Jubilee (5)
The more Maxie's presence filled the Jubilee, the more King receded into the kitchen. But Maxie, apparently not satisfied with his tyranny over the dining room, would inevitably make his way into the kitchen to wash a dish or two. And then he would launch into one of his soliloquies for King's benefit :
- I didn't go to college, but I listen to the radio. Irving Silverstein and Howard Miltz. "The Law Is Our Life". They educated me. What did I tell you before ? I explained it to you, you hire a lawyer and you sign a retainer. There's no money up front. If you slip in the supermarket, don't sign nothing. Get a lawyer. You fall down, bang your head -- good case. I got smart all of a sudden.
An avid lottery player, Maxie would also dream about the day he won the big jackpot. Then, he told King, they could go into business together :
- I'd like to co-own this shop. If I owned this place I'd be cutting salaries, I'll tell ya. Twenty percent, they'd be working better. Just like The New York Post. I'd shuffle the deck around. People in a slump, I'd change the batting order. Yeah, there'd be some changes, boy.
Maxie talked and talked, the stories repeating themselves day after day, and King started to look beaten down. He was no longer lord and master of all he surveyed. No one noticed at first, so preoccupied were they with Maxie's comings and goings. It was Ronnie, of course, who was the first to pick up on King's retreat from the center of Jubilee life.
At the start of the third week, she asked him how he was feeling. and King broke down :
- Oh babe, this Maxie has me so twisted up inside I'm gonna bust a gut. He's taken over the shop. Some of the regulars even left since he came. Have you noticed ? I can't think when he's around. He's driving me crazy.
- King, Ronnie said firmly, you know what you're telling me, don't you ?
- No, what ?
- You're telling me you want to fire Maxie.
- Fire Maxie ? I can't fire Maxie. Shit, he probably wouldn't leave even if i did.
- Listen, King, I have an idea. You stay here.
She left the kitchen, saying she'd return in a minute. Now that the floodgates were open, King kept moaning to himself about Maxie until Ronnie reappeared with Ruby in tow.
- What's up ? I've a lot of work to do, Ruby said. King, the back booth needs a repair around the plasterboard. It's chipping off. Will you take a look at it when you get a minute ? And can I work a double shift next week and take my Friday off ? My grandkids are coming for the week end.
King acquiesced to all her demands and Ronnie turned to her :
- Ruby, she said, we've got a little problem and we need your help. Now, it's not going to sound too nice, but Maxie has to go. He's getting to be a pill and poor King here hasn't got the heart to ask him to leave. Do you get what I'm saying ?
- Yeah, I get what you're saying. I know.
Ruby set her lips into a tight, firm line.
- Do you really get what I'm saying ? I'm leading up to something here.
- I know what you're saying. You want me to do the asking. I'll do it, but it just breaks my heart. Maybe he isn't easy to get along with, but that poor man has nothing. Here he came to Chicago hoping he could begin a new life, and all we give him is grief.
Of all the people at the Jubilee, Maxie had taken most to Ruby. She was a good-hearted, kindly woman, and he frequently told her that if she weren't married already, he'd proposition her. "You could stay with me," he would say. "I'd treat you nice. I'd hug you and kiss you and make love to you. Life is short. You better let your hair down and live a little."
Rather than take offense at his comments, Ruby would instead encourage Maxie to find someone to marry. "You need a wife", she would say. "Get married. Settle down."
Maxie would beam as she spoke, as if her words were the deed itself.
The day after the pow-wow in the kitchen, however, Ruby had bad news for Maxie :
- Maxie, can I talk with you a minute ?
- What's up, kid ? You finally decided to run off with me ?
- Sit down a minute. Can I get you something ? Coffee?
- You know I don't drink coffee. I told you that already. Nobody listen to me.

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©1997-2000 by pisalou