Chow Street


I live and work on Chow Street. Chow Street is a ten-mile-long strip of restaurants of every description. There's every fast food, plus endless places with seated service. Every food you can think of, and some you can't.

I work at Aberdeen's Diner. Aberdeen is a frightening man to work for. For starters he lifts me off the floor by my necktie. Then he sets fire to my paycheck before he hands it to me. Every morning he sticks an open vat of Crisco over his head and lets the fat run down his face and shirt all day. His food is very bad for you, especially the cole slaw.

After I get off the breakfast shift at Aberdeen's in the morning, I'm finally able to start the lunch shift. When the lunch shift is over I'm free to start the dinner shift. I work until night. I bus, wait table, fill ketchup dispensers with mustard and mustard dispensers with ketchup. When a customer chokes, I administer the Heimlich Maneuver.

At night there's nothing to do on Chow Street but eat.  I don't eat, haven't for years. I only lick things, or suck on them. So I go home to my apartment. It's a very small apartment on a lane just off Chow Street. Maybe it's half the size of a small closet. There isn't space to lie down or even sit, only stand. There's a window in one wall, and when I tire of looking at the other three walls I often turn to the window.

My view is the back door of a taco restaurant on Chow Street. The door is always open, and every night I watch a young woman grate cheddar cheese for tacos. Her fingers mingle so delightfully with the golden cheese that I can't help falling in love with her. Besides, she tints her bangs.

I start going to the taco place every night until the cheese girl notices me. For 60 nights I keep ordering a taco and sending it back. Finally she sees me. She didn't before because I was sitting behind the jukebox. I treat her to a bean burrito with guacamole and we talk. Her name is Faye and mine is Jean Paul. I ask when she gets off and she says at ten. I say, see you then, and she says, OK. At 10 I'm still there, she sees me again, and we leave together.

We go to my place because there's nowhere else to go. It's even more crowded with her there than it is when I'm alone. We try to play checkers, but we have to hold the board up against the wall due to the limited space, and the men keep falling off. Finally she suggests we go to her place.

"Is your place bigger?" I say.

"No," she says, "It's the same. But there's more to do."

"How's that?" I ask.

"My family's there, and we can hang out with them," she says.

We go over to her place, on another lane off Chow Street, and stand in front of a TV set with her parents, brothers and sisters. I feel them breathing down my neck the whole time. I ask if I can smoke since smoking relaxes me. They all say sure, go ahead. I light up and we all inhale at the same moment. Everyone else gets the smoke.

Faye and I see each other every night until at last it's clear that nothing will come of it. Then late one night she tells me she's leaving Chow Street.

"I got a job across town," she says. "It's an opportunity I can't pass up. I get a uniform that matches my eyes.

"I can't go with you," I say. "My life is here on Chow Street."

She pats me on the cheek. I smell the cheese on her hand.

"Get some sleep," she says. "In the morning everything looks the same."