Maximilian, our head busboy, is having a baby. Well, sort of.
Max’s daughter Isabel, who also works at the Bistro, is six months pregnant. Max is only a few years older than me and this will be his first grandchild. When Max discovered the stork was paying his baby girl a visit he started packing on the pounds in some sort of paternal “this can’t be happening yet,” sympathetic pregnancy syndrome. Of course, I tease him unmercifully.
“How’s your baby Max?” I ask.
“Good,” he says patting his stomach, “How’s yours?”
“Muy bien” I reply, rubbing my not inconsiderable belly. “I was five months pregnant, now I’m only three.”
“No dinero no comida?”Max asks. (It’s an old joke.)
“You’ll never starve working in a restaurant Max.”
“So what happened to your baby?”
“I’ve been trying to lose weight,” I reply.
“Me too,” Max says.
“When Isabel has her baby you’ll have yours,” I quip.
“You’ll be burning mucho calories chasing little Pedro around.”
Max laughs. You might think I sound like Uber Gringo, but I’ve been kidding around with mis Mexicanos for years and they haven’t killed me yet.
“Well, I don’t think she’s gonna call him Pedro, “Max says.
“Has she decided on a name?”
“She knows it’s a boy so that narrows it down.”
Hey Isabel, I call out, What are you going to call the baby?”
“I don’t know,” she replies softly. She’s a shy sweet girl.
“How about Ramon?” I ask, rolling the r. “That’s a name with cojones ”
“That’s nice,” she admits.
“Well for crying out loud,” I say, “Don’t name him Jose!”
Max laughs, “Half of Puebla’s named Jose.”
“How about Jesús?”
“We’re not Puertoricanos!” Max says.
“Oh snap!” I reply, taken aback.
My mother grew up in Spanish Harlem. My godmother’s Puerto Rican. I still remember my consternation when, as a little boy, my godmother introduced me to a friend named Jesús….
“But there’s only one Jesus Mommy!” Little Waiter furtively whispered. “I learned that in Sunday school.”
“Not in Puerto Rico, my mother replied…..”
“How about Montezuma?” I tease.
Max cracks up. “NO!” Isabel shouts.
“Mmmm, something fancy,” I ruminate aloud, “Something that will drive the girls crazy when he’s older.
“Maximilian,” Max suggests proudly.
“Isabel shakes her head. ”
“How about my name in Espanol?” I offer, “It’s classy and muy sexy.”
Now it’s Isabel’s turn to crack up. “No way!”
“Thanks Isabel,” I grumble, “Thanks a lot.”
“Oh well,” Max sighs, “Sorry cabron.”
“Some people have no taste,” I say, feigning outrage.
Isabel shifts in her seat. “I like Felipe,” she says.
I look at Isabel. She’s twenty years old and having a baby. I’m thirty eight and all I have is joint custody of a dog. She’s a brave girl.
“Felipe is a nice name,” I say.
“Maybe,” Isabel shrugs, “I’m not sure yet.”
‘You have time,” her father says soothingly.
The annunciator chimes. Customers are waiting at the door. We get up from our chairs and go to work. As the evening progresses I watch Isabel as she cleans tables, fetches customer’s coats, and dumps their half eaten food in the garbage. Some of those customers look at Isabel and dismiss her as just another knocked up Mexican. You know exactly what kind of people I’m talking about. People who think money and education afford them the privilege to wax cynically about other people. The ones who think wealth equals wisdom. But those cynics don’t know Isabel. She’s handling her pregnancy with a grace and courage that most of her self appointed betters will never possess. Why? Because character is something money can’t buy. And Isabel has it in spades.
Her son’s gonna be all right no matter what his name is.