… Que Mala Eres Juliana

(May 2021)

Anthony Bourdain said that anyone interested in working in a kitchen, or managing a restaurant, should learn Spanish. He points out that, regardless of the kind of food — with the exception of maybe some Asian cuisines— restaurant cooks, at least in major cities, tend to be Latino (and yes: through his discussion of the rampantly toxic masculinity in kitchen culture, Bourdain also points out that the cooks tend to be men). Both of these conjectures were certainly true at New Corner, where four of our kitchen guys were from the Dominican, the head chef was from Mexico, the app guy was from Ecuador, with only the sous chef hailing from Italy.

Of course, none of this is significant except to point out that, perhaps given their common native tongue, for the first nine of my fifteen month tenure at New Corner, the cooks thought my name was Julia, or sometimes Juliana. Even the Irish Manager noticed:

“Sometimes I even hear you called ‘Juliette.’ Quite the shapeshifter, Jillian.”

But I never corrected them. I didn’t particularly mind— in fact, I sort of liked it. 

“Julia! You ready for your spedeini alla romana?”

Unfortunately, this little inside joke with myself was destined to come to a close at some  point. Perhaps because they’d heard most of the waitstaff refer to me as ‘Jill’ or ‘Jillian,’ the cooks started to get hip to the fact that my legal name was something other than what they’d grown accustomed to calling me. One of the appetizer guys, who was Dominican but born and raised in Brooklyn, cornered me one night to clarify. “Hey Julia— or whatever. What’s your actual name? Are you Julia or Jillian or Juliana or what?” And from then on, the jig was mostly up— although sometimes one of the cooks would slip, which always made me smile.

There was one fellow Server who never stopped calling me Julia/Juliana; he was also the only server to call me this name at all. He himself was known by several nicknames around New Corner, and amongst the staff he was most often referred to as Linga. “In the Dominican, Juliana is a very common name, a very good name. That’s the Dominican version of your name,” he told me. “And in the Dominican there is a very, very famous song with this name. Everybody knows this song. It’s a bachata song. A VERY good song, this one.” On any number of occasions, he explained (and re-explained) that the song is about a Dominican girl named Juliana who falls in love with an American. But as soon as she gets the visa, she ghosts the American chump to find someone else. “Juliana, you see, she’s a very bad girl. VERY bad. ‘Juliana que mala eres, que mala eres Juliana,” he’d sing. “Everyone knows this song. It’s very famous. Juliana is a VERY bad girl. You have to watch out for a girl like Juliana. And that’s your name: Juliana.” Then he’d laugh, slap my shoulders, and walk away.

Linga was in his forties or fifties, divorced, and had three kids that had grown up and who didn’t really keep in touch with him. He had worked for years as a server, as well as something of a custodian and general handyman for New Corner. He lived in a basement apartment right next to the restaurant and paid rent to the the Boss who happened to own that entire block. Linga’s whole life was tied up with New Corner. 

Linga didn’t seem too happy about any of this. He always showed up to work on-time and fulfilled whatever tasks were assigned to him, and I never heard him complain. But Linga was possessed by a defeatist attitude that dissuaded him from improving his circumstances. He’d skulk around the restaurant, sighing loudly and often, and if it was slow he’d go up to the front of the restaurant and stare out of the windows, like a prisoner looking through the bars, making a secret wish he dare not tell a soul. 

On several occasions, I asked him why he worked at New Corner if he didn’t really like it. He’d worked there for so long and knew what was expected of him; the job was easy, he explained, and as the jack-of-all-trades around the joint he also had some variety in his work. And while the money wasn’t as good as it used to be, it was enough. “We have to be thankful for what we have, Juliana,” he’d sigh, looking outside at the cars driving by on the Gowanus Expressway. 

Because he shared a disposition with Eeyore himself, Linga was easily pushed around; he was like the proverbial red headed stepchild of New Corner. The Servers, like a group of school children subconsciously picking up on this weakness, and took advantage him as a result. If someone wanted to switch a shift around, they’d ask Linga because they’d know he’d give it up — even weekends, which were our most lucrative days. One time, a mix-up I had switching start times around on a Sunday caused him to lose his shift altogether. I texted him to apologize after he was sent home by the frustrated Boss, who had warned us not to switch our start times around in the first place, and he replied:

“Sure. Sunday. Is. The. Day. I. Hate. At. New. Corner. The. Most.” 

And yes, he wrote every word with a period between it— one of many funny ticks he had with his writing, digital or manual. 

Linga was also openly reviled because he consistently pulled in by far the least amount of tips for the pool. His section — tucked in the back corner of the booth room, comprising numbers 6, 7, and 8 — was the least busy section in the whole restaurant. No one ever wanted to sit back there, and only when there were no other tables available did Linga get customers in his section. As a result, he spent the majority of his time busying himself with other duties on the floor, such as gathering dirty dishes and bringing them into the kitchen, or changing the table cloths between customers. 

This pissed off the Polish Lady in particular, who was fixated on our nightly tips perhaps more than any other server— although she was sure to brag to everyone within earshot that she only worked at New Corner for gambling money. “My Frrrrankie,” she’d roll in her thick Eastern European accent, “he buys everrrrrything for me. I don’t need no money except to play the Quik Draw.” Nevertheless, the Polish Lady was especially eager for a good night’s tips, so to get back at Linga for not making a lot of money, she attacked him personally: from his serving skills to his personal hygiene. Poor Linga would slink by, like a dog with his tail between his legs, and the Polish Lady’s face would crinkle up into a nasty sneer. “Fucking Linga,” she’d spit through clenched teeth. “He acts like a baas-boy! Why does Vito make him Server? All he want to do is pick up dishes. And he stinks! He don’t shower, he don’t wear no deodorant— and nobody wants to tip a waiter who stinks!” 

The Polish Lady was ruthless. If she found herself at the calculator station with Linga, she’d mock-gag, asking anyone around her in a loud voice if something stank or if it was just her. The irony, of course, was compounded by her own heavy perfume, which actually made me gag. I asked Linga once why he didn’t say anything about it.

“Listen, Juliana. Me and her, we work together a long time… LONG time. We’re working together now almost twenty years She’s always doing this stuff. Why get upset when someone says something stupid? I just mind my business. I don’t listen to nothing she says.”

While there’s no way to reasonably justify the Polish Lady’s rabid attacks on Linga’s general humanity, she wasn’t wrong to point out that his tips were generally abysmal. We kept track of our tips with an old-fashioned, superstitious system implemented by the Boss: we’d put our money into a box with slots into individual cubbies marked with our names, and write down the table and the tip amount on a sheet of paper, also with our names, on a clipboard kept on top of the money box. Naturally, we servers eyed this sheet throughout the night to estimate how we were doing. On a typical Saturday, the upper echelon of the pool would be pulling in between $180 and $200 a piece, with the middle range falling somewhere between $120 and $150. Meanwhile, Linga would consistently pull in less than a hundred. 

On one of our nightly trips to mentally calculate our tips, the Polish Lady and I found ourselves at the money box and were both surprised to see that Linga pulled in an impressive $71 dollars on his first table.

“You know,” she said, with the rare and charming softness in her voice that somehow erased any memory of her more caustic qualities, “Linga’s doing OK for once. You see? $71 dollarrrrs! Maybe tonight we do good!”

After divvying up the money at the end of the night, though, counting all the bills on an empty table and double-checking that their total matched that on the sheet, we were $64 dollars short. It turns out that Linga’s first tip that night was only seven dollars — 7 — scribbled down with an extra vertical line in that funny way of writing he had.

But for all his shortcomings as a server, Linga was kind. When I first started working there, he would help me out when others were too busy (or too impatient) to teach the New Girl how to prepare things in the kitchen that fell under our responsibility. As I fidgeted with the espresso machine one night, hoping I wouldn’t burn myself, it was Linga who gently approached me and offered to demonstrate how to make a cappuccino, New Corner style: espresso first, then milk, then the whipped cream with a sprinkle of cinnamon, topped off with a long red straw. I was grateful for his help over those first few shaky weeks, but I began to wonder why my cappuccinos never looked as beautiful as the three-colored ones made by either of the Egyptian Twins. When I realized that my customers only ever seemed to drink half of them — or even just a few sips —  I began to observe how the Egyptian Twins made their cappuccinos…

… and saw that the milk goes in first, then the espresso, which should be gently poured in the side of the glass, and then foam: which Linga didn’t make altogether. With some more observation, I quickly realized that Linga made the worst cappuccino in the restaurant. 

Most of the seasoned Servers who’d worked there for as long as Linga had a robust rotation of Regulars. Linga only had one. And while most people’s Regulars tended to tip well, Linga’s Regular always came by himself — yes, the same customer who left Linga that infamous $7 tip — and ordered a modest meal that totaled to about thirty dollars. I had this regular a few times on days when Linga was out, and when I asked what he liked most about him, he explained that he liked how Linga prepared the house salad. 

He put two concentric rings of cucumbers and beefsteak tomato wedges around a bed of iceberg lettuce.

While I’ll admit that I grew annoyed with his low tips from time to time, I appreciated that Linga worked hard in other ways. It’s true: he did seem to spend more time bussing tables than actually waiting on them, but it isn’t his fault if the manager gave him the worst section in the joint. Plus, I found it admirable that he didn’t think himself above the busboys, who have one of the hardest jobs in the restaurant world. As the resident handyman, Linga took care of problems that arose during service, like cleaning the carpet if a kid puked up dinner. 

Linga was also the only one equipped to fix innumerable problems in the woman’s bathroom: a disgusting vortex of diarrhea induced by New Corner’s own food (yes, it’s true), old pipes, clogged toilets, cheap perfume and even cheaper air freshener. The women’s bathroom was so gross that I once refused to enter despite really needing to— and it was Linga who understood my predicament, and offered to stand guard outside the men’s room on my behalf when I ducked in to pee.

Although we never had any issues with one another, Linga and I didn’t have a particularly deep connection. If we were working in the same room, which was often enough, we helped each other out on the floor. At the calculators, I’d strike up casual conversation with him by listing off a few of the Spanish words I’d learned in the kitchen. More than anything else, though, our interactions were primarily comprised of him singing the chorus of that one Bachata song. As we’d pass by one another in the kitchen as he assembled his sad little cappuccinos, or out on the floor as he picked up leftover dishes or straighten the silverware, he’d sing— sometimes, it seemed, out of compulsion, and not even to me in particular:

“Juliana que mala eres… que mala eres Juliana…”

For the most part, hearing this silly song would make smile. But sometimes it made me feel embarrassed, like when he’d sing it in the kitchen and the cooks would join in, laughing a little too hard about how “bad” “Juliana” is. And during those times when I emotionally struggled at the thought of being a full-time waitress at New Corner, I’d feel profoundly sad. Looking at myself from the outside in, wanting desperately to change my profession and get on with my dreams, hearing this song made me wonder:

Am I going to be hearing this song for the rest of my life?

But when I knew that I was leaving, the song quite literally took on a different tune. Like the smell of a wood stove off in the distance, that I knew this melody — and the sheepish way only Linga could sing it — would become nostalgia in later years. Since New Corner closed down permanently in 2020, I’ve sometimes found myself singing this song, thinking of Linga. Yes, his whole life was wrapped up in that place, but never again will he stand by the windows, looking outside at nothing in particular and wondering else there is in this life. 

In many ways, I’ll bet you he got his wish. 

Lone Star

(May 2021)

Servers with cars were gracious enough to offer me a ride home after work, especially during wintertime. While I’d sometimes take them up on their offer, I preferred to walk back to my place. I not only lived close by, but I also enjoyed decompressing with a meandering stroll down Fort Hamilton Parkway for some fresh air. Sometimes I’d even stop by the swings at Leif Ericsson Park, set my bag down, and dangle my legs and laugh as I went up as far as I could before getting scared. 

And why would any grown woman get scared on a swing set, you might ask? Because when I was little, the swings my dad made out of rope and 2x4s on the elm tree out back snapped in half at the apex of one particular session that has stayed with me since. And let me tell you, it would for you, too. 

One night in January, I was feeling lonely and didn’t particularly feel like going home after the shift had ended. That would mean that the day was done, and opportunities for something interesting or spontaneous to happen would be closed off. So on this particular evening, I was both wary enough of the cold and straight-up sad enough to take one server up on his offer for a ride.

His name was Emmanuel. Born and raised in Egypt, he came to New York decades ago and raised two kids, along with his wife, down in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn. He was intelligent, well-informed, and good-natured. In a stroke of coincidence, Emmanuel’s youngest son was finishing up an undergraduate degree in chemistry at Cornell. He’d apparently started there just as I was finishing up my PhD. So in addition to talking about the restaurant, Emmanuel and I could also speak about Cornell, Ithaca, and other related topics that we alone shared. Emmanuel was a superstar waiter: truly a master of the craft, not least because of his dazzling conversational abilities. He could find something in common with just about anybody, and possessed the rare ability to make people feel truly welcome and comfortable. I was astounded that, as a practicing Muslim, Emmanuel could put our clientele — largely comprised of white, Trump-supporting, retired NYPD-types wearing “9/11, NEVER FORGET” T-Shirts— feel totally at ease. His signature move was to wait by door while his tables left, with one hand over his abdomen and the other waving goodbye, while saying “God bless!” with a smile.

The composure required of that feat — which wasn’t his responsibility in the first place, might I add — is nearly unfathomable.

I asked him if anyone ever game him shit for being a Muslim, Egyptian man working in such a conservative, white establishment. “Listen, babe,” he’d say with a warm smile, “this is Bay Ridge. There are more people Middle Eastern people here on 4th and 5th avenue than there are Italian Americans at this point, and if they have a problem with me, then it’s theirs— not mine.”

“But has anyone ever been racist to you here?”

“Jillian, dear, we’re servers: we can’t lose our cool in front of the customers. But honestly, I’ll curse them out in my head and talk shit about the racist idiots here in the kitchen! Haha!”

As evidenced by his heroic level of empathy for the clientele, Emmanuel really did seem to care about the people who came into the restaurant. He remembered details shared by customers, and asked about kids he’d seen grow from toddlers to adults during his tenure at New Corner that still came in to say hello. He had a host of regulars who requested him as their waiter, perhaps, too, due to how great Emmanuel was with the food prep duties. His cappuccinos had three distinct colors, he didn’t use too much whipped cream and sprinkles to decorate our already-sweet desserts, and he was able to make the iceberg lettuce and beefsteak tomatoes we used in the house salad look fancy. 

Like any good server, Emmanuel also had the ability to read anybody in about .025 seconds. Absolutely nothing got past him, yet he never let down his own guard — which, equally important in the art of waiting tables, he designed to be decidedly un-guard like in the first place. He always maintained his warmth and professionalism, and no matter how busy we got he never made his customers feel rushed. There was an easy-going air about Emmanuel, to the degree that some of the busboys would complain that he never helped clear away dishes. “That’s not my job,” he’d retort with trademark casualness. “Waiters have to concentrate on customer service. How can we possibly do that running around collecting dishes?” He’d point out that the busboys got a 10% cut of the servers’ pooled tips, and that they should earn that special privilege through these more menial labors in restaurant work.

So yeah, Emmanuel had depth— and he knew exactly what he was doing. Absolutely nobody fucked with him as a result. After all, to be a good server, you have to be at least somewhat two-faced and manipulative. 

Emmanuel worked at New Corner for so long that it was only natural to defer to his judgement on customer service, when to drop the check, how to time the entrees, whether to put lemons on the rim of a soda glass, and so forth. He had mastered both the art and science of waiting tables through nearly twenty years of experience in the joint. I’d relish whenever Emmanuel would tell me stories about New Corner in its heyday, back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when every night was a full house and  customers would be lined up out the door to the end of the block. “In those days, you could make a nice living here,” he explained, waxing wistful and nostalgic as he remembered the Golden Years. “We were making money hand over first— at least two, three, sometimes even four hundred dollars a night on the weekends. Those were definitely the days, babe…” 

He also talked about the food. As something of an amateur chef at home, Emmanuel loved food and had high standards for ingredients and flavor combinations. If he ate a shift meal at New Corner, he’d prepare something simple for himself — most often a baked chicken cutlet with a salad — with vegetables and spices he’d supplement from home. He’d also regale me with stories of how the food at New Corner used to be, and make many a passing remark of disappointment while picking up entrees from the kitchen:

“Look at this. Tsk! Disgusting. You guys can’t even clean the plates up, and we’re the ones that lose the good tips as a result. Lazy! No wonder business isn’t what it used to be.” 

I liked Emmanuel. We could have honest conversations with one another, and I enjoyed hearing about his upbringing in Cairo, travels in Europe, and what his experience making it work in New York over the years was like. Like me, Emmanual also loved music and made up little melodies about the restaurant. Often, we’d sing each other’s songs in the kitchen— sometimes inciting ire amongst the cooks, to which he’d laugh respond: “Ah, go fuck yourself, we’re just making some fun around this dump.”

So when asked if I wanted a ride home that one night in January, I gladly obliged. Why not?

First, he dropped off Patra — another OG New Corner server who had her fair share of regular customers — deep down in Bay Ridge. When she got out of the car and made it into her building, Emmanuel turned in his seat to ask if I wanted to maybe get a drink somewhere. While I thought about what his suggestion might have implied, I was feeling lonely and suggested the only bar I knew in the area: the Lone Star Texas Bar on 87th and 5th. It was the kind of joint with a juke box that people would load up with 20 dollar bills and choose the music for an hour straight— and, as I learned from my only other time there, the kind of place that doesn’t seem to appreciate the smooth and jazzy hip-hop stylings of Erykah Badu.

As a Muslim, Emmanuel doesn’t drink alcohol and ordered an O’Douls. I ordered a whisky sour, which he treated (with a handsome tip, naturally). Then I loaded the juke box up with The Bee Gees. I’ve always loved disco, but I got even more into this particular group since moving to South Brooklyn. As one drink turned into three — all of which Emmanuel insisted upon treating — I got up and danced to Night Fever and You Must Be Dancing as he looked on, laughing in good fun, doing a little chair dance while holding his O’Douls. We must have made quite a pair: the kind you could really only see in New York. An hour or two later, he drove me back to my place on 8th Avenue. He didn’t hug me or kiss my cheek, as was custom around New Corner; there was no awkwardness, no overt sexual undertones. I hopped out of the car, waved goodbye from my stoop, and went inside the brownstone.

Emmanuel and I never talked about what happened— not that we did anything wrong. Perhaps we both knew that if we told anyone about going to the Texas Bar, it’d be taken the wrong way.  By then, my personal life was already hot gossip fodder around the restaurant anyway. Undoubtedly, Emmanuel himself had  probably heard the rumors.

So yes, I have wondered if he thought I was vulnerable. Maybe he was hoping to take advantage of me. Maybe he thought I was easy— that I’d be desperate or foolish enough to sleep with him. Because even though Emmanuel was nearly as old as my parents, he used to tell me to think of him like a pal. Meanwhile, his best friend in the restaurant — another Egyptian guy called Ruby, who was the same age as Emmanuel— taught me the the word for “uncle” in Arabic, and explained that in Egyptian culture, someone my age would call someone his age by that honorific. 

Come to think of it, sex and youth seemed to be something of a preoccupation with Emmanuel. He would clap the bus boys on the shoulders in the kitchen and loudly ask, “How’s your sex life, bro?” Some of his songs were kind of weird, too, like the one about wanting to run away with a young virgin, or the one that went: “You gotta lick it / Before you kick it!” These pissed off everyone in the kitchen— yes, even me — because who the hell wants to hear that shit?

Although, let’s be real here, asking someone “How’s your sex life, bro?” out in the open is pretty fucking funny.

In a different dimension altogether, perhaps things might have gone one way with Emmanuel, but instead they went another. Truly, the thought of him in any sexual way literally makes me nauseous. In the end, our night out was really was just two coworkers going to some shitty dive in Bay Ridge to blow off steam, neither one of us playing their full hand, but giving the appearance of laying all our cards out on the table. We were two poker players in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em: a veteran versus a relative novice whom he might have underestimated, because she had been studying his strategy more closely than even he realized. 


(January 2021)

One time, a man came in at around quarter past five on a Friday evening, and was seated at booth four in my usual section: Section 2, comprising booths four, five, and six, as well as table fourteen. He came in by himself and slid into his seat, back facing the window. He set his cap down across from him, smoothed his hair, and thanked the Busboy for bringing over a basket of bread, a glass of water, and those rock-hard butter packets that I always wished we kept outside of the cooler in the kitchen so they’d be soft enough to actually use.

After a giving him a few moments to settle in, but not so much time as to make him feel neglected, I went up to booth four and asked if he might be interested in something to drink in addition to water. He ordered a Heineken, which I promptly brought over with a chilled class: a gesture which seemed to take him by pleasant surprise. In the short time it had taken me to fetch his beer, he had decided on ordering a chicken parmesan, side of potato croquette and string beans. He didn’t order an appetizer: a wise move given the size of our portions, and that he had come in by himself. I told my name was Jillian, and to not hesitate to ask me for anything he might like. He smiled, shook my hand, and said it was nice to meet me. 

After putting his order in, I noticed his beer glass could have been fuller. I asked if he might fancy another cold one. “Sure,” he said, “sounds nice. Why not on a Friday night, right?” We smiled. “Definitely! It’s always important to treat yourself,” I said, and quickly brought him another, along with a fresh glass— just in case.

Since we weren’t that busy, and I hadn’t seen this man before, I thought it might be nice to strike up a conversation with him. I asked the usual questions, answers to which I genuinely enjoyed hearing from our customers: if he grew up in the area, what it was like when he had been a child, if he had ever come to New Corner before, and if so, what he liked about the place. Stuff like that. He confirmed my suspicions that he was a Bay Ridge native (it’s easy to tell), and explained that he used to come to New Corner more regularly, but hadn’t had the chance to stop by in recent months. “Well,” I said cheerfully, “I’m sure glad you stopped in today! I always enjoy hearing about the restaurant and the neighborhood from people who know it well, like you.” And it was the truth. Then, I filled up his water glass, making sure to avoid letting too many ice cubes slide in from the pitcher.

Chicken parms don’t usually take long to make, and since he wasn’t having an appetizer, I decided to pick up his order from the Chefs after about ten minutes. The parm looked particularly good: paper thin, just the right amount of crisp, and with bubbling mozzarella oozing over the red sauce. Topped off with a sprig of fresh parsley, and framed with the croquette and string beans that were also looking good that day (for a change— those string beans were infamous), I stepped lightly to bring his food out while it was still steaming hot. I brought him a steak knife to more neatly cut the parm, although the butter knife already at the table would have worked just fine. He didn’t ask for the sharper knife, but seemed touched that I brought it over, along with red pepper flakes— just in case. 

The man ate quite quickly. Noting his pace, I interrupted his meal only briefly when he was a few bites in to make sure everything was tasting great. “It’s wonderful,” he said. “You guys have the best chicken parms in Brooklyn.” True words. Keeping an eye out for him for the duration of his meal, it seemed that he was truly savoring each bite, like catching up with a friend from childhood. And I was happy for him.

He finished eating within twenty minutes, and when I went to check on him, he was still lingering over that second Heineken, taking small and deliberate sips. He had stacked the silverware neatly on the plate so it would be easy for me to carry back into the kitchen. Thanking him for such sensitivity, I asked if he would like any dessert: “If I may be so bold as to make a recommendation, our homemade Italian cheesecake, homemade tiramisu, and homemade chocolate mousse are all excellent choices, especially if you’re still in the mood to treat yourself!”

Laughing, he said he was all set, and that the check would be just fine when I had the chance. The chicken parm and two beers came to $34 after tax. After a few minutes, so as to not make him feel rushed, I slipped the book onto booth 4 with a gentle pat, and told him to take his time. I meant it.

A few moments later, he had put the book at the edge of the table to indicate that everything was settled. “Keep the change,” he said, with a far-away smile and glassy eyes. “You were wonderful.”

Smiling, genuinely glad to have had such a pleasant and seamless experience with a table, I opened the book. The man had left a $100 bill. Surely, there had been a mistake.

“Sir,” I said gently, returning to his table less than a minute later. “I just wanted to make sure that you were aware of the bill. It only came to $34, and you—”

“No, I want you to have it. I…” Suddenly, the man’s eyes were red, swelling with tears. I paused, reflexively putting my hand to my chest, allowing him to finish while letting him know I was listening.

“I’m sorry,” he said, blotting tears with the napkin now stained with marinara. “This is so embarrassing. I… ”

“No, it’s totally okay. You have no reason to be embarrassed.”

The man choked up, fresh tears ready to fall. “My wife died recently.”

“… I’m so sorry.” 

The man regained his composure and smiled, looking down at the table. Then he looked up at me.

“Thank you, dear. I wasn’t expecting this to happen. I just thought it’d be good to get out of the house for a change, come by a neighborhood spot and get some comfort food. And you… you have just been so nice.” 

We both now were tearing up.  

“Keep the change, dear. It’s yours.”

I quickly got some paper napkins, set them down on the table for him — just in case — and thanked him for everything.

“No, sweetheart, thank you. You really made my week.” He handed me the book, we said a simple goodbye, and by the time I next turned around he had already gone.

The bartender, Mr. B, cashed out our tips at the register behind the bar. “WOWZA, $66 on a $34 check! Nice one, Jillian! What’d you do to pull that off?

Staving off tears, I smiled and shrugged— and with far-away eyes of my own, looked off into the parking lot through the front windows of the restaurant. “Oh, nothing in particular,” I said, not really to Mr. B anymore. “Just good rapport, you know?”