“How old are you?” [Walter asks the pony tailed manager]
“Sir, you’re not supposed to be in the kitchen.”
“At your age, I was a busboy.”
“Is there a problem?”
“I was just getting a little hungry and wanted to find out what was taking our burgers.”
“You should have asked your server.”
“Had I been able to find him, I would have.”
“Where are you sitting?”
Walter followed the girl out the OUT door, and pointed to Susan – eating her burger.
“I’m sorry if our service didn’t meet your expectations.”
“You sound like a parrot, mimicking phrases out of a book, which means you have no clue what you’re doing.” Walter stormed back to the table.
“They came just after you left,” Susan mumbled, mouth full.
“Don’t wait for me.” Walter unrolled his cutlery from a black napkin and sliced his patty down the middle to check for pink in the meat, though everything appeared pink or bright red in this light. He violently stabbed some fat frozen fries, manufactured to imitate home fries. These ones were soggy, and had probably come out of a bag and sat too long in a steam table because everybody these days ate salad – lettuce and vegetables sitting in pools of pesticide, soaking up toxins that likely caused more cancer than a little tans-fat.
“What do you want to do now?” Susan asked after dinner.
“I want to go home.” Though he didn’t know what he’d do there either. He just didn’t want to be here. What had he been thinking, flying out to visit his daughter?
“Sure. Do you want to pick up a movie?”
“I mean my home.”
“You want me to drive you back to the airport?”
“Yes.” Walter stood.
“I’d be happy to. Though I doubt you’d get on a flight until morning. Nothing flies into Pearson at night. And by tomorrow, our airport’ll likely be closed ’cause of the snow we’re supposed to get.”
“How old are you?” [Walter asks the pony tailed manager]
“Why don’t you go look around? Get some ideas. Find things to criticize.”
“It’s time I retired. Part of the natural cycle of life; something you know nothing about.”
Susan looked at him blankly.
“Getting married and having kids. What if I want grandchildren?”
“Why?! You hated me as a child.”
“Who wouldn’t? Your mother didn’t even think you were worth living for.”
“Which meant you weren’t either. And the way you screwed around, you probably already have some.”
A disturbing thought. Though no adult child had ever called claiming to be his. Walter got up.
“Where’re you going?”
“To look around – like you said. See what’s taking our burgers.”
To find the kitchen, he followed the yelling. Some things never changed. Keeping his spine straight, he pushed open the IN door and belted in his old voice of authority, “What’s taking our burgers?”
The whole kitchen stopped, showing he could still command attention, only now he didn’t know what to do with it. He didn’t know what to do with it. He didn’t see their waiter, just half a dozen dressed like him, plus a few girls with big tits and short skirts and no panty hose. He backed up a step, into someone behind him, causing a very loud crash. These kids couldn’t even balance a tray.
“Hey! Somebody get Grandpa out of the kitchen!” A cook yelled.
“What’s going on?” A girl in a pony-tail, but wearing a slightly different uniform, rushed in to take charge. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Don’t tell me you’re the manager?” She barely looked a day over sixteen. Walter assessed her cup size. Smaller. A new sign of being higher up on the ladder? Susan had practically no tits.
Walter groped his way to the bar in the poor light, quickly becoming dizzy from the electric lava traveling through the walls and underfoot. “Excuse me,” he flagged down a waiter without earrings. “I need less vermouth in here.”
“We’ll make you another one.” This other boy took it to the bartender. Walter followed to make sure he got the proportions correct and didn’t spit in the replacement.
“Happy?” Susan asked when Walter returned to the table.
“Yes.” He stared up at the hockey game on the closest TV. “There could be an ice rink in here. I thought volcanoes were supposed to be hot. Maybe they can’t afford heat after they pay their hydro bill.”
“We don’t have hydro here.”
“Whatever the hell you call your electricity.”
A small waitress bursting out of her bra walked past their table.
“What the hell?” He’d never seen such a tiny woman so well endowed. Her T-shirt barely covered her nipples, visible through the thin material, which meant she wasn’t wearing a bra. In his day, tits didn’t stand straight out by themselves. “How is that possible?”
“They’re silicon. Implants. Plastic surgery. Fake.”
“Better than stuffing their bras, like they used to. Do they feel real?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
Walter searched around for more miracles of modern medicine. If they were here, girls back east must have them too, in the bigger cities like Toronto and Hamilton. Maybe he’d move. Though what twenty-year-old would want a sixty-two-year-old man? One who needed money, that’s who. Or a hooker. They’d have to keep up with the trends.Otherwise, they’d lose business. Like restaurants without gimmicks didn’t stand a chance anymore. People had to keep pace with change. Maybe not a bad thing. Some changes clearly were marvelous. “What’s taking our burgers?” He needed to sink his teeth into something.
“It hasn’t been that long.”
“For burgers it has.”
“Oh. This coming from someone who can’t wait for a tea kettle to boil.”
Walter looked at his menu again and this time noticed the prices. “Eleven dollars? For a bloody hamburger? That’s more than I charged for a six ounce fillet!”
“Dad, relax. I’m buying.”
“You knew I’d hate a place like this. Why’d you bring me here?”
“You just came here to visit, knowing I might not exactly like that.”
“Oh. So this is revenge?”
“We can go to a steak house tomorrow.”
“What’s wrong with right now?”
“We’re already here and just ordered drinks.”
“So, we’ll pay for them and go.”
“One Iced Liquid Lave.” Mr. Androgynous placed a fishbowl at the top of Susan’s knife. “And your martini, sir. Are you both ready to order?”
“I guess I’m having a hamburger,” Walter acquiesced.
“Which one? We have sixteen different types, and each has a choice of four salads or fries.”
“He likes mushroom and onions, don’t you Dad. And a tossed salad with Ranch on the side. Maybe skip the bun and throw on some extra tomatoes.”
“Fries,” Walter corrected. “And bun. Buttered.”
“Remember. You’re not getting as much exercise as you used to. I’ll have the Pompeii Patty with spinach salad. No bun.”
“Fries with mine,” Walter repeated.
“Got it.” The waiter tapped his order pad.
“Fine. Have the fries then,” Susan conceded. “It’s your heart.”
“I’m surprised you’re concerned if I live.” Walter sipped his martini. “Ugh. There must be a whole shot of vermouth in here.”
“People don’t drink martinis anymore so no on knows how to make them.”
Susan reached over and opened his menu. “I know you like hamburgers. Alberta’s famous for its beef.”
“That’s all they have?” Walter flipped through four pages of hamburgers.
“Hi.” A waiter wearing a black shirt with red splashes – and jeans! – slapped up in even worse, sandals. “How are you this evening?”
“Well, thank you,” Susan smiled.
“You’re allowed to wear open-toed footwear?” Walter stared at the boy’s feet. “In my day, we had to wear proper shoes, with black socks and dress pants.”
“That’d bite. Can I start you off with a beverage? Maybe an Iced Liquid Lava?”
“What the hell’s that?”
“Basically, it’s a strawberry daiquiri with vodka, then we add our own special syrup.”
Probably grenadine. “I’ll have a gin martini. Dry, with olives,” Walter requested, his eyes fixed on two silver hoops in the waiter’s ears. “And don’t bruise it.”
“I’ll try one of those Liquid Lavas,” Susan ordered.
The waiter collected their menus and flip-flopped off.
“They let faggots wear their jewelry to work now, too?”
“What do you call them these days?”
“Just because a man’s wearing earrings doesn’t mean he’d gay, and if he is, you don’t call him a …”
“Are you suggesting that guy might be straight?”
“I don’t know. I’m just saying, you can’t tell by earrings. A lot of men wear them now.”
“You should know.”
Walter watched the idiot, whatever his preference, order their drinks on a computer screen. Waiters and waitresses used to just call out orders, and bartenders and line cooks remembered them. Now their pea brains needed rocket science technology; more overhead he’d have to invest in and learn to operate if he opened a place. He’d have to attract new people because most of his clientele were near dead.
[Susan asks Walter, her father} “So. Are you going to open another place?”
“I’m too old to start over.”
“What are you going to do? You could live another twenty, thirty years.”
“Not if I drink enough. Or freeze to death before I leave here.”
“I’ll get you a coat.” Susan pulled a bright yellow ski jacket out of her closet.
“Don’t you have a warm baggy sweater?”
“Not that’d fit you. We are driving. I’ll throw the jacket in the car in case you want it when you come out of the restaurant. Because it gets even colder once the sun goes down.”
Oscar [the parrot] glared at Walter as he sipped his tea. He hadn’t half-finished when Susan asked if he was ready to go. At least this Lava Rock might offer a more stimulating diversion than sitting around here all evening. And be warm, because volcanoes were hot.
“Looks like a steaming pile of shit,” he couldn’t help commenting on the approach. Once inside, the flashing red lights hurt his eyes.
“For two.” Susan smiled at the hostess, who barely looked old enough to drive, never mind work in a licensed establishment.
“What’s the drinking age here?” Walter gawked up at the skylight imitating the hole in where, in a real volcano, the lava would spew. Here it circulated in tubes embedded in fiberglass walls.
“I don’t think you need to worry about it.”
“My daughter, the comedian.”
Walter stared at the pillow and pile of blankets on the half-sized leather couch with a sheet already over it. “I hope you’re not expecting me to sleep there.”
“I didn’t know if you’d be okay with stairs and you didn’t answer my question.”
“I’m 62 not 85.” Walter looked in the fridge. “Nothing.”
“I thought we’d go out. There’s a new restaurant that’s supposed to be good.”
“Not the Lava Rock Cafe, I hope.”
“You’ve heard of it?”
“I like to stay current.”
“Do you want tea first? And maybe put on warmer clothes?”
“I didn’t bring warmer clothes.”
“Your legs will freeze in those pants.”Susan ran upstairs and came back with a pair of little black legs that looked too small for hers, never mind his. “Here. They stretch.”
Susan left them on the table then put two tea bags in two cups and filled them with tap water before opening the door to the microwave.
“You don’t have a kettle?”
“This is faster.”
“YOu know I always refused to have one of those in the restaurant.”
“This is my home.”
In exactly one minute, Susan placed a steaming cup in front of him that was too hot to sip. “You could have put it in for less time and saved even more time. Now we have to wait for our tea to cool off.”
“In the meantime, then, go change.”
Walter picked up the black pants off the table. “Is that the bathroom?” And entered a room the size of a closet. “A quarter million, and you don’t have a shower?”