Kim Winter Mako
Right-dog Vs. Left-dog
Eight lines lit up and Tracey reached for the phone. Aurelio pushed her hand away. “Watch me,” he said. He started with the top blinking light and worked down—“Good morning, The Adrienne, please hold. Good morning, The Adrienne, please hold. Good Morning, The Adrienne, please hold,”—until all eight were quiet, pulsing lights.
“Most mornings you’ll be alone. You must be able to handle eight lines. If you don’t, calls will roll to Chef’s office upstairs. His secretary will answer the calls, and she’ll get real pissy about it. You don’t want her complaining to Chef. Do yourself a favor, learn how to answer the lines.”
“Okay.” Minutes before Tracey was starving. Now she was nauseated.
“Start at the top. You’ll lose some. They’ll hang up, call back, and really let you have it. Don’t sweat. Be calm, gracious, apologetic. Never raise your voice or argue. It’s always your fault and you’re sorry. If someone is really agitated, take a name. Document everything. Give it to the maître d’. It could be someone important. They’ll all act like they’re important. They’re not.”
He pushed his wire-rim glasses up the bridge of his long nose. “Watch and listen.”
“Thank you for holding, how may I assist?” His speech was sing-songy. “Excellent, Ms. Griscom, table for four in the Garden Room, requesting Ronald as your server.” Patterns he repeated, high and low notes. Tracey was a singer. Her ear picked it up. “We look forward to seeing you.”
He sounded like he’d been doing this his whole life. She forgot to ask, over the two days she’d been training. She did learn he was vegan. When she asked what that was, he handed her a pamphlet and spoke for five minutes about clean diet, Berkeley students organizing in California, and how by the millennium, it would be mainstream. She picked at her beef and egg noodles during staff meal that first day, thinking of his description of cow armies raised for slaughter, destroying the atmosphere with methane.
Aurelio was almost through the lines. “We will present the dessert with a candle, but no, we will not sing.”
When she asked about wardrobe, she learned he owned two identical grey suits that he alternated weekly. Limp sleeves, thinned by years of dry cleaning, hung on his meatless frame. And that he was a cartoonist. His wife, a painter. Two struggling artists in their mid-thirties living in Brooklyn. “You eventually get through the lines. Joan may suggest different techniques, but in the end, find what works for you.” Tracy hadn’t trained with Joan yet, the other lead host, but was intimidated by her neck scarves and high cheekbones.
“How long have you worked here?”
“Eight years, four months.” It was unfathomable to Tracey, who told herself that in two years, she’d be well on her way.
Definitely by her twenty-fifth birthday. Maybe a Soap. Or better yet, Broadway. She figured Aurelio and his wife had done something wrong, not reaching success by their mid-thirties.
He moved the pencil through the reservation book like a Jedi. Notating, erasing, wiping, rewriting with unbroken flow and grace. The book had a cuneiformic system should a wandering guest eyeball its pages. Good tipper ( >), always sends entrée back to kitchen (a55), hard of hearing (?), VIP ( * ). It was the bible that The Adrienne relied upon for its very four-star breath.
“What’s this one?” she asked, pointing to (^).
“Super VIP. It says Tim Morgan, but this reservation is actually for President-Elect Bill Clinton. Don’t tell anyone or we’ll have to kill you.” He was geeky but cute.
Third Avenue blurred with traffic out front through double glass doors. Two bronze Weimaraners posed on the sidewalk under The Adrienne’s broad gold awning. Morning commuters tapped the bronze dogs as they walked past. Tracey and Aurelio stood staring out, sun warming the polished stone floor. November winds whipped leaves and trash down the avenue. Tracey counted yellow cabs to herself and shifted in her cheap pumps.
“Hurry up and wait. That’s all this is.” He was drawing a cartoon of a singing banana on a scrap of paper. “Don’t worry, you’ll get it.”
Tracey had to get a lot of things these days. She’d only been in New York three weeks and had just learned the basics: the subway, where to buy the Backstage paper, setting up an actor phone service, free stuff, assembling mousetraps, and a restaurant job.
“Fifty-two taps to left-dog in the last fifteen minutes,” he said, without looking up. “Only three taps to right-dog.” She looked out at the bronze Weimaraners. A small child teetered up to left-dog and tried to feed it a cracker. The Hispanic nanny waited patiently while the child, dressed in what looked like a Burberry coat, palmed the dog, crumbs sticking to the bronze nose and tail. “We’ll have to wipe him down,” Aurelio sighed.Tracey tried to focus, armed with the Backstage
paper and a pink highlighter, but every time she moved, snappy plastic beads spilled out a small hole in the beanbag chair and bounced along the scuffed wood floor. They seemed to roll into every corner of the apartment, sticking to the bottoms of her feet. She’d scoop them up, stuffing them back in. There was a note on the rust-spotted fridge that read, “buy tape.” She sipped her coffee, looking out the small window that faced a brick wall.
“Sorry,” Carol said, her guitar case bumping Tracey while maneuvering the small room.
“Gig after work?”
“No, the open mic. Never know who’s gonna be there.” Carol sat on the only other chair, a metal folding one they’d pulled up off the street. They shared a cigarette.
“I should quit,” Tracey said. “It’s killing my voice.”
Carol was a few years older and had given up acting to write songs. “It gives mine character,”