The Restaurant

I work
at a Japanese restaurant
the kind where they cook right
in front of you
and the chefs are well-trained
to entertain
their guests

People pay a lot of money
for this
and I have to sing “Happy Birthday”
about ten times
per day

Rogelio, from Mexico,
is our bus boy
and plays the drums
when we sing He is always happy,
but he hasn’t seen
his family
back home
in six years

I bring out an icecream cake
hastily prepared and
I light a candle
smile and tell them to make a wish
We also have a tambourine
and chimes
but the waitresses switch instruments
each time

Douglass is the dishwasher –
he’s also from Mexico,
and he has a big silver tooth
and doesn’t speak any English at all
He and I used to
joke a lot
but then he started saying
he liked my butt
Now I joke around less

It is a miracle
at closing
every night we make it through the rush
We sweat profusely
and scramble through each shift –
sometimes we barely make it,
running out of supplies or burning ourselves
on the grill
or slipping on the greasy floors around them

The hibachi chefs are
talented men
who do the same thing
each day
They do tricks while they cook
They spin eggs on spatulas
over guests’ heads
and launch food into their mouths
and use the same jokes
and over
and over

Hyro is an old Chinese man
who always sounds
like he’s yelling
even when he’s joking
He speaks in Spanish
surprisingly well
to Rogelio as they fold
His accent is very heavy
so he has to tell me everything
five times with many
hand gestures
until I understand finally

Putu is an Indonesian man, he is young still
He plays ukulele
and smiles a lot
but when he doesn’t smile
he looks very sad
He is in love with Lia,
our Indonesian waitress
They have dated for a long time
but they cannot
be together
because Putu has a girlfriend
who lives
with his parents back home
in Bali

Sam is a middle-aged Chinese man
He has a daughter in highschool
and his wife drops him off
at work
every morning
a little late as we all wait outside,
they kiss goodbye
and he opens the restaurant
Sam smokes even more
than me and Putu
He tells me I am too young
to smoke so much
but he is mostly quiet
and helpful
when I don’t understand Hyro or Cherry

Cherry is the cook who
works behind the scenes
She is a very thin woman
that looks 28 but she’s actually 40 –
She prepares
To-Go orders
and appetizers
but she is always too slow
and customers complain
She wears a plaid blue shirt
and a tight bun
every day
and spends 12 hours a day
in the 100 degree kitchen,
but never looks sweaty
at all

Andrew is Mr. Chen’s son
Mr. Chen owns the restaurant
Andrew works every day, too,
for 13 hours and keeps
the frantic chaos stitched together
He is only 23 but
tries to act serious mostly
The business is his entire life

His dad dates Cherry
and is 20 years older than her
Mr. Chen has a tumor
on the
side of his face by his ear
It is very conspicuous
and he speaks crookedly from the corner of his mouth
He watches tennis for hours
at the bar
His English is pretty good
nobody can understand him
because of his crooked mouth
so he is quiet
and Andrew does the talking

We have two hosts:
Jada and Stefano Cornia
They were raised in Italy
and still visit often
Stefano doesn’t like when
I pronounce his name “Stef-ahhh-no”
but prefers it said as
without any raised intonations
He smokes frequently
but watches the parking lot
for new visitors
poking his head inside every thirty seconds
leaving half-smoked cigarettes
behind and burning away
if it gets busy

Jada is the good kind of loud-mouth
that you’d expect
an Italian to be
She stands up for me sometimes
if I need it
and likes to smoke weed
as much as I do
She only likes black men
and her talltall boyfriend hangs out
in the lobby
during lunch
while she hosts
They think I am weird and funny,
laugh and exchange those special couple-glances
that mean something to them
every time I speak

Anita and Johnny
are Mr. Chen’s great-niece and nephew
They live in Taiwan
but came to America for Summer jobs
Anita hosts
(badly- her English is not great
but she’s gotten better)
She is very short and adorable
and pronounces “hot”
like “heart”
and seats people in the wrong
She says she likes Texas
more than Taiwan
because people in Taiwan
do not sing or smile while they work

Johnny is her older brother who
has been training
to become a sushi chef
He is handsome and has a shiny earring
and only talks small talk

Evan is the sushi chef
and he wears a bandana around his forehead
and all the customers love him
He’s got many regulars
who eat the same sushi rolls
every time
Evan is always singing softly
or laughing
at things he reads
in big Chinese font
on his phone
and keeps to himself

Most of everyone works
10 hours every day
We are always sweaty
and hurried
and we do the same thing
every day
It is some strange
kind of family
with almost nothing in common
but jokingjoking and sweatingsweating
Customers leave happy
and we go home to
tired feet
and decent wages


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