I woke before dawn. Orion was walking in the southern sky, but he was gone when I went out to the car, and there was a lavender sky to the east. Now I'm in Tosi's.
"How are you, Tosh?" asks a customer.
Tosi answers in a single syllable, as he always does, forcefully and finally. "Same," he declares. As if he wants it put out of doubt forever, that his state of health or mind could ever change. And he is, in fact, one of the anchors of my life. Always here, always the same. He looks sixty, maybe, but he's well over seventy. Sixty years ago, as he's fond of recounting, he arrived by ship in America, innocent of English, and was put on a train with a label bearing his destination pinned to his shirt. Went to work for his uncle, (or was it his cousin? I'll have to listen more closely, next time) in Chicago (or Cleveland?), busing tables and washing dishes. He still buses tables, when they're shorthanded: the waitresses fuss at him when he loads the bus tubs too full and lugs them to the kitchen. "Do you think you're a teenager? You're going to wreck your back." Tosi grunts dismissively.
He takes a hand at the line, too, in a pinch, though we rather wish he wouldn't: he doesn't really have the timing of a line cook any more, and the eggs arrive a little hard or a little runny, the toast maybe a little burnt. The waitresses apologize obliquely when he does, murmuring "Tosh is cooking today" when they set down your plate. But it's usually his son Jim cooking, who makes a perfect breakfast, every time. If you like diner food. No one complains about Tosi's cooking, though. I think we all know that the day Tosi lets a job go undone at the restaurant will be the day he decides to die.
He sits at the odd booth beside the door, at slow times, and his old friends come in, and have animated conversations in Greek. They all have wonderful faces. They belong to the last generation that didn't really care about men being handsome, the generation in which a man like Humphrey Bogart, with no physique and no prettiness, could be a film star. And consequently they're much more attractive than the men twenty years younger, who have mostly run to fat and look like they couldn't handle themselves in a fight. Of course, Tosi's friends are Greek, too, and the Greeks are the handsomest people in the world. They just are.
His youngest daughter waited tables here, for a few years. She was astoundingly pretty, and even more astoundingly innocent and attentive. She listened to everything everyone said with round eyes, she loved and admired everyone, she was delighted by the most tired jokes. When she confided to me that she was getting married, I took her hand and said, "Oh, all the blessings!" She was the kind of person you could be maudlin with, without embarrassment.
She's a schoolteacher now, and has kids, and has put on weight, and looks a little worried. I see her here every once in a while. Her face still lights up when she sees you, but only after a small delay. She doesn't live at the surface now: she has to come up from somewhere to respond to you. I grieve for the girl who used to patter happily around the restaurant, pouring coffee.
The cars swish down Sandy Boulevard, now, with their long shadows in front of them. All going to work. I don't have to go to work till noon, now. Time to write almost every morning. I still can't believe my good fortune. Mornings to write, afternoons at the Foundation, massage in the evening: it's the perfect life. I keep expecting someone to snatch it away. Surely you can't live so much the life you want to live, and get away with it? But I won't borrow trouble. It knows where to find me; it has my address; it can look me up if it wants me. I'm not going to go looking for it.