Whenever she’d let me, I’d help my friend Ava with her job. What else did I have to do on a Saturday night? It was no fun clubbing without her so I’d go over to the Port Spot and hang out in the office while she tended to whatever tiresome event she was managing. Besides, it wasn’t every weekend, just most.
I have the hots for Ava and one of these days, she’s going to get the picture and I am going to make a breakthrough. I don’t know what’s holding Ava back. Well, I do actually. It’s the two big obstacles. She thinks she’s straight but I know she’s not. I can tell. And then there’s the race thing. She’s white but she doesn’t know she’s hedging on account of that–me being African-American. She needs me to help “find herself”.
Anyway, Ava did all the event stuff for the Port Spot, a non-profit that had a nice little, historic building in old town. The company rented out office space, cheap, to people starting new businesses and the ballroom, not cheap, for events. The events were the primary source of income for them so everyone was real particular about giving the customer a good experience. You know, the old word-of-mouth referral thing is the best advertising. I personally don’t know how Ava did it–be so nice to all those people–meet all their demands on top of seeing that they didn’t tear up the joint.
Like I said, I helped her out whenever she’d let me.
After working all day while the customer dinked around with their decorations and shit, she was there pretty much all night too, ‘til the event was over. Then she cleaned up the place so it would be ready for business the next day. I asked her why she did this and she’d said the money was good. She got a percentage of what they charged.
“Hey, it’s perfect. I’m free to go to school during the week and only have to work part of the weekend.”
It was one Saturday night in September, I was hanging out with Ava. It had been a long night of her catering to some fool with high demands. I’d seen his type before, bossy and real insecure underneath. It was a hard night for Ava and so I was able to talk her into going to an after-hours club for drinks to chill out. Ava was what you’d call “pensive.”
“What’s on your mind,” I asked.
She looked up at me with those big blue eyes and smiled. “Oh just thinking back to when I was a kid–the time my mother took me and my sister to the city. We’d follow her anywhere you know.”
“Of course you did. You sort of had to–you were only children after all.” I’d said. “I hear people say that all the time–only children–as though they don’t matter. Or worse yet, “don’t treat me like a child”. Humm? And how’s that, exactly? As though you’d treat a child with less respect than an adult. And then there’s the people, adults who just can’t get enough respect–like that dude tonight at the Port Spot. He had a major respect issue. And you know what I would have told him, if he pulled that shit on me?”
I didn’t wait for Ava to ask me “what”. I plowed on. I would have said, “Sorry. What is it you want exactly, mother fucker? Just follow the fucking rules and we’ll get along. Don’t expect me to bow down to you.”
Ava looks at me sort of surprised at my outburst. “What’s that all about?”
“It’s about what’s his name, your customer tonight. What an ass. How much did you actually make? I hope it was a lot because you earned every penny tonight with mister drama-queen,” I said.
“Hmm, sorry to say but there was a mix up in the fee and he only paid $600. So my percentage was the usual twenty-five percent.”
“What?”, I said. “You’re kidding. Who fucked that up.”
“No one really. It’s just he kept telling me that he’d been told he’d get this and that service so I didn’t have much of a choice. It was supposed to be a three hour event. Every now and then we get a slick one that plays us.”
“So, you rearranged the room twice, and bussed the tables when his incompetent caterer left early. Then you cleaned up the place for a lousy two-hundred dollars?”
“When he ran out of ice and insisted you go out and replenish his supply–ice that he was suppose to bring–I was about to tell him to shut the fuck up.”
“Thank you for going to get the ice and for not telling him to shut-the-fuck up.”
“You do know what his problem was,” I’d said.
“Yes, he was a slick one.”
“No, he just didn’t like a woman telling him what to do, and a white woman at that. That’s about the size of it.”
“I’m not.” I ordered us another round of drinks and asked Ava to continue her story about her trip to the city with her mother.
“Oh right. That guy triggered an old memory–good looking black-guy, smooth talker. Anyway my sister and I walked side by side, holding hands, following Mama on the sidewalk into town. I was six. We lived in the country, so going to town was a big adventure. Going alone without my Dad, was Mama’s big adventure. We’d spent the night in a hotel.”
“Our client tonight reminded me of Preacher Dan, my mother’s boyfriend. He had that pretend to be nice and all friendly but underneath he was sleazy and slick. And Preacher Dan couldn’t stop talking either. Always running his mouth. He sure was surprised when he showed up at the hotel expecting to have a nice evening with my Mama and then found me and my sister sitting on the bed in our little dresses and our socks rinsed out and draped over the radiator–drying.”
“His big old smile went straight into a grimace. Then he sees Mama and she was just so beautiful and desirable, that he put that smile right back on his face and started yammering away.”
“What have we here? You girls look just like your Mama. Did you know that? Cute as a button, yes indeed, cute as a button,” and he rubs his big old hands on top of our heads. We just sit there looking at him and then at Mama.
“Mama smiles at us and then at her would-be-boyfriend. You see he wasn’t her boyfriend, really. I’d seen him drive by our house a few times. Mama had taken a part-time job at a restaurant but Daddy had made her quit after men kept driving out to our house to get a look at Mama. Dan was the tenacious one. He’d drive out every couple of days.”
“So what happened between them?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Ava laughed. “We didn’t know what was going on at the time. My sister and I put it all together years later.”
“Preacher Dan takes us all downstairs to the restaurant and feeds us a nice meal, steak for himself and Mama and burgers for us kids. He had some high-balls but not Mama. She didn’t drink. Mama’s only experience at her job in the restaurant was bussing tables and washing dishes. This was probably her first time actually getting to sit at a table with a tablecloth on it and having a nice meal with people waiting on her. She usually was the one in the back, or after hours–mopping up.”
“Sort of like tonight–us mopping up,” I smirked. Ava gave me a look.
“Yeah, like us.” Ava sipped her drink. “Anyway, after the meal we went back up to the room. Mama sent us off to the bathroom to brush our teeth and when we finished up and walked into the bedroom, she was fighting off Preacher Dan. Of course my sister and I joined in the fight.
Ava paused and made that little frown of hers. “Go on, don’t stop now. What’cha thinkin,” I asked.
“Hmm,” she said. “It just occurred to me that Mama and Daddy did an awful lot of fighting but we kids never joined in. We just hid behind the door until it was over. I guess we couldn’t figure out whose side to be on, Mama’s or Daddy’s.”
“In the end, old Dan grabs his coat and leaves, slamming the door behind him and yelling at Mama that she was a tease and complaining about having to feed her and her brats and him getting nothing out of it.”
Ava sipped her drink. It was a beautiful thing to watch. I downed the rest of my drink. “So why did your mother call him in the first place?”
“Dunno. I guess she trusted him and it was her big adventure. She was pretty young and stuck in the country all day with nothing but her kids and the radio. The next day we checked out of the hotel. I remember us walking up a street, it was steep. Then Daddy’s big blue car pulled up beside us and we got in.”
“Another big fight?” I asked.
“Nope, not a word was said. We drove home and we all went into the house and there’s a brand new TV in the living room. My Mama’s all happy, hugging Daddy. It was better than Christmas.”
Ava stopped talking and finished off her martini. “What a night. I might have to stop doing these events.”
“So that’s it? A TV fixes the problem?” I was kind of stunned.
“Yep. Simple things. A simple fix.”
“She never strayed after that?” I asked.
Of course I agreed with her about quitting her job. A couple hundred bucks, what a rip-off. And I can’t help wondering what Ava’s simple fix might be.
(c) Glenda Kotchish