Mendocino is a tourist town. Once it was an artist community and before that an abandoned mill town and before that a flourishing mill town and before that a home for the Pomo people for several thousand years. The Pomo are mostly gone, exterminated and ravished by those who came after. The loggers and mill workers remain but are in decline. They made an uneasy peace with the counterculture types that followed—hippies, back-to-the-land folks, artists and craftsmen. As the tourists take over in ever larger numbers, they change everything. Prices go up and housing becomes unaffordable for people like those who live at Roy’s. But, tourists also make places like the Frolic Café possible and create jobs for the fifty or so people who work there.
Rafan tells Mac about a famous shipwreck off the Mendocino coast that led to the discovery of the giant redwoods. “The Frolic Café is named after the ship that sank,” says Rafan.
Mac knows about the shipwreck but he doesn’t say anything. He knows about it from stories passed down through his family for generations. A small part of his memory lights up.
“Rafan tells me you’re living at Roy’s ranch.” The boss looks Mac over. This young man looks perfect for the dishwashing job I need to fill, thinks the boss.
“Was,” says Mac. “Just moved out.”
It’s hard to find reliable help. There’s a lot of turnover in the restaurant business. Mac arrives at a good time. The boss fired a dishwasher named Tom the night before. It was the first time the boss had fired anyone. He took over the restaurant on the first of the year. Tom was a fine guitar player but a lousy dishwasher with a bad attitude that infected the other employees. Tom’s girlfriend, Cherry, is one of the best waitresses. She tries to quit when Tom is fired but the boss convinces her to stay.
Firing Tom was hard for the boss. Rafan tells Mac the boss had to down two shots of bourbon to muster the courage to walk into the back of the kitchen and do it.
“You’re fired!” the boss tells Tom.
“Right now?” asks Tom who looks surprised.
“Right now, get out,” says the boss as he hands Tom his paycheck.
The next day Tom returns to the Folic and thanks the boss for firing him. “I hated that job,” says Tom.
“I know,” says the boss. “It showed.” They shake hands and everyone walks away happy. That’s how the boss is,” says Rafan. “No grudges. Things don’t always turn out like you think. The boss and Tom are still good friends.”
“I need a dishwasher,” says the boss to Mac. “Are you interested?”
Mac is focused on a metal diving helmet and other nautical paraphernalia scattered around the restaurant. There are old musical instruments, advertising tins, copper pots and other nostalgia. He is at the entrance next to the coffee shop. Looking ahead he sees the dining room. A stack of five wooden wine barrels divides the room. There is a red coffee grinder and an intricate ceramic chess set. Old iron stoves and framed copies of paintings torn from magazines add to the vintage feel of the room.
“Hey, wake up. You want the job or not.”
“Sure,” says Mac, “but I need to find a place to stay first. That might take awhile. I haven’t any money.”
The boss considers his situation. He needs someone now. The summer rush is coming.
“We can work something out,” says the boss. “There’s an old storage room upstairs that isn’t being used. It has a shower and a toilet. You can live there and have meals in exchange for washing dishes. You will make tips in cash. When you get back on your feet, you can find another place.”
The boss gives Rafan the key to the storage room.
“Show Mac around. I want him washing dishes as soon as you finish. He starts today.”
The storage room is upstairs in the back of the restaurant above the dishwashing area. It’s more organized than Mac expects. Rafan says the boss lived up there for awhile when he bought the restaurant. “Now he lives in the house next door that is attached to the restaurant by the hallway we walked through,” says Rafan. “The boss is sweet on one of the waitresses, bro. Her name’s Brin. Word is, they are gonna get married. Stay away from her but the others are fair game,” says Rafan with a twinkle in his eye. “They say there’s ghosts in this place but Micah and I haven’t seen one.”
Mac shakes his head. “Don’t believe in ghosts,” he says firmly.
This is the first time Rafan hears Mac express any opinion. “Well, maybe that’s how you lost your memory, bro. Maybe there’s a ghost in that head of yours who stole it, you know?” Rafan means it as a joke but Mac takes everything seriously.
“Bullshit!” says Mac in an angry tone. “Don’t mess with my memory. I might have lost it but my memories are my own private shit. Okay? Go back down. I’ll get settled and be down in a minute.”
Rafan starts toward the door.
“Wait,” says Mac. He gives Rafan a hug. “Sorry. You saved my skin in Albion and now you got me a job and a place to stay. I shouldn’t a been so short with you. I’m still a little shook, that’s all. Don’t want no ghosts messing with me if you know what I mean. I owe you. You’re my friend.”
Rafan removes Mac’s hand from his shoulder and heads down the stairs. From the bottom he yells back to Mac. “Yeah, you do owe me. Like the boss says, there ain’t no free lunch.”
Mac puts his things away. All he has is what Billy left that Rafan packed up for him. He sits on the bed. A thought flashes into then out of his mind. An accident. A crash. Something vague. He can’t get a handle on it.
Mac hears the ambient noise from the restaurant below. Voices. Dishes banging. The bell in the kitchen when an order is ready.
“Sound the bell!”
“Put the helm to port!”
Next thing Mac hears is Rafan at the door.
“What the hell are you doing? This is no time for a nap. Come on, the boss wants you washing dishes pronto.”
Mac follows Rafan down the stairs. Girls are running in and out of the kitchen in blue skirts with white peasant blouses and red aprons. Two women are in the kitchen cooking. A young girl stands by the sink at one end of the kitchen cleaning calamari.
Cleaning calamari is a job Mac remembers. Maybe I was a cook, he thinks. No, I’d remember that. It was my grandmother. She fixed us calamari in a special curry sauce and she showed me how to clean it.
“Hey! Mac! Come on. I need to show you how the dishwasher works,” says Rafan whose patience is now exhausted. He pushes Mac toward the dishwasher.
“Here, put on this apron.”
The kitchen is busy and noisy. People walk in and out. Mac focuses on the dishes. He hears one of the cooks yell.
“Jesus Christ Linda, you can’t leave now in the middle of lunch!”
“Can’t be helped, Marla,” says Linda, “my dog’s delivering her pups right now. I gotta go across the street to check on her. Be back in a minute.”
“Dammit! That bitch is gonna be your undoing,” growls Marla. She’s the head of the cooks.
“Get over here and help me get these orders out Aimee. Those squid can wait.”
Mac keeps his head down.
Half an hour later Linda is back in the kitchen.
“I hope you washed your hands,” says Marla.
“Seven beautiful pups,” gloats Linda. “All perfect.”
After awhile things settle down. Mac catches up on the dishes. He sees an empty counter and he sits down to rest his legs.
“Hey. You,” says Marla. “What’s your name?”
“Well, Mac, you can’t sit on that counter. That’s Henrietta’s counter. She keeps her baking stuff underneath. She’s real particular. If she notices anything amiss in her space there will be hell to pay.”
Mac goes back to the dishwasher but there are no dishes to wash.
“Are you hungry Mac?” asks Marla. “You can have something to eat on your break. I can make you a burger or you can have soup or a sandwich.”
“Thanks,” says Mac. “A burger sounds great.”
The kitchen functions with a rhythm all its own. When things are busy everyone moves at a fast pace and knows exactly what to do. There is no sympathy for slackers or dumbees. When things slow down everyone’s mood changes and the practical jokers come out to tease the newbees.
“Take off your apron and have a seat in the coffee shop,” says Marla. “Dolly will bring your burger to you when it’s ready.”
Dolly is a buxom brunette, tall and sturdy and pretty. It’s obvious she is the waitress in control. She’s worked at the Frolic longer than the others. She sits a plate in front of Mac with a burger that has one bit taken out of it.
Mac looks at the burger then at Dolly.
He notices a slight gap between her front teeth when she laughs. “We always taste the food to make sure it’s okay for the customer,” she says with a seductive smile.
Mac looks at her. He picks up his burger and takes a bite.
He passes the test. Now he’s one of the crew. A tall black kid sits next to Mac. Dolly arrives to take his order.
“What do you want today, Al?”
Dolly brings a basket of bread with butter and sets Al up with a paper napkin and silverware.
“Soup,” says Al stretching out the vowels in his deep low voice.
Dolly goes to get the soup.
“Salad,” he says when she returns.
Dolly puts her hand on her hip. She looks crossways at Al.
“Big Al, I’ve told you before, order everything at once. All you have to do is say ‘bread, soup, salad’ in one sentence. Is that so hard?”
The coffee shop is where the locals hang out. Everyone knows the routine. Bus drivers, contractors, fishermen, artists, employees from the local stores. Mac watches a lady arrive. Dolly says she works at Mendosas Grocery Store and her name is Ina. She orders a small green salad and a glass of water. When she thinks no one is looking she takes a can of tuna out of her purse and sprinkles the fish all over her salad. Dolly and Marla watch from the kitchen with a chuckle.
A lady tourist comes in. The coffee shop is usually the domain of the locals. Dolly waits on her. The woman orders a coffee. On the way back Dolly carries two pots of coffee. As she walks by one customer after another she says “Thanksgiving?” and they either say “No” or “Yes, Thanksgiving.”
When Dolly arrives the lady asks “Is this some kind of religious place?”
“Why?” says Dolly.
“Well,” says the lady, “I notice you all greet each other with Thanksgiving,”
“Oh,” laughs Dolly. “No, we have two kinds of coffee. Farmer Brothers is the regular. Thanksgiving is a local brew.”
“I’ll have the Thanksgiving,” says the lady.
Mac finishes his burger and goes back to the dishwasher. If the walls in this place could talk, he thinks, they would have a lot to say. Maybe they could tell him who he was and where he’s come from. He is lost but feels at home here. He relaxes into the work and waits to see what’s coming next.