Friday Night at the Bellevue Tandisque

“Table 10’s on fire! Table 53’s on fire! Table 86 is on fire! Table 91’s on fire! Table 14’s on fire!” and still the chef kept calling out tables, even as Guy’s ticket machine kept spewing new orders. “Table 22’s on fire!” He was calling table numbers that Guy hadn’t even looked at yet, trying to pick up orders that Guy hadn’t even put on the grill.

Guy looked up from the pile of fish he was trying to season and throw on to start cooking. “I’m in the weeds!” he called to no one in particular. Perhaps he was hoping that someone would come to his rescue and dig him out of the hole he was in. If that was the case, he was bound to be disappointed. No one else on the line was in better shape than he was.

Two stations down, Brad was about to run out of vegetables. It was his own fault, really: he’d used about an hour of his prep time carving an extremely detailed dildo out of an especially large carrot to give to Tina, the restaurant’s lone lady line cook. Everybody else had thought it was hilarious, especially when Tina had put it in her bag to take home with her. All Guy saw was a waste of time and a promise that he would be in the weeds from the moment he walked in the door Saturday afternoon, when he was working the vegetable station.

Tina, who was between Brad and Guy on the saute station, was cussing up a storm in her husky, smoker’s voice. She had pans going on all eight burners: bourbon chicken, skewers of shrimp scampi, shrimp diavolo, poulet tandisque… and still had a stack of veal dredged in flour in her hand she needed to saute for a scallopini the chef was trying to pick up. She shrugged her shoulders, threw it in a fryer basket, and dropped it into the hot grease of the deep fryer.

“Behind you, coming down!” Stan was pushing his way down the line from the grill station with a filet mignon in one hand. It wasn’t really easy for him to fit his three hundred pounds of lardassdom through the couple feet of space available. Brad didn’t see him coming and turned to toss a pan of vegetables; Stan pushed him out of the way and just barreled on through, screaming, “I said behind you!”, flecks of spittle collecting on his moustache as he bellowed. He reached for the second fryer basket just as Tina was dumping an order of calamari into it. “What the hell?”, he roared, “I needed that basket!”

“For your fucking steak?” Tina shot back, “Go back down and grill it like you’re supposed to. I’ve got too much shit to worry about down here without trying to help you jerk off with your food.”

“I don’t have time to cook it on the grill,” Stan spat back, flinging the steak onto the corner of the fryer. He turned and started lumbering his way back down the line. “Drop it for a couple minutes in the fryer to give it color,” he called over his shoulder, “and then throw it in the microwave to finish. I need it to be mid-well.”

Tina picked up the steak and had her arm cocked to chuck it at the back of Stan’s head when a sharp voice boomed at her from the other side of the line. “Tina!” the chef barked, “We don’t have time for you to be playing games. Fry the fucking steak and get it ready yesterday!”

“Yes, sir.” she grumbled, but as soon as the chef turned around she shouted down the line at Stan, “Watch your back, asshole. I’m gonna burn you.”

Guy, who had given up trying to season the fish and was casting it upon the fire by the fistful, involuntarily winced and rubbed his forearm. She’d just gotten him the other week with her tongs she’d held dangling in the fryer grease because he’d accidentally stepped on her foot and didn’t say “sorry.”

Stan didn’t care, though. Let the bitch try to get him with her greasy tongs, he’d have a red hot poker waiting at the edge of the grill. He’d show her what real pain was. Thought she was all tough ’cause she was from the street—whatever. His brother walked the beat on the east side; he picked up whores like her every night and booked ‘em; no matter how tough they thought they were, they all cried like infants the second you had ‘em against the wall.

What was that he was picking up now? 86-91-14-22; two lamb, one med-rare, one medium; two filets, both well done (waste of fucking flesh, gave ‘em the old ones starting to turn); a couple of strips, rare and medium, medium no cheese; gotta grab that rack for 37 out of the broiler, it’ll be past med-well if stays too much longer than this), and everything else doesn’t matter ’cause some dipshit on 22 wants his veal porter extra well: “I got time on 22, Benny!” and the chef calls back his OK. Everything’s straight; it’ll all get done eventually. Stupid whore. He picks up the poker from the side of the grill and waves it at Tina, “See what I got for ya?!”

Brad tried not to notice what was going on over his head, he had to keep the plates coming: line and stack, not too many, had to keep them hot. A stack of carrots crossed by green beans, pipe a stack of potatoes on it and send it down the line; doesn’t matter where, everyone needs ‘em even if they don’t know it. Or even if they do, Tina always shouting how many she needed, declaring to the world, “I need more plates!”; Stan complaining to the chef, “I can’t give you the food if I’ve got nothing to put it on!” He’d like to see either of them do better; they couldn’t, they didn’t know how. It was like dancing, just meaner. Spin and toss the pan; spin and pull the plates, reach out for the veggies and drop them, drop them, drop them. Ooh yeah, he had the station down to a science. Just enough of everything, he’d make it through the night, no problem, even if he did have to skimp on beans for the last few plates he’d be golden. Ow! damned bag of potatoes was hot, that towel he wrapped around it didn’t do anything.

Tina sneers at Stan and shakes her head no; gesticulates a couple of inches between her thumb and forefinger, ‘I know what you’ve actually got, asshole, or have you forgotten?’ she silently screams and meanwhile shouts aloud down the line, “Hey chef! Stanley’s threatening me!”

“I’m not gonna put up with this bullshit!” Ben Ridgely yells, but he makes sure he yells it more toward Stan than Tina. Motherfuckers! Why can’t they just keep it together and cook? He’s got enough shit to deal with without them squabbling over nothing; they’ve both cooked long enough to not get flustered when tickets came in; unlike Guy, who had held it together pretty well for a while but was starting to fall apart. His glazed-over eyes stared vacantly at an explosion of tickets too long ignored that spooled out of the machine and onto the floor. Ben strolled sown the line and leaned in Guy’s window, “You doing okay there?” and tried to smile cheerfully.

Brad reached into the steam pan for some carrots and came up empty. He spun and opened the door of his warming oven and found no more. Panicked, he took off from his station like he was coming out of blocks at a dead run for the walk-in cooler, he had another pan, didn’t he?

What the fuck? Guy moaned and gripped his eyebrows in tightly clenched fists. There were empty plates stacked up in his window; the assemblage of seafood smoking on the grill was random and jumbled. He had no idea which filet had gone down when, what needed to be turned or how close any of it was to being cooked. There were tickets fired that he hadn’t even looked at yet, and now the chef was over here mocking him! He threw his hands up in the air and turned around slowly. Looking at the grill gave him no further answers, so he continued his rotation until he faced the chef again.

The alarm on the microwave rang and it sounded like a truck was backing up through the kitchen. “Here,” called Tina down to Stan, “your steak’s done; I hope it’s gray!” She took it out of the microwave and cocked her arm back to lob it the fifteen feet to the grill.

“Look,” Ben said, and pointed across the kitchen, “Maria’s doing desserts. This’ll all be over soon. Just put some food on some plates and we’ll all be able to go home.” Guy stared blankly back and forth at the fingertips of each hand.

Brad was still staring back at the empty tray of carrots. He charged into Tina as she whipped her arm forward. Her fist connected with his nose; his momentum carried him through and his shoulder collided with her chest.

“Listen,” said Ben, “Right now, all I need are two lobster tails. After you put those up, I want two blackened salmon and a crabcakes.” Guy palmed the side of his head as if it were a basketball. “You’ve got some stuff in your oven, right?” Ben asked.

The steak flipped a couple of times through the air and landed in the greasy muck between the stove and the fryer. Tina collapsed to the ground and Brad clutched his nose, blood leaking through his fingers. Stan, distracted, grabbed a sizzling platter of lamb from the broiler with his bare hand but quickly flung it to the ground when he realized the extra sizzle was his own flesh.

The chef was there. He wanted to know something. What could he say when he couldn’t even think? Nothing made sense as a picture, though he could see the individual pieces all right. Had to put it together before he could respond but there was too much to manage and he didn’t know what to do. Finally Guy spoke.

“I don’t know.”

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