“Where’s Luis?” I ask Miguel, one of the restaurants many bus boys. “My party’s gonna be here any minute and the tables not set up.”
“I don’t know,” Miguel says.
“Rolando,” I ask, turning to our fabulous Chileno busser. “Do you know where Luis is?”
“I think he’s in the bathroom,” Rolando replies. “He don’t look so good.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Probably borracho,” Rolando says, shrugging.
I walk over to the staff bathroom. The unmistakable perfume of expelled stomach fluid is hanging in the air. I give the door a sharp knock.
“Luis!” I call out. “You all right?”
“Si,” a hoarse voice replies weakly.
“Twenty people coming. We’ve got to finish setting up.”
“Un momento por favor,” Luis groans over the sound of a flushing toilet. “Un momento.”
After a minute the door opens and the bus boy stumbles out. Usually a handsome twenty-year old kid, today Luis looks like the pickled worm from a bottle of cheap tequila.
“Luis,” I say, “You look like mierda.”
“Muy crudo,” Luis says, wiping the cold clammy sweat off his forehead. “Muy crudo.”
“Hungover huh?” I laugh. “Too much cerveza last night?”
“Tequila,” Luis groans.
“That shit will fuck you up kid.”
“Oh my God,” Luis says.
“You’ll be OK Luis,” I say with mock cheerfulness. “And you’ve only got a twelve hour day ahead of you.”
“Oh my God,” Luis repeats, his voice becoming desperate. “I need to go home.”
“You think the owners gonna let you go home?” I ask.
“No,” Luis says sheepishly.
“Neither do I. You’re hangover, not dying. You’ll be fine in a little bit.”
“Heyyyy,” Rolando calls from the back room. “Your party’s here.”
“Let’s go Luis,” I say, pulling on his arm. “We’ve got to finish setting up.”
As Luis and I travel the back corridor connecting the kitchen to the party room Miguel starts taunting him.
“Hey Luis,” Miguel shouts, his voice dripping with gleeful mockery, “You spend all your money on tequila last night?”
“Shut up,” Luis snaps.
“Buying the ladies drinks? They dance with you?”
Luis flips Miguel the bird.
“Siempre borracho,” Miguel says, shaking his head. “You always drunk.”
Once were out of range of Miguel’s hearing I ask, “Is that true Luis?”
“I go out man,” Luis says. “The ladies are there. Sometimes I drink too much.”
“Pace yourself next time,” I suggest. “Drink till you’re mellow then stop. Its all downhill from there.”
“You’re right man,” Luis says. “I’ll try that next time.”
“Do you have a headache?” I ask.
“Si. A big one.”
“When we’re done setting up for this party I want you to drink lots of water.”
“You’re probably dehydrated.”
“Dehydrated?” Luis asks, not understanding the word. “What’s that?”
“Deshidratado,” I reply. “Necesita mucho agua.”
I smile inwardly. When I was Luis age I must’ve upchucked my body weight in vomit a hundred times. Like many people, I made alcohols acquaintance during my freshman year of college. Since I was in the seminary, and we seminarians thought our tastes were clerical and sophisticated, I got trashed on Scotch whisky while the normal dorm kids were shot gunning Meisterbraus and puking up Bartles and James. (Remember that stuff?) Too say I got borracho would be an understatement. I can still remember the feel of cold porcelain against my cheek as I hugged a filthy toilet bowl and prayed for death. Ah yes, I was very sophisticated.
“I’ve been there man,” I say, patting Luis on the shoulder. “You’ll be OK.”
“I hope so.”
Luis and I finish setting up and he somehow survives the party. As we move into the dinner shift Luis color starts returning. By seven o’clock he appears to be fully recovered. At midnight, our double shift finally over, Luis and I pack up and walk out the front door.
With fresh money burning a hole in his pocket Luis goes to a nearby tavern to traumatize his liver all over again. I feel like saying something but I can’t. He’s a young man and he needs to learn his from his own mistakes. I just hope he doesn’t do something stupid and get into trouble. Besides, I can’t judge him.
We’ve all been sinners in the hands of an angry porcelain god.