Jubilee (4)
Out of curiosity, the girls started to gather around the booth.
- I see you got yourself some nice girls here, Maxie said, and broke once again into his evil laughter.
Ruby, Ronnie, and even Gloria exchanged astonished looks with one another. Ruby shrugged her shoulders. Ronnie bit her lip. Gloria smirked.
King told Maxie he looked great.
- So you made it in Chicago, he said. When's the last time we saw each other ? Was it in Brooklyn ?
- We were in the Navy together, Maxie said by way of response. I learned a lot when I was in the service. We punched the bag. They showed us movies on hygiene. I showed that picture of you and me down at the shipyard to the girl here. She couldn't believe it was me. Isn't that right ? Tell him, tell him. Them were the days, boy.
And so for the rest of the day, Maxie stayed at the coffee shop, sitting in the booth and talking to the waitresses when they weren't too busy. A new crew of girls arrived around noon to relieve the morning-shift waitresses, and Maxie rubbed his hands together with glee each time another girl walked in.
King kept to the kitchen but came out once to serve Maxie some soup. At 4 p.m., King's usual quitting time, he helped Maxie gather up his bags and they went home together. King lived around the block on the second floor of a two-flat, a "bachelor pad", as Ronnie called it.
The next morning, King announced that he had hired Maxie. His look was grim as he said,
- Girls, I want you to meet our new hired hand. Maxie here is going to bus and wash, and he's going to do some sweeping and be our janitor. I want you to treat him as a part of our little family.
Later, King told Ronnie during a quiet moment in the kitchen that Maxie was indeed thinking of moving to Chicago, just as King had feared. Taking his first vacation in 10 years from the post office, Maxie had decided to make it a working vacation to see how he got along.
He was accepting that plan for now, King said, "but we'll have to see how things work out. He could be a pain in the ass to get along with in the Navy, and I doubt he's got any better."
Maxie's first week at the Jubilee was a trial. His odd, stubborn nature could be amusing at times, but it made him difficult to work with. No one could tell Maxie anything. If he left grease on a washed dish or didn't wipe a table properly, he took it badly when his error was pointed out. "They think I'm stupid. I'm not stupid," Maxie would mutter to himself. "They think I'm a dummy. They think I'm a fool."
But the most trying thing about Maxie was not his spotty work performance. It was the way he interacted with people. For instance, Maxie set his teeth for some inexplicable reason against the meek young electrician who came in to eat oatmeal most mornings. Maxie would make caustic remarks to the young man, whose mere presence seemed to provoke him. The young man would eat quietly as the tirade rained over him.
- What did I just tell you ? You're not listening to me. Nobody listens to me, Maxie would lament. I feel sorry for the poor girl who walks down the aisle with you. Here's a guy who's gonna marry himself. I told you, you gotta be tough with 'em. I don't beat around the bush. I'm not a phony. I called Paula's bluff, boy. I said, "You make up your mind or I'm out." You think you're so smart ? A couple years in the service would straighten you out. Oh, you're laughing, huh ? You think it's a joke ?
Gloria also got Maxie going, but in a different way. When the young waitress was near, he would spill forth erotic reminiscences and make suggestive comments.
- I like those girls in the bikinis, he would say. I really squeeze them. When we were young and on the Boardwalk, I put them in shape with my hands. I was on the beach and one of the girls says, "Maxie, could you put some of that lotion on my back ?" I got talented hands, boy. When I put lotion on a girl's back, it's so nice and soft. They say, "Keep on, Maxie, keep on." I was good, boy.
Then he would laugh.

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©1997-2000 by pisalou