“Hey maricon,” the sous chef yells. “You gonna pick up your food or what?”
“Where”s the food runner?” I reply.
“Goddammit,” I mutter. “I still don’t know what the food looks like.”
“You better learn,” the sous chef grumbles. “I got no time for you figuring out shit.”
“I’ve only been here a few weeks amigo,” I say. “Gimme a break.”
“So fucking what?” the sous chef snaps. “And I’m not your amigo.”
“You will be papi,” I say, smiling. “Everybody loves me.”
“Whatever you say maricon.”
“Again with the maricon papi!” I yell. “You want to ask me on a date or something?”
That elicits a roar from the rest of the kitchen staff.
“You like me papi?” I say, smacking my lips. “Is that it?”
“Check out the huevos on the gringo!” the grill man laughs.
The sous chef glows a little red. He’s not used to getting it tossed back at him. He’s a big strong looking guy. The other waiters are afraid of him. I’m not.
“Fuck you pendejo,” the sous chef says, with a little less swagger.
“You don’t mean that,” I say sweetly. “Do you papi?”
The sous chef looks to his companions with a “Can you believe this guy?” look on his face.
“C’mon papi,” I say softly. “Don’t be such a cranky little bitch.”
“I’m a bitch?” the sous chef says incredulously.
“You’re loco pendejo.”
“That’s Señor Loco Pendejo to you,” I say.
That elicits another round of laughs from the kitchen guys.
“You don’t quit do you?” the sous chef says, a smile finally appearing on his face.
“OK Señor Pendejo,” the sous chef says, shaking his head.
“Great,” I say. “Now that thats settled – where’s that food you want me to take out?”
“Mierda!” the sous chef yelps, throwing his hands up in surrender. “It ll be ready in a minute.”
“Now get outta here.”
“Si Señor.” Respecting the sous chefs authority I exit the kitchen.
For those of you confused by the bilingual vulgarity, I apologize. The conversation between the sous chef and me has nothing to do with homosexuality or homophobia – its all about respect. I’m a new waiter. Duty compels the kitchen to bust the new guys balls. If I just smile and take it the kitchen guys will have no respect for me. Without the respect of the kitchen staff I’m a dead waiter walking. What just happened is the back of the house version of counting coup.
“Holy shit,” one of the other waiters says. “You really stood up to Ramon.”
“The restaurant business isn’t for pussies,” I reply.
The rest of the shift flows without incident. By the end of the night Ramon’s showing me pictures of his five kids. He’s all right but I don’t know about this new restaurant. The kitchen guys I can deal with. The owner and the other waiters?
I’ll probably end up counting coup with all of them.