyes. “Hey, I know you. You’re the chef. I saw you here last night. What is this? You were supposed to open at 7:30 a.m.!”

The chef is immutable. “Yeah. Not today, man. We had an accident in the kitchen last night. It’s flooded and not fit for preparing food. We’re closed for breakfast until the problem is solved.”

“What?” I say.

“Oh Pola, I forgot about you. Yeah, we’re not open today. Didn’t anyone tell you?”

Chicago and I stare at the chef, who is now stretching luxuriously like a Siamese cat. His bermudas are hanging so low, we can both see where his happy trail begins.

I try to compose myself, and say, “This gentleman’s coffee is cold. Could you help me out?”

“I’m on vacation.”

Chicago and I look at him.

“Um, please? It’s my first day here. I would really appreciate the help.”

The chef smiles lazily. “Sure.” He takes the coffee back to the stable, and I run in with him.

“That guy was so angry this morning! Dude, like I didn’t know the kitchen wasn’t going to open today! I didn’t know what to say, what to do, how to explain—”

“Were you raised by military parents?” he asks yawning.

“No! I mean, yes, in a way, but no, not really. Yes, my parents were strict.”

“You’re going to give yourself a heart attack,” he says smiling, placing the steamer inside the coffee cup. He steams the coffee softly, expertly. The coffee is Goldilocks hot in 5 seconds.

I take it out to Chicago.

He inspects it. Touches it. Nods. “Where’s the sugar? It has to be two brown sugars, not Splenda, and not white sugar.” I  find brown sugar packets next to the credit card machine. I practically throw a thousand “Sugar-In-The-Raw” packets at him.

“Thank you.”

“It’s on the house,” the chef says with a grin.

“It should be,” Chicago retaliates. “I’m now going to take these up to my room. I’m on the third floor.”

I feel so bad for Chicago. I am so embarrassed about everything. And now, he’s balancing two hot coffees because this “boutique hotel” has no elevator.

“Let me help you carry one,” I volunteer.

He smiles, for a second time. “Thank you. Guys are clumsy.”

I nod, and we start climbing the longest stairwell I have ever seen in Puerto Rico.

We finally reach the top, where his wife is sitting outside, in a bathrobe, staring into the ocean. Her face is red, and it looks like she’s been crying. I try to smile reassuringly at her. She doesn’t smile back.

“Here,” Chicago says, handing me a dollar.

“Thank you,” I say. Then I add, “I’m sorry about this morning, they just didn’t tell me.”

I know that what I’ve just done is a violation of the unspoken brotherly/sisterly code of conduct between people in the service industry, but I just don’t care anymore.

“It’s not your fault. And you had to get up early. Have a nice day.”

This is my cue to leave, and I descend the stairs, holding my dollar bill.

It’s my first tip, and I’m so proud of myself. I’m well on my way to making money.