Tonight wasn’t very busy at the restaurant.

Wednesdays often aren’t busy. It’s a nice night to work because I can take care of the tables well.

At one point, I got a four-top of two couples. I went to greet them and I recognized one of the couples. They’re regulars. They’ve been in my section several times.

They usually buy a lot of stuff: several appetizers, at least one bottle of wine. They often try the specials.

I was happy to see them. It’s nice to be a part of the experience when people really appreciate it.

I’m not good at guessing ages, but they look like the parents in a TV sitcom about a nice upper middle class family.

The guy doesn’t tip extravagantly, but well enough. He likes to chit chat with me some times. I bet he’s a vice president at a bank or a partner at a law firm. Some job where he’s surrounded by underlings. You can tell he’s used to people deferring to him.

The woman has a good sense of humor. But the man doesn’t seem to like her jokes. Maybe because they’re often at his expense.

I know she loves olives too. The last time they were here, after she ordered something, on a whim, I told the cooks to load it up with olives for her.

At the end of that dinner, she told me how she loved the dish. The gamble paid off. I told her how if she orders it again, she should mention how she wants extra olives.

She looked a little surprised. Then she said, smiling at me, “And if I said there were too many olives…”

I told her I followed my intuition on this one, because I had a hunch. And when I do that, I can’t think about what could go wrong.

Then she winked at me and said that would get me far in life. It was a moment. So, yeah, like I said, I was happy to see them.

Back to tonight.

We make the salads at the table in an overly large stainless steel mixing bowl. While I mixed everything and handed out plates, I listened to the guy telling a story. He had gone on a road trip recently and he took his car with a manual transmission for the trip.

I got the feeling that this was just one of his cars.

He drove it through the hill country out west from here. I know the area he was talking about. Old twisty roads snake through mostly desolate abandoned small towns.

You can get through there faster on the interstate, but it’s so much more fun to zoom along these back roads.

He said how all his worries left during the trip because he was totally focused on the act of driving: shifting up and down, pressing the gas pedal at the halfway point in a curve, etc.

Every bit of his consciousness was used up in the task of driving way too fast.

I liked the images that played through my mind while I listened.

Toward the end of their meal, I cleared their plates. He was still talking about his drive. He could tell that I was enjoying his story, even if his date was indifferent.

He looked up at me and said, “Marlowe, I bet you drive standard transmission, don’t you?”

I smiled, nodded, and then I said how I didn’t drive anything right now.

I made it a point to smile when I said “right now” because diners here do not like being reminded of the ridiculous gaps between the haves and the have nots.

So instead, generally, I hint that my relative poverty is just something fun that I’m trying out. Like this is all a special research project. Or maybe like an immersive vacation.

I said that the way he described his car sounded meditative. I asked what model he drove.

He lit up while he said the name. Some brand that I knew absolutely nothing about.

Then he talked about how old the car is now, and how it constantly needs repairs and maintenance, but he can’t bear the idea of selling it.

I made a mental note to look up his car the next time I’m in the school library. I could memorize a few obscure facts and then share them subtly with other diners. That kind of inside trivia helps imply how I’m one of them.

“One of them.”

I’m clearly NOT one of them. After all, I’m writing this diary entry now late at night in my tiny, run-down apartment building between a guy that drives a cab and a family of five that’s here without documentation.

But when the diners think of me like one of them, they tip better.

Sometimes I get so good at stepping into this character, this quiet, reserved waiter with encyclopedic knowledge of fine wine and food, I almost forget it’s all a hoax.

Like tonight, I imagined driving some two-seater roadster past beautiful old country homes on a sunny day. It wasn’t real, but it felt like it.

But then I got tripped up.

I was cleaning the table, and I was about to talk about our desserts, when I remembered that time in elementary school when a social worker showed up at my house.

My teacher had reported signs of neglect.

I remember how the social worker drove up in a tiny little convertible. I had never seen a car like it before except on TV. I saw it through the window of our house when she parked out front and walked in.

That day turned into a nightmare later, but at first, I was just so excited by this person in this cool-looking car coming to visit.

Her car wasn’t anything like the car this guy was talking about, but as a child, I filed her little convertible in the “fancy cars” photo album in my mind.

So, tonight, out of nowhere, I went from from enjoying about a nice daydream to remembering something much worse.

I kept thinking about the beating I got after the social worker left. Pictures and sounds played on a loop, getting more intense every time.

The room was quiet. But I couldn’t hear the table. Every time they spoke, it got drowned out by my mother screaming, or my own voice pleading with her to stop hitting me.

I had to ask the table to repeat themselves. I even wrote down their choices. I never do that for small tables.

I kept a calm appearance, but inside, I wanted to run out of the restaurant.

Next I cleaned the table. I focused on the feeling of the crumber scraping on the white tablecloth. I told myself how in a few minutes, I could go stand in the walk-in freezer until I calmed back down.

I was all shook up. But I caught a lucky break.

His date, or his girlfriend, or his wife, it’s impossible for me to know about their relationship, and that’s not the point anyway, she said to him in a teasing voice, “Darling, this could be your new charity… help troubled youth find inner peace through racing vintage sports cars.”

The other two guests burst out laughing.

I’ll always give that gorgeous woman more olives.

The Immortal Dr Jonas Smith

Chapter One

“I’ll tell you exactly who bombed my lab!” Dr Jonas Smith yelled over blaring sirens and noisy fire alarms.

He watched the bored officer taking notes.

Between clouds of smoke from the basement windows, Jonas saw inside his lab.

All his aquariums were smashed. The data was replicated safely, but his invertebrate organisms were lost. No way yet to scan microscopic planaria into a computer yet.

“I’m being targeted. The university loved me three years ago when my team discovered a new therapy for dementia, and they could put their name on MY WORK, but now, now, they’re not lifting a finger to keep me or my team safe.”

The police officer watched firefighters carrying out ruined equipment. Nobody took this seriously.

“Why are they targeting you, doctor?”

“Have you followed the news? This is like the third time. It’s the religious nuts. Those crackpot preachers. They got their idiot followers thinking I’m stealing people’s souls and putting them into computer hard drives.”

Then the policeman looked up. “You’re that guy?” The policeman half-closed his eyes, showing pure contempt.

Jonas got angry. He was on the edge of solving the puzzle but these vandals had ruined his work.

“Christ, you’re one of them. I’m not switching brains between cats and dogs. I’m giving us a chance to share our encoded memories. I had fruit flies in there… ” at this point Jonas yelled in anger, realizing the degree of lost work — “they each had the memories of their ancestors going back generations.”

It was late, Jonas realized. He’d come back tomorrow and figure out how to restart.

Chapter 5: Ahab goes to the junkyard sometimes after school

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Circe comes along a lot of times but not today.  Ahab loves his new family.  But they are so strange!  So much of what they do makes no sense.

He spends a few hours climbing around the old shells of crashed spaceships.  Today he climbs the ladder up the side of his favorite rocket.  He crawls through a little door into a tiny cabin with glass windows and a big soft chair.  

He sits in the soft chair and touches a few buttons.  Nothing happens of course.  These ships have been here for centuries.  People argue if they came here from somewhere else or if long ago, people tried to leave and then found out there was nowhere else to go.  Nobody knows for sure.

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Chapter 4: Circe’s school report

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Ahab is a little nervous but also a little excited about Circe reading her report for school.  Now Circe stands up in the small classroom with windows all around and the other students all look at her.

When Circe first had the idea, he didn’t like it at all.  She wore him down.  “Ahab, the report is supposed to be on somebody that helped us when we needed help.  That was you!”

He couldn’t argue with her.  He wasn’t sure why.

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Chapter 1: Ahab

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Ahab is a boy that lives by himself in one of the old shacks in the woods.

He goes into the tiny town nearby and tries to find work.  Usually one of the shops in the market will pay him to sweep or to carry boxes or do anything else.

Ahab also digs through the trash and sometimes he finds something tasty to eat for himself, or if he doesn’t want it, he will keep it anyway and share it with the dogs that stay with him at night.  Ahab collects all sorts of things from the trash.  Old books, parts from broken down robots, clothes, toys, etc.  Ahab wears a blue plastic watch that plays music and tells him the weather.  He is amazed somebody threw it out.

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Slow Friday Night

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Friday, October, 17th. 1997

We were on the other side of the dinner rush.  

Most of the other waiters were gone, and only two of us, me and McCall, were still on the floor, and we were taking turns handling new customers and doing all the prep work for tomorrow.

The couple that just sat down, they looked so out of place here.  A young couple.

I had a second to look at them through the mirror over the bar.  

The guy was in an actual navy sailor uniform.  Like, bell bottoms and everything.

And his date was so sweet.  Pretty, but she kept looking around the room nervously.

She was intimidated!

And, this is gonna sound really rude, but you know how it is you can tell when poor people are dressing up, because nothing quite matches right, and everything is a little too worn out?


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