DOTTY & THE MOONIES
Dotty maneuvered between the tables of the diner like a NASCAR driver on his favorite track. Like any good driver, she sensed the direction and speed of everyone moving within a few feet of her.
The quite unassuming guy reading the paper thanked her as she placed his tuna on toasted whole wheat with fries down in the space he created upon lifting the paper. Neither Dotty nor the paper reader really needed a diet that included French fries, but neither were they of a mind these days to miss the opportunity for some satisfying tasty comfort food. And besides, he was having a Diet Coke with his lunch.
Back in the kitchen, Renaldo was, as usual, staying a couple of steps ahead of the lunchtime crunch. In spite of the protestations of Billy, the manager du-jour, Renaldo always kept a few extra burgers cooking even though they hadn’t been ordered; there were enough fries in the works to satisfy any number of old and new lunch patrons looking for affordable quality food without frills.
The Moonlight Diner had 4 full-time waitresses and an even greater number of part time on-call gals who helped out in a crunch or asked to be scheduled when they were in need of a little extra cash. Not withstanding her 19 years of seniority, the crew of the Moonlight as well as their dozens of regular customers who sought nourishment at one of the diner’s 22 tables or at the counter that sat 12, also called the trough, thought of the place as “Dottie’s.”
Dotty had the kind of extroverted, always friendly personality that endeared almost everyone to her. No matter what the hour, no matter how little sleep or however lousy Dotty physically felt, she always had a smile, a few “darling’s, sweeties and sugars” to sprinkle on all her customers and fellow “Moonies” as the diner’s crew like to refer to themselves.
Renaldo and Dotty had been working together for almost 9 years now. While they hardly ever saw each other outside of diner, Renaldo considered her to be his best friend. When he first came on board, she was the only waitress who was patient with him and didn’t bust his chops during the few weeks it took for him to pick up the speed and contrasting rhythms of Moonlight’s daily schedule. Six years ago when the call came in the middle of the breakfast rush that his daughter Imelda had been rushed to the ER, it was Dotty who quickly reorganized the Moonies to ensure that food was prepared and the customers served. That evening, after one of the most gruesome days at the diner, Dotty showed up at Imelda’s hospital bed with a Raggedy Ann doll.
While Renaldo was incredibly efficient at managing the kitchen crew and making sure that all of the waitress’s orders received timely attention, you could bet the farm that Dottie’s orders were always given the highest priority. The feeling of affection and respect were mutual after all these years. Dotty and Renaldo probably knew and enjoyed each other’s friendship more than they appreciated their aging marriages that were now sustained more out of familiarity and loyalty than love and companionship.
As he finished the last of his Diet Coke, Dotty presented the tuna’n fries guy with a fresh full glass before he even asked. “Damn your good” he observed with a grin and a semi-intimidated chuckle. “I better be darling after 19 years of trying to live off tips” she replied. “Message received” he replied, appreciating the wink sent his way.
Dotty couldn’t help but notice the big picture of Danny Radcliffe in the middle of the page the tuna’n fries guy was reading. Without hesitation, she bent back the corner of his paper and observed to his startled face, “That must be a story about the final Harry Potter book that’s coming out soon.”
“Exactly” responded tuna’n fries. “People can’t decide if they should celebrate or mourn the fact that this will be final book in the series,” he noted.
This brief exchange confirmed what Dotty had a initially suspected when tuna’n fries first sat down, this guy was no dummy and probably didn’t get his hands dirty at whatever job he did for a living. She loved trying to guess the occupations of her customers.
“Have you read the Harry Potter books?” Appreciating Dottie’s informality and effort to make conversation, tuna’n fries said “actually no….. I’ve seen all the movies so far, but I haven’t read any of the books.”
“Read the books Dotty” she demanded. I don’t know how Rowling’s mind comes up with the stuff she writes about. Just incredible. And can you imagine how rich she is?”
Not lifting his eyes up from the page, tuna’n fries volunteered that “the final book will sell for $35 each.” Dotty reflected for a moment, “but think of what she’s made from the movies alone!”
“I’d settle for a day’s interest on her money.” The two smiled and returned to their respective pursuits.
“Joey, did you clean up table 4?” Dotty screeched. “Uno momento seniorita.”
For those who didn’t know her, Dotty might initially seem brazen and pushy. To Joey and the other Moonies, she was a mom, a big sister, someone they knew they could turn to for advise, a shoulder to cry on, or to cover for them when nature or the telephone called.
The rest of day was predictable. The Friday evening dinner rush was busy, but manageable. Dotty was glad to be able to call it a day when she got off at 9 PM. It never failed that she found herself suddenly and totally exhausted as she found her way into the driver’s seat of her 12-year-old Camry that she never remembered wash.
One would never imagine the boundless energy she displayed at work now watching her climb the stairs to the second floor two-bedroom garden apartment she, her husband Dale of 33 years and their 26-year-old daughter Cathy had called home.
Dotty always felt sad and rung out when she came home. She knew exactly what she would find when she opened the door. The first thing to catch her attention would be the smell. Since the car accident 6 years ago, Dale had been bed ridden and incontinent. Cathy, frankly, did a lousy job of taking of her Dad. She changed and cleaned him up once a day, if she remembered.
Dotty would find Cathy in front of the tube watching some reality show, munching on salty garbage snacks or chowing down on a gallon of ice cream. She really hadn’t done much with her life since high school. And she used Dad’s accident as an excuse to not look for another job after she got canned from the supermarket for always being late and punching out early. Her depressed disposition, weight and overall surrender of hope condemned Cathy to a life that revolved around food and TV.
After cleaning up Dale and getting him something to eat, Dotty tackled the pile of dishes in the kitchen sink and made herself of bowl of soup. She took her usual place on the sofa though she only made believe she was watching the TV. Her mind was someplace more pleasant.
Tomorrow, she remembered, the usual Saturday customers would be in. Francine from the dress shop might come by and tell Dotty about some perfect inexpensive pants suit she had put aside for her. Bobby and Nell will have their usual Saturday brunch about 11 AM and hopefully remember to bring pictures of the new grandbaby. Howard, who spent the better part of every week on the road with his 18-wheeler would come in about noon and remind Dotty that whenever she was ready he and she would escape on his rig to some far off place where no one could find them. Wasn’t he just a sweetheart?
After the lunch rush, all the Moonies will pool their lunch time tips and buy a mess of lottery tickets at the convenience store down the block. Was this the smartest thing for a bunch of struggling slave-laborers to do with their hard earned money? Probably not, but as they like to tell you in the commercials, you never know, and besides, somebody has to win!
Dotty heard, but didn’t listen to something Cathy was saying about someone on TV. She leaned back on the sofa, slipped her shoes off, closed her eyes and left the apartment.
February 2, 2007 – Mitchell S. Gilbert