He was especially immaculate this Thursday. I guessed he must be taking at least three ladies out that evening. He looked at me out of the corner of his eyes. "Three, little one, this hot night? Winter time, yes, a man can stand a crowd about him, but not to-night. No. To-night, little one, I take but one lady. It allows for more circulation of air. And you will be that One?"
The Greek this hot Thursday became especially friendly. He twirled his heavy black mustache and carried on an animated broken-English conversation most of the afternoon. Incidentally, he sent over one ice coffee with thick cream and two frosted chocolates.
The little Spaniard next to him, he who served pies and ice cream and more amazing desserts--he, too, became very friendly. There was nothing the least fresh about the little Spaniard. He mostly leaned on his counter, in moments of lull in trade, and when I so much as looked his way, he sighed heavily. Finally he made bold to converse. I learned that he had been two years in this country, eight months at his present job. When I asked him how he spent his off time, he replied in his very broken English that he knew nobody and went nowhere. "It is no pleasure to go alone." He rooms with an American family on the East Side. They are very nice. For some years he had been in the printing trade in South America; there was something to a job like that. But in New York he did not know enough English to be a printer, and so, somehow, he found himself dishing pies and ice cream at our hotel.
Later on that day he asked me, "Why are you so happy?"
Indeed I was very cheerful and made no secret of it. I had sung every song I knew and then whistled them all as I worked. But Schmitz, who surely had never smiled in all his life, could stand it no longer. "You better not make so much noise," he said. "You see, it's dis vay--" Poor Schmitz, he had a miserable time of it that afternoon. For my expressions of contentment with the world had spread. Unconsciously a chef would whistle a bit here as he mixed his gravy ingredients, another there as he minced chicken, yet another in still another direction as he arranged a bowl of vegetables. Schmitz's head swirled first in one direction, then in another. Aching he was to reduce the universe to his perpetual state of gloom. But chefs he stood in awe of. He dared silence only me, and every so often I forgot.
So the Spaniard asked me why I was so happy. I had no reason. Only a great multitude of reasons why there was no excuse to be anything else, but I did not go into that. He would know, though.
"What did you do last night?"
"Ho!" I laughed at him, "rode home on the top of a bus!"
A bit later a piece of folded paper landed almost in my French dressing. It was a note from the Spaniard: "Will you go riding with me to-night?" I wrote on the bottom of the paper: "Not to-night. Perhaps next week, yes?" A few moments later a folded menu landed on the floor. On the back was written: "I will be very pleased whenever you can or wish. Could it be Sunday? I hope you wouldn't take it amiss my asking you this. Frank."
I really wanted to take that bus ride with Frank. It still worries me that I did not. He was such a lonesome person.
Then there was the tall, lean, dark Irish waiter I called Mr. O'Sullivan. He was a continual joy to my heart and gave me cause for many a chuckle. A rebel, was Mr. O'Sullivan. I heard Kelly call him down twice for growling at what he considered inexcusable desires in the matter of food or service on the part of patrons by telling Mr. O'Sullivan it was none of his ---- business. But I loved to listen to Mr. O'Sullivan's growlings, and once he realized that, he used to stop at my counter, take extra long to collect three slices of lemon, and tell me his latest grievance. To-night, this Thursday, he was sputtering.
"Shure and de y'know what now? I've two parties out there want finger bowls. Finger bowls!" sputtered Mr. O'Sullivan.
"Shure an' it's a long ways from the sight of finger bowls them two was born. It had better be a pail apiece they'd be askin' for. Finger bowls indeed!" Mr. O'Sullivan had gotten down to a mumble. "Shure an' they make me sick!"
Mr. O'Sullivan knew that I gave ear to his sentiments upon such matters as old parties, male or female, who must needs order special kinds of extra digestible bread, and usually that bread must in addition be toasted. While it was toasting, Mr. O'Sullivan voiced his views on Old Maids with Indigestion. Much of it does not bear repeating. When the toast was done, Mr. O'Sullivan would hold out his plate with the napkin folded ready for the toast. "Shure an yo'r the sweetest child my eyes ever looked upon" (Mr. O'Sullivan would say just the same thing in the same way to a toothless old hag of ninety). "Mind you spare yo'rself now from both bein' an old maid and sufferin' to the point where y' can't eat plain white bread!"
This particular Thursday I had even found some one to talk to in the recreation room when I sneaked up at three o'clock. There came a time when Schmitz's patience was strained over my regular disappearance from about 3 to 3.30. There was absolutely nothing for me to do just then in my own line, so I embraced that opportunity daily to take my way to the recreation room and see what pickings I could gather up. But one afternoon Schmitz's face bore an extra-heavy frown. "Say, what you do every day that keeps you from your work all this time? Don't you know that ain't no way to do? Don't you understand hotel work is just like a factory? Everybody must be in his place all day and not go wandering off!"
"Ever work in a factory?" I asked Schmitz.
He deigned no answer.
"Well, then, I'm telling you I have, and hotel work ain't like a factory at all."
"Vell, you see it's dis vay--naturally--"
This Thursday up in the recreation room I found an ancient scrubwoman, patched and darned to pieces, with stringy thin hair, and the fat, jovial Irishwoman from the help's pantry. The three of us had as giddy a half hour as anyone in all New York. We laughed at one another's jokes till we almost wept, and forgot all about the thermometer. The fat Irishwoman had worked at the hotel two years, the scrubwoman almost that long. Both "lived out." They, too, informed me I had one of the best jobs in the hotel--nobody messin' in with what you're doin'--they leave y'alone. The fat one had worked some time in the linen room, but preferred pantry work. The linen room was too much responsibility--had to count out aprons and towels and things in piles of ten and tie them, and things like that--made a body's head swim.
Realizing Schmitz's growing discomfort, I finally had to tear myself away. The fat Irishwoman called after me, "Good-by, dear, and God bless y'."
Upstairs at supper that night I had the luck to land again at a talkative table. We discussed many things--Ireland, for one. One girl was she who had come two years ago from Ireland and did salads in the main kitchen. Such a brogue! An Irish parlor maid had been long years in this country. The two asked many questions of each other about their life in the Old Country. "Shure," sighed one, "I love every stick and every stone and tree and blade of grass in Ireland!" "Shure," sighed the other, "an' that's just the way I feel about it, too!"
Everyone at the table liked working at our hotel. According to them, the hotel was nice, the girls nice, hours nice.
The subject of matrimony, as ever, came up. Not a soul at the table but what was ag'in' it. Why should a woman get married when she can support herself? All she'd get out of it would be a pack of kids to clean up after, and work that never ended. Of course, the concession was eventually made, if you were sure you were gettin' a good man-- But how many good men were there in the world? And look at the divorces nowadays! Why try it at all? One girl reported as statistically accurate that there was one divorce in the United States to every four marriages. "You don't say!" was the chorus.
The subject changed to summer hotels. One woman had worked last summer as a waitress at one of the beaches. That was the swellest job ever--just like a vacation! All summer she had two tables only to wait on, two persons at a table. Each table had tipped her five dollars a week. Next summer we all must try it.
The minutes flew by too fast that supper. Before I knew it, 5.30 had come around, and by the time I was downstairs again it was five minutes past my appointed half hour. Poor, poor Schmitz! And yet lucky Schmitz. It must have caused his soul much inner satisfaction to have a real honest-to-goodness grievance to complain about. (You see, he could not go up for his supper until I came down from mine.) Schmitz upbraided me, patiently, with explanations. Every single night from then on, when at five he would tell me I could go upstairs, he always added, "And be sure you're back at half past five!" In natural depravity of spirit, it was my delight one night to be able to sneak down at about 5.25 without being seen by Schmitz. Then I shrank into a corner of my compartment, out of his line of vision, and worked busily on my evening chores. At 5.30, Schmitz began his anxious scanning of our large clock. By 5.40 he was a wreck and the clock had nearly been glared off its hinges. Then it was a waiter called out to me the first evening order. With the crucified steps of a martyr, a ten-minute-hungry martyr at that, Schmitz made his way over to fill that order. And there I was, busily filling it myself! Of course, I hope I have made it clear that Schmitz was the kind who would say, "I knew she was there all along."
The rush of this particular Thursday night! More lettuce had to be sent for in the middle of the evening, more tomatoes, more blackberries, more cantaloupes, more bread for toast. There was no stopping for breath. In the midst of the final scrubbings and cleanings came an order of "One combination salad, Sweetheart!" That done and removed and there sounded down the way, "One cantaloupe, Honey!" Back the waiter came in a moment. "The old party says it's too ripe." There were only two left to choose from. "Knock his slats in if he don't like that, the old fossil." In another moment the waiter was back again with the second half. "He says he don't want no cantaloupe, anyhow. Says he meant an order of Philadelphia cream cheese."
But nine o'clock came round and somehow the chores were all done and Schmitz nodded his regal head ever so little--his sign for, "Madam, you may take your departure," and up I flew through the almost deserted main kitchen, up the three flights to the service floor, down four flights to the time-clock floor (elevators weren't always handy), to be greeted by my friend the time-clock man with his broad grin and his, "Well, if here ain't my little bunch o' love!"
If he and Schmitz could only have gotten mixed a bit in the original kneading....
By Saturday of that week I began my diary: "Goodness! I couldn't stand this pace long--waiters are too affectionate." I mention such a matter and go into some detail over their affection here and there, because it was in no sense personal. I mean that any girl working at my job, provided she was not too ancient and too toothless and too ignorant of the English language, would have been treated with equal enthusiasm. True, a good-looking Irishman did say to me one evening, "I keep thinkin' to myself durin' the day, what is there about you that's different. I shure like it a lot what it is, but I just can't put my finger on it." I used as bad grammar as the next; I appeared, I hoped, as ignorant as the next. Yet another Irishman remarked, "I don't know who you are or where you came from or where you got your education, but you shure have got us all on the run!" But any girl with the least wits about her would have had them on the run. She was the only girl these men got a chance to talk to the greater part of the day.
But what if a girl had a couple of years of that sort of thing? Or does she get this attention only the first couple of weeks of the couple of years, anyhow? Does a waiter grow tired of expressing his affection before or after the girl grows tired of hearing it? I could not help but feel that most of it was due to the fact that perhaps among those waiters and such girls as they knew a purely friendly relationship was practically unknown. Sex seemed to enter in the first ten minutes. Girls are not for friends--they're to flirt with. It was for the girl to set the limits; the man had none.
But eight and one-half hours a day of parrying the advances of affectionate waiters--a law should be passed limiting the cause for such exertion to two hours a day, no overtime. Nor have I taken the gentle reader into my confidence regarding the Spanish chef in the main kitchen. He did the roasting. I had to pass his stove on my way to the elevators. At which he dropped everything, wiped his hands on his apron, and beamed from ear to ear until I got by. One day he dashed along beside me and directed an outburst of Spanish into my ear. When I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders and got it into his head that I was not a countrywoman, his dismay was purely temporary. He spoke rather flowery English. Would I walk up the stairs with him? No, I preferred the elevator. He, did too. I made the most of it by asking him questions too fast for him to ask me any. He was a tailor by trade, but business had been dull for months. In despair he had taken to roasting. Some six months he had been at our hotel. He much preferred tailoring, and in two months he would be back at his trade in a little shop of his own, making about fifty to seventy-five dollars a week. And then he got in his first question.
"Are you married?"
"Could I then ask you to go out with me some evening?"--all this with many beams and wipings of hands on his apron.
Well, I was very busy.
But one evening. Oh, just one evening--surely one evening.
No, not to-night.
No, no night this week or next week, but perhaps week after next.
Ah, that is so long, so long!
There was no earthly way to get to the stairs or elevators except by his stove. I came to dread it. Always the Spanish ex-tailor dropped everything with a clatter and chased after me. I managed to pass his confines at greater and greater speed. Invariably I heard his panting, "Listen! Listen!" after me, but I tore on, hoping to get an elevator that started up before he could make it.
One day the Spaniard, this tall thin roaster with the black mustache, was waiting as I came out of the locker room.
"Listen! Listen!" he panted, from force of habit. "Next week is still so very long off."
It so happened it was my last day at the hotel. I told him I was leaving that night.
"Oh, miss!" He looked really upset. "Then you will go out to-night with me. Surely to-night."
No, I had a date.
No, I had another date.
Sunday--oh, Sunday, just one Sunday.
Sunday I had two dates.
I should be able to flatter my female soul that at least he forgot the seasoning that night in his roasts.
Downstairs that first Saturday the little quiet Spaniard of the pies and ice cream screwed up his courage, crossed over to my precinct, leaned his arms on my front counter, and said, "If I had a wife like you I would be happy all the rest of my life!"
Having delivered himself of those sentiments, he hastily returned to his pies and ice cream.
The Greek coffee man would take me to a show that night.
Saturday, to my surprise, was a slack day in the café business. Trade is always light. Sunday our kitchen closed shop. Another reason why my job held allurements. I was the only girl to get Sunday off. Also, because we were the only department in the hotel to close down altogether, it seems we were wont to have an annual picnic. Alas that I had to miss it!
Plans were just taking shape, too, for this year's event. Last year they motored over to Long Island. Much food, many drinks. It was a rosy memory. This year Kelly wanted a hay ride. Kelly, he of the highly colored past, even so contended there was nothing in the world like the smell of hay.
There was no fun to the supper that Saturday night. I sat at a table with a deaf girl, two dirty men, and a fat, flabby female with pop eyes, and not a one of them acted as if he possessed the ability to speak. Except the deaf girl, who did tell me she couldn't hear.
So I ate hastily and made for the recreation room. For the first time the piano was in use. A chambermaid, surrounded by four admiring fellow-workers, was playing "Oh, they're killin' men and women for a wearin' of the green." That is, I made out she meant it for that tune. With the right hand she picked out what every now and then approached that melody. With the left she did a tum-te-dum which she left entirely to chance, the right hand and its perplexities needing her entire attention. During all of this, without intermission, her foot conscientiously pressed the loud pedal.
Altogether there were seven in the chambermaid's audience. I sat down next to a little wrinkled auburn-haired Irish chambermaid whose face looked positively inspired. She beat time with one foot and both hands. "Ain't it jus' grand!" she whispered to me. "If I c'u'd jus' play like that!" Her eyes sought the ceiling. When the player had finished her rendition there was much applause. One girl left the clouds long enough to ask, "Oh, Jennie, is it really true you never took a lesson?" Jennie admitted it was true. "Think of that, now!" the little woman by me gasped.
The chambermaid next gave an original interpretation of "Believe me if all those endearing young charms." At least it was nearer that than anything else. I had to tear myself away in the middle of what five out of seven people finally would have guessed was "Way down upon the Suwanee River." The faces of the audience were still wreathed in that expression you may catch on a few faces at Carnegie Hall.
Monday there was a chambermaids' meeting. Much excitement. They had been getting seven dollars a week. The management wished to change and pay them by the month, instead--thirty dollars a month. There was something underhanded about it, the girls were sure of that. In addition there was a general feeling that everyone was in for more or less of a cut in wages about September. A general undertone of suspicion that day was over everything and everybody. Several chambermaids were waiting around the recreation room the few moments before the meeting. They were upset over that sign under the picture of Christ, "No cursing no stealing when tempted look on his kindly face." As long as they'd been in that hotel they'd never heard no cursin' among the girls, and as for stealin'--well, they guessed the guests stole more than ever the girls did. There were too many squealers around that hotel, that was the trouble. One girl spoke up and said it wasn't the hotel. New York was all squealers--worst "race" she ever knew for meanness to one another--nothin' you'd ever see in the Irish!
I thought back over the dinner conversation that noon. An Irish girl asked me what my hurry was, when my work didn't begin till 1.30. I told her I helped out the Spanish woman and remarked that I thought it wrong that she didn't get more pay than I. "Say," said the Irish girl, "you jus' look out for your own self in this world and don't you go round worryin' over no one else. You got number one to look out for and that's all."
The excitement of the day was that the Big Boss for the first time took note of the fact I was alive. He said good evening and thought he'd look in my ice chest. My heart did flutter, but I knew I was safe. I had scrubbed and polished that ice chest till it creaked and groaned the Saturday night before. The brass parts were blinding. But there was too much food in it for that hour of the night. He called Schmitz--Schmitz was abject reverence and acquiescence. It was, of course, Kelly's fault for leaving so much stuff there when he went at 3. And Kelly was gruff as a bear next day. Evidently the Big Boss spoke to him about sending stuff upstairs after the lunch rush was over. He almost broke the plates hurling things out of the ice box at 2.30. And the names he called Schmitz I dare not repeat. He swore and he swore and he swore! And he stripped the ice box all but bare.
How down on prohibition were Kelly and many of those waiters! Perhaps all the waiters, but I did not hear all express opinions. A waiter was talking to Kelly about it in front of my counter one day. "How can we keep this up?" the waiter moaned. "There was a time when if you got desperate you could take a nip and it carried you over. But I ask you, how can a man live when he works like this and works and then goes home and sits around and goes to bed, and then gets up and goes back and works and works, and then goes home and sits around? You put a dollar down on the table and look at it, and then pick it up and put it in your pocket again. Hell of a life, I say, and I don't see how we can keep it up with never a drink to make a man forget his troubles!"
Kelly put forth that favorite claim that there was far more evil-doing of every sort and description since prohibition than before--and then added that everyone had his home-brew anyhow. He told of how the chefs and he got to the hotel early one morning and started to make up six gallons of home-brew down in our kitchen. Only, o' course, "some dirty guy had to go an' squeal" on 'em and Kelly 'most lost his job, did Kelly.
I had a very nice Italian friend--second cook, he called himself--who used to come over to the compartment of Monsieur Le Bon Chef and talk over the partition to me every afternoon from four to half past. He also was not in the least fresh, but just talked and talked about many things. His first name in Italian was "Eusebio," but he found it more convenient in our land to go under the name of "Vwictor." He came from a village of fifty inhabitants not far from Turin, almost on the Swiss border, where they had snow nine months in the year. Why had he journeyed to America? "Oh, I donno. Italians in my home town have too little money and too many children."
Victor was an intelligent talker. I asked him many questions about the labor problem generally. When he first came to this country seven years ago he started work in the kitchen of the Waldorf-Astoria. In those days pay for the sort of general unskilled work he did was fifteen to eighteen dollars a month. Every other day hours were from 6 A.M. to 8.30 P.M.; in between days they got off from 2 to 5 in the afternoon. Now, in the very same job, a man works eight hours a day and gets eighteen dollars a week. Victor at present drew twenty-two dollars a week, plus every chef's allotment of two dollars and forty cents a week "beer money." (It used to be four bottles of beer a day at ten cents a bottle. Now that beer was a doubtful bestowal, the hotels issued weekly "beer money." You could still buy beer at ten cents a bottle, only practically everyone preferred the cash.)
But Victor thought he was as well off seven years ago on eighteen dollars a month as he would be to-day on eighteen dollars a week. Then, it seems, he had a nice room with one other man for four dollars a month, including laundry. Now he rooms alone, it is true, but he pays five dollars a week for a room he claims is little, if any, better than the old one, and a dollar a week extra for laundry. Then he paid two to three dollars for a pair of shoes, now ten or twelve, and they wear out as fast as the two-dollar shoes of seven years before. Now fifty dollars for a suit no better than the one he used to get for fifteen dollars. Thus spoke Victor.
Besides, Victor could save nothing now, for he had a girl, and you know how it is with women. It's got to be a present all the time. You can't get 'em by a store window without you go in and buy a waist or a hat or goodness knows what all a girl doesn't manage to want. He went into detail over his recent gifts. Why was he so generous as all that to his fair one? Because if he didn't get the things for her he was afraid some other man would.