Hello, My Name Is Paul Auster and I’ll Be Your Waiter Tonight

Hello, My Name Is Paul Auster and I’ll Be Your Waiter Tonight

“Sauteéd soft-shelled crab with roasted garlic emulsion, charmoula, and radish. Butternut squash soup with Bleu d’Auvergne cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds. Grilled chicken roulade with sweet corn succotash and crawfish demi-glace.”

The words I’ve just read to you are printed on a single sheet of paper that I found taped to the host’s station, affixed there, I presume, by the host himself as instructed by our employer, the owner and chef of this restaurant. I understand those dishes to be tonight’s prix fixe special, available at a price of 45 dollars.

I habitually look for the night’s special when I begin my shift promptly at six o’clock PM each Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday night. Those are the days available to me as a relatively new employee who only hopes to work his way up to the lucrative weekend shifts, when a waiter might expect to earn as much as five hundred dollars in a single night.

I am a mere child amongst the staff at this restaurant, many of whom have worked here for as many years as I’ve lived. I share a two-bedroom Midtown apartment with my sister, two years my elder, who has just begun graduate study at Columbia University. We get along remarkably well, as comfortable with each other’s dirty dishes and naked bodies as though they were our own.

Ten years ago I declared my intention to become a poet, and each day I walk the 13 blocks to the Yorkville Library, where I sequester myself to write. I don’t delude myself about the quality of my verse, but occasionally I manage to produce a piece with the air of truth about it, a piece that feels fresh and real.

You are Mr. and, I presume, Mrs. Jacob Dover. You called this afternoon to see if any tables were available, and were told that yes, we would be able to accommodate you at 6:15. That accorded with your desire to have an early meal, then perhaps attend a screening of the new Werner Herzog documentary. Following that, you will catch a cab back to your West Side condominium where you will decide whether to call it a night or sit and catch a late show on television. If a bottle of wine is decanted, you might enjoy a lazy fuck.

As you lay in bed, your bodies spent, you will think back on your day and perhaps remember the food that you are about to instruct me to bring. You will think fondly of the soup, less fondly of the crab. The chicken, you will not think about at all. It is not exceptional, and by that point in the meal you will both be deep enough in your cups that your attention will be scattered, your conversation episodic.

As you drift to sleep, I will just be getting home, pocketing my keys and noticing a mysterious envelope that’s been pushed under the door, a piece of unexpected correspondence from a man I haven’t seen in seven years. I may disclose its contents if you return to this table precisely one week from today, having tipped generously in two hours’ time.

Jay Gabler